“I just need to be alone for awhile.” She heard herself say.
Ignoring the pitying and sympathetic looks of those around her, she turned on her heel and left the bridge. Once in the sanctuary of her room, she curled up in a ball on her bed and let the tears fall. Burying her face on her pillow, she choked back her loud sobs as her fingers clutched at the flimsy pillow cover.
She didn’t look up as the door opened and then closed. He silently crossed the room and sat at the edge of her cot next to her. He cleared his throat and paused before speaking.
“Nova…if you need me…”
She shifted to look up at him, a mute look of anguish on her face. Unable to stop himself, he took her in his arms and held her shaking body close. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she buried her face in his chest and clutched tightly at him as if afraid she’d lose him.
They sat like that for some time until her worn-out body finally eased itself into a dreamless sleep. Kissing her lightly on the forehead, he lay her gently down on the bed and pulled the covers over her. He shut the light of her room and left, closing the door behind him.
A week later found the Nebuchadnezzar back at Zion. Its crew had already gone on leave, while Morpheus remained with Nova at the docking area. They waited in silence for her friends to pass by for her. They would be arriving on the Hope in a few minutes and had agreed to meet her at the dock.
“Will you be alright?” He asked gently.
She nodded as her fingers fidgeted on the tattered edge of her well worn shirt. She’d been quiet the entire trip back to Zion, only speaking to Morpheus and Tank who’d become a close friend. Morpheus was worried about her. After her initial outburst, she’d been slightly distant from everyone else, even him.
“Nova, I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there too, remember?”
She returned his sad smile and squeezed back the hand he clasped.
“I just want you to know that I’ll always be here for you.”
He held her for a moment in a brief hug then let go as her crewmates walked over to join them.
“If you need me, I’ll be at the town hall.”
She nodded, smiling bravely as she untangled her fingers from his. The crew of the Hope nodded in recognition of him before they walked away with her in their midst. He watched until she disappeared into the crowd and then headed in the opposite direction for the city hall.
Nova stood next to Spark during the ceremony. It wasn’t very long, an hour at the most. They stood together as the bodies were cremated and than placed in separate urns, each with the name of the person on it. The jars were then carried down into a crypt and placed in a niche with the ship’s name engraved on the arch above. It was there that the ashes of all former crew members were laid to rest. After a moment of silence, the crew separated to take their leave. Spark and Merc waited outside for Nova to come out. She’d been the last to leave.
“How did it happen?” She asked, her lips in a grim line.
“Ambush. Crash was shot almost as soon as we got in. And Fuse…she was shot pretty badly. She knew she wasn’t going to make it, so she stayed behind so that Pixy could get through. …I’m sorry, Nova. I know how close you were.”
Nova nodded and turned away so they couldn’t see her eyes moisten with tears.
“Will you come back with us?” Merc finally spoke, his voice gruff with repressed emotion.
She didn’t know what to say. She wanted to go back to her friends, the people she’d practically grown up with. But then, there was Morpheus to think about too. She couldn’t leave him. She knew that she needed him as much as he needed her.
“You’re in love with him.” Spark remarked with a wry grin.
Nova flushed as she turned to look back at them.
“What are you talking about?” She shifted nervously, unconciously beginning to fidget with a stray strand of her long hair.
The redhead just smirked, while Merc smiled faintly and shook his head in amusement.
“You know if you got any redder you’d be the same color as a ripe tomato.”
Nova bit her lip and sighed in defeat.
“Is it that obvious?”
Spark just smiled knowingly.
“So, it’s really serious between the two of you, huh…”
“I suppose you could say that.”
“Has he proposed?”
Spark’s eyes sparkled as Nova turned even redder.
“Oh, come on! I thought you said it was serious between the two of you!”
“It is, but we’ve never talked about marriage…I mean…”
Merc’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. He’d never seen the usually confident Nova look so flustered.
“Leave her alone, Spark,” he said wryly.
Nova threw him a grateful look as Spark laughed. Then, Merc became serious.
“We’ll be here for a few days or so. If you want to come back, just say so.”
She nodded as she nervously bit her lip, a slight frown of worry on her face.
