Author's Note: I know it's taken me a long time to get this done, but here is the last chapter of the arc. It's taken me so long to finish because of other commitments, such as University, moving house, finishing an art commission – it's been a very hectic few months for me. Even after this chapter is uploaded, there'll be more to attend to. I don't intend to give up on the fanfiction, although I would like to use some of this time to start writing an original story that I've been planning for some time. I will use this time to plan and sort through the next chapters after this one. In light of the hiatus then, this chapter is extra long for you. On an unrelated topic, for those that follow the British Monarchy, congratulations are in order for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, on the birth of the Royal Highness, Prince of Cambridge. He'll be third in line after Prince Charles, and Prince William, his father – sorry, I'm a patriot/royalist at heart.
So with that covered, let's get on with the chapter :D
"The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present." – Niccolo Machiavelli
The very blankness of the realm fell behind him, as though he were floating above it into the atmosphere of an outer space, far from the light, into the breach of darkness, and into the pain of Reality. The very realisation of that was all it took, and his eyes shot open, in order to escape that which the darkness had proven itself capable of. He sat up immediately then, heaved in breaths that came full and easy. He tried to steady his mind, keep his heart from bursting out of his chest – he couldn't go through that again.
That's when he saw it. All around him, a plane of deep green clustered over an outer expanse of darkness that was kept at bay by the angles and intricacies of racing code. It formed the walls of the room, rained in a continuous flow that could not be stopped and every line passed on delicate detail and information that his eyes were no longer able to ignore. Truly, his eyes had been opened; he could see past the blurred shades of the Matrix, stare into the code that constructed its entire existence, to unlock its secrets, like his own, etched into the code of his own mural and gateway.
Cold refreshing water poured down from the ceiling above, dripped down in an acid light within which each drop must've contained the spark of existence itself – life-giving water in its truest form. Each little drop fell into the bright puddle beneath him, and added order to the chaos of code, becoming a jumble of two different substances, as far as he could make out. One of hydrogen and oxygen, that's what their coding stood for, and carried a neutral feeling. But, the other was unmistakeable and followed a different set of code patterns, not only encoded in the pool, but in the very core of himself. He could see it, intricate little nuances of all that was him. Then the smell rose, mingled with a weak metallic tang that was all too familiar – blood, he was sitting in a pool of his own blood.
There was a sudden flash of pain, a remembrance of it as it coursed through his chest and dragged him down into a debilitating devastation of agony, and his hand immediately pressed to the left of his chest. Through the rip in the fabric of his shirt, he felt nothing but soft skin, wet with the rain, hot with sweat. But as the illuminated code of flourishing, overflowing life crawled over him in a speed that mirrored his own pulse, he found no break or injury in him, no gap of penetration that shouldn't be. Life was as fresh and new as it was when he was first unplugged, and he could begin again.
But neither could he forget who had stolen away the life of before, who had attempted to ruin him completely, who tried with all manipulative airs to steal Trinity away from him, all but succeeding. He heard her soft cries echo into his ears in what he hoped would be far from the final time.
N-Neo… please… you can't die… I love you… please… don't be-!
That monster had tried to hurt her, use her to its own ends, that much he could tell. It had sent her into a fit of desperation that hardly befitted all that she was and was meant to be: a well of strength, hope, guarded discipline that came down only for him. His face creased inwards then, into an ache of newly used muscles, tight and bound with an overflowing energy yet to be spent on the next endeavour. New pain, new frustration, it swelled into a lava fountain from the very pit of his stomach, erupted into his chest and as it reached the very peak of its radius, expelled from his mouth in a rage that tore from his throat.
'ENVY!' His murderer's name echoed around him, directed a rift through the coded walls with the very force of its owner's transgressions. He couldn't sit there any longer, and he flew into action. He left the floor with such a speed, that his feet never touched the ground beneath.
With every second, the darkness recoiled from the fog of his sight, and uncovered the shadows where bright flashes of light ebbed through with each slow slide that his eyes fell open, for them to shut again on a thunderous roar. But he was loathed to be defeated, and gravity acted on the midst of colour, opened to it, and brought with it the crashes and thuds of a heated battle not far from his perception. With every flicker of movement before him, the blur and shades lost their whorls, sharpened beyond the solidity of the darkness, and brought forth an uproar. Within it, the leather squeak of traded blows, the grunts as they were taken, the rain that seized the silence of the fight, and the crash of rocks as one was received into the jagged embrace. The crash seemed to reverberate as, behind him, he felt a shift that ended with the call of a voice.
"Morpheus?" His whole body had become a victim of the weight. Even as he tried to move, tried to escape it, an electric current of pain went up his back. He groaned and stiffened at its sensation, screwed his eyes shut to welcome the darkness again, but only for a moment. "Morpheus!" Right behind him now and as his eyes slowly slid open, he found a pale circular blur casting an image overhead in a shrouded mask of dirt where streaks of deep scarlet overtook it, pouring out from behind the strands of black that breached the brow, and fell over dark narrow eyes, "Can you hear me?"
Morpheus answered with a heavy nod, and the flare of panic dissipated into a facet of relief, before a scowl washed it away as he spied at the pair from the bottom of his vision, blurry fighters, edged with clarity, crowned with golden beacons.
'Who's fighting…?' He murmured softly in a dry rasp, sputtered a cough at the awakening of his voice.
"Edward and Envy," a deep voice emanated from the mask, painted with a frown as he glanced up at the battle, where a curse rose into the air, as its origin too became airborne, as one beacon was extinguished from view, kicked through the jaws of the open wall, into the hall behind. Only the crash of brick could be heard afterwards. "He's taking a beating."
A coloured symphony of past scenes played through his mind, and all at once a quick-fire of pictures that confirmed what he knew for truth, and it sent his face twisting into grimace, 'He shouldn't be here…' he grounded out, to keep the symphony from tumbling out, 'I told him specifically… not to jack into the Matrix… he promised me he wouldn't….'
"It's ok," he caught sight of a smoke-traced smile that lit up the blur, "this is what we need right now. He's given us a chance, we can still win this!" now bright with enthusiasm, but to Morpheus it was a haunting prophecy that told nothing but lies, and he groaned again as he crushed his lids together.
'No… there's a lot you don't understand, Roy,' he scowled, 'we were better off… while he was outside the Matrix. Now we may lose everything… even if we survive, Zion will fall.' The blurry pool of his eyes widened, but for all it was worth, he shook his head.
"Maybe I don't understand, but they would've gotten the codes otherwise," he frowned as his voice rose to overcome the casting doubt, beating back with each decibel, "and right now, more than ever, we need the help, now that Neo…" but his words trailed, and the fight of his voice.
Morpheus' face ached with the expanse of the almost uncontainable shock; as though for the first time, before he shut his eyes to him, 'He can't be…' he breathed in a sudden sporadic heave of his chest, and his eyes remained shut. Like the hereditary blindness of the bluepills, incapable and unwilling to open themselves up to the truth of their deception, or to the notion that they were being deceived at all. 'He's the One…. He has to be…. If he's dead, then what have we left to believe in…? What has Zion been basing its hope of survival on all this time…?'
'The One is nothing more than a naïve myth,' Agent Smith sneered suddenly, and the blurred face frowned at the interruption, 'a self-deception used to create hope where there is none. The people of Zion have been basing their hopes on a saviour because they wish to blind themselves to the inevitability that they will lose the war against us, and in turn, lose everything,' from behind shades, his eyes narrowed. Right now, not even tainted glass could disguise what was beginning to emanate, 'and those who believe in it are no better than the minds that are still plugged into the Matrix. Your saviour is dead, Morpheus…. Wake up.'
The whorl of a figure ruptured his line of vision as it was thrown through the shadows behind the Agent, and crashed into the wall behind where the fuzz interspersed with the collision. Dust rose as the embers of the figure disappeared from view, but he soon picked himself up, charged through the smoke of the debris, through the rain-spattered air, and back to his opponent, into the fight.
'You'd be better off giving up now,' and the Agent stepped closer in elected oblivion, 'while you still have the volition to do so,' and with bared teeth, he growled with a menace that couldn't be challenged, 'no, hand over the codes to the Zion mainframe.'
Envy dodged beneath a swing, spun into him, and barrelled an elbow into his stomach. Edward bent over with the force, coughed before he fell back in his steps, wheezed as he clutched the blow-wound. Envy took the opportunity, kicked round at his face. Edward was knocked down onto his side, to collide with the rubble, and screeched with the scrape of his thigh.
Envy stepped forward with a casual ease, but Edward quickly recovered. He rolled onto his back and with bent legs sprung back onto his hands as he fell back, to flip back onto his feet, to wobble on the landing. A moment of weakness, and envy charged forward. Edward side-stepped, gave chase, running for the wall, Envy followed. He stopped then; bent low into a kick, and Envy ran straight into it, was sent toppling back into the bed.
But Edward trembled under the pressure of his thigh, and fell back to the floor as he gripped his wound tight. Envy regained his footing, charged forward again. Edward twisted up, but only for a second, before he was grabbed by the shoulders, and dragged back in the force. Envy had him straddled by the hips, and with force beat him across the face, one way, and then the other. Edward bucked up against him, tried to wrestle him off, was beaten again, and the blood sprayed from his mouth.
Envy's lips formed into a grin, "So is this how you play things, huh?" cackled, and in that moment Edward managed to throw a punch across Envy's face, but he wasn't deterred, "When you and Neo are alone?" He breathed as he bent low to Edward's face, "It suits you." Envy was punched the other way, but his grin widened, laughed.
"For the love of god, do you ever shut up?!" Edward screamed, pulled an arm inwards, and sent Envy rolling to his left. He found himself on top, and with the advantage seized Envy's head, pulled it back, pushed it into the jags of the debris, back, and in, back and in, but it was too late. Envy had already descended into a fit of giggles, his head now drenched in blood.
"So you like it rough, huh?" Envy's strength was too much, and he rolled himself out from beneath, finished up on top once again, too heavy to remove, "I can play that game too, you know!" Volts of scarlet healing circled his brow, lapped up the blood the debris had hacked free. With a punch from his fake prosthetic, he bludgeoned Edward's stomach. The blood came free so easily, and as Edward hunched up with the force, blood gurgled from his mouth along with the eruption of a high-pitched scream as he fell back, wenching agony from the very weight of the blow. "You see, I wasn't using my full strength before."
"Mon… ster…!" Edward seethed through blood-stained teeth, grasped Envy's forearm with a bone-white tightness.
"If only you knew." The seductive whisper pressed close into the warmth of Edward's cheek, while more force was driven into the fist that sat in the pit of his stomach, caused more blood to well, "Tut tut," Envy chuckled, "all this blood," and with a long tongue, skated it across the corner of his mouth to lap up the shining globules. Edward almost wretched in disgust, "you must be feeling pretty woozy by now, right?" Another chuckle fell from Envy's throat, almost uncontainable, "So tell me, how often would Neo lick your fluids?"
Edward's lips pursed with the reddening of pummelled cheeks, his eyes widened as the blush reigned supreme over the drained pallor of his face.
"You're blushing! So it is true!" Envy laughed, grinned with a cruel twist in his lips, "Did he moan your name while he-!"
He thrust a knee into his groin, the weight eased in the shock, and Envy became easy to kick aside. But as the fist came free, more blood leaked out – he lurched forward suddenly, gripped his wound tighter. Blood poured from his mouth as he writhed on his front, and he screamed high and ragged, above the roar of the thunder and the rain that pelted down, as he fought to keep the pain from tearing him in two. He could only huddle tight as an intense explosion of burning tried to consume him from within.
"That was a cheap trick." Envy groaned, but brought himself to his feet. As he watched the boy convulse and writhe, his frown creased into a smirk. The boy had fallen into fits of agony as he gripped his stomach, forced his auto-mail into the wound, to push back the burn. "But no matter, I'd say you didn't have long left anyway." He chuckled as Edward fought for control, glared into him as more blood poured from his mouth, "How does it feel, being burnt to death by acid strong enough to melt through steel, hm? Who knew that such a deadly substance lived in the human body?"
Edward groaned then in a fit of writhing, his body shook, and with each convulsion, whimpers gurgled up from his throat. His eyes traced the rubble, scanned and hoped for assistance, any sort of advantage he could grab a hold of. But he could no longer hold up his own weight, and his elbows crumpled beneath him.
"You see?! Even your own body wants you dead!" Envy cackled, "I'd take the hint if I were you! That is, if you don't want to suffer! You've only got ten minutes anyway!"
Edward gritted his teeth. His breathing eased a little, his eyes focused just out to his peripheral. He kept his prosthetic there, where it acted as a metal plug, and though the smoke rose from his hand, he steeled himself against the leaking blood. He crawled forward, reached out, and grabbed a hold of a steel pipe that poked out from the debris. He pulled himself to it, and with a tight grip, rose to his feet with shaky legs, and heaving in breath, he yanked the pipe free. Slowly, he rose the point towards Envy, poised, ready.
"So you've still got some fight left in you, hm?" He smirked, the boy before him breathed in deep heaves, hissed with the inner burn, the pipe trembled with the weight, "You must be eager to die! You want to see Neo so soon, is that it?!"
"Don't… misunderstand me…" Edward groaned, "We're not… like that…! And neither… am I dying here…!"
"Then I'll give you a treat before you die!" Red volts poured out from the elbow of his prosthetic, and in their light, they stroked over the forearm, around the arm-shield, and formed it with the bolts of their effort. A bright light edged the shape, as it transformed and moulded, until it finally died down, and from the sleeve, a blade protruded, sharpened at the tip. He simpered then, "With a weapon like that," and his eyes scanned the form of the pipe that shook in Edward's grip, "I'd say you can't use alchemy here, can you?"
"Doesn't mean… I can't still beat you!" Edward growled through the drum of the rain, "I don't… need alchemy… for every little thing!" He grimaced in pain then, the sting of salt-rain seeped into his wounds, and he gripped his stomach tighter.
"You're going to need it when I'm through with you!" Envy jeered, charged forward, threw his blade out. Edward stepped back, ready to meet the attack, his pipe held side-long. The blade scraped across it, sparks flew at the sheered contact. He knocked it away then, jabbed forward into Envy's stomach. But he lost balance with the weight, the jab glanced off to the side, the lead-feeling in his thighs sent him to his knees.
The blade came down on him, his prosthetic left his wound, both hands held up the pipe to block. But the blade caught a notch, and with the strength of the wielder, sliced through the pipe.
He tossed away an end, left him with a pipe sliced clean through at an angle, both hands held on tight to expel the agony. Envy's blade came down with another slice, but he rolled down with the extra weight, fell to the floor in an outcry of frustration.
