BECAUSE LIFE IS…
I managed to convince myself that it wasn’t true. I wasn’t ready for it to be true. That old prophecy was just that: an old prophecy, a story told to the remaining humans to make us believe that there was still hope. And there was still hope—I believed that resolutely—but it did not lie in some mystic superhuman messiah. I didn’t care what the Oracle told me. There was no One. ‘Mumbo-jumbo,’ Cypher called it. And he was right.
Despite our scepticism, the speed at which Neo picked up the combat training caused even Cypher to gawk in amazement. Not even the most cynical of us could deny that this guy was very, very good. We had all expected that Neo would face Apoc in his first sparring match because they were about the same size, and Apoc had the patience of an Agent when it came to training newbies. But instead, he faced Morpheus right away, and came very close to beating him. There was only one person on the ship who could beat Morpheus, and that was me. As I watched Neo, though, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would be dethroned as the Neb’s best fighter. And the void in my stomach grew.
Neo was so good in the sparring program that Mouse was expecting him to actually make his first jump. The rest of the crew was amazed by Neo’s abilities, but not that amazed. Nobody had ever made the first jump. Hell, nobody had ever even made the third jump. The fourth jump was the best anyone had ever done. Morpheus made it on his fourth. I had made it on my fifth, which was still an impressive achievement. But as I watched Neo’s quietly determined face on the monitor, I had the feeling that he might be different. I wanted him to be different. And, before I realized what I was saying, a whispered encouragement of "come on" escaped my lips. For a moment, I almost believed. I wanted to believe.
Mouse glanced at me sideways before returning to the monitors just in time to see Neo connect harshly with the pavement. The pang of disappointment that suddenly overwhelmed me was terrifying, and I sought the privacy of my room to try to clear my head.
My reflection was interrupted an hour or so later by a tentative knock on the door. I groaned in response.
"Cypher, if that’s you, leave me the FUCK ALONE!"
The door slowly creaked open.
I pulled my arm up from where it was resting over my eyes, and turned my head toward the door. It was Mouse.
"Oh… Hi, Mouse. What’s up?" I tried to conceal my frustration at being disrupted.
"Umm… we all just finished eating, and, uh, since you weren’t there, I thought I’d come and make sure you were okay."
"Yeah, I’m fine. Just not hungry. Thanks." I dropped my arm back over my eyes, expecting him to leave.
"You like him, don’t you."
I managed to maintain my composure. "Excuse me?"
"Neo. You like him." I wasn’t used to the seriousness and hesitancy that replaced the customary sarcasm in his voice.
"Don’t be ridiculous."
"I… I don’t think I am being ridiculous, Trinity."
"Maybe that’s because you just don’t think," I retorted, only half joking. He laughed.
"Listen…uh… I really mean it, you know. When I say that denying your impulses is denying what makes you human. And you… well, shit, you’re the only one on this ship who doesn’t use my sims from time to time. I… I think it’s ok not to want to be alone all the time, don’t you?"
I chose not to dignify that with a response.
"Well… I guess I’ll go now." He opened the door to leave. "Uh, Trinity, he didn’t eat anything before he went to bed, so…" He slipped out of the room without finishing.
An hour or so later, my head was no closer to being clear. I had managed to stifle the confusion, though, so I got up with the intention of eating some dinner. In the corridor, I could hear the sound of somebody working at the consoles, but everybody else had disappeared for the evening.
The goop was even more unappetizing than usual that night. I sat at the table and stirred it around for a few minutes without eating a bite. I thought about Dozer, who had a wife and a kid back in Zion. Tank had a girlfriend. Hell, even Switch had found a lover in Zion—a woman from another ship that was taking leave at the same time we were. Even Switch had someone, and she’d been freed, what, four years after me? My mind wandered to Mouse’s sims, which I had long ago sworn never to use. To Mouse. Shit. Behind that kid’s funny-looking face, there was a damn insightful human being. And then, without really realizing what I was doing, I put the bowl of slime on a tray with a tin of water and a clean spork and found myself outside Neo’s room.
He was sprawled out, fully dressed, on top of his blankets. Even his boots were still on. I walked over to his bed and set the tray down where he would be sure to see it, and it wasn’t until I looked up that I realized how close I had brought my face to his. With supreme effort, I resisted the urge to lean in and inhale the scent of him, to reach out and touch the stubble on his head, the smoothness of his cheek. I could almost feel him breathe.
