"Leena, hey. You took the biology test in Mrs. Kimbridge's class, right?"
"Hey, Jennifer. Yes I did."
"Good. Give me the answers you put down on the bus in the morning. I gotta take it tomorrow."
"Fine. Is that all?"
"No. You talk to Jacob today?"
"No. I didn't. I didn't talk to him yesterday. And I'm probobly not going to talk to him tomorrow."
"Oh, come on. What are you afraid of? You already know that he likes you."
"Look. I gotta get off the phone. If my mom finds out I'm still awake she's gonna kill me."
"You're hanging up so can call him, aren't you?"
Warning: carrier anomaly
Trace program: running
Leena climbed into bed and crawled beneath the covers. She could still hear the resonating laughter of her mother and father who were still in the living room participating in a minor celebration for two brought on by the new promotion that her father just recieved. Leena was allowed to attend the opening act of the festivities but was sent to bed early due to the unfavorable letter mailed to her home earlier that day from the high school she matriculated at regarding her rather mischievous behavior in some of her classes in the recent week.
She didn't mind much. After all, she was the one who had gotten into trouble at school. Besides, she was just hapy that everything had worked out for her father. He was happy, her mother was happy...and so was she. This time. Everything had worked out just fine. Just like it always seemed to. She just wished the fact that it did didn't bother her sometimes. Leena slept.
It was the same dream she always had. It swept over her sleeping world in waves during varying intervals of her life. The think pinkish fluid. The cords that bound her to the glass case she twisted and turned inside of night after night. For weeks she had drifted off peacefully and now, once again, she was back. Back inside that pod. That hell. That place that pulled back at her with every motion that she used to struggle out of the pink nightmare she was caught in. Leena's body thrashed in the fluid. In her head she was desperate to return to the waking world. She ached for it. And like always the blurred goo eventually answered her prayers and she was once again lying safe and sound beneath the covers in her own bed. Everything was just fine. Just like it always was.
She climbed out of bed just as exhausted and even more groggier than she was when she got into it hours ago. It was always the same and as she'd learned before nothing that a quick shower couldn't fix. Leena donned her clothes and snatched up her books as she prepared to depart the confines of her bedroom and head off for school. The bleeping of the musically toned alert of her computer's e-mail provider managed to halt her.
Leena went over to the desk in her bedroom and broght up the message on her computer.
They've found you. Sorry I couldn't contact you sooner. But we didn't know. Don't let them take you.
She deleted the message. How'd you get my address, she thought. The sender made sure that he or she remained anonymous and Leena made sure to continue not caring whether or not they did. Wasn't the first spammer to find her. Most likely wouldn't be the last. She headed off to school.
For some reason she always hated the bus ride over. She could never escape the boredom. Same houses. Same neighborhoods. Same streets. After the driver picked her up from her stop down the block from her house in the Chinatown district of Megacity it was as if the world outside her window seat played over in a neverending loop. There were always the ever cheery street venders cordially marketing their wares of fruits and vegetables to quaintly eager customers ever at the ready to surrender their hard currency to the complacent venders. And that was just for openers. The business, the pedestrians, the home owners walking their dogs. Most of the time Leena reframed from looking out of her window out of little more than an unexplained disgust for the cheery environment of the landscape outside of the school bus. She didn't like it. And she didn't understand why.
Trig was as boring as usual. Leena sat at her desk staring up at the blackboard as the teacher carved away the layers of the stick of chalk he held marking out equations and solutions that she felt insulted the inelligence of the students in the room. Not all of them of course. She glanced around room and spotted several individuals that might actually benefit from the knowledge Mr. Kright was trying to impart. But there were others. Others indeed that emanated the same level of boredom that she did and turned away from Kright's lecture to catch a glimpse of the clock even more than she did.
She was distracted by Jennifer. Distracted from both the clock and the lecture by her friend who sat three rows ahead of her and two over to her right. A distraction that was meant to focus her attention, via shifting glances and undetectable body motions, toward a desk five rows up and one to her right. The desk that Jacob Brauer occupied. Leena tried not to indulge her, but in reality couldn't help it. She'd had a crush on him since the eight grade. A crush that hadn't the dulled the slightest bit in the years that brought them all to their junior year in high school. She'd managed to gather the courage to speak to him in the past, and on several occasions they'd managed to bring their conversation to a level more intimate than that of the school lunch. But their discourse had never reached a level of intamacy satisfactory to Jennifer's liking. A constant irritation and embarrassment for Leena. She welcomed the bell that signaled the class's end.
The double doors that would release her from this prison loomed approximately eight heads in front of her. Leena could see them from here. Even from this distance their presence disturbed her. The double doors constantly swung open with each swell of students that moved through them, revealing the three suits that moved in the opposite flow of traffic toward the school. Leena slowed her pace but eventually made it outside.
"Leena Storm," one of the men said, addressing her directly. Her initial fears had been confounded.
"It is imperative that you come with us."
"I just remebered. I left something inside. A book. You guys wait here. I'll be right back."
The three men looked at each other and then at the girl in front of them who began moving backwards through the crowd.
"That is unacceptable," the third one finally said.
It wasn't to Leena. She immediately turned around rushed through the crowd until she was back inside the school. She knew that those three pairs of sunglasses were on there way inside the school after her. She could feel it. She just hoped that her years of playing hooky and dodging scholl security would trump any knowledge that her pursuershad of the campus and aid her in her escape. She cut through the gym and headed straight for the girls locker room. There was a window in there that had provided her and her comrades with an escape route from the confines of this institute for quite sometime and would now prove to be more useful that ever. She scurried across the football field going over her recent shoplifting offenses that she thought had gone unscene while constantly checking behind her for the gentlemen looking to take her into custody. She'd lost them.
Leena walked inside her house and dropped her backpack by the font door despite how many times her parents had scolded her about it. She did it anyway. Neither of them would be home for a couple of hours and even if she hadn't removed it by then theynever seemed to get that upset about it. She was standing in her bedroom when it hit her. Leena doubled over in front of her computer desk, grabbing the back of the chair to keep from falling to the floor. The crushing sensation gripped her. Leena's teeth gritted as she clenched ever muscles she still had control over in an attempt to push back at the force attempting to consume her.
Her breathing was constricted as she felt something as smooth as cloth wrap its way around her neck. Something was pressing against the bridge of her nose. She didn't wear glasses. She'd never needed them. Leena had tried on a pair of one of her friends prescriptions once or twice just for fun and the sensation was identical. She pushed harder. Her right ear began to buzz and hum as if she had picked up a phone, placed it to the side of her head only to hear the irritating noise of a fax machine on the other end. But there was no phone to speak of. And there was no fax machine. It sqeezed harder and she pushed back. She pushed so hard that her exertion finally pulled a scream from her. When it all ended Leena fell backwards to the floor and began to cough out some during her exhalations.
"What's happening to me?" She lay there until her exhaustion brought her to sleep.
Leena stirred. The sound of her e-mail alert brought her eyes open completely. Sitting up, she turned to her bedroom window and saw that afternoon had turned into night. How long had she been out? Her mind turned back to the electrical correspondence. She climbed to her feet and crawled into the chair at her desk trying to shake off the effects of the afternoon's episode.
"The matrix has you. The answers you seek are at Cornell High. Room 101. Come soon. Come alone. And avoid crowds."
