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Role-Writing Fic (RWF) / Story
Created 02-25-2004 by Jayman
Contributions by Crystal, Agentcoopersgirl, & Spanish_gal
Based on concepts by Larry & Andy Wachowski

* CHAPTER 2 * - Lotus


Introduction by Jayman - We begin approximately two weeks following the events of "Chapter 1 - Rainfall" including the death of Fall, and the aborted "Lotus" mission. During these two weeks:

Fall was laid to rest in the Zion Gardens.

Veritas was let go from the crew to undergo medical and psychological observation.

Andromeda was granted her request to leave the crew and look after Veritas on Zion.

Avalon rejoined the crew after her stay on Zion.

Crystal was promoted to Commander and First Officer. With her promotion, Jayman offered to get back together with Crystal, but to take it slow for now. Of the new crew, only Avalon knows of their past relationship.

Jayman searched and found three new replacements for the crew: Hitchhiker, Miriam, and Libertad.

Note - Three years ago, Kan-chiang offered Libertad the red pill, and she was rescued. Following her rescue, sentinels attacked and the EMP was activated. After recharge, the Nos returned to Zion, but a catwalk collapsed, and Kan-chiang suffered fatal injuries. Jayman, Crystal, Avalon, and Libertad witnessed what is now called the "Accident." Avalon blames herself for not being able to save her captain. Libertad suffers guilt for being the reason for his death.

Setting by Jayman - We begin with the following scenes:

• The Nosferatu will depart from the Zion port in an hour to resume its "Lotus" missions.

• CORE - Hitchhiker (Lt. Cmdr., Operator, 31) is already onboard, fiddling with the Core systems and equipment.

• CORE - Jayman (Captain, 28) has left his quarters and is making his way onboard.

• QUARTERS - Crystal (Commander, First Officer, 26) is still in her quarters but will leave shortly.

• QUARTERS - Avalon (Medic, 26) is still in her quarters but will leave shortly.

• QUARTERS - Miriam (Crewmate, 24) is still in Hitch's family-sized quarters but will leave shortly.

• QUARTERS - Libertad (Crewmate, Asst. Medic, 18) is still in her quarters but will leave shortly.

Note - While Jayman met with everyone individually on Zion, the ship will be the first time everyone will meet everyone.

* 1 * - Good-Byes

    His black boots clunking up the loading ramp of the hovercraft Nosferatu, Captain Jayman made his way to the ladder, climbed up to the main deck, and with the corner of his lips, smiled at the formidable sight of his new operator, Lieutenant Commander Hitchhiker, fiddling with the Core systems. But the big black-skinned operator was definitely not new to the ship.
    Before Kan-chiang died, on those rare but precious occasions when his old captain wasn't so enigmatic, Jayman learned much from what he chose to tell him.
    Hitch, as he was nicknamed, had served onboard the Nos, as the ship was nicknamed, for five years, long before Jayman was captain, even before Jayman joined the ship seven years ago. With Captain Kan-chiang's reluctant permission, Hitch left the ship shortly after Million left the ship, to be with her on Zion, to stay with her where it was warmer and safer, comfort her as she grew hungrier and heavier, argue with her as she toyed with boys' and girls' names, and hold her as she gave birth to their beautiful baby boy.
    Jayman first met Hitch and his family at Kan-chiang's funeral three years ago. Hitch's beautiful wife Million. His close sister-like friend Miriam. And his little son Aaron. Aaron was the name they chose. Aaron. In memory of the 14-year-old pod-born, Miriam's twin brother, whom Hitch valiantly helped to free from the Matrix, but tragically failed to save, all those years ago. So long ago.
    The smile on Jayman faded.
    Less than two weeks ago, Jayman attended yet another funeral. For his First Officer and Operator, Commander Fall. Another bright light suddenly falling into darkness. But with her untimely death, he also lost two other crewmembers. Veritas, to undergo medical and psychological observation for her act of defense. And Andromeda, to watch over Veritas, the one who saved her life.
    For soldiers, pain, suffering, and death were always looming clouds or nearby shadows around the corner. But it was a necessary sacrifice, so that the rest of Zion could continue to live and breathe, until the time when humanity could return to the sunshine and fresh air once more.
    Jayman forced another smile. "Hitch, how's the ship?"

