She grabbed hold of the metal beneath her chin and slowly leaned forward, peering longingly at the young man beyond the bars off in the distance behind the swingset. He caught the swing as the lad who sat inside of it came screaming back toward him with uncontrollable laughter. Leena watched jealously as Jacob gave the swing another shove and sent his baby brother once again soaring into the sky. She wondered if he even remembered her.
God, the crush she had on him, she thought, regretting all the missed opportunities to converse with him that her friend Jennifer begged her to take advantage of when the three of them still attended the same highschool. They would've graduated by now. The both of them. Without her being there. Jacob pushed the swing again and this time Leena laughed out loud with the child went gleefully into the air. They didn't hear her though and she dare not approach, continually wondering if where she was standing was too close already.
With what information they'd been able to gather in the past eight months she had enough knowledge to know that at any moment any of the various individuals in the immediate vicinity could instantaneously morph into one of those dreaded Agents initiate and assault on her. At least attempt to initiate one. Though they meant unspeakable horror to any soldier that might venture into their realm, Leena proved to be immune to their aggressive advances, overpowering the suits and shades no matter the numbers they moved in. Though her strength and abilities had grown astronomically in the passing time she feared the appearrance of her nemeses here at this time nonetheless. One of the bodies they might choose to take over could be Jacob's. She would just die.
Leena felt his attention start to shift and she stepped back away fom the monkeybars and moved back to the grass. He seemed to react as if he could feel her presence the way that his coursed through every fiber of her being. His focus along with his head began to slowly turn away from his little brother in the swing and toward the area to the right behind him. Leena stopped moving. When Jacob managed to get his head all the way around all he saw is the plush green grass and foliage of the trees in the distance beyond the monkeybars behind him. Missing a push, he turned back around to catch the next one as he shook off the tingle that crept up the center of his back.
It was Leena turn to soar at Jacob's push this time. She soared up, through the air, above the trees, leaving the area of the park far beneath her as she streaked through the sky above th city. Leena closed her eyes and felt the sensation of the wind shear against her bare arms as she moved forward and upward at an ever increasing speed and angle of ascent. The coolness of the breeze was a release. She didn't dare look down at the buildings, crossroads, and trapped minds beneath her. Instead, when her eyelids slit open against the rushing wind she stared directly up into the white billowy cloud cover that loomed over her head. Increasing her speed, Leena closed her eyes again.
When the water vapor hit her she let go. Leena took her foot off of the gas once she hit the grey and white layer and felt the wet droplets against her face and exposed skin. She leaned back as the speed at which she moved at propelled her forward an upward angle. She continued her slow lean until her body was completely verticle. Her head continued moving backwards. The rest of her body continued to follow suit as she moved forward through vapor, starting with her abdomen and then her torso.
Leena burst through the cloud cover as her forward and upward ascent constantly slowed. Her backward lean continued and the sunlight above began to warm the skin of her exposed belly as her body resumed its backward turn. It felt good. She felt free. Free of all the pressure of her responsibilities aboard the Juggernaut. Free of all the prying eyes that followed her about back in Zion. Free of Jacob and the lingering feelings for him that haunted her. Free of the matrix. Although she was unplugged at times she stil felt as though it had her.
Floating on, the tiny droplets of water rolled down her side and dripped back to the clouds below her. Leena leaned back further, bringing her feet up toward the blue sky and tilting her head down toward the fluffly white pillow below. Tucking her arms to her side, she finished out the turn. After hitting the accelerator again she directed her forward motion at a downward angle and pierced the cloud cover again in the opposite direction.
Leena touched down hard in a grassy area in another part of the city several miles away. She walked across the greenery looking out at the cityscape that lie across the waterway until she came to a low hanging tree branch with a leather trenchcoat draped over it. Leena snatched down her coat and walked behind the man staring across the water through a pair of binoculars.
Leena put on the coat and retrieved a pair of shades from one of the pockets, placing them on her face. "And the prodigal...whatever returns," the man looking through the binocs said as Leena stepped up beside him.
She snatched the binoculars from his face. "Don't start with me, Michael." She placed the lenses to her eyes and got a close up of an apartment window in a building across the waterway. "What do you know. Are guy is still there." She quickly removed the binocs from her face and handed them back to Michael, annoyed as ever.
"You missed it," Michael said, snatching the binoculars from her hand. "He went out to check the mail about an hour ago. Maybe if you were here you could've used your super speed and those super peepers of your to tell us who the letters were from."
"I've had about enough of both you and this assignment. This keeping tabs on potential is getting to be quite tedious. Where the hell is the Cnossus?"
"As a matter of fact, Leena," a figure emerging from the thin treeline behind the water said. "The Cnossus arrived about twenty minutes ago."
Leena looked behind her at Ratcliff and then turned back to the tiny serene waves of the water just beyond her and Michael. "Good. Then tell Tach to get us out of here so they can take over this asinine mission."
She got to her feet. "Stow it, Michael," Leena replied, as irritated as ever. "You've been coonscious all of what, a few months? And a soldier on this ship for even less so I'd think twice about going into a lecture if I were you." Leena hit a few buttons on the monitor screens behind her chair.
"All the same, it doesn't exactly take a seasoned vet to see how squirrelly you've been acting lately. And it doesn't take one to know that it could easily get some killed in there."
"Don't worry," she said turning away from the monitors and moving away from the chair. "Consider your ass covered."
"I feel better already," Ratcliff said, slapping Michael on top of the shoulder. The two of them left the room.
Leena walked over to Tachery's station and looked over his shoulder at the screens covered with the matrix feed. "How're they doing?" she asked.
"The crew of the Cnossus is in place. They'll take it from here." Leena moved out from behind him and slowly headed away. "Michael's right, you know? I tracked you half way on the other side of the city from where their position was. What the hell is it with these little sabbaticals of yours?"
"I'll talk to you later, Tach. Good work in there."
Leena moved through the ship until she reached the cockpit. She climbed into the empty seat next to Cpl. Vicks.
"They still giving you a hard time?" he said after taking note of the worn out look she wore on her face.
"Just drive." Leena leaned back in the seat and rubbed weary fingers across her forehead. Mills let go with ripples of low chuckles.
"That bad, huh? Well just hold on. I'll have you home in no time."
The walls of the tunnels swept swiftly by the cockpit windows as Leena worked at the controls and tried to rid her mind of troubles that constantly plagued her, at least for one more moment. The Juggernaut eventually slowed and Leena attached and earpiece to the side of her head.
"Control, this is the Juggernaut on approach. Requesting access through Gate four." She listened for a moment and stared out the window in front of her until she saw the gigantic metal barriers in front of her part.
The crew of the Juggernaut exited down the ramp of the hovercraft and headed off through the dock in their seperate ways. An exhausted Leena attempted to keep pace with her Lieutenant who was heading in the same direction that she was.
"I spoke with the Council about the still limited personnel we have dispatched in the matrix."
"Tell me they agreed to do something about recruiting," Leena pleaded. "What about your idea for providing incentives for people who signed up? Did you mention that to them?"
"Well? What'd they say?" she asked eagerly.
"They said they wanted to speak with you, in person. Then they'll deliver their verdict on whether or not to increase their backing of this project." Lt. Hornsby grinned when saw the look on Leena's face whence into something even more drained. "Okay, okay," Hornsby caved. "I'll see what I can do about calling off the doctors appointment. You're off the hook for my presentation later. And I'll even see to it that the Captain doesn't miss you during the next inspection."
Leena's face brightened a little but not much. Lt. Hornsby had sure enough did her a favor by lightening her responsibilities here in the city, but the thought of going before the Council still weighed on her as much as the equipment she carried.
"Why do they want to see me?" she asked.
"Come now, Leena. You know as well as I do what the main factor is in the Council's reluctance to place any more support behind this project than they already have."
Leena had heard the rumors. Felt the cautious eyes prowling over her even as others stared on in wonder and amazement. She'd watched in disbelief as the powers that be halfheartedly placed their faith in her Lieutenant's proposals and at the same time, in the face of irrefutable scientific evidence, placed uncalled-for restrictions on his actions.
"They're scared of me, aren't they?"
"What? You? Wandering into our presence directly from the machine network. Invulnerable to their offensives inside the matrix. Which consequently is where you originated from. In fact, out of all the individuals we've liberated you seem to be the only one that can lay claim to that actuality. Can't imagine why they'd be skeptical."
Leena hated his sense of humor. "Do you think I'm dangerous?"
"I believe you're very dangerous. And if you're not I'm going to see to it that your lethality is unrivaled by anything in Zion's arsenal. But if you're asking if I think you're with us, the answer is yes. What else would I believe?"
His responce warmed her for a second. "You didn't tell them about...did you?"
"That Oracle business? No, sir. Go before the Council and report that the pride of my operation and the person they may or may not believe to be the antichrist is being periodically consulted by some crackpot soothsayer? You're on your own with that one. I have to tell you, I still don't like you seeing her. A person like that and she won't let you bring her out? Gotta be something strange there."
"As long as you didn't say anything about it."
