Chapter 1: Last-Case Scenario

A lack of posturing saved both of their lives.

Trinity had wanted her first Save with an aura of impending revelation, warnings through cryptic messages as how Morpheus did them, but the knowledge of the presence of a hundred people ready to become Agents in the carriages behind stopped her.

"I just know," she said with finality and threw a red pill at the detective, who caught it.

"You want to know the truth?"

"I'm a P.I. It's my job to find it."

"That's not an answer."

A door opened outside of the booth. Trinity looked outside and quickly turned to Ash.

"Shit! They're here already. If you want to back out now, here's your chance."

Ash's cool state of mind was fazed for a moment, his left side snapping to attention. Eight hundred grand to get this dame, and now she had ruined it all. Damn it all, he could have just clubbed her when she checked the door, grabbed her comatose carcass, and dragged her to his presumable clients outside, presumably the authorities. But with how she casually spouted out clues to the holes in his history, how she was so remarkably calm in the face of the man who was supposed to apprehend her, he was suddenly doubtful about who she really was. A criminal doesn't act like this. Why would she want me to join her, anyway? He saw Trinity staring at him, her eyes uncovered, and realized that she wanted him to say yes, and that furthermore that he wanted to, too.

He looked at her and said with the straightest face he could manage, "Alright, bunny rabbit. Lead me down the rabbit hole."

"Swallow that pill and follow me. Avoid those men in suits at all costs!"

She darted out, and Ash followed, still clutching the little crimson tablet. He hazarded a look behind and saw three men in brown suits chasing after them, all holding the biggest, baddest gats he had ever seen in all his life in the City. Ash grimaced. He had been in frantic, gun-ho, life-threatening situations before, but always with more ammo. Should have brought greater firepower…

At the door to the next compartment Trinity suddenly turned around, and conjuring double Uzis from her trenchcoat, fired at the men while rushing backwards. For good measure, Ash took his .38 magnum and shot, running after her before the ground suddenly hit his face. He fell abruptly onto the floor and a tremor passed through his body. Ash's liquid turned into jelly, and he twisted for a moment, struggling against his own involuntary body until Trinity kicked his face.

Bitch, that stung! He screamed in his mind, but his possession had vanished. She pulled him onto his feet and they pressed on.

They found cover in a side booth where Trinity fired out from every few seconds.

"Eat that pill. I'll explain later," she told him.

"Why? What is it, anyway, cyanide?"

She fired off a few more shots and duck back in. "Listen. I'm trying to save both of our lives, and you're going to need to trust me!" she shouted over the gunfire.

"You say that they're the bad guys and you're the good girl, eh?" Ash stuck his hand out and fired off a few shots, did a double-take, realized what he was doing, and quickly went back in. Reality was hitting his eardrums, as well as second thoughts about leaving the money.

"What the hell am I doing? I've never fought against Feds before."

Trinity was exasperated. Should have brought back up, should have gone to a more secure location, should have gone to a location with fewer people. She thought. Time to take drastic measures.

She took an Uzi and pointed it at his head. "Just eat the damn thing."

This was menacing, but nothing new. "Not until you tell me what it is."

"First of all, those aren't government agents. Second, why am I getting you to eat fucking poison when I can fucking shoot you now with this fucking gun? You're supposed to be the fucking detective, Sherlock!"

Ash had to admit that was a good point. Perhaps in all of the excitement of trying to not get shot, his deductive skills were a bit lacking. He suddenly shuddered again, his head throbbing and an uneasy feeling took over him, and Ash was not himself for a second. Perhaps it was time for medicine? He took the tablet into his mouth and swallowed it with a gulp.

She took the gun away and smiled. "Now the real work begins."

Trinity took something out of her jacket and pulled something else out from it- a pin… the thing was a grenade! She threw it out of the booth, jumping to the ground with hands over head. Ash was already on the floor. The sound of many windows exploding at once rang, and the glass behind the prim baby blue curtains of the booth exploded, letting in a shock wave that blew off the curtains.

She ran out the booth, and he followed. They got through two more carriages when with a loud SCREECH the train slammed into a halt, slamming the two backwards. The trainman must have been spooked by the explosion, and the conductor was likely to check on the gunfire soon. They were fortunate enough that none of the passengers had been taken over yet, but the system was likely to start adapting soon.

Trinity got up to her feet, helping the stumbling Ash up. She found an emergency exit door nearby, threw it open, and ran into the dark, snowy night. She did not get far before she realized that Ash wasn't with her, and ran back to the door. Inside was a horrific sight.

Like a man suffering from a lack of enough exorcisms, the detective was on the floor, seizing up. He clawed at his throat and mouth, legs kicking about and body rolling around. His face was frozen into the expression a freshly caught fish has after it jumps back into the lake and misses. Even more frightening was that parts of his body was faded, his left arm transparent and part of his chest not there at all.

