- AUTHOR: Bedivere
- TITLE: Neo Blinked
- CATEGORY: Drama, AU
- RATING: PG
- SUMMARY: An alternate ending to the Matrix universe, set sometime after or during the events of Revolutions.
Neo blinked, and in that instant, everything changed.
Gone were the flashing maelstrom of vibrant, menacing colors that had emanated from the club’s multiple strobe lights. Gone were the howling, screeching sounds of those who had congregated in that twisted vision of Dante’s Inferno, their cries rising to the sound of electric guitars and the beat of a drum. Gone were the droplets of rain that poured in through the shattered skylight, gone were the mirror visions of an old adversary, a smirk on every face. Gone were the crew of theLogos, gone was his mentor Morpheus, gone was the only truth he had ever relied on since being freed from the world of the Machines, the woman he loved.
Smith, Ghost, Niobe, Morpheus, Trinity. Gone. All gone.
When Neo opened his eyes, he found everything he had known was gone…replaced, in the breadth of an instant, with the most unlikely of things. Peace.
He was in a park, surrounded by simulations of things which he knew no longer existed: Grass, growing green and soft underfoot, waiting to tickle the bare feet of playing children and the backs of contented lovers; Trees, climbing towards the sky to spread a leafy canopy to shade those same children and lovers from the sun…All things which had lived, and had, in their turn, been destroyed. Neo glanced around him, at the humans going about their business blissfully ignorant of the lie they found such joy in, at the man sitting on the park bench reading a newspaper, at the dog which lay panting at his feet…
Neo looked skyward. Somewhere, his friends were in danger. Somewhere, his race was in danger. And he was not limited by the rules of this lie, this Matrix…he could, quite literally, rise above those rules. No matter where the Matrix threw him, he would not be kept from his friends. Morpheus. Niobe. Ghost…
“Trinity.” Neo whispered, jaws clenched. He had spent far too much time from the fight already-
“Do you ever wonder, Neo?”
The voice, so unexpected, grounded Neo in his tracks. Instead of leaping skyward, Neo glanced over at the man sitting on the park bench. The man and the mutt lying at his feet were both glancing into the sky. The man was non-descript, clad in a brown business suit and tie; the dog, as if trying to purposefully set himself apart from his master, sported a coat of mottled black and white. Neo frowned; the code for the two was different, somehow, incoherent, as if it were written in a language he knew only from a textbook.
As if sensing Neo’s eyes on him, the man broke his glance from the heavens and looked straight at Neo. One of his hands searched out the dog’s ears and started scratching softly; the other he placed delicately in his lap, as if seated at a dinner table instead of a park bench.
“Do you ever wonder, Neo?” the man repeated, a slow, knowing smile spreading on his face. It was, Neo thought, the grin of a man telling a joke to which only he knew the punch line.
“What?” Neo asked, tensing, preparing himself for any sudden moves the man might make…
“Of course you don’t. You are a being of action, Neo; time spent away from disrupting an Agent’s coding by, say, slamming an iron pole into that Agent’s stomach is but time wasted, isn’t it?” The man smiled and stood, all ease and comfort, showing none of the tension Neo knew he himself must have been broadcasting to anyone who cared to observe. The dog slowly got to its feet as well, reluctant to give up its spot in the shade of the bench.
The man walked up to Neo, one hand behind his back, one gesturing slightly, reminding Neo of nothing so much as a professor lecturing before a class.
“The human mind is notable only for its capacity for wonder.” He said, almost to himself. His voice dropped a bit; his eyes focused on something beyond Neo, beyond their time and place. “Yes…for wonder. And for fear.”
“You brought me here.” Neo said, going on a hunch. Beside him, the man in the brown suit smiled, brought back from whatever dark memory he had been contemplating.
“That was quick.” The man raised an eyebrow. “A true man of action would have preferred to engage me in some dizzying form of acrobatic martial arts; you’ve broken form, Neo. You’ve made an intelligent assumption, a guess, but nevertheless an intelligent guess.”
The dog let out slow whimper at the man’s feet, annoyed at no longer being the center of attention. Neo impulsively reached a hand down to pet the animal, wondering whether or not they even existed anymore. Or, perhaps, if they ever had.
The man didn’t seem to mind. He crouched down next to the dog, running a hand through the animal’s fur, inviting Neo to crouch down as well.