Leena continued forward. Lugging her equipment and the weight of all she carried inside of her Leena pressed on. The accompanying voice of her Lieutenant lightened the load but it wasn't enough to make that big of a difference. The city of Zion still awaited her along with the ruling body of its Council. A Council that feared her along with a significant portion of the citizens they represented. At least she still had Hornsby on her side.
"In the past eight months we've managed to retrieve exactly seven people from the machine power plant," Leena spoke. Her voice was echoed toward the people on the other side of the room via the accoustics of the empty auditorium.
"Males and females of various ages," Leena continued, "two of which have been recruited into the program and currently hold positions within the fleet. The other five are adjusting quite well to life within the city."
"And these people," Councilman Gebrell started. "How is that you're coming into contact with them in the first place?"
"Our presence has been made known through several mediums within the matrix itself. We've been able to disperse our message through such means as classified ads, newsletters, flyers." Leena looked at the blank faces across the room with concern. "We've even got information streaming through the sytems internet services," she said in hope of impressing them just a little. "After that they usually come to us."
"And what sort of individuals do you have answering these advertisments of yours?" Councilwoman Haden inquired.
"We like to take what we can get," Leena said with a grin and slight chuckle. It wasn't the least bit infectious with the crowd she attempted to entertain. "Various types of everyday people tend to respond to the beacons we have in place," she said in a more serious tone. "People from all walks of life. Bankers, school teachers, police officers. The common denominator between the subjects appears to be a highly perceptive and questioning nature. The tendency for an affront to authority, and various other psychological similarities along those line. We feel that with your help to provide incentives for recruitment we can broaden our search along with increasing our resources to..."
"Am I to understand," Councilman Gebrell said, lifting up a sheet of paper from the table he sat behind with the others and bringing it closer to his wrinkled face, "that the majority of the individuals that have been released from the machines control were done so by you personally? Five out of the seven if I'm not mistaken."
Leena lowered her head and her eyes to the floor but brought them both up quickly as to not show any more weakness than she already had. "Yes, that's correct," she said with a silent gulp. She didn't like where this was headed.
"Any of them possess the abilities within the machine world that you do?" She hesitated. "Private?"
"No, sir. Not to our knowledge, but..."
"But what, soldier? What exactly is it that sets you apart from the rest of the individuals that the program you are partially responsible for initiating has delivered into populous?"
Leena was silent.
Councilwoman Haden spoke. "Though it is our belief that the actions of the soldiers paticipating in the matrix recon program proved to be an invaluable asset to our cause, the events that led up to its approval and the actions sustaining it are suspect, to say the least. Therefore it is our decision that the program continue on its current course with the provisions already provided it and no more; on the condition that those individuals retrieved from the power plant, both before and after this meeting, you included, submit themselves for mandatory bimonthly medical checkups and debriefing. And that you be suspended from the program until this Council sees fit to deem otherwise. Is that understood?"
Leena couldn't believe what she'd just witnessed. The apprehensiveness she had just watch spew from the ruling body of this city in the face of what they stood on the verge of stunned her. She set aside all the fear and standoffishness that might have clouded the vision of some of the citizens, including a few members of the Council, about where the intentions of her and the program she was a major part of might lead them all, and still remained in awe at their request.
"Yes, ma'am. I understand."
Leena walked across one of the planks that lingered high above the floor that the abyss that was Zion came to a stop on. All in all, she couldn't really say she felt bad about the Council's verdict. After all, one way of her getting some much needed rest was just as good as another. She did, however, worry about what Lt. Hornsby's reaction would be to the news.
"Leena! Hey, Leena, wait up!"
She'd almost made it to the elevator. Almost reached her level but not before she turned to see Lucas rushing in her direction.
"Slow down. Where're you going in such a hurry?"
"S'up, Lucas," she said apologetic. "I was just on my home. Got some bad news and figured that was the best place for me to be right now."
"Well let me walk you." He followed her on her way to the elevator and boarded the conveyance along with her. "Since you appear to be in such a bad mood I doubt you'd begrudge me the opportunity at an attempt to cheer you up."
"Feel free," Leena said.
"The Odessus." She turned to look at him. "I enlisted into the matrix reconnaissance and the accepted me aboard."
Considering her own predicament Leena couldn't believe how happy she was for him. The elevator doors opened and the two of them stepped off. "Congratulations. That's great."
"You bet your ass it is. I'd always planned on enlisting in the corp. when I turned eighteen. With all the help you seem to be needing with your crusade I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone."
"Its Hornsby's crusade and I'm sure he'd appreciate the help."
Lucas grabbed her by the arm and halted her mid-stride. Leena turned to face him. "What say we celebrate? Just you and me. I'll bring the Champange, or what passes for it here."
"I'm not sure, Lucas. Not right now. I'm very happy for you, but I've got a lot of things going on right now." Leena continued her walk. Turning into a back peddle, she smiled at him and said, "Congratulations again. The Odessus will be lucky to have you." She spun around and continued on her way leaving Lucas where he stood on the platform.
"I gotta tell you," Leena heard over her shoulder as she approached the door to her home. She turned and found Michael walking up behind her with a duffle bag hanging over his shoulder.
"Of all the people who could use a break from it all I can't belive what I just saw back there." Leena looked at him strangely. "Yeah, I caught that little exchange back there. Can't believe you didn't take him up."
"I'd appreciate it if you would start minding your own business. Besides, I've got a break coming up sooner than you'd think." She began walking again.
"I doubt if it'll be as beneficial as the one he was offering." Leena rolled her eyes at his coment and continued moving forward. "Honestly, I can't believe that there's a guy on this planet that would even consider the possibility of being infatuated with you after spending more than two seconds in your company." Leena picked up the pace, entered her dwelling, and slammed the door closed.
"What do you mean she's suspended? On what gounds? I demand to speak to the Council immediately!"
"Lower your voice, lieutenant! It's already done," Commander Richard said to him. "There's no amount of scream you can do that's going to alter their decision in any way. You had to have seen this coming." Commander Richard walk around his desk and took a seat behind it.
Hornsby leaned forward in front of him and placed both of his palms down on the desk. "What I see is a bunch of frightened old fogies crippling my mission solely because they lack the foresight of and at the same time fear the outcome of the objective I'm attempting to complete."
"No! What you should be seeing is the ruling body of this city doing what should have been done a long time ago! Doing what they and the rest of us know is the best course of action in ensuring this city's survival!" Richard leaned back in his chair as he calmed himself.
"Come on, Hornsby. You know as much about this girl as anybody else. And who anongst us can be sure about what her true purpose is here."
"She's not your enemy, Richard," Hornsby said, pushing himself off of his desk and stepping backwards. "I can assure you of that."
"You're making a mistake." Lt. Hornsby turned, stifling his anger, and left the office of Zion's infantry commander.
Lucas climbed into the chair. The operator pushed the plug into the back of his head and, as far as the Odessus's records were concerned, sent him on his sixth official mission within the system of the matrix. Outside of the ship's log, the only thing of any significance that was to be made about this mission was the fact that this would be the first physical contact, whatever that meant within the realm of the matrix, between the human rebellion and this potential.
Cordell entered the school first, followed by Mirian, Gordozza, Tithe, and Lucas. They walked the hall remaining ever vigilant as they approached Mica's classroom. Tithe had broken off from the group a ways back and by some means managed to get Mica's name paged over the intercom while the rest of the fold continued on their way through the halls of the school.
Mica emerged from the open door of a classroom and into the hall down one of the corridors that the extraction team had wondered down. She seemed as surprised as they were about the encounter. "Hurry. We haven't much time," Mirian said as she rushed toward the young girl of no more than ten years. Marian took her hand a hurried her back toward the group that she'd broken away from. The four people in front of them, also aware of the urgency that was the clock, turned and darted off down the hallway behind them.
The six of them, five rebels and one potential were mere feet from the front entrance of the school when Mirian began to scream. Everyone stopped and turned to see what the commotion was all about, immediately regretting doing so. They knew; even before the woman who was screaming had the chance to twist her head about and find out what the cause of her painful lamentation was.
The little girl's grip had, out of the blue, began to crush her hand and brought Mirian to screams. When the tug of her arm halted her forward motion, Mirian spun her pain-stricken face around and stared into the sunglasses of the man who was now holding her hand. Holding her captive. He sqeezed harder, twisting his torso and releasing his grip, throwing the unsuspecting rebel screaming down the hallway behind him while her shipmates looked on in shock.
"We have to go!" Tithe said, grabbing hold of Cordell's coat and pulling him back. The glass windows on the doors behind him began to shatter as bullets crashed through them. They ran. Ran through the doors and ran away from their shipmate that they left panicked on the hallway floor with no one and nothing but the Agent who put her there and the faint screams from the nearby classrooms to keep her company.
"What about Mirian?" Lucas sreamed as they sprinted for the two cars they left parked on the curb.
"There's nothing we can do," Tithe answered him. "She's on her own now."
