The Matrix and its pre-copyrighted characters are not mine (this being, of course, Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Tank, Mouse, and Agents (even tho I gave them colour-coordinated names)). The rest (Myste, Spoak, Talon, Cara, Cortex, Rizzo, and some other minor players) are mine, ALL MINE! This storyline is also completely original - at least I hope it is!

Please enjoy, feedback is appreciated. It gives me this nice glowy feeling inside to know I have fans. =8-)

Just to clarify, visions and/or dreams are now in bold.

And now, on with the show!



PART 2 : Reality Lost



"Good morning, Myste." Morpheus grinned at her.

"There's no such thing as a good morning, Morpheus."

"Whoever came up with that greeting should be shot." Mouse conceded with a yawn.

The pair had been called for a meeting in one of Zion's many conference rooms. No, Trinity, and Tank were already present, and Trinity had already fixed Myste with that utterly displeased look when she entered with her cousin. The look seemed to be there, no matter what Myste had done. Trinity could not be angry that Myste was late because there had been no set time for arrival. Plus, she had not been alone. As usual, Mouse had been the slow one, and Myste had waited for him.

Whatever, Myste thought. "So, why are we here?"

Morpheus' face went serious, as he put his last thoughts in their proper place. "As you all know, the Matrix has changed." he began, looking at each member of his team in turn. "The Machines have turned this alternate reality into a nightmare for all the people trapped inside. It started with the bombing of the apartment building," he gazed directly at Myste. "And it has escalated to the point where the Batteries are kept barely alive in labour camps, with the Agents over-seeing their...existence."

Myste averted her eyes. She had known that this would happen; had seen it in one of her visions. That it had come true made her feel as though the realization of the vision had somehow been her fault.

"He keeps asking about you, you know." Mouse's voice broke into her thoughts.

"Who? What?" she kept her voice low because Morpheus was still explaining the Matrix situation to the others.

"Wiley," Mouse whispered in response.

"Keeps what?"

"Asking about you. He really wants to see you."

"Why?"

Mouse shrugged, and they both returned their attentions to Morpheus.

" - so our mission is to find and free the six people on the list I have been given."

"They'll have tracker chips, like Wiley did." Myste put in.

"Yes, that is what we have assumed as well." Morpheus nodded in agreement.

"They won't all submit themselves to Myste's brand of debugging." Neo stated.

"That's very true. We were lucky with Wiley, that he was so - "

"Simple minded." Myste finished his sentence for him. "I could have killed him."

"He wuz tykin widchoo." Mouse teased her in Wiley's Southern accent.

"Shut up," she elbowed him in the stomach, as Morpheus chuckled.

Mouse could not help laughing. He had visited the newcomer many times since his recovery, and Myste was the only thing he ever wanted to discuss. Mouse was always quite content to share their conversations with his cousin, and as a result, Myste refused to accompany Mouse on any such visits.

"Don't see how." Trinity muttered under her breath. She asked Morpheus, "When do we leave?"

"Wiley's not quite travel ready yet. He still has a few...misconceptions, but we're straightening him out." Tank grinned.

"Misconceptions about what?" Myste asked, praying it was not her.

"Well, he doesn't understand how the whole 'freeing the mind' thing works."

"He wants us to free his friends." Mouse simplified.

"We can't do that." Trinity reminded him.

"That's what I've been trying to explain to him." he nodded. "But he misses Libby. He wants to go back for her."

"That could prove quite difficult." Morpheus said.

"Why's that?"

"His entire town was obliterated in the Reconstruction." Tank responded gravely. He hated giving out bad news.

"Does Wiley know?" Tank shook his head at Mouse. "Well, someone has to tell him."

Morpheus put his hand on the the boy's shoulder. "Do you think...?" he let the unasked question hang in the air.

Mouse's eyes went wide. He knew what it was. Do you think you could do it? Tell your new friend that everyone he knew is now dead? "I can't do that to him." he shook his head. "I can't."

"We think it would be easier on him if you told him yourself. He knows you now. And news like this should be given to you from someone you know."

Mouse worked his jaw, hoping to find an answer from Myste. She shrugged apologetically. "Yeah, okay." his voice was low, solemn.

"Thank you,"

"When did it happen? He's gonna ask me that; when did it happen."

Morpheus looked to Tank, then answered, "About three months ago."

"What?!" Mouse stepped back, ducking out from under Morpheus' arm. "How could you not tell him sooner? That was ages ago! Like right when the Reconstruction first started!" he yelled angrily.

"He was in no condition to handle news like that, Mouse." Tank protested. "You now that."

Mouse dropped his gaze to the floor.

"So," Neo cut in. "What do we do in the meantime?"

Morpheus turned to face him. "I want you and Trinity to go into the Matrix, and scout out one of our six targets. Her name is Gator, and she's only twelve. Her mother was freed recently, and she's losing it without her daughter. Questions?"

"No, Sir." Trinity answered, though she seemed displeased with the assignment. Since when are we a search and rescue operation?

"Only when do we leave?" Neo posed his query.

"As soon as possible, if you don't mind."

"Sounds good to me." he grinned, looking over at Trinity, who involuntarily smiled back.

"Seems like everyone here has a mission except me." Myste stated.

"Ah, but you're wrong." Morpheus smiled. "I need to talk to you. Alone."

Myste's eyebrows went up in surprise.


***


"Hey Mouse," Talon greeted him as she rounded the corner.

"Hey,"

"What are you doing up here?"

"I'm...umm...going to visit Wiley." he stuttered. He always stuttered when he talked to her. She must think I'm such a loser.

Talon smiled at him. "How is he?"

"B-better, I think. He talks more. A lot more, actually. Sometimes I think he'll never shut up, but, uh, I don't mind listening."