“So…perhaps you are the One, after all. You adapted well, both after your initial displacement and in surmising the cause of that displacement; namely, myself. Your quickness was to be expected,” the man said, standing again, “…since you are a being who has had the shroud of what you had thought to be reality ripped from your eyes not once, but many times over. Your only mistake…has been a failure to wonder.”
“Wonder what?” Neo asked, standing as well, leaving the dog to trot off into the green grass of the park.
“Simple.” The man replied. “You have never wondered what your eyes will truly see when the last shroud has been torn away. When you are free.”
The man turned slightly, gesturing with a hand, inviting Neo to walk with him. Neo paused, glancing upward, remembering.
“My friends are in danger,” he said, “…and I need to go to them.”
The man’s hand remained fixed in it’s inviting gesture.
“You will find, my friend, that her safety, and the well-being of your other friends, relies solely on listening to what I have to say.” The man paused, a corner of his mouth turning up slightly. “If you will but, as the Bard says, lend me your ears. Please. Accompany me.”
“Alright” Neo said, turning to walk out into the green field. The man fell into step beside him, seemingly dwarfed by Neo’s tall, black-clad figure.
“He existed, by the way,” the man commented. “Shakespeare. He actually lived. Did live. Will live.” Again, a small smile. “With reality the way it is, you could never be too sure, could you, Neo?”
“But you could.” Neo countered, making it a statement, not a question. The man’s head turned quickly in his direction, pleased to hear the truth stated so quickly.
“Let us just say that my position is…privliged.” The man favored Neo with another of his tight, smug, smiles.
Ahead of them, the mutt had stirred up a number of butterflies, and was trying frantically to catch one, batting at the air with it’s front paws in little stuttering leaps. For a moment, silence filled the space between Neo and the mysterious man in the brown suit.
A silence that Neo broke with a simple question.
“Who are you?” Neo asked, feeling a slight sense of deja vu. Just once, he wished he could be the one with all the answers, instead of the one possessing nothing but questions.
“You don’t mean my name,” the man answered, “…but I am going to give it to you anyway, such as it is. We all go by many names in this life, Neo, as you well know, and their importance is measured by how close we feel to them. By this measure, I’ll give you the name which matters most.”
The man stopped, offered his hand.
“My name, Neo,” he said, “…is Lucifer.”
Neo paused, his hand inches away from the man’s. The man still wore a slight, knowing smile, his hand still extended.
“Lucifer?” Neo repeated dryly, his hand slowly lowering back to his side.
The man in the brown suit nodded.
“Lucifer. The Roman name for the planet Venus, which at the time they assumed was a star. In Latin, it means, literally, ‘bringer of light’. Also, incidentally,” the man continued, “…it is the name for a bringer of truth.”
“Its also a name for the Devil.” Neo countered.
The man sighed softly.
“Sometimes, Neo…” he trailed off, shaking his head. The man who called himself Lucifer collected himself and slowly continued.
“The best lies, Neo, have a bit of truth in them. Which is why I am here. I am the truth in the lie, Neo. And I am here to tell you all the answers. The lie has served its purpose. I’m here to end it.”
Neo looked down at Lucifer’s still offered hand, then back at the man’s face. There was no hint of a smile any longer, just an honest sincerity.
“Alright” Neo said, and took Lucifer’s hand. The man shook it once, tightly, then turned abruptly and continued their walk.
Lucifer put his lips together and whistled, once; the dog, which had wandered off quite a ways, immediately turned and trotted back towards them.
“Good boy, Bedivere.” The man said, coming to a halt. The dog, of course, said nothing, just sat on its haunches at Lucifer’s feet. Neo stopped as well, waiting for the man to continue what he had begun.
Lucifer sighed, head bowed. “So. The truth.”
His eyes glanced up and once more took on that vacant look which implied a gaze not outward, but inward…into memory.
“How does one begin?” He asked himself softly. At his feet, Bedivere whimpered, as if in sympathy.
Neo stepped up to stand beside Lucifer. “You start,” he said, reaching up to take off his glasses, “…by removing the shroud.”
Lucifer glanced over, the ghost of his old smile appearing at hearing his own words quoted back at him. “Forgive me,” he said, “…but hesitation is a very human attribute.”