Wait, he doesn't know how to…! I might still…!
Agent Smith's stance held strong against the blur that was Morpheus' vision, in narrow-eyed contempt of it, his gun never faltered from its target, 'Don't make me repeat myself, Morpheus. Hand over the codes to the Zion Mainframe!'
Edward rolled onto him then, and with the point of the pipe, struck down on the blade's underside. The sparks went up, darted from the scrape of the metal, sounded clear over the rain and formed with the deep scream as the blade came loose from the underarm, that released blood from beneath the guard. He twisted the pipe round, and with the blunt end, swiped the blade out of Envy's reach. Another twist and the point was straight at Envy's throat. But it froze there, just inches away from death, teetering on the brink of surrender.
"You actually thought…" Edward groaned as the blood welled from his wound, dripped from his mouth, "that the blade would give you an advantage? You can't use a weapon… you don't know how to wield!" Envy's eyes rolled to his forearm, to the blood that pooled out from beneath the metal shell, "And as for the blade… you don't know the true make-up of my auto-mail, do you? Compared to hers, it's just cheap scrap! Look," He peeled his prosthetic hand from the steel of the pipe, to show where the surface had become gnarled, but even under the circumstances, his fingers still retained their movement as they snapped back to his wound. He had to bite his lip to keep from screaming, "You said the acid could melt through steel…" and he gulped at the well of pain coming up, heaved it down, "but it's hardly touched the joints… only the surface is damaged. That's what you're up against, Envy! You can't stand up to the real thing!"
Envy grabbed the pipe, pulled it into his own throat. He rolled back, kicked out as Edward lost his grip in the shock, sent him over and skidding through rubble. He rolled over from his back. His stomach clutched tight, wretched as more blood poured loose, shook as the burn intensified, as his hunch became unsteady. He blinked hard, to keep his handle on consciousness, and he tightened his fist, glanced up towards Envy.
Envy was up on his feet, and though the blood poured from his throat and his arm, the volts of healing came out of his shoulder, lashed around his neck, and Envy grinned with his grip on the pipe. He was consumed in the revelry of the death that had been evaded as the volts ate away at the metal shell and the blood from beneath. The bright flashes of scarlet receded then, moulded with the illuminated forks of lightning above, and all over him only skin and flesh were there in their entirety, attached to a form that Edward had longed to see one there.
"At least I'll have something you'll never have!" Envy grinned and, in the folds of his material form, he had become a dream made real, but bestowed on the wrong form.
'Hand over the codes, now!' Agent Smith bellowed as the thunder answered his command in untranslatable crashes, only his gun could decode the response, still cocked and ready.
"You shouldn't have done that!" Edward kicked off his feet, gritted his teeth into a bend of agony, and retrieved the guard-blade from amongst the rubble with metallic fingers. He jumped forward, blade ready as he came down, right before him. The blade dug into the flesh down at the shoulder, right through flesh, into the bone, clean through. The limb met the brick with a pitch of screaming. Envy clutched the stump and jumped back. Edward threw the blade away, to fizz to black before it could skitter across the rubble, into the atmosphere, no longer visible.
Envy fell to his knees, bared his teeth in threat.
"You're reckless… when you fight!" Edward scowled, "You don't think… about your moves… you're only looking… for the next cheap shot!"
"Then it's tit-for-tat, pipsqueak!" Envy howled, and with his left, he grabbed the pipe, ran forward. Edward brought his auto-mail up to guard, the auto-mail heavy in disobedient weight. He was suddenly so close, and in a flurry of blood and scarlet light, the point of the pipe was forced through the pit. The stab was full of the wielder's strength, nerve wires were snapped, the inner structure fractured, and a dense radiated from the shoulder. Suddenly, all feeling was lost as the shoulder shield was dented from within, and his arm became nothing but deadweight.
"Don't you see?!" Roy screamed, "HE'S NOT GOING TO TELL YOU ANYTHING!"
With a twist, Envy yanked out the pipe. Edward struggled for balance, and fell to his knees. The muscles of Envy's forearm had finished their construction, and as the skin stretched to conceal the intricacies, the bones and tendons of his hand soon coated in more muscle, more skin, before all viewers could behold its completion, bare where the sleeve no longer existed.
Edward could only grip his auto-mail hand, and push it against his wound in desperation.
"How did you…?" Edward exhaled, wobbled in place as the effects of the blood loss started to take a firm hold, forced the darkness into his vision where the burn of acid had yet to relent.
"I was holding back just now," Envy smirked with ease, "I am much stronger than you think I am."
A sudden scream rang out, Edward stared round only to be struck in awe. The body twisted with the force of the throw, only breached the air for a few airborne moments, for his back to collide with the wood of the bed, to yell out on landing, hit the ground, before falling into a sudden silence. "ROY!" Edward screamed, twisted in panic, for a shooting jolt of pain to course through his body.
Please, don't be…!
The body lay there against the drum of the rain. It slowly washed away the mud and the blood that caked his body, his chest expanded and exhaled in laboured breaths in that silence that the thunder beckoned. He was unconscious, but he couldn't swallow down the flare of hot panic and fear that welled from within. With tightened fists, Edward tried to drag himself forward, arms outstretched, ready to meet the body half-way.
"Roy! Wake up!" He called out weakly, coughed as he stretched his hand further, "Roy!"
"Oh no you don't!"
The pipe swiped across his face in a cold metal sting, knocked him sprawled out on his back. He could only stare up at his captor, dazed, just from the corner of his sight – the metal glinted in the midst of a lightning strike far off, held in place by the grip of the mimicker, an intense scowl on his face. "This fight…" He growled lowly in his feminine grate, and the pipe was raised in his right hand, "should be the only one…!" The pipe came down on him, Edward's eyes widened, before he screwed them shut.
Alphonse, Roy, I'm sorry, I tried!
"… that concerns you!"
A shunk, but he felt no pain, and as he opened his eyes from the darkness, he caught a glimpse of the pipe's metal, caught its refractions at the right of him. He tried to struggle back then, but he couldn't move, he was caught, something…. He saw it then, the pipe was forced through the joint of his elbow, buried into the rubble beneath. He was pinned with the debris. He tried to pull again, but no response, the arm was just deadweight that served only as a steel hindrance and nothing more. He was caught by his own support.
"And now, I can take as much time as I want." Envy sighed, stepped round Edward's sprawled body, and came to his left, bent down to face him proper. "So, is that how it is?" His grin widened, "You and the Colonel, huh? I never would've guessed!" A blush started to spread on Edward's cheeks, flowed like a red ink stain on murky paper. "First Neo, and now the Flame alchemist too? You must be popular with the boys!" He laughed.
"You… don't know a thing about me…." Edward huffed weakly.
"I don't have to," Envy shrugged, "any fool can see that you have the hots for him, right? So, how long have you been hiding that one? Huh?" His face twisted then as the mirth took over, "Did you stay up all night, writing in your little diary while bawling your eyes out, just to make it through another day while your precious Colonel fucked his lieutenant? Must be painful!"
Edward recoiled, almost balked at his words, tried to struggle more, but without success. Envy chuckled at the sight of the boy's fear playing before him, and confirmed all accusations.
"How pathetic," Envy smirked, "You make out like you're tough, but you're anything but. Although," he shrugged finally, "I have to admit, you have good taste. Shame they have a tendency to be beaten so easily, first Neo, and now your Colonel hasn't got much longer." Envy smiled lightly, "I could be merciful, I could snap his neck, and he wouldn't know a thing about it, and it would be all over. All you'd have to do is give the word," which twisted into a smirk, "but of course, you won't do that, because that would be the easy thing to do. And you don't do easy, do you?"
"Because… doing what's easy… is not the same as doing what's right, or fair!" Edward growled as his breathing became laboured.
"Oh do you ever stop with the cool lines and the moral high ground?!" Envy rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. He seized Edward by the chin, and forced it to his left, towards the body that laid there unconscious. "You see him?! He's not shut up with the lines since he got here, and now look at him! If he'd done the easy thing, and let us take the codes, then you wouldn't have had to waste your time plugging in! You know, we would have let you walk out of this alive with your precious Trinity hours ago if you had given us the codes like we asked! But noooo!" Envy carried in a high and sardonic tone, "Instead you come waltzing in all noble, and because of that, three of your crew are dead, your Captain's a drugged up vegetable, Trinity is having second thoughts about you guys, your precious Colonel is unconscious, and you! Man, you should be dead in a matter of minutes! The fact you're not dead is a miracle beyond all human consciousness, but you know what? I think I'm going to throw you a bone here!" Envy bounced up from his crouch, "I'm going to make this nice and easy for you!" He stepped over Edward's prone body, and with a grin, stood between him and Roy, "Make your Captain hand over the codes, or I'm going to snap your boyfriend's neck!"
Edward's eyes fell onto Roy, the rain pounded down on him, and for all the strength that he had seen in the man, the man that he had looked up to for so many years before; all he could find was weakness and vulnerability. That the man was suddenly so ignorant of the danger that befell him was too much to bear. He hardly thought that possible of him. He should be up on his feet, ready to defend his Captain, and he was, but now he was nothing more than a pitiable form, beyond the point of saving.
No… I can't think like that…
"So, which is it going to be, hm?" Envy grinned wickedly, "You going to persuade the veggie, or are you going to watch as I pull him limb from limb, hm? Would that be nice? Oh, and I'm stepping up the terms to something more tortuous with each second delay, so you'd better start choosing." Envy folded his arms casually, "But no pressure." He smirked.
If Envy so much as gave the word, then it would be all over, and the man would no longer suffer, but then all those nights of yearning, they would've been for nothing – he would still be alone. Alone, alone… he shook away the creeping pang of loss, and in his panic his eyes darted quickly for Morpheus. The man he was meant to pledge his life to, as his Captain, as their leader, he couldn't let everyone else down either. The lives of millions were worth more than the life of one man, no matter how much he meant to you – they were not the same worth, and they could never be, especially when there were consequences to be considered. But there was no time for that. The clock was still ticking – one or the other, your crew mate, or your Captain, one life, or the lives of millions…!
He could only gulp down his fate and exhale the breath he had been holding all this time, to let go a heavy sigh.
He hoisted himself up onto his knees. The sentinels had swarmed in, and ready claws and tentacles had already taken the life of the operator and amidst the chaos, their lasers had brought the floor down beneath his feet, and him into a descent towards a darker part of the ship, down into the top deck. Blood trickled from his nose and his temple, his head was woozy from the impact bringing movements without balance. It was a miracle he wasn't dead.
The mechanical cries of the sentinels brought him to his senses, even more so as their glowing orbs came into being from the floor above. From his peripheral, he caught the sight of Jue; her lids flickered in the trance of a dreaming sleep.
He bared his teeth, and snatched a lightning rifle from the floor at his feet as the sentinels advanced. The whole place lit up with the blue rays of the rifle as it froze a sentinel in place, before it dropped heavily to the ground. But still they made their advances, and he backed towards Jue's body. He let out another ray – another sentinel dropped before him.
Don't worry, Jue! I won't let you die! I will protect!
The crawl of the monotonous beep settled around them, trembled in its show of mortal finality, and stuttered into a semblance of human life of a heart beating once again with such a strong force that had never been seen before, that he tried to denounce it. But on this side of reality, where the evidence beat right before them, it had to be believed. Tank could only stare in a gaze of incredulity, now transformed into a widened glare as everything, everything he'd known had to adapt to its belief system. Compared to all that he'd hoped for, he had no power, he didn't have the power to make it happen, he was completely weak compared to this newly living being, this… messiah, liberated from all the barriers that death had held against them.
'He really is…' Tank gasped breathlessly, '… the One.'
But Dozer's eyes were already focused on the screen; he stared through the raining code, through to what really mattered, to the boy still pinned by the steel pipe.
'Come on, little man….' Dozer urged, 'Get up…! Just get up…! You can do this…!'
If Neo can… is Edward also…?
Tank too stared into the screen, felt himself being pulled into it, completely absorbed by the battle that took place in the inner-Matrix – he was drawn in by the strength and the will that emanated from the figure, laid out before the decision of his life.
'You can do this, Ed! Come on…! Get up!'
Dozer… have you always believed…?
Dozer gaped then as the air seemed to escape his whole body, frozen in a moment that teetered on the brink of what they knew and that what they hoped for would come to fruition, or fall apart right before their eyes.
"I've made my decision," Edward gulped within the continuous strains of the agony, his teeth bared against the face as it twisted into a bright grin.
"Oh?" In his burst of enthusiasm, Envy made steps towards Roy, "Would you like me to start with the legs or-?"
"No!" Edward barked out above the rain and its tumultuous roar above the thunder, so clear that Envy stopped in his tracks, "I choose neither!"
Envy's face sunk then, and twisted into a scowl, "That's not an option."
"We never intended… to stick to this deal… in the first place!" Edward heaved in another breath with effort, sputtered a cough in his blood loss, "We never intended… to play your games…. We're not like you…" Edward seethed between bared teeth, and Edward caught a glance then as, in his weakness, Edward reached out with his left hand across his chest, in the direction of the steel pipe, "we're not limited… by the choices we're given…."
"You think you can pull out that pipe? Don't bother," Envy smirked in his dismissal, "I told you before, I'm a lot stronger than you think I am! I would never make it so easy for you to pull it out."
A chuckle escaped Edward's throat, dry, struck Envy with a look of confusion with every rasp, "Thanks for proving my point…." Tucked his hand beneath the layers of his jacket, where his hand settled on the metal hub of his shoulder, "Who said….", and grasped it tight, "I was trying to pull out the pipe?!" He twisted at the notch of a bolt, and gritted his teeth as he gripped it tighter. His fingers were wet with blood, but still he tried to twist, pushing harder against the tear of metal that sent jolts of agony through his body, caused him to scream with the endeavour. The pain intensified, grew stronger as he felt it, the slow detachment at the hub, where some feeling still existed.
"Don't tell me you're trying to…!"
He grasped tighter, twisted harder still. His fingers dug into the angular sides of the heavy bolt, and pushed further. Then, the tension gave way in the last pull, it wheeled loose completely and the prosthetic was released from the grip of the hub, creating a slack in his sleeve as he rolled from his bondage in a ferocious scream of liberation. He pushed to his feet in a fray of blood that leaked out from his wound, more so in the motion, but he paid it little attention as he placed a foot on his prosthetic, and grasped a hold of the pipe.
He shook with effort as he wrapped his left arm around it for grip and stability, heaved and pulled, until he felt something come loose beneath the rubble, and the pipe edged forward out of the brick.
Envy's eyes widened in the realisation of what he saw – a comeback, a chance that Edward was going to crawl back from this, and panic flared in his chest. He ran forward. He forced out his leg, bent into a kick aimed right for Edward, "Dammit, I won't let you-!"