"What does he talk to you about?"

"Well, um, mostly his Matrix life. That's all he has to talk about. And Myste. He really likes her."

"Yeah, okay," Talon shook her head. If there was one person in the world she hated, it was Mouse's cousin.

"Hey, she's different when you know her." he defended Myste. Suddenly, he was not nervous talking to Talon.

"I'm sorry, Mouse. I'm sure you're right." they gazed at each other for a long time, before Talon decided she had better go.

"I'll see ya around." Mouse replied, as she walked casually away from him. He watched her go, then stared at the door in front of him. "It's now or never." he sang quietly to himself, then knocked.


***


"Y'all mus' be thinkin' Ah'ma nutcase." Wiley shook his head, chuckling. "Ah mean, Ah'm tellin' ya 'boot Libby 'n ow much Ah misser, but Ah keep askin' 'boot yer cuzin."

"Nah, I don't think that, Wile." Mouse shrugged. He had been avoiding telling Wiley about Libby's death for the past half hour. He really did not know how to go about doing it. He could not just blurt it out, but so far that was the only method he could come up with.

"Mawse, yer bein' awful kwat." Mouse slowly met Wiley's gaze. "Is sum'in wrong?"

"I...um...yes, Wiley, there's something I have to tell you."

"Yer cuzin's a lesbian. Dang, I knew it!"

Mouse opened his mouth to refute the statement, thought for a minute, concluded that Myste would definitely have told him something like that, then shook his head. "No, no, that's not it. It's - it's about Libby."

"Oh mah Gawd! She ain't - she's awrat, ain't she?"

Mouse stared at the floor, cursing Morpheus and the others for talking him into this. "She's dead, Wile." he said quietly.

Wiley stared at Mouse, shocked by the news. "W-when?" he croaked.

"I - " Mouse decided to stretch the truth a little bit. "I don't know." He met Wiley's wild eyes briefly, but could not bear to look at him for long. "The Machines have been changing the Matrix. It's not the way you left it. The Agents have turned it into one big slave camp. From what I've heard, it's all desolate and ruins and stuff."

"From wut y'all've heard? Y'ain't been there?"

"No, Morpheus won't let me go in. I don't really think I want to go in. Not with the way it is now."

"Um, Mawse, kin y'all skeedawdle fer awal? Ah need ta be alone fer a bit."

"Yeah," Mouse got up from the floor. "Sure."

"Thanks,"

"Wile, if you - "

"Ah jus need ta be alone, Mawse. Ah'll be awrat."

He nodded, then left Wiley to his thoughts.


"You okay?" Myste sat up on the bed, closing the book she was reading over her finger to keep her page.

Mouse looked up, surprised to hear her voice. He shrugged. "How did it go with Morpheus?"

"Fine. How did it go with Wiley?"

"Awful." he flopped down beside her. "I was kinda hoping that he was so hung up on you that it wouldn't really bother him about Libby."

"But it did?"

"Oh yeah," he sighed, looking up at Myste. "Whatcha got there?"

"A book,"

He furrowed his eyebrows. "One of Morpheus' antiques?"

"No," she shook her head. "This one's mine, I found it fair and square."

"Found it where?"

"Down there," she replied continuing the rhyme.

"Aw, Myste, you didn't go alone did you?"

"Who else was going to go with me, Mouse? You were away, nobody else gives a rat's ass what I do."

"Have you ever wondered why that might be?" he asked, expecting a punch in the nose as her answer.

Myste narrowed her eyes at him. "I don't have to wonder. I'm not stupid." Mouse raised one eyebrow at her. "What you want to know is why. Why am I such a bitch to everything that requires oxygen to breath?"

"No, actually, what I want to know is why you're so afraid to get close to anyone."


***


"And this is my ship, the Typhoon." Trinity told Neo, smiling proudly.

"Whoa," he looked up at her, smiling back. "I had no idea you had your own ship."

"It's not as fancy as the Neb, but it's just as useful for the same purposes." her smile broadened. "That, and this one's mine."

"I'm sure it has a few more advantages than the Neb."

Trinity caught the suggestive look in his eyes. "A few," she conceded mischievously, as he took her in his arms. She unlocked the hatch, and they went inside.


Myste lay on her bed, alone in her darkened room. She did not know the exact time, no one could, but she knew that it was late because the lights had been turned down for the night all over Zion.

She rolled onto her back, unable to get to sleep. What I want to know is why you're so afraid to get close to anyone. Mouse's words kept running through her mind, keeping her awake. Who would have thought he was so perceptive? Oh, wait, she chided herself, I knew he was. Myste smiled to herself in the dark. That was the reason she was so close to her cousin. He was the only other person who got her.

Her mind wandered, and she found herself wondering about Wiley, and how he was dealing with the news of what had happened to Libby. She had no idea how long the two had been going out, but if he was taking it as hard as Mouse had said, they must have been close, too. Myste remembered a few short months ago when she had almost lost Mouse, and the hopelessness she had felt. Not that anyone else knew this, of course. They all believed that she was stoic, that she did not care about anyone or anything. Well, that wasn't true. She did care.

"That's it," she decided, sitting up, "I give up." she pulled an extra shirt over her head, then left her room.


Morpheus sat quietly, listening to the report from Babble. The report was a recording, made three days previously, about the current state of the Matrix. She had been killed by agents on her way to an exit. how they had known that she was there was a mystery that was being looked into. Myste swore that she had not foreseen the tragedy, but she wished she had. Babble was a good friend, easy to get along with, and greatly missed.

Morpheus felt he owed it to Babble to free her daughter, Gator. He had lied to Neo and Trinity so that they would not question his intentions.

