Author's Note: Here I am again in your lovely fandom...seems that ideas keep popping into my head and there just isn't time to write them all down. This is a sort-of sequel to "Wedding Night," though it can be read as a stand-alone piece as well. I think.
Flint rolled over in her sleep and, for the first time in a long while, almost fell off the lip of her third-tier bunk. With a mild curse she shoved her body toward the middle of the thin mattress and yanked at her blankets. Usually she slept quite still, not moving at all, but for some reason she'd tossed and turned the night before. She had pulled at her blankets, forcing them to become untucked during her sleep. Now she shivered and threw them back over her uncovered feet. She couldn't feel her toes and could only wiggle them with great effort.
No longer sleepy, Flint tucked her legs up under her, trying to warm her feet in the hot crevices behind her knees. It wasn't the best way to get warm but it was all she had at the moment. The dim light of morning bled through the inch-thick glass windows. The chicken-wire embedded in the glass painted bar-like patterns in the gray room.
Flint sat up, gooseflesh prickling her skin and making the silky hairs on her arms stand up straight and stiff. She felt like a dog raising its hackles as she dangled her heels over the edge of her bunk and stretched her arms up above her head. Sitting up like this, she could plant her hands flat against the cement ceiling.
A door banged open; nobody entered, but Flint saw the rough outline of a thick female hand reach inside and smack the wake-up button. Immediately a high-pitched whine fed through the room's speakers. Bodies leaped up from all the beds, startled from sleep.
"Bloody thing," a dark voice below Flint said. She flipped over, kneeling on her thin mattress and lowering her head to peer at the bunk below her.
"'Morning to you, too," she said to the person below her.
"Fuck off, kid."
"Why don't you?" Flint jumped to the cement floor—there was no ladder—and opened the metal cabinet at the foot of the set of bunks. She had a shelf to herself, the top shelf, and now she pulled out her day clothing. It was virtually all she stored there—a pair of thickly insulated pants, a shirt, two pairs of socks, a pair of nearly indestructible boots, an insulated jacket, and a thermal hat. Changes of clothing were passed out once a week, underclothes and sleepwear the same as day clothing.
She didn't say much as she made her way to the washroom along with the forty-nine other people with whom she shared her living space. It stank of industrial cleaning agents and the strange, biodegradable electric lighting implements that were aboveground standard-issue. In the close, cold surroundings, Flint quickly used the toilet, scrubbed her face in tepid water—the sinks never really ran hot—and rinsed her mouth with the standard-issue decontaminate that kept their teeth from rotting. There were twenty-two sinks and twelve toilets to accommodate fifty people, so Flint always tried to be one of the first into—and not so incidentally out of—the washroom. But there was always enough of the gritty, stinging soap and burning mouthrinse.
Once back inside the bunkroom, now cleared of most its inhabitants, Flint yanked off her standard-issue sleeping shirt and dressed as quickly as she could, numb fingers working the buttons of her thick work pants and jacket with the comfort of long familiarity. Two men brushed past her as she was tying her shoes; neither tried to touch her. Flint smirked; one of the men sported a beautifully split lower lip. It matched the split knuckle on her left hand—she hadn't been careful enough to avoid his teeth this time. No matter. She would have plenty more time to perfect the technique.
Boots tied, Flint jammed her thermal hat on her head, pulled the flaps low over her ears, and clomped out of the bunkroom. She walked down a long cement hallway where her breath steamed in the air, nothing except an occasional flickering light fixture to show her that she was headed anywhere at all. She turned left when the tunnel turned, then made a right and pushed open a heavy door. Twelve or so of her fellow workers had already beaten her to breakfast; they were scattered among the long metal tables with their tin bowls of protein compound. Flint collected her own bowl without looking at the person who handed it to her, filled a mug with a lukewarm liquid that definitely wasn't the fabled coffee, and sat at an empty table to eat.
Before she was halfway through a man came to sit at her table. Flint hunched over her food and scowled, but he didn't see.
"Break in three days," he grunted into his bowl.
"Mm." Flint made a noncommittal noise and pretended to be far more interested in her breakfast than she really was.
"Know you an't any family of your'n. Come home wi' me?"
She shook her head, still staring into her bowl.
