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Mini-Short Story
Created 01-26-2004 by Jayman, Crystal & Carrie
Based on concepts by Larry & Andy Wachowski

Year 099 A.Z. - One Year Ago

Pod-Birthday Dinner - Crystal

* 1 * - What's for Dinner?

After the "Valkyrie" rescue mission fails, and Valkyrie's body is laid to rest in the Zion Gardens in the last week of March 099, the crew of the Nosferatu finds time to lift its spirits with family and friends on 3 April 099, the celebration of Crystal's 7th pod-birthday. Following the mid-day party, Crystal and her two closest friends, Jayman and Carrie, plan to have a private dinner celebration at Crystal's living quarters.

    From his quiet living quarters, the captain of the Nosferatu, JAYMAN, winds his way through Zion... pushing the rattling cloth-covered cart through the dim corridors, along the busy bridges, into the ancient elevators, along more bridges, and through more corridors... until he finally reaches the familiar front door of his former lover, his lieutenant commander, and his closest friend for five years, CRYSTAL.
    Making sure that his large gift is secure on the metal cart, JAYMAN peeks once more under the heavy cloth. Straightening, he adjusts his black cap, takes a deep breath, and with the heel of his hand, bangs twice on the solid steel door.
    I sure hope she likes it, JAYMAN thinks to himself, smiling yet nervous. Yeah... she'll definitely like it.

    "It must be him," CRYSTAL smiles at CARRIE, standing beside her best female friend at the counter in the little kitchen of her quarters. Checking her clothes, unsure, she gives a questioning look to CARRIE.
    CARRIE smiles at CRYSTAL.
    "You look great, stop playing with the dress. And don't be so nervous. After all, it's your birthday!"
    CRYSTAL sighs, giving up. "Right," she smiles at her friend, and walks to the door.
    Opening the huge, heavy door, CRYSTAL faces JAYMAN, the most important person in her life. Even if they aren't together anymore, he'll always have the first place in her heart. Always. Anything may come...
    "Hi," CRYSTAL greets him with a warm smile.

    Pleasantly surprised by the colorful change in CRYSTAL's outfit -- a sheer, sleeve-less, knee-length dress in emerald shades that highlight her sparkling emerald eyes -- JAYMAN returns her smile with his own.
    "Happy birthday... again." Wearing his old black cap, off-white undershirt, grayish off-white pull-over shirt, black pants, belt, and boots, JAYMAN grins wider and turns to pull the wheel-squeaking cart. "Hope you don't mind... I got you one more thing."
    JAYMAN steps backward through the doorway, with one hand carefully lifting the cart up and over the six-inch-high lip at the foot of the door, and his other hand holding the top section of his heavy cloth-wrapped present.
    "Damn, I hate these doorways," he jokes, and lifts the second set of wheels over the threshold.

    Eyes widening in surprise, CRYSTAL watches JAYMAN's moves, as he manages to pull the cart inside.
    "But you shouldn't have..." she blushes a bit, having an embarassed smile in the corner of her lips.
    How was he able he bother with two presents at the same time, after all that has happened lately, she wonders. The failed mission, Valkyrie's death, the devastation of the crew...
    This put an extra weight on each crewmember's shoulders, especially on JAYMAN's. CRYSTAL noticed his suffering, even though he tried to hide them and seem strong. Being the captain of the Nos, JAYMAN had to take the responsibility for each member of the crew, and after Valkyrie's tragic death, which they tried to prevent after all, it wasn't easy to cope with this duty.
    He has been so weary and worn recently. So the fact that he cared to get not only one, but two gifts for her, touches her.
    Giggling at his 'doorway' remark, CRYSTAL asks him, "What's this?"

    Stepping around the other side to push the squeaking cart towards the main kitchen area, JAYMAN looks up at CRYSTAL and grins.
    "You'll see... maybe after dinner..." His eyes turn forward. "Wow, what smells good in here?"

    "The Queen of Kitchen has cooked something..." CRYSTAL smiles, turning her look to CARRIE.

