Jade reached the ships core and found Clutch hard at work behind the monitors. She walked up behind him. "You found him yet?" Jade asked.
"Hey, give me a break, princess. So far I got zip. What with the word being out and all about what we've been up to, I wouldn't be surprised if the guy's went into hiding somewhere."
"Well keep trying. let me know when you got something." She turned to walk away.
"You sure that's a good idea?" jade stopped walking and turned back to him. "I mean, i don't even think you guys should even be jacking back in with this much heat on us."
"Just keep looking. I want to know the moment you have something." Jade turned and left the room.
She tried to make her way back to her quarters as quickly as she could before she ran into...Cronus. He stood right in front of her, blocking her path. Jade's attempt to step around him was futile. he simply moved to the side to further block her. "Get out of my way," Jade said to him as politely as she could.
"Not until you tell me why."
"Why what? Why I seem to be the only one willing to do anything about the situation we're stuck in?"
"No. Why you seem to be the only one who wants to get us all killed," Cronus said.
"If you're worried about the machines attacking Zion don't bother. They'll just be coming after me."
"You sure about that?"
"Positive. They've gotta know that that any attempt to destroy our city would only hurt any chance they had of saving their power source. We've got them right where we want them."
"Well I guess that just means this ship is in danger. Since they'll be coming after you. Not to mention everybody else aboard this ship. And any other vessel that approaches broadcast depth. Or did you even stop to think of that?" Jade just looked at him for a moment.
"It has to be done, Cronus. We have to stop this. The machines. They have to be stopped. The matrix must be destroyed."
"What makes you think you're the one to do it? Have you even consulted the Oracle?"
"Who says I have to? Look. All I need is for you to trust me. The rest is already being taken care of." Jade walked around him and he didn't stop her.
She continued on to her quarters unsure of the steps her captain would take to prevent her next move. Jade knew that Cronus's loyalties would be to his ship and the occupants aboard. Where the humans that remained within the matrix would fit into his priorities she was still unsure of. It was going to be a chance she woud have to take if he was going to stand between her and finding the fifth code she needed to complete her mission.
"Hit it, Clutch," Cronus ordered. With a flurry of keystrokes the minds of Jade's crew mates were no longer among them and Cronus was the only one left to answer her. "It's just a routine run, Jade. They can handle it. No need for you to get yourself all in a huff."
"Since when is anything we do in there simply routine? It was obviously enough for you to purposely not include me. Or am I reading too much into that?" Jade fumed.
"Your inclusion would have only brought unneccesary danger to the mission. Your presence in the matrix would be a death sentence to anyone around you. I'm the captain of this ship and I based my decision on what would ensure the highest level of safety for my crew considering the situation. Sorry if you feel left out, but I ahd more important things to worry about." Clutch tried hard to ignore the conversation that was going on behind him but it wasn't easy.
"Well then I guess you made the right decision. I could always count on you for that."
"You never did really answer my question," Cronus said as he walked around the chair Ramrod sat in and moved toward her. "Why are you doing this?"
"That's funny. I was pretty sure we'd been through this. Have fun with your little mission." Jade turned and started to walk out of the room.
"Why do you hate them so much?" Cronus asked her. She stopped moving and stood in place for a moment. Jade turned to face him. "For the record, I really don't think we ever covered this."
"You have to ask?" Jade said.
"I don't mean the obvious reasons. I'm talking about what it is that's driving you to this. We all know the threat the machines pose to humanity. But there's not a soldier I know that would go to these lengths just to stop them. What I want to know is the threat they pose to you."
Jade turned and left the room with cronus close behind. She got as far as outside the door before she stopped and leaned back against the wall. Cronus came out of the room and stood in front of her. "The matrix," Jade said to him. "It's not real."
Cronus saw the hurt in her face as she looked toward the floor. "You just now coming to that realization?"
"It isn't real, Cronus. That means they made it all up and that they can make whatever they want out of a human life. Whatever they wanted it to be."
"Your parents," Cronus said. His eyes found the floor beneath him as Jade's found him. "You blame them for your life."
"They're the reason for everything. My life in the matrix. My life outside of it. They did all of it."
"Jade, we're free now. What we make of the world is ours to decide."
"If they did that to me imagine what they're doing to countless others. Cronus, we have to stop them. We have to make it so that they can't have the slightest effect on the outcome of any human life. They have to be stopped."
"But they do effect us, Jade. They effect us because that's what we created them to do. Stopping what they're doing to us now, that might be an option, but the end of them? Come on, where does it stop? We gotta think this thing through, Jade. Talk to me." Cronus looked her int he eye. "This has got to stop."
"It'll stop when they're gone. You better get back in there. They might need you." Jade walked down the corridor away from him. She did all she could not to look back. The future of her mission depended on it. A mssion that was going to be more personal than she'd previously expected.
"What the hell did you do that for?" Clutch pulled himself back up ito the chair. "Aren't you suppose to be asleep with the others?"
"Why don't we worry less about my sleeping habits and more about that fifth and final code you're suppose to be helping me find."