Suddenly, Edward pulled on the pipe like a lever, forced it back, and right in Envy's way . The kick landed as he struck the pipe the pipe with his foot, and in the strength of the attack, it was ripped up from the brick and the rubble, out of the auto-mail, to clang free of its prison as Envy rolled out of momentum, to come face-to-face with Edward. Edward smirked then, and stepped over to the pipe, picked it up, and wrapped it around his arm for stability as he tried to steady the end, now weighted down with chocks of brick.
Envy's teeth were bared in defiance of the consequences of his actions.
"That's right…" Edward smirked, and slowly sunk into a crouch, "You are a lot stronger than you look," and as more blood trickled from his mouth, he slowly rose the pipe from the ground in a shaky stance, but gaze never wavered, and he stared straight for Envy, "and that's why… you won't get the codes."
The roars of celebration fell to a sudden silence as the eruption of a siren coursed through the room, burst into life with the throbbing, circling waves of a red alert. They stared into each other as their faces twisted from joy into an utter mortification with each impression that fell on them. In the passing moment, each ringing signal struck within them a mutual understanding, spelled out their widening features as a cold tumult of dread rolled out from inside and seconds later….
They were forced forward, they ran towards the cockpit, and Tank made a beeline for the controls at the steering wheel. He typed at them, and the orb by its side cast out bright rays that formed before them the holographic bodies of the sentinels. They swerved towards them through the whirling tunnels of the wormholes they navigated, not far from their ship.
'Damn,' Tank cursed, 'Six of them!' His fists tightened.
'Sent by the Agents, no doubt.' Dozer growled as he gazed out through the window, and peered into the depths of the darkness behind their shield of light. They could only watch out for the sentinels as they steadily closed in on them. But, in the darkness of the wormholes, they were nowhere to be seen. They could only be sensed by the thrill of panic that bubbled in their chests, the sensation of knowing they were being chased, cornered, and it would only be a matter of time before they were caught. It played out like a nightmare, but without the smoky barrier of a dreaming sleep.
'It's a shame,' Tank uttered into the synapse of air, for his brother to turn in given attention, 'if we could use the EMP…' he frowned.
'Then Zion would lose its Saviour!' Dozer countered, 'We can't let 'em die that way! They're our crew!'
'I know that!' Tank barked, and heaved in breath with the steady formation of the crawling blue waves that circled in the corner of his eye, that spelled out their inevitable fate. It was too much to take in, to catch, and a sudden wave of exhaustion sent him falling back into the seat behind him, to let out a heavy sigh where the caught breath was released from his lung-grip again, 'So… is this it…?' And with the exhaustion, came the finality, the weary admittance of certain failure that, in the Real World, had to be faced, often with the resignation that hope was hopeless. It showed in the solemnity of his eyes as he glanced up at his brother.
But Dozer's face reflected a soft smile in return, 'what you talkin' about?' where hope was hopelessly bad at admitting defeat, 'We're the operators, remember? While the crew defend Zion from inside, we have to defend it from out here. While they're plugged in, we have to be their eyes, their ears, their hands, and their feet.' He grasped Tank's shoulder, squeezed it gently, 'Come on', and motioned towards the top deck with his head, 'we need to grab a lightning rifle before they get here.'
Tank's face twisted then, 'You seriously don't think we can defend against six sentinels by ourselves, do you?' he growled.
'I'm not sayin' we'll stand a chance, but we have to try, an' even if we did here, we did it protectin' the One, an' that's a duty worth dyin' for.'
Tank's face softened, and with a sigh, he stood up from his seat in a show of submission, and as they both frowned, they stared out through the glass, towards the black abyss of the wormhole, alight with the headlamps of the ship as far is its radius could reach. But beyond that was a cloaked mystery, and both could concede, they would not see the danger before it was too late.
'Big brother?' Tank spoke softly, whispered for fear of the oncoming danger, that they would be heard, and leaned in towards Dozer, 'Do you think we'll die here?'
For many moments, Dozer stared out as though into empty space, and for many seconds didn't see anything. He only breathed in equal motions as though everything before him had become a shrouded mass of nothingness that could not be negotiated, to the point of it being useless to try. And yet, through it all, there was a sense of calm and quiet sedation that questioned the very notion of consciousness, that slowly lagged in degrees, until finally, he let a breath escape.
'I don't know,' He glanced down towards Tank, 'but we gotta believe,' and in a slow motion, he turned round from the window, and started walking towards the top deck, leaving Tank by the window, 'for their sakes, we gotta have faith.'
As the red alert continued to whirl through him, he stared on after Dozer, before following him through to the top deck.
Edward stepped forward with the swing of the pipe, battled Envy back, the rubble-end thrown for his face. Envy raised his arm to block, grunted with the contact, and ducked beneath the pipe, to twist for Edward's stomach wound. The pipe slid from Edward's grip, for a moment, for the other end to block Envy's fist. A new grip had been negotiated; he pushed it down, for the rubble-end to fall on Envy's head.
Envy dodged back, but with the momentum, Edward snapped it back. He pulled the other end out of the ground, to jab forward, for it to hit Envy square in the chest. Envy toppled back, and in the gravity red volts flared from his chest, splayed out in reconstruction, before he fell back into the rubble. Edward followed, landed on him. He straddled for dominance, and with his arm twisted round the pipe, swung it across Envy's face.
Envy struggled and grunted, but Edward didn't let up, swung it back round again. Blood erupted from Envy's mouth, sprayed in splatters across the rock, but Edward kept going, his teeth gritted in effort. Each hit that met its mark was a burning endeavour, each grunt that issued from Edward's mouth was there for the sake of control and in the next swing, he threw in such energy that he felt the other's give way.
Envy's neck gave a deadening crack, his head lolled against the rubble, against the brick and in those moments of stillness, Edward heaved for breath.
His body sunk in a sullen pose of respite, the opportunity was coming for him to collapse, but he couldn't let himself. His body shook just to keep himself together, his chest heaved erratically to suck in the oxygen that he could. He clenched his teeth, to keep down what he was afraid would come any minute, any second -! His teeth released and in a spell of hot saliva he coughed as blood gushed from his mouth, the pipe clattered in his lost grip of it, and his body flopped.
The agony drew him in on himself, his stomach held enfolded in the wrap of his arm, his eyes screwed up tight with its squeeze and wretch, and his mouth gaped wide to let it go, but no sound came free. Instead his chest fell in sporadic motions, the pain embroiled in that one point, suddenly too much to bear. But in his throat a gaseous lump formed, a blockage that kept him from catching his breath, and whatever fell from his mouth then, came out high and rasping, in pants that were unable to translate the breathless agony.
Rolled from beneath, the solid weight had gone, and in the confusion he was kicked back, the wind knocked out of him completely. In the whistle of the air, his back clipped the bed post, he grunted frustration, and fell to the floor in a heap. But he tried to struggle, he pushed up onto his elbow, hacked and coughed away the blood, rasped and sputtered to clear away the lump. Steps, they neared closer, louder and louder – he tried to twist, the pain flared in his back, he curled in on himself.
Suddenly, Edward was pulled up by his collar, and forced onto his knees, the punches rained in on him in their brute force. His face was struck in the punches, pummelled his left, he couldn't bring his arm up to guard. Another punch, he found his voice in the yelps, but the pain couldn't be stopped, neither could the blood that broke free of his skin, welled down his cheeks.
He gritted his teeth in effort; he scrambled back, and reached though the punches rained further. In the next moment, his fingers found the bed post. He latched on, and in the next heft brought his legs up from the ground. He kicked out then, stamped into the fleshy wall of Envy's stomach, held up by the loosened grip, then lost, as Envy tumbled back. Edward lost his hold on the bed post, and fell onto his side, pain radiated from the collision of the bullet wound, but this time, he didn't remain on the floor – in the breathless fount of the adrenaline rush, he barely found his footing.
Balance was soon restored as he slowly stood up straight to retain it. But before him, having fallen to his knees, long dark strands covered the deathly pale skin of his face. Envy raised his head then, and in the flash of lightning, Edward caught a glimpse of poison violet orbs, the whiteness of teeth bared in a savage rage, his identity uncovered in a stark honesty of feeling. Now he was showing his true face.
Another flash, within the light, the refracted curve of the metallic pipe was caught in sight, and within Envy's. Their gazes flickered to each other's, fixed, before both rushed for it.
The feeling finally floated back into the fullness of his form, forcibly felt where he screwed his eyes up tight, and then, in the tautness of his fists in an assumption of control, his vision grew clearer, and as the blur waned, he was even more aware. Rubble, darkness, flashes of light, the blow of leather on skin, grunts that fuelled the thunder roars. He stared up from his gut-side where before him the fuzzy whorls of gold played across the room, in a giddy tug-of-war against a monster, fit for darkness, cloaked in it as any other. A sigh escaped his lips, the monster had assumed its own identity, he could at least tell who he was rooting for, and somehow, that was reassuring.
Edward bent low, kicked out into Envy, and sent the monster back towards the wall. In the force of the kick, he crumpled and rolled to the side, seized his grip on the pipe. He dug the rubble-end into the ground, and in the momentum spun onto his feet. The blood roared incessantly in his ears, but that didn't matter, and he ran forward, screamed, the pipe brandished high. Suddenly, the strength was there to support the fight, to back the struggle – the pain was falling behind him in the wake of faster steps, as he charged towards Envy, swung forward.
Roy blinked hard as the rubble tightened between the grip of his fingers, the taste of salty grit rolled along his tongue, and in the dismissal of the flavour-bath, he spat away the rain and mud that clogged his mouth. But that left little impression when compared to the object that danced in his blurry vision. His wounds… his arm… the blood… he should've collapsed by now… he should've- he should be dead, but-! He was fighting on… not once in the past had he known the boy to admit defeat and give up… all the rumours and reports had spoken of his stubbornness, back in the bluepill days where reports were a luxury… but now the proof was there, of a man who never backs down, fights for family and friends alike, even to the point of exhaustion and eventual death. Even now… he wasn't dead… he was still going… and in that gesture… a miracle was forming.
In that split-second Envy dodged the rubble-end, and in its return, it came back in a twist above Edward's head. Envy held up his arm to block, the pipe stopped in its rotation, and with the weight, fell to the ground. Now Envy had the advantage, he grabbed a hold, and swung it round. But Edward didn't let go, his left arm wrapped around the pipe, his grip secure. He was flung round off his feet, the cyclone travelled back, towards the wall still intact, to throw him off.
Edward saw it coming, his feet found their place on the brick, ran with the motion, across the corner, over the other wall, and as his feet left contact, he fixed his grip. His feet found the floor, kicked off the debris, and swung beneath the pipe, where he forced his feet together, twisted, for him to land square in Envy's chest.
Envy was pushed against the back wall, the collision forced the pipe from his hand, and Edward fell with it. He rolled the pipe round at his side, and in a single manoeuvre he was on his feet, and he sidled back in his fight for balance.
The dance of flames surrounded the golden whorl, a blurred object for his gaze to follow, for his eyes to flicker in line with. He followed the twists, for the corner of his mouth to perk in the quickening spark of an overtaking revelation. For as long as that flame remained in his sight, nothing could douse it… he's not going to give up… with every twist and turn… he's not going to give in… but this couldn't go on forever, you could only play with fire so long, before you got burnt… the fighting would end, and for that, when the flames licked the skin, that's when something would have to give… but that won't be Edward. He was the fire that consumed the energy of the other. He knew that, and damn, he believed it. The very notion in his heart as he propped himself up on his elbows, to give his strength, his support, to add fuel to the fire-!
Envy threw more blows, the balance was lost, and Edward fell onto his butt. But still he kept a hold of his pipe, and as Envy flung a punch, Edward swung it round. The rubble-end swiped Envy's fist, the attack was evaded. But Envy carried on, dealt more hits, and Edward swung it lower then, hooked it behind his leg, and yanked it up. Envy was knocked from his feet, to fall on his back.
He sputtered a cough, wheezed and rasped as his voice croaked under the exertion, beneath the weight of the pain that niggled at his back. His fists tightened with it, and he heaved for breath. "Eeee," as though a lump swelled, he coughed again, but the fight didn't halt, the thunder drowned him out. In the coughs that followed, the sputters of saliva slicked his throat, his head ducked as he swallowed.
The toes of Envy's foot dug into Edward's stomach, he screamed as he was flung, through the jaws of the wall that was. He lost his grip on the pipe, into the wall that still existed. His back collided and in the tumult of noise, he heard a crash to his left, where the pipe had veered off.
Gravity forced him into a downward slide, where he fell on his front, spat away the blood in his mouth. He threw up his head to face the oncoming monster, the ire burned full in the violet orbs. Edward narrowed his eyes then, quickly flickered from the leer in search, but he couldn't find the pipe. That weapon was gone, but, he still had another.
"Eeeed…" he croaked, coughed in the sting, but that didn't stop him, he wouldn't let it. He had to know, Edward had to know, that he was here, that they hadn't lost everything, that he had his support. He always had his support… always-! … But maybe, he had always been afraid, a coward who lived in fear of his own feelings, contending with the pressure that his authority offered, as always too aware of the dangers when a child-! … But this wasn't a child, dammit, he knew that now-!
His back flat against the wall, he pushed himself up, guarded against the blow, and flung himself into his opponent. A knee met his side in retaliation, he folded in from the attack, but as the other came up, he knocked it back into receding. He bent low beneath the oncoming fist, twisted; his elbow buried into the other's stomach, and Envy fell back.
Edward charged forward then, he flung a punch for his face. Envy contorted with the force, stumbled to the side, his arm changed course, and as Envy straightened, it hit the other side. He was jabbed then, hit his stomach again, and Envy bent over double. An upper cut was delivered into his chin, he was forced straight, and he fell back.
"EDWARD!" Roy screamed, not even the thunder could crash the call into silence, or rebuke the rawness of its purpose. Within the golden whorls, the intensely-gilded orbs of the fire's centre alighted onto him, widened, as though enflamed by the voice that filled the space between them, and beyond. "DON'T GIVE UP, ED!"
His limbs shook with a brutal pain, and as he pushed himself up onto his palms, as those eyes fell back onto him, Envy caught within them the burning flame. He was trapped in the hold of their embers, fuelled by the lightning, by the voice, and they narrowed in a determination that, even with his towering strength, he couldn't possibly put out. It was like the kid was asking for a beating, but knew how to deliver – he wasn't going to give up on giving as much as he took.
How can he…! After the beating he's taken…! He should've bled to death…!