I wasn’t expecting Cypher to be waiting for me outside Neo’s room. Cypher was my good friend, but lately, he had started to unnerve me. Every now and then I would catch him staring at me strangely when he thought I wasn’t looking, and he had started appearing out of nowhere at the strangest times when I was alone. I had known for years that he wanted me, but he had always been more or less a gentleman about it, before. He had no talent for subtlety in his flirtation, and it usually manifested itself into ridiculously exaggerated compliments and random acts of kindness.
He knew that I was off-limits to him, and that if he ever so much as laid a finger on me without good reason, he would wind up crippled or castrated and probably both. But the flirtation had been dissipating over the past few months, and instead he was pulling these sneaking-up-on-me-in-dark-corners tricks, and there was something unnatural about the way he could slip in and out of the shadows on the ship.
"I don’t remember you ever bringing me dinner." He tilted his head at me slowly, like he was judging me. Measuring me, somehow. "There’s something about him, isn’t there?"
His expression made me distinctly uncomfortable. I dodged the question blatantly: "Don’t tell me you’re a believer now."
"I just keep thinking if Morpheus is so sure, why hasn’t he taken him to see the Oracle?" What was his problem? Who did he think he was, challenging Morpheus? I felt scrutinized. This little conversation clearly mattered to him. It was then that I realized that I truly did not trust this man anymore. The part of him that scared me had overtaken the part of him that used to be my friend.
I hardened my gaze in defence. "Morpheus will take him when he’s ready." With that, I turned on my heel and left him, suddenly intent on nothing more than to get away as fast as possible.
Neo made the jump on his fourth try, which was especially remarkable considering his age. We developed an easy friendship, but every now and then I would catch Mouse looking at us sideways with his crooked adolescent grin. I ignored it selectively.
Morpheus told me the day before we were to take Neo in to see the Oracle. I still bristled every time I heard that word… Oracle… But as Morpheus and I discussed security and approach strategies for the next day, the butterflies became overwhelming. Her words echoed between my ears:
You have a fear of weakness, Trinity. It is your greatest fear. For a long time, it will overwhelm you, and you won’t think you’ll be able to stand it. But when he needs it, honey, when he needs you, it will become your strength. And you… you’re gonna need him, too.
What? What does the One have to do with me?
You’re going to fall for him, child. In love.
Part of me knew that it was coming true. Part of me wanted to admit to myself that the feeling in my stomach, like a vacuum, pulling at me from the inside… part of me wanted to admit that it was love. But the other part, the bigger part, the reasonable part, told that little part to shove it. I didn’t know. I couldn’t know. Because I wasn’t going to let it be true.
I passed him in the corridor when I was heading to my room for the night. From the toothbrush in his hand, I judged that he was heading to the lav before going to bed, too. I found myself watching him, analyzing him, trying to figure out what part of him made Morpheus so damn sure. Our eyes met, just for a moment, and he smiled in acknowledgement. I sought frantically for something in his glance that was more than platonic, and for a brief instant, I thought I could see something there.
And then, like a flame pinched out, it was gone.
"Trinity? Hey, are you OK?"
My eyelids fluttered open and the light streaming in through the open door momentarily blinded me. Pausing a moment for my eyes to adjust, I turned to face Switch, who stood hesitantly in the doorway.
"Yeah, I’m fine, why?"
"It’s almost nine, Trinity--you overslept."
I surged out of my bed. "Shitshitshit!" Neo’s trip to the Oracle! Of all the days to sleep in… I searched the room frantically for a clean change of clothes.
"Hey, it’s all right! Take it easy. Just get dressed and grab some breakfast. We’re shooting to head in within the next half-hour. You need anything?"
"No, I’m fine, thanks."
She closed the door behind her, and I was shut into the darkness.
The bulb must have burned out, I realized, and that’s why the lights hadn’t woken me as they usually did. I fumbled around for my clothes and changed hurriedly in the dark, silently cursing Mouse for not having checked the bulbs the day before like he was supposed to. A quick drag of my fingers through my hair removed the uncomfortable sleep-tangles, and I made a mental note to thank Dozer yet again for convincing me to keep my hair short instead of letting it grow back to its pre-unplugging Matrix length.