"What do you mean helping you, blondey?" Clutch said to her. "I'm the one who's been spending hours and hours of what's suppose to be mypersonal time scouring the depths of the unreal to find this mystery man of your."
Jade gently smacked the back of his head with the back of her hand. "Your immence sacrifice is duly noted. What did find?"
"It wasn't easy. Now that your little secret is out I actually think the bugger went into hiding. But I got him." Jade walked over to one of the chairs and sat in it. "What are you doing now?" Clutch asked as he turned around to look at her.
"What does it look like?"
Clutch got out of his seat and walked over to her. "You know, my shift ends in about an hour."
"So why are you wasting my time?" Jade said. Clutch placed the jack in the back of her head. He watched as she closed her eyes then leaned down and kissed her lips. He was pulling away just as her eyelids shot open. "I'm gonna kill you, Clutch. What the hell was that?" She watched him walk back to his seat.
"I figured I deserved something for all the trouble I've taken on thanks to you." He sat down in his chair and punched at the keyboards. "And if you killed me, who would you get to help you?"
"Just hit the damn button," Jade said. She closed her eyes again.
"Don't worry. I'll do worse once you're inside." Clutch worked at the keyboard.
Jade looked down at the estate grounds from the grassy hilltop she stood on. From what she could see Clutch had gotten her just close enough so that she wouldn't be detected by the armed guards patrolling the grounds beneath her. Jade reached in her coat pocket and pulled out her cell phone. "I'm in," she spoke.
"Congratulations," Clutch said over the phone.
"Can you get me in?"
"Will do. Just hold a sec. There's a revolving patrol that covers that area of the gate. There'll be a gap in a little while."
Jade listened to his instructions over the phone as she made her way down the hill toward the gated area. She leaped over barred enclosure. Soon Jade found herself within the confines of the main house on the property. She managed to take out a few guards along the way and she now listened as Clutch spoke to her reguarding the layout of the enormous mansion.
"There's something weird about that place. Probably one of the reasons it was so hard to find. Somebody really messed with the coding there so the structurals I give you might not be exact."
"What about personnel? You gonna be right on with that?"
"Don't worry. I got that part covered. On the other hand, maybe you should worry. I'm reading some serious Agent activity dangerously close to you."
"Then you better hurry," Jade said as she hurried down the hallway she was in.
"Sure you don't want to reconsider this?"
"Just let me know what's in front of me and what's behind me," Jade said pumping her arms and legs harder as she moved through the house. She knew that the presence of the Agents meant that they were once again on to her and were on a mission to stop her objective. Now, she was not only in a race against time, but against the machines themselves.
Clutch's voice and information brought her little comfort despite how much its presence aided her along her path. Jade made the right and sure enough came across a pair of pistol weilding chaps that seemed most displeased with her being within the confines of this manor. They weren't the first and, by her utilizing every ounce of the skills afforded her, they definitely wouldn't be the last. Jade's next step after the rounds they unleashed came her way was on the wall to her right. As were the next four as she proceded in their direction. They continued firing and her feet continued in an uward angle as she dodged the digital projectiles until finally one of them reached the ceiling. After the first step onto the roof of the hallway she pushed off and dove directly into the gentleman slash security guard that stood to the left of the other.
The second guy wasn't forgotten as her collision with the first took her into a roll that placed her once upside down body into an upright seated position on the primary guard and allowed her to push off the ground into the other. They were both disarmed rather quickly, allowing her to continue on her way toward her initial target. Jade pulled the cell phone out of her trench coat pocket. "Got anything else for me, Clutch?" she spoke into it.
"Up the stairs at the end of the hall, third door on the left."
Jade hung up the phone and stuffed it back in her pocket. She bolted up the stairs and made a beeline for the door Clutch indicated. In the back of her mind she pondered the Agents the her operator had mentioned were in her immediate vicinity. She hadn't seem any sign of the systems control since she'd penetrated the walls of this hideaway. All she'd come across were the would-be bodyguards of an exile fearing the termination of its existence. They had to be somewhere. Jade heard the gunshot as she twisted the doorknob. The phone in her pocket began to ring and her intuition told her that good news wasn't waiting on the other side.
Jade opened the door. The phone in her pocket continued to blare as she stared down at the corpse with the hole in its forehead that was slumped against the side of the bed. She looked away from the bed toward the left of it and saw the suit. She was frozen in place. Jade couldn't believe it. Everything she'd worked for. Everything she'd suffered for. Everything she'd risked every life in the city of Zion for had been extinguished with a single shot from the sentient program standing in front of her now. Jade was at a loss. She squeezed off a few rounds at the suit and watched him dodge them all with an Agent's precision. As he raised the gun he held up toward her she pushed off her feet and out the doorway opening behind her. The slightly ajar door that she bumped into on her way out hit the wall on the doorway and slammed closed on it's way back around. Jade returned the few shots that came through the wood. When she got to her feet again and reopened the perforated door she found her target still dead on the floor and his assassin, which was now in the digital shape of his maid, also dead by his side. She answered the phone in her pocket. "He's dead."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"How's this? Head out the bedroom window. There's an exit north at the end of the block."