Those eyes continued to peer, looked down on him, glared right into the core of him with a tight fist. His body cast a shadow over the wounded weakling at his feet, now caught within a clamour of cowering that he couldn't rid from his frame, shook… his eyes widened and panic became the key word of his stare, something he never thought would float to mind, something that always coupled nicely with the human condition and now he, a homunculus, was the weakling…?! Envy's eyes narrowed then, he growled with bared teeth in active defiance, his fingers clawed the rubble as they tightened into fists.
"Stop it…!" His voice rose in a threatening tone that shook for control, "Stop-! Don't-! Don't look down on me!" Envy seethed, and yet, those golden orbs persisted in their glowering intensity, caused his stomach to twist with frustration, "Dammit, for fuck's- WHY WON'T YOU ROLL OVER AND DIE ALREADY?!"
As Envy heaved breath in sporadic gapes, Edward continued to glare at him, his face remained a stone mask, as though unshaken by his words, by the terror that tore into that deep, feminine voice. But every notice was being taken, every word had been absorbed into his memory, and almost instantly, his mouth opened slightly in readiness, as he took in breath, and steeled himself.
"Don't you see?" Edward growled, "It's not about… who's the One anymore… when fighting against the Machines… or anyone that stands in the way of the Resistance… that doesn't matter. But neither… will the Resistance stop for the sake of one life…." He winced beneath the concealment of his agony, let out haggard moans as his arm enfolded his wound, tried to swallow it down, "That's why… while I'm alive… while I still have the freedom to do so… I have to keep fighting…" his fingers gripped tighter into the sting of his wound, his whole form shook, "even if I die… I have to make it count… if that's what it takes… to stop you… then I'll do anything…!"
Envy could see it now, his eyes flickered as they scanned every inch him, every shred of ripped leather, every drop of blood that leaked, formed a pool beneath Edward's feet, with every breath he inhaled, with every moment he held Envy's gaze, and towered above the monster. A conclusion moulded before his eyes, an undeniable truth, shined through, unblighted by the flashes of lightning, and materialised from the golden irises of the eyes that dared look down on him.
He's not going to stop… is he? It doesn't matter… what I do… he's not going to give up….
Envy's face scrunched up in disgust at the notion, his fingers gripped tighter into the rubble, and in the strength of his grip, the brick crumbled to dust – and yet, he felt powerless.
He can't even use alchemy, and yet…! He can't keep this up forever-! But… can I?
"Shit!" Envy broke his gaze, twisted round, and kicked off from the debris, to fall into a run away from Edward, "Agent Smith! Trinity! Grab Morpheus, we're leaving! Now!"
Agent Smith sneered then, and he turned on his heel from the group, from Trinity as she kept a tight grip on Morpheus' shoulders, shook in the uncertainty.
'No, Envy, they're just humans.' The Agent growled firmly, 'We stay and we finish what we started!'
"Dammit, let it go!" Envy retorted, "If we stay here, then we risk going round in circles! If we leave, we still have your Morpheus, and we still have the codes, whether he spills or not, we win!" Envy grabbed for the air, and within the grip, a silver doorknob formed. It swelled into proportion, and within the light of its transformation, the air solidified just behind it. A slab of light stretched out, Illuminated the darkness of the room, for it to mould, and in moments, all perception registered the painted white sheen of a wooden door, ready to be opened.
Roy stared on, and as Envy barked his commands, the noise didn't filter in – he could hear nothing, but the sound of his heart as it beat loudly in his ears. He waited on a moment of opportunity to be heeded in the very seconds that passed by. His teeth bared, but not in defiance of what he could do, but in defiance of what they were trying to achieve.
Shit, he's trying to escape…!
Edward's body still shook, in an active hesitation, as still the energy he needed drained from his body; with every drop of blood that fell, he was slowly growing weak, feeling the burn of his muscle tiring from the fight, ready to rest. He wanted to fight, willed himself into taking another step, but his mind had begun to gain its own sentience, and with decisive action, registering exhaustion caused him to collapse to his knees. His body was a slave to the pain, to the searing shock it provided.
Envy grabbed the doorknob, and with little effort, flung it open, to reveal the bright realm of white behind it. It illuminated every corner of the room.
"Come on! We've got no more-!"
He flung himself forward. Arms outstretched, and as he landed, latched himself onto Envy's ankle. His fingers tightened around the bony flesh, and though the pain ate away at the juncture of his shoulder, he wouldn't dare let go.
"You're not getting away…" Roy growled, "I won't let you…!"
"Let go!" Envy tried to shake him off, kicked out from the man's grip, but Roy wouldn't let go, and latched on with a stubborn persistence. He dragged himself forward, as if to hug him there with a stronger hold.
With the other free foot, Envy stamped down on Roy's back. With each time the foot came down, Roy yelped out, with each foot fall, he tried to maintain his grip, with each crack and force of pain that radiated through his body, he held on for dear life.
Edward's eyes widened, each stamp and crack sent his mouth gaping, a strike of empathetic agony with each low cry that fell from the man's lips, and yet his own pain kept him stock-still in place.
Harder now, Envy stamped down, the other screamed out with the deadening crack from his chest, and the hug around Envy's ankle loosened.
All Edward felt was a rage that boiled in the pit of his stomach, gnawed with the acid, bubbled in his chest, 'til all he could see was red – he charged forward.
"ENVY!" Edward roared.
Then, sent toes beneath into a gut-side kick. Roy's body was flipped, and sent rolling back towards the bed. Edward ducked in the charge, threw himself into Envy, for him to fall back into the foot of the door. He held him down with a knee, and with his left fist pummelled into his face, "DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HIM!"
But Envy was hardly retained, and he kicked Edward back, and sent him flying into the rubble. "Didn't you hear me?!" and getting to his feet, Envy stepped forward in quick strides, "I don't to fight you anymore!" Edward writhed from the coming steps, moaned in pain and panic as he tried to roll back onto his feet, but he was grabbed by the collar, forced up, for Edward to come face-to-face with the living monstrosity, eyes pressed close. "But if you're really spoiling for a fight," Envy seethed between his teeth, "then get up!" Envy swung him round, threw him back to the other side, for him to crash back into debris, for the slide of the mud to carry him forward as far as the rocks would allow. Envy strode towards him again.
The agony crashed forward, the full extent of all that he had swallowed down, had been lagged behind, and now bit at his heels and gnawed at every part of his body that their teeth could sink in to. The exhaustion pulled him down fast, absorbed the last of his energy into the rubble beneath.
"Come on! Get up!" Envy grabbed him by the collar, and with a heave, forced him onto his feet, this time gave Edward the chance to right himself, to find the balance he needed. With a slow recovery, Edward tried to raise his left arm, ready for action, to take another blow. "That's it!" Envy cajoled with a high enthusiasm, and grinned widely, "Throw a punch! Come on! Give me your best shot!"
Edward stumbled forward, grunted with the force of the punch he flung, but it was too easy to dodge, easily missed its target. As he rolled down, Envy brought a knee up into Edward's stomach, and he froze in his fall, to double over, screamed, and hugged his wound as he fell his knees.
"Hurts, doesn't it! Huh?"
Edward heaved onto his feet, his fists brandished high. Everything was an erratic panic now, he could hardly see anything, nothing but a blur, and his aim was blind, only aimed for the figure as the lightning flashed above. Momentary clarity, and he thrust it forward, the attack was a hit. Envy growled with the blow to his cheek, that sent him twisting back, but in it, his left leg went up, aimed for Edward's stomach, hit dead-on.
Such force was behind it, that Edward was thrown back. But then, as Envy shrank before him, the monster's eyes widened as his face dropped in realisation. He was sent flying back straight for the door-! Envy ran forward then, tried to grab for him, but his back had already passed the door jamb, and as Edward tried to reach out, his fingers caught the wood, the door started to close.
"Dammit!" Envy screamed, dove for the doorknob, but as the door slammed shut, a shine of white light enwrapped the wood, and in that instant, the door disappeared from view, taking Edward with it. It was as Envy fell through the shape that was once his escape route that he realised it, as did everyone else… he was gone, completely.
More sentinels piled in through the new-made hatch of the ceiling, and in their hum of artificial life, advanced closer, forced him up against Jue's seat, her prone body. They didn't let up, but neither did they take a rushed advantage. They could take as long as they needed, and with each sentinel that came closer, Thaddeus was forced into a defensive, only shot those within radius. Still their numbers climbed, with not much time to charge between bursts, less time to aim.
The seconds ticked on, carried forth the moment where an intense wall of sentinels had clustered, all swarmed in. There was only so long he could keep going, he couldn't take them all at once, and it was only a matter of time. One flowed into gap between them, was frozen then beneath the intensity of the ray, and fell to the ground close to his feet. They were right upon him now, their tentacles outstretched in a slow and tortuous game that prolonged the inevitable. In a churning flare of panic, he peered back towards Jue's sleeping form, her eyelids flickered as her mind was occupied within a fanciful dream. At least he could catch glimpses of peace reflected in her features, and for a moment, he could steady himself.
He turned quickly to face the danger, as though the momentary pause had incited a threat of blasphemous proportions, and in response the sentinels towered forward. His lightning rifle dropped from his hands in the shock, and he leaped from the claws, as though the bound of his heart had sent him back, and he landed onto Jue's body. His hands latched onto hers, and there he was, a human shield, his eyes firmly planted on the red sensors that came from all sides.
Screeches rose up in the throng of the electricity above, creating a chaos never before imagined in what was to be a victory cry. Amidst it then, something shattered, the last sound he heard in that moment, as his whole life was lit up with scarlet sensor-light, and in the next, defined by the deafening explosion that followed, everything was consumed in a storm of flame and smoke, now no more. No more fighting, no more dreaming, no more reality – their services to the Resistance ended in that second, and rest was a peaceful retirement, a deserved compromise to what before was an endless struggle, now at its end.
The scrape as Envy landed made his eyes burn into a whirl of fury, for maddened scrabbles to beat away the stunned silence of disbelief that followed. Even as the conflict's clamour settled, he couldn't let it go, he couldn't let himself accept the reality of what had just happened, and those yet unaware, had yet to grasp it. Even as Envy fought for footing, there were those still waking up to the nuances of possibilities that might transpire; Roy himself only just uncoiled himself from the leg of the bed, rolled back onto his gut to cough away the pain that came with being down-trodden. It balled up tightly in his chest, released slowly in the form of foaming blood that dripped from his lips.
In the passion of his efforts, his ire had yet to find balance, and any footing gained was promptly lost as he slipped back into the mud and rock, to be bathed in the cool puddles beneath, that only succeeded in fanning his anger as he seethed, ground his teeth together, "Dammit, that little-!"
Envy slipped again, and he beat his fists against the rubble in frustration. The thuds added to the coughs and hacks that Roy choked out as they shook his body, fast consumed his energy – with its remainders, he pushed himself up onto his elbows, for his eyes settle on Envy's panic-stricken movements that were achieved in the search for balance. Long fingers grabbed at the air, but the target seemed forever out of reach and they closed again around thin air. But still he clawed for the solid form, not visible, not even to him.
Roy's face softened then, sullen in the afterglow of combat and inevitable defeat, and as he saw the panic grow wide on Envy's features with each grab he made, he could only see a reason to pity: a once feared monster, now showing humanly capable emotions that doubted, and refused to let go.
You didn't want to let go of this obsession because it's the only thing that's connecting you to the Beta-Matrix.
You were taken out of your Matrix and forced into this world so suddenly that you're finding it hardtop let go of what you once were.
You have to let go of this obsession… it's not healthy, and it won't do you any good….
Please, heed what I say, and abandon it. It's not too late.
As the low voice sounded around each other, he saw then the truth of them – words that were once meant for him, were now reflected in another, and all he saw was a pathetic shadow of the creature it once was, weak and foolish with a refusal for reality, such that it could only mean his downfall.
He could only acknowledge the situation, that his words would not a change a thing or have any effect on a fool that was deaf to reason beforehand. In dismissal of the sad figure, his focus alighted onto the lightning flashes and the brightness they offered as, in those seconds, he could pick out the figures that lay at the other side of the room, where the rain still beat down onto the shining leather of their clothing with dull raps. Morpheus was still laid on the floor by the wall, and just behind him, Trinity kneeled down, her hands on his shoulders, or support, reassurance for a man yet unaware. At least someone was there, but there was still a presence that was equally dreaded, of Agent Smith stood before them. He frowned in a concentrated gaze as Envy was losing a grip of his composure, and whatever else he was trying to hold on to-!
Roy gaped, his vision flickered from one side of the room to the other, and he craned his neck towards the hall, for a spasm of ache to take hold. The next flash of lightning came, for him to find nothing, and in his realisation, his gut tightened with a burning anxiety.
Where is he…?
In the next grab, Envy slipped across the mud and rock underfoot, for legs to fly up from beneath him, and for him to fall flat on his back. In a fit of anger, he rolled over quickly onto his stomach, pushed up to his feet, to howl out in the Agent's direction, "SMITRH!" He turned on him, crouched low, not just in the effort for stance, but in threat and rage, "Why won't the door open?! What the hell's going on?!" and he flung out an arm to point to the air beside them, clearly failed in expectation.
The Agent's features held steady where the anger wasn't paid in equal worth, and instead held onto his self-control to answer in an honest summation, 'The door will not open if it's not connected to the destination, or if that destination does not exist. Where were you heading for?'
Envy shifted from the Agent's gaze in a hidden hesitation that he didn't want to own up to, but the question had been posed, and before the Agent, an answer had to be given, "That door led straight to the Beta-Matrix… but…" he drew in a breath in thought as his shoulders slacked, "… if the door won't open…" his whole body tensed and his gaze returned to the Agent's in display of a revelation, "then-!"
'The connection has been fractured between here and the Beta-Matrix,' Roy caught a glimpse of it from behind Envy, of white teeth bared in, for all intents and purposes, defiance of a stated fact that he couldn't yet swallow down, and Roy's own breath was caught in the anticipation of what might come, 'and Mr Elric is trapped inside.' Something he too could hardly swallow.
A chuckle suddenly bounced into the air around them, slowly crept into audibility and caught them all by surprise as the low decibels of the laughter filled the air, thick, and with each giddy second, grew louder into gasps of genuine mirth. Roy gaped at its very existence as it dispelled the intensity of the silence that followed what was to be a shock to all involved, and it came from the man he least suspected.
Agent Smith rounded on the sound that came from behind him, and in affirmation of its existence, Trinity glared down into her lap, towards the source, towards the man still laid on his back, gripped his sides, and writhed uncontrollably.
His knuckles cracked, and Agent Smith charged forward, seized Morpheus by the collar in his steps. Trinity scrabbled back into a corner in Morpheus' ascension as he was heaved against the wall, held at eye level by the Agent. But that did nothing to quail the laughter, Morpheus' lips still cracked in a widened grin, barked his mirth into the face of the Agent, laughed in the very face of the death and danger itself.
