Kirstma > Betrothed


In vino veritas. Ėsome dead Roman

* I *

"Shhh, sheís coming." The small knot of conspirators unwound themselves and stood at attention.

Trinity approached. She hated this; the idea that she was driven out of anything that might add color to her gray, drab, shapeless life. They treated her differently than they treated each other, and she should have been the first to admit that it was her fault. All of those days spent as Morpheusís chosen apprentice had taken her away from her shipmates. She was a ranking officer and her rank placed her well above them. She had gained authorityĖĖbut only at the expense of losing friendship.

Apoc cleared his throat and went back to repairing one of the old computers. Switch stepped away and took a seat at the center counsel. Cypher was wiping his fingers on a dirty rag. Mouse was still standing around like a kid without a home.

"Mouse, donít you have anything to do?" Trinity asked. "Iím sure Cypher could use your help with . . . whatever heís working on."

"Weíre all very busy," Switch butted in. "We have to make a trip to the Matrix."

"Yep, thatís right," Apoc said. "New potential to check out. Some chick named Spaniel."

Trinity took a stunned step forward. "Morpheus never told me about this."

"Oh, he probably doesnít want you to go," Apoc pointed out. "He knows youíve got a lot going on."

"ButĖĖbutĖĖ" The words didnít come to Trinity. "Iím the head of recruiting," she blurted out. "Iím the one who checks out the potentials before anybody else."

Switch shrugged. "Nobody said you couldnít come. Weíre all going, arenít we Cypher?" She grinned wickedly.

Tank walked into the room. "Dozerís brought the ship up to broadcast depth. Are you ready to hack in?"

"You knew about this?" Trinity said. "Why didnít anybody tell me? Iíve never even heard of this . . . this Spaniel."

Everyone simply looked at each other. "I donít know what to tell ya," Cypher said. "Weíve been looking into this one for a few weeks now."

"Heís right," Switch said. "I meanĖĖTrinity, we would never do things behind your back like that. Weíre not into secrets." She immediately smirked and then regained composure.

"Iím going to talk to Morpheus about this," Trinity said quietly and turned to leave the room. Tank grabbed her arm.

"Iíd think better of it," he said. "Heís on a conference call to Zion right now. He canít be disturbed."

"Weíve got to hack in now or weíll lose our chance," Switch said, peering at one of the small monitors.

"Man, I could really go for a hand-job right now," Mouse spoke suddenly.

Everyone stopped and looked up. "Mouse," Apoc said with a dose of incredulity in his voice.

"What?" Mouse looked up. "Did I say something?"

Tank shook his head and climbed into the operatorís chair. "You ready to go?"

When Trinity opened her eyes she was in the usual room of the old mansion in her usual attireĖĖblack leather, black shades, and more black leather.

"Hooo-whaaaaah," Mouse said, picking at his clothes. "Cypher, check out these new threads. I am so ready to party!"

"Party is right," Cypher said. "Man, Iím so sick of staring at the same black walls. Letís get goiní."

"We donít have much time," Switch said.

"Donít be ridiculous," Apoc said. "We have all the time in the world. Sit down and relax." He took a cigarette and a lighter from his jacket pocket. "Where do you want to go tonight?"

"Blue Danube," Switch offered.

"Whirlwind," Mouse suggested.

"Any place where the liquor stands still only long enough to let me drink it," Cypher said. "You remembered to load money, right?"

"I think Trinity should pick," Apoc said. He seemed to be running this peculiar operation. "Itís her birthday, after all."

"WhaĖĖIĖĖ" Again, words failed her. "Itís not my birthday," she finally said.

"Oh yes it is!" Switch said. "And you donít turn thirty every year."

"Iím only twenty-nine," she added hastily. "And more importantly, what the hell is going on here? Weíre checking out a potential, remember?"

"Oh, youíre so thick, Trinity!" Switch exclaimed, which was a little uncharacteristic of her. "We made the whole thing up."

"We got Tank to go along with it," Apoc said. "And Dozer as well."

"Oh, this is rich," Trinity proclaimed angrily. "Iím getting out of here. Iíll get Tank to pull me out."

"Oh nooooooo you donít," Apoc said, holding the phone down with his strong, muscled hand.

Trinity reached into her pocket and pulled out her cell phone, flipping it open. "Not that!" Switch said, and there was a slight scuffle, then the sound of a small phone being flung out the window.