They walked together until the town hall then parted at the gate. She went up the old, crumbling steps of the building then asked at the lobby desk for Morpheus.
“He’s over at the archives. Down that corridor and then the fifth hall to your right.”
She followed the man’s directions and found herself at the entrance of an enormous vault. It was as about as tall as the building itself, going up to about four or so levels. She walked into the cavernous room in awe of the the silence and enormity of the place. Wrinkling her nose at the musty smell, she made her way through the towering shelves and stopped near the back, where she finally found him.
He was seated at a long table with a pile of thick leather bound volumes before him. Going over one of them, he read with intense concentration. She smiled to herself as she stood half-hidden behind a shelf. She watched lovingly at the way he bit his lip when he was deep in thought. Slipping silently behind him, she rested her hands on his shoulders and leaned down to whisper in his ear.
“Read anything interesting?”
She smiled in amusement as he jerked up in surprise. Realizing it was her, he smiled and touched her cheek to bring her closer for a brief kiss. She joined him at the table and watched as he carefully shut the book and laid it on the pile.
“You read all of those?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Not really. Just went over a few pages. …So, where do you want to go?”
“Well, dinner would be nice.”
The two left the building hand-in-hand and walked through the crowds to dodge into a small shop.
“What is this place?”
“The place that sells the best slop in town of course.”
Nova returned his smile as they took a seat. While they waited for their food, they started to talk and the topic turned to her crew.
“They asked you to come back with them, didn’t they?” He asked softly, the expression on his face unreadable as he looked into his drink.
“Yes, they did.”
“Did you agree?”
“I told them I’d consider it.”
The waitress delivered their food as he spoke and the two ate in silence. After they’d finished and paid for the meal, they walked out into the street still not speaking to each other. Nova started to walk in the direction of the ship for it was getting late, but Morpheus’ hand on her arm stopped her.
Without a word, he set off in the opposite direction and she followed him unquestioningly. When he finally stopped, Nova found herself at the edge of town. She looked in awe at the huge cavern they’d walked into. Stalactites hung from the stone ceiling miles above them amidst glittering crystals. Around them were lofty stalagmites, smoothed to the image of tall columns by time and the water that flowed at their feet. She laughed softly as she dipped a bare foot in the freezing, clear water. She’d never seen water like this in the real world before.
“It’s beautiful here,” she said to him from her seat on a rock. “It’s like sitting under the stars.”
He nodded as he joined her on the rock.
“I found this place the first time I came to Zion. I like to think of it as my private place. A place where I can be alone.”
“Do you like it?”
He moved closer to her and entangled his fingers in her hair as he kissed her. When it was over, she rested her head on his chest and whispered so softly he barely heard her.
“I wished we could be like this forever.”
She peered up at him expectantly, her green eyes shining in the dim light of the cavern.
It was a quiet ceremony attended by the crews of the Hope and the Nebuchadnezzar as well as the few friends they had in Zion. An official conducted the service and it was not long before the couple lay together in a small inn near the town hall.
“What happens now?”
She asked softly, curled up next to him.
“What do you mean?”
“Would Zion mind having a married captain and his wife on the same ship?”
“There’s nothing in the books that speak against it.”
“So, that’s what you were reading at the archives,” she said with a bemused look on her face.
“You’ve found me out,” he admitted, his laugh muffled as he buried his face in her hair.
They worked together on board the Nebuchadnezzar for a few years. Then, she found out she was pregnant. Going on maternity leave, she went to live with an old friend who’d been born and raised in Zion. The friend, Crystal, had worked on board the Hope when Nova was still a newbie. An expert programmer, she’d retired early and now worked at the town hall.
Time passed slowly for Nova. Being a fighter who was forced into a long period of inactivity, she spent her days in the archives. She read various books from ancient fantasies to the latest news on Zion technology. One day, she met with Crystal for lunch after her usual trip to the archives. Her friend watched warily as she picked unhappily at her slop.
“Alright, Nova. What’s wrong?” The older woman asked in a crisp, no nonsense voice.
“I look terrible,” she said glumly, putting down her spoon.
“You look fine for a woman who’s six months pregnant.”