"Why should I?" Flint finally raised her head, knowing she had to reply more forcefully since he hadn't just taken no for an answer. She'd dealt with men like him before. She knew how. She wasn't afraid. Flint let her dark eyes look as bored as possible.
"Where else would you go?" He smirked.
"Anywhere I like." Flint stretched her legs out under the table and let her eating utensil fall against the side of her bowl with a small clank.
"They shouldn't let girls in a place like this," the man growled, his big dark eyebrows drawing together and his face closing in on itself now that he saw he wouldn't get her to talk.
"That's none of my mind," Flint said, rising and grabbing for her mug and bowl. "I'm no girl."
"Girl you are—no more than sixteen I'd wager."
"Wrong." Over her shoulder, Flint tossed the words. "I'm a hundred at least."
The cold was inhospitable and the poison in the very air they breathed slowly worked its way into the bloodstream and sickened them from the inside. Sour wind blew constantly from all directions, and the sun burned any skin left unexposed though it shone through a haze of pollution and clouds.
Flint worked without thinking. She did what she was told, ate when the bell sounded, showered every night in a solution of oxygenated water and decontaminators, and slept the prescribed six hours in a state of exhaustion far beyond mere somnolence. She spoke little, smiled less, and laughed not at all. Her hair was trimmed every six weeks to keep it short enough to stay under her hat and not soak up toxins from the atmosphere. She scrubbed down with gritty exfoliating scrubs to keep the poisons out of the inner layers of skin.
And she never thought about doing anything else.
Flint did not keep a picture of her parents or her brother. She didn't know how her mother fared or if her brother had a sweetheart. She didn't know what he wanted to be, if he had finished the formal education he had been only too glad to accept from the government in Zion, if he ever thought about or even remembered the father that had been with them for such a short while.
Flint didn't. He had died before she was born.
Today Flint's gang worked with blowtorches, burning away all trace of mangled, deformed plant life they could see. This sent oily fumes into the air, but they weren't to worry about that. Later a different gang would come along and clear what they could out of the atmosphere.
Flint could turn her hand at just about anything that was required here on the surface. She had delved for minerals, digging to find the precious layers of clean, protected sand that they needed in order to make glass. She had squirmed through tight passageways in the planet's crust, taking samples of the radiation levels of the rock that squeezed in about her, pressing her tighter and tighter as if it wanted to smother her.
She burned away plants, chased danger pockets in the breathable-but-toxic air, purified water, took samples of just about anything they could ever hope to want samples of, and basically sweated away the two full years she had been working out on the Earth's surface.
"Don't patronize me, Morpheus."
The aging captain wanted to smack his head against the hanging pipes of the ship; arguing with his second-in-command was like pulling teeth. Trying to get her to do something she didn't want to do was worse. He would have promoted her to full captain of her own ship long ago if he was willing to part with her, and she knew it. She would have flatly refused the promotion.
"Trinity, I'm only asking whether you don't agree that it's not healthy for you to continue working like this. It's okay to take a break once in a while."
"I do." She wouldn't flatly show contempt by turning on the welder in her hand while he tried to speak to her, but she would do just about anything else—would and did—to prove that she vehemently did not want to be having this conversation.
"Trinity, you don't sleep more than two or three hours a night. You're always taking over people's nighttime shifts—don't think I don't notice, because I do. You're going to collapse eventually, and neither of us is as young as we once were. Please. Don't do this to yourself. You're killing yourself, and as your captain and your friend I cannot allow it."
She turned her head away, her face a closeted mask. "Just leave me alone, Morpheus."
"You know I can't do that." Morpheus sighed and reached out, clasping her shoulder as he would a brother. "Losing Neo was a blow to us all. We all miss him. Now, I can't pretend to know how you feel but I do know for a fact that you haven't been sleeping well since he died. It's been almost eighteen years, Trinity. I'm not going to tell you that you should move on. But I will tell you that you won't be able to live until you do."
"Maybe I don't want to."
"Or maybe you can't do it by yourself?" Morpheus' face was lined with both sorrow and age. "Ah, Trinity, look at us. A pair of old fighters who can't really retire even though we've both earned it. We don't know how."
She shrugged off his hand, uncomfortable with his speech, and adjusted a knob on the welder. "Captain, I don't want to talk about it."