Mirian scurried across the hallway floor on her stomach. Watching the others make their escape, she knew it wouldn't be long until the Agent turned his attention back to her. She made it to her feet just as two bullets exploded the tile next to her, confirming her suspicions. The shots continued to trail her as she made the first corner she came to.
The halls began to fill with curious and scared students who where accompanied by wary faculty members, all gawking at the strange lady running past the classrooms. When the gun the Agent behind her exploded a few more times it drew horrendous screams from the crowd. The scattering children were enough to slow the Agent slightly but it wouldn't be enough by a long shot. A hand reaching out of one of the open classroom doors and grabbing her wrist put a stumble in her stride. The man snatched Mirian inside of the vacant classroom and wrapped her up in his arms, leaning back against the chalkboard.
"What the hell..." He put his hand over her mouth to silence her.
"Shhh," he hissed next to her ear. "Button it, sister, or you'll get us both pinched." From the glimpse she got of his clothing she didn't make him for an Agent right off, but that still didn't mean that this stranger wasn't a threat to her.
The Agent stepped inside the room they were standing in and he tightened his grip over her mouth as Mirian began to sqirm in his arms. He was strong. Though the vice he held her in barely allowed for much movement Mirian was able to move her head and let her eyes follow the Agent as he moved further into the room and closer to the two of them.
He continued to close in, shade covered eyes scanning the room from left to right, until he stopped walking. He stood less than three feet away from Mirian and her captor though his eyes passed over them at least twice he did nothing. Mirian could barely breathe as she waited for the gun he held at his side to suddenly spring up and splatter her brains all over the guy behing her. Then he just left. Reached up to touch the earpiece on the side of his head then turned around and stepped back out into the hallway of screams to continue his search. Like they weren't even there.
The hand slowly slid away from her mouth. "He couldn't see us," Mirian said when her lips were freed.
"Don't you just love this place? It's like it exists merely to serve those who know how to control it."
Mirian broke away from him when his arms loosened their hold. She turned around to find the man staring back at her, grinning widely as a Cheshire Cat. "Who the hell are you?" she asked him.
"Who, me?" he asked, fixing the shades on his face. "I'm nobody. Just an errand boy out and about under orders to deliver you to parties requesting your audience." His grin stretched wider and soon turned into a soft laughter that Mirian didn't like the sound of.
The plug was snatched out of the back of Gordozza's head and he sat up in his chair. Hopping to the floor, he rushed over to the operator's monitors where everyone else was standing. "Where's Mirian?" he asked, looking back at her body. The monitors around her chair gave no indication that her body had expired. Gordozza turned back around. "Is she okay?"
"She's fine," Tithe said. "We...We just don't know why."
"What? Well where is she?"
"She's in the core network."
Approximately one hour and fifteen minutes later the operator of the Odessus was on the phone with Mirian directing her to an exit. With half the ship's crew looking on Lucas pulled the plug out of the back of her head. Mirian sat up in the chair glancing over the puzzeled faces around her.
"They want Leena," she said, confusing the group even further.
"Who wants Leena," Tithe said to her. "What happened to you? Are you okay?"
"There's this man...he said for me to tell Leena that they want to see her now...or we're all dead."
"What, he's going to kill us?" Lucas asked.
"Not us. And not him. He's not going to kill us, but somebody else is. And not just us. Everybody. If we don't get Leena."
"Wait, who told you this?" Tithe said.
"They said he was...The Merovingian."
The faces around her grew even more confused.
"Well, what do you want me to do? They won't listen to me."
"And for good reason, from where I'm standing." The commander watched as Lt. Hornsby pushed his fingers through his hair in frustration while turning his back to him. "What do you expect me to do, go in front of the Council and tell them that Leena Storm's service are desperately required inside of the matrix? By someone with no affiliation with our military or the citizens of this city for that matter?"
Hornsby turned around. "All I'm asking is that you try." Hornsby left Commander Richard's office.
"What are you gonna do?" Michael asked her as he pitched a pebble over the railing.
"I don't know," Leena said to him. She looked out at the fleet of ships that filled the dock they were and watched as a hovercraft entered the gate from where she sat with her back against a stack of metalic crates.
"Sometimes I want to just walk up to him and say hi. You want me to unplug you from huge power plant that you've been connected to against your will by a entire race of machines that want control of the planet so that you can come back to this underground city with me where we'd live happily ever after. But then I just chicken out."
"I hate it when that happens," Michael said pitching another pebble. He turned his head around a bit to take a look at the ship pulling into the dock behind him then lowered his eyes to Leena. "Who is this guy anyway?"
"His name's Jacob. And the problem is that he's not a potential. And if I approached him like some crazy person him freaking out might not be the worst thing that could happen."
"Right," Michael said. "There's that whole Agent out of nowhere blowing your brains out delemma to think of. That and the whole Lucas thing."
"Him blowing my brains out isn't the issue," she said looking up at him.
"Right. Cause you're supergirl."
"And there is no Lucas thing."
"Now we're in fantacy land. C'mon, Leena." Michael threw another stone. "You couldn't possibly that thick. I mean I don't see the attraction but that doesn't mean there's nothing there."
Leena slammed the back of her fist against his calf. "Shutup!" Turning to hit him allowed her to see Lt. Hornsby moving swiftly in her direction.
"They're revoking my suspension," Leena asked him when they were out of earshot of everybody around.
"Only temporarily. With the help of a few other less deluded individuals in the ranks I've managed to convince the Council that this occurrence is worth investigating."
"Wait a minute. What occurrence? What happened?"
"Go home. Get your things. Tell Michael to do the same. You'll be debriefed aboard the ship."
Michael wasn't too happy about the situation and was very effective in voicing his disdain to Leena. He voiced it on their way back to retrieve their equipment from their apartments; on their way back to the docks; after the debriefing; and while inserted the plug in the back of her head after she climbed in the chair.
"Look, you think I'm having fun here," she finally said to him. "It's not my fault you got dragged off your leave. Besides, I'm the one that's gotta go in to see this freak all by myself so drop it."
"Just make sure you come back alive, mighty one," Michael said as he walked away from her. "This isn't over."
"Wonderful," Leena whispered to her self. She closed her eyes out of pure mental exhaustion. When she opened them again she was standing in front three men who were hold up in front of a door. She watched a car pull up to the men in front of the door. The backseat door opened and a couple emerged. They were greeted and eventually allowed to move past the sentries, through the doorway. Leena walked toward them and was soon stopped by one of the men, attracting the eyes of the other two.
"Leena Storm?" the guy said.
"Am I late?"
"Of course not. Go on in. He's expecting you."
When the elevator doors open again she directed toward another door by another set of gentlemen who seemed all too eager to see her. That door lead her into a sea of gyrating bodies and an atmosphere filled with smoke, techno music, and dissonance. The crowd parted as she moved through it; the partying faces forming a horseshoe around her that grew increasingly wider.
"I'm hear to see the Merovingian," Leena yelled over the music. All of sudden the erratic noise pumping throught he speakers went silent. Leena looked up at the balcony above her head and looked at the man who moved slowly toward the edge.
"I have to say," the man said in a french accent. "I wasn't sure you'd come. This little rebellion of yours has thrown me a bit. Nonetheless, here you are."
"Here because you sent for me," Leena said, assuming she was talking to the one known as the Merovingian. "Now what do you want?"
"All good things. First I'd like to know if I was right about something else." He looked off somewhere into the crowd that surrounded her. "If you will."
Guns were drawn. Lots of them. The people who weren't holding them ran screaming toward the club's exits as Leena twirled around to get a look at the ones who remained. Triggers squeezed all around her. She watched. Watched patiently as the projectiles made their way toward her and the report of their fatal intentions echoed throughout the room.
Leena moved. Walking across the dance floor, she kept her eyes on the men who were frozen stiff with their guns pointed in her direction as she brushed away the bullets that lingered in the air and closed in all around her. She grabbed the first guy by the front of his coat and threw him into two others. Next she went after their guns; kicking away the ones that were being swung at her and ripping away the weapons from those that weren't quick enough to react before Leena could snatch the firearms out of their grip with her gloved hands. After that it was child's play.
She took them all on. Two at a time; four at a time; six men against her. The number of men that filled the club was too much for her to count. Not that she couldn't have, if she tried. It just would have taken too much time out of the thrashing she was dishing out to the Merovingian's henchmen for her to bother. When the last conscious soldier was dispatched Leena leaped up to the balcony that the Merovingian was standing on as he admired the spectacle. She walked over too him, gripping a fist around his tie and the fabric of his shirt. Leena hoisted his body into the air, leaving his feet to dangle.
"What the hell is this about? You lure me here just to spring some halfassed trap only to have it blow up in your face? Please tell me you're smarter than that?"
A smile stretched across his struggling face accompanied by laughter. Leena dropped him to his feet. "Indeed I am. I only wanted to make sure you were who I thought you were," the frenchman said. "By the way, you passed."
"Start talking. What do you want?"
The Merovingian fixed his ruffled shirt and jacket and fixed the tie around his neck. Reaching down to the table beside him, he came up with a martini glass and took a drink. Leena looked over at the woman sitting calmly behind the table with a slight grin on her face and then back at her host.