“You’re supposed to be fat. You’re pregnant. …This doesn’t have anything to do with the newbie Morpheus unplugged, does it? That pretty young girl, Trinity?”
Nova flushed guiltily under the other woman’s penetrating gaze.
“Well…maybe it has something to do with that…”
Crystal rolled her eyes.
“Really, Nova. I should think you’d know better than suspect Morpheus of straying from the path. The man has more sense than that. …Now, why don’t you head over to the communications room and have your monthly talk with him. You’ll see. You’re just being foolish.”
Nova sighed and pushed herself up from the table. A hand resting protectively on her bulging belly, she made her way from the canteen to the communications room of the town hall. She waited for a few moments before the connection was made.
She couldn’t help but smile as soon as she saw his face on the screen.
“Hello, love,” he said, smiling back. “How’s the baby?”
“Fine. It won’t be long now. Just a few more months. Will you be back by then?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t miss it.”
Her forehead suddenly furrowed in a frown as she noticed how worn out he looked.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” he said with a weak, reassuring smile. “I just came from the Oracle.”
“Really?” She asked surprised. Not many were called to see the enigmatic figure known as the Oracle.
“Yes. She said I’m going to find the One.”
“Ohhh…that’s wonderful…” She said softly, her green eyes alit.
“I know. I can’t believe it’s going to be me to find him.”
“I can. I always knew you’d do something great and I was right.”
“You have so much faith in me, love. I hope that I’ll never let you down.”
“I don’t think you ever will because I know you love me and that’s enough.”
“Captain…” A faint voice was heard in the background. He grimaced and looked apologetically at her.
“I understand, love. They need you, too.”
“I love you.”
“Back at you.”
She sighed softly as the screen flickered and died. All her foolish doubts had died as soon as she’d seen his face and heard his voice. He loved her just as much as she loved him. She didn’t know what she’d do without him.
‘Without you, love, things just wouldn’t be the same.’
“Damn him! Where the hell is he? He promised me he’d be here!”
Her furious tirade was abruptly cut off as another wave of pain came over her and she screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Calm down, Nova! I’m sure he’ll be here soon!”
“Calm down! Calm down!” She shouted as if Crystal was crazy. “I’ve been in labor for who knows how long…”
“An hour or so,” the doctor said helpfully. He cringed at the glare she gave him.
“…and he isn’t here! He promised me he’d be here! Damn him! It’s all his fault!”
“It takes two to tango as the old saying goes, Nova,” Crystal said wryly.
“Oh, who’s side are you on! Ahhh…”
“Easy there!” Crystal said trying not to grimace in pain as Nova clutched her hand with a death grip.
“I think I see the head!” The doctor cried out excitedly.
“Am I too late?” A frantic Morpheus asked, out of breath as he rushed into the room.
“It’s about bloody time you got here!” Nova shouted at him, her face pale and drawn as sweat dripped down her face. “What took you so long?”
“Sorry! I’m so sorry, love!”
“Nova, are you alright?”
“I’m giving birth to your child! Do you think I’m alright? Do I look alright?”
“My, she’s got a temper,” the doctor said to Morpheus.
“Shut up and help me, you fool!” She screamed furiously at him. “Isn’t that what you’re suppose to do!?!”
“If you’ll just stay calm and push, ma’am…”
“You make it sound so easy! Why don’t you try it! Men! They’re all the same!” She said the last with a glare at her husband, who looked piteously back at her.
Hours later, the room was in silence and occupied by only Nova and Morpheus, who looked in awe at the little bundle that Nova held in her arms. A dimpled light brown hand curled its tiny fingers around Morpheus’ little finger, while big sparkling green eyes looked up curiously at the two faces above it. After awhile, the baby yawned sleepily, long dark lashes casting faint shadows as bright eyes closed in sleep.
Gently kissing the dark fluff of hair, Nova smiled lovingly at her child.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” She asked her husband softly, afraid to wake the sleeping baby.
“She has your eyes,” he said looking at her glowing face. Her lips curved up in a pleased smile as her cheeks flushed.
“What’ll we call her?”
“How about Zora?”