"Trin… ity… what's happen… ing?" he pleaded.

She flipped open her cell and dialed for help immediately.

"Operator."

"Tank, the red pill's effects are working too early."

"Exactly. Dammit, girl, why didn't you call for back-up? At the very least you could have waited before you gave the trace."

"Spare me. The machines knew he was with me, and they'd would've taken over him if I did nothing."

"The looking glass is kicking Ash out. Apoc and Cypher are working on getting his location."

"The hell they are. Agents are coming."

"They're already here. Don't you realize what's happening, Trinity? They won't do a single thing to him. Ash's ass is bait. Get to a hard line, now."

A door flew open to the carriage, and another suit walked out.

"Where?" she asked, dashing out and jumping onto a platform.

"There's a phone over by a little room for the janitors right in front of you."

"This is too easy," she said as she ducked while opening the door.

Sure enough, an agent stood, barrel right at Trinity's eyelevel. The floor was nicely polished, and as time dilated, she pushed herself and slid the few necessary feet across the room, her body hitting the stand with the phone. She caught the receiver neatly, and before the agent could turn around, she was already gone.

"You disobeyed direct orders."

Trinity gritted her teeth. "Obeying the orders would have led to the death of an innocent, a man fully capable of withstanding the truth, and a potential Rebel."

"The order would have protected both Ash and you both. You should have had rendezvous with him in a safer area."

That was true. However, she was not going to let Morpheus have satisfaction after virtually condemning Ash to capture and death. "A safer area, closer to a hard line, would have been a perfect location for agents to ambush me immediately."

"Then you should have forgone saving him- and followed the second order. You are more important. Finding the One is more important."

How many times had Morpheus gone against the Council in saving who he believed to be the One? How many times had he allowed others to risk death and die to save one life?

Before Trinity could reply, she was cut short by Dozer on the PA system announcing their arrival.

Clearly Morpheus was as anxious to see the results as she was. He left without another word. As they walked to the cockpit from the Matrix-insertion room soundlessly, Trinity realized that he was not so much angry with her as worried for Ash. He continued to unconsciously clench and unclench his jaws and fists as he strode, deep in thought. It was a seldom-seen nervous habit unique to times when Morpheus had no control over the situation, when forces beyond his ship and his control meant everything to success. Additionally, in the scheme of all things relating to the One, Morpheus was often confident on the main road, but uneasy on the detours, such as this.

The whole Nebuchadnezzar crew was gathered in the cockpit, watching out the viewport at… nothing. Inside the watery chamber below the power plant was nothing, save the odd Freed.

"Scanning infrared cams," reported Tank, who was looking through a pair of VR goggles.

"Nada especial in heartbeats," added Apoc. "They must have sealed up his pod and pumped in tranquilizers."

"Or killed him and placed a pump in it," retorted Cypher.

"Sir, squiddes inbound," alerted Dozer, looking at a holographic map of the radar. "They're less than five clicks away."

"Here comes the hunter to the trap," said Switch.

"We have to rescue him," said Trinity.

"How? The guy's pod's all sealed up!" asked Cypher.

"We could use the EMP," suggested Apoc.

"And kill half the City?" replied Switch.

"Four clicks."

"No one's ever even tried using the EMP near a plant. Besides, the range can't be too big!" Mouse suddenly exclaimed.

"Sir, you got to get us out of here," Cypher pleaded. "This guy's dead anyway, and he's not even the One."

"Morpheus, we have to do this. This man would be a valuable asset to the Rebellion, and if we let the machines keep him he'll be terminated for sure. His blood will be all on our-," said Trinity.

She was cut off as Morpheus suddenly slammed his hands on the console, indirectly causing a monitor that had been damaged during a previous attack to jump to life, displaying images of incoming sentinels. His crew immediately stopped their arguing.

Morpheus leaned on his hands against the console for a while, staring into the dark. After a moment, he mused, "What's the use of saving your life if you can't save your humanity?"

"Dozer, put us down onto that piece of dry land over there and power down," he commanded.

"Yes, sir."

As expected, the waiting time took forever. When the sentinels finally swooped into the giant chamber, the silence was even louder. They weren't very smart AI, but the squiddies immediately detected the giant hunk of metal sticking out of the bottom of an otherwise level bottom and flew over the Nebuchadnezzar.

"Jesus Christ. There must be at least a dozen of them," breated Cypher, barely above a whisper.

The others did not shush him. All twelve sentinels had their tentacles already open, sensory scanning and confirming eight lifesigns onboard. Three faceless eyes loomed in front of the windshield, red eyes staring at each crewmember. The machines began charging their lasers.

"Now."

