Reality Intrudes [Worm/Matrix AU]
1) This story is a crossover between the Wormverse and the Matrix. I own neither property.
2) I will follow Worm canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
2a) This story is set about twenty years after the Matrix movies. The Mainframe has gone down, but the Matrix is still up. Many sub-systems are still maintaining individual pod-farms, and most of humanity is still dreaming in their pods.
3) I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion.
Part One: Mission Prep
I'm half-asleep in my bunk when the call comes over the scratchy PA system. "Morrigan to the Captain's cabin. Morrigan to the Captain's cabin." Yawning, I stretch a little. Sure, I heard the call, but waking up properly takes time. I'm not a morning person, never have been. Probably comes from all that late-night sneaking around in back alleys. In the Matrix, of course. Humanity hasn't rebuilt enough to have back alleys in the real world yet.
Getting off the bunk, I rub my eyes and stretch again. Looking down at myself, I wonder if it's worth putting on pants to go see the Old Lady. On balance, I decide that it's probably a good idea. So I climb into a pair of imitation blue-jeans I picked up on my last leave rotation, cover my sleeveless top with a t-shirt, and pull on a coat over that. Tugging on my boots takes another few seconds, then I run a comb through my brush-cut and head out of my cabin.
The first person I see on my walk to the Captain's cabin is Loki. Smarmy motherfucker thinks he's all that, too. "Hey, Morrigan," he mouths off. "Figure the Captain finally got sick of your handle and decided to rename you? I figure 'More or less' should about—urk!"
I hold the straight-arm pose, with a knuckle on either side of his Adam's apple, until he starts to turn an interesting shade of purple. When I pull back my arm, he slides down the wall and collapses to his knees, coughing and choking, but he doesn't try to retaliate. Which is smart of him, and proves that he can learn. Eventually.
Turning my back, I walk on. All too soon, I end up at Captain Hornblower's cabin. I have no fucking idea where that name comes from. It's not like she's got a trumpet on the wall or something. Just a picture of an old-timey sailing ship. I stick my head in the door and nod to her. "Captain."
"Morrigan." She doesn't look up. "Come on in. Close the door. Take a seat." Her fingers rattle on the keys of her computer as she speaks, which means she's better at multi-tasking than me. She's also given me a direct order, so I drag out a chair and drop my ass in it. For a bit, I watch as she keeps typing.
I have no idea if she's filling out forms, writing her biography or describing the look on my face (bored. Bored, bored bored. With a side order of bored.) Then I start checking out the rest of the cabin. Nope, nothing new here. Oh, wait. There's a picture of some guy in a blue uniform with gold buttons and decoration and stuff. He looks bored, too.
Captain Hornblower stops typing and looks up at me. "Morrigan. Are you familiar with the population conundrum?" Her tone says that she doesn't expect me to be, and that she'll probably have to fill me in on what she's talking about.
And the bastard of it all, it's true. "Uh, no, Captain. What's that?" I know that we're gonna have to get the human population up if we want to have a chance at surviving the next century, but that's hardly a fucking conundrum.
Her lips twitch for a moment, and I'm certain she just won a bet with herself. "It goes like this. When the computers took over in the beginning, all of humanity was loaded into the pods. But the problem is this; we've discovered roughly as many people in pods as there were in late 20th-century Earth. But the records we've recovered indicate that there were maybe twice as many people, possibly even more than that, on Earth at the time. So what happened to them?"
I shrug. "Machines killed 'em off? Surplus to requirements?" But even as I say it, I know how stupid that sounds. The computers needed us as living batteries. The thing about humans is, we can die at any time, for the stupidest fucking reasons. Trip over the curb, walk down the wrong alley, eat the wrong food. I mean, fuck allergies, right? And if a human dies in the Matrix, he dies in the real world too. If there's anything a computer understands, it's the need to keep a backup power supply. "... no, that doesn't make sense."
The Captain smiles slightly and gives me this tiny nod, like I've just passed a test. "Precisely. So a very high-powered team of investigators started searching the hidden corners of the Matrix. And they found something. Which is why we're here."
I sit up, suddenly interested. "Why do I get the impression that 'here' isn't marked on any official map, and that we're travelling under secret orders?" Captain Hornblower, bless her leathery heart, is now my favourite person in all the world. If what I think she's leading up to is true, I'm gonna get to lead the exploration of a whole new section of the Matrix. I'm totally repenting now for making up that nickname for her (though it was funny at the time).