    "Are you ready for this new chapter of your life? Will you manage it?" Commander Crystal asked her image reflecting in the big wall-mirror. Waiting for an answer, she stared at the reflection's face, which showed sadness and joy at the same time.
    She still couldn't believe how life had turned upside-down in the last weeks. Her thoughts wandered back to that fateful day...
    That quarrel with Andy... Jayman's announcement about Fall's death... His tortured look when she faced her after unplugging her... and... his hand pulling back from the plug... covered with dark red stains of blood... For a second she feared that he had anything to do with Fall's death... But then she learned what Veritas had done...
    Sighing, Crystal bowed her head.
    She felt sorry for Veritas. On the other hand she also was grateful to her crewmate. If Veritas didn't interfere, Andy and her were dead now for sure. She wished she could help her. Visiting her in the medical centre before preparing to leave Zion again, she saw a tortured but hopeful, tired, pale girl, sitting in deep silence in the corner of her room, staring at the floor. Her sight almost broke Crystal's heart. Although Veritas had been new on the ship, and in the beginning of her trainings, Crystal had liked her and felt responsibility for the girl in some way. Andy's promise to be beside Veritas and take care of her was a bit reassuring.
    "This is all we can do for her at this time..." Crystal wondered loudly, glancing back at her image in the mirror as if she had waited for any agreement.
    And then Fall's funeral... Crystal went on recalling memories. She was missing Fall's irritating remarks, constant grumblings and jokes. It was unbelievable that she wasn't there with them anymore. She had wanted to go home, the home she once knew, as Jayman noted. Maybe that's why she was acting in that way.
    Crystal sighed, turning away from the mirror.
    Maybe unplugging people at that young age wasn't the best after all, she wondered. They couldn't understand the real meaning of this life-long decision at that time yet. If she had known that those instructions were the last words from their operator...
    Crystal wiped a tear off her eyes.
    Another lesson was learnt... Life is fragile and precious...
    She sat down at the kitchen table, the same place as Jayman when he had visited her after Fall's funeral. Thinking back of his visit, Crystal couldn't help but smile. That was the only good thing that had happened to her lately. She still couldn't believe that was true.
    "Would you be willing to try again... take me back?"
    His question had surprised her. She hadn't known that he still had feelings for her after all... However secretly she wished that... She could never forget him... and she didn't want to either. Now it seemed they got a second chance too. They agreed to take things slow at this time, which seemed to be the best way to build up a relationship between fears, failures, deaths and duties in a world that was in the middle of a cruel war. They both had things to sort out, understand and digest, and rushing things would have made everything only worse. And with her new rank, more weight, duties and responsibility was put on her shoulders, which she had to get used to and it was enough to cope with without any emotional obligations.
    Thinking of duties, Crystal glanced at her light baggage in the foyer, ready to leave. She got back to reality from her thoughts, and emerged from the chair. She wrote a note to her roommate, Carrie, and walked to the front door. Looking back once more at the living area, she said goodbye to her quarters, and left.

    "Hitch, how's the ship?"
    Turning his muscular two-meter frame to see his new captain, Operator Hitchhiker smiled warmly.
    "Morning, Captain," he answered then returned to his work, "I'm surprised... After seven years, the Nos has hardly changed at all."
    When Hitchhiker joined his first crew twelve years ago, his ship was the Nosferatu and his captain was his father Helios. But while new captains and crewmates and friends have come and gone, and died -- like his heroic father Helios, Unicorn, Threads, Sky, Flicker, even the indomitable Captain Kan-chiang -- through all of the stifling darkness, the hovercraft Nosferatu had survived, noble and strong, a steel-bolted legacy, in memory of all the soldiers and survivors who had served onboard or been freed by this war-battered century-old ship.
    Hardly changed at all...
    Seven years ago, Hitchhiker was one the lucky ones, lucky to begin a family with a beautiful woman, away from the front lines.
    He wished his mother could've known her. Aurora would've loved his wife... and their son...
    But seven years later, Hitchhiker was needed again. The Nosferatu had lost another in its long lineage of outstanding operators -- the fair-haired Unicorn, the always-joking Flicker, and the less-familiar Fall -- and Captain Jayman asked him to think about it.
    Hitchhiker was born to be an operator, to join a hovercraft crew in their war against the Machines, to fight the Machines as his father did, as his mother did.
    And his close friend for ten years would join him.
    "I'm just making some modifications," Hitchhiker added, "for Miriam's attachment."

    Unwillingly, Avalon opened her bleary green eyes.
    Hmm... she thought, One hour 'till i have to be on the ship. They'll never miss me.
    She pondered slapping the cursed alarm across the room. It would shatter into a billion pieces, and never mock her again. That thought brought joy to Avalon's heart, and she smilingly turned the alarm off.

    Water baths are a luxury in this life, and she was determined to enjoy this moment. Avalon lathered herself with the scented soap her roommate had made for her, and let the water stream down her face. Lingering for much longer than protocol allowed, she dreaded returning to the prison of a ship.
    If only I didn't feel such an obligation, she mused, to the past.

