I own nothing Matrix-oriented except a big poster I got from work (working at Hollywood Video is fun!) So don't sue. Cuz that's basically all I own. Seriously.
Sunlight washed down in huge great waves of golden warmth. Flint blinked, then raised her face to the sky, opening her arms to it, closing her eyes against the warm brilliance. It heated her skin, delved deep into the shadows of her scalp, found the tiny secret hollows of her body that even soap and water sometimes could not penetrate. She almost laughed aloud.
She was not standing, but rather sitting on something round and not entirely soft. She reached down, pulling off a ragged glove, and touched her seat. It was shaggy, hot from the sun, and suddenly it moved under her. She rocked with the jerky movement—one rolling step, then two. Flint craned her head around and opened her eyes, shielding them with a hand against the brightness of the sun. She sat the wrong way around on a shaggy creature. Pony, her memory told her. This is a pony.
But why should she have to nearly force her mind to remember such a thing? Surely, if she were familiar enough with this beast to sit upon its back, she should remember its name with no effort at all. Shouldn't she?
But perhaps memory is like this, for all people, Flint thought dreamily. She stripped off her remaining glove and dropped it to the ground, wondering idly why she should be wearing such a thing as gloves when the air was so sweet and warm. A bird darted in a low shrub near them; the pony sneezed, but did not start. It lowered its head and began to graze on tall yellow stalks of grass. Flint lay back, stretching out on the pony's wide back, and tucked her arms behind her head. She stared up into the immense blueness of the sky. She could hear the hundreds of tiny living sounds that this meadow made. The word meadow came to her mind just as pony had earlier—as if she had learned the theory behind these words but never seen their substance before.
That is scilla, Flint said to herself as she saw a climbing vine of blue flowers. And scarlet trillium. Over there a patch of clover in blossom, and the tall grass has almost gone to seed. Baking in the heat of the sun, the meadow smelled impossibly sweet and hot, like bread baking and sugar caramelizing all at once. A fat bee swerved in its path and hit Flint's jacket-clad arm. Drunk, Flint thought, as it staggered back and buzzed off again, zigzagging to and fro as if in a stupor.
Jacket, Flint said, as if naming the world into being. To keep out cold. But what was cold? She could not remember.
A warm breeze crept through the meadow, bringing with it the smell of trickling water. Flint sat up, suddenly feeling slightly uncomfortable in her heavy clothing. The water reminded her of something…if she could only remember what. She decided that she would very much like to find where the smell of water came from—most likely from a small…a small…
The word would not come.
Water,Flint thought, and that is enough, for now. She wondered if the pony would obey her command, should she ask it to move. Cautiously, not wishing to alarm the beast, she sat up and turned around so that a leg dangled down on either side of the pony's round belly and she was clutching a low handful of coarse brown mane.
The pony raised its head at the first tentative squeeze and chirrup from Flint. It glanced at her thickly through bored eyelashes, then returned to its grazing.
"I'll go without you, you know," Flint said conversationally. "I just thought you might like the company."
The pony snorted its opinion of that statement, but when Flint nudged her heels against its sides a second time it took a few halting steps forward. Before it could stop on its own, Flint nudged it forward again.
"Come on, you," she said. "We're going."
Flint started and woke, the smell of hot sugar in her nostrils. She sat up cautiously, remembering the round warmth of the pony underneath her.
Pony. It was the first word, besides her own name, that she had ever written. Band had started on smaller words, words like me, I, am, and no. By comparison, the word pony was twice as long. But, as her mother had always said, Flint was a trying child, and she would spell pony before she would spell—or acknowledge—no.
But why should she dream of one?
Flint looked around her, noting the weak gray light filtering through the chicken-wire windows. It was cold again, so very cold, and the scent of sugar was slowly fading away…or maybe simply overpowered by the smell of disinfectant and anti-toxic chemicals. Nothing looked different. Nothing sounded different. The air didn't taste different. And now that she thought about it, how was she to know what sugar—hot or otherwise—smelled like? There was no sugar anymore. Sugar—whether in cane or beet form—was not hardy enough to plant yet. They had the DNA samples waiting in some cavern down below, where samples of the most crucial plant and animal species had been locked away since humans comprehended that they were going to lose the first war against their own machines.