"I know you don't, but you've got to." He looked at her, at the strange pale eyes that were still more like steel than anything else he knew. "But not to me." He took the welder from her grasp. "I've arranged for you to go and see the Oracle. Maybe she can help you."
"I've already seen the Oracle once," Trinity objected. "Everybody gets one meeting, remember? I've had mine."
"You're a special case." Morpheus pointed toward the corridor that led up through a access hatch and to the living quarters they shared. "Go rest now. You're set to leave on a resupply ship that's heading up to broadcast depth in four hours. I promised that you'd be awake when you went to meet her."
"Don't make promises for me."
"Then think of it as an order." Morpheus gave her a little nudge with the welder. "Go on. Somebody else can finish here."
As she walked up the ramp and through the access hatch, Trinity rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands and wondered just how she'd reached this point. Her very bones ached—she was cold and tired and didn't think that anything could ever lever away the pain that was her constant companion. It was like having Neo gone had ripped away a vital part of her that she could not—and yet was forced to—live without.
Eighteen years and she still didn't think she'd ever get over this.
She didn't sleep anymore because waking up alone was too painful. Two or three hours a night was the most she could manage, because it felt like napping. Napping she could handle alone, but not whole nights. Morpheus still didn't know how, when the children were still young, she would sit up all night in their room and watch them as they slept. Band didn't even know.
But Flint did.
If Flint thought it was odd that her mother stared at her as she slept, it was just one more thing Flint hated about being born on board the old Nebuchadnezzar and having to live there. If Flint noticed the physical resemblance between her mother and her older brother that she did not share, she said nothing.
That was the problem with Flint—the principal one, anyway. She never said anything so you could never guess what she was thinking or feeling. Trinity remembered, sinking under the heavy yoke of guilt, how she had for a very brief time hated the child. What if those few days, sunk deep into anguish and guilt over Neo's death, had permanently affected the unborn Flint? What if, even before she was born, she knew that for a time her mother had hated her?
Trinity couldn't know for sure, and one of the principal reasons for this was Flint herself. She was such an intractable child, all fury and silent, lurking intelligence. She was—and this is what made Trinity afraid—very much what Trinity herself could have become under any other captain besides Morpheus. With any type of wrong handling, the volatile young Trinity could have learned the wrong kind of control and discipline and turned out like Flint. She feared it was her rearing of the child that had forced Flint to become so hard.
Unlike most brother-sister pairings, Band was the sweet one. He was quiet, generally cheerful, and spoke about his feelings in the veiled way that males preferred. He was a well-adjusted young adult, just out of the one institution for formal education left to the human race, and he had a committed relationship with a young freeborn girl he would likely marry someday. He spoke to Trinity and Morpheus often, and during holidays the three of them—the last three living survivors of the old Nebuchadnezzar—would gather in the public areas of Zion to be together and studiously not talk about the past.
But Flint…Flint had been born full of anger and Trinity hadn't been able to deal with it. She didn't know how to raise a girl; all she knew at the time was that Neo was gone and she didn't want to live without him. Flint was left very much to herself emotionally—Trinity didn't know how to show affection to this child without Neo showing her the way.
Flint was slow to speak but quick to learn. She never learned things in baby steps—she never had a vocabulary of twenty or fifty words. She didn't speak until she was nearly five, and then she suddenly began talking in full, correct sentences. She didn't crawl very long before she was walking and she almost never fell down. She was quick to grow, losing her round baby-softness before she was five and turning into a coltish adolescent by age nine.
Trinity knew now that she had not done her best raising the child. It was too painful to watch the tiny baby slowly turning into a woman with Neo's eyes. Once she grew into her more or less adult body every move she made was feline grace. She was strong like her father, fast like her mother, and possibly smarter than they both were. Band was intelligent, but utterly normal compared to Flint. He had Trinity's nearly-black hair and blue eyes, but his were not hard and cold like his mother's. He had the innocent sweetness of his father.
Inside, Flint was her mother all over again. Just in a different situation.
Though she didn't want to admit it even to herself, Trinity knew that Flint's decision to run away from the confined life of the Nebuchadnezzar had ripped a hole out of Trinity's heart. Though she found it difficult to relate to the girl, Trinity loved her fiercely. She was her daughter, after all.