"Morpheus is going to have our heads," Trinity said when that was finished. "All of usĖĖin here together? Heíll be out for blood. I say we go back right now."

"And I say we stay!" Apoc said. "Donít worry about Morpheus. Heís been taken care of."

"What are you talking about? Morpheus will kill us! Five people in the Matrix disregarding their pre-ordained duties is cause for serious punishmentĖĖwhy are you laughing?"

"Oh," Apoc said, "I donít think weíll have to worry about that." They were all laughing discretely, covering their mouths with their hands.

"What did you do?" Trinity said, her voice low and threatening.

"Letís just say that Morpheus will have no trouble getting to bed early tonight. Dozer helped us with that one."

Trinity gasped, realizing Apocís meaning. "You drugged Morpheus?"

"Hardly can be called drugging. It was an herbal remedyĖĖ"

Trinityís fist slammed against Apocís jaw. He stumbled backwards and clutched the left side of his face. "Now that was uncalled for," he said.

"I am the second in command and I am going to leave the Matrix this instant."

"Címon, Trin," Cypher said, using the nickname that Trinity secretly despised. "Weíre doing this for you."

"Oh, I bet," Trinity said sarcastically. "No, youíre doing this for you. So you have an excuse to get drunk. Or to get Mouse drunk and watch him fall over."

"Iím okay with that," Mouse said. "Really."

"Iím not," Trinity said. "I have a rank to uphold hereĖĖ"

"Rank shmank, Trinity," Switch interrupted. "Since when did that make you too good to hang around with us? Someone has a short memory."

Trinity was taken aback a littleĖĖher hand fluttering up to the top of her chest. "All of that was a long time ago."

Everyone was quiet for a minute. "Donít worry about not being safe," Apoc said. "You worry far too much. Weíve got another crew covering for us. And Tank."

"I canít believe you planned this whole thing," Trinity said.

Thirty? Am I really thirty? Trinity thought as the car sped along one of Chicagoís city streets. How did that get away from me? No, I must be twenty-nine. I donít remember the last birthday I had. It was ages ago.

"Fatboy Slim is fucking in heaven," Mouse quietly chanted.

"Well, you could have worn something more appropriate," Switch said.

Trinity looked up to realize that Switch, sitting beside Apoc in the front of the car, was speaking to herĖĖand about fashion nonetheless, which was quite upsetting. What would be next? Discussing the latest issue of Martha Stewart monthly? "Youíre one to talk. Whiteís not good after Labor Day."

"Ha," Switch said. "Did you not get the memo when heroin chic went out of style?"

"Shut up," Trinity said.

"Ladies, ladies," Apoc said. "This is a great cause for celebration. We are all young and free and alive. And Trinity is our dear, dear friend."

"Alive for nowĖĖassuming they survive tonight," Trinity said to herself. "Or assuming I do . . ."

She could hear Mouse speaking faintly to Cypher. That was scary. Trinity was afraid that Cypherís pedophile demeanor might rub off on Mouse. "What I wouldnít give," Mouse was saying, "to feel one of them up, man. Just once."

The car hit a bump and they went flying. "Whoa Apoc," Mouse said. "My head hit the roof."

"That was your head?" Cypher said. "I thought it was your butt."

Mouse laughed like he and Cypher shared some private joke about it. "Kill me now," Trinity whispered. They pulled up in front of a dark, bleak building and Apoc turned off the car.

"This is it," he said. "Safe from agents and bad ecstasy."

Trinity got out and stood in the parking lot. Several teenagers were laughing hysterically and falling into each otherís arms. Instinctively, she assumed her usual fighting posture. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder. And an arm around her.

"Canít you just . . . pretend youíre having a good time?" Apoc whispered to her.

Trinity shook her head. "Iím not that person anymore," she said. "Iím sorry."

He squeezed her hand and went to join Switch. Then they all went into the club together.

Apoc ordered the first round of drinks. And the second.

"You have money for this?" Trinity asked.

"He always has money," Switch replied. "Not that he ever gives me any . . ." She grinned and did something that caused Apoc to jump a little.

"Can I have another Manhattan?" Mouse asked.

"What happened to the one you just had?" Switch said. He shrugged, then switched his empty glass with Cypherís while Cypher was ogling a woman on the dance floor.