It was Mr. Anonymous again. And speaking of the matrix no less. The matrix. What is the matrix? Some word she'd come across in chatroom after chatroom. It was mentioned briefly on discussion boards she'd visited, coming up casually in online conversations. Any inquery made about the subject from anyone not immediately involved in the conversation was met with silence and an abrupt signing off of all parties being questioned. What is the matrix? Leena didn't have time for this. Not after the day she'd just been through. The message was deleted and the computer was turned off.
Leena wandered the house. "Mom?" she called out, heading torward her parents bedroom. When she got there she pushed open the door and found her mother standing in front of the mirror running a brush through her hair.
"Dinner will be ready in a little while, dear," she said, still facing the mirror. Leena headed back down the hall away from the doorway. "Oh and, dear," she heard her mother's voice continue.
Leena stopped, spun, and stepped back in front of the doorway. What she saw nearly froze her heart in her chest.
"You're coming with us."
He was standing in her house. In her parents bedroom. He was standing in the exact same spot that her mother once occupied. The difference was that he wasn't facing the mirror, he was facing her. And also...it definitely wasn't her mother. The suit moved toward her and Leena bolted down the hallway back toward her bedroom. How'd he find her? Who was he? What did he want? She slammed her bedroom door closed and locked it. She was overwhelmed with fear. The knob started to jiggle and she backed away from it. Away from the door. Away from them. There was more than one in the house. She could feel it. Once again the window was her only escape.
She ran across her yard and down the block into the emptiness of the night. She was almost in tears as she wondered about the whereabouts of her parents. They must've been arrested or, at best, detained by the men that currently occupied her house. Held captive by the authorities for something that she'd most likely done. The answers she sought were at school. Answers, or the forces that sought her which continued to give her the impression that this whole thing was more serious than she previously suspected. Either way she decided to chance it. She didn't really have a choice. Where else could she go to at this time of night? Maybe she could sneak in and get the drop on any surprises that lie in wait.
Room 101. Leena found it easy enough, and hadn't been encountered by any resistence along the way. Never the less, she stayed at the ready. She pushed open the door and stepped into the darkness of the computer room. She saw nothing except rows and rows of monitors illuminated by the moonlight that poured through the windows on the wall to her right. Except on one row there was something else. Something besides just another monitor. There was the silhouette of the upper torso and head of a human body in front of a lit computer screen.
"I'll be with you in just a second," the silhouette said to her.
Leena was surprised that she did as the obviously masculine voice commanded. Something inside of her screamed for her to run for it, but it conflicted with the other voice that whispered for her to remain calm and told her that she was safe for now. She watched the figure in the darkness shut off the monitor and walk to the end of the aisle on his way torward her.
"Leena?" he asked as he walked.
"Maybe. Maybe not. Could be she sent me here to check things out for her first."
"She warned me that this might be difficult," he sighed.
"Who exactly are you talking about? Your boss? Who do you work for?"
"Will you cut the cloak and dagger crap. We really don't have time for it." He came closer to her. "I was sent here to rescue you."
"You mean you were sent here to rescue Leena? Is that what you want me to tell her?"
"Oh for goodness sake." The closer he came to her the more the light in the hallway behind her revealed of his image. She could finally see his face and the blonde streaks of his hair as he walked past her and out into the hallway.
"Are you coming," he said to her. "Or would you rather wait here for your friends in the suits and shades to come for you." The reluctance remained on her face. "You'll be safe with me, Leena. I promise."
Leena sat in the passenger seat of the mysterious blonde stranger's car. She was as far to the right as she could be. Her body pressed hard up against the armrest that protruded from the car door. She was turned toward him as much as she could so that she still had the appearance of sitting straight forward in the seat.
"I said you were safe with me. You can relax anytime now."
"I'll relax when I know I'm safe."
"And yet you got in the car with a complete stranger. What your parents must think of all the training they instilled in you."
The car came to a stop in front of an apartment complex. Her driver got out, completely ignoring her presence, and headed toward the front entrance. "You coming?" he finally said to her. Leena hesitated for a moment then opened the door.
The two of them walked down the hallway until the strange man came to a halt in front of her. "What now?" Leena asked. He pulled a set of keys out of his pocket, turned to the right, and opened the apartment door.
Although the door was open he continued to stand in the hallway and Leena continued to stare at him. "What?"
"Go on in," he said. When Leena stepped inside he followed her in, turning on the hallway light and closed the door behind them. She turned to look at him again and he extended his arm, motioning her further into the apartment. "She's waiting for you."
Using the light of the hallway behind her, Leena navigated her way through the darkened livingroom and toward the light of the kitchen that loomed ahead of her. Her guide took a seat on the couch in the living room in the dark. Leena brushed the beads that hung from the doorway off of her shoulders as she walked inside the kitchen area and moved toward the woman she saw seated at the table inside.
"Leena," the elderly woman said to her. "Hello. It's very nice to see you, though I feel I should apologize for the hour."
"No need to. I haven't been up this late past bedtime in so long I can't remember. Just tell em what I'm doing here and we'll call it even."
The old woman lit a cigarette. "You already know why you're here. You just can't really believe it right now."
"Then why don't you fill me in on what I already know. Or you can just call ma a cab. Which ever's easiest for you. I mean if..."
"I know about the dreams, Leena. The ones where you're drowning but can still breath. The ones where you're stuck. You struggle, don't you? You struggle hard to free yourself but you never get anywhere. No, you just remain. Stuck struggling in that sticky pink pod."
"How do you know that?"
"A more appropriate question would be how is it that you know that? How do you know what it is that you think you know? And why do you feel the way you do about it?"
"I suppose you're going to tell me."
"No. Unfortunately I can't. Not right now. But there is a way for you to find the answers you seek."
"And what way is that?"
"Sleep. But don't fight it the way you normally do. It's not natural for you to. You look tired. There's a room in the back for you to rest. It's not safe for you at your home right now."
Leena backed out of the kitchen. She moved into the living room where she found the friendly guide that she had left on the couch gone. He'd vanished. Continuing throughout the apartment she passed the hallway leading to the front door. A part of her wanted to walk out of it, but the part that yearned for a well needed rest from the day's events walked her into one of the bedrooms and laid her down on the bed she found.
The pink slime-filled nightmare found her again. The same way it always did. The cords attached to her body pulled back at her but she still struggled in the goo. Remembering what the old woman ahd told her, Leena tried to relax. She forced herself to try ,in defiance of all she knew to be true, to just accept what it was that she was dreaming to be a matter of fact. Not a nightmare to be escaped, but a dream to be embraced. The stickiness took on a more realistic sensation than she had ever know before in any dream.
Leena reached her hand up through the goo and pushed against the thick film of goo above her body. Her hand scraped across the slickness as she sat up in the vat of ooze that encased her in the nightmare that she was dreaming she had awaken from.
The fluid emptied from her pod and she was soon sucked out with it. The drainage pipe she pulled through emptied her out into a catch basin. Leena thrashed as hard as she could in the pool she found herself submerged in. Her muscles ached as she struggled to remain above the surface. Although her other senses remained dull she could feel herself slowly moving across the water. When she finally reached the edge of the basin she pulled herself out of the water on her hands and knees.
Leena's naked body collapsed against the rough ground. She was so cold. With the little strength she could muster she managed to raise her head. Through her blurred eyes she could see a smudged aura of light at the end of a long stretch of darkness. It was all she could do to slightly hoist herself up a bit and drag her body to the nearest wall and pull herself to her feet. The light was so far away and she was so cold.