Some of the hardier plants had been reintroduced to pitifully small areas of detoxified soil. Dandelions grew in profusion, and thistles, though why anyone had taken the time to save such weeds Flint couldn't begin to guess. She didn't question the wisdom of her superiors—out loud, anyway. She'd had enough of questions. Her life here was not a happy one, but it was better than being back with Trinity.
Trinity. Flint flinched as she thought her mother's name. Her memory of the smell of sugar vanished with the thought, and she forgot about her dream between one heartbeat and the next, as the wake-up alarm sounded and the air filled with sleepy curses.
Trinity stared at the blank metal wall in her quarters aboard the Interim, the ship that was to take her to broadcast depth so that she could meet with the Oracle. As a celebrated war hero, her quarters were larger than any she had ever seen aboard a ship. She didn't much care. She couldn't sleep, and she refused to walk the corridors of the hovercraft and get in everybody's way. The Interim was too like and yet too unlike the old Nebuchadnezzar, and she had no wish to dredge up painful memories when she didn't have to.
Because Sentinels, servants of the now-defunct machines, no longer prowled the underground tunnels, hovercraft had no need of weapons. The few people left did not fight amongst each other. There wasn't enough life left on the planet to waste it in pointless fighting. Most of the humans still trapped in the Matrix, especially the old and the very young, had died the instant Neo—it still hurt to even think his name—snapped the machines' control. The Matrix, as it had been, disintegrated. The relatively few who had survived the massive assault on their neurological systems had survived for days in absolute darkness, for they had not awakened. Hastily, Zion had hacked into the ruins of the Matrix system and thrown up a firewall around the wandering minds of their still-plugged fellow humans. Then, their lead minds working night and day, they had formed a thin, sketchy VR world of their own and fed it into the few thousand remaining functioning minds.
Trinity didn't remember any of this. She knew it as she knew history, as she knew that the man she had loved was the reincarnation of another man, as she knew that once upon a time the world had belonged to the race of man. She had been insensible for a full week after Neo's death. She had vague, fuzzy memories of the toddler Band standing next to her bunk, his index finger hanging from his mouth and his blue eyes very big and solemn. She remembered his hot little hands patting her shoulder and cheek, his high piping voice calling to her through a haze of pain she could not break through.
"Mama? Wake up? Mama?"
In the end it had been Morpheus, her captain and her friend, who had roused her. He had picked up Band, pushed him into Tank's arms, and firmly closed them out of the cabin. Then he had pulled Trinity up by her arm—she hadn't felt a thing—and dropped her against his chest as he sat next to her. Her usual boneless grace had disintegrated, and she let herself be pulled like a rag doll.
It had been quiet, whispered into her greasy hair, but Morpheus' words had the air of orders around them. And it was in that moment that she had collapsed, her mind and body both, the throbbing pain surging around her. She cursed, she screamed, she beat at Morpheus with her fists, and he took her onslaught quietly. He didn't shield himself at all, and now Trinity could look back on that moment—the first moment she really remembered after she felt Neo leave her—and see how unfairly she had treated her captain. She had compounded his considerable guilt for letting the most valuable member of their crew get killed. She had screamed until her voice was hoarse that it had been all Morpheus' fault, that he should never have let them go in, that he should have seen it coming, that he should have sent her back, that maybe…just maybe…
She didn't really blame Morpheus; she knew that now. The person she had truly blamed, back then, had been herself. She still did, in a way, but it was a feeling deeper than thought, deeper than rationality, and most of the time she could forget that she even felt it. She knew that she would have died, and Flint with her, if Morpheus had allowed her back in. She also knew that she would not have been able to save the man she loved. The guilt she felt was not in abandoning him—that had been Neo's idea—or her inability to rescue him. It was that she had not died, too.
And after she'd cried herself near unconscious and beat her fists against Morpheus and the metal wall of her cabin, she'd sat up, wiped her eyes, and asked for her child.