    CARRIE turns around, leaving her little kingdom of pans and plates for a second, and smiles at JAYMAN.
    “Something? Everything plus magical spices,” she winks at CRYSTAL. “I hope you’ll enjoy it. Make yourself comfortable, Jay, dinner will be served in a minute.”
    CARRIE goes back to preparing her meals, wearing a mischievous grin.

    JAYMAN rolls the cart to a stop along the arching main wall, beside the near bedroom, and grins, "Well, whatever it is, it smells great!"
    He takes the cap off his shaved head, pulls a kitchen chair, and glances up at CARRIE. Like CRYSTAL, CARRIE wears a sleeve-less, knee-length dress. But hers is colored in a deep red, with straps tied behind her bare neck. Once again, he is pleasantly surprised.
    Over the past year since CARRIE was freed, JAYMAN noticed how she and CRYSTAL bonded, grew more attached... like long-lost sisters... CRYSTAL, needing someone to care for... and CARRIE, needing someone to look up to... They were good for each other... especially in a time of war and death and losing loved ones...
    Just as JAYMAN finds himself gazing at CARRIE a moment too long, he starts to look away, but catches the interesting smile on her face.
    "And what are YOU smiling about, Your Highness?"

    CARRIE takes a look at JAYMAN and then CRYSTAL.
    “I’m curious about your reaction to all those delicious things…”
    I guess I shouldn’t tell them everything, she thinks to herself, smiling.
    “I mean I… you’ve been on the ship for many weeks, eating nothing but goop. It might be a slight shock for your taste buds. Not to mention… Ah, never mind. Okay guys, here it is! Crème broccoli soup! Enjoy!”
    She puts the plates on the table and is about to sit when…
    “Oh, I almost forgot! Decoration!”
    With that, she grabs one of the thousand jars from the shelf and takes out two little green leaves. And, still wearing the same mysterious smile, she puts one in the middle of CRYSTAL's plate, and the other in the middle of JAYMAN's plate.
    “Bon apetit!”
    She sits down, putting on an innocent face.

    Listening to CARRIE's little speech, CRYSTAL smiles, amused by her friend's cheerful chatter.
    CARRIE always could make her smile by her innocent remarks and funny behaviour. They were like sisters. CRYSTAL was grateful to CARRIE for being there for her anytime she needed, listening to her sorrows, being glad for her happiness, understanding her more than anyone else. We are soulmates, she guessed.
    Hearing CARRIE exclaiming -- “Oh, I almost forgot! Decoration!” -- CRYSTAL can't help but giggle quietly. Typical Carrie, she notes in mind.
    While CARRIE is busy with the jars, CRYSTAL casts a glance at JAYMAN on her right, grinning.
    She returns her look back to her roommate just to see her putting the leaves in their plates.
    “Bon apetit!” CARRIE says.
    CRYSTAL stares at her plate for a moment, then turns her stare to JAYMAN again.
    "You heard her..." CRYSTAL notes with a smile, "I think we should give a chance to this thing..." She chuckles, glancing at CARRIE.

    JAYMAN grins in bewilderment of CARRIE, her odd but refreshing busy-bee energy, and the odd contrast of her delicate deep-red dress amidst the harsh metals and drab surfaces surrounding her.
    “Bon apetit!” CARRIE finally sits with an innocent face to CRYSTAL's left.
    JAYMAN and CRYSTAL stare at their plates, then stare at each other at the same time, smiling.
    "You heard her..." CRYSTAL says. "I think we must give a chance to this thing..."
    JAYMAN raises one eyebrow at CRYSTAL. "Are you sure?"
    He turns a curious smiling eye past CRYSTAL, to CARRIE. "Who knows what she put in this?"
    Then JAYMAN jokes lightheartedly, "We're not gonna turn into some kind of farm animals, are we?"