"We're coming up on sector G4-199, sir. Vector heading 193."
"Hold her steady, Corporal Vicks. And keep an eye on the pads. I don't want them picking up our field."
The corporal looked out of the window to his left. "Lieutenant! I think you should see this."
"What is it?" he said, walking away from the instruments he was inspecting in the cockpit and moving toward the pilot's seat. He looked out of the window over the pilots shoulder. His irritation turned to bewilderment as he watched the naked form of a human being struggle its way out one of the crevasses in the scorched earth beneath their hovercraft. It didn't make it far before slumping down to the ground. "What the hell is that?" he asked.
"It looks like a...a person, sir."
"Well, is there a ship down? Was there an attack?"
"We haven't recieved anything about any sentinel activity in the area, sir. To be honest...I think whoever it is...came out of there."
The corporal motioned his glance over toward the machine power plant that loomed in the distance no more than five hundred yards away. "But that's not possible," Lieutenant Hornsby said.
"Course of action, sir?"
"Land the ship for Christ's sake!"
Leena stared up at the sky. The circular orbs of light that began to descend down upon her frightened her to even further lengths as she tried to scrape together one iota of rational thought that would explain the ordeal she had just undertook. Proving to be the last straw, she passed out under the strain of her mind and body as the glowing circles closed in on her.
The city gates opened and the Juggernaut pasted through the dock security and pulled into port along with the rest of the hovercrafts returning from their patrols in the underground tunnels. Lt. Hornsby exited the ship and was immediately met by Captain Harris of the Tachyon.
"Heard you came back one heavy," Harris said to him as they walked. "Want to explain how something like that happens?"
"Captain Harris, what if I told you that I had a female passenger aboard my ship, not part of my crew mind you, that is currently being transported to medical bay?"
"I'd say that Commander Richard is probably going to bust you down to private for letting your girlfriend tag along on your missions."
"Well what if I told you that said young girl couldn't possibly be my girlfriend because she's spent the last approximately sixteen years of her life plugged into the power plant?"
Captain Harris stopped walking and Lt. Hornsby stopped with him. "If that's the case I'd say you should stop breathing the exhaust fumes because that's impossible. Nobody's ever come out of the power plant... after they've been plugged in. At least not alive."
"Not until now." Lt. Hornsby started walking again, leaving his skeptical cohort where he stood.
"Oh. You're awake." The lady held the clipboard at her side and headed in Leena's direction. "I knew you'd be coming around soon. You've been slipping in and out of consciousness for days."
By the time she made it to her bedside Leena was attempting to sit up. In doing so she could feel the fabric against her body. She had clothes on. Leena remembered being naked. Naked and cold as she moved through some alien world. Everything began to flood back to her. The cold. The darkness. The rough ground beneath her bare feet. The gelatin pod. The old woman. The lady standing beside her bed reached in her pocket. She placed her warm palm againt Leena's forehead and lifted one of her eyelids even further open with her thumb. Pointing the pen she had retrieved from her pocket, the lady pressed a button at the end of it and emitted a beam of light into Leena's exposed eye.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"God!" Leena screeched as she wretched back, smacking the pen from her hand. "What the hell is wrong with you? That hurts."
"Alive and kicking I see." She walked around to the other side of the bed and retieved the instrument from the floor.
"Where am I?" Leena asked.
"You're in a hospital"
Going by the wardrobe of the nurse tending to her medical needs Leena was under the impression that this couldn't have been any sort of normal medical facility.
"A hospital? A hospital where?"
"You're inside the city of Zion. I know this might be a lot for you to take in all at once. But don't worry. You're safe."
"I'm safe? Safe where? What's a Zion?"
"Zion is the home of the last free people on the planet."
Leena eased her way off the bed and placed her bare feet on the floor as she stood up. "Look, I don't know what this is about, but the city I was born in, where I'm from, seemed pretty liberated to me. So if you don't mind I'd like to get back to it as soon as possible."
"Oh, you poor dear. Don't worry. Lieutenant Hornsby will be along shortly to explain everything to you." The nurse left her bed and headed on her way to continue whatever it was she was doing before Leena's presence interrupted her. "He asked that he be notified the moment you came to."
Leena exited the hospital, evidently months after she'd been admitted, along with Lt. Hornsby at her side and the knowledge of what had transpired on the planet's surface decades before her birth swimming around in her head. Lt. Hornsby escorted her out onto the walkway. Leena broke away from him while he spoke and moved toward the railing. She peered over the side and looked down into the civilization that bore its way through the earhten tunnel that stretched to infinity both beneath her and above her.
"Zion," Leena whispered to herself.
Lt. Hornsby escorted her to the elevator, across more walkways, and up other elevators until he came to a stop at a red painted steel door. Leena flashed back to the guide that had also lead her along a strange path that stopped at a doorway. A doorway in the whatchamacallit...the matrix. Leena still wrapped the concept around her mind trying to make sence of the whole thing.
"This will be yours," Hornsby said. "You can stay here for now. I'll send someone for you in the morning. Give you a more proper orientation."
Leena went inside. She looked around at the handmade furniture and poked her head in whatever room she passed and for the first time since this whole ordeal began she started to feel good. She had her own apartment. It would take machines taking over the entire planet and forcing the remaining humans underground for her to get such a treat this soon. Leena found the bedroom. She crawled into bed and curled up on top of the covers.
Lucas banged on the door. No one answered. When he tried the handle the door swung open. He walked on inside, vocally announcing himself as he entered. There was still no response. As he moved through the vacant apartment Lucas began to wonder if he had the right address. He pushed open the bedroom door and the vision inside caught him by surprised. He watched as she pulled the shirt down over her head, pushed her arms through the arm holes, and pulled the rest of the shirt down over her bare back. Leena turned around and stared at the intruder that stood in her bedroom doorway.
"Don't they knock around here?"
"I did," Lucas said to her. He gathered his composure. "You didn't answer."
"And that gave you cause to walk into my house?" Leena walked passed him and into her living room.
"Maybe you should learn how to lock the door," Lucas said to himself as he turned to follower her out.
"So where are you suppose to be taking me?" Leena asked him.
"For someone who doesn't know where she's going you sure seem to be in a hurry to get there."
"Look, I had a pretty rough day yesterday and if you're suppose to be taking me someplace where I can get more answers then I'd appreciate it if you'd pick up the pace." The two of them continued walking.
"That's right. I heard about you." Leena turned to look at him, all too curious about what was coming next. "You're that girl that got picked up on the surface during the Juggernaut's last sweep."
Leena just stared at him, slowing her stride. Even though he was speaking engish she could only understand about half of what he was saying.
"Rumor has it you came straight out of the machine power plant. That true?"
Leena took notice of the exposed portion of his arms due to the short sleeve shirt he was wearing. She saw the plugs that bore into his skin. "So what if I did? From the looks of it I'm not the only one that got out of that thing." Leena immediately got a flash in her head of the pod-lined towers that she was expelled from and received a shudder.
"You'd be wrong there," Lucas said to her.
"What about those?" Leena said, using a tilt of her chin to point out his arms.
"You mean these?" Lucas held them up. "They pulled me out of the fields on one of their raids. They pulled everyone with plugs out of the fields. Except for you, that is."
"What fields? What are you talking about?"
"Don't worry. They'll explain it all in orientation. Just try not to get too freaked when they shove that spike into the back of your head."
