Act Two: Endless Circle
About a kilometer from the sabotaged building, the range of the virus’ effect on the Matrix ceased to be distinguishable. It was there that Neo, Trinity, and 00 were supposed to meet up with the others who had entered the alternate reality. Those who had stayed behind observed the outcome of their work from this distant point, and waited inside an old Cadillac for Neo’s team to return.
“How long has it been?” the leader asked, a tall, dark-skinned man wearing a black leather jacket. His eyes were filled with concern, but because of the sunglasses covering them, none could see it but him.
The man behind the wheel glanced at his watch and frowned at what he saw. “About five minutes,” he replied to Morpheus, tapping his fingers against the wheel. “And I don’t see them anywhere…”
Morpheus shifted his body and leaned back against his chair. He was also nervous, but easily concealing this feeling through years of experience. He tilted his head slightly at an angle to speak to the passenger in the back seat. “Are you sure they got out?”
00, who was sitting right behind Morpheus, looked amazed that he would even question the possibility. “W-well…no…I-I didn’t actually SEE them get out…” 00 stammered, as he gripped the leather seat, “b-but…they…they’ll get out.”
This only seemed to irritate Morpheus even more. “I don’t like this,” he muttered, “they’re cutting it too close this time.”
It seemed as though the ship captain was planning on adding more to that, but something caught the driver’s eye before he could continue.
“What is that?” he asked Morpheus, pointing at an object literally sailing through the air. It wasn’t flying very high, but it appeared to be almost gliding smoothly over the roads below. A dark mass…composed of…it looked like material from here…like the kind that a coat would be made out of. The three car passengers then recognized what it was. Or, rather, who.
“That, Node,” Morpheus replied, though no one could tell whether he was happy, upset, or was experiencing a little of both, “is a fool and his love in flight.”
Neo and Trinity stopped and returned to the facsimile of solid ground. The imposing man let Trinity slip out of his grip in an almost cat-like fashion. They were both tired and showing signs of stress, but were in one piece and very much alive.
00 unlocked the back door of the car for the pair to get inside, and then seated himself at the other end of the car. Everyone appeared to be calming down somewhat. Even Node’s incessant tapping was gone, for his fingers were busy firing up the twentieth century technology, bringing the car’s engine to life. It sped off a second later, swerving around to join the flow of traffic away from the virus-infected zone.
“I take it not everything went according to plan,” Morpheus noted, watching the streets and buildings that made up downtown Chicago pass by. His voice was grave, and that was never a good sign.
“Yea,” Neo replied distastefully, “it took them less time to figure things out than we had anticipated. I couldn’t keep them occupied long enough.”
“Hmm.” Morpheus seemed to have ended the brief report, so Neo didn’t try to say anything more in than he already had. But now he felt a little angry at Morpheus’ comment. They had completed the mission, hadn’t they? Wasn’t that what mattered in the end?
The car pulled into a parking lot for a shabby-looking restaurant called ‘Mickey’s’. It wasn’t even open; in fact, it looked as though it hadn’t been open for quite some time now. This naturally didn’t seem to bother anyone present in the least, and its use was obvious to everyone.
Inside, everything appeared to be pretty much destroyed. The remnants of posters and ads from the sixties were still on the walls here and there, and there was even a few wooden barstools attached to the floor in front of the counter. The others had been broken off of their spots, and what happened to them after that will never be known.
Breaking out of the filthy ruin’s silence was the unmistakable ring of an old-fashioned telephone. Morpheus led the way past the counter to it, and found it without any difficulty. Picking up the dusty receiver, he handed it to 00 without hesitation. The youngest of the group accepted it gladly and placed it against his ear.
There was an instant reaction from 00’s body as the black plastic touched his skin. He didn’t appear to be in any pain, but his attention seemed to be somewhere else. His head lifted a little, and then he faded out of existence. The Matrix re-enveloped the space his body had been occupying until there was no trace that someone had been there.
The receiver dropped and dangled from the end of the cord that kept it attached to the rest of the phone. Morpheus replaced it on the cradle and waited for it to start ringing again.
Twice more members of the group vanished from the dream world, Trinity and Node to be exact. Then, it was Neo’s turn. He took hold of the old phone, and pressed it against his earlobe.
Getting plugged in and out was always a queer experience for Neo, and he had yet to become fully used to it. It felt like someone was pulling on you really hard, trying to tug you away. The sensation would increase, and then it was almost as if one was between places, neither here nor there. After that, the Matrix world would slowly fade away, leaving only the sounds and smells of the Nebuchadnezzar as total consciousness returned.
Neo closed his eyes to the dusty back room of the restaurant. The echoes of cars far away were replaced with the constant yet tired humming of the hovercraft’s engines. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times to adjust to the dim lighting while someone (he couldn’t see who) gently pulled the plug out of the base of his skull. When the uncomfortable metal point was gone, he sat up, careful of the bruises and injuries he may have sustained while inside.
Looking to his left and right, he saw everyone else had woken up. Node was already out of his port and was talking to Tank as the freeborn man unplugged Morpheus. Trinity was nowhere to be seen. Neo got to his feet and decided to look for her, but a hand from behind seized his shoulder a little to hard. He turned around to see who was trying to get his attention. He found himself staring downward at a young woman who had a cheerful expression.
“My God! That was amazing!” she exclaimed, pushing some errant strands of blonde hair that had fallen out of her pony tail away from her face, “I mean, you should have seen the explosion! …Well, you technically did, but what I meant was you should have seen the way the Matrix got totally screwed up from here, cause that was really cool too!”