His eyes stung, and a tear rolled down his cheek. Babble was only one of many who had died recently die to the new form the Matrix had been given.

"It's horrible, Morpheus. Why did they do this?" Babble's recorded voice sounded close to tears.

"Us." he answered her. "They did it because of us."



"Run!" the dark-skinned teenager yelled at the blonde girl behind the boulder. he looked back over his shoulder at her. She seemed frozen in her hiding place. He sped back to her, calling, "Come on, Trace! We gotta go!" he grabbed her by the wrist, trying to pull her to her feet.

"I can't, Rizz." she barely managed to whisper. "I can't,"

His eyes went wide as he saw the blood flowing out of a wound in her chest. "Who did this to you?" he felt tears in his eyes as he choked out the question.

"I don't know him." Tracy rested her head on Rizzo's shoulder.

"What did he look like?"

She looked up into his eyes, and reached her hand to touch his cheek. "I love you,"

"What did he look like, Trace?" he pleaded, knowing that he was going to lose her and that there was nothing he could do.

"Suit, shades, hair slicked back, and thinning out on top, if you catch my drift." she managed a wink and a slight smile.

"Was he tall or short or - "

"Taller than me." Tracy found his hand, and held it, closing her eyes. "Rizzo..."

He felt her shudder in his arms. "No! No, don't leave me, Tracy! Please! Please..." he kissed her forehead, holding back his sobs.

A hard, blunt object struck the back of Rizzo's head, and he lost consciousness.


***


Rizzo opened his eyes one at a time, then closed them against the light.

"He's awake." a voice replied from somewhere.

"It's about time." a different voice sounded bored. Or angry.

"Where am I?" Rizzo tried opening his eyes again, then sat up.

"You're safe," the first voice belonged to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl his age, maybe a little older.

"Tracy?" he gasped hopefully.

"I'm sorry, we couldn't help her." the girl shook her head sadly. "I'm Cara."

"I'm - "

"We know who you are, Rizzo." the other voice belonged to a gruff, portly man that must be in his forties, Rizzo guessed.

He furrowed his dark eyebrows in confusion. "How do you know me?"

"Because we've been watching you for years." the man muttered.

"What, like stalking?" he scoffed.

"No," Cara laughed. "More like...looking out for you, watching your back, that sort of thing."

"Oh, so you're good stalkers." Rizzo swung his legs over the side of the cot he was perched on. He felt for the first time the tiny throbbing in his ankle. "What the hell?" he examined the spot curiously.

The man held out a jar for him to look at. "You were being 'looked out for' by the bad stalkers, as well."

Rizzo opened the jar and took out the small, square piece of metal. He held it between his thumb and index finger. "Who are you people?"

"Me alone, or us collectively? Or were you talking to the tracer we removed from your ankle?"

"Both of the first two."

"Cortex, The Underground, respectively." he answered.

"Bullshit. The Underground doesn't exist." Rizzo dropped the tracer back into the jar, and shoved it back at Cortex.

"We saved you from an Agent." Cara spoke up. "He would have killed you."

"A what?"

"An Agent. They're these guys that wear suits, and they keep us under their shoes like vermin." Cortex explained grudgingly.

Rizzo arched his eyebrow skeptically, then remembered Tracy's description of the man who had shot her. "Which is the one whose hair is thinning out?"

Both regarded him uncertainly.

"More specific, please." Cortex prompted.

"That's all she told me: suit, sunglasses, going bald on top, kinda tall..." Rizzo's voice trailed off, as he realized how hopeless figuring out exactly who had killed Tracy really was.

"It could be Grey." Cara turned to the older man.

"It sounds like Smith, but he's dead."

"There's always the possibility that this new agent has been programmed with Smith's physical appearance." she speculated.

"To draw out the One." he agreed solemnly.

Rizzo watched the two speculate back and forth, wondering what the hell they were talking about. They kept at it, like he was not even present.

"Who knows how many of Smith's attributes they put into him." Cortex was deeply troubled by the prospect of another Agent Smith running around the Matrix.

"You can't program people." Rizzo finally broke into their discussion.

"Ah, Rizzo, there is so much you don't know about this world around you." Cortex smiled grimly.


***


"He is with them." Agent Maroon 438-6E reported.

"They have removed the chip." Agent Grey 641-2B shot back testily.

"It makes no difference." Maroon replied. "They will remove them all eventually." Grey remained silent, trying to decide if Maroon needed another upgrade. "It still functions, Agent Grey 641-2B. We have their exact location. Has Agent Brown given any indication as to our next step?"

"No,"

"What about talk of an Oracle?"

"Irrelevant,"

"She gives the Outsiders help."

"Irrelevant. We will prevail."

"Should I send a team after - "

"Not yet. Let them educate the boy. He will prove useful eventually."

"And if he doesn't?"

"He will,"



"Come on, Sleepyhead." Myste shook Mouse violently, trying to get him out of bed.

"I already said no." he grumbled. "We can go in the morning."

"Mouse, you get mad at me for going alone, but when presented with the opportunity to tag along you'd rather sleep. Explain."

"We can't all be insomniacs, Myste." he covered his head with the blanket.

"I'll pinch your ear again." she threatened.

"Don't you dare." he hissed, peeking up over the edge of the linen he was attempting ot sleep under. "Why do we have to go now? Why can't it just wait?" Myste shrugged. "Morpheus will kill us if he catches us again."

"Is that what you're worried about? Oh, please. Hey, I can take Morpheus, alright?"

"Myste..." Mouse could not think of any more excuses. "I don't like it down there." he finally admitted.

She was taken aback by this. "You've never told me that before."