"His name is Maddox," the Merovingian explained then took another sip from his glass.
"You couldn't imagine my surprise when I first heard of the little insurrection being staged by you and the band of interlopers who relayed my message to you," the frenchman said to her. "To say nothing of my astonishment upon finding out what you are."
"And what am I?" Leena asked him. Her question made him chuckle.
"Still haven't figured it out yet, aah? How about we start with something simpler then, shall we. What do you know of me?"
"Just what I see. That you're not human. You're something like the Oracle. Not sure I care to know much else."
"Just as I thought. Very perceptive. But you're going to need more than those two beautiful jewels if you are to be of any use to me."
"Mr, I haven't even decided whether or not you'll still be in possession of your life when I walk out of this place so if you were about to make a point I'd get to it."
"As you wish." He took another drink from his glass, emptying it of its contents. "The matrix, the clutches of which you're so desperately attempting to liberate yourself and the like from, is about to succumb to an untimely demise. Well, this version of it at least."
"What are you talking about?" Leena said, perking up.
"The humans. They don't seem to be coping with this environment as much as some previously hoped. They're dropping like flies, if you must know, and this failed attempt at encasing them in this reality will most assuredly be replaced by one with exceedingly more potential for security."
Leena stared at him blankly. "For the laymens present, this version of the matrix has officially floundered and an upgraded version is quickly on the way."
"Assuming I'd believe you for a second," Leena said, turning to see the men coming up the steps behind her and then turning back to the Merovingian. "What does this all have to do with me?"
"There's some here. Someone like me."
"What the hell are you?" she asked, amazed that his body was bathed in the same gold coding that she saw emanating from the Oracle the first time she saw her after jacking back into the matrix. The two of them were obviously from the same ilk but Leena could definitely sense something very different about the man before her.
"When this system is rebooted those who have gathered their strengths at this time will find that they will have that much more of an advantage in the new world to come. Maddox is one such individual that I can assure you you and yours would definitely not like to see come into power."
"And you're telling me this why, because you care so much about the human resistance?"
"No. Because in this instance we appear to have something in common. Maddox coming to power isn't something either of our affiliations would find beneficial."
Leena looked around at the gentlemen who gathered behind her, most of whom were nursing the wounds she'd inflicted o them. "You must not be worried about Agents materializing out of no where with me in here," turned back to him. "Unless you're working with them somehow."
The frenchman laughed at her comment, as did the woman who sat next to him. "I don't think you understand," the Merovingian said to her. "I made this place. No Agent can, uh, materialize, as you say, within the coding of any of my guests while in the confines of my facilities. Now are you going to help me bring down this threat to both you and I or have I wasted my time in summoning you?"
"If this guy is gonna be so bad for business why don't you take care of him yourself? What do you need me for?"
"Obviously the abilities you possess are attributes that many in my employment lack. So, what do you say?"
"You want me to whack some creep for the greater good, that's fine. But I'm gonna need a favor in return." The Merovigian laughed. Just laughed a laugh of compliance that reeked of an underlying lascivious plot that she was too desperate at the moment to pay much attention too.
Leena soared through the sky. She flew from the sector of Mega City that Club Hell was in all the way to a designation given to her by the frenchman. She hit the ground running; scaling the steps of the software company and making her way through the building in search of her prey.
Leena burst through door of large bay room on the third floor, the top floor of the building, and found three people gathered around a monitor at the other end of the room. The one sitting in front of the monitor typed at the keyboard while the other two looked on over his shoulder; a redhead and a hooded individual. The monitor was imbedded in a large console that expanded the length of the wall that Leena marched toward.
"Maddox!" she said loudly.
The hooded man turned around slowly, revealing half of his face to her. "Leena Storm," he said to her to her surprise. Leena stopped in her tracks. "Sending you? He must be grasping at straws."
"I'm here...here to stop...whatever it is that you're doing," Leena said to him, watching him turn back around to the computer. "You want to kill me? Kill us? Well here I am."
"Yes. There you are," the hooded man said, still concentrating on the monitor along with the other two men.
Leena removed a gun from inside of her coat and fired a shot into the computer screen the three men seemed so absorbed with. The gentleman typing at the keyboard panicked at the sight of the shattered and sparking monitor that fizzled out along with a lot of other equipment connected to the computer.
"Did the download take!?!" the redhead screamed. "Did we get the program?"
The hooded individual ejected a disc from one of the drives and stuffed it in his coat pocket. "We got it. Now leave. I'll meet you at the rendezvous point." He turned to get a look at Leena who moved quickly in their direction. "I just have to take care of something first."
The hooded man pulled back the sheath that covered his head as the two men that were with him scurried for the exit.
"Who the hell are you and how do you know me?" Leena said, taking her fighting stance.
"Trust me, that's the least of you problems."
"What the hell are you?" Leena asked furiously.
The man looked at her wrist and squinted his eyes, lost in concentration. Then he turned his eyes back to hers. "Your quietus," he answered her. "But you don't seem to be agreeing with me."
"You don't know the half." Snatching her hand back, Leena immediately went on the defensive as her prey turned the tables on her and began his attack. They fought feverishly, neither one of them being able to land more than the slightest hit.
Eventually he backed her into a window. Taking a step back he managed to lunge at her and take hold, forcing the two of them through the glass of the three story building and down to the gathering of workers that had began to evacuate the building at the sound of the gunshots. Their bodies smashed into the concrete with him on top of her creating a spiderweb crack and indentation in the ground. The strange man stood up pulling Leena up with him by the lapel of her coat.
"The reign of death is upon you," he said, pulling her into him. "Go gently into that good night." Awaking from her daze, she looked into his black irises. "The alternative would be best eluded." He spun around and threw her toward the gawking crowd that had gathered with the momentum he'd picked up.
Leena's body bumped against a few onlookers before smacking against a tree on the outskirts of the park just beyond the property line of the building. After falling to the ground she stood up, removed her coat and threw it to the gound. "I can pretty much promise you that nothing gentle is gonna go down between us. Bring it," she said through gritted teeth.
He hurried towards her, tossing bystanders out of his path as he moved off of the concrete and onto the grass in her direction. They collided again, trading a series of blows that were thrown in vain, that is until one thrown by Leena's opponent connected against her chest and sent her gliding through the air. Her body sailed over the grass, over the dirt, over the water, until it crashed down into the lake that was in the distance. Leena swam for the surface after going under. She saw nothing. Nothing but the crowd of amazed onlookers that made their way toward the edge of the lake. The man who had placed her in the water had vanished.
Leena rose up. Her body emerged from the water and the coat that had been dropped by the tree moved through the air and through the crowd of shocked onlookers that shuddered in disbelief as it brushed passed them. They stared in wonder as it finally made it into the hands of the woman who's ascent continued to increase, along with coat, until she vanished into the cloud cover.
Michael pulled the plug from Leena's head. "What the hell was that?" he asked her as she sat up in the chair massaging her lower jaw.
"I have no idea." She climbed out of the chair and left the room, leaving a whole slew of people dying for answers.
Once in her room, Leena heard the laptop on top of her bunk come to life with a series of beeps. Climbing on top of the covers and sitting indian style she flipped the top up and punched her fingers against the keyboard. An image of Lucas appeared ont he screen.
"Leena," he said. His voice filled her with delight. "Glad to see that you're still in the land of the living."
"Not as glad as I am to confirm it," she said to the screen.
"We were monitoring you here on the Odessus. Caught you in that exchange with what's his name...Maddox. Got everybody onboard wondering how he faired so well against Zion's finest."
"Well tell them that they're not alone. I'm kind of wondering the same thing myself," Leena said.
"I was wondering something else."
"What's that?" she asked.
"The deal you made, with the frenchman." Leena turned her eyes away from the screen and around her room for a moment before bringing them back to the laptop. "I was just wondering what your motivation behind that was. I mean, he's not even a potential."
Leena stared into his digital eyes in silence for a moment. "Lucas, the fact is I..." She was interrupted by the sound of a blaring alarm that was emanating from his side of the screen. She saw his head spin around quickly and then turn back towards her image on his screen. "Lucas?" she asked, already knowing what the alarm was insinuating.
"Proximity breach," she heard him say, watching the fear spread across his face. "Sentinels!"
"Hey; hey; hey," Vicks said to her. "What's the rush, kiddo?"
"We have to go," she said, attempting to route the main control of the ship's piloting controls to her console. Vicks immediately intervened and put a stop to her takeover.
"This ship isn't going anywhere unless Captain Mills says otherwise. Now do you want to tell me what the hell has gotten into you?"
"The Odessus," she pleaded. "They're under attack. We have to help them."
The saddness in her eyes finally got to him and the corporal began patching into the system, commanding a search for any unusual electrical activity nearby. Eventually a hologram of an intimidating number of sentinels trailing a hovercraft came up on the display system. Cpl. Vicks notified Cpt. Mills of the impending onslaught about to befall one of their fellow ships and the okay was given, to Leena's relief, for the Juggernaut to attempt to assist the Odessus in their time of need.