“Zora…” She said thoughtfully, head tilted to one side as she bit her lip. “Arabic for dawn, right?”
He nodded as his gaze returned to the sleeping baby, an affectionate smile on his weary face.
“Yes, we’ll call her Zora. …Do you think things will be better once she grows up?”
“It’s our job to try…”
Nova smiled as she stood over the crib of her cooing baby, shamelessly talking back in baby talk. Dangling a shiny bauble over the grasping Zora, she didn’t notice Crystal silently slip into the room or notice the upset look on the other’s face. When she did look up, she frowned as she saw the obvious distress on Crystal’s face.
“What’s wrong? …Is it Morpheus?” She asked, her face paling at the idea. Crystal gulped and seemed to hold back her tears as she shook her head and took a seat next to Nova.
“It’s the Hope, Nova…”
“We lost contact with the ship a few weeks ago. I didn’t want to worry you unnecessarily, so I kept quiet. After all, it could have been nothing. But, finally Zion sent out a ship to search for them. They found the ship destroyed and…” Crystal refused to finish her sentence as she looked away from Nova’s pale stricken face. Already the tears had begun to fall on Crystal’s face, but Nova still looked dazed.
“What about the crew?” She asked softly, afraid of what she’d hear.
“They found the bodies…they were torn up…they could hardly identify them…they don’t know how it happened…”
Crystal’s voice finally failed her and she could only look in pity at Nova. Clearly stunned, the younger woman sat as if frozen, ignoring her child’s confused cries.
“No…it’s not possible…”
“I’m so sorry, Nova…”
“All of them…”
Nova’s head snapped up and her moist eyes narrowed as Crystal didn’t speak.
“All of them?” She repeated in a shaky voice, trying to choke back a sob.
“Spark’s body is missing. They don’t know why.”
“Do they know anything at all?” Nova cried in anguish, rising to her feet.
Crystal didn’t have a chance to reply as Nova’s attention was distracted by her increasingly loud child.
“Hush, darling. It’s alright…it’s alright…”
The baby’s cries slowly died as Nova picked her up and held her tight. But as if sensing her mother’s distress, she looked worriedly up at her. Nova wished miserably that she could mean what she said. Her entire ‘family’ was dead. If what had happened to the rest of the crew was any proof, Spark had to be dead too. Her husband, her child, and Crystal were all she had left. If she were to lose them too…
“Are you sure, Crsytal?” Nova asked, her lips pursed up in a pout as she juggled her squirming toddler in her arms. “I don’t know how long I’ll be gone…”
“We’ll be fine, Nova,” she said reassuringly as she took Zora into her arms. “I’ve taken care of her before.”
“Yes, but not for such a long period of time… This job on board the Baltazar is the best I can take because it’s a rescue ship. I won’t be away for so long, like Morpheus…” She looked wearily at Zora, who was contentedly sucking at her thumb. She pulled her daughter’s hand from her mouth with a shake of her head. “Don’t do that, darling.”
“Go on, Nova. Me and Zora here will be fine.”
“Yeah. Go on, Mommy. Me and Aunt Crystal will be fine,” her daughter said cheerily.
“Alright. Give Mommy a kiss.”
She smiled at the sloppy kiss her daughter gave her, patting her chubby cheek as she kissed the top of her head.
“Be a good girl and listen to Aunt Crystal, OK?”
“OK, Mommy! Bye!”
Nova quickly walked down the street and towards the dock, where she’d meet her new captain and ship. As she made her way to the crowd, she smiled as she saw her husband at the dock talking to his second-in-command, Trinity. The young woman listened attentively to him as he gestured to some supplies that were being loaded on board the ship.
“Hey, love,” she called out as she came within hearing distance.
He smiled as he saw her and gave her a quick kiss. Noticing the dufflebag slung over her shoulder, he spoke.
“So, you’re taking the job.”
“Yup. Zora seemed to take it pretty well. I just hope she doesn’t run Crystal ragged.”
“I wouldn’t count on that if I were you.”
“I know,” she laughed, brushing back a loose strand of her long hair. Then, her forehead furrowed in a frown. “You’ll be careful, won’t you?”