It was like… an assurance of something, a triumph that couldn't be denied or dismissed, and though only Morpheus knew why, he was on his side – the triumph also belonged to him-! And in that, the mirth was becoming contagious, and it spread across the supposed viral infection that was humanity. What was once a glaring helplessness, was slowly becoming a perk at the edge of his mouth, though he didn't know why – one thing was sure, Morpheus wasn't just laughing in humour anymore, for him to laugh like he did, it almost felt like- no, it was too familiar, it did, it just like a victory.
'WHAT IS SO FUNNY?!' Agent Smith roared and shook in a sudden outburst of rage, that breached the limit of patience that his once retainable composure was once able to maintain, but Morpheus' triumph would not bow out, and his laughter carried on as he gripped the Agent's wrists for stability. In the glimmer of his eyes that shone with a genuine happiness, he grinned joyously.
The feeling was given an affirming word, and in that Roy was taken aback, but said nothing as the Agent increased his grip on Morpheus, his face contorted in disbelief. Morpheus' grin never wavered and his head tilted in the realisation that, somehow, the Agent still had no idea of the meaning of his triumphant celebration.
'Don't you see?' Another loud chime of laughter escaped his lips, his eyes screwed up this time as he became completely engaged in the mirth of it all, tears rolled down his cheek, 'Edward had the codes the whole time!'
The Agent scanned the man's features, to catch any trace of possible deception, and found none, 'you're lying,' but he couldn't accept it.
I'm asking you to fulfil your duties as Clier; the search-engine, he who holds all the answers.
Morpheus gasped for breath between the Agent's tightening grip, only for his chuckles to carry with it a strange persistence, 'I wiped my memory of them! I-I made him promise not to enter the Matrix, but he did!'
I have a feeling that, without me, this mission may not succeed, but neither can I put myself, or Zion, in danger.
'A-And now that he's trapped, it doesn't matter! Because we can't get to him, but neither can you!'
But we still have a chance; if you agree, and no one else on the ship knows of this, then we'll have won either way.
'No matter how you look at it, we've won!'
Now, can you promise me that?
Morpheus straightened his face then into an exaggerated seriousness, in imitation of the man before him, 'The deal is therefore null and void!' before another fit of laughter overtook him, for him to writhe uncontrollably.
As the laughs met him full in the face, Agent Smith's eyes widened to a fact ever-dawning on him, that as the reality of the man's happiness started to take hold, he couldn't deny it – Morpheus was still under the effects of the drug, a state which he himself had administered. He had to admit, Morpheus' words of truth were his doing, and in the silence that followed the drug, he had finally gained what he was looking for – except, they weren't what he expected, nor what he wanted.
The Agent let go of Morpheus' collar, but before Morpheus could slip back to his feet, he was seized by the throat. The Agent's face burned with malice, as bright as an iron brand, and beneath its steel vice grip, Morpheus gasped and scrabbled, clawed at the hands for the Agent to loosen up. 'You're lying!' Agent Smith snarled.
The sound of the air being choked out of his lungs grated against Roy. He tried to move, a pain nagged at his chest, such that he couldn't fight against it, and he fell onto his side, grasped his ribs with bared teeth. He was useless – for all his efforts, he was still unable to protect Morpheus from his fate.
And yet, the laughter continued to wheeze from the man's lips. The Agent ground his teeth, scorned by the very mocking notion that the sound stood for: human joy where it wasn't due, that no matter what the Agent did, these humans were not going to play by the rules.
Morpheus continued to resist, his fingers dug into the Agent's hands, but the machine refused to let go, 'Where's your logic?' Morpheus half-moaned as he gulped for what air he could, 'Not even I can overcome the symptoms of Sodium Thiopental,' Agent Smith's fingers slowly tightened further around his neck, 'Have you ever…' Morpheus gasped out, 'known me to laugh, like I do now?'
The Agent's grip tightened still, his eyes narrowed into a vision of disdain, 'Then you are no longer of use to me.' He growled between gritted teeth, and both hands joined in a white-knuckle bid to choke the very life out of the man where the mirth soon followed. In slow degrees, he dealt torture for the man's insolence with only one final escape. Morpheus sought to get between the grip, to separate the Agent's flesh and his own, to slow the process of death, and he kicked his limbs out in a fight for life and breath.
He gripped his wound tighter, the frustration welled with the pain in his chest – he was useless. As the bitter cold of the water and the mud soaked into his clothes, the rubble biting into his skin, he felt it, the ever-present feeling of human fragility, and he reeked of it.
It cracked in the midst of the struggle, harkened for all to redirect their attention. It punctured the air in a single whistle that grew louder, came towards them at such a speed, that the walls seemed to bend with its arrival, as if to bow towards its presence, in recognition of the power it presented. With it then, a fountain of raw energy formed from a mouth that screamed from the core of its being with such an unnatural rage that all turned towards it in a subconscious attraction to the force. It grew louder, and louder, until the words were clear on the air with its sheer volume.
Envy shrank in recognition of his name, of the voice, and found himself retreating to the back wall, until the flat of his flesh was pressed against the burnt ruins of the door that was. There was a pop then, a deafening silence of arrival as, in the ceasing whistle; the walls righted themselves, and the bringer of that force touched down to the floor. All eyes were trained on him, witnesses to the soaked quality of his clothing, the ripped hole at the chest of his jacket, and beneath it, unmarked skin, clean of injury. In that moment, they were witnesses to a miracle in and of itself.
Roy stared, a man thought dead, and in a pang of guilt, the moment he had seen the dead flesh he had completely believed in it, until now. Now that he was stood before them, he almost wanted to doubt it. But as the lightning flashed, the electricity lit up to prove the striking completeness of his living form… he didn't know what to think, except that he could only be dreaming.
His mouth shut then from gaping disbelief, and without a second glance, Morpheus was released and he crumpled to the floor in a gasping heap. The Agent's lips cracked into a smirk and he took steps towards the standing man.
'Mr Anderson….' A level tone, but in each purposeful step was a sardonic pleasure, that there was something more spectacular to be expected from this new restoration of life – a new era, a new epoch.
The man's eyes instantly caught sight of the form that trembled by the wall. Neo sneered, 'You monster.' But neither was Envy deserving of that name as his whole body shuddered, wilted from the man's gaze, and his eyes widened as he knew full well that poisonous gaze was meant for him. His mouth fell and hung open. His knees quaked beneath the weight of the glare. His body sunk into an involuntary crouch, and for the first time, sweat dripped from his brow, heavy from new burdens, panic… even fear.
How can you be…?
Envy shook violently, to be rid of the heart on his sleeve, to convince himself of the heart he had ripped from the man's chest with his own hand. He gnashed his teeth, snarled, "You damn-, you can't be-! I KILLED YOU!" and cried out in defiance.
She folded her arms away from her face, and there he was, stood in an almost unidentifiable blur between the figures of the Agent and the wall. The heat rose in her cheeks, a lump formed in her throat that, with the breaths she heaved in quick succession, tried to choke away the feeling of tears. The very reality of what it meant, for him to be standing there, for her to be huddled in the corner, away from view, as though unworthy of it, incited her body to shake uncontrollably.
She crushed her hands to her face, to surround herself in darkness, to blind herself from his reverence as the grating ache of guilt caught up to her. Joy, sorrow, shame – as the tears continued to flow; she could hardly tell what they were falling for. She didn't want to know. She was afraid of the answer. But in that moment, she already knew, and in the next, knew what she would have to do.
Many bright orbs of light shone out from the bright light of neural activity where the most heat of the redpills resided. But in others, black pits shone out from the vision of those he dreaded, and in the forewarns of doom, they swallowed the green sheen of colour that constructed the entirety of the Matrix itself. His focus was drawn to the one pair, pressed against the wall, now larger and ready to consume, and be consumed by fear as the minute etches of darting light that made up its life force shrank beneath him.
His eyes flickered from them, to follow a flicker of light that broke from the neural activity through the horizontal buzz, to head to another set of deep pits, perked in a strangely gleeful anticipation that he had never registered among their metal, and yet the focus quickly withdrew.
The flicker of light darted across the wall, reverberated through the many chains of code as it dashed towards the corner room. It disturbed the already fretting sequences from the damage before, carried intentions and data, across the brick, to the greater force of life huddled there. It followed the coding that rained across the curves of her form, to be reunited with her neural light, still clear with a purity that the black pits had yet to touch. And yet, it had dimmed in places and fractured where the light couldn't get through. Already those small details told of everything and easily deciphered the information and injury in the scrutiny of his eyes that shone with malice – he was conscious of its wane, reflected pity, and a pang of sadness.
His focus traced back to the pair of pits still suspended there, and for all they contained just in their dim existence, a rage consumed him in a way that wasn't beyond his control, clear in the knowledge that he had the power to right the wrongs, and that he knew exactly what to do with it. He could tell, the shrinking form knew without a word between them. Just the stink of its fear made his ire burn brighter still, that such a creature had caused the damage it had. But whatever anger he felt, it wasn't visible, not in his face of composure. Only his eyes mirrored his emotions – they were windows to the soul, how true the old adage was.
'Envy, in the crimes you have committed, you tried to deceive Trinity and turn her against me,' he frowned, 'and in your efforts, took my life.' He let out a soft breath, and in the quiet salvaged the calm, to consider his next words, 'or maybe, I should thank you, because if you hadn't, my eyes would never have been opened.' But that soon dissipated, and their glint of immeasurable anger returned, 'But even so, you've warped Trinity's mind with your words and influence and for that, I can't forgive you!' He pointed a finger at Envy in persecution, and Envy shrank further, 'For your crimes, for her mind and my life, you shall pay with your own!'
Suddenly, Neo charged forward, but other steps had already made their way.
In that one word, they clashed in the middle of the room, and sent up a crash of thunder that echoed in unison with what nature had to offer. Droplets of water were sent everywhere, diverted from their predestined paths, illuminated by the lightning that lit up the union, of man and machine, of enlightenment and cold hard defiance. In those seconds, none could see or foretell what would be seen, only when the clouds of destruction had parted would they know.
The sharp flow of laser-fire cut through the air above, sounded above the scarlet that flashed a red-alert that rung through the top deck. It wasn't long before they heard the chamber and clang of metal on metal, an all too familiar sound to them. With lightning-rifles clasped tightly to their chests, they waited with eyes fixed on the ceiling, where the sound was coming from.
Metallic cries rang out from above and reverberated through the walls, right through to the very core of their body, what could easily be taken away. It was a true signal of what was here and what they would soon be up against. It was better than any alarm and it flashed through the room in a form of foreboding.
'Damn, they're in the hull….' They were up against a machinist determination that was infinitely tireless, and Tank almost shrank away from the defensive. Then, a hand grasped his shoulder to keep him from backing up, and he twisted, to find his brother just behind him.
'Don' worry, Tank. I'm here.' Dozer's words held solemn and patience, and in the affirmation of his words, he nodded, at least grateful – any word from his brother was welcome, just to keep him grounded on the frontline, much less from running away from the danger ahead.
Suddenly, a sharp flow of laser-fire sliced through the ceiling with ease. It swept across the floor as it burned the metal with a molten-hot consistency that the brothers dodged as it came between them. It forced them apart. They faced its source, and sweated from the heat, from the anticipation as the tips of mechanical claws breached the rip and bent back the metal of the ceiling. Tank's stomach rolled at the sound, like paper being torn apart in the hands of a child, and them? They would be nothing more than smoke to them – no doubt just as easy to stab through.
'They're almos' here, stay calm…!'
Then, the ceiling opened up for a large glowing sensor to stare back at them – the sentinels were here, and with that the rest of the ceiling shrieked open, and with claws open, it soared on them in a rain of electrical sparks.
Closer, closer, as it came into range, the brothers pulled their triggers. Two intense bursts of electricity enveloped the main body of the sentinel with its azure rays, for it to freeze beneath the power. It struggled and writhed, but it was useless, and in the forfeit of its fight, its sensor flickered in a final gasp of freedom, but as it flickered off completely, the triggers were released. The sentinel dropped.
They jumped further out of the way, away from the claws as the body created an obstacle for them both – with a thud, it landed. But then, the floor shook, no one could've predicted the weight of the sentinel, or the fragility of the floor where the laser had torn through its metal surface. The floor creaked, opened up beneath the new weight, and the sentinel fell through the floor below, left a gaping hole between Tank and Dozer.
More sentinels crashed through the hole, yanked back the metal fold in a fray of sparks and forced it wider than their claws could spread. As they pushed into the top deck, they made their numbers known – there were so many, it was hard to distinguish from one sentinel's sensor and another. It made up a skyline of red setting suns that brought the night upon them as the ceiling was blocked from their view. They were outnumbered, but they had seen them coming, they were ready. Their weapons were fully charged, but the sentinels were out of range – the conclusion was uncertain, all would be decided on the next move, no matter who took it.
The first sentinel dived in, and as the lightning burst jumped the synapse, the oncoming sentinel was fried. It fell to the floor at the hands of Dozer. All sensors turned on the older brother, but then their attention fixed behind him, to the Redpills caught in unassuming sleep. Their gears turned towards their true objective, and they swarmed in on them.
Tank made to move, but almost lost his footing as his toes touched the edges. The hole was still there, and he stared between him and the sentinels that swallowed his brother in their numbers. He couldn't make the jump, not if he hoped to keep a hold of his lightning rifle, and without it, he'd be fuel for the machines in no time.
Another swooped in, broke through his thoughts, but his instincts kicked in and it was all he needed. He shot out at the sentinel, and like the first, it fell through the gaping hole.
I'm sorry, Dozer, I'll only be able to take down the sentinels within range, it's all I can do. But, dammit, for you… I'll do what I can…!
Dozer hit out with a shot against a sentinel, for it to fall, nearby another crashed. As the charge reached completion on his lightning rifle, he aimed for another, hit the underside as it made to evade. It couldn't be brought down completely, but as it struggled to get higher, he smirked – its pad technology had been damaged. He hit out again and it fell, but grunted out in pain as a claw slashed at his side on its descent.
They weren't keeping their distance anymore, and they swarmed in on them; their tentacles were arched in an orderly chaos and an indescribable want for destruction. It was an insatiable appetite that towered on top of the humans all the heat of the pressure and panic that would see any mere mortal flail desperately before death. Even as they swiped with their claws, forged into Dozer's flesh, he continued to pull the trigger on the sentinels. But it made a grab for his leg, tried to upend him, and while waiting for his weapon to recharge, all he could do was dodge and evade the other attacks. He scrabbled away from the claws, even resorted to short-range punches, but flesh against metal wasn't much of a defence; it was a worthy resistance though, anything to prolong the inevitability of death.