She told herself that she'd never looked back from that moment on.
She knew it was a lie.
She knew Morpheus knew it, too.
Now, in the whirring depths of the Interim, she stared at the metal ceiling and couldn't think of anything she'd rather have than her old surety. She had been sure, years ago, when Neo's mouth was locked with her own and his hands were hot upon her skin, that they were strong enough, together, to win the war. She hadn't ever let herself think that martyrdom would be expected from the One. She hadn't been ready for that eventuality.
A discreet knock at her door was followed by the face of a young crewmember. "Broadcast depth, ma'am. May I escort you to the Core?"
Trinity heaved herself off the bed and nodded. She brushed her white-flecked hair away from her eyes, an unconscious gesture, and followed the boy down the humming corridors to the Core.
"Ma'am," the ship captain said with a ceremonial half-bow. "If we can be of any service to you as escort…"
"Just send me in," Trinity said, trying to take the tense edge out of her voice. "I'll be fine."
"As you wish, ma'am."
Trinity sank into the unfamiliar contours of the chair he indicated, and pressed her head back into the restraints. She had been in the Zion-controlled VR twice before, helping unplug victims of the Matrix. Because they didn't have to worry about Agents anymore, they brought large numbers of people to stadiums and auditoriums, gave them all the truth at once, and then gave them the Choice. Trinity discovered her distaste for public speaking during this time.
There was a mighty jerk, as if of something pulling loose inside her head, and Trinity opened her eyes to the human-controlled VR. Even now, years after her last experience in the Matrix, she could feel the difference. Human technology was eons behind that of the machines, and this world proved it. The light was dimmer, colors thinner, and everything had a hazy edge of unreality about it. She almost thought she was in a badly colored computer game. Being here did not alleviate the sometimes-painful ache for the real Matrix, for a world of color and sunlight and warm air.
There was no danger here.
Trinity had been set down across the street from the Oracle's building. This was not the building she remembered—the Oracle had been relocated into a swank hotel. Trinity wondered idly if this change of location had been more Zion's doing than the Oracle's; from what Trinity remembered of the woman, she didn't seem like one for ostentatious surroundings.
Trinity shrugged to herself, threw her shoulders back, and marched confidently into the building.
Inside, the lobby glittered with guilt and crystal. There were big vases of flowers everywhere, and the conflicting smells of different perfumes. Several people lounged in the cream-and-gold furniture, deep sofas and armchairs that in her former life Trinity would have been afraid to sit on. She shook her head slightly and stepped to the front desk.
"May I help you, ma'am?" the woman behind the desk said.
"I have an appointment with the Oracle," Trinity said.
"Very good. Third floor, ma'am."
The woman gave her an ironic look. "She owns the whole floor, ma'am."
Trinity felt the edge of a headache coming on.
She took the stairs rather than the elevator, preferring the sweeping curve of the richly-carved stairs to the enclosed feel of the elevator. She had never liked being shut in those things.
She opened the door on the third floor landing, and was immediately accosted by seven children who came running at her. She slid to the side, holding the door open, and, giggling, they tumbled down the stairs.
"I see you've learned something since our last talk."
Trinity closed the door quietly behind her and turned to face the Oracle.
"Don't mind me," the older woman said. "Oh, but it does my heart good to see you again, child."
Trinity brushed at her graying hair. "I'm hardly a child, ma'am."
"You are to me," the Oracle said. "Come, let's not stand here in the hallway."
She led Trinity into a fancy parlor, where she sank into an overstuffed leather couch. "Sit, child. I'm glad you came to see me."
"Usually we don't get a second visit," Trinity said cautiously, choosing a hard-backed chair and sitting down warily. "I'd like to know why I seem to be so special."
"Oh, Trinity. Special isn't the word for it, child. But you've done so much for the resistance, and for Zion too, now that it's the center of the new government. They know you're unhappy. They want to help you."
There's nothing to help, Trinity said silently. Can they bring Neo back? Can they tell me where Flint is? To the Oracle, she said nothing.
"Trinity, life didn't die when Neo did."