"I love Matrix women," Cypher muttered. Only Trinity could hear him. "No disease. No inhibitions. HeyĖĖwhat happened to my drink?"

Trinity sighed and also turned toward the dance floor. She hadnít danced in a long time. They were all hackers, not dancers. In the Matrix theyíd been cooped up behind screens and keyboards, too busy with symbols and numbers to think about dance steps and rhythm. Shit, they were nerds. Nerds canít dance.

Trinity hadnít partied in a long time eitherĖĖat least not since Morpheus had noticed that her ambition and talent put her ahead of her colleagues. Letís see, there was that Zion party in the early 90s where she woke up next to some guy named Zink . . . and then there was that time they got a little crazy with the moonshine on the ship . . . all of that was a really long time ago.

"Trinity, are you still drinking that same beer?" Apoc said.

She looked down at the bottle. "Yeah."

He shook his head. "Want to try another drink for a while?"

"No. Iím fine with beer."

"Sheís from Kansas," Switch explained. "They only drink beer there."

"Missouri, not Kansas. And someone here has to stay sober. It might as well be me."

"Oh Trinity," Switch said. "Why donít you just let go for once in your life? It might do you some good. Donít you remember when you threw me that Loss-of-Real-World-Virginity party? Now Iím just returning the favor."

"That was years ago," Trinity muttered.

"Whoa!" Mouse said, quickly stealing a sip from Apocís glass. "Loss-of-Real-World-Virginity party? Will you throw one for me too?"

"Ha! Notice itís real world virginity, Mouse," Cypher said, "so the lady in red doesnít count."

"Sex is sex," Mouse said.

"Sex with nonconsentual computer programs does not count," Apoc said. "And itís not even that enjoyable." He set his drink down and looked up. "Not that I would know." He grabbed Switchís hand. "Címon, letís go dance . . . or something." They left the table.

"This should be interesting," Cypher told Trinity. "Two nasty geeks tripping all over themselves to vile techno music."

"Yea," Mouse said and picked up Switchís drink. He finished that in one gulp, then did the same with Apocís.

"Mouse, I am not going to hold your head over a toilet later tonight," Trinity said. She looked at Cypher. "Iíll get Cypher to do it instead."

The night flipped by and Trinity continued to nurse the occasional drink and listen to the jokes and laughter of her crewmates. They were so comfortable in these surroundings. Why am I like this? she wondered. She couldnít help but check over her shoulders for the formidable form of an agent, or the slightly less agile form of a regular cop.

"Will you just chill?" Cypher said to her. "You act like somebodyís grandmother."

"Just trying to keep everyone safe."

"Weíre safe. Jesus." He stuck his nose back into his drink. He was beginning to slur his words now. Switch and Apoc were at the end of the table, laughing uncontrollably about a bungled memory. Mouse had disappeared, but strangely this didnít bother Trinity.

"If anything happens to you guys, Morpheus will have me drawn and quartered."

"Morpheus this, Morpheus that. Since when did you start living for Morpheus?"

"Iím just being realistic, thatís all."

"Nothing will happen to us. We got another crew watching out for us."


"Choi and all them."

Trinity shook her head and took another sip of what she was drinking. "Oh, that makes me feel better. Choi is an undercover officer who scouts for new hacking talent. He wouldnít know how to use a gun if it cocked itself."

"Whatís that?"

Trinity looked up to find a thin man and his attractive girlfriend. "Hello," she said quietly and took another swig of her beer.

"Hey! Itís Choi and Dujour!" Apoc exclaimed. He tried to stand up, fell over once, then regained balance. He slapped Choi on the back. "Havenít seen you in the flesh since Zion in í96."

"Yeah, well," Choi said in his tenor voice, "my stint with the CIA lasted longer than we planned."

"Wow Trinity," Dujour said, "you look great. Not a day over twenty-five, Iíd say."

"Thanks," Trinity said. Theyíd always vexed her, these two. Whenever they had to collaborate on missions, Trinity kept the small talk to a minimum.

"Too bad we ladies canít show more skin in the real world," Dujour continued. "I never have gotten over the terrible shock of having plugs."

Youíve never gotten over the shock of your first training program, Trinity thought.

"Thatís a nice hat," Dujour said.

Trinity looked up. "Iím not wearing a hat."

