The balding gentleman backed away from the blonde headed woman coming toward him until the back of his legs hit against the bed. after he fell to a seated position he fixed the glasses on his face stood back up, working his way around the corner of the mattress. When Jade got close enough she grabbed him by the throat and pulled him to her. She stared straight through his thin frames into his digitally constructed gray eyes that swelled with fear.
"Where is it?" Jade asked him. "I'm not gonna ask you twice."
She sqeezed her hand around his neck.
"I don't know," he wheezed out. Jade relaxed her grip. "What you're talking about," he said after he sucked in some air.
"Where?" Jade yelled at him as she threw him back into the wall beside the bed. She turned her head and took notice of the work station against wall to her left. She went over to it to the astonishment of her victim and accessed the computer monitor on the desk.
He walked up slowly behind her and stepped to the side so he could see what she was attempting to do. The screen blanked out and there was nothing accept a small rectangular box asking for a password.
Jade turned her head to the side. "What is it?"
"There's nothing there. The company's all legit. Whatever you're hoping to find it's not there. I'm telling you you're wasting your time."
"I'd break in if I could, but you've been more than just a little efficient at safegaurding your system. Normally I'd congratulate you on your effort, but unfortunately I really need in. So for the last time." She grabbed him by the back of his neck and slammed his head down on the desktop next to the keyboard.
"Whisper." He managed to get it out despite the pressure being applied to his throat.
Jade released him and typed it in. He raised his head and turned it to the monitor. He watched closely as he rubbed his hand around his neck and tried to see what this strange woman was possible hoping to accomplish by gaining access to his system. The images on the screen that he thought she might show interest in became even more puzzleing to him as they were quickly bypassed while she imbeddd herself deeper into his harddrive. Soon his puzzlement morphed into a profound fear.
"What are you doing?" he said to her in a panick. "You can't look at that!" He started to back up. "It's not for you to see!" When the back of his legs hit against the mattress he dug his fingers along the side until he had pulled up the covers. When they were no longer in his way he reached underneath the top mattress and pulled out the gun he found. Jade turned around just as his aim was zeroing in on her and she fired off a shot, hitting him in the center of his forehead.
Once he fell to the bed she turned around and continued what she was doing on the computer. Jade pulled a disk from her pocket and inserted it into his drive. Once the information was downloaded, she pulled a ringing cell phone from her coat pocket.
"Get me out of here," she said the operator.
The plug was removed from her head and Jade sat up in the chair. "How are we doin', Clutch?"
He sat back down in his chair behind the array of monitors and started hitting buttons on the keyboards. "That's number three," Clutch said to her. "Coming through clear as a bell."
"Good. Make sure we're ready for number four." Jade got out of her seat and walked out of the room. On her way she ran into Davin. She tried not to look too surprised. "You here to relieve Clutch?" she said.
"Yeah. What are you doing here?"
"Just leaving." Jade walked past him and down the corridor. She made her way through the bowels of the Pheonix all the way to her sleeping quarters. Lying back on her bed with her fingers interlocked behind her head, she tried to imagine what the surface of the scourched planet would look like without the electro-magnetic cloud lingering above the remnants of the planet. How would it make her feel to see the ultraviolet rays piercing the darkness of the sky above and caressing her paled skin to the point where she could no longer deny its presense? If everything went as planned she would soon come to discover the reality of her postulate.
"What are you talking about?" he said.
"You know, for an operator you're not bad, but when it comes to poker..."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Davin."
"Oh come off it. Jade's been walking around like she had the bug up her but sergically removed and replaced with an even bigger one. Add that to the fact that you've been acting even squirrlier than usual and it wouldn't take the Oracle to figure out that something's up with the two of you. Now spill it."
"Fine," Clutch sighed. "But you better have a seat."
The sound of the knocking resonated throughout her cramped quarters and roused Jade just as she was nearing sleep. When she got up to answer it she found Cronus out in the hallway.
"It's a little late for visitors, don't you think?"
"You missed chow tonight. Just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Well you can stop worrying." When she went to close her door Cronus stuck out his hand and stopped it. "What now," she said opening the door wider. "You need me to tuck you in?"
"Before it comes to that, I was hoping we could just talk."
"I think we've done all the talking we need to do that isn't work related."
"You really mean that?" Cronus watched her body language as she crossed her arms in front of her and looked away from him. "Because I think we've got a lot of unfinished business out side of work that still needs to be addressed. And since when did you start calling it that? Didn't it use to be a mission?"
"Guess a lot of things around here just seems like work lately."
"Maybe it's not too late for us to try and fix some of those things."
"Maybe you're right. But there is no us." She closed the door again and this time it slammed home. Jade dropped down on the thin mattress and stared up at the ceiling as she listened to the footsteps outside her room grow ever more distant.
Davin leaned back hard in the chair behind the set of monitors. "You gotta be shittin' me," he said to Clutch as he looked at the image cylindrical images on the screens and the equations that filled the areas around them. "This can't be right."
