September > Watching and Waiting

Watching and Waiting

Neo was sleeping. It was a deep, total, undisturbed sleep. From the dark shadows still trapped under his eyes it was obvious this rest was well earned. Sprawled across his hard bunk, twisted in the single thin blanket supplied to every crewman, he looked the very epitome of worn out. Not even the persistent clanking of a loose cable in the Core bothered him as he snored on.

Standing just inside the open doorway, Trinity gazed on him. She liked to watch him when he wasn't aware of her. It brought back memories of the times she had studied him in the Matrix when he was still Thomas Anderson, a coppertop like the six billion others caught in the intricate program of lies. It seemed so long ago, but in reality it had only been a few short months. After decades living a steady pace of events, day in and day out, actions were taking place at breakneck speed now that Neo was out. Even those in Zion who didn't believe the One existed had noticed the change in proceedings.

The light flickered over his pale face, drawing the silhouettes of his eyelashes further down his cheeks in grey lines as the ship, and consequently Neo, rolled ever so slightly. The engineers in Zion had toiled over the Nebuchadnezzar until it was almost as good as new, but there were still a few kinks that would have to be ironed out with time. It was the best that Morpheus and Trinity could hope for; Neo, and their new operator Link, were new to the ship, but to the captain and his second-in-command it had been a home for years.

Neo twitched, drawing Trinity's attention back to him, but he did not wake. She stepped lightly to his side, and gently ran a hand over his head. Itchiness curled in her palm as flesh brushed over spiky hair only just growing back. It was a reminder of how young Neo was in the real world. Morpheus kept his hair shaved off purposefully, but Neo hadn't even had the time to make that decision. It saddened her that they had had to rush him so much. Most new releases from the Matrix were taken back to Zion, where they could gradually integrate themselves into the society of the free. Neo had come out older than most others, but had only ever been in Zion for a week or so. She never really stopped to think about it, but it must have been an awful shock to his system.

Neo sighed as Trinity's hand slipped over his cheek in a delicate touch. His skin was still baby soft. She loved that about him. She had seen much of both the real world and the fake world; Neo was a breath of fresh air for Trinity. In the metallic emptiness of the Neb, he was clean and live and new. She loved that.

But there, beneath her fingers, by his ear, was a purple bruise, marring his plain face. Memories of the previous day, much of which had been spent in the Construct, flashed across her mind, and she allowed herself to smile tenderly down at him. Neo had pushed himself to the limit and beyond, and while his RSI had looked utterly composed throughout Morpheus' challenges, his real body had suffered. Link had called them out when Neo's body coughed up blood. Drenched in sweat and shaking with exhaustion, Trinity had had to practically drag him to his bed. He fell asleep as soon as her arms removed their support. Trinity ran her thumb lightly over the bruise once more before her lips thinned with determination and she left the tiny room, careful footsteps still leaving a tinny echo in the room where Neo slept.

Morpheus gave her a quizzical look when Trinity climbed through the hatch to the Core unaccompanied. She ignored him for the most part, the image of Neo's bruise still clear in her mind, stirring up anger at her captain. She moved to stand behind Link and scanned the streaming green lines of code on the screen. Link's fingers were a blur as he set up a hardline for them somewhere in Sydney. The mission today was simple enough, one she had completed a thousand times before-- make first contact with a potential. The only reason Morpheus had ordered Neo to go also was to test him in real danger, inside the Matrix. Trinity almost frowned.

"All set," Link murmured, glancing over his shoulder at her. She nodded and moved to her station, setting it up without a thought to the process. The Core was abnormally tense and quiet without Link's constant rattling on the keyboard.

"Trinity," Morpheus called. She tilted her head slightly in acknowledgement. "Where is Neo?" Her hand halted, hovering above the screen. It bleeped, waiting for the next instruction.

"Neo is sleeping," she said quietly. Morpheus' weighty steps vibrated across the room as he moved towards her.

"But he has a mission. I told him so yesterday," he argued. Trinity bowed her head lower as her station bleeped once, twice, ready for action.

"It's my mission too," she muttered. A dark hand rested on her shoulder, and tugged her around to face its owner.

"I know Trinity, but Neo must gain experience in the Matrix--" Morpheus stopped abruptly at the look on Trinity's face. He hadn't seen her quite so angry in what seemed like forever; Neo had such a calming effect on her.

"Neo is sleeping," she repeated firmly, and he saw a flash of protectiveness in her crystal eyes. "He worked his butt off for you yesterday. You kept pushing and pushing, and he did it without a single complaint. The truth is Neo isn't used to the long hours using just his mind. You didn't see him yesterday; I practically had to carry him out he was so drained." This bit of information put a shocked expression onto Morpheus' face, followed by deep concern.