One sentinel skated around the outer circle, and reaching out with a bend for balance, Tank shot out from the edge of the hole. The machine could do nothing but fall, and as another fell they crashed together, and the first was sent rolling towards Tank, for it to tip into the hole. But not even experienced shots could make up for the numbers they were up against, and the charging time of the rifles was becoming a burden to their cause. The sentinels still had the time to advance, but even as they were being picked apart, Tank and Dozer had to keep shooting out, and in that, another fell at Dozer's hand.
The shatter of glass suddenly sounded between radical cries of fury, and through the circling shell of sentinels, Dozer caught a glimpse. A sentinel made it through the windshield at the cockpit. The sentinels continued to circle and the tentacles were ready in threat, claws snapped as it headed for the crew – it didn't join the circle, it headed for Edward.
'NOO!' Dozer screamed, shot down another sentinel just in front, and within a second rolled beneath its falling body before he could be crushed. He was back on his feet, ducked away from a further flail of tentacles and claws, undeterred as one made a snatch for his leg.
He saw then what had to be done. He leaned in further, shot down another of their kind for their attentions to be diverted, for their sensors to turn on him.
'That's it,' Tank growled, and his lightning rifle pointed out at the group's reformation as the rifle charged, ready for the next blast, 'come on, you fucking squiddies!'
More sentinels tried to herd him back into their fold, but Dozer pushed through the mass of flailing and freezing sentinels, and as their cries rang out, he lost his lightning rifle. It dropped in the midst of his fight as he dodged another flailing sentinel that was taken in Tank's assault.
He charged out from their reach, there was no hesitation, no more thought – he dove out in front of Edward's seat. His arms spread wide. The sensor shone out before him, he never realised how close, but even the edging panic didn't keep him from doing what was right, or force him to back down – he could never do that.
But external force was always the accomplished master over willpower, and heat and blood gurgled up into his mouth. He could feel its thick drench, and before the overwhelming force within could wrench him inside, he grabbed for the monitors that surrounded the seat, there for him to sustain his balance.
His brother screamed, and backed towards the rail of the ladder. He tossed his rifle aside, and flung himself forward as his toes reached the edge, to make a desperate jump, to reach the other side where he knew his aid was needed. Already, he could feel the gravity pull him towards the darkness beneath, towards the dull glimmer of a sentinel graveyard – if he were to fall; he would already be too late.
That call, so distant – the sentinel could do all it wanted to cut him down, but he was not going to be simply tossed aside. He could still offer his body as the high cost of living, especially for a life worth protecting.
The clouds dissipated, and from its source Neo fell from the clash in backward wheeling steps, the dust clung to his limbs in his retreat and his dark eyes trained onto the centre without a single flicker of confusion or panic. Their waves parted, revealed a truth in Neo's sure sight as though a prediction had come true on the principle that it would always be correct. For Agent Smith to be stood there with a composed resolution of knowing what had to be done – he too had a prediction, or at least, a hope that he wished to fulfil, and as Neo charged forward, all was set in motion.
Neo leapt forward with a kick, blocked, retorted with a fist that drove forward into the Agent's chest, for it to veer away from its target by slicing arms, already expert in deflection.
Neo's knee came up for the Agent's chest, but it failed to meet its target, caught by movements too fast to anticipate. Anything after that could only be felt, and a blow to his chest sent him doubling over, before another blow sent him staggering back.
The Agent followed on in hot pursuit, his teeth bared as he took in a thrill that no words could induce.
Neo caught himself quickly, to be faced with Agent Smith as he sent a left hook coming his way. He felt its force, it rippled through the air above as he bent low out of its path, and on his way up gave a force of his own, delivered in his shin as he kicked across the Agent's abdomen.
The Agent snapped forward, Neo's foot came up again, hit into the solar plexus. The Agent stumbled back from the blow, and further still on the second blow, for all composure to be lost. Neo bent low into the next attack, and he sent a high kick into his chin.
The motion gave a guided path, and a surer way of regaining the balance, and with well-placed feet, he won back his composure.
But Neo had already spun round into the next action, and as the next high kick came down, it struck across the side of his face. Agent Smith wheeled back, and where the heel had clipped him, shards of plastic splintered from his shades – his left eye was left bare to the sight of the man that dared defile him. With a passing flash of lightning, the icy blue of his iris was lit by its flare, and within each contour could be found a burning passion of anger, more than they would once belie.
Neo's eyes flickered across the figure, more man than once machine – no more holding back, now was the time for seriousness, to be afraid of the Agent, a machine fuelled with a purpose backed by emotion. That was more frightening, more imposing than metal, certainly, anything that felt fear, felt panic, indeed felt, was more likely to lash out.
In the next moment, Agent Smith slid the glasses from his face, inspected the damage to throw it away in a cold disregard.
The sound as it hit the rubble echoed between them, and there it became a signal, that Neo more than naturally reacted to, and he threw his arm into the next moment of contact.
With each second that passed, his body was locked in a hurtling free fall, engulfed in the force of gravity as he was brought closer into the view of floor, closer still, until his flailing became a concentrated stream of instinct. He immediately tucked in his head, for his shoulder to meet the metal, and in the ache of the landing, he rolled on beneath the writhing mass of the sentinels. His heart beat loudly in his chest, radiated through his body as it pumped hotly in his ears, until even the sound of their furious mechanical cries were being drowned out by the sound of the man's naturally stubborn determination to fight.
Another roll, and his feet found the floor again, and though shaky and weak from adrenaline. His legs found the strength to support his weight, and he ran until something fell into the corner of his sight, made of rusting metal, long and cumbersome, and he reached out for it. Something yanked him up by the ankle, his chin hit the metal, and he grunted upon impact, but he was still close enough…! His fingers curled round the lightning rifle, and he groaned from the weight, the fright of the scene, he twisted round, and in those last seconds before the blast, he shook his ankle free. The sentinel was thrown back by the intensity of the ray, and was sent rolling back into the hole behind.
Their sensors became bright then, calculations were being made, and they were becoming cognisant of the falling numbers; now a simple matter of comprehension that they could no longer ignore, and the sentinels zeroed on him completely.
Hot panic surged through Tank's body, he scrambled back from before the grabbing claws – the sensor of a sentinel pressed in close, the charge of the lightning rifle reached completion and he tightened on the trigger.
A tentacle hurtled forward, and in the next moment, strained for the reach of his chest, but no further as the whole sentinel had become frozen within place. Tank swallowed back the fear, and with his finger still clamped down on the trigger, he shifted back from the claws, forced himself onto his feet, all the while the sentinel frozen beneath an electric grip, before he released it. The sentinel hit the floor with a leaden clang, but already Tank's gaze had shifted towards the others, all ready to crowd in on him, and from the boiling red of their sensors, rip him apart of with the cold capability of any machine.
He too was sinking beyond neural conception, no longer hampered by conscious decision-making, acting on a dormant instinct to do what had to be done, a reflex he had almost forgotten how to trigger. Their sensors became targets, their cries signals that belied their position, and the closer they swerved in, the closer their proximity – it only served to improve his aim. With an accurate neatness in his shot, he took down another sentinel, before he moved onto the next. Even as he waited for the weapon to charge he became conscious of a timing between one shot and the next that still allowed for a slim victory – 8, 9, 10, and already the barrel of the rifle was forging lightning into another metal shell.
Now he and his enemies had metal weapons, that had always been true, but now, the gap between Tank and the sentinels slowly dwindled, until he was no different from a killing machine.
'T-Tank….' A voice, hoarse, shaken, penetrated his realm of concentration, and around him there was a swell of sound that grew louder, where the warped clamour of the sentinel's shrieks surrounded him. It reverberated where there was once before a dull shield of silence, 'Tank…' soft words, swollen with agony.
Tank clambered for the next target where all the automatic thought had stumbled in their neural channels, deep familiar croons pulled them to a halt, yanked them back, until all movement became stiff. All at once, he was pulled free of his inhuman stupor. All thought should be conscious, it was the pride of human existence, to have the luxury of choice, to let emotions rule against cold-hearted judgement, something that shouldn't be forgotten, no matter how long the battle raged.
His mind snapped back to the machines, a sentinel soared in for him with claws splayed and he quickly pressed tight on the trigger, for him to narrowly miss the main body. His whole body flared with a hot panic, and he was driven back by the claws that rushed in, sent him retreating towards the seats with each jab the sentinel delivered. He checked the screen, the lightning rifle had yet to fully charge, the wait was too long and the timing had failed him, any longer and-!
He grunted out as a claw sliced through his leg, and almost dropped the rifle with the gnawing pain. The well of blood drenched his trouser leg, his finger clenched tight around the trigger, and the sentinel dropped with the others, and still there were more – there was no end to them.
'Tank…' a deep voice croaked behind him, 'I need-', and rounds of coughing consumed his next words, and his throat became clogged with the revelation of a liquid rush.
Tank struggled to keep himself up, to keep his legs from shaking and folding up beneath his weight and the weight of everything else that he could be held responsible for, responsibilities that he couldn't bring himself to face. Swallowing hard, he focused on the sentinels before him, and struck out at one as it veered too close.
'D-Don't worry, brother,' he tried to force a smile on his face, 'that's why I'm here. I'll destroy the sentinels, you just hold on,' to reassure him, but most of all to reassure himself.
'That's right,' Dozer chuckled in wheezy gasps,' but there's one more here you're not hittin'.'
'What…?' A sentinel fell to the floor near Tank's feet, 'what do you mean?'
'I-I need you,' I gasped in deep, heaving breaths, 'to destroy this sentinel… before it destroys me….'
Slowly, Tank peered from the corner of his eyes, and holding his breath, dared to meet the sight, before he twisted back towards the mechanical cries of a sentinel coming his way. He tried to hit, but his vision was clouded, and he tried again to swallow, to rid himself of the lump growing in his throat.
'Dammit, Dozer,' he growled between bared teeth, 'don't you know what'll happen if I do?!' He shouted above the sentinels, and they veered back as he sent an intense burst of lightning, azure electricity, this time a direct hit. 'If I hit it, it'll hit you too! The electricity will-!'
'I know that,' Dozer groaned and his knuckles whitened against the grip of his fingers around metal bars, shook as he held on, 'but compared to the Ones… my life… ain't worth it….'
Tank screwed his eyes shut, swallowed the sobs that gurgled and crept up into his throat, and the rifle trembled in his hold.
'I see it now, more than anythin'… defyin' the odds, even comin' back from the dead… they'll bring an end to the Machine War, they'll deliver us all… I know they can do it… an' if my life can help 'em do that… then it's worth givin', for them… for the resistance, for our people….'
No matter what you do, victory can't come without sacrifice.
His voice faltered into an endeavoured whisper, before he descended into hacks, and yet Tank couldn't bring himself to face him fully. He could only keep his eyes glued to the sentinels, the lesser of two evils – it wouldn't help anyone if he, too, was forced into a point of surrender.
'Finally… we will see the end of the war… I jus' need you, Tank… brother… I jus' need you….' He gasped and wheezed; his voice swelled with the wet sound of tears, 'Please….'
Any thought of argument and retort had died in his mind, neither could he deny that the logic was well-placed; if he were to use the EMP, all sentinels would be killed, but so would the rest of the crew. All who were still connected to the Matrix would be taken because of a cowardly decision to see others die before taking on the weight of his burden, and he would've failed them, not just his brother.
He couldn't turn a blind eye to his responsibility anymore, and any more attempts to do so would only be a self-deception fit for the Matrix, unwelcome in the midst of the harsh truths of the Real World. He tightened his grip on his lightning rifle – he knew what he had to do. His brother needed him, his knuckles turned bone-white, and what was left for him to do now, was to turn around and face reality.
With her hands pressed against her face, she sat huddled in the shadows where she felt out of range, away from the presage of noise and what they alluded to. As far as she hoped, she was away from the danger; pressed into a corner where the solidity at her back became the only thing she could trust. Her body trembled from the coldness of the brick and the beating whip of rain-soaked air, but more so she shook from the burning fire that rose in her face. She couldn't suppress the frustration that welled, and worse still could barely control it.
No control, no free-will, no way of getting out. Each thought that the phrases conjured burst into her mind and brought her to the realisation; she couldn't escape. She was blocked in by the crashes of nature's thunder, the whistle of fists that sliced the air in two, the grunts that occurred after each block – there was no way of passing that wall of sound. There was no way she could unfold and run – her only choice was to sink deeper into the rubble-rock. Only the intermittent flashes of electric light could breach the boundary of her fingers, before leaving in seconds. But still, they were a threat, that something far more tangible could penetrate that synapse, and take her completely. She couldn't help but allow the abandonment to seep in with the light, and as the heat continued to burn, the melting liquid from her closed eyes dripped down her cheeks into the crevices of her fingers.
All she had was her voluntary blindness – the crashes followed, punches traded, the thunder struck, and still she waited for the sound to fade out of audibility, for everything to just… disappear, but how could it? She was hopelessly hiding, trapped in a world she couldn't escape. Even as the tears drenched her face, they couldn't dampen the light or the sound that pressed in further; the flashes that caught through the gaps, lit up her darkness, for it to threaten her safety. Then the cycle would begin, end, repeat cruelly for her enjoyment – she was hemmed in by an obnoxious series of déjà vu. She was caught up in it herself as she crumpled, rocked back and forth, back and forth – lightning, crashes, violence; it had to stop, it needed to end-!
Something yanked her back. Her hands came free from her face and her body tipped over, ready to catch herself – she was caught, just before her elbow met the rubble. The scrape and tumble of rock signified the movement beside her, hot breath tickled her cheek, but before she could twist to face it, her chin was seized and yanked towards the clash of bodies going on before her.
Neo rushed in with a fist, his wrist was seized, but he twisted it round and swiped his hand away. He sent a round of punches into the Agent's chest, then into his face. He barrelled one arm into the side of his head, but was caught, as was the other, tucked beneath the Agent's pits. Neo brought his knee up for distance, but the Agent forced the arms out away from his body. A fist to the chest sent the man reeling back.
The face pressed up against hers as though it shared her vision, "Don't you see?" The voice let out a coarse whisper, "Sure, he's back from the dead, it's a miracle."
Agent Smith strode forward, teeth bared beneath a throbbing vein, and from where the man caught a hold of his footing, Neo lunged forward. A punch to one side, dodged, a punch to the other side, dodged successfully. But as Neo flung a fist for his face, Agent Smith caught the assault, and trapped the arm against his shoulder, and sent a deadening punch into Neo's liver side. The man tried to recoil, but only a back-kick to his face would release him.
