Chapter Two: The Deal

Hero jogged up the ramp with his personal belongings.

"Home sweet home." He chuckled. In truth, this ship felt more like home than Zion did.

Liberty stepped on with Pyro and looked around. "Cool."

"You get used to it." Pyro said.

Spyder came in and walked into the Matrix room and took a good look at everything. There were six chairs, so they could all enter at once and the main computer was in the back.

"So I get to jump buildings, run fast, and blow stuff up, eh?"

X laughed. "It's a bit more complicated than that, but yeah, you do."

"Sometimes," Shadow said, "You even get to fly!" He recalled their battle with Abyss, in which they were granted the power of flight.

"Don't expect it, though." X quickly followed up. "I'm not a miracle worker."

"Nope." Hero said, walking to the main computer. "That's my job." He sat down and began warming it up.

They finished boarding the ship and Riley took off. They left and the Hammer left behind them.

Riley formally welcomed Spyder and Liberty onto the ship. Both girls would have to undergo several downloads and a few training programs.

"Luckily," Riley said, "You have Pyro and X to help you two out. They'll be entering with you during the simulations. First off, the downloads..."

It would take a good while to do them both, so while one girl was waiting, she talked to the guys.

"Hey, no lovey-dovey crud in the Matrix, alright?" X clarified with Pyro and Liberty.

"Hey," Pyro said. "I'm professional. Matrix is all business, okay?"

X crossed his arms. "If you had to save her life or mine, whose would you choose?"

Pyro froze. "Hey, that ain't fair."

Liberty laughed. "You save my life and Shadow can save his."

X rolled his eyes.

"In any case," Pyro said, "Same rule applies for you too, you know."

X raised a brow. "What? Me and Spyder? Nah, don't worry about it. It's not like that."

"It isn't?" Liberty said. "Oh…"

"You thought it was?"

"Kinda."

X shook his head. "She looks to me as her mentor. I just took her under my wing, that's all. If anything, she's like a sister."

"Ah…"

A while later, Spyder returned looking very dizzy.

"My head hurts." She muttered. "Lib, you're up." Liberty left and Pyro with her.

Just as they left, Captain Riley came in. "X, can you give me a hand with something?"

X got up and left, leaving just Shadow and Spyder.

The silence was rather awkward.

"So…" Shadow finally said. "You're a hacker like X, huh?"

Spyder laughed and sat down. "I'm a hacker, yeah, but no way am I like X."

Shadow rolled his eyes. "Well, duh, that kid has more viral knowledge than a super computer. But he's training you, so you must be getting close, eh?"

She shook her head. "Doubtful. He's way ahead of me."

"X says you apparently idolized him?"

Spyder had to chuckle. "I wouldn't say idolize, but I always did look up to him. Whenever he was training, it was fascinating to watch him. I mean, he always knew just what to do, you know? I always thought 'I want to be just like him'. It sounds silly, I know, but it's how I felt, alright? I mean, I still do, of course. When he offered to help me with my training, I couldn't believe it! It was like a dream come true. He took me in, just like that."

"And he's been like your mentor ever since?" Shadow asked.

"Yeah…" Spyder replied. Shadow noticed the trouble in her eyes.

"Why so down? You have the best of the best overseeing you."

She nodded. "I know, I know. You're right. He's a great guy and…he's always right there if I need him, you know?"

"But is that enough?" Shadow inquired.

Spyder looked up at him. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Shadow shook his head. "Nothing. Forget it."

Spyder felt most comfortable not bringing it back up. Her timing was perfect because X came back into the room in that instant.

"Whatcha guys talking about?"

"How difficult it is being a hacker." Shadow said. "Must be rough."

"Sometimes it is." Spyder said, giving the hint.

"Ah, don't worry about it." X said. "If you ever have trouble, you've got me, remember?"

Spyder put on a smile. "Yeah…yeah, I do."