    Fully dressed and hair still damp, Avalon pored over the lists of medical supplies that were supposed to be loaded on the ship, checking to make sure nothing was forgotten. As her eyes stopped on distinct lack of syringes, Avalon sighed and stood up. She would have to leave early to get the missing supplies. Glancing quickly in her bag, Avalon noticed an addition. It was a small package with a note on it.
    "For when you get homesick."
    Avalon smiled at her best friend's handwriting. The bag was closed and shouldered as she headed out the door to the ship.

    "Bye, Milly," Miriam whispered, tears streaming down her flushed cheeks, as she hugged her dear friend. "I love you."
    They weren't blood relatives, but for the last seven years, Million treated Miriam with all the playfulness of a best friend, all the protection of an older sister, and all the love and patience of a forgiving mother.
    "I love you, too," Million softly began to sob, managing an understanding smile yet not daring to end this hug so soon.
    In the ten years since Million and Hitchhiker rescued her from the tenth-century virtuality, Miriam had grown from a lost little girl -- a fragile and frail fourteen-year-old, coping with the loss of her twin brother, her left arm, and for a time, her sanity -- to a knowledgeable, powerful, and beautiful woman joining a crew of the Rebel Fleet.
    "I'm so proud of you," Million added, reluctantly letting go.
    "I love you, too!" Cried the little six-year-old boy as he dashed to hug Miriam's legs. "Don't go!"
    "Oh no, Aaron," Miriam sniffled, "I have to..." She kneeled to wipe the tears falling from his wide amber eyes. "I have to watch your dad..." She rested her right hand on his left shoulder and squeezed it. "But you're the man of the house... You have to watch your mom, okay?"
    Aaron nodded slowly.
    "Don't worry, I'll be back soon."
    "You promise?" he pleaded.
    "I promise."
    Miriam hugged Aaron one more time before she rose and waved a hesitant good-bye. Yet despite the immediate sadness in her heart, she left with an undeniable purpose in her soul.

    "Damn it, damn it! Where did I put my hairbrush!!"
    She was pacing up and down her brand new home, regretting having moved. Why oh why didn't she stay with the family that had fostered her for 3 years?
    Because I'm an adult, she thought, still wandering about, messing up all the drawers, feeling like an animal in a cage.
    She was shaking with excitement. It was the first time she would be onboard a ship. She had been studying to become a crew member, a medic, and her wish had finally come true. Now she wished she hadn't wished.
    She sat on the floor, taking a deep breath.
    "Alright, chill," she whispered to herself, "you don't wanna die from a heart attack before even starting, right?" She stayed still for a couple of minutes, her eyes closed, slowing down. Then, she stood up quickly and went on looking for her brush.
    "Yes! I got it!" She immediately put it in her bag. What could she do next? It was still half an hour before leaving. She didn't fancy cleaning, she had made her bed... How horrible was being excited with nothing to do.
    She took her things and walked away. She didn't want to stay at home. She couldn't. She loitered a bit and then, went to the deck. It was soon, but she was eager to start her new life.

    "I'm just making some modifications," the operator added, "for Miriam's attachment."
    "I see," the captain noted with fascination.
    Stepping up to the tangle of cables, hoses, and tools surrounding Hitch's big boots, Captain Jayman glanced at the suspension chair, and the odd contraption resting in it -- a narrow forearm-length component with a series of short plug-tipped hoses. It looked like a long metal centipede with wiggly black legs. Where a head-needle interface would typically be connected, one end of this centipede was attached to a long cable that led from the chair to the Core system.
    Jayman never witnessed it in use, but from what Hitch proudly explained, the attachment interfaced with Miriam's upper arm, and in the Construct, allowed her to regain the fully restored use of her lost left forearm and hand, without the interference of re-imaging glitches.
    "Very good," he acknowledged with a tight smile, "I guess we'll see how it handles her in the Matrix."
    The captain gave a reassuring pat to his operator's huge back, and strode past the other chairs to his old familiar quarters. Swinging open and shutting the door behind him, he tossed his shoulder pack onto his bunk along the wall, and tossed himself into the chair beside his personal workstation.
    Peeking at the time display on one of the half dozen mini-monitors -- 0607 -- he leaned back in his tattered chair, took off his raggedy black cap, and rubbed the sandiness from his dark eyes.
    Almost an hour till launch... Man, I woke up too early...

    Half an hour later, after conducting his routine pre-flight visual inspection of the ancient hovercraft -- from the body scoop and ammo-loading stations on the lower deck, to the infirmary, engineering section, and gun stations on the main deck, and finally along the catwalks to the cockpit on the command deck -- Captain Jayman checked and rechecked the communication, navigation, and propulsion systems.
    Once again, he peeked at the on-screen time display -- 0639 -- and leaned back in the pilot's chair. Quietly, he gazed beyond the cockpit windshield at the descent and ascent of other hovercrafts within the cavernous Zion port.
    Everyone should be here in a few minutes... The new crew...

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