"Because you're one of my best people." I'm actually impressed. She manages to say that with a straight face. Then, of course, she ruins it. "You're insubordinate, disrespectful and have only the vaguest idea of military discipline." I dunno about that; there was this one lieutenant I used to date who really enjoyed being strapped down and paddled. But maybe she's not talking about that sort of discipline. "However, you're resourceful, intelligent, and you think on your feet. As it stands, we can't send a team in. So you'll be on your own for the time being."
Whoops, time to back things up. "Okay, what now, Captain? I'm going in solo? I'm good, but I was hoping to have a couple grunts to back me up."
She looks like someone overdosed the lemon flavouring in her gruel. "I'd like that too, but this is a particularly bizarre situation. This corner of the Matrix was sectioned off by two separate sub-programs of the Mainframe, which sealed themselves in after setting it all up. One of the programs crashed after they kicked over the emulation, and some of the locals have literally been picking out fragments of the crashed program and incorporating it into themselves."
I have to blink at that. "When you say 'bizarre' you ain't just waving the word around for fun. Holy crap. Anything else I need to look out for?"
She nods. "Yes. Remember how the One managed to write superhuman powers like flight into his avatar? Well, the program that didn't crash is literally handing out powers like this to the locals." Her face twists in distaste. "And the worst bit? It calls itself Zion."
My fists clench at that. Zion is a sacred name for all of us redpills, for obvious reasons. "Oh, it did not just go there. When I get my hands on that pile of crappily-written code—"
"You won't." She doesn't have to raise her voice to interrupt me. "It's given itself god-mode, making it able to suspend use of other reality-adjusting code at will. You don't go after it. Your mission is to go into this place, look around, and see what it looks like at ground level. Once we get a good solid recon picture, that's when we start upgrading the mission profile. Until then, you're under the radar. You don't even try to tell people the truth about the world. If you have to break cover, you pretend to be one of the enhanced individuals. Nobody will think otherwise."
"Huh." I rub an old scar on my cheek. "Okay, I'm gonna need a fairly comprehensive loadout—"
"No." For the second time in a minute, she interrupts me. "The connection we've got isn't a strong one. We can't drop a whole person through and be certain that nothing will detect the arrival. However, we have been able to kludge together a modified Agent-style entry mod."
I frown. "I must be getting slow in my old age. I thought we wanted to go low profile. Me replacing one of the natives is probably gonna raise a few eyebrows."
"I said 'modified'," the Captain says a little testily. "The host won't look any different, but you'll be in the pilot's seat, with access to the host's memories. She'll be on lockdown while you're in her head. Plus, you'll have your own skills and capabilities. Also, we'll sneak in a phone so you can contact us and get pulled out for downtime."
That seems kind of reasonable, though there were a few points I thought needed raising. "Whoever I replace is gonna be pissed. And what if they're popular? It's hard to fake being who you're not if a lot of people know who you're supposed to be."
"Give us some credit." The Captain's smile is thin. "We've got you a good candidate. Loner, no friends. Nobody's going to be listening to her, even if she wants to make problems over this."
Well, it's not something I've ever done before, but I'm always up for new experiences, so I nod. "Sure. We got much in the way of uploads for local conditions before I dive in?" I don't ask for stupid shit like standard urban-infiltration skills. Skillsets like that got uploaded back when I was still in my single digits for Matrix insertions.
"Not enough for an upload." She laces her fingers before her. "As far as we can tell, the Zion program played fast and loose with the geography and politics of New England when setting up the emulation. You'll be dropping into a city called Brockton Bay, into the head of a teenage girl called Taylor Hebert. She's got almost exactly the same build as you, so you won't have much trouble adjusting. Current date is January third, twenty-eleven."
As I wait for the rest of it, Captain Hornblower sits there, looking at me until the penny drops. There is no 'rest of it'. That's all she's got.
"Well, shit." I raise my eyebrows. "How many of the crew know about this?" If I know that bunch of low-lives, they'll be betting on how fast I screw everything up. It's what I'd be doing. I find myself wondering if I've got time to get in on that action.