Leena rubbed her hand against the back of her head, feeling the extremely short strands of hair that had been sprouting from her bald head. "They're going to stick something in the back of my head!?!"
"It's not as bad as it sounds." Lucas cocked a halfhearted smirk at her that somehow managed to fulfill its purpose of masking just how much he was joking.
Leena sat down at the desk she was instructed to as she suffered through what Lucas had casually referred to as orientation. Seemed more like slow torture. Leena glanced around the room at the other occupied desk and then back up at the makeshift instructure that loomed over them all. After all she had been through Leena couldn't believe that she was back in school again. And from the looks off the handful of students that accompanied her she'd been demoted back to kindergarten. She was the only person in the room other than the instructor that was over three feet tall.
He laid it all out. And in extremely boring detail given the subjec matter. The instructor managed to fill in all the blanks regarding the war with the machines, the matrix, Zion, the fields, the power plant, the wholes in their bodies, and the reasons why they existed. During the next week the class explored some of the more technical workings of the facilities that kept the city running. The complexities of the concepts weren't too difficult to grasp, especially after that spike got shoved into the back of their skulls and a stream of information poured into minds. This place was getting stranger by the minute.
Leena left her domicile on her way to class when she came across the illustrious Lucas as rambled away with the small pack of scamps he conversed with. She'd hoped to squeak by the crowd without them noticing her but had no such luck.
"Hey, sweets! Where ya going?"
It wasn't Lucas's voice but she turned around, knowing it had emanated from the crowd that hovered around him. "You talking to me?" Leena said.
"Leena, come over here for second?" Lucas said. He knew her name. "I just want to talk to you for a second."
Leena complied. Her class wasn't schedualed to start for another twenty minutes and she had to admit that she wasn't itching to get there. Maybe he'd pass for a temporary distraction before her instructor lulled her into a numbing trance of boredom.
"What do you want?"
"I want you to come with us," Lucas answered her.
"I got class."
He huffed out laughter and looked over his shoulder at his cohorts who had also broken out into a quiet laughter. "So blow it off," Lucas said to her. "It's not like they can throw you in the stockade for it. Come on. Let's go."
Leena followed the crowd, Lucas specifically. Truth was the city of Zion still held an untold fortitude of wonders waiting for her to discover them. Wonders that she felt could be better explored outside of a classroom.
The boys filed out of the elevator in front of her. When she stepped out the first thing her eyes found was the domed roof that filled the air high above her head. The sight above her head was soon trumped by what she saw when she got a peak at what was ahead of the pack of shoulders in front of her. Leena quickly moved forward and pushed past Lucas and his friends. The ships were enormous. Ships. Planes. Boats that flew. They had to be some form of transport and they were the most amazing thing that Leena had ever seen. She tried to keep up with the crowd and admire the scenery at the same time as they all rushed toward one of the large hulking things.
"There's no rule that says we can't be here," one of the boys in Leena's group responded.
She turned to Lucas. "Is this what you guys do for fun around here?"
"Among other things," he said, cocking a smile at her.
Leena shook off his obvious flirtation with quick grin then turned to take a look at the boys that had moved on ahead of them toward the men stroking their mop/brushes up along side the ship and spraying it with hoses. "That's the Juggernaut," Lucas said to her. "That's the ship you came in on."
"What is this place?" She looked around at all of the other ships.
"Hey, come on!" the two of them heard a voice shout.
"Come on. Let's go. You're gonna love this."
Lucas escorted Leena aboard the Juggernaut behind the other boys and watched as she marveled in silence at the structure around her. "It's a hovercraft."
"A hovercraft. It's what they use to get around the tunnels and the surface with." He could tell he was cunfusing her. "Except this one's special."
"Why's that?" she said, still looking around at the wiring and structure.
"Lt. Hornsby is station on this ship. I think you know who he is already." Leena looked at him. "It just so happens that he's got this little setup onboard that you might find intersting."
"Is that what you think?"
They eventually reached the ship's core. "Don't you kids have anything better to do?" Corporal Tachery said to the crowd that he saw emerge behind him. He pushed his chair back and away from the array of monitors and keyboards he was working on, turning to face them. "You know you're not suppose to be in here. If Captain Mills finds out about this he's going to have my ass."
"Come on, Tach. Just let us gat few rounds in. It's not like we've gotten caught before."
"There's a first time for everything, Buxton."
"Let her go first," Lucas said, moving to the front of the crowd toward Buxton and Cpl Tachery. "She's new."
"So what?" Buxton said. "That don't mean nothing. She can stand there and watch."
"It's okay," Leena spoke up. "You guys just do your thing."
"Tach, load her up."
"That's bullshit, Lucas. No way she's going on before me. You can go court on your own time."
"She is cute, isn't she, Buxton," Lucas said, stepping right up to his face. Leena just looked toward the wall, away from them all, trying not to blush or show any other concern in this pissing contest. "And wouldn't I be that much less of a man if didn't at least try to uphold the chivalrous, if outdated notion, of ladies first?"
They were face to face in a moment of uncomfortable silence that echoed throughout the entire room. Both of their sneers turned to smirks. Their smirks to grins. "Fine. You got it, cowboy. Just try not to ride her too long." Buxton cut his eyes over to Leena and then back to Lucas. "There is a line after all."
"My, my, my," Cpl. Tachery chimed in. "When are you boys going to learn to play nice?"
Lucas helped Leena into one of the many chairs in the room and inserted the plug into the back of her head. After all of her orientation classes it was starting to feel less weird. "What's gonna happen now," she asked him. "Am I gonna learn how to fly this thing."
"No. It's combat training. Tach there is gonna load you up with a few moves then I'm gonna come in and see how good you are at using them. So just relax."
Leena returned the grin she saw groing across his face with an annoyed twist of her lips. "And we're doing this why?"
"Well you asked what we did for fun."
Leena opened her eyes and saw Lucas standing in front of her decked out in some reject wardrobe from a Bruce Lee movie. Looking down at her own clothes, she had the distinct urge to apologize for insults to his clothes that she hadn't even made.
"This is a sparring program," Lucas said to her. She looked around at the dojo she was now standing in. The simulations in orientation were nothing like this. "I'm sure getting juiced up with all that kick ass must have made you feel pretty good. So now we're gonna see what we can do about that."
"Just what'd you have in mind, Lucas," Leena said as she arched up on her toes and started to bounce a little, already knowing where this was going.
"All you have to do is hit me."
He took his stance and she took her. They came at each other across the mat and inside of three moved Leena landed a punch to his chest that sent him flying backwards and put him down on his back.
"You're right. This is fun." Lucas got to his feet and they started again.
"Tach, are you doing something to the program?" Buxton asked him as he stared at the computer screens with all the others.
"All I did was load them up. And I shouldn't have done that. Everything else is there doing."
"But this just can't be right." Buxton watched the screen as Leena took Lucas down again and again with every increasing speed and efficiency.
"Who is this girl?" one of the other boys asked in amazement.
"I don't know," Cpl. Tachery said. "But I've never seen anything like this."
"Screw this. I'm going in." Buxton grabbed one of the other boys and pushed him toward a chair. "Well see how tough she is. Load us up, Tach."
Leena spun around and put a spinning back kick into Lucas's stomach that sent him back across the room. She bounced and danced around the mat taking as much amusement in his frustration as she did in her extraordinary skill. She was definitly going to have to talk to that tachery guy about getting some more of this stuff when she got back out. She watched Lucas climb to his feet again and took her stance as he came toward her.