Leena took over the controls, pushing the vehicle hard and fast through the tunnels toward the danger that she was sure was engulfing the Odessus at this point. Vicks took a look at the holographics. "Slow down!" he screamed to Leena who paid him little attention. He could see that the ship was down and swarming with clawed tentacles forcing their way through the hull. "Stop!" The corporal grabbed her hand, forcing her to ease off the throttle and at the same time trying to make sure he didn't cause her to veer off into a nearby wall.
"We're closing in on their EMP range! We have to stop!"
Just then a blast emanated from the Odessus. Both Leena and Cpl. Vicks saw the sentinels in the holographic image collapse from the hull of the ship they were attacking; inactive and immobile. Leena slammed on the brakes immediately, hoping they were still far enough out of their fellow ship's blast radius to avoid the deactivation of their own hovercraft. They stopped. And after a few moments suspended over the pipes beneath them the pilot and co-pilot of the still vessel figured themselves in the clear and proceeded forward to the last known coordinates of the wayward hovercraft.
The Juggernaut landed next to the wreck that was the Odessus. Upon unboarding the ships both crews had the chance to really get a good look at the damage that the barrage of setinels lying lifeless on the tunnel floor all around managed to inflict before they were disabled.
"Do you think you can get her airborne again?" Lt. Hornsby asked, looking up at the tattered remains.
"Highly doubtful," Cpt. Peller responded. "I think they dinged her pretty good. You guys think you could give us a lift back to the city? Maybe get a salvage crew out here?" The captain said looking up at what remained of his ship.
The Juggernaut headed back to the city of Zion heavy the entire crew of the Odessus. Lucas made his way to the cockpit and found Cpl. Vicks and Leena Storm at the helm.
"Good thing you guys came along," he said staring out of the front window. "We would have been sitting ducks if they had a second wave somewhere waiting."
"Thank Leena," Vicks told him. "It was her idea to come after you guys."
"Is that right?" Lucas looked down at her, noticing how uncomfortable she had become in her chair. She hadn't looked away from her controls since he walked in and now it looked as if she were trying even harder not to do so. "Well thank you, Leena. Guess that means I owe you my life."
"Don't mention it," she said, maintaining her concentration.
"I just did. Good thing you were watching over me." Leena turned her head at the tone of his voice, not to mention the statement, and looked at him. "Or else I don't know what we would have done." Lucas left the cockpit.
"Vicks, take the wheel."
Leena got up from her chair and walked down the corridor that lead away from the cockpit. Not too far away she caught up with Lucas and pulled back on his shoulder, stopping him. He spun around.
"If you've got something to say then say it," she demanded.
"I've said everything I have to say. If you're looking for anymore thanks then I suggest you go hit up your boyfriend."
"You been talking to Michael, is that it?" she said furiously.
"Yes I have," Lucas confessed. "And watching you go out of your way to see to it that some guy you hardly know is placed under the protection of some...thing you know even less about has me that much more inclined to believe what it is we've both...the three of us know to be the truth."
"Well that's just great. Why don't you clue me in on what it is you two think you know about my life."
"That you're hung up on some crush that for all you know never even existed." Lucas stood there in the corridor in front Leena watching her grow increasingly infuriated at what he was saying and becoming equally upset by the feelings that brewed and boiled over within himself that he could see she was ignoring.
"He's not real, Leena! He's a program. He's encoded data. He's a figment of your imagination. He's not real. How could you be in love with that?"
She stood there for a moment; in complete silence, enragement, at the belittlement of her secretly unearthed feelings. "Michael wasn't real at one time," she came back at him softly. "They plucked his sorry ass from some garden in the middle of nowhere so what does that make him? Real? You don't know anything about me, you or Michael, so I would appreciate it if you would just stay out of my business." Leena stormed off down the corridor leaving Lucas only with the option of watching her go or tunring away.
The Juggernaut pulled into the gates of the underground city and landed on the dock. The two crews that were present disboarded and found their way into the city that awaited. The captains headed for Commander Richard's office while their personnel moved into the city toward their respective domiciles.
After catching her next returned pitch she held onto to the ball and turned her head in Michael's direction, that smug self-righteous look still on his face even after being mercifully allowed across the threshold and into her apartment. "Him? I'm pretty sure you should be more concerned about yourself right now." Her contest against the wall reconvened.
"Hey, I'm just trying to be honest...and speaking of which I don't understand why you're taking this so hard. I mean, afterall, not all of what he was saying was entirely untrue." Mistaking his head for her bedroom wall, Leena made her next pitch towards him and was understandably disappointed by his reflexes as she watched him catch the ball.
She rolled off of the ball and found her shoes on the floor. Michael followed her out of the bedroom and subsequently out of her apartment, tossing the ball he still had possession of up in the air over and over and they walked down the platform.
"So, you still suspended?" he asked, forcing conversation on her.
"As far as I know. But seeing as how I haven't met with the Council and given them the chance to officially revoke my little reprieve, which Hornsby asked me to keep up for as long as possible, I'm technically still on the clock."
"You and the Lt. fightin' the power. That aught'a work out well. The both of you are gonna wind up busted down to mess hall duty."
"I'll be sure to include your involvement at the court marshal." Leena called the elevator up. "It's almost lights out. Shouldn't you be headed home."
"I wasn't aware that a curfew had been implemented," Michaels answered her, sensing her desperation to be rid of his company. "Don't worry. I'll be out of your hair soon enough...and you can go and see Lucas so the two of you can patch things up."
She wenced with surprise and aggrivation at his perception. Within the confines of the matrix system she managed to move with an air of confidence, superiority, and invincibility about her that seemed to vanish once the plug was removed from her head. Or maybe it just had something to do with being the presence of Michael that lead to her vanishing aura which always reduced her to nothing more than a...girl.
"You might as well shut up right now because you have no idea what you're talking about." The elevator stopped and the two of them stepped out.
"Maybe you're right." He left her standing in place as he began walking off. "Then again...when am I ever wrong," he threw back over his shoulder. She simply shook her head at that display of arrogance and headed off in another direction.
Moving along the lightly populated platform on her way to...God, she really hated Michael, it wasn't long before she ran into another familiar face. Lucas's old running mate Buxton was hanging out with his usual rabble near the entrance of the sports auditorium.
"Hey, look," Leena heard someone call out from the crowd. She was hoping to make it past them with little hassel but was once again, like so many times before, completely out of luck. "It's Leena Storm. Hey, Leena? Can I have an autograph?"
She stopped and turned to them. "No autographs tonight. It's free pictures with the one and only night. Don't suppose any of you boys got a camera on you?" She continued walking.
"You got a smart mouth, little lady." This time it was Buxton who was talking. "That why you got booted from the Juggernaut?"
"If you're still upset that you got your ass handed to you by a girl I'm sure there are better ways of handling it than the one you've settled on." She heard nothing more behind her other than an array of murmurs and an assortment of chuckles, another unpleasant exchange between her and the Buxton bunch in the past.
She made it to the level containing Lucas's quarters just in time to see him heading up the platform in her direction towards his domicile. Catching sight of her, he past up his door and walked over to her.
The two of them moved over to the rail over looking the city lights that covered the cave wall on the other side of the cavernous opening that was the city of Zion. "Figured I'd be the last person that you'd want to see for a while," Lucas admitted before Leena had the chance to explain this encounter.
"I just wanted to make sure we were okay, you know? No hard feelings, and all. I got enough enemies around here and I certainly don't need to add one more to the list over something as silly as this."
Lucas cracked a grin and leaned over the railing a bit, looking down into the city. "Well, you can relax. You won't be receiving any hate mail from me any time soon." He turned and actually saw the tension slip from her visage, truly surprised by how seriously she was taking all of this. "And for your information there was nothing silly about any of it."
"We're not about to start again, are we?"
"From what I remember we never got anything finished."
"Yeah. You were nosing around in business that didn't concern you," Leena leaned down on the rail next to him, "and I told you to cut it out."
"If it concerns you putting your neck on the line for something that isn't even mission related I think somebody should be allowed the opportunity to offer another point of view...even if you can take care of yourself."
"Well it's duly noted," she said, unable to contain the smile bursting across her lips.
"Who is this guy anyway?" Lucas pried.
"Uuugh!" she exhaled roughly, pushing herself back off the rail but maintaining her hold on it. "What's it matter? He's just some guy I know."
"I was just wondering if he was worthy..." Leena's stomach quivered for a second, "worth all the trouble you're going to."
She struggled to find the words to respond to him, the distance he closed between them further throwing her off her game. "Of course he's...worth it. We're supposed to be saving people, aren't we?"
"Even from themselves sometimes." He inched closer. "But this must be some special case given all the trouble you're going through." His voice softened.
Her vocals lowering to match his, she said, "It's really no trouble at all." Their noses were nearly touching.
"Is that a fact?" His whispers ceased to be when his lips pressed against hers, an embrace that Lucas had sought for quite some time.
"Do what?" Lucas demanded to know. "Leena, I..."