The man had done a good job at losing his comrades. Hopefully, they wouldn't go searching for him. Things could get ugly.

He believed this was the place. It was a fairly tall building owned by the Merovingian. Atop the building was a restaurant at which he often dined. Hopefully, he'd be there. In either case, every person in this building would be a worker for him.

Nevertheless, the man walked right into the building without hesitation. A program known as Cain was just

"Hey, hey!" Cain stopped him. "Where do you think you're going?"

"I'm going to see the Merovingian." The man said calmly.

"I'm sure you are." Cain chuckled. "But how exactly do you plan on getting to him?"

"I hope you will take me to him."

Cain laughed. "And why would I do that?"

The man slowly, but visibly reached up and slid off his coat and removed all the holsters from his body, showing he had no weapons.

"Because we're on the same side."

"It's a lot easier than it looks." Shadow said. He, Liberty, and Spyder were all atop a building in a simulation.

"Is it really?" Spyder asked.

"Nope." Shadow admitted.

"Probably takes a lot of concentration, huh?" Liberty asked.

"Actually, quite the opposite. You see, your mind thinks it's impossible, so you must let go of your mind and let your body work."

Shadow ran and jumped at the end of the building, sailing clear across the sky and landed on the building across the street.

"He makes it looks go easy." Liberty muttered.

"Release your mind and jump!" Shadow hollered to them.

The girls looked at each other, stunned.

"Just like that?" Spyder asked.

"Apparently." Liberty muttered. "C'mon, we'll to go together."

"Alright." They took a few steps back.

"One…two…THREE!" They ran to the edge of the building and put all their might into their legs and jumped.

Shadow crossed his arms and waited.

They both flew high into the air…and began falling rather quickly. Shadow watched them fall without concern. They went the entire distance and when the hit the pavement, it bent under them and recoiled like a giant trampoline.

Upon the bounce, Liberty acted and flipped in the air to land on her feet. Spyder, however, couldn't react so quickly and landed on her stomach.

They exited the Matrix with an adrenaline rush.

"That was unpleasant." Spyder muttered.

"Don't worry about it." Shadow said. "Nobody makes the first jump. Not even Neo could do it."

"Shadow and I will show you more later." Riley said. "Right now, each of you will go through a training simulation emphasizing your forte."

Liberty went first. She found herself in what looked like an old Chinese dojo. Liberty's outfit consisted of a black, sleeveless shirt and black, tight pants for best movement. Black boots were also strapped tightly to her feet. Like every Matrix enterer, she had black sunglasses on as well. Normally, she would also have a black gun belt and a black coat for more weaponry, but this simulation required no guns, so she wore a lighter attire for easier training.

Pyro was with her. He, too, had relieved himself of his coat and guns so he only had a black, sleeveless shirt and khaki pants with black boots and dark shades.

"A number of programs will come at you and you are to destroy them by any means necessary." Pyro said. "Don't worry. They cannot kill you, but they will harm you if they can."

"I'm ready." She said confidently.

Pyro nodded. "Let them in." He said to Hero. A few panels slid open and five simulation programs came in, all tough and menacing.

"Go." Pyro said. The programs rushed at her.

Liberty knew that letting them come at her would be foolish. It would be better to take them out one at a time. She ran towards one on her left. At the last second, she crouched and spun around, getting a low kick in order to trip him. She quickly had to turn and avoid a punch from another program and then jump back from the next few. When she did jump back, she hit the wall and bounced off it, flying over the programs. As she flew, she grabbed the head of the nearest one and spun, breaking the neck and killing the program.

The other four kept running at her, heedless of their fallen follower. Liberty jumped and spun a wide kick, nailing them all in the face, and then got a good punch in on one, knocking him out. Liberty ducked under a few punches, blocked another few, and evaded some kicks before getting another move in. She finally blocked a punch and spun in to jab the program in the gut with her elbow. Resting her weight on that program, she jumped up, kicking off of another program rushing at her to flip over the first program's head, breaking his neck as she went.