"Is he alright?" he asked quietly, as if afraid of waking him. Trinity laid herself in the worn leather recliner and waited for the metal spike to scrape uncomfortably through her implant.

"He'll survive," she said with finality. The last thing she heard in the real world was the persistent, reassuring hum of the engines.

Ever since Cypher's betrayal, painful as it had been, and Neo's death not long after, all investigative missions had been based somewhere other than the Heart o' the City Hotel. This made it much easier on Trinity, as all encounters with Agents put the fear of God into her, and room 303 just made those natural fears resurface. They had since moved to a disused storage room in a subway station, and it was here that Link sent her.

The door closed behind her with a resounding click, sealing her off from the rest of the Matrix. An old, creaky chair sat in front of a rickety desk. It always amused her that, although they could send in practically any object, every operator automatically sent in decrepit stuff 'to blend'. Not that the state of the art laptop on the desk was a dead giveaway. She settled herself in for the watch, wincing at the screeching chair beneath her. As they were so short of crew, the observing process had been altered since Neo. Instead of someone always being in, now they had someone in for some of the time. It was just hoped that the Agents wouldn't try to eliminate any hope of getting the person in question out.

Trinity's charge of the moment was a young boy named Kiwi, a tentative hacker who had really only been found because he asked the strangest questions in chat rooms that everyone else tended to ignore. He reminded her of Mouse. He wasn't very old, fourteen at the most, but the younger the mind the easier they found it to leave their previous life behind.

'Good afternoon, Kiwi,' she typed with ease. Every crew trying to free minds from the Matrix used the same routine, because it worked. Most hackers were so shocked to find their firewalls had been breached that they automatically agreed to a meeting. Neo was different, in that he hadn't fallen for the mysterious crap they had tried to pull on him. He was too old to have believed in that, which is why he had almost climbed out of the car. Usually, being secretive drew the youths in like Agents to the rebel.

There was a pause before Kiwi typed back, 'How did you get into my computer?' Trinity could almost feel his curiosity through the monitor. Her lips twitched with amusement.

'I can do a lot of things that would amaze you,' was her swift answer. Another pause, this one longer and far more tense. It was as if she had been taken back in time, to when she had first had some stranger typing cryptic messages across her screen, how amazed she had been. Those memories, of her discovery of the truth, were always surprisingly pleasant to think about when she allowed herself the time.

'Who are you?' Kiwi asked. Bingo. The million dollar question. The next stage had to be handled tactfully or she risked losing a potential soldier to the cause. That was how the freed minds were viewed, as potential soldiers. Every extra body helped a little.

'You want to know so much. Who I am is unimportant. Why bother with the insignificant questions when you know there is something more?'

An underground train roared along the tracks, and though this was out of the ordinary, Trinity was too focused on her task to give the occurrence much thought. She ignored that the rickety table shuddered, and the door rattled. Kiwi's response was far more hesitant.

'It's never quite right when I wake up. I feel like I'm still dreaming. Do you feel like that?'

'Not anymore.' Her fingers halted above the keys when she felt a tingle down her spine. She couldn't sense or read code, that was strictly a party trick of the One, but she had good instincts when it came to danger. And now she felt it edging closer like a cheetah stalking the gazelle. 'I'll contact you,' she typed as quickly as she could, before closing the laptop down. The whirring had only just ceased when the door slammed open, coinciding with her phone ringing shrilly. She didn't bother to answer it, knowing that it was only Link warning her of the approach of the Agent that was now stood just before her. Trinity's face remained utterly calm, but she could feel her heart rate rising with panic. It didn't take much to imagine the screen by her station beeping in time with her pounding blood. She was trapped.

The Agent stepped forward with calculated precision. "Whom were you contacting?" he asked. She did not answer. Sunglass eyes met sunglass eyes. Trinity held her breath. She watched dazedly, as if it were in slow motion, as the Agent's fist rose, and flew through the air towards her face. It connected with a resounding smack.

Brown eyes snapped open suddenly. They flicked about the cold metal cabin, garishly lit by the single fluorescent light, as the mind behind them tried to remember what had caused the abrupt awakening. All was as quiet as was normal on the ship. The eyes blinked.

A phantom of pain ghosted through Neo's torso as he sat up, untangling the blanket from his legs out of habit. It didn't hurt him, but he knew that someone was getting the full force of it. He also had a suspicion as to who it was. He felt mildly queasy when he stood, and there was the distinct taste of blood at the back of his throat from the previous day's exploits, but it didn't stop him from making his swift way to the Core.