"I'll see you later, alright," she spoke as she backed away. "I just wanted to make sure we were okay. That's...that's it so I'll...see ya." She turned and moved at a pace that was almost daring her to unleash the sprint her legs begged for but she denied it, hoping to lessen the avalanche of embarrassment raining down on her.
The elevator carrying her up to her level wasn't moving fast enough. The ambivalence and conflicting emotions that she had hoped to leave at Lucas's feet kept pace with her despite her rate of ascension. What was she thinking? Her relationship with him had progressed no where near a level that would insinuate that sort of intimacy. Had it? Jacob. That's who she felt that way about; who's lips she had always wished to be against hers. Unless it all was just a dream. Maybe her time away from the power plant pod she'd been born into, coupled with the information of all things real she'd received from the depths of this underground city had had more of an effect on her than she'd initially realized. Thus another question arose in her: Was she in the process of finding herself (her true identity) or loosing it? Much too much to be gained by a simple kiss. Leena reached her quarters and entered quickly. Could be she was simply over reacting. Perhaps a good night's sleep would leave her with a different outlook by morning.
Commander Richard stormed into the command quarters where soldiers posted at the helm of various forms of computer and mechanical equipment kept vigil even at this late hour. He was being trailed by a swarm of individuals that seemed more than a little unnerved having being charged with escorting him here at this time of night.
"One of you morons wanna tell me what the hell I'm doing here six hours after lights out or do I have to figure it out for myself?"
"Sir," one brave young trooper spoke up. "I think you might want to have a look at this."
The commander wasted no time in moving over to his station and before the young man could take in all the breath an inhalation after his words Richard was over his shoulder. "What in Sam Hell was so damn important that you'd risk a month in the stockade to accost me at this hour for?"
Letting the threat posed by his superior officer roll off of him, the attendant punched at his keyboard and then pointed at the screen in front of them both. "We've been picking up on some heavy sentinel activity, sir, in and around juncture 47-B10." The young man enhanced the image on the screen and though he couldn't see the expression on the face of the commander standing right behind him he could definitely feel its intensity.
"How accurate are these readings?" Richard asked. his mouth shifting from its gaping position as he got a look at exactly how much activity was being displayed on the screen. The mechanical beasts swarmed like ants at a picnic on the screen that indicated an area of tunneling that was virtually a stone's throw from the city's gates.
"To the letter," the soldier seated behind the console replied," but without a visual..." The commander knew that he was only being coddled now. "Sir, from what the holographics show the sentinels appear to be widening the tunnel that the majority of the mass is congested in. Cutting away the debris on a path that should bring them to an adjoining tunnel leading...directly to Gate 1...sir."
"What the hell," Commander Richard uttered under his breath to himself, the audasity of such a move by his enemy astounding him. "You got an ETA, soldier, or have you just been wasting my time?"
The junior trooper let his fingers nervously bang against the keyboard in front of him. "Given the direction they're headed; mechanical lines, aqueducts, the shortest probably route, taking into account the most fortifiable..." His fingers worked rapidly, eyes glued to the ever changing screen as his commander eagerly awaited an answer.
"Tonight, pod scum, or by the time those bastards do reach this city they'll find you knees bent over a toilet in the latrines with a scrub brush in your grimy hands."
"Three days maybe, four; considering they take the path of least resistence. A few hours more or less in the event that they deviate...but, sir. That's not all."
"What the hell else is there?" Richard asked, wiping his sweat beaded brow, still staring at the screen. It changed before his very eyes, the map of the tunnels surrounding the city backing out into something that allowed a much more broader view of the domain, the image shifting, passing across an electronic blueprint away fromt he sentinels towards something else that soon came into view...past the cluster of machanical octopi...settling on a red glowing structure that was a considerable distance to the rear of the disturbance. This figure dwarfed the images of the sentinels ahead of it to the point that the commander no longer had to wonder why the creatures ahead of it worked as furiously as they did with their cutting lasers to make room for this Goliath's steady passage.
"Have any other officer's been made aware of this?" Richard asked.
"You're the first."
"Make sure it stays that way." He managed to eventually pry his REM mocking eyes from the screen and set about making his exit of the room.
Leena Storm managed to secure herself a seat in the back row, a few rungs up from where her ship mates sat in the small auditorium where the crew members from every hovercraft present in the city were being briefed on the impending threat to the cities further existence that the infantry commander had recently uncovered (the ships currently deployed would be briefed electronically as soon as humanly possible). Though attentive and disheartened by this new information, Leena did the best she could to keep her person out of the line of sight of the Council memebers and high ranking brass below her while at the same time trying to single out the crew of the Odessus, more specifically Lucas, hoping to stay off of his radar as well as those of her superiors.
The gravity of the words being relayed to them by Richard and the Council eventually took root in her, forcing out all the pettiness she had been consumed with and really hit home. They, their entire civilization, might very well be under attack soon by a very definite threat that had lead her to revaluate what had been perceived (by others as well as herself) to be her purpose in the impending resolution, had such a creature existed, in this ongoing conflict. She would have to speak to Lt. Hornsby as soon as possibly.
He stopped and allowed her to catch up with him. "What is it, Leena?"
"Sir, I was just wondering what your thoughts on this...this new development were, sir." The formal manner in which she addressed him seemed oddly unwarrented considering the personal bond that had developed between them. "I mean what do you want...do you think I should do? Is there something I can do, for you?"
"Leena," he said, placing a hand on her shoulder attempting to ease whatever tension was coursing through her. "I know you're worried and from the looks of things you've got good reason to be." His hand dropped. "You're here for a good reason, Leena. You know I believe that without doubt. But if you're asking me to tell you how you can make all of this right then I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint you." Lt. Hornsby watched the unhappiness grow on her face. "Go on. Get some rest. We'll figure this thing out soon enough."
She watched him turn and continue on his way, all the while feeling that much more frustrated by his clairvoyant ability to see through her yet not be able to quell the desire he knew she had to use every parsec of her uncanny abilities to their utmost to accomplish any objective he so desired. Still standing in place she saw the all to recognizable form of Lucas's back moving through the crowd ahead of her amidst what could only be constued as the rest of the Odessus crew.
Too much to deal with...so much...all at once...from every conceivable angle, and this man managed to manuever his way to the forefront of it all with a single kiss. Leena continued walking. His presence, that had once been so comforting, unnerved her at every instance she witnessed it. She managed to make it to the elevator that had already departed yet promised to return along with the small patch of people that engulfed and huddled around him while they all waited. When it did return they filled it to capasity, leaving the remaining people outside the doors to wait for the next car, and took the long ride up. That was the the way Leena marked the time at least. Lucas aboard; so close and silent; challenging every emotion that churned within her to second guess itself regardless of how sure she was of the way things were concerning her feelings for him. And he didn't have to utter a word. It didn't seem fair, she thought.
The elevator stopped and Leena stepped off. It wasn't her floor that she had gotten off on but the one she'd known Lucas would be exiting onto. Sidestepping the door and the handful of people that got off behind her, she watched Lucas continue on his way though she knew he had been aware of her presense. Half expecting him to at least stop and talk to her (at the same time understanding his reluctance to speak to her right now) Leena now, once again, felt compelled to square things away with him. Only this time her feelings were as much on the line as the guy who must have been that much more entwined by the crossed signals coming his way than she was.
"Slow down!" Leena ordered as she closed the space between the tw of them on the ramp they moved across. To her surprise Lucas stopped and turned to give her audience. "We need to talk."
"No we don't." He continued along his original path. "We've said all we needed to say to each other."
Leena quickened her pace to a slow sprint and caught up with him just as he had reached the door to his quarters. "What happened between the two of us, it..."
"It was nothing," he continued in her place, still facing the door as he spoke. "Just a thing that happened between two people who should have known better. We've got bigger things to worry about now, the both of us." Lucas grabbed the handle to his door and Leena clasped her hand over his.
"What happened...between you and me..."
"Wasn't real," he said, turning his eyes to hers finally. "Or real enough. Not sure I understand the difference anymore. But I know that it's not me you want." Lucas twisted the handle of the door down and felt her hand loose its grip of his as he did. He pushed the door open and moved forward.
Leena caught the door that he tried to shut closed behind him and stood their holding it for a moment before she stepped inside his quarters. Thoughts raced through her and soon settled but he was in no way near the vicinity that would allow him to appreciate the results. She would have to bring them to where he was.
Moving through his quarters, Leena eventually closed in on the sound of running water. She approached the door that seperated her from the solice she sought and disarray, shedding her last shred of clothing as she moved through the doorway and headed toward the glass door stood between Leena and the shower stall that Lucas occupied. She pulled open the door and stepped inside to the stunned eyes roving her naked body.
"I want something real," Leena said. He immediately embraced her, fingertips caressing what was becoming her water slick skin as he pulled her into him, his lips pressing against her wet collar bone. "Is this real?" she said reeling in ecstacy.