The program who received no damage from that attack performed a flying kick and Liberty ducked and moved to avoid it, then performed a spinning aerial kick of her own to knock that program out. The final program lunged at her. Liberty ducked low and punched the program in the stomach to wind him, then performed a backflip kick, knocking it out.

Before she could rest, four more panels opened, revealing four more programs, each with a weapon. One had a katana, one had a spear, one had a battle axe, and the last had two small daggers. Veronica got a clue of which to go for first.

She jumped over a few attacks and was able to kick the spear man in the back, stunning him for a second and then break his neck, toppling him. She flipped over his fallen form and grabbed the spear. She spun the device and easily killed the dagger man. She swung at the axe man, but he ducked backwards and swung his weapon, cutting off the blade. Liberty didn't let it faze her. She waited as the sword man swung and she moved away, then jabbed him in the gut, then the nose. She snatched the sword from his weak hand and slit his throat. The axe man jumped while she wasn't looking. Liberty looked up just in time to block. She kicked the man in the gut with her knee, then bashed his face with the same knee and rammed the katana through his chest.

Three more panels and three men came in, each carrying a gun. They open fired and Liberty began really using her matrix abilities, dashing across the room in slowed time. Bullets flew about her, but none touched her. Katana still in hand, she kicked off a wall to fly through the air and stab one man in the head. She snatched his gun in her free hand. Liberty stabbed the katana in the ground and flipped over it, shooting one man as she flipped. The last program kept firing. He quickly ran out of ammo, so he threw a grenade. Thinking quickly, Liberty smacked the grenade with the flat side of her blade, sending it right back at him. It exploded quickly after.

Yet two more panels opened. These men were bigger and held automatic weapons. They fired and Liberty began to feel afraid. She poured all of her power into her legs to jump across the room. She cut through the barrel of one man's gun and struck his belly next before backflipping away from the other enemy's fire. Bullets rippled through the air as she ran, evading every shot by staying to the side of the enemy's aim. She finally reached the last man and decided to be a little stylish. She jumped through the air, spinning to completely slice off the head of her foe. The body fell and she stuck her sword into its back.

No panels opened, so Liberty took a breather.

"That was pretty neat." She chuckled. She turned to Pyro. "How'd I do? WHOA!" She shot her blade up to block his. Pyro backflipped, kicking her blade upwards and out of her hand. He jumped up to catch it and swung the blade down. She jumped aside and he swung the other blade horizontally. She bent backwards to avoid it. Pyro acted quickly, putting the first blade in the ground and spinning on it, knocking the wind from her. He put the other sword in the ground and flipped over it to swing his foot over and knock her into the ground. He swung down, stopping his sword at her throat.

"You're dead." Pyro said.

She rolled away and pulled herself up. "Well, I didn't expect you to attack me."

"A lot of unexpected things happen in the Matrix. Be prepared for anything, and I do mean anything."

Reality warped and they were back in the real world.

Liberty sat up and rubbed her sore stomach from Pyro's kick. "Geez."

"Sorry." Pyro finally said. "But what better way to break you in?"

"Spyder," Riley said, "You're up."

Liberty looked at X. "You'd better beat her up, too!"

Cain didn't have to lead the man too far. He went into a back room and closed the door.

"What's this?" The man looked about the near-empty room. "I thought you were taking me to the Merovingian."

Cain said not a word. He put a key in the lock to the door he just entered, twisted it, twisted it back, and opened the door again, revealing a completely different hall.

"Whoa." The man said, amazed.

"Follow me." Cain led the man down a long hall of what seemed to be a mansion, due to the fanciness. He opened a set of double doors at the end and the Merovingian sat in his study.

"This had better be important." The Merovingian said through his thick, French accent.

Cain nodded. "You might want to hear what this guy has to say…"

X stood to the side, watching Spyder fight. She was doing rather well. Her style was based more on strategy than power, so X had been sure to throw a number of programs at her of various types.