Link's typing was more forceful than necessary, and Neo could hear Morpheus' heavy padding as he paced across the floor the nearer he got to his destination. His anxiety increased tenfold.

"Hey," he croaked. Morpheus blanched at the sight of Neo; he didn't think that was a good sign. Then he caught view of Trinity, prone in her chair, blood just leaking from the corner of her mouth. Neo clambered up the rungs and flung himself in her direction. Now that he was closer to her still body the machine that measured her vitals beeped noisily in his ear; he tried to ignore how fast it was going. His fingers wove between hers out of habit as he wiped the red smear from her lips. "Agent?" he asked. Morpheus nodded.

"She's still at the subway," Link said. Neo looked over at him.

"In Sydney? I thought I--"

"You were," Morpheus interrupted, without inflection. "Trinity felt you needed your rest and opted to go in alone. It's no different to any other mission." Neo stared at him.

"Except this time there's an Agent in there. They're watching us and everything we do," he deduced. Morpheus bowed his head. Trinity's body shook with imagined force as the Agent knocked her all over the subway. Suddenly Link gasped.

"What is it Link?" Morpheus asked, moving to stand behind the operator. They both scanned the streaming Matrix code, their faces reflecting the green.

"What?" Neo pushed from his vigil at Trinity's side.

"Go, go, go, go, go! She's running! Neo, she's running! Not fast, but still!" Link cried. Neo managed to tear himself away from Trinity to stare at the monitors. Her erratic breathing seemed to echo in the Core, and Neo could feel a light throb in his leg where she was obviously badly hurt. He watched for a moment, before coming to a firm decision.

"Send me in," he said while dashing over to his station, feet clanking heavily in his haste. Link tried to stutter out a refusal, but Morpheus prevented him.

"Set up a hardline as close as possible to her. Neo will handle the rest." Neo lowered himself into his chair, wincing as Morpheus slid the spike into his head. Glancing over, he kept the image of Trinity foremost in his mind as he was sucked forcefully into the Matrix.

She had to keep running. One foot in front of the other. Blank her mind, ignore the pain. Just keep running. Even though it wasn't real, and on an intellectual level she knew this, Trinity couldn't help how her lungs rasped for air, how tears leaked from her eyes as she put pressure on her damaged leg. It felt too real to her right then.

She stumbled, crashed into a dumpster, got up, kept moving. The Agent wasn't far behind her, she knew. It was just good luck that he had thrown her through the wall and into the maintenance train, which had then immediately pulled out. She thought she could hear steady footfalls behind, but didn't dare risk glancing behind her. Hand pressed firmly against her thigh in a desperate attempt to stem the blood flow that was already creating a telltale trail along the floor, Trinity turned a corner, leaning heavily against the wall even though the rough brick tore at her skin, and glanced up.

The Agent was there, black suit spotless and shades boring right through her like a virus in a mainframe. They stood utterly still, and she watched again as his hand rose through the air with lethal grace, this time wielding a gun. Trinity's eyes locked on it, followed it as the barrel was lined up with her forehead. It was a small target, but an Agent could shoot with precision if allowed time to follow the correct codes of conduct. The bang echoed deafeningly in the alley as the Agent fired.

It didn't really matter to Neo where Link set him up, so long as it was somewhere in Sydney. He was in an old warehouse by the docks, judging by the overpowering scent of the sea and the screeches of the seagulls wheeling above. He stepped outside and called Link.


"Where is she?"

"Six miles north-west of you," Link said.

Neo hung up. Taking a deep breath, he crouched, clenched his fist and watched as the world rippled around him. Then he was off, flying through the air at breakneck speed towards Trinity. He didn't care if anyone saw his airborne form and wondered at it, all that mattered was reaching the love of his life before it was too late. The Matrix flashed, he saw the code for a bullet emerge, and put even more effort into his flight, forcing himself faster and faster.

He wasn't going to make it; he wasn't going to be in time. He would be there to see the bullet pierce her soft body, erupting with a shower of crimson. Neo's mind recoiled at the image that made his blood run cold with terror. He couldn't let it happen. Not to Trinity. He needed her. It was the desperate fear of losing her that drove him on.

A maze of alleyways, dumpsters and rubbish bags, a trail of blood, all this he saw in strips of coding. The bullet was speeding through the air, but not as fast as Neo. He dipped lower to head height, stretched out his arms and gripped a body gratefully thrumming with life.