"But he's still as weak as he always was," the voice cackled – she tried to shut herself out from it, for the presence beside her to shake her open, "as you've always known him to be." She could feel the soft brush of the face travel along her cheek, for warm lips to settle at her ear, "If he's the One like we all know he is, then why is he failing, hm?"
An arm was aimed for the man's face, but Neo caught it, and kicked high. Agent Smith was caught instead, and he hit the machine's stomach with a side-long fist, and more still, hacked away at the Agent, before he kicked him away. The Agent stumbled back, but he was ready with bent defiance for the next attack. Neo jumped in with another fist. He was blocked, the fist knocked aside and the Agent flung one in his own retort. Neo brought his hands up in a cross-hatch to block, but the oncoming fist dug away at his defence, and the other hit him square in the chest. Neo was thrown back, prone in the air, before he tumbled down with the vulnerability of a marionette, out of control.
"Or maybe he's not the One at all – maybe he's an imposter, trying to hold onto the identity that he's been defined by. Just a waste of everybody's time, you know? To think, everything you guys have put your faith in, worked so hard for, is a lie. The lives of your crew, given for the sake of a party trick!"
His body curled up in the force as it scraped across the rubble, for it to cease. As the agony built, he uncoiled himself, to support himself on hands, for blood to spray from his mouth. Even a man reborn is still a man, completely and wholly made of flesh and bone, blood and tissue, and still prone to injury and decay, whether slow or irreversibly sudden – it was a fact that was no longer deniable, no matter the delusion.
Trinity shook her head furiously, seethed between teeth and heaving breath as blood dripped from Neo's mouth. A stabbing ache poured into her chest.
'I was there, I saw him die – he was brought back, he came back for us! He wouldn't be here if he wasn't-!'
"That doesn't matter!" The voice barked, "Whether he's the One or not, he's not much of anything if he's still holding back! His words mean nothing if he can't even care to follow them through."
Her head bowed with the weight of the words and the impressions that they worked into the burden on her mind, until the presence by her side became her only support, as though she grew limp with a dreary submission. 'It can't be…' She husked dryly, 'he came back… he's here….'
"Look at him. What kind of man holds back in a fight, hm?" A soft irrepressible chuckle bounced free from its throat, "I'll tell you who: a man who thinks he's going to fail…. He's already given up on himself, you should do the same. You have no need for a man that won't stand up for you."
'But… he tried, didn't he?'
"Tried and failed, Trinity. But, I'll offer you a compromise. The option is still open, and there's space for you. Join us, and you'll be in no doubt of your position, of the objective, of what you have to do."
'But… he… I love….'
"Why stay with a man like him? You can try and make things work, but you'll only destroy each other in the process. It's not worth the effort, so come on, what do you say, hm?"
Her eyes blurred with the loss of focus as the last thing she saw clearly was the man as he ground his fingers into the rock, the dirt and his blood, and grasped tight with a twisted look of frustration and pain, his teeth stained red as he gnashed them tight. He had regained his life, but what was that worth, when he was losing everything else?
The clang of metal reverberated through the top deck, marked the sound of their descent as both man and machine hit the floor. Each ring melded with the mechanical cries of the sentinels before him, a confirmation of the action that had been committed. It was a threat to be heeded, but Tank could not bear to face the fallen, not even at the moment of impact. He could only concentrate on the sound it produced, and as it faded, he forced his eyes open to face the sentinels as they ceased in their tangle of movement.
Each scarlet sensor flickered a warning – he didn't need to be a machine to pick up on that and, as claws clicked together, he could see it clearly. They dared him to take another step.
His brow drew in together, and as the smoke rose behind him, as the smell of fried metal and burnt flesh reached his nose, he focused his lightning rifles on the sentinels.
'You want them, you squiddy fucks?' He grounded out each word through heaved breaths and his gaze held steady. But in that next breath, he took a side step and put himself between the sentinels and the rest of the crew, 'You'll have to kill me too!'
The threat had been posed, and the sentinels gave a wrenched cry. They glided in for him, but he was ready to fight… to fall with his brother, but right now… he wasn't going to back down.
As Neo struggled to hold himself up, the Agent stepped forward and with an icy glare, towered over him. Even at metres away, the machine couldn't be suppressed – just seeing the man drip blood from his teeth was enough to encourage that stare that spoke of victory.
Roy stared in motionless defeat – this wasn't his battle, but even without bring in view of the Agent's face, he could sense the confidence. The machine's stance swelled with the assurance that he had overpowered his enemy; it was one he was familiar with. He'd seen it in the back of every soldier who had forced an Ishbalan to cower at his feet. It was the stance of a job well done, appreciated with a mechanical proficiency and inhuman acceptance that the military had always tried to employ in the midst of warfare, something that the machines employed with even greater skill and advantage.
But he couldn't let that stance be the signal flag for what would be the end of it. He shook his head furiously, refused to believe that man was capable of surrendering himself entirely to that fact.
Come on, Neo… Get up dammit!
Even as Neo threw Agent Smith a defiant glare, it couldn't be denied – caked in dust and mud, his chest rising and falling in palpitations, the blood running down his chin, flowing into the tainted mix of water and sweat, he was a picture of human weakness. The corner of the Agent's mouth flickered into a grin, he couldn't help it; Neo may have survived the first time, but he was going to finish the job. He knew he would do it well, shatter the man's body into pieces unfit for resurrection. If that's what it took, then he would see to it that the job was completed.
Get up… Get up and move! Come on!
Neo's gaze settled onto hers then, and their eyes met. At the sight of hers, they closed in defeat, of the narrow glare of another pair that hung by her side and warded him away. His face tightened then, his teeth gnashed beneath the ache and he pushed himself up from the rubble. The Agent's victory smile faded and his whole face seemed to drop, now helpless in the wake of human defiance.
It didn't make any sense to him to see this beaten man get up when defeat was certain, to see him straighten up, to wipe the blood away on the back of his hand. What was the point of trying to fight this losing battle? Why won't he just…? The Agent began to tremble. His whole body shook with frustration. The sky above was alight with a marked fire of his rage, but Neo tightened his fists, and threw out his arms, the rain drops scattered from around him.
He will fight with everything that the Agent can throw at him – he will withstand it all. He swung his arms out and, with legs apart, lowered with knees bent and brought his hands out in front, ready to take the next hit. His right hand twisted and, in a flick, beckoned to the Agent: come at me, if you think you can win.
The Agent's face twisted. He couldn't take the mock, and he ran forward. He swiped the mocking hand away with the right, punched forward with the left. But Neo's arm twisted around it, brought it tight under his pit, and with the Agent caught, punched into his neck. The Agent tried to send in a punch for the abdomen, but Neo caught that one, and secured it tight to his other side. With a maddened glare, Neo struck both of his fists into Agent Smith's lower abdomen. It sent him doubled over, and with an uppercut to the Agent's chin, and he staggered back.
Roy stared on helplessly, but a smile started to swell onto his face, and his fingers tightened around the rocks of the rubble.
He's going to win… he's actually going to win…!
Neo broke into a run. He headed straight for the Agent. The machine had only just regained his footing, and as the man gained on him, he brought his arm back. The Agent screamed, all of his energy coiled into his fist as it surged forward. But it didn't meet contact.
Roy gaped on, just dared himself to believe it. Neo had just… he never knew it could be possible… but now he couldn't but believe, taking the Agent's reactions for what they were. They were confirmation that Neo… had just… disappeared into the flesh of the Agent.
Agent Smith twisted round, doubled over, and he stared around at every face with wide eyes. He was struck with such unnerving emotion, especially contorted onto the flesh of a machine. For the first time, Roy found himself staring into the eyes of an Agent who was completely stricken with fear. His arms drew into his chest, his body shook violently, and his eyes darted to his hands. Lumps bubbled from his fingers, travelled up his arm beneath the surface. He convulsed, the lumps now travelled up his neck, up into his face, and the Agent arched with bared teeth as each lump collected at the top of his swelling head.
With each building well of pressure, the skin broke, and revealed a stroke of light that poured out thinly and relieved the swell. It tore further down his face, down the centre, and it forked as suddenly as the cracks spread across his whole body. He threw his arms out, a scream wretched from his gaped mouth, the agony too much, and then, he was gone.
In the explosion of blinding light, Roy buried his face away from the scream, before it faded within the flash of emerald, and the light died along with it. He peered up then, as did the others, and in the centre of the room, Neo stood there, complete, still. The man, face down, fists tightened, pushed them down, and the whole room swelled, the walls bended outwards with his intake of breath. He threw his head back, he released the breath, and the walls rippled as they returned to a state of inanimate stillness.
Everything had fallen then to calm, and suddenly, the rain and cold didn't matter. The Agents were gone, and in those liberating moments the anxiety dissipated. Like a man whose sight had been restored, Roy blinked and stared, and he looked on in awe at the man as his doubt too disappeared from every corner of his mind. A feeling of comforting warmth spread through his chest, and his eyes, once wet, dried up with such an overpowering relief. He, like Neo, had died – with the destruction of Agent Smith, the doubter died, and in its stead, a believer was born.
I believe…! Oh god… I believe!
As a sentinel dropped beneath the power of the electrical ray, the sensors of the sentinels that remained began to flicker. Without a sound, they turned away from Tank in the whirs of a low hum as they began to glide towards the ceiling and through the hole that they had earlier ripped in the hull.
Tank stood there, breathless in the last sight of their tentacles as they disappeared behind the metal. In those last moments, they were gone.
Suddenly, the pain started to seep back, build with intensity as his heart rate began to slow in the relief. He dropped his lightning rifle to grasp his leg. His trouser leg was drenched with blood, and as it seized hold, he dropped down to his butt. He heaved erratically, swallowed in air in exhaustion, but as he glanced towards the crew, he frowned. There was no time to rest. It wasn't over.
Envy's back pressed up against the wall in a look of utter shock; his eyes bulged from his head as he tried to force his body into leaving the scene – anything to get away from the presence of the man stood before him. But, even for a monster of his reputation, that wasn't possible. He knew that already; it was all he could comprehend, and his mouth flapped open, his hands clenched around the rubble for support as he tried to force his body to stop trembling. That in itself was a task that zapped all of his strength, and with it, all the strength that he needed to stand. He could only sit on his butt; wait in some vain hope that scared even him that he wouldn't be the next one to perish in a gasp of rippling dust.
Without any motivation for trying to resolve his broken pride, he stared dumbly on the reason for his crippling fear, now stood in the middle of the room as a wave of calm seemed to wash over the man's body. The victory was clear, but serenely accepted, and as he opened his eyes he returned Envy's shaken glare with a steady strength.
Envy's body continued to tremble, his mouth flapped as though trying to voice some kind of retort, but the words never found their voice. They were bunged into silence by the very presence of the human – and all for the truth of that statement, he hated it all the more. He couldn't submit himself to the man's power, and so tried to sustain some eye contact, even though his whole body screamed for him to tear his gaze away completely. In his confusion, he conformed to neither, and ducked down from the man, and he ground his teeth with frustration. Neither could he bring himself to restore his infamy of intimidation – Neo could already sense that, and seeing no further use of standing there, turned on his heel towards Morpheus uninterrupted. That's when Envy gulped in the hard-earned truth – the man didn't even consider him a threat – that's how strong he was.
For Neo though, he could take as much time as he wanted, and as he knelt down beside him, he clasped his shoulder as Morpheus tried to sit himself up, though he struggled beneath the drowsy weight of the drug on his head. The giddiness of his mirth had faded, and all previous pain had become a muted blanket just beneath the surface – tender, but unpleasant, like a bruise.
'I-Is it over…?' Morpheus breathed with a dry mouth, his eyes scanned rapidly for some sense of finality.
Neo let a sigh escape, 'Not quite, but at least… the worst is over.' As he heard the rocks skitter behind him, his gaze fell from Morpheus, and he picked up on the clatter of footsteps that approached from behind. He turned up, and found Roy moving towards him on unsteady legs before he could reach his side. He nodded to him, acknowledgement, they could relax a little, and Roy dropped to his knees at Morpheus' other side as he still clutched at the right juncture of his shoulder.
Roy was taking care of Morpheus now, and as he brought his arm around Morpheus' shoulder, Neo pushed himself up to his feet, and turned then towards Trinity. His gaze settled on hers, and almost immediately, she clawed at the back wall for support, so that she could bring herself to stand in his presence. Her face was pale, and her movements were slow. Only then could Envy make the effort to follow suit, or at least, have the courage to without fearing for the loss of his life. The man's gaze was fixed on hers, and as he already knew – Envy wasn't a threat – he was safe for now.
The reason she stood wasn't because she had been compelled to by a command ushered in harsh tones. It was the gentle gaze of a forgiving nature that made her obey. It was a look that she felt she didn't deserve.
'Trinity…' Neo began, almost apprehensive, as though he was only a mere mortal as she had once known him to be. 'It's time to go back,' and with more certainty, offered his hand out to hers. It was a truth that he stood by, and for that, he couldn't bring himself to back down. Sure Agent Smith had terrified him almost senseless, but Trinity scared him most of all – he hoped she couldn't see him shaking.
But, it was a hand she felt she didn't deserve, 'No,' and she couldn't accept, as she focused her eyes on his. 'I've made my choice. I'm going to stay with Envy, in the Matrix.'
Envy spun round to face her, stared as though he couldn't believe the answer himself. As Roy lent support while Morpheus regained some of his footing, he stared at her hard. They all did. But Neo turned his face away, he glanced out of her gaze, before he screwed his eyes shut, to look straight at her again, ready to open his mouth.
'Why?' Roy growled, before Neo could interject, 'Doesn't the Resistance mean anything to you?'
She gulped, but with some pride left, Trinity straightened up, and folded her arms, 'I shouldn't have to tell you my reasons. I'm still First-Mate, and I'm still your superior.' Her eyes narrowed with her frown, and hoped to project the authority.
'So that's it?! After everything we've-!' But Roy was quickly silenced by a show of Neo's hand, and with a knitted brow, Neo took a step towards her.
'Then at least tell me, as your friend.' His eyes scanned hers, and he dared to step closer and even more so with unhopefully unnoticeable apprehension, until he was right before her. She lost her rigid stance then, and shifted back beneath his shadow, until her back was pressed against the wall. He looked so soft, and yet he….
How can I stand up to you…? When I know what you're capable of…?
Envy jerked forward between them then, found his words, "She doesn't have to tell you a damn-!"