“I’ll be fine, love,” he said reassuringly, brushing her cheek gently with his hand.
It had been more than a year since the demise of her former crew, but Nova was still worried each time he left on a mission.
“Just make sure you come back in one piece.”
“I’ll try, love.”
After one last lingering kiss, he reluctantly let her go and watched as she disappeared into the crowd. Looking back at his crew, he scowled at the smirking Tank, who’d seen the whole thing.
“Back to work, Tank.”
“Yes, sir,” he said with a mock salute and a knowing grin.
Out of breath and lungs burning, she forced herself to run as fast as her feet could carry her. She dared not chance a look behind her, but she knew that the Agent was not far behind.
It had been a simple rescue mission, but as it turned out they were the ones in need of rescue. In some distant corner of her mind, she mourned the death of those she’d known for too short a time. One by one, she’d seen them die and now she was the last one left. She tossed her cellphone away after the operator refused to answer again. She feared what could be happening on the other end. Where the rumors true? Did mechanical monsters hunt them down like animals in the real world? If so, her ticket out of the Matrix might be gone.
Still, she couldn’t think of anything else to do and refused to give up the tiny sliver of hope she still had. So, she continued to run towards the exit that the operator had given when she’d still been able to contact him.
She shoved her way through the crowd, ignoring their glares and shouts. Then, she dashed up the stairs of a rusting fire escape and dodged into an empty room, barely missing a bullet. She leapt out the other window of the room, crashing floors below onto a striped awning. She quickly slid off and ran into the nearby alley. Her heart leapt to her throat as she saw the telephone booth. The telephone wasn’t ringing…and the Agent was waiting right next to it. She was truly on her own.
“Escape is futile, Ms. Monroe.”
She heard him say as he pulled out his Desert Eagle and pointed it straight at her.
Then, darkness enveloped her…
“Why must you be so uncooperative?” The Agent hissed as another one of them injected her with a clear foreign substance.
Bloody and bruised, she sat handcuffed to the cold metal chair. Back ramrod straight. Face inscrutable. Only her flashing defiant green eyes revealed any emotion.
“You’re captain and crew are dead. No one will even attempt to rescue you for they surely think you are dead. You might as well cooperate.”
She stubbornly chose to remain silent, looking right back at the Agent’s unconcealed frigid blue eyes. He shook his head in disgust and turned away from her to stand behind his colleague, who was at a computer.
When the unexpected pain cut through her, she couldn’t hold back a loud gasp. Then, she began to shake convulsively in a sudden seizure. Disoriented, her vision blurred as the room began to spin before her. She heard their voices as if they came from far away although they were right next to her. Somehow she knew that this was not suppose to happen.
“What’s wrong?” She heard the first Agent snap at his colleague.
“The code is being rejected.”
By then, she had already begun to lose consciousness and her last thoughts were of those she’d loved and left behind.
Morpheus briskly finished giving instructions to his crew before dismissing them. Quickly scanning the dock, he smiled as he saw his fidgeting daughter next to an unusually somber Crystal. He didn’t seem to notice though as Zora ran into his arms for a hug.
“Has my little girl been good?”
“Of course, Daddy! I’m always good!”
“We’ll see what your aunt has to say about that,” he said, returning her mischievous smile.
His smile quickly turned to a frown though when he noticed the look on Crystal’s face. She shook her head in warning before he could speak and started ahead of them towards the apartment they shared. He walked quickly after her with a happily chattering Zora in his arms, wondering what was wrong. He followed her up to the apartment and waited as she opened the door with her key card. He slipped in after her as it slid open and let his daughter down on the ground.
“Yes, love,” he said absently, staring intently at Crystal for any sign of what was wrong.
“…when is Mommy coming back?”
He stiffened as he saw a flicker of pain cross Crystal’s face then disappear. She turned away from him and headed for the kitchen without a word. Keeping his facial expression relaxed so as not to worry her, he turned his attention back to his daughter.
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“Not since you and Mommy left, Daddy.”
His insides clenched in a tight ball as he heard her words. He’d been gone for more than six months. Nova should have been back in half that time.