Dujour doubled over with laughter. Switch heard and started laughing too. "Hey, I donít mean to break up the fun," Choi said, "but I think your boyís over there doing a table dance."

"Woo hoo," Switch said. She was completely drunk. "Go Mouse."

"Iím so basted," Apoc said. "I mean . . . wasted."

"Yeah, well weíll let you get back to your partying," Choi said. He looked afraidĖĖlike the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar might return his favor by vomiting on his shoes.

When Mouse got back to the table he was in a crying mood. "I love you guys," he kept saying. "What would I do without you? This war is so horrible, so horrible and itís killing me . . ." He threw himself on Trinity. "Please Trinity. Please, I want you to do one thing for me."

"Iím afraid to ask."

"Will you make out with Switch?"

Trinity pushed Mouse off of her and onto Cypher. "Pervert."

"Iím only seventeen," Mouse wept. "Iím only seventeen and Iíve already killed five people. Oh God, when will it end?" He reached over and took one last swig of nearly empty glass. "Good-bye everybody. This is the end." He keeled over onto the floor.

Minutes later they were in the parking-lot, dragging Mouseís limp body along. "This is all your fault," Trinity said to Apoc.

"Did I pump those tears out of his eyes? No, I donít think so." He began to laugh again.

"No, but you certainly bought us enough drinks."

"What was he crying about anyway?" Cypher asked.

"His latest saga," Apoc answered. "Heís been pissing and moaning for weeks now about something the oracle told him."

"Bad news from the oracle," Switch said. "We all know that feeling." She cast a wayward glance at Trinity.

"Well, we certainly canít drive out of here," Apoc said. "Trinity, can you drive?"

"No. Iím long past driving, Iím afraid."

"I lost the keys anyway," Apoc replied.

"Weíll have to walk to the nearest exit," Cypher said.

"Give me your cell," Trinity said, assuming her authoritarian posture and holding out an outstretched hand. He surrendered his phone and she dialed Tank.

While they were staggering along, Trinity went over what she would tell Morpheus if he ever found out about this little venture. I was just watching out for them, she would say. I was afraid to leave them there alone. NoĖĖthat was no good. Morpheus would just ask her why she didnít come back to the ship and get him involved. She just had to cross her fingers and hope this never came to Morpheusís attention.

Now Switch was walking next to her. "So Trinity, been to see the oracle lately?"

"No," Trinity answered swiftly.

"Thatís funny," she replied. "I thought you and Morpheus were fond of her. I thought you went to see her often."

"Not really," Trinity said.

"Trinity," Switch whispered, "we used to talk about these things, remember? We used to hang out after work was done."

"Well. Iíve been busy."

"Apparently. Too busy for Apoc and me." She strolled ahead and was now leading the pack.

Apoc, who was holding Mouse up on one end, overheard the part of the conversation about the oracle. "Hey, remember our old buddy Ironhand?"

Trinity remembered the odd crew member who suffered an unfortunate birth defect that made his hand into the shape of a clothes iron. Hell of a hacker, but he hadnít lasted that long. "What about him?"

"The oracle sure did a number on him. She told him to beware of his weaknesses. He always told me that meatball sandwiches were his weakness. Sure enough, two months later he caught a bullet while eating at a Subway on the east side. That was that."

"Death by a meatball sandwich," Cypher said. "Thatís how I want to go."

"Donít be ridiculous," Trinity said.

An old subway station housed their exit. They clamored down the concrete steps, drunk on liquor and cool Matrix air. The phone began to ring and Cypher and Apoc both held Mouseís head to the receiver. They both exited next. This left Switch and Trinity alone. Trinity went over and placed the receiver back on its hook.

"Switch," she began, "I never meantĖĖ"

The phone began to ring. "What?" Switch asked.

"Never mind." Trinity moved to answer the phone.

"No," Switch said. "Tell me what you were going to say." She held her small, white hand over the receiver. "For the last few years youíve been treating Apoc and me like your little minions and Iím not going to put up with it anymore."

"Minions? Well, excuse me for growing up. Iíve got a job to doĖĖ"

"Bullshit," Switch said. She was angry, and you did not want to make Switch angry. The last person who had made Switch angry nearly had his arm blown off. "Since when did your position become so important that you couldnít communicate with us anymore?" She suddenly looked flustered and turned away. "You know how hard it is for me to say all this. Iíve never been . . . well, Iíve always left this sort of thing to Apoc."