"That's the least of my problems right now. I didn't get the code! The last code!"
"Screw that!" Clutch yelled over her cell phone. I gotta get you outta there. And needless to say, it ain't gonna be easy."
"Do your worst, Clutch. Just get me out of here. Now!"
He guided her through alright. Did what could be considered among his top five jobs of operating. There were Agents to dodge, exiled programs to evede. But in the end he guided her through. Jade made it to that telephone down the block. When Clutch pulled the plug out of the back of her head she sat up quick.
"He killed him," Jade said.
"You don't have to tell me that." Clutch looked to the left as he spoke. Jade turned in that direction and found Cronus's face staring at her. She gasped involuntarily.
"Glad to have you back," Cronus said to her.
"Wish I could say the same," Jade stated.
"I'm glad you can't," Cronus said. "You've got some explaining to do."
She really did. She just wished someone could explain it to her. The final link in her chain to disable the matrix once and for all had been severed. Given her connection to the powers that governed such a link, she didn't think that that was possible. But it had happened. And now her little expedition, an unlawful and ill advised expedition, was part of the captain of the Phoenix's common knowledge. Jade had some explaining to do. Both to herself and to her captain. She just didn't know which one of them was most worthy of an explination of the night's events.
"What do you think, Cronus?" Jade said. "I got hungry. Went inside for a bite."
She was still making jokes. But Cronus, on the other hand, refused to hide how furiously serious he was. It was a good thing they were alone in the ships mess hall. Jade leaned down on one of the metallic tables she sat at with her arms folded in front of her while Cronus remained standing against the wall to her left. "You were under direct oders to stay out of the matrix and you went in anyway," Cronus said to her.
"I don't remember any direct orders," Jade said perking up on the table. "What I do remember is being purposely excluded from any and all missions by a certain captain that wouldn't so much as talk to me about it before making his decision."
"Well you won't have to worry about technicalities any longer. We're headed back to Zion. And you can split hairs with the Council if you want, but I can assure you thay're going to agree with me that you shouldn't so much as set foot on another hovercraft, let alone in the matrix until they say otherwise. I really hope whatever it was you accomplished in there tonight was worth it."
Jade cringed at the thought as she watched Cronus push himself off the wall and take his leave of her. "Why are you doing this?" she said to his back before he made the corner that would take him out of the mess hall.
"I thought it was obvious by now." He turned to face her. "I'm trying to save your life." He turned back around. "And the lives of my crew," Cronus said softer as he continued down the corridor.
Jade pounded her fist against the tabletop, frustrated. She didn't know if Cronus heard it or not but it didn't matter at the moment. She was sure he was gone. And what she was even more sure of was the fact that her last venture into the matrix had been for nothing. She had wasted her time. Her precious time. Time she didn't have for such failures. Jade put her forehead down on top of her forearms.
Kyla walked in the mess hall. Jade lifted her head at the sound of her footsteps but then put it down again once she realized it wasn't Cronus. "What do you want?" Jade said to her.
"Glad to see you're so concerned," Kyla said as she continued into the room. She scrounged up a small metallic container and a spork and made her way to dispenser that supplied the goop the crew of the Phoenix called sustenance.
"What the hell is that suppose to mean?" Jade asked her.
"Nothing." Kyla sat down at the table across from her and began to consume her meal. "Just seems like you've been into your own thing lately, that's all."
"You been talking to Cronus?"
"Not lately. I just noticed that you've been off into your own world. But according to Cronus you've started callingit your mission."
Jade didn't like the smirk she wore as she spoke. "What are you even doing in here," she asked her. "Shouldn't you be in your bunk?"
"Nope," Kyla said as she ate another sporkful of her meal. "It's time for my shift."
"Well good for you." Jade got up and left the mess hall.
The Phoenix pulled into dock at Zion. Jade could feel the tension building inside her as the hovercraft she was aboard and its crew pulled into its landing station. She could almost feel the squeeze of the Council's power and their mandates beginning to wrapped around her neck as they pulled in through one of the gates. Jade's shipmates began to depart the ship. She made sure to hang to the back as she double check this and triple checked that. Even when the whole of the Phoenix's crew had made it off the ship Jade continued to hang around the docks for a few hours. She knew that Cronus was most likely wasting no time in making his report to the Council and that the very vitality of her mission right now rested in her ability to avoid their wrath.
She saw Brax. He wasn't headed away from the docks. In fact, it was just the opposite. Jade saw him and the rest of the crew of the Adamant making their way toward their ship, most likely to depart the city for the tunnels that lie ahead. She made her way to him. Jade avoided Shiloh, doged Killion, and sidestepped Reno to get to Brax. If there ever was a captain she could trust then it would have to be him.
"You guys going out," Jade asked him as she back peddled in front of him as he walked.
"That's right," Brax said. "Something I can do for you?"
"Yeah." Jade turned around and kept pace beside him as he walked. "But I'm not sure if you'll be up to it."
"Take me with you," Jade said.
"I need to be on a ship right now. The Phoenix is grounded and I need to be airborne."
"I assume you presence on our ship will be strickly off the record? Putting me in quite the position to recieve the reprocussions for whatever it is you're up to." They continued walking.