“Will she come back next time with you, Daddy?” His daughter asked innocently as she fiddled with his shirt buttons.
“I miss her,” she said wistfully, her lips in a cute pout.
“I miss her, too,” he agreed as he gave her a hug. “Why don’t you wash up for dinner? I think your aunt will have it ready soon.”
He watched her trot out of the room then headed for the kitchen where Crystal was chopping vegetables at the counter.
“What happened, Crystal?”
“It’s like what happened to the Hope,” she said softly, her voice choked up with emotion. “They found the ship in ruins and the crew dead.”
“You haven’t told Zora that her mother is dead.”
His voice was flat and without emotion. The denial already beginning to set in.
“They don’t know for sure…they didn’t find her body…”
A flicker of hope appeared in his eyes.
“Don’t…” She pleaded, whirling to face him with eyes bright from unshed tears.
“Don’t what?” He asked in a strangled voice. “Don’t hope? They didn’t find a body. She could still be alive.”
“Don’t do this, Morpheus.” She moved closer to him and clasped at his arm. “Think of Zora. You can’t let her live on this false hope. You know what they do to rebels. You’ve seen it first-hand. She’s dead. I know it’s hard, but we have to accept it. The only reason I haven’t told Zora was because I thought you should be the one to tell her.”
“Well, I won’t,” he said firmly, pulling his arm away. “I refuse to give her up, Crystal. I know that she wouldn’t have wanted me to. She’s alive somewhere and I’m going to find her.”
With those last words, he turned on his heel and left her to weep silently. He didn’t stop until he reached the door of his daughter’s room. Knocking on it, he waited until she answered before entering. He watched affectionately as she fumbled with the buttons of her fresh shirt. He stood back waiting for her to finish, reluctant to offer unwanted help. Even at the age of four, she was already fiercely independent and strong-willed…so much like her mother. He sighed softly as he sat on her bed to wait. When she was finished, she climbed onto his lap and waited for him to speak. The green eyes she’d inherited from her mother peered up at him curiously.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
“Mommy…Mommy won’t be coming back for some time.”
“Why not?” Her face scrunched up in a frown. “She didn’t leave you like Alt’s mommy left her daddy, did she?”
Morpheus looked at her in obvious surprise.
“No, she didn’t.”
Zora nodded happily.
“I knew she wouldn’t leave you. Mommy loves you and she loves me. So, why isn’t she coming back?”
The frown had returned and Morpheus sincerely wished he could say something to make it go away.
“Mommy has a job to do, like me. And to do it, she needs to go away for some time.”
“But, she’ll come back, right?”
Fast-forward in time…
Leaving the bright daylight of the city streets above, he slowly descended the concrete steps that led underground to the dimly lit subway station. Idly studying his surroundings, he walked practically unobserved by the rushing crowd of working people on their way to work. Aside from the few casual glances thrown his way, he might as well have been invisible. And frankly, that was the way he liked it. It was the only way to keep himself from being discovered and subsequently chased by Agents.
Edging away from the crowd, he melted into the shadows of the walls liberally sprinkled with colorful ads. Although it looked like he was waiting for the crowd to thin out a little, he was really scanning the crowd for the potential his friend had spoken of.
His friend had insisted that he check out the potential for despite her advanced age she was highly skilled with computers. So, he’d agreed to check the woman to judge if she’d make it through the initiation stage. They’d been keeping tails on her for some time now and Morpheus had just been informed by one of them that she was headed in this direction as scheduled.
Jet-black hair. Green eyes. A real stunner, his friend had said. Due to the recent trouble with transmissions, he hadn’t been able to see an actual picture of her. But, his friend had promised to download it to him as soon as possible.
Suddenly, a flash of dark green caught his eye. He studied the back of the woman’s head, her black hair in a neat chignon. She was dressed simply but expensively in a dark designer pantsuit complemented by the dark green scarf that identified her as the potential. Now, if only she’d turn her head, so that he could see her face.
Obviously impatient, she checked her watch then abruptly looked over her shoulder.
‘She must have spotted the tail,’ he thought absently.
Then, he started in surprise as she looked straight at him with her piercing green eyes.
He’d found her.