To Lucas's surprise her next kick was not directed at him, but rather behind her, directly into the air above her head and into the chest of Buxton as he dove into the air at her from behind her back. The kick stopped him in mid-air and sent him flying back in the opposite direction. Lucas had to admit he took a certain satisfaction from his take down. Seeing a third person appear in the corner and start to make his move on Leena, Lucas felt compelled to join in the fight.
Lt. Hornsby stormed into the Juggernauts core, surprising everyone inside with his presence. "What the hell is going on in here?" he asked assertively.
"You've got to see this!" one of the boys said, so enthused by the action he saw on the screen that he momentarily ignored the rank and identity of the man who had walked into the room. "She's taking all three of them like it's nothing!" His friends immediately snapped him out of his infatuation with the computer screens.
"Get the hell off of my ship!" Hornsby commanded.
The kids rushed out past him and the infuriated lieutenant approached the corporal at the terminal. "What did I tell you about letting them play around in here? You've already been informed about what I've been through just to get this equipment installed aboard this ship. Or is it going to take a court marshal for rank insubordination to refresh your memory?"
"I apologize sincerely, sir, but you have to take a look at this."
Lt. Hornsby got closer to get a better view of the screens and immediately regreted the incompetence his fury brought after it caused hi not to notice the kids sitting in the chairs plugged in to the simulation not more that a few feet away from him. "What are they doing in there?" he said, watching the fight going on.
"I don't know, your little power plant girl is kicking ass in a way that I have never seen in my life. There's three of them in there and neither one of them has been able to so much as lay a finger on her."
"Are these kinetics right?" Hornsby asked.
"All the readings are right, sir. And their off the chart."
"Bring them out of there. Right now."
Lt. Hornsby walked along one of the ramp bridges in the city of Zion along side of Commander Richard. "Now what, Lieutenant? You starting a cheerleading squad? Not thatit would be that far out of an idea where you're concerned."
"I want her for special projects," Hornsby said as they walked onto an elevator. "You should have seen her. I think this girl is going to be the key to an entirely new breakthrough."
"She's going to be the key to you being busted out of the corps. You're skating on thin enough ice as it is with this project. It's not enough the Counsil allowed you to turn a significant portion of one my ships into your own personal lab, cluttering up perfectly good deck of the Juggernaut with you equipment. Now you have to go pressing you good fortune with this."
The elevator door opened five levels down and they got out. "Mark my words, Commander. Maintaining a viable presence within the construct as well as outside of it will eventually prove to be as invaluable a tool as any weapon in the entire infantry."
"Entertain me with your delusions some other time, lieutenant. Besides, she too young. Minimum age for the corp is 18."
"The corps accepts volunteers in certain situations. Given the views held by you and several other influential bureaucrats regarding my work there shouldn't be much trouble getting her assigned to me."
"Careful, Lieutenant. I believe there have been a few casualties in these so called experiments of yours that might also have an effect on the decision."
"If I'm not mistaken, I don't think there is any faculty of life you could assign her to here that would lead to less danger to her life than my work would cause."
"You overestimate yourself, Lt. Hornsby," Commander Richard huffed out with a quick laugh. "Fine. You can have her. But only if she volunteers."
Leena sat her metalic tray down on the table as she took a seat. "Wasup?" she said nervously, pulling her utensils out of her pocket and setting them down on the table beside her tray. The table was quickly cleared of its populous. All accept Lucas who remained in his place across from her.
"Guess you're not too popular around here," Lucas said to her.
"Not unless you count my standing in orientation class. Hope it wasn't something I said." Leena dug into her meal.
"Maybe it was something you did. You mind if I ask what was up with that freak show onboard the ship? I thought that was your first time in. Are they teaching a new curriculum in orientation or what?"
"Didn't mean to bruise any egos. You think I should apologize?"
"Wouldn't do any good. The guys got you pegged as some kind of pet for the higher ups. Seeing as they plucked you straight from the power plant and all. Rumor has it you've already been loaded to the gills with combat training and that's how you pulled off that little stunt back at the docks."
"Well hate to disappoint the local sewing circle but I..."
"Leena!?! Leena Storm!?!" a voice bellowed from behind her. Lucas looked over her shoulder and she turned around to see who it was that was calling out her name in such an urgent way. The two of them saw Lieutenant Hornsby making his way through the crowd and around the tables toward where they were sitting. "Leena, I need to speak with you."
"Don't suppose this is going to help your reputation." Leena turned back around and saw Lucas collecting his things and moving to another table. Lt. Hornsby took a seat in his place. Leena started to think that Lucas might have a point.
"You aren't busy, are you?" Hornsby asked her.
"Well, I am eating."
"Then please, finish quickly. It's rather urgent that we have a talk."
Leena found herself aboard the Juggernaut once again, staring at the chairs that had been instrumental in besmirching her not so good name. Only this time instead of having herself wired to the equipment around them she was being lectured on them. The origin of the entire setup's design, the purpose of the respective parts he pointed out, and eventually the plans that he had for the entire project that spilled out to her in rapid succession.
"And you plan on," Leena waved her hands in front of her as if she was juggling thin air, "hacking into this thing?"
"The matrix. Hacking into the matrix. And I've already done it."
"What exactly are you asking me to do?"
Leena walked along the level of the city toward her home looking out over the railing, up at the glowing stories of apartments that began to go dim as the city settled in for its own version of nightfall. Every individual light above her became a shimmering star as she continued along her path. She saw a familiar face as she drew closer to her own apartment.
"What are you doing here?" she aske Lucas.
"Wanted to make sure you got home safe."
"I wasn't aware that this place had such an urgent problem with the criminal element. Besides, aren't you loosing cool points by allowing yourself to be seen with me?"
"Maybe I don't care." Leena watched the flirtatious smirk grow on his face and tried to hide her reciprocating smile by tucking her lips into her mouth. It could hardly hide the fact that she was enjoying this little exchange. She started to feel a bit guilty when she thought of the lingering crush that she had had for her classmate Jacob back home. Back inside the matrix. Their relationship never advanced past a few fleeting glances but feelings of unfaithfulness still welled up in her. Was that even real? What she felt for him? A new order of confusion flooded her mind and snapped her out of everything.
"I have to get home. Got a big day tomorrow."
"Does it have something to do with what you and the lieutenant talked about?" Lucas tried to change the flow of the conversation, sensing her uneasiness.
"I'm not suppose to talk about it." Leena continued walking past him and Lucas hurried to catch up to her.
"So what do you think about the view?" he asked, waving his arm out toward the rail. "Zion's quite the spectacle after lights out. I like to sneak out here sometimes when my parents are asleep." Lucas stared up at the stories. "I check it out for hours sometimes."
"You have parents? I thought you said they pulled you out of the fields?"
"They did. But like a lot of kids reaped I was adopted by a couple that just didn't have enough adorable in their life."
Leena grinned and then gave a laugh. They eventually reached her door. "I guess this is it," she said, leaning back against the red paint and gently knocking the back of her knuckles against the door. "You walked me home. Consider your job done."
"You sure you don't need me to come in and check for burglars?"
"After witnessing your skills in the sparring program I think I'd have better chance on my own. Thanks anyway." Leena pulled her hand down and turned the latch.
"Could always tuck you in. Read you a bedtime story."
She leaned back against the door and pushed it open. "Or you could just head back home. I'm sure your parents are worried." She backed into her apartment and shut the door.