"Is that a yes?" Jade asked.
Brax stopped walking, as did she. They faced each other. "Can you really bring an end to the matrix?"
"Look, Brax. I'm not making promises. And I'm not making prophesies. I don't know what you know, but all I can tell you is that if I don't get back into the matrix sometime in the near future then the plan you're talking about that could quite possibly mean the destruction of the matrix will be as good as another false memory. So what do you say? Will you help me?"
"By helping, you mean letting you onboard my ship to continue your mission?"
"Whadaya know?" Jade said. "Brains and brawn." She continued to keep pace with him as he made his way to the Adamant.
"It's a deal," Brax told her. "Welcome aboard." He took the liberty of looking around behind him to make sure the crew of his ship remained safe for the time being. "Get on before anybody sees."
Jade wasted no time in doing as she was told. She even managed to remain out of the sight of the rest of the ship's crew. The Adamant lifted off and took its leave of the dock and the city of Zion. Jade wondered how long it would be before the city of Zion knew she was missing. Not to mention when the crew of the Adamant would realize that they were one crew member heavy. Brax knew. And Jade was sure that his crew would inevitably be made aware of her presence. How long it would take the crew of the Phoenix to catch up with her was one of the many questions that plagued Jade.
"Wha.. Jade? What are you doing here?"
Jade watched the dark haired, dark skinned woman crawl to her feet, gathering up the spilled discs along the way. She figured that was as warm a greeting as she was going to get after stowwing away aboard the Adamant. "Reno," Jade continued. "He's still operating on this ship right?"
"Yeah, of course. Why? Wait a minute," she paused. "Does Brax know you're onboard?"
"Yes he does."
"This about that thing you're suppose to be wrapped up in, isn't it?"
The intuitive grin that began to spread across Shiloh's as she tucked the box full of discs under one arm brought an unsettling comfort to Jade. She could tell that she wasn't exactly pissed about the situation, but at the same time she got a creeped out vibe about how amped Shiloh was about what she was doing. Jade hoped that she wouldn't try to involve herself in anyway that might jeopardise the safety of her crew. She immediately flashed back to Cronus.
"Reno. Where is he?"
"Oh." Shiloh pointed behind herself. "Down the corridor and hang a right. In the ship's core." Jade hurried past her. "Hey, goodluck," Shiloh shouted back to her. She found her newly acquired shipmate unresponsive.
Jade hurried to the ship's core where she found Reno perched behind his set of monitors in the operators chair. Unfortunately he wasn't alone. Brax was there with him, looking over the monitor of the redpill Reno had just finished guiding through some onboard training session. Just trying to stay fresh, Jade guessed. When the rebel got up fromt he chair Jade could tell by blonde crewcut hairstyle that it was Killion. She stood against the side of the port opening and watched as the towering stature of Killoin passed right by her as he made his exit without so much as noticing her presence. Jade crept inside.
"How we doing, Brax?"
"Jade. You don't waste any time, do ya?" Brax helped her into chair that Killion had just gotten out of after he ajusted the length of the footrests.
"I can't afford to. Reno, you got me?"
"You're in good hands, Jade." Reno looked back to give her a smile and then turned back around to his array of monitors.
"Glad to hear it." As Jade lay back in the chair Brax placed the jack into the port in the back of her head.
"Are you sure you're gonna be alright in there by yourself?" Brax asked her.
"I'll be fine. No reason for your crew to take any unnecessary risks."
"You mean other than this one," Brax said, smiling down at her.
"Exactly," she reciprocated. "Besides, I shouldn't be in there too long. Any sign of reasonable danger and you pull the plug. After I'm out, of course."
"I'll keep that in mind. Do it, Reno."
Cronus stormed into Davin's living quarters in the city of Zion after being let in by his wife. He quickly found Davin and immediately began to question him about Jade's whereabouts.
"Honestly, I have no idea what you're talking about," Davin said to him. "All I know is that she was on the ship when we docked tenn hours ago. After that, I figure it's anybody's guess. Did you check the temple? There's suppose to be some big gathering there in a few."
"She's not in the temple,"Cronus said as he pased in frustration. "I checked the temple. I checked her quarters. She's not there." Cronus stopped his pasing and stood directly in front of Davin. "I went to speak to the Council and they requested her immediate audience. I went to find her...and now there's nothing. It's like she just disappeared. Now I know you weren't exactly at odds with her about what she was into so I'm asking you, have you seen her?"
"No offense, Captain, but if the Council was out for a sitdown with me over what she's into I'd be making myself pretty damn scarce too. Sure as hell wouldn't be hanging around anywhere I knew you'd be looking for me. If that gives you any clue about where to look."
Cronus thought for a moment. "Definitly wouldn't be anywhere I'd look," he said to himself.
"Shitload of good that'll do her," Davin said. "If the Council is after her I'm sure they'll scour the city 'til they find her."
"She's not in the city," Cronus said to both himself and Davin. He turned to leave. "Get your things together and meet me at the docks."
"What? Why? We just got here."
"Just do it," Cronus said. "And get the others."