"Yeah," he averted his eyes. "I know."

She sighed, "So, what do you want to do instead?"

"SLEEP!"

Myste laughed. "Alright, fine. See ya in the morning, Mouse." she got up off the edge of his bed.

"Myste?" he called after her inquisitively. She did not stop walking. "You won't go, will you?" but she had already closed the door behind her.


Myste waited for the two giggling girls to pass her before emerging from her hiding place. She turned the wheel on the hatch slowly, trying not to make it squeak so loud that it woke up everyone in Zion. Myste heard the slight click, then pulled the hatch open. She stepped out onto the narrow ledge above the ladder leading down to the rubble, pulling the hatch closed behind her.

Myste descended the ladder, jumping down from the third rung. The cold air nipped at her face as she pulled the hood over her head. She took her previous discovery from the depths below Zion out of her pocket, a small flashlight that Mouse had designed a rechargeable power source for. As she turned it on, she wondered how long before the bulb burnt out; that was one thing she was not sure she could replace.

She shone the light around the rubble that stretched for miles in every direction underneath Zion.

"Nice place you got here." Mouse said sarcastically.

"I thought you didn't like it down here? That you'd rather sleep?"

"The thought of you being down here alone was more motivating than it should be." he muttered.

"Thank you," Myste replied sincerely.

"If Morpheus - "

"Morpheus Shmorpheus. He'll never know."

"That's not what I was going to say."

"Oh,"

"I was going to say that if Morpheus asks me to do some kind of work that requires concentration, I'm blaming you for my lack of capacity to concentrate."

"Concentrate? You?" she scoffed.

"Very funny. I fixed that sucker for ya, didn't I?" he kicked a rock down the tunnel. "So, what are we looking for tonight?"

Myste shrugged, "Whatever catches our eye." she shone the light around aimlessly. "Like that." the beam stopped on a frayed piece of paper partially hidden by dust, ashes and dirt.

"What is it?"

"It looks like a...map." she handed Mouse the flashlight. She knelt down and carefully brushed it clean of the particles covering it.

"A map of what?" Mouse knelt beside her curiously.

"The stars, Mouse. The real stars." she answered quietly. She met his gaze. "Come on," she got up, and ran back to the hatch. "I won't keep you up any longer." she called over her shoulder.

Mouse chased after his cousin. She was already halfway up the ladder by the time he caught up. "Damn, woman, what's your hurry? I thought you wanted to look around down here?" he fiddled with the flashlight until succeeding in turning it off. He stuffed it into his pocket, and started climbing after her.

"I found something to hold my interest for at least a day." she turned the wheel to open the hatch. "We can go back another night. Besides, I thought you wanted to sleep?" she shrugged, hearing the click.

Mouse handed her back the flashlight after she had re-locked the hatch behind them.

"Why do you hate it down there so much?" Myste inquired as they walked back to their respective neighboring rooms.

Mouse shrugged, "I just do."

"Oh," she thought for a minute, trying to decide if she believed him or not.

Sensing that his cousin expected a better explanation, Mouse tried to deliver one, "I guess it's just 'cause it's dark, enclosed, forbidden...a reminder of the old ways that no one even remembers anymore." he shrugged. "Why do you like it so much?"

Myste shrugged. "Because it's a reminder of the old ways that no one even remembers anymore."

"The old days couldn'ta been that great. What with being enslaved by the Machines and all."

"Yeah, but Mouse, that's the thing. We designed the Machines." They walked on in silence. "I guess I just wonder what life would be like if the Matrix had never existed. These few antiques are all we have left."

Mouse watched his cousin open the door to her room. "Do you think it was that much better?"

"I think it had to have been." Mouse nodded, unsure if he agreed. "Well, goodnight."

"Yeah, night."



Rizzo opened his eyes to find Cara staring down at him. "Can I help you?"

Cara shook her head. "Can I help you?"

"With what?"

"Well, you didn't ask many questions during our explanation earlier."

He shrugged, "I was listening intently to your story. I don't' question people's opinions, I just store them away for further analyzation."

"And what have you concluded?"

"What's the Real World like?"

She averted her eyes. "There's nothing worth going to the Real World for, Rizzo. Everything's a shade of grey, we have to live in ships or in Zion. It's not worth all the trouble Morpheus and his kind put into Freeing Minds."

"Have you seen it?" he sat up, and motioned for her to sit beside him.

"No, no. Most of us haven't." she shook her head.

"Has Cortex?"

"No. None of us here have ever been out. And that's the way we want it to stay."

"But we're slaves of these agents you told me about. There's gotta be something that this Morpheus can do on the outside - "

"If he could change anything he already would have." Cara snapped.

Rizzo watched her in silence, uncertain if he should ask her his next question. He sighed, deciding it was not necessary to know.

As if reading his thoughts, Cara prompted him, "Go on, ask me."

He thought about it a little longer, before asking, "Have you ever met him? Morpheus, I mean."

"Met Morpheus?" Cara seemed to find the notion amusing. "No," she shook her head, "And I don't want either."

"Why's that?"

"Well," she pondered her answer, "Cortex met him. Briefly."

"And?" Rizzo pushed.

"And it went badly. That's all you need to know for now."

"Cara?" Cortex's voice boomed as he entered the room.

"Yes?" she got up to follow him out.

"They're coming." he stated. "Help get everyone out."

She nodded and Cortex disappeared down the corridor.

"Who's coming?" Rizzo demanded, carefully putting weight on his still sore ankle. "What's going on, Cara?" he gingerly took a few steps in her direction.

"I - " her eyes were wild with fear. "No time to explain. We have to evacuate." she held the door open for him.