Leena grabbed a shower and crawled into bed. Thinking about Lucas and his antics, she closed her eyes with a smile on her face. Thoughts of Jacob, Jennifer, and everyone else that she remembered from her life in the matrix who were probably turning in for night filled her head and melted the smile she wore. What the hell was the matrix? Lt. Hornsby had skimmed over some halfassed explaination in his ramblings but hadn't really gotten to the thick of it. It was sure to come up tomorrow. Leena concentrated on getting some rest. From what she was told she was going to need it.
Leena received a brief refresher course of the layout of the ship. Only this time she had the priviledge of meeting its crew this time around. Cpl. Tachery she already knew. Privates Sunny, Galvin, and Harris along with Sergent Degger, Gunnery Sgt. Weathers, and Captain Mills were all new faces. Not to mention much older faces. Leena felt completely out of place. She then followed Mills and Hornsby as they lead her toward the cockpit. Leena took a quick peak behind her and watched as the rest of the crew all scattered to their designated positions aboard the ship.
The three of them found Cpl. Vicks at the helm prepping the ship for take off. Captain Mills took a seat in the co-pilots chair. Leena braced herself against the nearest object she could get a hand on as she watched the two men in front of her and Cpl. Hornsby pull the Juggernaut out of port and take it toward the two enormous parting metal walls of one of the dock's gates. As the ship pulled into the tunnel ahead at an ever increasing rate Leena could hardly believe what she was seeing.
This tube of lined course sections of steel and iron piping seemed to go on forever. As the ship moved forward Leena saw what she thought was tunnel break off into a maze of alternate pathways that lead in every conceivable direction. The ship was guided down differnt paths at certain junctures only to move down a different pipe at the next. Hornsby was at her ear the whole time but she hardly heard a word he said. Something about mechanical lines. Decrease in temperature. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. A part of her wanted to hurry back into the bowels of the ship, find the others, and bring them up here to see this. But she figured that all of this was probably old news to them. The ship turned into another tunnel that moved at an angle. She honestly couldn't tell whether they were headed up or down. Where the hell are we, she thought.
The Juggernaut exited the tunnel into...into nothing. Leena stared out of every window in the cockpit, in every direction that was allowed. She saw nothing but darkness. Not the darkness that the glow of the hovercraft's pad pierced through so easily as they moved through jagged tunnels outside of the city of Zion. This was a different kind of darkness. There was an illumination that broke through making all things visible, but the dim light that came from above them shown down on the gruesome darkness of a dead world.
The light flickered and shadows moved as the Juggernaut glided high above the surface of the scorched earth. Crumbling rock formations and the skeleton of a city filled the horizon outside of the window. Leena felt dizzy and nauseous.
"This is all that remains of the world you thought you knew. Well almost," she heard Lt. Hornsby say.
The landscape soon shifted, into something that was beyond bizarre. Something that frightened Leena. What the hell were those things? Slow moving mastodonic creatures that appeared to be feeding off the glowing bulbs that they plucked from the organisms beneath them and sucked down their trunks. Leena finally saw a familiar, yet still frightening, sight. The pillars. The nest of columns encrusted with tiny pink pods. She could feel her skin begin to crawl with a cold stickiness once more.
"That's it. That's their power plant. That's where you came from."
Leena stared over Cpl. Tachery's shoulder at the screens filled with strange scrolling green patterns. "That's it?" she asked.
"That's it, little girl," Tachery answered her. "That's the matrix."
"Am not a little girl."
"Well you're the youngest recruit to ever board this ship on official business. And for the record," Tachery turned away from his monitors and looked at her, "I don't like it."
"I recommend you get use to it, Corporal," Lt. Hornsby ordered him. "Because you're going to be sending her in."
"Sir, you can't be serious. It's too dangerous."
Leena looked at the screens again just as confused as before. "Are you telling me you're going to try and put me in there?"
Hornsby pulled her to the side. "I'm not going to lie to you. Tachery's right. The risks may very well be significant. But I really believe that your origins could be pivital to this research."
"But you've done this before, right?" Leena asked looking over at the circle of chairs. "With other people?"
"There have been trials. Minor sort range reconnaissance missions made by soldiers that have volunteered for this project. Like Pvts. Galvin, Harris and Sunny. And we have had some casualties," Lt. Hornsby said looking down at the floor for a moment and then back up at Leena's worried face. "But I truely believe that this project will prove to be vital in the war. And you...who you are. Well let's just say that I believe us finding you the way we did has already reaffirmed my faith in what we're doing here."
Leena looked at the chairs again. Then towards the green monitors in front of Tachery. Then back to Hornsby. "I can't force you to do anything. Whether or not you'll help us is entirely up to you."
Leena looked down at the plugs her arm and thought about the ones covering the rest of her body. She thought about a lot of things in those fleeting moments. The future of humanity. The countless lives still in electronic captivity, namely hers. The one that she prematurely expelled from, at least. Leena didn't have to think long.
"What do we do first?" she asked Lt. Hornsby.
"Climb in," he said relieved as he gestured toward one of the chairs. He watched her comply, overjoyed. "I hear Tachery's already given you some cobat training." Hornsby walked over to the chair she hopped up into and pulled the plug down from its attachment behind her. "We're going to augment that training. And provide you with everything you'll need to successfully navigate the world of the matrix."
He stuck the plug into the back of her head.
Leena looked up into her face as she moved from over her and headed to her own chair. She didn't believe her. "It's just in and out, right?" she said aloud, hoping someone in the room could provide her with a little more comfort. "We get in, find this guy, and leave?" Her lungs began to pick up their pace. Lt. Hornsby moved to her side. He began checking her monitoring equipment.
"We're going to attempt an extraction," he said to her. "If it's successful it will solidify the primary function that this project was designed for." He let out a frustrated sigh and looked down at her. Leena gathered that previous attempts obviously hadn't went as planned. That tidbit didn't help much. "Other than that this is just a simple reconnaissance," he said with a smile, patting her on the shoulder. "We mostly just want check out your readings. See if there're any differences from the people harvested from the fields. You should be fine."
He walked away from a still nervous Leena who attempted to sit up in the chair to keep eye contact with his body, momentarily forgetting about the plug in her head that gave little give. She lay back down and turned her head to the side toward Tachery's cluster of monitors. "So, what do we know about this guy?" she asked.
"We made contact with him some time ago via his computer," Lt. Hornsby answered her from where he stood at Tachery's side. "We've been secretly sifting through the internet traffic within the matrix, subtly planting information as well as gathering it. Whenever anyone takes interest in our subject matter we begin an evaluation."
"An evaluation for what?"
"A basic pych outline to determine the levels of individuality, defiance of authority, abstract thinking. Anything we can find that might lead us to believe that the subject could be more or less susceptible to the truth."
"And you think this Michael guy would make a good candidate?" She received no answer. The others were all loaded into their chairs and they were ready for their trip. All she heard now was the conversation between Hornsby and Tachery as they readied them for their trip.
Leena closed her eyes and let the fear wash over her. Hornsby and Tachery's voices softened inside her ears until they were nonexistent. Leena tried to remember her training. All the information imparted to her by Hornsby regarding what their previous missions inside the matrix had yeilded. The combat training she'd recieved. A wave of energy surged through her body and Leena opened her eyes. Looking around at all the machanical equipment inside the delapidated apartment she began to feel that her initial fears well justified in their intent.