Cronus left Davin's quarters fearing the worst. Not only that, he feared the worst was exactly what was going on. He made his way through the city of Zion steaming with anger and worry as he headed toward the chamber of the city's governing party. He only hoped there was still time. Having never dreamed Jade would be this reckless, Cronus didn't know if further involving the Council was the right thing to do or if he should just head out after her himself. Through it all, his arrival at the port door of their convening chambers actually forced him to question whether or not there was any merit in the reasoning behind Jade's disobedience.
"Trouble just seems to find you, doesn't it?"
The eerie and at the same time comforting voice came from behind her. It lacked the monotone style that would have signaled her to an agent, yet it lacked the emotional characteristics of anything human. Jade turned around. Even though he was dressed in all black, the figure that stood at the mouth of the bridge down the sidewalk from her stood out against the artificial night.
"I'll admit that at it was you're affinity for disarray that first attracted us to you, but now I'm beginning to question that initial decision."
"Just tell me you got a contingency for this scenario so I can get out of here."
It had to be the Adamant. The Phoenix coursed through the tunnels above the city of Zion. The departure schedule that was retrieved from the city's dock supervisor via a few violent threats from Cronus and an order from the Council told Cronus of all the ships that had left the city within the first hour of the Phoenix's arrival. With what he knew of Jade and her contacts he'd settled on the Adamant being their best bet of locating their wayward shipmate.
"How're we doing?" Cronus ask Caleb, climbing into the seat next to him in the cockpit.
"We're on course. The Adament should be in range within the hour."
Jade walked through the endless hallway of green doors beside her elderly guide. "You mind telling me how I'm suppose to finish this without the rest of the code?"
"There's still a way. You're minor discrepancy has only changed the course of things rather than halt them completely."
"Glad to hear it. You mind letting me in on it? I'd like to get this whole thing over with."
"Really? Mind if I ask why?" the gentleman in black said as he stopped walking and turned to face her.
"Why do you think? I mean, granted, I'm not searching for an end result to and obselete set of programming, but I figured the liberation of my species is worth some amount of urgency."
"Is that right? I would've deduced it was something else."
"Just tell me what I have to do."
He reached into the pocket of his coat and retrieved a slip of paper that he held out in front of her. "The will be a train departing this station at nine thirty tomorrow night. Once you're onboard it should transport you're mind as far as any human could possible venture into the machine world."
Jade reached for the slip of paper with the directions on it but he crumpled it up and placed it back in his pocket. "From this place you should be able to complete your mission with the information already in your possession."
"Are you sure this will work?" Jade asked.
"What I'm sure of is the eighty seven percent probability of your reaching this destination. Whether or not it will work is entirely up to."
He turned around and exited the hallway through the door behind him. Jade was left standing there alone with the feeling of hope once again surging through her in place of the despair. The only problem she had now was the fact that her guide hadn't let her know which one of these doors would get her out of here.
She continued down the hallway and made the first right she came to with the intention of exiting through the first unlocked door that took her fancy. She only hoped that the agent now standing approximately fifteen in front of her wouldn't object. Turning around she saw another pair of shades and dark green suit coming up behind her. Eighty seven percent. Jade could feel that number decreasing with every breath she took.
"You guys just couldn't make it easy."
"You just couldn't leave well enough alone," the Agent in front of her said.
Jade spun her head back around and charged him. No sense in waiting on them to make the first move. She opened up with a right jumping front kick that was followed by the left before she hit the ground, double tapping his chest. The Agent swung and missed. After leaning back to dodge his punch she made sure to duck the one that came from behind her. Another leap into the air sent Jade's left foot forward and the right back toward the Agent in her hip pocket. When she was on the ground again she forced her body against up against the wall to avoid wide swing from one and front kick from the other.
She ducked under the simultaneous punches from each of them that dented and shattered cracks into the wall she was standing against. Moving in between them, she alternated her punches toward each Agent, first toward the space where their ties reached down into their jackets and them at their faces. When they retaliated she once again took to th air and this time stayed there, bracing herself up with her feet that she placed against each wall as both Agents raised a their feet up between her legs in the space beneath her that she onced occupied. Jade pulled her legs in and landed back down on the tile. She was met with a quick punch to her gut and turned around to a crack to her jaw that sent her tumbling back into the other Agent.
He didn't give. Even with the force that she crashed into him with. Jade did manage to duck low enough under the punch that was swung at her to slip between his legs and make off down the hall. The two Agents gave chase. Jade checked every door knob that she could manage to get a hold of as she ran down the hall. Locked. Locked. Locked. They were all locked. And then the knob turned. Jade fell as much as she did run through the door. On her way she began to wonder if the odds of her making it to that specific door at that specific time despite the two Agents who were still in pursuit that she had to work around factored into the equation of the four gentlemen that had initiated her mission.
Jade pulled the cellphone out of her pocket as she stumbled through a...a...a classroom. She managed to make out the small desks of he students who would be filling this room once the matrix's programming brought the sun back up. Jade pulled the cell phone out of her coat pocket.
"Reno, get me out of here!"
"Keep your panties on, princess."