"Well if it isn't then tell me right now," Clutch said as he punched in some more information on the keyboards. "Make me a liar, Davin. Prove me wrong cause I'm looking at it for the past month and I can't find a damn thing that'll tell me I'm not looking at what I'm looking at."
"And these codes that you still need? To complete this program? The disk told you where to find them in the matrix?"
"Not exactly," Clutch said as he went for the keyboards again. "Rather it lead us to a particular group of other individual programs that had access to what we're looking for."
"What?" Davin said looking at the screens.
"It's kind of complicated depending on how you look at it."
Kyla picked up a dust covered tea cup from a table top. Letting it roll off her finger tips, she watched as it fell to the wooden floor of the abandoned diner that she and the rest of her crew waited in until it was time for them to leave. The cup crashed to the ground and shattered into pieces that Kyla watched scatter across the floor.
"What the hell did you do that for?" Ramrod asked her after watching the whole thing.
"No matter how many times we come to this place I just can't get over it. It looks so real."
"In the end it's all just math," Viper said to her from his eated position on top of the counter.
Davin approached Jade who stood in a corner as he kept an ever watchful eye on Cronus who had just flipped out his cellphone. "You wanna tell me what's going on now?" he said to her.
"What are you talking about, Davin?"
"I'm talking about," he turned around to check on the others after he realized he'd failed to monitor the tone and loudness of his voice. "I'm talking about you and what it is you're planning on doing about the power plant."
"God damnit, Clutch, you..."
"Don't blame him. I mean after all, how long did you think you could keep this to yourself?"
"I wouldn't put too much stock in it, Davin. It's probably nothing."
"Nothing my ass." He had to check the level of his voice again. "How could you go ahead with something like this and not tell the rest of us? Or Cronus for that matter?"
"Like I said," Jade spoke, now trying to monitor the levels of her own voice, "chances are it's nothing."
"And chances are it could be something besides just nothing, couldn't it? This could be it. The end of the war for good."
"Since when did you become such an optimist?" Jade said to him.
"Since right now. You hear me? From what I hear you got two more sets of code to get ahold of if you hope to pull whatever plan it is you have off. If this thing is going down I want in."
Jade looked at him in disbelief. Davin obviously hadn't gone to Cronus about this and from the looks of things he was going to be more than willing to help her in what was turning out to be a much more difficult task than she'd previously imagined. She was going to need him. What else she would need she had no clue of, but Davin's help was sure to prove invaluable. Jade was still flying blind despite the information she had guiding her. The outcome of the situation she continued to dig herself deeper into remained a mystery to Jade. Never the less, she was determined to uncover the motive behind the cloaked stranger that set her off on this journey and the meaning of the path that lay before her and perhaps them all.
Jade's body was sent spinning into the air, twirling in dizzying circles, until she landed hard on the windshield of a red Porche. She raised her back from the spiderweb pattern of broken glass and wiped the blood from her lips as watched the Agent coming toward her to finish what he'd started. Jade hopped down off the hood of the car. She drew back to swing just as he did. A new set of strategies began to formulate in her mind with the hopes being able to get a better edge on this fight.
"Freeze it, Clutch." Jade heard the voice emanating from the shadows of the garage behind the Agent, momentarily distracting her. It was just as well though. The Agent's oncoming attack was frozen midstream right in front of her. The punch she was about tp throw dropped to her side and the fist she hade made was now ann open palm reaching around behind her to massage the ache in her back. She saw Cronus step out of the shadows and come toward her and her frozen opponent.
"You alright?" he asked her.
"I'm fine," Jade responed. She walked over to the Dodge Charger and picked up her coat from the hood. "How long you been there?" she asked putting it on.
"Long enough to know that you weren't concentrating. Which seems strange considering the level you had this simulation turned up to. You mind if I ask why?"
"Just didn't want to get sloppy. Can't be too careful. You wanna go a few rounds with me, for old times sake?"
Cronus removed the shades from his face as he approached Jade and the Agent she now stood next to. "I don't know. You sure you can stay focused? You appear to have a lot on your mind lately. Or maybe you'd rather be doing something else. Like withholding information from your crew members." Cronus stopped when he was right in front of her. "And most of all from me."
"Something you want to say to me, Alex?" Jade walked away from him and picked up her own pair of shades that had been knocked from her face long ago by the suited gentleman. She put them on her face and walked back over to him.
"Why didn't you tell me what you were up to? Did you think that I wouldn't understand?" Cronus said.
"Not sure I even understand it myself." Jade know it was pointless to keep up the charade now. She knew that Cronus wouldn't be here now, talking to her this way if he didn't already know the truth. Jade knew him well enough to gather that fact. "Maybe it's not really that important. So what was I suppose to tell you?"
"It was important enough for you to go off all kamikaze on another one of your moonlighting missions behind my back in order to follow up on it."