Spyder bent backwards to avoid the vampire's kick and stabbed his heart with the wooden spike in her left hand when she got back up. With her right hand, she blocked a sword with her own blade. She spun a high kick to stun him for a split second, long enough to stab him.

Spyder's attire consisted of black pants and boots with a short, silver shirt leaving the midriff exposed. Normally, she would have a thin, black jacket to go with it, but found it useless in this simulation, as Liberty did in her own simulation. Spyder still had a thick utility belt around her waist, though, and dark glasses. One gun holster was at her waist, one on her upper right leg, and another on her lower left one. X had also disregarded his thin, gray, sleeveless jacket and the belts that crossed his chest in and X formation, as well as the dark cuffs on his arms. He felt near naked with just a sleeveless black shirt and one belt around his waist.

Spyder soon disposed of three more programs with her blade, but two more came in and began firing with their pistols. Thinking quickly, Spyder pulled off a Matrix-only move. She held her blade out and deflected the bullets with the flat side in slow motion. One bullet hit a program in the head, killing him. The second was struck through the chest, but did not fall so easily. Spyder noted his beastly appearance and grabbed the gun on her upper leg. She ran in close and fired the silver bullet, killing the werewolf.

Spyder smiled, and then remembered what she'd seen in Liberty's test. She spun around just in time to block X's attack. His favorite weapon was a long, metal rod, so it did not break upon the Spyder's blade. Spyder jumped back to avoid the next series of spinning strikes. A rod was a very useful weapon due to its length, so X could easily close in on her and strike at any angle. She blocked to her left, then blocked to her right instantly. X swung down onto her hard and she was pushed onto a knee, blocking. X swung his foot up, kicking the blade out of her hand. He grabbed it and put it to her throat. He gave her a look.

"You were doing so well. What happened?" He grinned and helped her to her feet.

"Humans are harder."

"Especially when the programs have been reduced to a ridiculously low level."

"Was that a hidden insult?"

"Next," X ignored the question, "Is a special program. I'll tell you now that it's pretty tricky." He looked up. "Hero? If you would?"

A panel opened and a program stepped out, and then stood still, awaiting commands. The sword in Spyder's hand vanished, as everything on the floor, clearing the field for a new battle. Then, a wooden table appeared to Spyder's right with three weapons: a katana, a spear, and a battle axe.

"No guns in this fight." X said. Spyder took her guns out and put them on the table. "The objective is simple: use anything here to kill the program. However, you must select one weapon for the program to use, also. He is programmed to use whatever weapon you give him and no other one. Select his weapon, and then use whatever else you want to kill the program. The battle won't begin until you give him his weapon." X stepped off to the side wall. "Whenever you're ready."

Spyder studied the three weapons. Obviously, there was one that had a specific use. She had to decipher which one it was and exploit the advantage. But what about giving the program a weapon? Another piece to the puzzle.

Spyder looked her program over. He was tall with long, smooth, jet-black hair tied in a pony tail. He was a fairly thin man, must muscular enough to use any of these weapons properly. She looked back at the table and remembered her fight with X. She chose the spear and tossed him the katana. The program came to life and ran to her.

He made the first move and Spyder ducked under and thrust the spear head out. He moved to the side and swung again. Spyder rolled and jumped, spinning, so he'd be forced back. The program was made to use the weapon given to him and no other, so if she could take it from him, she could win. She spun her weapon rapidly, forcing the program back and finally, she swung down upon it. Of course, the program blocked it, as she had done previously.

Spyder smiled and shot her foot up, kicking the blade out of the programs hands. She caught it and thrust it into the program. It ran into the man's heart and he flinched. But then, he looked up with a grin and kicked her away.

"What!" Spyder exclaimed. The program took the blade back out of his body and rushed at her. He jumped high in the air to swing down on her, but she jumped and rolled to the side. He was on her in and instant, swinging the blade madly. Spyder evaded countless times and suddenly found herself backed into a corner. The program thrust the blade into her belly.