    CARRIE laughs at the question.
    “Of course not, though it wouldn’t be a bad idea. I would have lots of materials to practice my cooking skills on!”
    CARRIE looks at JAYMAN and CRYSTAL, suddenly serious, thinking about how lucky she is. Adjusting to the new life was hard, she was freed quite recently, leaving everything she loved behind. Yes, she was glad she stopped living in a lie. But still, her new life scared her. She wanted to help, wanted to be useful. And she found a sister. And now here she was, with her big sis and her friend. She didn’t know JAY well, but according to the things CRYS had told her about him, she liked him. She knew about his past relationship with CRYS, and felt sorry for them, not being together anymore. She thought they were such a nice couple... Maybe it was her age, but she would do anything to see them together again.
    “Anyway, I hope you will like it." Maybe my plan will work. They really should find each other again.
    "I also expect you will forget about everything that is going on outside and enjoy yourselves," CARRIE smiles, "After all, it is a joyous event.”
    CARRIE discovered the herbs only a few days ago, and remembering the effects they have, or were said to have, on people in the Matrix, she immediately thought about CRYS and JAY. Anything to make them happy.

    Appreciating CARRIE's intentions to feel good this evening, CRYSTAL smiles at her forever-teen friend. But what's that strange smile in the corner of her lips, she wonders.
    Giving up her resisting, CRYSTAL laughs, and looks at JAYMAN again.
    "I'm hungry... We should believe her..." CRYSTAL says and grabs her spoon.

    Continuing his playful delay, JAYMAN returns another skeptical yet smiling glance at CRYSTAL, then CARRIE, then CRYSTAL again. In the company of two beautiful and convincing friends, he finally gives up.
    "Sure, why not?" JAYMAN grabs his own spoon, then adds, "Okay, on the count of three..." He scoops a spoonful of the creamy-white green-speckled broth, and grins at CRYSTAL.
    "1..." He holds his spoon up to his mouth, and waits for CRYSTAL to do the same.
    "2..." He moves it closer.
    Then suddenly, JAYMAN realizes something, lowers his spoon, and narrows a suspicious eye at CARRIE.
    "Wait a second-- Where's your plate? Aren't you gonna join us?"

    CARRIE, her smile suddenly disappearing from her face, lowers her eyes and stares at the little empty space before her.
    “My plate? Erm… I’m not hungry…”
    Knowing that the excuse doesn’t sound very convincing, CARRIE tries to form another one. Where have all the lies gone? She could always tell a lie, to comfort someone, to survive. This was one of those uneasy moments. And she had to say something. Anything.
    “I mean I am, but not much. I can wait for the dessert. And I want to wait and… I’m allergic to broccoli?”
    A lie, definitely. A lame one. But maybe it will be enough and they won’t suspect anything? I didn’t do anything wrong, did I? It’s just innocent fun. Yes, fun. They have to have fun, they live in constant stress. A lame lie… More?
    “Yes. I am. Absolutely. Can you start eating now, please? The soup will get cold. And you do want a dessert.”
    CARRIE raises her head and looks at CRYSTAL, then JAYMAN. Now what? Should I leave the room, run to the temple and hide in the smallest hole or… change the topic! That’s it!
    "Anyway, how's life on the Nos?"

    Tasting the soup, CRYSTAL looks at CARRIE, with a surprised smile.
    "Hey girl, it's not bad at all... whatever you put in it..."
    Licking her lips, CRYSTAL looks at JAYMAN.
    "Come on... What are you afraid of? It's definitely better than the goop on the Nos... So I don't care what its ingredients are..."

    After witnessing CARRIE's bumbling but entertaining attempt to cover her motives, whatever they are, JAYMAN's jaw drops as he sees CRYSTAL take a sip from her raised spoon.
    "Hey girl, it's not bad at all," CRYSTAL smiles, "whatever you put in it..."
    "Hey!" JAYMAN protests.
    CRYSTAL looks at JAYMAN, "Come on... What are you afraid of? It's definitely better than the goop on the Nos... So I don't care what its ingredients are..."
    JAYMAN explains, "But I thought we were gonna taste it at the same-" he begins then sighs, "Oh hell, might as well..."
    With one last glance at the girls, JAYMAN scoops a spoonful, and carefully tastes the white-and-green soup.
    With the surprised raise of his eyebrows, JAYMAN grins, "Wow, you're right! That isn't bad at all! The last time I had anything like this was... was before I was unplugged! Wow..."
    A few moments later, JAYMAN wonders aloud, "What was the question again?"

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