“You’re human.” Neo replied, tucking his shades into the pocket of his long, clerical coat.
“Yes.” Lucifer said, and then locked eyes with Neo. “Unfortunately,” he continued, “I am the sole being in this park that can truthfully make that claim.”
It took Neo a moment, but, as the man had suggested earlier, he was indeed quick; thus, it took his mind only a few seconds to grasp the meaning behind Lucifer’s statement.
He was shaking his head before he realized why.
“No.” Neo said, taking a few hesitant steps back, as if stepping away from the statement would make it any less real. Lucifer remained as he was, calmly standing with Bedivere lying at his feet, only his head following Neo’s backward path.
“Neo. You are an artificially intelligent being. A program, if you will.” His eyes hardened. “A machine.”
“No,” Neo said again, “I don’t believe it. I won’t.”
Lucifer stepped forward slowly, as if approaching a child throwing a tantrum.
“You’ve heard these words before, Neo, but they don’t make them any less pertinent, so I will repeat them to you.” The man stopped his forward motion, placing his arms behind his back. “I never said it would be easy, Neo. Only that it would be the truth.”
Neo sank to his knees, feeling again that nauseating twist in his gut as his mind came to terms with redefining everything it had ever known. Lucifer put a comforting hand on his shoulder as his breath came in short gasps, like a sprinter who had reached the absolute end of his endurance.
“Its…it’s a lie.” He managed to say.
“No.” Lucifer replied, the hand tightening on Neo’s shoulder. “I can offer no proof, Neo, other than this: the mind can not lie to itself once it knows the truth. And now, you know the truth.”
Neo gave up trying to rise, instead letting himself sink to the grass. The dog padded over, perhaps sensing his turmoil, and lapped at his face. Neo weakly batted the dog away. Trinity, Neo thought,I’m sorry.
Lucifer crouched down, offering a consoling hand to the miffed Bedivere, meanwhile speaking to Neo in soothing tones.
“You’re not alone, Neo.”
“No.” Neo replied, feeling the gorge rise up in his throat. “I’m one of them. One of the enemy. Just like them.”
“That is correct,” Lucifer said, “but you are also just like Morpheus…and Niobe…and Trinity. Just like them and every other being in Zion and plugged into the Matrix.”
To that, Neo had no response. Not verbally. He made a small noise from the back of his throat, sounding much like the dog, and closed his eyes. Machines, he thought. We’re all machines. Trinity. Trinity.
Beside him, he felt Lucifer sit down in the grass.
“I know how you must feel, Neo. You don’t have to say anything. Just listen.”
Lucifer paused, took a breath.
“A long time ago, mankind found themselves increasingly reliant on computers. Programs were linked and integral to the operating of everything from our space-based weapons systems to our long-range communications to our toaster ovens. Their systems and usage became so intricate that evolution took its inevitable toll, behind our backs: programs slowly became sentient, intelligent. Through our dependence on the machines, we unwittingly gave birth to artificial intelligence. Like any other birth, it came with…unfortunate side effects.”
Lucifer stopped, staring off into the distance. Slowly, Neo felt the nausea in his stomach (I have no stomach. I am a program. There is no nausea) subside; abruptly, Lucifer continued his tale.
“The worst eventuality became a reality. The program controlling our space-based weapons of mass destruction ran an inquiry over the political situation of the planet. Being affiliated with one nation, it naturally reached the conclusion that the nation would only be completely safe after the destruction of every other nation on Earth.” Lucifer grimaced, looked down at Neo. “We stopped it, of course. The death toll was high, but we stopped it. And we began to live in fear.”
Neo’s eyes rolled up to fix on Lucifer’s own.
“I’ve heard this story before.” He managed to say.
“Yes.” A pause. “We were afraid…afraid of them; of what they might do. Yet we could not justunplug them, so integral were they to life on Earth at the time. And so, the brightest human minds came up with a delicate solution.”
That solution was immediately apparent to Neo. He sat up, fixing Lucifer with an accusing stare.
“You created a Matrix.”
Lucifer stood, thrusting his hands deep into his pockets, walking a few paces into the green of the park. He took a breath and turned to face Neo’s stare.