'Shut up!' Neo roared, and Envy immediately shrank, 'She's choosing you over me! You've already won, so bite your tongue!' His eyes narrowed as Envy backed away from between them, 'Or I'll do it for you.' His fierce gaze left Envy's, and softened on contact with Trinity's, and with another step, he brushed her arm with his hand in a soothing motion. His voice dropped to a smooth hush, 'Why, Trin? After all this… after all we've been through….' She met his gaze, 'why do you want to leave?'
Her arms were still folded, and glancing away, she whispered, 'I don't know what to believe.'
A soft chuckle bounced from Neo's throat, a smile perked on his lips for all the good it would do, as though to soften the blow – for himself more than anything. 'That's no reason to leave. You know I'm not with him. You can still come back.' He implored, and smiled hopefully, but she didn't return his humour – she couldn't.
'And if you're lying?' And Neo's smile faded. 'If you're really with him.' she gulped and trembled as her eyes were doused with a shiny brightness, 'could you honestly put me through that torture?' She tried to blink the wetness away, but it only welled further, 'If you feel anything for me, you wouldn't do that.' Her voice dropped into a croak, 'I at least know that much.'
A sigh escaped Neo's lips – he couldn't deny what he had heard, but neither could he face her, 'You're right. Even if I hated you, I couldn't do that.' His hand fell from her arm, and stepped back as he brought his focus back on her, and spoke louder for the others to hear, 'When Morpheus offered me the red and blue pill, I was given the freedom of choice, just as you were.' He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, before he released it, and found his sight, 'If you really want to leave, then I have no right to stop you. Go.'
Trinity stared for several moments, but she forced herself upright. She brought her arms to her side, and gave him a deep bow. Neo didn't know what to do, that was, until he heard a soft whimper coming from her lips – he strained to hear it, and catching the words, he was forced to lean back as she righted herself and turned round to Envy.
'Make a door, Envy. We need to leave, now.' She ordered sternly. Without a word, Envy turned round for the wall behind. Envy reached out for the scorched brick and seized his hand around the air, let the light build to form a surface. As the light faded, wood was left in its place and throwing it open, they stepped through into the glowing realm ahead. The light deconstructed the door just as quickly as it was built, and within seconds, they were gone from sight, out of their mind's eyes, and out of their lives. Only her words remained as they still lingered in his ears.
The kid was dragged from the scene, his mask pulled free of his face and his wrists were bound tight in handcuffs. The female Caucasian though was left to lay in a pool of her own blood – it was already clear from the cyanosis; she's dead, and there was nothing that could be done for her, and for that, she would have to stay where she was. The perpetrators could still be upstairs, they could've made their escape, but she wasn't going anywhere.
The leader of the SWAT team stepped out from the circular chaotic and all eyes fell on him, and they waited on him to give orders. The death had to be ignored for now; mechanical obedience was a part of the job – that's just how it was.
The Leader pointed out towards five of the group, 'You guys split up and make a search of this floor! Some of the perps could still be down here! We can't let them escape!' With rifles in hand and quick nods, they rushed out of the foyer in an organised line, and headed towards a door. 'Thompson, you stay with the body while the paramedics get in here.' The orders were understood. 'Now, the rest of you, the kid said they were still up there. We'll head upstairs, before they try to make their way out!'
The rest of the team rushed out of the foyer, their rifles primed, and shields ready to protect from any oncoming threat. The adrenaline was already pumping hard through their systems, ready to fuel the next turn of their actions. They were closing in on the perpetrators, another successful mission was coming to the close.
A ringing vibration coursed through his pocket, and disturbed the silence that had soon followed with the departure. Not even the tone could force his eyes away from the back wall, from where she'd disappeared from sight completely. He let a sigh escape, he slid the cell and placed it to his ear.
'Operator?' Because who else could it be?
'Damn, Neo. It's good to hear your voice.' A crackled chuckle dispersed into his ear, and a small smile perked on Neo's lips, now glad of the relief the familiarity of the voice brought.
'It's good to hear from you, too.' But he couldn't sustain the smirk for long, and just then he was glad he had his back to the others. 'What's going on?'
'The SWAT are closing in on you. They'll be trying to come at you from all sides. If you want to get out, then now's the time to do it. But it's going to be tricky….'
'Do we have an exit?' Neo frowned.
'You can't get out through the front door, that's for sure. The fire escape's still open though, they haven't covered that route yet.'
'Right.' Neo nodded.
'Just be careful, Neo. They've already arrested Mouse – they'll be after you guys, too.'
Neo screwed his eyes shut, they had still lost the crew, and there was nothing they could do, 'Don't worry about us.' He forced his eyes open, and a smile back on his lips, 'Just be ready to open up a line.' He pressed a button on his cell phone, and pushed it back into his pocket. It had hardly been over for a few minutes, and already he was feeling the pinches of defeat. There was no other way of putting it – they'd lost.
They tramped through the water that flooded the hall. Their torches shone, caught each swell of water that fell from the sprinklers and broke through the mottled darkness in the rush of the hunt. With each door they came to, one tore from the group and broke the door down, rifle pointed, the torch illuminated the room.
'Signs of a struggle in this one!' One of them shouted.
'Could be from the explosion! Keep searching!' Another ordered.
They rushed forward down, and immediately another dispersed as he caught sight of a partially open door. All it took was a quick flash of his torch, and he cried out, 'I've found something in here! Come look at this!' The group reformed, and they stepped into the room. All torches shone on the broken body that lay there before them, a woman in a white dress. 'Do you think she's one of them?'
'We can't know for sure.' The leader frowned.
'Geez, what is this?!' And he lit up the sight on the bed. The reflections of dark metal covered the bed's surface completely.
'These will have been smuggled in. This was definitely planned beforehand. She could have something to do with this.' The Leader turned then onto a couple of his men, and ordered them to stay in the room as surveillance. All of these arms needed to be taken in as evidence once forensics could get onto the scene. 'It doesn't look like they're on this floor! Head for the next floor! That's where they'll be!'
'Right!' They all joined in simultaneous accord, and they tramped out of the room, the splashes signalled their every step. In separate groups, they headed for the stairwells at each side of the hall – block their escape, while they're cornered.
They reached the jagged mouth of the wall, but then they heard it from both sides. They were caught between echoes of shouts that intermingled with the spray of water that rained down from the sprinklers. Stray flashes of light cut through the darkness that danced in their peripheral vision, and Roy caught sight of them, almost jumped in a surge of shock.
'Damn, we'll be caught for sure,' Roy breathed in a whisper, stared warily in case the light strayed closer to their position. 'Which way now?' Louder this time, so that Neo could hear.
Neo stared towards another jagged mouth, outlining the room across. The force of the bomb had dealt less damage to their own, but it was enough to open the room up to them, for him to catch the sight of a lightning glare that lit up a glimmer of opportunity.
'I've got an idea.' Neo affirmed, and grasping Morpheus' side tighter to lend support, led them on.
They charged onto the floor, slowed by the water that splashed at their ankles. With torches lit, they centred their beams onto the rubble that had fallen before. This was where the explosion had come from, as far as they understood the situation. Whoever the perpetrators were, wherever they were, they had been here, and they were the cause of it.
They shouted out for the perps to stop moving. They were under arrest, only, no one had heard them. They ran into the room, the centre of the damage, to find it empty of human life. Orders were given to keep searching, and every room on the floor was looked in to.
But, it had already started to dawn on them – every man could sense that the orders were being given in desperation. They had already escape, though they didn't know how, they were far too late.
His eyes opened to a yanking sensation at the back of his neck, and soon after the dark fog that had dawned on cleared away with an illuminated accuracy. He could already make out Tank's head as it bobbed close by, closer still as it worked off the straps. It was soon over, and as he made attempts to sit, Tank had already headed for Neo's side.
'Tank, leave him.' But an order was called out, and Tank jumped, caught by the croak of Morpheus' voice, 'Stem Edward's bleeding, now.'
'R-Right.' With rushed footsteps, Neo was left alone, for Tank to stride past Roy, and head down towards the bottom end of the row. Nearby, Morpheus had already made the effort to sit – he held his head in a silent strain of heavy breathing. But for Roy, the pain in the juncture of his right shoulder made any attempt strenuous.
'Buddy, a little help?' Roy turned then to face Neo at his left side, and winced at the ache that shot through at the movement. Neo had yet to be unplugged from his seat.
"Oh, sorry." Roy murmured, and slowly, slid down from his seat. Using Neo's seat to catch himself, he grabbed a hold of the jack, and with a mixture of exhaustion and uncertainty, twisted and pulled it free, before he loosened a strap at Neo's wrist. Just as he tried to reach for the other, Neo stopped him.
'You go and help Morpheus. I can do the rest.' Neo gave a forced smile, and with his free hand, freed the other.
Roy nodded, and as he turned, was faced with a pile of mechanical bodies where sentinels had forced a siege on the place, and in their failure, had themselves been laid to waste. Their tentacles tangled the way, and the large red disks of their sensors peered from their frames, dull, lifeless, and without power. He could only take in the full extent of the damage, and in doing so, found a large hole that had been made before the ladder and a mess of debris where the ceiling had been torn open as a reminder. Small mercies came at large costs – even though they held the victor for having survived, they had lost too much in the process. Where once there were ten sure members, only four were left standing.
"What the hell happened here?" Roy frowned, and he turned to Tank. The man was still attending to the stomach wound, while the body under his care shook with some resistance at the pressure being applied. With his gaze completely fixed on the boy, his lips flapped helplessly, almost glad now that he had a necessary distraction. He just couldn't bring himself to face Roy.
'Th-They got in through the hull. They must've spotted us in the worm-hole. They were… relentless.'
The words of the Agent reverberated in Roy's memory as his eyes scanned over the product of an unmistakable intention.
We'll continue as planned, deploy the sentinels, immediately.
They wanted them dead, as simple as that.
'There were so many of them, I knew it would only be a matter of time before….' But Tank's voice strained, and he pressed down harder on the wound.
"Before what, Tank?" But the man didn't answer.
'Tank?' Morpheus' voice softened, 'Where's Dozer?'
Tank's gaze immediately met Morpheus', as though he was a child caught stealing sweets, and he gulped, glanced down to the side. Roy followed his line of sight, and found a body still connected to the metal cord of a sentinel, just as lifeless as the others.
Now he knew where the smell had been coming from. It was the familiar reek of burnt flesh, the tang and stick of fat residue as it settled on the lips. It was something he knew instinctually, he had seen it in the blackened faces of every corpse that had fallen by his hands in Ishbal and lost their lives, simply because his orders were absolute. Even by a glanced assessment, he could the burns made here were far too severe – even if the man had lived, there would be no chance of recovery, and it would be far kinder to end it all.
"Did the sentinels do this?"
'No, I did.' Tank answered, because it was true and he knew he couldn't escape his guilt.
Roy glared at him, "Why?" His eyes narrowed.
'You can quit it with that look.' Tank scowled. He ripped off another piece of cloth from his shirt, and pressed it down onto Edward's stomach, harder this time to calm the well of blood. 'It's not that I meant for this to happen. I had no choice.' He bared his teeth to keep control, but he couldn't stop his chest from seizing into sporadic hicks. 'One of the sentinels went for Edward, and Dozer threw himself into the line of fire.' He took in a deep breath, again to calm himself. 'He asked me, to destroy the sentinel – he gave his life, because he believed. Dozer… he believed the Ones will bring an end to the Machine War.'
Roy's gaze fell from Tank's. The blackened smoke, the whistle of soaring bombs had filled his ears, the screams of the victims they hit – it all came roaring back. He almost thought his mind would seize up, but he held himself together, his feet planted firmly to the floor, because it was all he could do to keep himself from falling back.
They all believe, even Dozer – in everything they do, they have such faith in them. They want so much… to see the end of this war, but… who can blame them? War… it's….
"Tsch, an end to the war?" Roy growled, and he found the body once again. His gaze focused on it, and he took in every sight it had to offer, because he couldn't – wouldn't let himself forget the face he once knew, the face it became, and the ones that would add to and bring this battle to its conclusion, if he ever lived that long…. "Fool. Only the dead have seen the end of war."
Author's Note: The quote I chose for the top was significant for me because, back in chapter 16, Morpheus asked Edward to promise him he would never go into the Matrix – by doing this, though we don't see it, this allows Morpheus to wipe his memory of the code to Zion Mainframe, and then give it to Edward. Edward is the Clier search-engine after all, he is a carrier of knowledge, and if you can upload knowledge into a persons mind in the Real world, then surely you can take it away? It's the same as deleting a downloaded song that you no longer like (or so the concept follows). Edward though breaks that promise and, in doing so, gets himself trapped when neither redpills or the Agents can get to him, meaning the codes are just as safe. Yes, he broke the promise, but it was a necessity if he was to save the other members of the crew.
The dialogue at the end, "Only the dead have seen the end of war", I thought was a pretty apt way of ending the chapter. It's a saying that all soldiers know because, even if we do see an era of peace, once the war has ended, it's only inevitable in human nature that another war or tragedy will break out. To Roy, who has already been a part of the Ishbalan war, and even by its end, now finds himself fighting in the Machine war – basically, it never ends. Only those who die in battle can find peace in never having to face the battlefield. So as things stand, they can only hope that the Machine war will be the last one they'll face, that the end of this war will afford them long-lasting peace. Yes, it's only a hope, but it's worth fighting for if only to end the bloodshed.
Just as a manner of business, let me update on the crew's status: Morpheus is alive; Roy is alive; Tank is alive; Neo is alive; Dozer is dead; Edward is alive but trapped in the Beta-Matrix; Trinity is alive but working for Envy; Apoc is dead; Switch is dead; and Mouse is alive, but has been arrested by New York's finest. Oh, and Agent Smith is dead – lucky us.
It's a shame that Dozer has been killed in action, but I think it's necessary if only to drill home the fact that there are people out there willing to die for their cause. They believe so much that what they're doing is right, and so it's only right that the crew push on, even after enduring the fatalities that they have. Yes, Trinity has decided to work for Envy, and that's a real shame considering that they went to this great risk to rescue her, but at the same time, they need to keep moving forward. If they can get through it, then the sacrifices will mean something. I'm also pleased that Roy, who has been such a big doubter in these chapters, has finally reached a natural climax of finally accepting belief. When a man can be killed and then raised back to life, that's not something you ignore. It's a big leap of faith for Roy to have this kind of belief, so I'm glad that he's taking the risk and has made the progress – this coming from a ruthless author who kills a lot of characters off. Like I said, without sounding psychopathic, they're necessary, otherwise too many characters will be too much to handle through the growing course of this story. More things will happen, more characters will join the fray, things will happen, in big ways! That's why I'm excited and determined to carry on with this.
Now, how about I start drawing some Supernatural art hm? In any case, the hiatus won't stop me from writing omakes for the story, so hopefully I'll be able to write some up soon. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading as far as you have.