After lifting her eyes away from her apparel she watched as Sunny and Galvin left the room, leaving her and Pvt. Harris alone in the room. "Where are they going?" she asked him.
"To check on Michael."
The time pasted. Leena walked around the room fiddling with the strange equipment inside, trying not to break anything, while Harris went into even further detail about their mission. He talked to her about their interaction Michael. Their conversations over the web. What the little odds and ends aournd the room were hopefully going to be used for.
"You think he'll want to go with them?" Leena asked. "Leave this place?"
"Not sure," Harris said to her. "Doesn't really matter I guess. The way I figure this is just another trail run to see how far we get before..."
"Before they pull us back out of here." Once again Leena got the feeling that she wasn't getting the whole story. "Suppose the real mission is you. Tach and Hornsby back on the ship getting all googly eyed over your readout. What with you being born in this place and all." Leena walked over to one of the windows in the room and looked out at the world below. "What was that like by the way?"
"Growing up in Zion, what was that like?"
"It was real. I can tell you that much."
"Yeah? Well what is real, exactly?" Leena watched the people down on the street as they passed by in cars, on the sidewalk, just going about their lives.
The cell phone in Pvt. Harris's coat pocket came to life and he pulled it out. "What is it?" he said into the phone.
They're in trouble! Get over to the flower shop on 1500 block of Westbridge right now! they need your help!"
"What about the newb? I can't just leave her here?" Leena began to know fear all over again as she listened closely to the conversation Harris was having on the phone. He hung it up and stuffed it in his pocket. "Come on!" he said, moving toward her and then past her for the door. "We have to go!"
The car skidded about twenty feet as Harris stomped on the brakes in front of a very tall office building. He hurried out of the car not bothering to give any instructions to the muddled girl accompanying him. She jumped out of the car and followed him inside the building.
Harris took the elevator to the fifteenth floor. Leena watched nervously by his side as he continued to speak frantically into his cellular phone to Tachery. She had no idea what she was suppose to be doing or if she was even suppose to be doing anything at all. The elevator stopped and they both stepped out into madness.
The office floor teemed with workers that were running in all directions, tripping over each other and pushing fellow employees out of the way as they moved to the sound of papers flapping in the air, their own screams, the gunfire that resonated in the distance. Harris went on the move with his cell phone glued to the side of his head and Leena followed him. Keeping her eyes on the back of his coat, she kept pace as they moved through the maze of glass walls and partitions, the sound of gunfire getting louder the whole way, until they came to a door that Harris kicked in.
Inside the room they found Sunny taking cover behind a tipped over desk as shot were being fired into the other side by a suited man across the room from her. When there was a break in his reports Sunny raised up over the desk and returned fire along with Harris who made his way over to the desk next to her leaving a stunned Leena taking cover in the doorway wondering why nary a shot penatrated the very familiar looking suited gentleman on the other side of the room.
"Where's Galvin!" Leena heard Harris say as he ducked down behind the dwindling cover the desk along with Sunny.
"He's dead!" she said. "The guy came out of nowhere! Ambushed the whole operation!" Bullets continued to perforate the wood above their heads. "We have to get out of here!"
Leena watched, horrified, as the pair of shades lowered its gun and began moving across the room toward the desk. He kicked one side of it and spun the whole thing, placing the depleted piece of wood between him and Sunny and Harris as they stood and moved with its spin. The suit and shades were now between the two Pvt.'s and a shivering Leena who stood helpless in the doorway. Forgetting her backdrop, or having never had any knowledge of it in the first place, Sunny fired her gun at the man sending every missed shot crashing into the wooden frame of the open doorway, sending Leena ducking around the side for cover. Taking another look back inside the room, she saw that Sunny and Harris had taken their leave of it via a dor on the opposite wall. The pair of shades did a one eighty and looked directly at her.
Leena panicked. Pushing off the wall that provided her cover, she sprinted off in the direction of the fleeing, screaming crowd behind her. Scared and alone, she pushed her shoulder against one of the doors in a hallway congested with personnel in an attempt to find a short cut to...anywhere but here. Instead, all she found was a body. Galvin's body. Loaded with bullet holes as his vacant eyes stared up at the tiles of the ceiling above. Quelling nauseous gags, she stepped over the body and headed for the door on the other side of the room. Just as she turned the knob the familiar sounds of panicked gasping found her ears. She looked behind her and saw the crouching figure that was cowering beneath the desk to her right.
"Michael?" she said. He must have ducked under there sometime between when they made contact and suited man found them. He didn't answer her and Leena didn't stick around long enough for a confirmation. She hurried through the door and he scrambled from the floor beneath the desk to catch up.
"Hey, wait up!" Michael called after her.
Leena kept going, paying no attention to him. Moving through the paritions and halls again, she found remnants of the fleeing crowd and headed into the herd. The pair of shades that moved through the crowd in the opposite direction toward her caught her attention and she began to backpedal. The fleeing crowd in front of her soon vanished, leaving only the extemely determined suit. He wasn't armed but could quite possibly be so. She was definitely trained.
Michael made the corner and cringed at the sight of the suit and tie he saw standing at the other of the short corridor. The face of the man that had so unexpectantly brought upon so much damage and destruction at a moment notice. The young lady in front of him rushed forward.
He punched and she dodged. She fought and he blocked. He attacked again she stomped into his chest with a front kick that sent him soaring the distance of the glass lined corridor until the wall at the other end brought him to a stop upon indenting himself into it. Leena unthinkingly continued on past him, finding the fire escape. She pushed through it, sounding the building alarm, and Michale trailed. He followed her down and out into the alley on the side of the building, bumping into the back of her shoulder as she came to a stop. Leena continued to ignore him as she fished through her pockets for the cell phone she'd been issued upon arriving into this nightmare. She punched buttons.
"Hello? Cpl. Tachery? Can you help me?"
"Who are you talking to?" Michael asked over her shoulder. Leena turned away from him.
"What? I can't hear you." She stuck a finger in her free ear, hoping to fade out all the screaming and sirens that resonated from the area in front of the building. "Alright. I'm on my way!" Leena hung up the phone and ran off down alley away from all the noise. Michael, shying away from the flashing blue and red lights and sirens he saw streaking past the street opening in the opposite direction from where the young lady was heading, darted off down the alley behind her.
"Wait for me!"
Apparently he wasn't going to require much energy after all. The strange girl who had ran out into the street ahead of him had stopped there, dead center in the median. In an effort to flag down a passing vehicle she barely managed to miss being hit by two of them as they swerved around her. She wasn't so lucky with the third. The driver's reflexes and reaction time being subpar, he succeeded in ramming the grill of his Cadillac directly into the girl, causing her to tumble over the hood and severly crunch in his windshield before tumbling off the car. Michael pushed off of the building and hurried, with what hurry he had left in him, into the street to render assistance.
"Get off of me!" Leena insisted as she stood, shaking loose the multiple sets of grappling hands that clung to her body. "I have to get out of here!" One of the set of hands happened to belong to the driver of the car. Leena, seizing her opportunity, pushed the man to the ground and jumped into the driver's side of his still running car. Slamming the door closed, she watched Michael clammer over the hood of the car toward the passenger side.
"You're not leaving me here!" he yelled at her through the spider webbed windsheild before climbing inside next to her. Leena stomped down on the gas hard. The irate figure in the rearview mirror grew increasing smaller as she tore up the road in front of her. "Who the hell are you?" Michael demanded.