Spyder flinched, but nothing happened. The blade had stopped an inch from her gut. The program stepped back and stood solid again, victorious.

X shook his head. "Not all programs are the same, remember? Some can only die certain ways."

"Then how does this one die?" Spyder asked.

X smiled. "That's for you to find out. Let's start over." Everything reset and Spyder would try again. She tried a number of times, rearranging the weapons over and over to find the right combination, but no matter what she tried, the program would always conquer her. Spyder did a good job fighting, but the program could not be killed!

X wasn't too disappointed in her. He had set this up to be a rather difficult task. Still, she was going to have to figure the trick out herself.

Suddenly, the program vanished.

"Huh?" Spyder asked. Then, everything warped and they were back in the real world.

"What happened?" X asked.

"Trouble came up." Riley said. "We got a call from the Hammer. It seems one of their men was capture by some of the Merovingian's guys."

Pyro, Shadow, and X looked at one another. X had been the only one to really encounter the Merovingian, but they all knew that anything involving that man was dangerous.

"Soren," Riley continued, "Captain of that ship, called out for aid because the Merovingian is not to be taken lightly. You guys up to it?"

"You bet!" Liberty rejoiced. "I've been dying to go into the Matrix and get some real work done!"

"Not you." Riley corrected. "You and Spyder are staying here."

"What!" Liberty exclaimed. "Why!"

"I just told you. The Merovingian is not to be taken lightly. Not something you two need for your first assignment."

"But we'll have all you guys with us." Spyder argued, also wishing to get something real done. "Plus, we'll have Soren's crew with us, won't we?"

Pyro looked at Riley. "Why don't we give 'em a shot. We can protect them."

The captain pondered this for a moment. "Alright. You've both proven to be able to take care of yourselves, so okay. But stick with us at all times!"

"Roger." Liberty said with a smile. They all sat into their chairs and Hero got them all going.

"Our first mission." Spyder said quietly.

"Nervous?" X asked, overhearing her.

"Not unless that program you created is based off of something real."

X grinned. "Nah, I made that up."

"Impressive."

X chuckled. "Just wait."

Liberty gripped her katana tightly.

"Might want to put that away." Pyro said. "Don't draw your weapon until we get to our destination. Can't expose ourselves."

Liberty hesitantly put the blade away. "I just wanna hack something."

"Chill out. You'll get your chance. I promise."

Riley cracked his joints. "C'mon." They left their hidden alleyway entry point and began searching for the missing crewman.

Liberty couldn't help noticing that the scenery was somewhat familiar. It suddenly struck her and she stared in awe. Quickly, she got back to walking as not to seem suspicious. She'd investigate later.

"Just up here." Riley said not long after. They caught up with Soren's crew in a seemingly action-less place. "So what happened?"

"We had to escape, so we split up." Soren explained. "It seems he couldn't get to the exit we set up for him. The next thing we knew, he was in there." He pointed to a large building down the street. "The Merovingian is known to dine there on the top floor."

"Known to all but him?" Riley interpreted.

Soren nodded. "He's kinda new, didn't explain that to him, but then again, we didn't know he was going there."

"Did you try calling him?"

"Of course! He doesn't have his phone. Lost it somewhere. We believe the Merovingian's goons took it. We believe they saw him and took him. No doubt, they're holding him captive."

"And you called us in for backup." Riley finished. "Just in case things get messy when you go in to retrieve him."

"Exactly. You know how powerful the Merovingian can be."

"I do. Alright. Let's go in."

The large group mobilized. They went down the street, towards the large building, checking their weapons once more.

"So this Merovingian is really something, eh?" Liberty asked quietly, not wanting to sound too foolish. Spyder overheard.

"Yeah!" She scoffed. "He's pretty much the deadliest program around."