"How many - "

She cut him off, "Do you know how to get out of here?" He shook his head. "Okay, come on." she led the way down the corridor, the opposite direction from Cortex. "We'll get sectors three and seven clear." she was talking more to herself than to him.

"I don't understand - "

"Agents, Rizzo! Agents are coming! They'll wipe us out!" she practically screamed in her panic. She started to jog, gradually increasing speed until she was running as fast as she could.

"Hey!" Rizzo called after her, unable to keep up. "Cara, wait!" he tried pushing for more speed, but the pain in his ankle was too much, and he fell to the floor with a grunt.


Agent Green 921-8L strode confidently down the long corridor in the Underground's complex. A young man rounded a corner a few feet ahead of the agent, who did not hesitate to shoot the other right between his eyes. A wave of satisfaction passed through Agent Green as the man's body dropped lifelessly to the floor.

Agent White 149-2J kept pace with Green, and Agent Beige 654-8M brought up the rear.

The agents had a painstakingly simple mission: Negotiate a truce with the leader of the Underground with minimal casualties. Seeing how fearful these Batteries were of the agents, the negotiations would be short.

Green had come to the conclusion that five casualties outlined the 'minimal' parameters.

One down.

Four to go before negotiations could not satisfactorily conclude.

The three agents turned right. A young woman was giving instructions to a group of batteries.

Agent Green raised his gun, aiming for the back of the blonde's head.

Agent White put her hand on his arm, shaking her head slowly. Information passed between them, and Green lowered the weapon.

"That's her." White stated in a low voice.

He holstered his gun, so as not to appear more threatening than he knew he was. "Cara Welles," he bellowed.

Cara froze upon hearing her name. She had heard similar monotone voices before. The man calling her name was an agent.

"Cara Welles," his voice seemed to reverberate all around her. "We are required to come to an agreement between our two parties. An agreement that will satisfy our respective sides."

She turned slowly to face the agents. "What kind of agreement?" she tried to keep her voice even.

"One that will result in peace between the agents and the Underground." White stated.


***


Several hours had passed, and from what Rizzo could gather, the negotiations were drawing to a close. He pretended that he was not listening, fidgeting with his sleeves, but really he was quite interested in the talks taking place. It felt like a huge milestone, though he was unsure why, or if anyone else shared his sentiments. Clearly Cortex and Cara were relieved that they would not have to fight the agents anymore, but Rizzo felt there was something else transpiring underneath all this debacle.

When this was over, he would inquire as to why the agents had requested his presence.

The agent in charge - Green - stood up and shook Cortex's hand genially. A human gesture. "I'm glad we have come to this arrangement."

"As are we all." agreed Cortex.

Agent Green shook Cara's hand, then turned to Rizzo. "It was and still is an honour to meet you, Mr. Phillips."

He looked up into the stoic face, the outstretched hand awaiting a response, wondering what the agent meant by that. Rizzo shook his hand firmly, feeling all eyes on him. They were as confused as he was. He made no reply.

"And now, we take our leave." Agent White said, getting up from her chair.

"We appreciate this." Cortex told them honestly.

After the agents had gone, Cara turned on Cortex, "Do you believe them?"

"Yes," he nodded, "Yes, I do."


Agent Grey 641-2B was furious. As furious as a machine could be. "This was not part of the plan!" he yelled at Agent Maroon 438-6E.

"It was Agent Brown's modifications to the plan." Maroon replied calmly.

This new information did not alter Grey's mood. "He should have come to me first!"

"What would you like me to do about it?"

Grey turned his response over in his mind, but decided there was nothing his cohort could do. "We will watch this new development."



Trinity guided the Typhoon through the underground networked tunnels. Neo was sleeping in one of the adjacent rooms, and Tank was tinkering with the entry equipment. The Typhoon had lain dormant for months while Trinity had been on the Neb as part of Morpheus' crew. It almost seemed to her that the ship was happy to have her back.

Maybe I'm just happy to have it back,

Tank joined her in the cockpit, grinning from ear to ear. "Everything's in order, Trin. Whenever you're done flitting about, you can dock us, and you and Neo can go in."

"Alright, sounds good. Will you do that while I wake Neo?"

"Sure," his grin broadened.

"I swear, Tank, one of these days your face is gonna get stuck in that grin." she laughed, as she opened the door to Neo's room.

Tank took up the pilot's seat, and navigated the ship into a smaller, less used to tunnel for uploading his companions into the Matrix.


Trinity whispered softly into Neo's ear, "Knock, knock, Neo."

He chuckled, opening his eyes, remembering when she typed those very words on his computer. "Are you my White Rabbit?"

"I am anything you want me to be." she smiled down at him.

He sat up suddenly, wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her down, laughing, onto the bed with him. "Promise?"

Her eyes sparkled up at him, and he kissed her.

"Come on, Neo. We have a mission to complete." Trinity pushed him up and off.

"And afterwards?"

"I'm all yours."

Neo had a mischievous look on his face as he got off the bed. "I have every intention of holding you to that promise."

"So do I,"

The Typhoon lurched slightly as it connected to one of the outer tunnels.

"Well, looks like we can go into the Matrix." she said, not sure if she really wanted to.


A seagull glided overhead, casting a shadow over the soft sand. It landed among the other birds on the beach, the sun gleaming off its feathers.

She smiled at him over her shoulder, then ran laughing towards the cluster of seagulls.

He watched her, happy for this moment of peace.

She turned back as the flock rose as one behind her, and he smiled. She came back to him, took his hand, and led him closer to the water.

He swept her up in his arms, and carried her into the ocean until he was waist-deep, her feet just touching the surface. She clung to him, expecting to be dropped at any moment, intending to pull him in, too.

The tail end of a wave washed over them, and he let go.