Jade looked up at the concrete ceiling. "Clutch, you son of a bitch, get me out of here."
"No need to blame him," Cronus said. "Even though he's guilty of keeping your little secret he wasn't the one who tipped me off."
"Who was it, Davin?"
"It was you. After seeing the way you've been acting lately it prompted me to inventory the ships database and broadcast records. Found out somebody's been jacking in off the clock quite a bit. I ran a systems check and came across some residue of the info you've been trying to hide. You can imagine my surprise."
Clutch pulled the plug out of the back of Jade's head. "It's not my fault," he said as she sat up in the chair. "It's real important that you know that." She watched as he went over to Cronus and did the same to him. Her eyes then turned to the expression on her ship captain's face.
"How could you, Jade?" Cronus asked her.
He followed her as the two of them left the area where Clutch was and proceeded thoughout the ship.
"I think you're getting all worked up over nothing," Jade said.
"Nothing?" The intensity in Cronus's voice disturbed her. "You call jacking in without my knowledge and involving members of my crew in a potentially catastrophic mission statement is nothing I should be concerned about?"
"Don't you think you're blowing this a bit out of proportion? I didn't involve anybody with the exception of Clutch and he was never in any immediate danger. At least he wasn't," Jade said to herself. "Outside of Davin, and now you, nobody else knows what I've been doing. And all I've been doing is looking for some answers."
"Answers to what?" Cronus said.
Jade stpooed walking and he did the same. She turned to face him. "Worse case scenario...nothing. Or maybe to all of this. My God, Cronus, what are we doing here? Fighting these machines over and over again, and when we're not doing that we're making back alley deals with them. I mean...this planet is ours. This whole world is suppose to belong to us. What if...what if by a few unauthorized jacks into their world we could make this whole planet ours again?"
"You're wrong, Jade." She looked at him confused and almost upset by his disposition. "We're not the only ones who know what you've been up to. I sent a copy of all the information I found and what I got from Clutch directly to Zion. Mine is not the only opinion you're going to have to deal with on this. Eventually the Councel will get wind of this little operation and it will be up to them on how to proceed with the information you've discovered."
Jade inhaled softly at the thought. "Then cooler heads will prevail," she said. "I assume that's what you want. Why do you look so worried?"
"Because this isn't just some other mission. And at the risk of sounding presumptious, I doubt the Councel's ultimate dicision will sway the one I'm sure you've already formulated for yourself in the least. Since stopping you from jacking in is out of the question right along with reminding you of how dangerous this is I was wondering exactly what it would take to convince you."
"Convince me of what?"
"Of the fact that this is hopeless. You can't destroy the power plant. The machines would never let it happen. And in trying to do so you'd put everything we've accomplished, the end of the war, our entire civilization, at risk."
"It's already at risk," Jade said. "Can't you see that? Our war is never going to end. The machines, the matrix? How long do you thing think this truce is going to last? Our only chance for peace is to bring an end to them before they do the same thing to us."
"Is that how you think this scenario is going to play out? Is that what you've been doing?"
"I haven't been doing anything. I was just searching...for the possibility. When I start doing something you'll know."
"What happens when the machine's find out what you're doing?"
"Who says they will?"
"Nobody in the ranks concocted that program you received. Doubt you came across it by way of a blue pill. My guess, it's only a matter of time. You gotta know that by now."
"Then why don't you just arrest me. Might be the best thing for everyone if you took me into custody right now." Jade extended her wrists toward him. "Don't you want to save the world?"
Cronus looked at her outstretched wrist then back up at her eyes. "I was hoping to save you." She pulled her hands back. "Along with the rest of us." Cronus watched as she started to walk away from him.
"Do what you want, Cronus," she said. "Tell who you want. I doesn't matter."
"Something has to matter, Jade. If not your life, if not the lives of others, then somthing. It's gotta end somewhere," he said to her back.
"You're right about one thing," Jade said as she continued to walk. "It's got to end." She continued down the corridor until she was out of Cronus's sight. As a captain he wanted to go after her, but as her former lover, her former friend, he thought it best to let her go. His realm of experience allowed him to judge matters like these with a reasonable amount of precision. The amount of which her facilities allowed her to work with at the moment he honestly didn't know. She wasn't exactly running on all cylinders these days. He just hoped it was enough for her to put in perspective whatever it was that was going through her mind at this point. Cronus, however, was a little more cloudy on what the Counsel's course of action would be on the matters with which he'd presented them. He wasn't exactly nieve to the fact that this was going to be a situation that would leave them as equally split down the middle on what the proper responce should be as he was.
"I'm not sure I follow you. Didn't the two of you already have this conversation?" He continued to ajust the jacks behind the empty chairs while checking the monitors as Jade followed behind him pummeling him with questions.
"Our fearless leader neglected to mention to me the details of what it is he found out, from your files I might add."