I extended a hand to unlatch my door when a resounding explosion sounded from the other side. Startled into immediate action, I hauled the hatch open and raced out in the direction the sound appeared to have come from.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw there. The main support of the core had somehow broken free of its anchor, swinging loose and gouging a gaping wound in the side of the hovercraft. Tank was at the controls attempting furiously to regain control of the ship. And then, to my horror, my eyes rested on Morpheus. The weight of the broken beam rested fully on Morpheus’ back as he attempted to keep it from falling on the injured person lying underneath…
My heart caught in my throat. Instantly, I moved to help Morpheus lift the beam.
"Trinity!" That was Morpheus. "Trinity, pull Neo out! Don’t worry about me! Save Neo, he is the One!"
I stooped to grasp the barely-conscious Neo under the arms, locking my hands together across his chest and pulling as hard as I could.
"Neo! Come on, Neo, stay with me! I need you to help me!" In vain I tried to coax him back to coherence. "Please, Neo, he-"
"Trinity!" The cry coming from the direction of the hole cut my pleas short. It was Apoc’s voice.
He had fallen out, and was holding on to the outside of the ship.
I stretched over as far as I could without letting go of Neo, attempting to see outside, praying that Apoc was within reach.
What I saw made me want to cry.
They were all out there. Mouse, Switch, Dozer, and Apoc clung desperately to the outside of the racing craft. Mouse was closest. I freed one hand from Neo and extended it towards the struggling boy, who stretched his frail hand to me…
I couldn’t reach.
Suddenly, I felt Neo writhe in my arm as something pinched his already-trapped body. And Mouse cried out to me again, pleading for me to save him, he was too young to die just yet…
I stretched as hard as I could, reaching, straining…
I heard footsteps behind me, and with a turn of the head saw that it was Cypher, apparently unharmed.
"Cypher! Help me!" I begged.
He looked at me and smiled crookedly.
"Cypher, what are you doing? Get Mouse!"
But he just started laughing as I continued to reach, straining for Mouse’s hand, but unwilling to let go of Neo; a fierce, maniacal cackle that grated like rusty metal against my eardrums…
The sudden brightness in my room caused me to wake with a start. The lights. It was morning… a nightmare. Oh, God, a nightmare. My sweat-soaked clothing clung to me as I sat there shivering, holding my head in my hands and rocking gently to the rhythm of my own racing pulse.
We were all in the mess hall when Morpheus came in to officially announce that we were going in. The fear that festered behind Neo’s eyes was not lost to me as he realized that he was about to find out for sure if he really was to be mankind’s new messiah. What nobody knew was that my fate was being determined with his. Was he the One to save the world? Was he the one for me?
The wicked glint in Cypher’s eye did not escape me when we met up inside. I tried as hard as I could to force myself to remember that it had just been a dream… a nightmare… a collection of randomly generated ideas produced by my brain in sleep. But I kept seeing him there, laughing over me, as I tried to decide which of my friends to save. The mere idea of it made me shudder.
Without even realizing what I was doing, I started watching him. Supervising him. I knew I was unjustified—it was a dream, dammit—but I still couldn’t shake my apprehension. Experience had taught me that instincts were usually things to be taken seriously, and my instinct on this particular situation was practically screaming that something was not right.
The car ride to the Oracle is not one easily forgotten. Mine was still engraved permanently in my memory in remarkable detail: the sun half-hidden behind the clouds, the smell of wet pavement from the recent downpour, the inordinately long line at the Baskin Robbins stand that we passed. It’s like a sentencing, when you go to see the Oracle. But instead of learning how you’re going to die, you find out how you’re going to live. Neo attempted to cover his jitters with small talk—something I have never been good at.
"God…" It was an ironic word to mention on the way to the Oracle.
"I used to eat there. Really good noodles."
I stifled the urge to remind him that he had never really eaten there, and that the noodles didn’t exist. He continued:
"I have these memories from my life… none of them happened." He turned to face me, unable to conceal the sadness that lurked behind his eyes. "What does that mean?"
"That the Matrix cannot tell you who you are."
"But an Oracle can."
I nearly laughed at his scepticism that was so like my own. "That’s different."
I couldn’t answer, because I didn’t understand it well enough myself. Morpheus had told me once that she could see beyond the relativity of time, but that was the extent of what I knew.
The pain in my stomach was starting to become distracting again.
"Did you go to her?"
I answered without thinking: "Yes."