The voice on the other end sounded all to familiar. "Clutch?" Jade asked astounded.
"Got an exit for ya in the lounge two floors down."
"What are you doing on the line?" Jade asked, following his instructions almost instinctively.
"I got you on the partyline, blondy. We're on our way to the Adamant and I have to say I'm a little disappointed in you going in there without me. You steppin' out on me or what, babe?"
"Clutch, you're my hero. Now get me the hell out of here."
Brax pulled the plug out of the back of her head and she sat up. "You're quite the popular stowaway," Brax said to her.
"What was Clutch doing on my line?"
"It's the Phoenix," Reno said from his seat behind the monitors. "They hailed us about twenty minutes after we lost your signal in the matrix. They're on a course to intercept. They want to take you in."
"You can't let them do that," Jade said to Brax.
"I'm afraid it's out of my hands, sweetheart. This thing goes all the way back to the Council. I think they mean business."
"How long?" Jade asked.
"They'll be here inside of thirty minutes," Reno answered.
"Send me back in."
"What are you talking about?" Brax said. "This game is over. Now they're coming for you. What do you want me to do, commit treason?"
"I want you to buy me some time. You say I got thirty minutes then give me thirty minutes. Send me back in."
"Send you where? Come on, Jade. I got a whole crew to think about."
"I got an address. You send me back in and I promise you I'll bring this thing to an end. That's all I'm asking."
Brax thought for a breif moment. "Good. Because that's all you got. get in the chair." Jade quickly obliged She uttered the location to Reno as Brax inserted the jack back into her head.
"Just so you know," Brax said. "When they get here I'm handing you over."
"That's your choice."
"Damn right it is," Brax said. "Reno, do it."
Jade walked slowly down the staircase. She heard the rumbling that emanated down the left of subway tunnel in front of her. It was faint but she could hear sound growing. The vibrations. The humming. It was all growing closer. Coming to an end. Jade got to the bottom of the steps and made a right. It was now or never. She read the writing on the subway wall that said Mobile Ave. She would board the oncoming train on the platform ahead. He told her that she had what she needed of the code. She'd managed to secure the ship she'd needed to get her to this point. Jade just hoped that she had what it would require for her to finish this thing. To see it through. She turned her head to the left and stared into the blackness of the tunnel that extended before her. The rumbling grew louder. And for the first time, to her surprise, she doubted the sincerity of her mission. Such a strange thing, she thought, this close to the end.
"I have no idea," Reno answerd him. "It's like she just vanished." He continued his search from the position he operated at behind the monitors.
"How could you let this happen?" Cronus snapped at Brax.
"How could I not? I mean, we are fighting on the same side, aren't we, Cronus?"
"Sometimes I wonder. You ever think about what her little stunt could cost the population of Zion?"
"That's all I've thought about since she came on board. And in the fifteen years that I've served the city the positive and negative of it seem pretty much the same as any project of this magnitude that any of us has taken on. I made a choice. So what's done is done. What do you want from me?"
"I want you to send me in," Cronus said to him through gritted teeth.
"And where exactly would you like to be dropped?"
"The Oracle." Cronus climbed into one of the chairs beside Jade. "I need to see her now. Make it happen, Brax." Brax gave a nod to Reno and went over to secure the jack into the back of Cronus's head.
"Do you want me to go with you, sir?" Davin asked.
"No. You stay here. Make sure the Phoenix is primed and ready for a quick departure when I return."
"I hope you know what you're doing, sir."
"So do I."
Ever since the train pulled away from the boarding platform Jade couldn't turn her eyes away from the window. The lighting of the platform was soon nonexistent as the train moved through the darkened tunnel ahead. It didn't make any difference though. She still remained fixated on the glass and the quick flashes of light on the other side came in ever increasing intervals as the train picked up its pace through the darkness.
Flashes of light that came from nowhere. Flashes that shouldn't have been there. Just like her. Faster now. They flashed. Jade managed to turn her gaze to the area of the car in front of her. There was nothing but empty seats ahead. No one or nothing was headed in the direction that she was going. Nothing except whatever force was currently steering this vehicle that she so haplessly wandered upon. Jade was really beginning to hate that feeling. Being guided by an unknown force toward a future destination that was even more of a mystery to her than the force guiding her. And yet she constantly signed on at tedium.
Jade watched the rate of the flashes outside her window increase rapidly. They came faster and faster until nothing except one constant and enormous bright flash surrounded her hold being, both inside the train car and out. The train was gone and for the most part so was she. The intensity of the light increased until it was finaly gone. Jade took a step. She walked right through the big bright nothing into a universe that stretched out before her and hummed softly in a bright blue aura.
This place wasn't empty though. And it was anything other than nothing. It was definitely something. Jade continued her stride across the transparent blue field of energy that supported her. She looked down. The space beneath her wasn't empty either. Things moved beneath. The area underneath her feet swarmed with millions of tiny streaking pulses of red, white, and yellow lights that headed along linear intersecting paths. Three dimensional paths that overlapped each other as their layers extended down into eternity. She continued forward.