"It might as well have," she said, staring at her clenched hands. Why? Why give me this symbiotic relationship I didn't even want if in the end I was meant to be left alone?
"Baby, you're more of a martyr than Neo ever was, if you'd really like to know. You see, he served us with his death. You, on the other hand, serve us with your life. He died, but he doesn't have to live with that. You do. Every day."
"You didn't bring me here to tell me things I already know." Trinity raised her eyes but not her head, regarding the Oracle suspiciously.
The Oracle smiled. "Why haven't you told Morpheus?"
Trinity stiffened. She opened her mouth to lie, and shut it again quickly. "None of his business," she said finally.
"Friends and crewmembers for so long and you say it's none of his business?" The Oracle clucked her tongue. "What about Band, then? Why haven't you told him?"
"He's young, and at a busy point in his life. I don't want to worry him."
"I don't know where she is."
"You could look. She's not so hard to find as all that, you know."
Trinity ducked her eyes again. "Look, if she…if I…" She ran a distracted hand through her hair like Neo had so often done once his grew back. "I didn't do my best with Flint. And she doesn't owe me…doesn't owe me anything."
"But what do you owe her? The truth? Trinity, child, what do you owe her, having brought her into this world?"
Nothing, Trinity wanted to say. I don't owe that ungrateful child a goddamned thing.
She knew it was a lie.
The Oracle took a deep breath and lit a cigarette. She offered one to Trinity, who declined with a shake of her head. "You're dying," she said conversationally.
"Yes," Trinity said. "I know."
"You've never given in to anything before. Why now?"
"I know what you're doing," Trinity said suddenly, as the Oracle breathed in a lungful of smoke. "You're trying to make me talk."
"In the end, you can avoid everyone but yourself—even me, Trinity. You don't have to talk to me. We can sit here for an hour in silence if you like."
"It won't make anything easier."
"No, it won't." The Oracle reached over and touched Trinity's cheek with her knuckle. "Tell me, baby."
Trinity almost ripped her head away from the Oracle's hand, but stopped herself at the last minute. I don't even know how to be touched anymore, she thought, and the thought was so funny that she almost wept without laughter.
Two tears dripped from her eyes and Trinity opened her mouth. "I'm old," she said finally. "So old. Not in Matrix-years, but as a resistance fighter I'm ancient. I'm like a legend, because I made it. Because I lived to see gray in my hair." She shook her head. "I look old, but mostly I feel old. I can feel the end—I don't know what they'll call it when I go in for testing. Cancer, maybe—cancer's always a possibility. I told myself I'd never write a fucking cancer story. Looks like I'm going to maybe live one instead."
"It isn't cancer."
Trinity laughed mirthlessly. "That's a relief, I guess. At least I won't be as clichéd as that."
"So you don't really know what it is, then?"
Trinity eyed her suspiciously. "I thought you knew everything."
"I know enough—answer me."
"I do not know what it is."
"Ah. I wondered."
Trinity hesitated, then spat out the question she'd been chewing on for several minutes. "Flint…do you know where she is?"
The Oracle smiled. "Yes. Yes, I do."
"Where is she?"
"Oh, I can't tell you that." The Oracle's face was full of sorrow. "Ah, Trinity. You think that there was little love lost between you. How can I convince you otherwise? The truth is that she loves you very much, even still. She always knew, you know, that you couldn't love her in the same way you loved Band and Neo. And I think that she's resented you for a very long time. But hated you? Never. She loves you just as much as you love her."
"I wasn't meant to raise children!" Trinity wailed. "I know I messed up, but this wasn't my idea in the first place. It was Neo's; he was always the one who wanted…"
"I know," the Oracle said dryly. "But life works in mysterious ways. Even I can't tell you why. Just—find her, child. Find your daughter. She may be feeling just as lost as you. Maybe more."
Trinity shook her head. "She got away, which is more than I ever did. I can't pull her back into this hellhole again."
"Who says she is not living in one now?" The Oracle rose, stretched, and placed the butt of her cigarette in an ashtray. "She's hurting, Trinity. She always has been. Now, one of you has to grow up and say you're sorry. Which will it be? You? Or your daughter?"