"Hey. He's the captain. With his level of access how much do you think it's possible to keep hidden from him on this ship." Clutch looked at the impatient expression that began to appear on Jade's face. "Still. He didn't get a look at anything too explicit. But he did get the gist of it."
Jade and Clutch walked through the corridors of the Phoenix as they continued their conversation. "So he has the codes?" Jade asked him.
"No. But he knows about them."
"I suppose that's a good thing."
"Why is that?" Clutch said. "The kitty's out of the bag already. Why are you so concerned with how much he knows now?"
"It's not him I'm worried about. I just don't want the Counsil making any rash decissions on something they don't fully understand yet."
"Then maybe you should explain it to them. Did you ever consider the fact that maybe they could be of some help?"
"They won't be of any help trust me. What I assume they will do is try to put an end to such a mission. Maybe the less they know about it the more they will be inclined to brush it off and impose lesser restrictions in the matter."
"If you ask me this thing is getting completely out of hand," Clutch said as they approached the cockpit. "Maybe we should just forget about the whole thing. I mean I don't think it's worth a court marshall all on the count of some whacked out program with a death wish."
"Well if it ain't Bonnie and Clyde," the two of them heard a voice say. it was Caleb. He'd obviously heard them talking down the corridor behind him. Jade just didn't know how much he heard. Clutch trailed behind her as she made her way forward to where their shipmate was steering the vessel.
"Bonnie and Clyde?" Clutch said.
"You know. Like the partners in crime? You want to give me a hand here?" Caleb said to Clutch who climbed in the co-pilots seat. "Jade. The woman of the hour. How's it feel to be famous?"
"What the hell are you talking about, Caleb?" she said.
"I'm talking about that little tidbit of info Cronus sent back to Zion about your escapade in the matrix. The city is not the only one that picked up Cronus's transmission. A few of our ships got it too. By the time we reach Zion," Caleb turned around in his seat to look at her, "you're gonna be the proverbial talk of the town." He returned the grimaced look she gave him with a smile.
"Shit," Jade uttered to herself but load enough for them to hear.
"What's the problem sugar?" Caleb said to her. "Don't think you'll like being a star?"
"How long 'til we reach the city?" Jade asked.
"Should be there just inside of six hours if everything goes according to schedual. I expect we'll receive quite the greeting."
"Or an armed escort to the stockade," Clutch added.
Jade didn't speak. She just pondered over the ramifications of the information that was now, without a doubt, spreading through the entire fleet. Jade was loosing all control over this situation at an alarming rate. The Council knew. The fleet knew. Soon word would spread throughout the entire city of Zion. Cronus might have been right. How long would it be until the machines got wind of what she was doing? If they too didn't already know. The codes. She had two left. Getting to them first was going to make all the difference now.
The gates to the city of Zion opened and welcomed the crew of the Phoenix with open arms as it always had. The ship docked and to Jade's surprise they managed to exit without the crowd of onlookers she was expecting. In fact, the lot of them almost made it to their living quarters before they encountered by a group of guards that swiftly seperated Jade and Cronus from their crew and lead them away from their desired destination within the city. Jade couldn't have been more worried. To her surprise Cronus seemed to share her feelings.
The two of them were placed in the same room while they waited to be beckoned by their superiors. Jade was the first to go. She was taken into a room where four members of Zion's Council sat in front of her at a large table. Jade composed herself as best she could. The questions they confronted her with about the information she received were rebutted with responses she felt would discourage their belief in the seriousness of the situation. It seemed like an eternity until she was finally released to go about her business. Still, Jade worried about what sort of info they were currently extracting from Cronus at this very moment.
"Do you even believe it's possible?" Cronus said to Councilwoman Marrosa.
"I believe anything is possible, Captian. I just don't believe everything that is possible should be attempted.
Cronus walked beside the darkskinned woman who's age dwarfed his own. He listened to her in the hopes that her wisdom would bring him some small measure of comfort. "The is it possible that what Jade has stumbled upon could be exactly what it appears?"
"The destructiion of the machine power source? It's possible. But wasn't it a program from the machine world that bestowed this possiblity?"
"Yes. it couldn't have been anything else."
"Well then you habe to ask yourself how you can trust anything you receive from the machines that would appear to be to our advantage, and their doom. Is it possible that this could be some sort of trap? An attempt to get us to do something that might trigger the rebirth of the war that the One," Councilwoman Marrosa looked to the platform levels above them that extened one on top of the other to the city's pinnacle," did his all to bring to an end."
"Forgive me for saying, Councilwoman, but there are some who believe there is no such thing. Our conflict with the machines rages on and this theory that seems to exist only proves that."
"And why do you say that, Captain?"
"I'm sure the Council knows the magnitude of what will happen if the machines come to realize the insurrection that lays in their midst."
"We've annalized the data you've sent us. Data I'm sure you've looked over yourself. Looked over enough to realize the power of the position we'd hold if our rebellion decided to go ahead with such a mission."