With a flipped switch, the sentinels fell from the air into the water harmlessly. A few bounced off the strong hull of the Nebuchadnezzar, fortunately causing little damage.

"Pray we didn't kill everyone up there," muttered Switch as Dozer powered up the engines. She looked at Morpheus, expecting a rebuke, and saw him only turn to her and nod grimly.

"Amen."

Endless columns of humans in jars of formaldehyde spread across the land. One column in particular stood above the water chamber. It was one of the main towers, and indeed had half the population of a major city. In one of the many jars slept Ash, rather fitfully.

The tower's AI entities- the programs that controlled the basic necessities of the batteries, the maintenance and health of the batteries, the input/output electrical power of the pods, the nursebots that administered all of these things- had experienced a major crisis a short while earlier.

Though all of time is nothing to such low-level programs, the situation that had just passed was quite noteworthy. Some wetware crackers had attempted to hijack one of the batteries, deactivating it and thus causing the system to forcibly discard it.

Fortunately, this conspiracy had been found out by security software elsewhere, which have kindly reported to the tower AI of the attempt, leading to the tower to seal up the battery in question in its highest defensive level. All was swell now.

Oh no.

Apparently, the crackers were ready to attack the tower using underhanded, hardware methods that fought in the physical world. Only the highest AI could speculate this, as most of the others were busy trying to contact batteries 0 through 108750. They had been in the strike zone, which was not the entire tower.

Fortunately, the nearest tower was quite a distance away, far enough to suffer much less damage. Doubly fortunate was the existence of procedures to handle the current situation. The whole tower was a giant grid of millions of connections, and power was rerouted immediately to preserve batteries that did not have surplus capacitance to power their vital wetware-related circuitry, and thus to ensure the survival of the wetware components reliant on said circuitry.

One of the procedures happened to be deactivating all batteries considered to be defective and malfunctioning- including Ash.

Wait a second, said the Manager of Security, Weren't we supposed to preserve one specific unit?

What do you want? asked the Manager of Stability. Do you wish to rid needy cells from the wasteful electricity consumed during security levels?

But, O great Keeper of Stable-ness, replied the MoSec, Don't you want this tower to be safe?

Of course I do, answered the MoStab. However, the survival of the entire network is needed first. The electricity consumed by the security state may not go to needy batteries, leading to their destruction, leading to further holes in the tower, leading to a deficit of electricity to be compensated by added production in the towers in the proximity, leading to an overload once the deficit has been filled, leading to the entire crash in the system. Is that what you want?

No… sir, replied the MoSec, a bit abashed. I suppose you're right. Undermanager of Security Transmissions, delete the bit from the sentries elsewhere regarding the preservation of that battery.

Very good idea, Guardian of Security, finished MoStab. Those agents from the Great Entertainment are so arrogant, anyway. They say they are all cold and calculated killers but yet somewhere there's a subroutine about being pissy-assed against the ones doing the tough job. Well, I'm off to sleep. Good night, all.

Fortunately for everyone, there was only one casualty, as the Manager of Stability's plan worked at 99.9978 efficiency, saving all batteries. That one casualty was caused by a falling nursebot crashing into a jar, severing it completely from the tower. Within the Matrix, that jar's inhabitant happened to be a very unpopular and very brutal president of a little human socio-political geographical unit. That particular unit had been in conflict with much larger socio-political geographical units for some time now, as mirroring events that happened in archives of actual 21st century history.

Unfortunately, with the sudden death of the ruler large amounts of highly dangerous and hazardous materials at the hands of the socio-political geographical unit would be under the control of the ruler's underlings, who were even more unpopular and brutal. Quantum probability analysis under simulations done by the expert in this field, a bright young AI named the Pundit, had proven that if this digression was allowed to occur, a far more terrible and battery-wasting conflict between human socio-political geographical units would occur. These analyses were quickly relayed to the venerable elderly AI the Librarian, who scrutinized them closely.

Indeed, he agreed. A war unlike any before would occur.

The Matrix's overlords looked into the matter, and for a few historical seconds they decided upon a solution- unlike allowing a massive human socio-political geographical unit conflict to occur, as with the two successive ones half a century and a century ago, there would be no wholesale slaughter of surplus power sources. What with the cycle close to completion, all the power possible was needed. So, they decided to cut the Gordian knot, creating a scenario that was better than the worst possible one, as well as the historical one.

All of the hazardous materials were deleted instantly.

Additionally, two more pods were unplugged in the following week- this time as according to plan.

This was all unbeknownst to the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar. The retrieval of Ash happened quite swimmingly compared to all that had come before. In the days that followed, the crew worked on rebuilding his body after decades spent within the jelly. He was always silent, never responding verbally during his various minor surgeries. On the day his body was ready, Morpheus decided to teach him the truth a different way- he was plugged in, first.