"Will you shut up!" Leena replied, pulling the wheel back hard to the left. She was a bit too late to miss clipping a car parked on the curb to her right. "I flunked driver's ed. and even then the instructer wasn't yakking my ear off! So pipe down!"
Michael strapped himself into his seatbelt and grabbed hold of what he could to brace himself as she swerved violently through traffic. He kept quiet just as she had requested it, but it was mostly due to what was happening inside of him. The dizzying feeling that swam through his head was starting to get some competition from the quesiness in his stomach as to which one was going to make him hurl first. The phone in his driver's coat pocket went off again and she answered it.
"I've got them, sir," Tachery said to an extremely volatile Lt. Hornsby who was right over his shoulder, eyes glued to green code that flashed down the screens faster and faster.
"What about Michael?" he asked impatiently.
"Well, what I can tell you is that pill of yours worked." Tachery wrapped at his boards and alternated his fingers from one screen to the next. "I've got a lock on him dandy enough. The only problem is I need a line to get him out."
"Get Leena back to that apartment. I don't care how you do it just get her back there now!"
Leena must've burned off an inch of rubber from the tires bringing the car to a stop that hard. She jumped out of the car and headed back into the building with a petrified Michael at her heels. "Are you going to tell me what's going on or not?"
"What are you talking about?" Leena said, scaling the staircase. "You're not even suppose to be here. I thought Sunny and Galvin were getting you out."
"Out? You mean out of the matrix?"
They hurried up the winding staircase. Leena looked up the shaft, greatly anticipating their arrival at the top. "What do you think? Of course out of the matrix. Anywhere besides stuck here slowing me down."
"I don't even know what the matrix is! Those people, Sunny and whoever, started in on some long overdue explanation but got cut off by that stiff in a suit who started blowing holes in the place."
Leena reached the floor she was headed to and made a beeline for the apartment. "So do you mind telling me where we're going?"
"I'm going home," she said, pushing open the door.
The place was a wreck. Every piece of equipment inside had been smashed to bits. Or at least the ones that hadn't been flung through the windows were. Leena pulled out her cell phone and called Tachery. "It's all gone," she said.
Michael kicked bits and pieces of electronic devises around the floor as he eavesdropped on her conversation. His dizziness had started to wane so he was better able to concentrate.
"What do you mean take him with me? Look, whoever did this is probably still close by and it's going to be hard enough for me working alone to get myself out of here let alone drag around some science project. You tried to get him out, mission failed, I want out of this hellhole." Leena listened for a while before pressing the cell phone off unnecessarily hard and jamming it back into her pocket.
"Bad news?" Michael said to her.
Leena walked toward him, grabbed him by the shoulder of his shirt, and continued toward the front door without bothering to break her stride. "The worst." Michael stumbled for a bit as she drug him along before finding his footing.
In the hallway outside the two of them leaned over the balcony railing and watched as a horde of police officers made their way up the staircase toward them.
"The cops are here?" Michael said, stunned at the sight. "What the hell did you people get me into?"
"We have to get out of here."
"We're on the top floor and there's about a dozen cops between us and the exit. There's always the window, but unless you can fly I really don't recommend a seven story drop."
Leena stared over the edge at the cadre of men that grew increasingly closer. "I do."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Just come on." Leena grabbed his arm and pulled him into her. She kicked at the wooden railing and Michael leaned over the side and watched it fall. His eyes moved back to her duly noting his objection on whatever it was she was about to do. Leena wrapped her arms around him. "Don't say I never take you anywhere."
She stepped off the ledge and took a screaming Michael the fast way down seven flights of gut wrenching fear. Past the officers that stopped and then reversed their ascent. And directly through the floor that shunned their arrival. Leena landed on her feet still clinching a yelling Michael. She pushed him off of her. "Will you just come on."
She ran through the darkness of the basement and after a second of hesitation, and looking up at the whole in the ceiling that brought them down into the basement he reluctantly gave chase. "Hey, who the hell are you?"
Leena pulled up a metal grate in the floor and soon they were within the lustrous confines of a sewer, walking along sloshing their feet in the city's runoff. "Hey, how'd you do that?" Michael asked from behind Leena's shoulder. "That fall should've killed you. Killed us."
"Don't worry. You'll find out soon enough. You just stay with me. Wade through this crap until I can get us both out of this mess."
"By crap I assume you mean that literally?" Michael said, raising one of his heels and trying to take a peek at what he'd just stepped in. He sloshed it back down again.
"God, I hope not." Leena continued through the dim tunnel toward the light up ahead.
The two of them emerged from the smelly tunnel into a dank atrium that branched off into fourway intersection of sewer tunnels. Michael spun around in circles looking down the path, liking neither of the coices. "Which one?" he asked his faithful guide.
Leena looked up. There was another section of quadruple tunneling about twenty feet up in the wall above their heads, dripping down four tiny waterfalls of waste runoff. "There," she said, tilting her head up towards one of the pipes. "That way."
Michael walked up beside her and tiled his head. "And just how do you suppose we're going to get up there, huh? Don't suppose you have a rocket on your," Leena grabbed the back of his shirt with both fists and tossed him up towards the pipe,"b..ac..ck!" Michael screamed on the way up. With a quick jump Leena soon joined him.
She reached down to help him up out of the running water when...when a strange feeling crept up her spine. Michael reached for her hand but she'd pulled it back. Splashing back down in the water, he watched her move back toward the opening of the tunnel. He had to get to his feet all by himself. After he did so he walked up behind Leena and looked back down into the quad just as she was doing.
"What? What is it?"
"I don't know. It's..." she said to him, still looking down. "It's nothing." She turned and headed down the tunnel. "Come on. Let's get out of here." Michael took one mor glance below and followed quickly.
The two humans were gone. A hooded figure emerged from one of the four tunnels beneath the one in which they'd made their escape through. He looked upward. A man's face appeared from the shadows of the tunnel behind him and took his place at his side staring upward at the piping. "Who were they, your eminence?" the man asked.
"Not sure," the hooded figure answered him. "But it doesn't matter."
"What do you think they were doing down here? Do you think they'll pose a hindrance? To things to come? What were they doing down here? So close. So close to us, master."
"Silence. They couldn't possible pose a threat." The hooded figure dropped his head and head back down the tunnel from which he had emerged and dissappeared into the quiet. "Make sure you have everything ready," his voice grumbled from the shadows.
Leena and Michael emerged from the depths of the city into a sewage plant. They quickly found a telephone therein and the two of them were transported out of the matrix as quickly as possible. The two of them. One a current resident of the city of Zion. The other a purposefully liberated inhabitant of the powerplant fueling the machine city that had been immediately brought aboard the hovercraft ship after being successfully fished out the plants disposal reservoir by the crew of the Juggernaut.
The Juggernaut made its way back through the crust of the planet and safely through the darkness back to the last human civilization. Michael was carted off of the ship and directly to an awaiting hospital while Lt. Hornsby, Cpl. Tachery, Cpt. Mills, and volunteer Leena Storm went before the Zion Counsil and presented their findings.
Lieutenant Hornsby's dreams and theories had all been realized as he listened to the Council's judgement and witnessed the fruition of a bill passed by the Consilmen and women authorizing and legitimizing the creation of a military branch that was to be specifically devoted to the policing, releasing, and harboring of human subjects both within and recently outside of the neuro-interactive system programming know as the matrix. Even in the face of many years of sacrifice and research, he had no one else to thank for this but Leena.