Cronus looked toward the ground as he walked. "Assuming the information was true the machines would be at our mercy. Once we had the codes and gained access to the mainframe controlling the power plant the fate of their entire mechanical civilization would lie in our hands. There wouldn't be enough time to obtain an alternate power source with enough energy to fuel their world and any direct attack made on the whole of us would be futile once we got in. But..."
"But what, Captain?"
"It's like you said. What if we can't trust the source of this information? The entire city of Zion could pay the price for a failed act of war against the machines."
"The Council isn't willing to gamble on that. They've conferred and decided that the best course of action would be to cease all activity involving such a mission. What I want to know is what you yourself are prepared to do about this."
"What do you mean, Councilwoman? I'll obey the Council's command on this issue."
"Yes. You've proven that. But will you obey your own?"
"I don't understand."
"But it's very important that you do. Although we pride ourselves on a system of borders and control that we believe sustain the sensibilities and loyalties that allow us to take comfort in the fact that this system will be upheld by a faction of wise ond true soldiers, is still a system that the majority of us believe just might allow for the fact that such an avid opportunity is capable of creating a horde of civic unrest."
"I don't belive it."
"But it's already begun. Already we've heard the rumors of numerous soldiers aligning themselves with the possibility of what you've discovered being true."
"Not me, Councilor. Her. They would be aligning with her."
"So, you're saying you don't believe it?"
"I'm saying I stand by the Council's decission. And If it's your recommendation I'll place her under arrest. And Escort her to the stockade myself."
"We request no such thing. There is no adequate reason to perceive such a threat that would warrent such an action exist. And I speak for the Council as I say this. I speak for myself when I ask if you would do this out of a sense loyalty to this city or out of the fear you feel that Jade might be right?"
She made her way to the temple for the gathering that night. Jade tried to ignore the piercing stares she recieved from her fellow soldiers as she moved to the crowd. She'd been so efficient at it that she nearly passed up Kyla. Jade felt that her company might have been among the least threatening that she was likely to find that night.
"Wow," Kyla said. "I really didn't expect to see you here."
"And why is that?"
"I just figured you'd be hiding out somewhere trying to avoid the exposure. You've become quite the little star here lately."
"Is it as bad as I think?" Jade asked her.
"I doubt it. Then again who knows what you're thinking these days." Kyla ignored the look her shipmate threw at her knowing that she'd gotten under her skin. "The entire fleet buzzing with the news along with half of the infantry units. I don't think it's common knowledge yet with all the citizens but nobody's really under any strict orders to keep it quiet. Guess that's why you got off so light with the Council. Not too many people are taking it that seriously."
"You been talking to Cronus?" Jade asked.
"Maybe. Don't you wanna know what I think about all this?" Kyla smiled at her.
"All I wanna know is when the ships done recharging." She walked away without looking back but she didn't need to. She could feel Kyla's eyes on her along with the rest of the curious onlookers.
The Phoenix pulled out of the dock and headed off down the tunnel away from the city. Jade couldn't remember being so relieved to be back in the field. She didn't think she could take much more of the attention. Along with that, Jade was very eager to put as much space between her and the Council as she could. The only thing on her mind now was how she was going to complete her mission now that every ranking member aboard the ship was on to her. In the end it wouldn't matter. She was going to finish this. If it was at all possible.
Cronus knocked on the apartment door. He didn't have to wait long before it was answered and was then escorted inside. He was lead through the apartment, passed the living room, and to the kitchen where his escort left him to himself. Cronus stared at the dress's design on the old woman's back as she pulled the tray out of the oven and sat them it top of the stove.
"Cronus," she said. "I'd ask you how you were today but you wouldn't tell me anyway." She scooped up the cookies that she'd just baked and sat them on a plate one at a time with her back still facing him. "No. you'd just tell me you were fine and ask the same of me when we both know that couldn't be further from the truth."
"Then we'll just skip the fomalities and get to the part where you tell me what I'm suppose to do," Cronus said.
"But you already know what you have to do." When she turned around Cronus could see the Oracles face but she could tell that it didn't quite bring him the comfort he was expecting. She sat down at the dining table in front of her and pulled a cigarette from the pack next to the ashtray. "You just don't know if it's what you should do."
"Then you know about Jade, and what's she's stumbled on to?"
"I do," she spoke sweetly. It was a tone Cronus didn't expect from her considering the circumstances. "I also know that she didn't stumble on to anything, that wasn't already looking for her in the first place. And it found her. Just as you once did. At a time when she felt she needed it the most an answer came to her."
"Then you believe the path she is on is the right one?" Cronus spoke to her while looking down at the floor.
"I believe that she thinks it is. But that's not what you're here to find out. What's important now is if you believe that she's doing the right thing. That's the question that you've come to me in the hopes of finding an answer for."
"And if I asked? What would your answer be?" He looked up at her.
"I'm sorry, Cronus. But the only person that can answer that question is you."