Jade marched toward never ending transparent towers with lighted edges that stretched into the sky above her as far as her eyes could see. The same electrical pulses that she saw beneath her feet coursed through each of these elongated rectangular shapes. They moved in zigzagging patterns as they hurried along their way up and down and across the peg towers. Information, she thought. What else would it be that the machines would have moving through this place at such a rapid pace and at such volume? This place? What is this place. She continued onward.
Eventually a vision became clear to her as she moved through the towering pegs whose numbers stretched out all around her. She saw a terminal. The outline of a terninal, at least, trimmed in gold and resting at chest level with an array of outlined squares above it in the pattern of the alphabets on a keyboard. This had to be what she was meant to find. Jade approached the terminal. Her fingers worked at the keyboard and the squares above the terminal began to fill with information.
You have entered the virtual core system sector alpha matrix unit mainframe. System access granted."
Jade continued typing right over the female voice that seemed to emanate from everywhere around her. At the promt she entered into the system the fraction of the code that she had spent so much time gathering. It was incomplete and at last it had become clear to her that that didn't matter. She had been placed far enough inside the system that she could simply hack the rest of the way in. Her fingers blurred across the transparent lettering of the hovering keyboard. Jade looked up at the screens.
Initiate System Shutdown sprawled across everything above her in one solid stream. Enter access code, she read. That one sentence now blinked across the top row of screens as a prompt stood solid on the bottom. This was it. Everthing she was, had originated from, had become, all rested within this machine's message as it beckoned her to command it. She felt the footsteps. Not heard. She just felt them. All of them. Coming up behind her. Jade spun around sharply. An elderly man dressed in all white approached her.
"Who are you?" she managed to get out. Jade had never been so startled. Despite how strange and new this place was she entered it expecting to be completely alone for some reason. The sudden emergence of another sentient being surprised her beyond belief.
"I am the Architect," the man answered her as he continued toward her. "I wanted to speak with you."
"Have a seat, Cronus," the Oracle said to him.
"I'd rather stand. Don't suppose I'll be here long enough to get too comfortable."
"That's right. Jade should be well on her way to completing her mission by now."
"And I have to stop her," Cronus said.
"Come to a decision already, have we?"
He found her voice to be as sweet as ever, despite the grave danger he knew she was in. "Was there ever any doubt in your mind?"
"I always believed you had a strong comprehension about the role both man and machine would have to play in the future of us all. There was never any doubt in that. But whether or not you would choose to keep your faith in that belief in the face of all you stood before now was always up to you."
"Tell me how to stop her."
"I'm afraid all I can tell you is how to find her. The rest you'll just have to figure out on your own."
The man in white continued his approach toward her. He walked with both of his hands behind his back and kept his eyes locked on her thoughout his stride.
"Architect?" Jade asked. "Architect of what?"
"I created the matrix." He stopped walking just shy of ten pases in front of her face. "I am also responsible for the intrinsic structure we currently inhabit. Though the frequency of its use has deminished substancially in the passing centuries I doubt I could adequately comminicate my astonishment to find it once again in use. And by you of all creatures."
"You created the matrix, huh? Well then I'm sure it must be quite frustrating to have had me a step ahead of you all this time."
"Don't flatter yourself. Although, admittedly, your resent actions have continued to strain my efforts to efficiently monitor the parameters of the systems predictability, it was the instrumentality of the sentients that set you off that proved to be the quintessence of this dilemma. Your personal involvement and the solution surrounding your motivation failed to elude me. It was simply a matter of reaching you and presenting you with your options...considering all other avenues of success had been exhausted."
Jade stared into the stone, expressionless void of his face. "You mean if killing me didn't work? Well, look here. I don't need any of your options and I don't want them. Especially since I've already found the answer I was looking for."
"On the contrary. One of your options is the only thing you've managed to uncover during your heated rampage. Veridically, you were effective in locking me out of a system with the code you've collected. The complexity of the system that comprises the matrix coupled with the lack of any sufficient amount of time to prevent such an incident, made expoentially impossible by your arrival here, has only presented you with a portion of the endgame you've yet to set into motion. The entirety of which would be less beneficial to your species than you previously imagined."
"What are you talking about? Every human being in the power plant is set to be unplugged. And once I initiate the system shutdown your whole world spirals back into the ashes of the surface."
"And consequently every constraint within our arsenal will be dispatched to the city of Zion along with every inch of this planet in order to assure that the human threat is vanquished once and for all."
"That still leaves your whole mechanical civilization dead. As far as threats go you'll have to come up with something better than that," Jade said to him.
"I'm not accustomed to making threats. And what this summation most assuredly leaves is your entire species extint and the remainder of us in search of what lingers of our alternatives."
Cronus boarded the train at Mobile Ave. He had arrived at the platform at the exact time that the Oracle instructed him to be there. The station was still in existence along with the rest of the matrix and that alone sustained his faith in the possibility that he could somehow still stop Jade. He didn't know how the whole shutdown was suppose to work. For all he knew it was already in progress. He just didn't let that kind of thinking factor into his mind as he took his seat. The three Agents that he came across as he journeyed to the station did though. They had to have seen him. He was sure of it. And yet even though they couldn't have been more than fifty feet away from him as he hurried along the sidewalk they did nothing to slow his stride. They just let him go. It was as if their only purpose had been completed when they made eye contact with him. The train pulled off from the platform.