"You, me and the operator." Hornblower's gaze is direct. "This mission is as covert as it gets. If even a whisper gets out about this, we'll be overrun by a dozen different activist groups, all trying to grab lead. Which will be about ten minutes before they start shooting at each other. We need to get a good solid foothold here, which means establishing a covert presence. The more we know about this 'Earth Bet', the better off we'll be in the long run."
I nod in agreement. Having better information now would be nice, but that's the sort of shit that happens when you're a kick-ass covert operative. We're the source of better information for everyone else. "Got it, Captain. The more I can find out, the more likely we are to prevent a shooting war, yeah?"
Just for a second, I imagine that I see a look of respect in her eye. "Succinctly put, Morrigan. I've got a stack of papers here from the operations committee, detailing your operating parameters for this mission. Unfortunately, half of them completely contradict the other half. So I'm going to make an executive decision, with the certain knowledge that you'd ignore them anyway, and tell you to use your own judgement. And try not to end the world."
"Wait, that's a thing there?" For a moment, I'm startled. "Maybe that's something you should've led with, Captain."
She shrugs. "There are some really odd bits of reality-adjusting code running around loose in the system. It's not likely, but it's not impossible either. So be careful about what bears you poke." As she says that, she gives me a hard look. I gaze back as innocently as I can manage. Given that we both know I make a hobby out of poking bears, it's not very convincing.
Finally, she sighs. "Well, try not to let this blow up in our faces. Even if you only screw this up a little bit, we get it taken off us, and nutjobs like Free Humanity will be all over that place like cockroaches, trying to tell all and sundry that they're not living in the real world. If they react like I think they will, a lot of people will die before we have a chance to get them out."
I can see why she's worried. In the wake of the fall of the Mainframe, we had radical groups springing up faster than you could ask 'red pill or blue?'. Some advocated dumping people from their pods as fast as they could be located, while others decided that if the computers could use them for a power supply, so could we. I'm part of the middle ground; the more people we can show the truth to, the fewer there will be of the next generation to be stuck in the Matrix. Eventually, everyone will be out, and we can shut down the networks and start learning what it really means to be human. But in the meantime, we're gonna need operatives like me, going into the various outposts of the Matrix and seeing what's in there.
I stand up from my chair. "Don't worry about it, Captain. I've never destroyed the world before." Turning, I head for the door. Behind me, I hear the Captain mumble something. "Sorry, what was that?"
"Nothing." She sounds grumpy. I hide a grin, because we both know I heard what she said. Always a first time. Me, I'm an optimist. The world might not blow up tomorrow, but that's no reason to live like it won't.
I'm just settling myself into the chair when the hatch opens and the operator steps through. I stare in real horror. "Oh, fuck no. Captain, not him!"
Loki gives me a toothy grin as he settles down at the console. "Whassamatter, More-grin? Finally realising that shit comes back at you sometimes?"
"Shut it, the two of you." The Captain is typing on another console, sending instructions to the bridge. "Loki, Morrigan, I get it that you can't stand each other. But you're the best I've got. Now zip your lips and work together or I swear I'll jack you both into the same ten by ten cell and leave you there."
I shoot a poisonous glare at Loki. "Fine, but if he messes with me while I'm in there, I'm gonna punch his lights out once I get out."
"Pfft," he snorts. "You don't need me to help you fuck up. You're a natural at it already." But as he talks, he's already typing. I can see the screen over his shoulder, starting the cascade of green symbols. "Okay, searching for an uplink signal now."
"No, no, I told you this was a different setup." The Captain abandons her keyboard and goes to his, where she inputs some code strings. I see the pattern on the green waterfall change subtly. "See? We've got to brute-force it through. We're taking over the Matrix headspace of a native."
"All right then," he says. "I think I got it now." As the Captain moves aside, he puts on the headset and starts watching the screen, typing commands again. "Any time you're ready."
"Good." Captain Hornblower comes over to where I'm trying to relax. "Just think of it as a standard Matrix insertion. Try not to do anything that'll get you noticed straight out of the gate."
"But even if I do, I can claim superhuman powers, right?" I look up at her. "I mean, that's a thing there."
"True," she muses. "But it might be an idea to keep that sort of thing on the down-low. Until we've got more information, of course." Seating herself beside me, she takes hold of the main jack. "Operator?"
"Green to go," he says, the tension audible in his voice. I see him poised over the keyboard, fingers at the ready.
Captain Hornblower slides the jack home. I go down the rabbit hole.