"What did she tell you?"
"She told me--" Suddenly, my self-preservation instinct kicked in. I didn’t finish.
His eyes were so innocent—the eyes of one recently freed, illuminated with truth but not yet marred with the darkness of killing, which he, like the rest of us, would eventually learn to do. The void in my stomach pulsed in time with my heart, and I had to look away.
The next hour passed in a blur of activity, and I remember it only in a series of horrible snapshots. Mouse’s bullet-ridden corpse. Morpheus crashing through the wall. Cypher tripping and getting left behind as we fled the building. I don’t remember any of it with any coherence until I stood in that TV repair shop, and as Neo lifted the ringing phone to his ear, I finally allowed myself to relax. And then the line went dead, and my millisecond of respite was over. With an inward groan of frustration, I pulled out my cell phone and dialled.
At the other end, Cypher answered.
I didn’t make the connection right away. "Cypher? Where’s Tank?"
"You know, for a long time, I thought I was in love with you. I used to dream about you…"
In his voice, I could hear the grating-metal edge of the cackle from my dream. Images came unbidden to my mind of the type of dream I knew Cypher to be capable of. I saw myself in one of those dreams.
Bile rose swiftly in my throat.
I choked down the taste of acid, forcing myself to ignore the revolting scene playing itself out in my head, and trying to keep my thoughts in the here and now.
"You’re a very beautiful woman, Trinity. It’s too bad things had to turn out like this."
It hit me with the force of a hundred Agents. "You killed them."
"I’m tired, Trinity. I’m tired of this war. I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of eating the same goddamn goop every day. But most of all, I’m tired of that jack-off and all his bullshit." Oh, no. Not Morpheus… "Surprise, asshole! Bet you didn’t see this coming, did you?" Though I couldn’t see him, I knew he must have been standing over Morpheus’s body. "God, I wish I could be there when it happens. When they break you. I wish I could walk in just when it happens, so right then, you’d know it was me."
Anger boiled so hot in me that I could hardly speak. "Morpheus. You gave them Morpheus."
"He lied to us, Trinity. He tricked us. If you’d have told us the truth, we would have told you to shove that red pill right up your ass!" Again, I knew he was probably speaking to Morpheus’s body, and the thought of him touching Morpheus sickened me.
"Cypher, that’s not true. He set us free."
"Free!" The fury in his voice nearly made me jump. "You call this free? All I do is what he tells me to do. If I have to choose between that and the Matrix… I choose the Matrix."
"The Matrix isn’t real." There had to be some way to reason with him. There had to be.
"I disagree, Trinity. I think the Matrix can be more real than this world. All I do is pull a plug here. There, you have to watch Apoc die."
I spun to face my friend, trying to hide the terror in my eyes. He knew what was coming.
"Trinity…" Apoc begged me, but there was nothing I could do.
Nothing I could do.
He keeled over. Switch dropped the gun that had never, ever seen her drop and rushed to her best friend’s fallen corpse.
"Welcome to the real world, huh, baby?" Cypher’s voice took on the hissing edge of the snake that he was, and I couldn’t hide the despair in my voice any longer. "But you’re out, Cypher, you can’t go back!"
"Oh, no, that’s what you think. They’re gonna re-insert my body. I go back to sleep, and when I wake up, I won’t remember a goddamn thing."
I couldn’t believe it.
"Oh, by the way, if you have anything terribly important to say to Switch, I suggest you say it now."
I lifted my eyes to meet hers, and I know she knew she was next. More than anything, I hated the helplessness as I stood there, staring at her, knowing that she was about to be murdered and not being able to do a goddamn thing about it.
Her eyes rolled back into her head as she fell.
"Goddamn you, Cypher!" I stifled the tremor that shook my voice, more for Neo’s benefit than my own. He looked so terrified and bewildered, standing there in the corner, not understanding at all what was happening. I squinted back the tears that stung my eyes.
"Don’t hate me, Trinity, I’m just the messenger. And right now, I’m going to prove it to you."
Oh, God. Neo.
I turned to him and there was an innocence in his eyes as they met mine. It was the same look he had had when we picked him up under the bridge that first day… a certain naivete mingled with fear… And I couldn’t let go of his eyes.
His beautiful, perfect, innocent eyes.
The One… You’re going to fall for him, child. In love…
I loved him.