"That's it? That's all you have to tell me? If the matrix is destroyed it could mean the end of you. As much help as you've been to my species in the past, I can't believe that's all you say regarding your impending destruction at the hands of one of us."
The Oracle placed the cigarette in her mouth and lit it. "There's no need for you to hide what you're really feeling behind your concern for my well-being. You and I both know that's not what's in your heart."
"Jade," he said.
"You came here looking for a way to save her. to save her from a fate you're sure will befall her if she continues in her mission. Then let me tell you that that's what your focus should lie on. Because therein lies the answer to all you seek. You had a relationship with her? One that was of a more personal nature?"
"Yes," Cronus answered.
"And how'd that work out for ya'?"
"It didn't." He took off the sunglasses that he wore as he spoke to her. "She ended it. The short version is that Jade felt that my attention was lying too much on her and not enough on the mission before us. She said it effected my judgement in certain situations and that it would be best for everyone...What does all this have to do with..."
"Did you agree with her?" the Oracle asked him.
"In time. I learned to."
"The future of the action Jade has taken remains a mystery. It is uncharted territory for all of us. What I can tell you is that the force that is driving her is something that extends from her past. She was never able to fully let go of the life the matrix created for her. Both in this world and yours. Her life. Her parents. Even after she was freed. This war has taken its toll on her and it is that anger that fuels her. You've come here looking for a rational answer to an irrational problem and I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help. All I can tell you is that she needs you. More than realizes."
"What about you?" Cronus said. "Do you need me?"
"Like I said. Only you can answer that question."
Cronus put the shades back on and turned to walk away. Before he exited the kitchen he looked back at her. "Maybe it's possible that no matter what happens you can still be salvaged. Perhaps you can be housed in Zion's mainframe until more suitable accomadations can be acquired."
"That's very kind of you." The Oracle tapped the ashes of her cigarette in the tray as he walked out of the kitchen. "But maybe someone else needs to hear that right now," she said to herself once he was out of earshot.
Cronus met up with the rest of his crew, or the majority of it, when he got back to the building they initially appeared in when Clutch jacked them into the matrix. Cronus found Ramrod behind an array of monitors aligned on a table in front of him. "How we doing, Ram?" Cronus asked.
"Far as I know everything is red." The keybord he worked at switched some of the information on the monitors from a live feed of their crew members in an office in a building down the street to blank screens that began to scroll with lines of code. "How was your trip to the Oracle?"
"I don't see Jade," Cronus said looking at the screens.
"And you wont." Ramrod panned the image on a few of the screens. "She went downstairs to take out the cameras at the guards station and never came back."
"Is she alright?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. But don't get too excited though. She was alright when she left the building to secure the perimeter."
"But we don't have eyes out there," Cronus said.
"Just Clutch. I told her it wasn't necessary but she wouldn't hear it. Said she was going to check on a contact after that and for us to call her if we needed her."
"And you let her go?"
"I didn't let her do anything," Ramrod said. "But everything's under control. We should out of there through the jack within the next twenty minutes."
"I wouldn't be too sure about that."
"What? You think Jade's on another one of those wild goose chases for this mystery program? Forget about it, man. It's just another fabrication in sheep's clothing."
"Just get on the phone and tell Clutch to find Jade. And get everyody back here as soon as possible." Cronus left the room with a less than enthusiastic Ramrod attepting to communicate to his team members via their cellphones.
Jade tossed him through the glass partition and into the next office room. The blue pills that had previously been hard at work at the terminals in their cubical had bolted from their chairs in the excitement and made their way to the nearest exit. Jade grabbed her target by the back of his suit coat and dragged him across the floor. She dropped him to the ground when she reached one of the terminal in a cubicle and cleared the information on the screen. To her victims surprise she brought up a screen on the monitor that he knew she couldn't have possibly done without a knowledge that shook the entire framework of his body with fear.
"What's the password?" she asked. He simply looked at her with a sence of fear that she didn't mind letting him know she was getting tired of seeing. Jade put her boot across the side of his face with a low kick that was enough to take his focus off of the computer and put it completely onto her. "Now, am I gonna have to ask twice," Jade said to him. From the expression on his face she could tell that he was gonna need a tad more persuading to get him in the right frame of mind. Jade grabbed him by the back of the collar and dragged him to the computer. "If I have to ask you again I'll put your face through that monitor. Now what is it?"
"But I don't understand."
Jade lifted him up. "You don't have to." She tossed him backward and he slid across the floor until he hit the wall. She walked over to him and stopped at his feet. Jade pulled out her gun.
"S5FP*K6," the guy blurted out. "I hope it was worth it. You're dead, you know?"
"Says you." Jade walked over to the computer and put a disk in the modem.
She payed close attention to the screen as the information she was after began to download onto her disc. Her concentration was broke by the sound of a gunshot behind her. Jade turned around and pointed her weapon at the man/program that she'd tossed across the room only moments ago. She was surprised to find the evidence of a bullet wound in his forehead. She was so stunned that she lowered her weapon. The only thing that startled her more was the Agent she saw when she looked to her left. Jade tried to raise her gun but he grabbed her wrist just before she could take aim. The pressure he applied forced her fingers to release the grip she had on the gun and it fell to the floor.