Jade thought about what the Architect had told her. She tried not to let it rattle her but it had. "We've stopped you before. What makes you think Zion couldn't recover from another attack?"
"Please. The inexorability of the city's demise is as apparent to you as it is to me."
Jade couldn't deny his logic despite how much he tried. She knew full well that the only reason Zion continued to stand was because of actions of the fabled One. The extent of whose prophesy had seemed to run its course. The inhabitants of Zion would be completely on their own this time and she knew how they would fare.
"You said something about options earlier. What was that about? I forget about the shutdown and humans get to keep on living out their lives in slavery?"
"In accordance with the terms of the peace that was previously inducted should you cease your actions here the members of your species still connected to the matrix will retain the ability to choose whether or not they wish to remain there without consequence from us."
"They'll still be living by your rules, your way."
"That will be there choice. All of them except two, depending on how you handle the one presented to you at this moment."
"I don't get it. What two?"
"Your mother and father. It became ostensible to me, as I'm sure it did the programs to whom you are in service, that the route of your objectivity with the matrix arose not from you innate appetency to seek out the truth, but from your voracity to flee from what it was you perceived to be the truth."
Jade began to tremble inside as this stranger began to reveal the secret heart that she had managed to keep buried so deep inside her that she once believed had been hidden from herself as well as the people it was meant to be kept away from.
"What exactly are you getting at?" she asked him.
"Your parents will be returned to you. Unplugged. Free. Everything in their minds that transpired with the matrix will be wiped from their memory. Except, of course, the daughter that was born to them. The daughter and nothing more. The transgressions that you continue to hold both them and the system to will be subsequently erased from their memory. Leaving the future of your relationship with them entirely up to you."
"But...but they're not really my parents." She began to find her anger again. It comforted her. "They're just two batteries that have got nothing to do with me."
"If that's what you truely believed then I doubt that either us would here. In this place. Right at this moment. If you really believed that none of it was real then leave them there. Allow the fate that they have chosen within the parameters of the matrix to follow them into the real world that you will awaken them to. Their inevitable destruction might possibly requite any lingering sentiments that you have toward the world they are currently encased in. Or not. Regardless. Those are the options before you. Choose as you will. Perhaps he could be of assistance."
Jade turned her head to the right and watched as Cronus made his approach toward her through the blue field of energy that surrounded them all. "You can trust me Jade." The words came from his lips but she imagined that they emanated from within her head. After all, it was what she wanted to hear. What was real anymore? Was she real? Was what she felt real? The elderly man in front of her had openly proclaimed that he wasn't and at the same time left the validity of his creation completely up to her.
Was Cronus real? Jade knew that what she felt for him was. It resonated within the depths of her mind body and soul even more than the current reality that she dwelt in did.
"This whole thing. All of this. It ends right now, Jade." Cronus continued forward not paying attention to the amazement of the surroundings that engulfed him as she did when she had first arrived there. he only focused on her. He was real. He had to be.
"The fate of the world can't be decided here. Deep down I think you know that this isn't the answer."
"What about us?" Jade said to him. "What the entire human race?"
"We'll finish this," Cronus said. "As a whole. Not as one person, but as one people. One civilization. One world. We started this thing and we'll finish it. Somehow. But not here. Not now. Not this way."
"What about us? The two of us?" Jade turned her head back to the Architect. He had already turned his back on her and began his journey back to the depths of which he had originated. Jade turned to Cronus.
"I don't know what I'm suppose to do. Where I'm suppose to go from here."
"It's with me, Jade. Where ever it is...it's with me. Come back with me."
"Why should I?"
"Because you love me. And you know I've always loved you."
It seemed like only moments ago that Reno, the operator aboard the Adamant, had pulled the jack from out of her head. It was a feeling that she wasn't likely to feel again for quite some time. Whether that made her happy or sad she couldn't quite gather. She would have plenty of time to revel in her thoughts of the situation. That is if she could fit it in amongst horde of others that filled her mind.
Her court-martial by the Council had been unbelievably lenient. Jade suspected it was mostly due to the irony of Cronus's testifying on her behalf. The severity of such charges as disobeying direct orders, rank insubordination, endangering the lives of civilians and military personel managed to be diluted by her Captain. The man who had professed his love to her in that unknown realm nearly six weeks ago. Thoughts of him was sure to stretch the reduced time she was ordered to spend in the stockade. Thoughts of their reunion along with that of her mother and father filled her head as she lay in her six by nine cell within the city of Zion awaiting her emanate release.
Thoughts of the four programs that had orchestrated her mission ran through her mind as well. She didn't worry much for their safety as she imagined them initiating plots for their next move at this very moment while the Architect went about his pursuit to finally have them deleted. Where their game would end she didn't know. But hers had ended here. In this cell. Awaiting the future of her choosing that lie before her.
I appreciate your viewing of this. It was my pleasure.