One moment, she was thinking of Neo as she inched closer to her doom. Trinity thought of his big brown eyes and perfectly naïve outlook on life outside of the Matrix, though he was fast becoming accustomed to the ways of the world. She regretted not having spent more time with him, but they had all been so busy. Between limping back to Zion, the outrageous actions and events that had transpired there because of Neo's special abilities, and Morpheus' continued training of their saviour, they simply hadn't had that time. She had declared her love for him months ago and they still slept in separate rooms.

Suddenly, a moment after those jumbled thoughts had tumbled through her brain, arms encircled her, but Trinity recognised them and didn't fight them off as they pulled her out of the path of the bullet. She was clutched tightly to a firm chest, and at last she felt utterly safe. Her head lolled against Neo's shoulder. Trinity watched through half-lidded eyes as the world passed by in a blur. She was being swept out of danger, and relief coursed through her like a drug. Neo's hand rubbed at her back, and she smiled into his neck.

They glided through the air for what seemed like forever, but Trinity was beyond caring. After that near-death experience, she was quite willing to forego thought and just bask in Neo's warmth. Inside the Matrix he was the strong one, the one who had all the answers. Eventually they descended, but Trinity didn't need to open her eyes to know where they were, what with the incessant birdcalls and the foghorns and the overpowering smell. She was surprised to see, however, that they weren't anywhere near Sydney harbour. Neo had flown them both to a cliff that towered high above the city. White waves broke in foam and froth at the base of the rocks far beneath them, crashing with awesome power.

Neo lowered her onto the lush grass, kneeling next to her in order to explore the extent of the damage done to her leg. His fingers were gentle, probing, and Trinity bit her lip to keep from whimpering. She really wasn't that badly hurt, now that her mind had a chance to recover from the ordeal. Neo being with her just gave her the extra boost she needed to cope with the injuries.

"Are you okay?" he asked her, eyes searching. Her mouth quirked, the smile she had for him, and nodded.

"I'm fine." A few lines on his forehead disappeared as the worry left him. Trinity reached up and pulled his head to hers for a sweet kiss. "C'mon, let's go," she murmured when they pulled apart. Neo swept her into his arms again, causing her to give him a half-hearted glare. He just smiled shyly, bent his knees and took off, lifting her effortlessly with him. With one hand caressing the back of Neo's neck mindlessly, Trinity flipped on her phone and called Link.

"Operator," he said, sounding almost hesitant.

"Link, we need an exit," she replied.

"It's good to hear your voice, ma'am," said softly. His fingers wrapped noisily on the keyboard as he punched in the correct commands. "Done. See you soon." The line went dead.

Neither Trinity nor Neo spoke as they landed, walked along the docks as if they were a normal couple, snuck into the empty warehouse that Neo had first started in. The phone was already ringing, and although Trinity was much improved she was still injured, so Neo helped her limp over to the table and offered her the phone first. It was eerily reminiscent of the subway incident with Agent Smith, now happily deleted. Neo still glanced around the warehouse an extra time, just to be sure there wasn't a gun aimed at his head.

The phone dropped to the table, its empty whine echoing in the cavernous warehouse.

Mopheus was already supporting Trinity out of the Core and down to the medical bay when Link removed the spike from Neo's skull. Despite Link's care, it still scraped painfully. Neo got up cautiously; in the Matrix he didn't feel a thing, but his body still reacted to the mental strain of flying across a city. And he had been so frightened for Trinity, the adrenaline rush was only just ebbing. He felt utterly drained.

"You okay?" Link asked. Neo nodded, but didn't try to move again as the deck suddenly spun about his head. "Neo?"

"Just a little dizzy," he muttered hoarsely. Link perched himself on the adjacent chair and offered a cup of water to Neo, who took it gratefully, letting the metallic taste of the water wash away the metallic taste of his blood. There was silence for a long moment.

"Can I ask you something Neo?" said Link. Neo looked up at him uncertainly, but nodded regardless. The Core did not spin so distractingly this time. "How did you do that?"

"Do what?" said with confusion.

"That!" Link gestured towards the operator's station where the screens still displayed the endless streams of green code. Neo glanced over.

"I... I don't--" he hazarded, uncomfortable as always when speaking of his unique abilities inside the Matrix. Link gave him a strangely piercing look.

"I saw you fly across Sydney like-- like Superman!" Link deflated at Neo's blank expression. "You don't know how you did it?" Neo shook his head, took another sip of the water.

"I just do it. It takes concentration, I have to focus on what I want done, but I'm not aware of how I manipulate the code around me," he explained vaguely. Link pinched his lips, and accepted the cup back off Neo when he moved to stand. He staggered a bit, but refused Link's balancing hand and followed the route Morpheus had taken out.