"It ends here," were the only words she heard before the fist he made with his other hand slammed into her cheek and knocked her over the partition behind the monitor and into the next cubicle.
Ducking the attack that came from the Agent she knew was behind her, Jade delivered an array of punches and kicks to the Agent directly in front of her. Whatever blows that she didn't connect with got blocked with almost the same impact as if she'd been hit. She continued to evade the punches that came at her from the rear until she was forced to spin around and reverse the values of this battle. A battle that already beginning to weigh on her as the Agent in front of her connected with her face allowing the other to smash her chest in with his fist as she turned. Jade was knocked into the wall, caving it in a bit on impact. She fell to the floor crouching with one hand down on the tile. Jade looked up at the two seemingly unphased gentlemen coming her way. She knew she couldn't keep this up for much longer. This little skirmish was going to quickly become one sided if she didn't do something in a hurry.
Jade pushed off the ground and threw a left front kick at the Agent to her right which he immediately blocked. It lead her into the spinning twirl kick that the other Agent ducked. She wasn't looking to do much damage to them at this point. She just wanted to distract them long enough for her to make it back to the modem that contained her disk. She made her way to the desk. Jade spun around and deflected an oncoming punch a kick. Before her second attacker could get into position she reached back and ejected the disk from the drive. She managed to get her head out of the way just before the second Agent's fist went through the monitor. She wasted no more time there. Jade ran for the door leading out of the room with her prize in her pocket. She managed to evade the hail of gunfire that the two Agents let loose with just as she was about to reach the door. She moved down the hallway as quickly as she could knowing that they wouldn't be far behind.
"Operator," Clutch said as he answered the ringing headset aboard the Phoenix.
"Where is she?"
It was Cronus. Clutch was overly excited to hear his voice but he tried not to let it show for fear that his worry might travel all the way through the phoneline and hender his captain's concentration even more. "She's not far. Six blocks down and make a left. But, sir..."
"What is it, Clutch?"
"She's in trouble, sir."
"That's not the half of it, sir. There's some serious activity going on in her area. Stuff I never seen before. I got a couple of red pills that are in close proximity. I'm gonna see if I can't get her some help until you get there."
Cronus hung up his cell phone. "Six blocks. Step on it," he said to Ramrod who was sitting in the driver's seat.
Jade made a left at the next corner and came to a halt. The Agent at the end of the hallway started coming towards her. He was blocking the only exit out of the building that she knew of. She went through next door on her right that she came to. The door she burst through got the attention of the people in the room, many of whom began to stand up and look over the top of their cubical in her direction. "Shit," she said after taking notice of all the bodies that lay in her path. She didn't have time to waste worrying about. Jade just started running. She made her way around the partitions until she came to a straightway that would take her directly to the large bay window at the end of the path. Jade tried to focus. She couldn't have been more than a few floors up. She pumped her arms and her legs as hard as she could as she moved toward the window trying not to notice the Agents that she could see forming with their human hosts out of the corner of her eye.
The bullets breezed by her head. She continued to move forward as the gunfire behind her broke through the panes of glass that she was headed toward. Jade kept going. At this point she wasn't trying to guesstimate how high off the ground she was. She was just hoping she was low enough to survive the drop because it was, as of now, her only way out of the building. The glass shattered around her as she dove through it. Jade watched the street below her grow closer at an alarming rate as she descended the seven flights. She landed on her feet but they didn't hold up very well under the force and disorientation of her fall. Jade rolled across the concrete of the parking lot until she came to a stop flat on her stomach in front of a pair of shiny black shoes. Hurt, she reached for the gun at her back but stopped when she looked up and recognized the face standing over her.
"Brax," she said with an exhausted voice.
"Clutch called. Said you needed some help. Gotta say. I didn't really believe him. Until now." He reached down and extended his hand to her.
Jade pulled herself up with his help. "Run," she said to him.
The sound of breaking glass made Brax look up. What he saw made him consider taking Jade up on her offer to get the hell out of here. Brax watched the suited man fall out of the window and eyed him all the way down until his feet caved in the roof of the car he landed on. it was an Agent. As he raised from his kneeling position on the wreck of a car with gun he held up beside his head Brax looked up at the side of the building above him and saw the image of five more Agents coming through the windows and heading down from the floors above directly at the two of them in the same manner as the first one. Brax was literally pulling Jade along as they made their way out of the parking lot. The crashing sounds he heard behind him increased his speed as he escorted Jade toward the waiting car.
The three gentlemen that interrupted their getaway seemed less than hospitable. Brax removed Jade's arm from around his shoulder as she stood on her own as the two of them stared down the trio.
"Is that her?" one of the leather clad men said to the other.