"Nearly 0430. The Odessus is shipping out in about two hours." He sounded as sorry to say it as she was to hear it and as much as it pained him to do it Lucas slid his body out from under hers, donned a pair of pants, and stood up out of bed. Leena bundled herself up tighter in the sheets and watched him move around the room, her eyes barely open.
"You sure you don't want to talk about it?" she asked him in a voice that was just above a whisper.
Lucas was stuffing clothes and equipment into tattered rucksacks in a fashion that looked more like he was trying to keep himself busy rather than preparing to ship out. "Couldn't now even if I wanted to. It's far too complicated and neither one of us has the time to even think about getting into it right now. Besides..." He stopped packing and turned around towards the bed and dropped the sacks. "Given what's going on out there it's probably best if we both kept our heads in the game." She could hear the soft sorrow in his voice and it sent a shudder through her. "I'm gonna go hop in the shower real quick. The Juggernaut's pulling out in six so don't sleep so late."
Leena walked along the grates above the Juggernaut's core sidestepping her shipmates as she made her way, luggage in tow, to her quarters. She was barely settled in before she began to feel the motion of the hovercraft making its way out of Zion's dock, being sure, of course, to avoid any route leading out of or near to gate one for obvious reasons.
After stowing her equipment she immediately joined Cpl. Tachery in the ship's who was already busy behind his operating station. Leena went to work prepping the monitors and chairs that eagerly awaited their passengers for transport inside the matrix. It was all she could do to keep her mind off of the incident that had recently transpired in Lucas's quarters back in the city. As if her life wasn't confusing enough. It wasn't until she saw Michael make his way into her neck of the woods that she realized her troubles were just getting started.
He climbed into the chair she stood next to and made himself comfortable. "What's your problem?" he asked after taking notice of her mood.
Leena continued punching her fingers into the moniters above his head. "Get out of the chair, Michael. I don't have time for whatever nonsense you walked in here with."
"Well," he huffed. "I know how most people can get after being pulled off of leave but considering the way you spent yours I would have expected something much more...chipper from you."
"I don't know what you're talking about." She finished up at the monitor and walked around to another."
"Went to see you last night. Late last night." Leena's pulse quickened with fear at the thought of where this was going. "You weren't home," Michael continued unaccusingly. Bastard must have wanted her to squirm a bit. "Stopped by your place this morning. Figured I'd take you for breakfast before we shipped out. Missed you again." Cpl. Tachery's ears perked up a bit at the conversation going on behind, slowing down his finger speed as he typed. "Could all just be a big coincidense. You know how I'm always making something out of nothing. Or..." He turned his head toward her and found her eyes. Leena stopped what she was doing. "You seen Lucas from the Odessus anywhere around lately?" he asked her nonchalantly.
"God damn you, Michael." Leena went back to work.
"You trying to say our Leena's not a little girl anymore?" Tachery chimed in. "Went out and found yourself a gentleman caller, have you?"
"Found herself a problem is what she's done. Isn't that right?"
"I see a very brutal, irrationally drawn out sparring bout in our very near future, Michael. Just you, me, and hopefully an operator without a conscience."
Just then their operator who had just begun to enjoy the verbal bout that had ensued recieved a call that got everybody in the room's attention. "Operator," he said into his headset. It was the Casus, specifically a very excited, hardly coherent crew member of the Casus calling from inside the matrix. Moments later Leena found herself in one of the chairs she had been preparing with a plug sticking out of the back of ehr head along with Michael and Sgt. Degger. Cpl. Tachery hit the button.
The trio stepped outside of the warehouse and headed to the car waiting outside for them. "You better hurry up and get over there," Degger said to her. "See if you can stop this thing from getting any further out of hand than it already is. We'll meet you there as soon as possible." The sergeant and Michael climbed inside the vehicle and pulled off down the street with Leena running across the pavement behind them. She eventually took to the air and flew up over the car in an ever increasing upward arc.
Apparently the Captain of the Casus had been taken into custody by a pair of Agents. With the access codes to Zion's mainframe in danger of being exposed and the captain's crew's reluctance to follow protocal and pull his plug given the proximity of the Juggernaut, a distress call had been sent out to Leena Storm herself who was now in route to meet up with the portion of the Casus team inside the matrix.
She touched down on a crowded street corner outside of a closed coffee shop, bedazzling and panicking the huddled masses all about, and walked inside. "Very subtle," she heard a familiar voice say. Leena turned to see Buxton walking up behind her, looking remarkably dapper in his suit and shades that was a far cry from the rags she was use to seeing him in within the confines of the city. "Why don't you just hang a sign out front that says Agents everywhere, please come in here and kill every single one of us because keeping a low profile isn't in our mission statement."
"I seriously doubt that would fit on a sign."
"Maybe if we got one as big as your ego..."
"Hey," Kira interrupted. "We didn't come here to listen to you guys argue."
"She's right," Avery interjected. "Now can you help us or not?"
"Where is he?" Leena asked.
"Building across the street," Avery said pointing at the window. "It's a police plaza. I'd expect they'll be transferring him to a more secure location shortly.
"Well, then I'll be right back." Leena started for the glass door.
"I'm coming with you," Buxton said.
"That won't be necessary."
"I'm not asking."
He followed her across the street and into the building. She moved as if the place were hers until one of the officers behind the many desks in the room took it upon himself to accost the couple. From across the street Avery and Kira watched in amazement and disbelief as uniformed bodies came crashing through the windows to the sound of rapid gunfire as all out havoc engulfed the building.
Buxton stood in the center of the room that was now in complete shambles holding a gun that he never got to use. He and Leena were now the only two people left conscious in what was once a room filled with people. "What the hell was that?" he demanded to know as he swatted away a few sheets of paper that floated down in front of his face.
"Let's go," Leena commanded and continued about her way. Buxton, still holding his gun, confused about whether to keep it out or put it up, soon caught up with her.
She opened up the door to an interrogation room on the fifth floor and found a twin set of Agents hovering over the captain of the Casus. They both came at her and Leena stretched out both of her hands, taking them into her clutches by the front of their suits where their ties were tucked into their jackets. She lifted them up and slammed both of their digitally superimposed bodies into one another with enough force to black them both out then dropped their bodies to the floor. All and all, not a bad way to work out some of her stress.
"Captain Raferty," Leena said, addressing the former prisoner, "we're here to get you out." Buxton felt a little uncomfortable having been included in that statement.
By the time the three of them made it back to the coffee shop Michael and Sergeant Degger had arrived. The Casus crew, having given their thanks, piled into their vehicle and headed off into the city.
"You ready to get out of here," Michael asked her.
"You guys go ahead. There's something I have to take care of first." Leena stepped out of the coffee shop and put some distance between her and the sidewalk.
Now it was the two of them that stood there eyeing the black clad hooded figure across the room squating in front of the fireplace looking as if it were attempting the warm the pale digits of the hands that it held out, palms facing the glowing fire.
The Merovingian took another two steps toward the figure rambling on in french. "What is the meaning of this?" he asked when his rage calmed. "How dare you enter this place uninvited!"
The figure turned his head to the right revealing his nose and the bottom portion of his face underneath the hood he wore. "Are you suggesting there's someplace in this world that my caring hands cannot reach?"
"What I am suggesting is that you leave while the option is still available to you because I assure you what I lack in patience I more than make up for in resolve."
He stood up and turned and even though he faced the pair the hood of his coat continued to shield any portion of his face above his nose from them. "Resolve. Is that what you call incorporating the anomaly into your plans for me?" A sinister laugh escaped the dark figure and he began moving closer to the Frenchman in a series of very slow steps. "She is not going to stop me. You are not going to stop me. I'm not going to be stopped by anyone...," he stood right beside the Merovingian, his dark hood right next to his face,"...or anything. If you value your existence you'll remember that. Otherwise..."
The Frenchman moved away from him, toward the desk to his right. He stopped before taking a seat behind it and soaked in the vision of his paralyzed servant who remained stiff staring into what he could see of the face of the man standing before him. "I seriously doubt I need to remind you of how well I handle threats."
"There would be no need...given the fact that there's nothing about me that's the least bit threatening." He side stepped the pertified servant and rubbed his hand across his left shoulder as he moved past him on his way out of the room. The Merovingian watched as his employee dropped lifelessly to the floor no sooner than the hand placed on his shoulder had been removed. "I am promise." The dark figure continued toward the door the Frenchman and his companion had used to enter.
When Leena arrived at the chateau she was immediatly greeted by the doorman and given entrance. "You got my call?" she asked curiously. Her escort nodded and lead her through the cavernous home without question. She mulled over what awaited her within the walls of this elaborate home with a surprising sence of calm for the first time ever. As a stipulation to her deal with the Merovingian to rid him, and possibly the very people she fought for, of a very specific rising threat he was to have, upon request, a certain individual of her choosing delivered to a secure location for the sole purpose of her being able to converse with him without the threat of being comfronted by an Agent of the system during the exchange.