Somewhere far away, Cypher was still talking.
I loved him. I loved Neo.
The confusion and the fear and the hollowness in my stomach…
I loved him.
And then, again, I heard Cypher.
"You never did answer me before. If you bought into Morpheus’s bullshit. Come on, all I want is a little yes or no. Look into his eyes, those big, pretty eyes, and tell me: yes or no?"
And for the first time, I knew. "Yes." Oh, God, yes.
The harsh ring of the telephone pierced the un-dead silence of the room, shaking me out of my frightened trance. I didn’t even think to pick it up, until finally, Neo lifted the receiver and handed it to me. His closeness was the last thing my mind felt before it was sucked back into my body.
He had given them Morpheus. The jackass had given them Morpheus.
I stood over the corpses of five dead crewmates, one a little separate from the others. Even in death, we didn’t want his evil mixing with the complete goodness of the other four. The rage boiled up in me, and only with supreme effort could I resist the urge to crush Cypher’s charred face beneath my boot, opting instead to join the living in their vigil over Morpheus. I was only half listening to Tank as he described the painful situation, and the only solution:
We had to pull the plug.
Incredulity overtook me. "You’re going to kill him? Kill Morpheus?!"
"We have no other choice, Trinity."
I knew he was right.
Morpheus’ alpha patterns were still normal, thank God. A mind so complex as his would take time to crack. But, I reasoned, not enough time, especially when there were only two of us left, one of which could not be permitted to risk death. It would be a suicide mission to try to rescue him. Absolute suicide.
Somewhere far away, I heard Tank deliver a short eulogy for Morpheus, quiet thanks to the man who had been leader and father to us for so long. His hand slipped down and gripped the cable at the base of Morpheus’s neck, and I closed my eyes against the pangs of grief that threatened to bubble to the surface—
"Stop." It was Neo. My eyes shot open, and I looked at him.
"Neo, this has to be done." The gently assertive voice of Tank.
"Does it? I don’t know. This can’t be just a coincidence. It can’t be..."
"What are you talking about?" Tank, again.
"The Oracle… she told me this would happen. She said I would have to make a choice…"
The Oracle. Always the goddamn fucking Oracle. But still, I had to ask: "What choice?"
A sudden determination set in his eyes, and without another word, he strode over to the consoles. A single thought overtook me: he was going to kill himself.
"What are you doing?" That was me.
"I’m going in."
"No, you’re not." Not if I have anything to do with it.
"I have to." The confidence in his voice was inspiring, but no amount of confidence would get him out of that alive. The frustration overtook me.
"Neo, Morpheus sacrificed himself to get you out. There is no way you’re going back in."
"Morpheus did what he did because he believed I’m something I’m not."
"What?" Now, he was just being ridiculous.
"I’m not the One, Trinity. The Oracle hit me with that, too."
I felt like I had been stabbed in the stomach. But it couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be, because I was certain, now. I knew.
"No, you… you have to be."
"I’m sorry, I’m not. I’m just another guy."
What the hell was he telling me? It couldn’t be true. The knife in my stomach twisted.
"No, Neo. That’s not true. It can’t be true."
No. I couldn’t tell him. He couldn’t know. Not now. Not ever. No dependency. None. You get emotional, you get dead.
I heard Tank trying to convince him as I struggled with myself. There would be no stopping him, I could see that. Neo’s words phased back into my consciousness:
"…because I believe in something."
Here it came.
"I believe that I can bring him back."
He’s going to die. He’s going to go in after Morpheus and I’m going to lose both of them. I’m not ready to lose him yet… I can’t lose Neo… Shit. I watched him as he punched in. That moron. That fucking moron.
And then, with a sigh followed by new resoluteness, I took my place beside him at the console.
"What are you doing?"
I looked up at him, incredulous. Did he really think I would let him go alone? Shit, he really was a moron. "I’m going with you."
"No, you’re not."
The words poured out of my mouth like water, my frustration blurring my mind. I turned to face him, my best don’t-give-me-shit look fixed in my glare. "No? Well let me tell you what I believe. I believe Morpheus means more to me than he does to you. I believe that if you are serious about saving him, then you’re going to need my help, and since I am the ranking officer on this ship, if you don’t like it, I believe you can go to hell, because you aren’t going anywhere else." Fuck you, Neo. We’re doing this together whether you like it or not. "Tank, load us up."