She splashed him, then flattened her hair away from her face.

He was laughing.

The sky clouded over suddenly, unexpectedly. The beach disappeared around them, replaced by huge skyscrapers.

It began to rain...



Neo looked down at his new outfit, ratty old army fatigues. Trinity flipped her dagger over in her hands. "It feels different." Neo observed. "Don't you think it feels different?"

She did not reply, as she sheathed her weapon. She put her hand around the doorknob, and took a deep breath before turning it.

"You okay?" Neo put his hand on her shoulder comfortingly.

"Fine," she replied flatly, opening the door wider.

The sight that met them made their breath catch in their respective throats. The land was mostly barren, small patches of trees visible in the distance. The once majestic skyscrapers that remained were in ruins, a few of the people using what was left of them as homes. What was once a vast, industrialized utopia was now a desert plain.

Neo closed his eyes, reaching his hand out to touch the silence that surrounded them. Trinity watched in amazement as the building flickered, then returned to its original form, untouched by the changes inflicted upon the Matrix, a testament to the way it used to be.

She smiled. "Neo, open your eyes."

He did so. "Whoa, how - "

"You are the One." she replied easily.

He followed her down the slight incline, and into the village of ruins.

From a short distance away, Rizzo and Cara watched the two new figures descend into the midst of the Underground encampment. Rizzo looked to Cara for an explanation for what he had just witnessed.

When she did not notice his gaze, her asked her, "Who are they?" She still did not respond. "Cara?"

"Neo and Trinity," she said, her voice expressionless.

"What do they want?"

"Let's find out." she stood up and wove her way through the rubble. Rizzo limped behind her, wondering if there was something in her past involving the two Free Minds.

"Where is everyone?" Neo wondered. "This used to be an overcrowded city."

"The agents have everyone bunched together throughout the new Matrix. Don't be surprised if we see one lurking in the shadows." Trinity told him.

"Can I aid you, Strangers?" Cara took on the role of naive leader. She was not worried about being recognized by these two, her digital persona was not the same as her real body.

"We're looking for someone." Neo stated kindly.

Rizzo froze where he was, still unseen by the visitors. He ducked behind one of the slanted walls of a lean-to. He recognized that voice, but where from?

"Oh, who?" Cara inquired innocently, following them through the village.

Trinity shot Neo an 'I'll handle this' look, then said to the young woman, "Don't worry about us, we'll be out of your hair before too long." she tried to sound friendly.

Cara stopped where she was, and let Neo and Trinity walk on without her. She watched them with contempt, not noticing Rizzo standing beside her.

Realizing that she was not aware of his presence, Rizzo watched Neo in silence, trying to remember where he had met him before.



As expected, Mouse found Myste alone in her room, occupied with her new-found treasure, the map of the stars.

"Do you think I'll ever see them? The real ones, I mean." she asked, hearing the door open and close.

He sat on the edge of her bed, looking down at her sprawled out on her stomach on the floor. "Don't get your hopes up." he replied softly. "But if you do, come and get me."

Myste felt tears sting her eyes, but she blinked them back. "Do you - " she stopped herself, tracing a finger along Draco, then started again, "Do you think we were better off not really knowing about the Matrix? What it was, how it got there?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Do you ever wish you'd chosen a different path?" she met his questioning eyes.

Mouse knit his eyebrows together, watching his cousin, formulating an answer. He could not believe that she was serious. In the end, all he could muster was a head shake.

She sat up straight, facing him. "Why not?" He averted his eyes. "Aren't you tired of this, Mouse? Living in a tin can? And when we leave this one, it's only to go into a smaller tin can. What for? We don't benefit from this."

"You'd rather have stayed in?" he demanded. "Is that what you're telling me?"

"Look what being free has done to us, Mouse. What it's done to everyone else. Even Morpheus knows that the agents changed the Matrix because of us, to draw out Neo. Maybe we should just hand him over to them."

"What are you on?" Mouse fumed. "How can you say that? He is our only hope for real freedom from the Machines!"

"And what is freedom, Mouse?" she gestured expansively around the room. "This?" He could not think of a response. "That's what I thought." she muttered.

Mouse got up, frustrated, and walked to the door. He reached for the latch, changed his mind, then spun on his heel. "Myste, what's going on with you? You've really turned on your bitch these past couple of days. I don't think I can take it anymore."

Myste stared him down. "You wouldn't understand."

He waggled his finger at her repeatedly, trying to think of a comeback. "You bitch." and then he slammed the door behind him, leaving his cousin alone with her stubbornness.


***


Mouse lay on one of the mattresses in the recreation room. He was trying not to think about what Myste had said. She was wrong, she had to be. Of course they were better off out of the Matrix, especially now. He had yet to go into the new version, and was hesitant about it, too, but he was beginning to miss the distraction from the Real World that the Matrix provided.

The distraction...Interesting way of putting it. he thought bitterly.

Talon spotted Mouse in the corner, a small lamp at his side the only illumination in the room. She decided to go in to keep him company. She stood over him, watching him, wondering if he was asleep.

"What?" he barked, not opening his eyes. He hoped it was Myste, come to apologize.

"I just saw that you were in here," Talon said, "And that you were alone."

Mouse looked up at her smiling face. "I wanted to be alone."

"Why?" she knelt on the edge of the mattress.

"Just thinking about some stuff Myste said." he sat cross-legged, his head on his hand propped on one knee.

"Like what?" she moved over so that she was facing him.

"She's just not been herself lately."

"I see, though I haven't - I wouldn't notice any difference."

"Yeah, I know."

Talon tried to meet his eyes, but he refused to look directly at her. "What did she say?"