“Dagger.” Neo attempted to get her attention by using her name, couldn’t finish because Dagger was too excited and was still going on and on…
“And hey! The flying thing was really cool too and all. Oh, I wish I could have come with you guys, but Morpheus, ya know, he insisted to keep the team number low. I guess there’s always next time, eh?”
“Huh?” the slightly hyper girl stopped talking for the first time, and stared inquisitively at Neo, but caught on a moment later that it hadn’t been him who had called her name sharply, but rather the person behind him. “Okay, okay, I’m going,” she announced, heading to the upper level of the core, grabbing a small welder on her way.
Morpheus, the one who had signaled Dagger to leave, walked around Neo so that he was no longer looking at his back. Anyone could tell that he was being dead serious and that he had something important to say. It could be seen in the way he was walking, a slow, calm pace with his hands behind his back, like the one he would use when he was teaching someone about the real world. Neo picked up on the body language, knowing it well enough from seeing Morpheus walk that way a thousand times. And it bothered him. What could possibly be so wrong to disconcert Morpheus like that?
“What is it?” Neo ventured cautiously, as the pair retreated over too a dim corner where no one could hear them.
Morpheus paused, and leaned against the nearest wall before looking at Neo straight in the eye. “The mission was a great success,” he said off handedly, somewhat the way a person would when he was softening a heavy blow, “but I can’t say I approved of your methods completely.”
“How so?” Neo asked simply. He had a feeling about where this was going.
“You took a huge risk when you used the Energy Shots against the Agents,” Morpheus said, frowning, “whenever you had tested that ability in the Construct, you couldn’t control it completely. What if one of your bullets had hit Trinity? Or even the bomb itself? You could all be dead now.”
“I did what I had to do. There wasn’t any other choice,” Neo retorted, insulted that the man he considered the best of friends didn’t seem to trust him.
Neo didn’t answer. He looked up at where Dagger was pretending to weld a patch of steel to the hull while eavesdropping. That girl just couldn’t mind her own business.
“You could have allowed Trinity to defend herself. We all know she’s more than capable,” Morpheus answered for him, his voice tone rising with a hint of anger.
“But there was no way to know she could have evaded their attacks!” Neo exclaimed. He caught the attention of everyone around them, including Trinity who was emerging from the hallway leading to the mess hall.
“I don’t think you’re giving Trinity the credit she deserves. Next to you, she’s the most formidable opponent for an Agent. She’s dodged bullets just like you in training. And because she succeeded in that, I had faith she would have been able to make it through those few seconds.”
The words hit Neo like a blow to the stomach, since it undermined him completely. Once again, he found no words to reply with immediately, and scanned the room for some moral support. He found none. Everyone was watching, but no one seemed willing to intervene.
“Trinity…” Neo said, peering into her emerald eyes as soon as she came into sight. All he had wanted to do was to protect her…
“No,” she replied to his silent question distastefully, “I agree with Morpheus. You could have killed yourself with that move, as well as whoever else that had happened to be in the crossfire.”
“Thank you,” Morpheus said to her, since she had just justified his point, “and let me make this clear: It was lucky that those bullets hit their mark, but don’t make a habit of using abilities you haven’t mastered in training. For everyone’s sakes.”
“…Yes sir,” Neo replied, reverting to the chain of command that was used so rarely on the ship. What had originally been a great day was quickly degenerating to a terrible one.
“Good. Node, set a course for Zion. Take the most subtle route possible so that we don’t attract any unwanted attention from Squidies.”
Node snapped out of his semi-attentive state and wordlessly went for the ladder leading to the cockpit. As Morpheus retreated out of the core to some other room, the focus on Neo and Trinity, the only two who remained in conflict, diminished until everyone went back to doing what they were supposed to be doing.
Neo cast another glance at Trinity, still somewhat surprised by the side she had taken. He half-laughed, as if her position was unbelievable.
“You…really believe I could have hurt someone.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes,” she said, “I do.” She squared off with Neo. Though she wasn’t as tall as he was, she was just as imposing, if not more. “I also don’t appreciate being treated like a damsel in distress. I can take care of myself in a crisis. I realize that you thought otherwise, but that’s all it was – a thought.”
Trinity didn’t even give Neo a chance to respond. She just gave him one final, stinging glare, and climbed up to the cockpit to help Node.
Neo couldn’t understand it.
“Why does everyone make me out to be an ass?” he asked the walls, sighing with frustration. Tank stopped at whatever he was doing to go over to Neo and give him a reassuring voice.
“Hey, don’t worry about it too much,” he said lightly, “I’ve pissed off Morpheous more than you ever could. It’ll pass by the time we get to Zion, and boy are you going to like it there.”
Neo smiled half-heartedly. “Thanks. I just don’t understand why Trinity’s upset too.”
“That, I am afraid, I can’t help you with man,” Tank said, “I don’t understand her sometimes either.”
“Look, why don’t you go rest or something? You look like crap,” he suggested, heading off to the computer monitors.
After a few minutes of just standing there, Neo did as Tank had suggested and went to his quarters, or rather his and Trinity’s. He closed the rickety door behind him with a sharp twist, and slumped into the lower bunk.
There he was, on what should have been a day to celebrate with the others the beginning of the end of the Matrix, and he was just sitting on his barren, century-old bunk. Alone.