"Why? He really powerful or something?"

"Not quite. It's just that he's like the king of a great empire. He has tons of connections and is in league with the roughest, toughest programs around. The biggest thing is that he designed an elaborate maze system. Doors that can lead anywhere with the right keys. No matter what door you take, you can end up anywhere. He kidnapped another program called the Keymaker and forced him to design these keys. Since then, the Merovingian and his goons can go anywhere an everywhere and send you there as well. It gets very confusing."

Liberty raised a brow. "You really know a lot."

"I studied a lot. Know thy enemy. X taught me that."

X grinned at the recognition. He had often admitted to himself that he liked being looked upon as the wiser. It helped him not think of the danger at hand. Speaking of which…

X flipped the little switch on the side of his dark shades to turn on the effect of Neovision, the special glasses he wore that allowed him to see the code of the Matrix when he wanted to. He wanted to be able to see all angles of this approach. They were close now.

"Stop!" He said in a shouted whisper. Everyone turned to face him.

"What?" Soren asked.

"Explosives. Everywhere in that place."

"What in the world?" Soren exclaimed.

"Listen to him." Riley said. "He can see."

X's eyes shot open. "Oh, shoot! RUN!" He turned and bolted. The others hesitated, and then ran, just in time.

KA-BOOM!

The building simply exploded, head to foot in a great ball of fire and a deafening roar that shook the earth and sent the Matrix-enterers flying. They hit the ground and rolled, but received little more than scratches and bruises, which was nothing compared to what could have happened.

Soren cursed aloud. "Osiris was in there!"

"Osiris?" Pyro asked, getting up. "That's the guy?"

"That WAS the guy." He pulled out a phone and called the Operator. "Tell me. Is he dead?" There was a pause. "I knew it." He hung up and sighed heavily. "Well, sorry for dragging you all out here."

Riley shook his head. "No one saw this coming. Let's take separate exits and go home."

With that, the groups left.

"So that's it?" Liberty asked. "He's just gone?"

"Could you survive such a blast?" Shadow had to ask. Liberty gave him that one. "That bites…but X, how could you see that?"

X pointed to his glasses. "Neovision. Special invention of mine. I can see the code if I turn them on. It's actually quite useful."

"Awesome!"

"Yeah, it's gotten me out of a few binds."

"As well as the X-Virus?"

X scoffed. "That created more problems than it solved, but that's another story."

"I remember. But can't you use it to destroy the Merovingian?"

X shook his head. "Doubtful. First off, he's hard to find, even for me, and if I screw up, bad things happen, so I only use it in emergencies."

"Alright." Riley said. "We split here. Spyder and X, come with me. The rest of you, you know where to go."

They split off and Liberty passed the buildings again. She fell behind, staring at them. Pyro noticed she wasn't following and turned. "Lib? You okay?"

She looked at him, and then ran into an alley. "Liberty!" Pyro ran after her and also recognized the place. "Oh, man."

"What?" Shadow asked.

"Just tag along."

They followed her not too far down the alley before Liberty ran up a wall and climbed the fire escape into an apartment.

"Shadow!" Pyro said. "Keep a lookout. I'll be back." He mimicked her moves and ended up right in the place where he first met Liberty, who was then Veronica. It was her old apartment. He walked into the living room, where Liberty stood still.

"Liberty." He said. "What are you doing here?"

She didn't say anything.

"You're not supposed to be here, you know that. What are you thinking?"

"I'd just like to sock him one for everything he did." Liberty confessed. "But he's not here."

"You couldn't anyway. You are not to come into contact with anyone from your past. No more coming back here, alright?"

Liberty sighed. "Alright."

"Good. Now let's get back." He turned and left. Liberty followed, then stopped and turned back to the scene.

"Where are you?"

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I sincerely apologize for taking so long with this chapter. I got sidetracked with another story, but that's over now, so I'm back to this one…once I remember all the ideas I had…how is it so far though?