It was more difficult than Neo would have liked to admit to get down the ladder. His fingers were clammy with sweat, and he couldn't grip too well, but he felt he was getting better. He was becoming used to doing such extreme stunts with his mind in the Matrix; perhaps one day he would be able to do them without any consequences. A small voice whispered in his mind, 'Perhaps one day I might not have to do them at all'.

"Neo," Morpheus greeted, suddenly materialising out of the shadow. Neo jolted at the interruption of his thoughts.

"Morpheus," he returned cordially. Morpheus looked troubled by something, if the small frown was anything to go by, so Neo automatically questioned, "What's wrong?" Morpheus seemed to grimace.

"I feel I owe you an apology, again," said he. Neo was a little taken aback, but remained silent. "I am sometimes carried away in my mission, to find and train the One. It is you who must suffer the consequences of my eagerness, and I realise I often forget that you are still human, just as I am. I hope you can forgive me. I will no longer push you beyond human endurance," he paused, smiling ironically into the middle-distance," even if you are the One."

Neo stood awkwardly, undecided on any course of action and unable to think of anything to say. Morpheus had pushed him hard, he could accept that, but he thought all the new recruits were trained as vigorously as he. His training just had to be taken a step further to accommodate his... differences. Morpheus ended his dilemma by moving first, glimpsing at Neo's face as he moved past him in the direction of the cockpit; they were obviously going to descend from Broadcast level. Neo glanced up at the door at his side, at the words fading on it: 'Med Bay'.

It squealed painfully loud as he pushed it open. Trinity was perched on the hard table that passed for a bed in there. Next to it was the platform where Neo himself had lain for a month or more while his muscles were stimulated into working properly for the first time.

"It seems the tables have turned," Trinity announced, grabbing his attention. "Yesterday it was me nursing you back to health." The quirk in her lips allowed Neo to see that she was playing, and not really annoyed. This put him on alert anyway, because Trinity was rarely ever playful. He ducked his head under some loose cables and moved to a huge crane-like machine. It was actually a scanner, but it resembled more of the car-manufacture contraptions in the Matrix. He manoeuvred it over her torso, and pressed a large green button on the side. It blipped twice before a red beam appeared on her body, mapping the contours as it scanned her innards. The image it created was displayed on a blue screen, which Neo was studying. It gave his face a navy tint to it.

"You'll live," he announced softly after a long, concentrated silence. With a shove from Neo, the machine withdrew into a far corner. Trinity was watching him with intense eyes. He felt rigid under her gaze. "What?" he asked, so quietly it nearly didn't make it past his lips. She took a deep breath, but her eyes drifted to the floor. Now Neo was alarmed.

"Don't-- don't expect me to stay out of the Matrix just because of today," she said, almost hesitantly. He gave her a reproachful look as he pulled her shirt up slightly so he could examine the extent of the surface bruising. He pressed gauze to a leaking spot near her kidneys, and taped it down.

"You'd probably beat me up if I even suggested it," he answered with slight self-depreciation. She looked sceptical. Neo sighed. "I would only ever ask if I had a very good reason. Very good." Trinity studied him a moment longer, but the sincerity shining clearly in his face convinced her and she closed her eyes. She knew it was very distracting trying to work with someone watching you. His fingers glided over her skin tenderly, reverently, as he explored for more injuries. The scanner could detect major problems with inner organs, but completely missed bruising on the surface. Her trousers were tugged past her waist, and she allowed herself to peek at Neo's face, pinched with his intense focus. There was a light blush in his cheeks as he probed the black and blue markings on her thigh, taping down more gauze. She closed her eyes again, feeling utterly safe with Neo even though her trousers were around her knees. Exhaustion hit her swiftly and unexpectedly and soon her breath had deepened into peaceful sleep.

Neo brushed the hair from her face, content to simply watch her dozing for a minute. Smiling tenderly, he hoisted her into his arms and carried her to her cabin. She sighed as he set her down, fidgeting slightly as Neo removed her shows and pulled the thing blanket over her body. As he turned to leave, suddenly Trinity's arm snaked out and clutched his wrist with surprising strength. He faced her again, saw her eyes were half clouded with sleep, but could not miss the clarity in her words as she said...

"No, stay." He stilled, unsure, but an insistent tug at his arm urged him to climb in beside her. Trinity curled into his embrace, her warm breath dancing along his throat in the gentlest caress. He was not long after her into the abyss of sleep. It was the first night they had slept in the same bed, but it was most certainly not the last.

End of Transmission

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