"It's over here," he took her hand and guided her farther into the recesses of the cave, holding the burning torch in front of him.

"Are you sure you know where your going?" she repeated her query.

"I absolutely know exactly where I'm going." he smiled. "Don't you trust me?"

"Of course I do,"

"There it is." he quickly turned to her holding the light away from what he wanted her to see. "Close your eyes."

"What? Why?"

"Oh, come on. you just told you trust me." She folded her arms across her chest. "Just close your eyes. Please?"

She finally complied, and he led her by the hand a few steps. He held the torch up to the wall, then turned so that he would catch her expression. "Okay, you can open them now."

The sight that greeted her was that of paintings on the wall of the cave; people gathering food, riding on animals, animals grazing in the fields, animals inside homes, smaller people - children - playing with the animals.

"Wow," she breathed, tracing her finger along the backs of one of the animals.

"It's called a horse." he said.

"How did you find this?"

He shrugged, smiling at her.


Mouse escorted Talon to her quarters, glad to have had the opportunity to vent to someone about Myste. talking to Talon had been surprisingly easy, after all the pressure he had felt just in saying hi.

Talon pushed open the door, then turned to Mouse expectantly. "Do you wanna come in?"

He looked up at her, surprised by the offer. A grin spread across his face, and he took her in his arms.

They kissed as they backed into her room.


Neo looked over at Trinity, as Tank set the bowl of gruel on the table in front of him. They had been out of the Matrix for almost an hour, and she had not said a word. He was not sure if he should push his luck, or leave her alone.

"How did it go?" Tank asked, breaking the fog of silence that had surrounded them.

"She wasn't there." Trinity answered flatly, stuffing a spoonful of the white mush into her mouth.

"When do you want to try again?"

"Later."

"Later tonight, later tomorrow? When?"

"We'll see how we feel about it later." she stated, fixing Tank with a silencing glare.

Tank stared down into his meal.

"Ease up, Trin. He's just curious." Neo said softly.

"Yeah," she sighed. "I'm sorry, Tank. It's just...the state of things." Trinity looked into Neo's eyes. "You can change it, make it better. We saw that today." her smile was small, but honest.

Neo nodded. "I don't know how I did it though." he chuckled.

"You will master your abilities." Tank put in. "You just have to practice them more often. Eventually you'll have 'em beat."

"Yeah, eventually." he repeated doubtfully.

Trinity reached across the table, and squeezed his hand. "You will, Neo. I know you will."



Rizzo stared into the bonfire that he, a girl named Gator, and the girl's mother, Nia, had started. Night had fallen on the virtual world around them, and the fire was their only source of light.

Only source of light, Rizzo thought. That seemed odd to him somehow. He looked up at the black, starless, moonless sky. Rizzo furrowed his eyebrows. This is wrong.

He got up, still gazing at the sky, walking away from the fire.

"Rizzo?" Gator broke into his thoughts, and his confused expression fell on her. "Whatcha lookin' for?"

"I - " he looked back up at the empty heavens above. "Has the sky always looked like this at night?"

Gator's eyes followed his pointing finger. "Uh, yeah,"

"Are you sure?" there was desperation in his voice. This was wrong, he knew it was wrong. The sky was not supposed to be pitch black.

"It's always looked like that." the ten year old stated, becoming uncertain herself. "Why? What's s'posed to be up there?"

Rizzo searched his memory for the answer. Gator waited in the silence between them. The only other sound was that of the crackling fire.

"Stars," he finally breathed the word, as if expelling some long-buried secret. "There's supposed to be stars."

Gator felt a knot in her stomach. "What are stars?" she asked.

"They - they're..." Rizzo tried to recall what they looked like. "They're these little pinpoints of light in the sky." he explained, somewhat sadly. He should not have to explain what a star is. "Don't you remember? There were zillions of them."

She simply shook her head, and he sighed. "I'm sorry I don't remember them."

"Don't worry about it. Maybe I dreamt them." he replied, still sad. He knew they had been there. What happened to them?

Gator took his hand in hers, and led the way back to the bonfire, where the others had emerged. One of the older men was playing a guitar and singing an old folk song.

Gator sang along, "Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play."

Rizzo laughed. She was still young and naive. She had no idea of what was going on around her on the larger scale.

Gator released his hand, running to Nia. He sat beside cara on a blanket. "Cute kid," she said.

"Yeah," he watched the girl babbling to her smiling mother. "I just hope she doesn't get too attached."

"What exactly do you mean by that?" Cara asked, eyebrow arched.

"Oh come on, Cara, she's ten."

At this she laughed. "Well, I'm twenty-one."

He smiled at her. "Where have you been?"

"Why?"

"'Cause maybe I was looking for you."

"I see. Well, maybe I was with someone else?" He feigned being hurt by her careless comment. "I was talking with Cortex about the agents."

"Interesting."

"No, not really. Don't trust them, Rizzo, not for a second." she was deadly serious.

"I won't," he promised.

"They'll turn on us in a second, as soon as they catch Morpheus and Neo. we're nothing to them, that's why they're keeping us like this."

"Why do they keep us at all?"

"We're an energy source for them."

"Morpheus' people too?"

"No, not his people. They're free. The Machines can't use them at all, they've lost control of them."

"So, why do you want to stay in here, instead of being free?"

She cast him a sidelong glance. "I told you, Rizzo, there's nothing out there. Even if we are just energy sources, at least the Machines leave us alone."

"What aren't you telling me?"

"Something that's going to stay untold."



"Heya, Meest," Wiley grinned cheekily at her. She rolled her eyes, taking a spoon from the pile on the counter. "Haw's thuh grub 'round here?"

"Boring, just like everything else around here." she muttered.