She was on her way to see Jacob. Somewhere in the confines of this palace was a person she had for so long dreamed she could interact with, the means of such an encounter she hoped would land him on the other side of the looking glass that he had no idea seperated the two of them from what she had imagined to be their destiny. But now each step she took was another through unexplored, unimagined territory. She wasn't on her way to offer someone she had adored for the longest time (unbeknownst to him) a pathway into her waiting arms, and ultimately her proverbial heart, both currently occupied, but a simple choice. The choice between something real or what he had always known to be.
Her escort pushed open the door and held it until she made it all the into the room. As the door closed behind her Leena removed her shades at the sight of Jacob rising from the couch he sat on. He was just as she had remembered him only the sensation of his visage touched her someplace new now. "Leena...Leena Storm? What are you doing here? What's going on? Where am I?"
When the two of them made it within arms reach of each other she raised the back of her right hand up to her own mouth and breathed out a short muffled "Shhh," that immediately silenced him for a moment. "I'm not sure how rough the trip was but no matter I want to apologize. I was the one that requested you be brought here."
"I don't get it?" he said twisting his head around seemingly confused by everything in his line of vision, including her. "You...I thought you were...I don't know...gone. And then these guys...they just came out of nowhere and I'm here...You're here...What are we doing here, Leena?"
"I know you've got questions...too many to count. Given enough time I could answer them all, but first I need for you to answer just one from me." Jacob remained silent in anticipation of her next utterance. "Are you happy? Your home, family, little brother," a smile slipped from her lips as she thought of the image of him pushing his younger sibling on a swingset in the park she had found them in some time ago. "The parttime work you do to help pay for college?" Leena fought back a tear. "If I were to offer you something else..."
"I would tell you no." The eyes that she had let drop to his feet made their way back up to his orbs that pierced into her. "Look, Leena, what is all of this about?"
She replaced her sunglasses back to their original position. "Nothing. Nothing at all," she said with relief in her voice. "You'll be taken back home as soon as possible and eventually this will hardly be a vague memory to you. It was good to see you again, Jacob. It really was."
She turned and left the room to sound of more questions. The men, so to speak, who entered as she walked out quickly began to escort the interloper back to what he knew to be his ensueing life as Leena headed toward exit that would lead her out of the chateau and back into the city where she would find an exit back into her world...her awaiting life.
She eventually made her way to an area of the home consisting of a pair of interlocking staircases that came together on a balcony above a great hall filled with priceless sculptued and painted artifacts(the array of with were sprinkled with martial arts weaponry along every wall). Leena heard a door open to her left as she walked. Turning to see what it was, she saw a hooded figure cloaked in a black garment that hung down to his ankles step through one of the many doors.
"Maddox," Leena said as much to herself as she did to him after turning toward the familiar figure in black that came through the door.
"Leena Storm," he said. "Seems like I made quite the impression."
Maddox folded his hood down behind the shoulder length night black strands of his hair and glanced over at the wall she had indicated with a pair as irises the same hue as his hair. His pale flesh made them stand out that much more. "Insolence." His icy voice sent a shrill shudder through her. "A quality I've come to find most disturbing from those who've previously found themselves at the precipice you now toe." He moved toward the mounted weaponry and took down a set of kamas. Heading in her direction, a weapon in each hand, he watched amusingly as she readied herself in a fighting stance. "Let's not drag this out any longer than necessary.
Leena leaned back to duck the first sharp curve that came her way and leaned forward to miss the next. Thinking to counter his next move she surprisingly found herself doing a lot of ducking and dodging and sidestepping strafe movements without being able to get a fist or foot in edgewise. It was all she could do to keep the blades Maddox was wielding from slicing her to ribbons. When she did manage to get a blow in she made sure to make that right upper cut to his chin land hard and count for all it was worth.
Maddox landed on his back but only remained there for half a second before his legs flipped up in an arc and brought the rest of his body with them as he made it back to his feet. This time it was Leena's turn to take the lead in this dance. She wasted no time in coming after him, focusing the majority of her blows on the hands swinging the kamas at her from every conceivable angle until she was finally able to shake one loose. Their combat leaned a little more to the hand to hand side now but she still had to keep an eye out for that sharp blade continued to make its presense know time and again.
At least until she tangled up the weapon bearing hand, along with a large portion of the rest of the appendage, in an arm lock. The twin headbutts she delivered along with a blocked attack from the other fist and a knee to black clad gentleman's midsection was able to distract him enough for her give a sharp upward pull on the trapped arm that released the kama from his palm. He was unmistakenly furious and after freeing up his hand he showed Leena just how much by taking hold of the front of her coat with all ten of his liberated digits, pulling her into him, and with a quick spin sent her flying back across the room. Her momentum was eventually slowed by the statue she smashed into and shattered.
Sensing his immediate approach, Leena clammered to her feet and reengaged, noticing that they now had an audience on the balcony above their heads. Whether or not the onlooker would remain just that or join Maddox in his agenda she didn't know but a few quick peeks out of the corner of her eye let her know that the spectator definitely wasn't staying put. Leena turned all of her focus toward Maddox cold relentless look in his eyes as the scales of this bout tipped back and forth...until her concentration was splintered by the sound of a woman's voice. Maddox used that opportunity to pop her a good one across her left cheek with his clammy fist that knocked her into the wall behind her causing her to leave a very defined dent in it when she dropped to the floor.
"Hate the interrupt the scuffle, boys and girls," the intruder standing across the room between the to combatants said in her thick accent. "But if you don't mind," she placed a key in the large double doors she stood in front of and opened them, "I've just had these floors refinished and I believe you've done enough damage already."
Maddox came at her again and after opening up with a kick to his stomach that doubled him over and a knee that brought his head back up again, Leena grabbed him by the lapel of the coat, shroud, whatever it was covering him, and made a three quarter spin around behind her until she faced the open doors that the mistress of the home held open for them. She him into the room and the doors shut behind her.
Maddox gathered himself just in time to receive another kick to his chest that sent him through another door (single this time) behind him. Leena gave chase. Picking up the fight again, this time with a more ready willing and able opponent, she barely had time to realize that the two of them appeared to be in a kitchen full of busy personel that were now scambling for their own safety. After Maddox tossed her over a cutting table and she stumbbled out into a large room filled with shocked diners she finally came to the realization that she was quite possibly no longer in the confines of the Merovingian's Chateau. Not unless there was some dinner party going on in one of the home's many rooms that he nor any of his known associates were in attendance of.
Possible, but unlikely. Leena didn't have much time to ponder this strange revalation. Maddox soon emerged from the kitchen and headed in her direction steady fast walking charge that sent the occupants of this gathering into a frenzy as soon as he reached Leena and their battle resumed. Breaking dishes and screams filled the air all around him as they went about swinging and kicking at each other as well as making good use of the tables and chairs all around; using them as either shields or weapons. And it was one of these such instruments (a table to be specific) that allowed Maddox to take the upper hand in the fight. Kicking the round object into her belly and then sweeping her legs out from under her as she overturned it left her lying on the ground at his feet. "Let's take this outside," was all she heard before a fist dug into the fabric of her coat just below the back of her neck and she went flying out of a window and began falling from a very high altitude toward the rooftops below.
She landed, did a rough little tumble before she came to a stop, looked up and saw that Maddox was already on the roof standing about twenty feet in front of where she lie flat on her stomach. Achingly she attempted a push up when she saw him taking steps in her direction but was once again distracted from what she was doing by the sound of a female's voice. This one was more familiar that the last.
"Leena!" she heard Kira exclaim and looked back behind her outstretched to catch a glimpse of the young woman as she leaped from one rooftop to the next. "Leena!" she repeated. The next leap brought her to the roof she and Maddox occupied. Leena's eyes quickly found him again.
"Friend of yours?" he asked coldly but with more amusement in his voice than she would have liked.
She watched the blackness covering him part and saw his hand reach into the still covered area of his waist and come back out gripping a shiny piece of metal. She had seconds to think. Just as the shots rang out and the tiny projectiles sped through the air in Kira's direction Leena pushed off the ground and burst toward the rebel, placing her at the center of an acute angle between her and the bullets. Her focus sharpened and her speed increased and she able to make it to Kira just in time to knock her over the edge of the building and out of harms way.
Out of harms way. Kira had yet to be clued in on that fact as she thrashed and kicked in the air while screaming at the thought of the very solid ground rushing up to meet her. Leena fought to control the young lady's flailing limbs and was barely able to get a decent enough hold on her before converting their vertical movement into a horizontal explosion of force that rocked a few street signs and removed some hats where they were perched on the street below them in the process. Her screaming didn't stop as Leena cleared the building all around them in her rush for her companions safety. In fact all it did was meld into complaints.
"Will you slow down! And is it absolutely necessary that we be this high!"
When they were safe amongst the crew of the Juggernaut in a warehouse across town that's when Leena started in with own list of grievances. "What the hell where you thinking? You could have gotten yourself killed."
"We saw you were in trouble and I wanted to help. It was the least I could do after what you did for Captain Raferty."
"Speaking of which, from what I hear it was kind of touch and go for you for a while," Michael chimed in. "What is it with this guy and trouncing you?"
"I don't know. But I'm going to find out right now."