Trinity simply stared. "What do you want me to do? Who do you want me to be?"

"Jesus, I donít know. You used to be . . . funny."

Whatever patience Trinity might have had dissolved at that last line. The phone continued to ring loudly in her ear like the persistent chirping of an alarm clock. "YouĖĖyou want to know something funny, Switch? You want to laugh? Fine, hereís something for you to mull over in your precious spare time: Iím fucking betrothed to the One. Howís that for humor? The oracle told me that when the One comes, Iím going to fall in love with him. And thatís how weíll know. An awful lot of pressure on one person, donít you think? To screen all of these potentials day after day and think, ĎDo I like this guy? Can I picture myself going to bed with him?í Ha. Funny, isnít it? I hope you have a good laugh." She reached for the phone.

She didnít get to the receiver in time. Switch reached over and slapped her across the face and Trinity jumped back, alarmed and shocked by the blow. It hadnít hurt as much as it had surprised her.

"Youíre a liar," Switch said. "Lying bitch! I will not be lied to, Trinity."

Before Trinity could react by striking back at Switch, Switch picked up the receiver and was gone. Seconds passed before the phone began to ring again. It was rude, harsh sound that filled the underground tunnel, radiating outwards like a sharp blast of light.

In the following days everyone resigned themselves to the commonplace drudgery to which they had become accustomed. Trinity refused to think about, much less talk about, the events which had unfolded the night the crew went into the Matrix. Even when Mouse tried to apologize for some of the things heíd said (apparently Apoc had filled him in as heíd blacked out), Trinity told him she didnít care, she wasnít thinking about it, and she hadnít lost any sleep over it. It didnít tarnish her opinion of him, she told him. Which was true, because Trinity had always regarded Mouse as a young, up-and-coming pervert.

Trinity buried herself in her work, which was combing the Matrix for unusual hacking talent. Morpheus had dropped a large stack of paper in her lap that morning that detailed, in code, the long path a particular hacker had taken in order to change his salary. "Thought you might like to see this," he said. Trinity felt a strange, surging sickness in her stomach that was either caused by the effect of liquor on her RSI or the thought of another prophetic hacker.

That afternoon Switch came into mess hall where Trinity was eating alone. She simply cleared her throat and stopped. They still hadnít spoken.

Switch slowly turned around. "Does Morpheus know?"

Trinity didnít look up. "Not unless the oracle told him."

"So . . . Iím the only person youíve told."

Trinity said nothing.

"Iím sorry," she said quietly. "I was so out of line."

"You were," Trinity replied. "Everyone was."

"Except you." Switch slowly moved to the bench where Trinity was sitting. "The reason I . . . well, I might as well say it . . . Apoc and I arenít long for this world."

Trinity dropped her spoon and looked up. "What are you talking about?"

"Thatís another thing that came from the oracle. Not that she was outright blunt about it, but I gathered enough of the general meaning."

"What did she say?"

"I donít know. She told Apoc, not me. I guess he begged her not to tell me, so she didnít . . . but unfortunately he talks in his sleep. I pressed him for details and he finally broke down and told me. Apparently, weíll meet the One, but not much else. His coming Ďwill hail the destruction of the Matrix,í and of us as well."

"Oh my God," Trinity said. She felt like the bottom of the mess hall had dropped out from under her. She swallowed, than took a huge breath of air.

"I was hoping it might be a while, but after what you told me . . ."

Trinity put a hand on Switchís arm. "It might still be a while."

Switch smiled. "Yeah, well. Thatís a nice thought, isnít it?"

Trinity was still clinging to hope. Switch was the first friend sheíd ever had on the NebĖĖthe only other person whose sense of humor was sharp enough to keep her entertained. And Apoc, with his quiet warmth. . . . She couldnít tolerate the thought that her salvation would be their destruction. It was the cruelest sort of fate. "You can get out of here. Go to Zion and work for the resistance there."

Switch shook her head then laughed ruefully. "Iíve read Oedipus enough times to know what happens when you pull stunts like that. Fate is fate." She got up to leave. "Oh Trinity, donít look like that. Weíve had a good time, havenít we?" She grinned. "I just hope itís something spectacular and unexpected. Like a great explosion. I like the thought that we could go out in a blaze of glory."

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