"Kin Ah seet wich y'all?"

"I have a feeling you're going to anyway."

"Well, y'all are th'only person Ah know who's een here." he replied hopefully.

Her glare softened, and she sighed. "Fine," Myste carried her tray over to a table. "Just don't bug me. And tell Mouse that he can't ever say that I never do anything for him ever again."

"Ah wuz under th'impreshin y'all wuz mad at each other?"

She glowered at him, not answering.

They sat down, and Wiley watched Myste stir the bowl of nourishment in front of her, not at all seeming interested in actually eating any of it.

"Y'all seem upset."

The gruel dribbled over the edge of the spoon and back into the dish. "The last person I'd ever talk to about it is sitting across from me."

"Yeah, Mawse werned me 'bout thees."

"About what?"

"Y'all bein' hard ta git tohkin' 'bout stuff." Myste worked her jaw, and Wiley could not decide if she was thinking of something to say, or plotting revenge on her cousin. "Ah don't mand. Ah've got thuh payshints." he flicked his eyebrows at her.

"Lucky me." she griped.

"Y'all betcha," he grinned at her.

"That was - "

"Sarcasm, Ah know." he met her green eyes openly. "Ah jis lak y'all, Meest, an Ah wanna git ta know ya better."

She arched her eyebrow. "Why?" she asked flatly.

Wiley thought about his answer, not breaking the locked gaze. "Cuz y'all saved me, 'n Ah reckon Ah owe y'all fer it."

"That's - "

"And Ah fand y'all ta be dang hawt."

Her eyes went wide. No one had ever told her that before without receiving a broken nose, but she could not believe who she was hearing it from. "You do," she was skeptical, disbelieving. The hick probably just wanted to get laid.

"Ahb-soh-lootly."

As if his grin couldn't get any wider. she thought bitterly. She wondered briefly if Tank was grinning like a maniac as well. "What do you want from me, Wiley?"

"Frindsheep, effiction - "

"I don't have any sheep." she cut in.

"Ah don' want no sheep, Woman," he lowered his voice, trying to sound sexy. "But Ah weel settle fer some sweet luvin'."

"Oh God," Myste got up, ready to leave.

"What? Whad'Ah say?"

"Enough," she left him gaping after her. "Quit starin' at my ass." she snapped. She passed Mouse in the hallway, but neither even so much as acknowledged the other's presence.

Mouse sat in Myste's place across from Wiley. "Good to see you out and about." he smiled at his friend.

"Good ta be out 'n about."

Mouse nodded. "Have you seen Talon?" he asked suddenly.

"Who?"

"Damn,"

"Whah?" A goofy grin spread across Mouse's features. "Oh, Ah see." Wiley nodded in understanding.

"She, uh, kinda disappeared this morning."

"Owch,"

"She left me a note. Said she'd see me later."

"Ah don' think Meest'll wanna see me lader." Wiley shook his head slowly.

"She'll come around." then he remembered that he was mad at her. "And if she doesn't, it's no big deal."

"But Ah lak her, Mawse. Ah lak her a lot." he observed Mouse's stern expression. "Y'all ain't made up yet, huh?"

Mouse put his head in his hands. "Not yet,"

"Izee compitishin?"

"Naw, she hates him."

"Oh. Whah?"

"I dunno. And I've given up trying to figure it out. She's so damn frustrating. Run away, Wile, run far far away."

"Ah'll win 'er over."

"Have fun trying." Mouse stuck a spoonful of white porridge in his mouth.

"Y'all know wut thees remands me of? Taysty weet. Y'all ever eat taysty weet?"

Mouse laughed, "That's what I tell everyone!"



"Cara?" Rizzo called, pushing a board out of his path. "Where are you?"

She tackled him, knocking them both laughing to the ground. "Right here,"

Rizzo tried to see behind him. "Where?" he called, as if she were not sitting on top of him.

She put her hand on his cheek, and gently forced him to look at her. "Right here," she kissed him softly.

"Oh, there you are." he teased.

A deep voice cut into their midst. "Cara, who were they?"

Her head snapped in Cortex's direction. "Who were who?"

"Nia said there were two strangers here yesterday."

"Oh, them." she got up off of Rizzo, much to his dismay. "Neo and Trinity."

"The One? the One was here and you didn't tell me?" he demanded angrily.

"Yes, he was," she nodded, as Rizzo stood up.

"What did they want?"

"I think they were scouting."

"For whom?" She shrugged. "Well, you'd better figure it out. The agents will be here in a couple of hours, and they expect answers."

"How did they - "

"That doesn't matter. What matters is that they know, and they're on their way over. I don't want any trouble from them. They've never bothered us before, Cara, and now that we're co-operating I'd like it to stay that way."

"But I don't have anything to tell them. The One was here, he looked around, he left. That's what happened."

He inclined his head slightly, and said, "Well, that's better than nothing." and then he left.

Cara stared after him. "Now what the hell am I supposed to do?"

"What's scouting?" Rizzo asked.

She looked down at him. "The people on the outside - Morpheus' people - they come in here and take out those Morpheus considers worthy to be- " she made quotations with her fingers, " - free. Sometimes they are taken against their will, especially the kids. They don't know any better."

"Kids? He takes kids?" Cara nodded. "What about their parents?" She shrugged. "That's not right." he shook his head. "How do they decide?"

Cara shrugged again. "I couldn't tell ya, but I don't care to know, either. I just know that I have to stop them. We have to stop them."

Rizzo nodded uncertainly. Cara shook her head, then went out into the blazing outdoors that created no heat, and had no visible source.

Rizzo followed her, scanning the sky again. What the hell is going on? The sun, where's the sun? He decided to ask Cara about it later.

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