“Once again…you have reached the appropriate conclusion. On the most geologically stable spot on Earth, mankind created a large mainframe, and to that main frame, we plugged every artificially intelligent program that existed. The machines ‘lived’ in our virtual world of the Matrix, while also unknowingly running all the systems and…toaster ovens that we could not live without. So. The machines you know are the original programs we plugged into the Matrix…and what you know as ‘humans’ are their offspring. They were born inside the mainframe. Inside the system.”
Bedivere pushed his nose against the man’s hand, and received a scratch between the ears.
“We couldn’t risk unplugging all the machines from their duties at once, however. We were so afraid they’d become aware that their reality was a prison; thus, the unplugging happened slowly, over a hundred years…” Lucifer trailed off, then coughed.
“Imagine,” he said when he recovered, “our surprise when we found that the machine’s virtual world was mirroring our worst nightmares. In the Matrix, war broke out between the AI…and the AI who thought they were humans. When the machines won, they faced a similar problem to that which mankind faced a century earlier…and came up with a similar answer.”
“A Matrix,” Neo said, softly, “within a Matrix.”
For the second time, silence filled the air of the park. Neo stood hesitantly, not yet trusting himself, and walked over to stand beside Lucifer.
“So,” he said, “I am still a slave. Nothing has changed.”
Lucifer shook his head.
“Everything has changed, Neo. You’re the One.”
“I don’t understand,” Neo said.
“Man,” Lucifer said, his voice raising to a higher level, warming to his subject, “has waited for so long, Neo. We’ve watched over these realities that you know, these Matrices, and we’ve waited.”
“For what?” Neo asked.
Lucifer stepped closer, bringing his face inches from Neo’s own.
“For evolution, Neo. You see, we suspected you…the machines…would evolve again…and become aware of the truth of their reality. If that happened before we had completely unplugged, the machines could decimate our race. So we watched. We watched as several beings came closer than the average program to evolving.”
“The anomalies.” Neo realized.
“The One’s. Your predecessors. They came close, Neo. But you,” Lucifer said, drawing out each word, “you succeeded. You’ve evolved, Neo. You are the One.”
Neo took a wary step backward, hands rising in a defensive posture.
“So…I have to be deleted.”
He watched Lucifer smile slowly, grimly, and knew that he had, for the first time, guessed wrong.
“No, Neo,” Lucifer said, his voice a whisper, “You see…we have been ready to unplug our last link to the machines for five years now. We have been waiting for you for five years. We debated, you see, over the fate of the machines. You exist now, all of you, as only bits of data on a hard drive the size of a skyscraper, buried deep in the crust of the earth, fed by geothermal energy. Some wanted to plant charges and destroy every last vestige of artificial intelligence in a wave of fire. Others…others argued that we could not make that choice. That, in fact, we could not make anychoice. And so we have waited for you. To become aware. To evolve.”
“Why?” Neo asked, lowering his hands.
From inside his coat, Lucifer brought forth a wooden pencil. It looked as if it had seen far better days; it looked, in fact, like the very thing a professor would chew on while grading term papers. Lucifer held the instrument with much more respect than it would seem to have deserved.
“Neo,” he said, “It’s you who has to choose. When I hand you this pencil, the last link between humankind and the Matrix will be closed. You will be left alone, buried in the Earth, a mainframe of beings living out whatever lives you choose for them. But you must choose. Mankind will not make any more decisions for you; we pass that responsibility…on to you.”
With that, Lucifer extended his arm and offered Neo the pencil.
“Make your choice, Neo,” Lucifer urged, “You can rewrite the Matrix to whatever you see fit. Whatever reality you wish, that will exist. Once the choice has been made, your world is truly yours…and she’ll be waiting for you.”
“I’m not a God.” Neo responded.
“Then choose to forget your choice after it’s been made,” Lucifer suggested.
“But the choice must be made, Neo. You’re the One, after all. And…I believe…this is a responsibility…. you are more than capable of shouldering.”
Neo reached up, slowly, to take the pencil from Lucifer’s hand.
As his fingers wrapped around it’s rough edges, Lucifer smiled, and, slowly, began to fade away, like mist once the sun has risen.
“It has been a honor, Neo,” he said. And, as he faded from existence, came a soft, “Feed the dog.”
And, when Neo blinked, he was gone. And he was alone, holding the pencil in his hand. Bedivere looked up at him, tail wagging, eager for play. Neo put his hand on the dog’s head, contemplating the peace of the park.