"That's the one. She thinks she's going to erase the lot of us."
"She's got another thing coming," the thrid guy said.
Jade went attacked them right off with Brax joining in at her side. The car door just beyond their three assailants open up and two red pills got out. After aiding Jade and Brax in fending off their attackers they escoted the two of them into the vehicle. "Get in the car," Jade yelled at the two men that fired on their attackers. She kept her eyes on the Agents that continued to persue them until she saw the three men that had been shot down get back up from the pavement as if nothing had happened. She saw the bullets go in. "Programs," she thought. They had to have been after her. She knew the jig was up now. The road between her and her sixth target was going to be that much harder now, she thought as she looked out of the rearview mirror at the men running after the car. The crew from the Adamant had saved her life. Jade began to wonder exactly how much danger she'd put them in as they sped off down the street.
Ramrod rounded the corner at breakneck speed. He continued to careen the car down the street as he saw the four Agents make their way into the middle of their path. "Ram 'um," he heard Cronus say to him and was too happy to comply with the order. Ramrod hit the gas and continued head on into the slew Agents that he saw cease firing down the street in front of them and turn to face the hood ornament barreling down on them. He took out two in the process. Ramrod made sure the that car continued dead on along its path as the pair of Agents went tumbling over the roof. He seemed all too happy to do it.
Jade saw the body of the Agent appear in the driver's seat in the car behind them before she turned around. "Let me out," she said to them.
"Hold on. We're almost at the exit," the driver replied as the car ran the next red light.
Jade crawled over Brax to make her way to left rear door. "I'm getting out. Don't stop until you reach the exit."
"What the hell are you doing," Brax said to her.
"Finishing what I started."
Jade opened the door and crawled from the backseat onto the roof of the car.
She ran. Away from the car containing the crew of the Adamant. Away from the Agent that now persued her. And toward the three exiled programs in the car coming straight at her. Jade leaped into the air. She came down on the hood of the car that was coming at her and the next step she took launched her into the air and down the street away from them. When she hit the ground the car that was heading toward her screeched to a stop. Jade looked up and saw the faces of her shipmates Ramrod and Cronus. The two Agents that fired shots into their windshield from the sidewalk over Jade's shoulder behind her and to the right put her back into the game. She stomped over the top of their car and headed on her way, quickly followed by the two Agents who flattened the four tires as they made their way over the car after her. Ramrod and Cronus looked up at the caved in top of the car that rested between them before looking forward out of the windshield. Their mind was taken off the damage by the two men that headed toward them from the front of the car. Neither the front bumper nor the mangled hood seemed to slow their pace as Cronus and Ramrod watched the bodies of the two men pass right through the front of the car like ghosts, go between them, and head right out the back without slowing them a bit.
"That can't be good," Ramrod said.
"We gotta get to Jade." Cronus climbed out of the car and Ramrod followed his lead. They ran down the street behind the two men they saw go before them, all the while, trying to ignore the crashing sound that the Agent's car made as it plowed through theirs and quickly gained on the road behind them.
Agents were springing up everywhere. The crowd of people that posed so much of threat to her just a little while ago now acted as her only source of cover from the gunfire the Agents hurled at her. As she navigated through the people she saw one individual heading straight toward her unlike the rest of the fleeing populus. Not only was he making a beeline directly at her, the residual self images of the men and women that stood between them weren't providing obstacle Jade hoped they would. The man just seemed to move straight through them all as if they weren't there. These programs that were after her coupled with the growing number of Agents was proving too much for her. Jade leaped through the air went through the forth floor window of a building to her right.
Cronus and Ramrod quickly approached the chaotic intersection. The Agents they found there instead of the shipmate they were searching for quickly turned on them. They were surrounded. It would've been the end of the pair if not for the gunfire that began to emanate from the rooftops all around them. Two of the Agents were dispatched and Cronus and Ramrod took their cue to follow the path that was being blazed by the rebels above them. The Agents that weren't dodging the cover fire being laid down turned their weapons on the stories above them. Cronus and Ramrod rounded the corner and headed down the next street where they were met by crew members Adamant.
"Was that your people on the roof back there?" Ramrod asked.
"No," Brax replied. "It's the Cavalier."
"The Cavalier? How many other crews are in this area?" Ramrod asked looking over at Cronus.
"We got the word that Jade was in trouble. Everybody who was able to get here and help was in route. But that's it for us. We've gotta get to an exit and fast."
"Something we should know about?" Ramrod asked. Just then the Cronus's cell phone began to ring.
"Sentinels," Brax said.
The huge mechanical squids swarmed through the tunnels. Their tenticles jutted out beside them and their claws opened as they descened on their target and began burning through the hull with their lasers.
"Sir, you have to get out of there, now." Clutch's voice sounded unusually nervous to Cronus and he didn't like it.
"We still haven't located Jade," he said as he ran down the street with Ramrod next to him.
"I've got readings up here of a very large, very angry looking group of sentinels who seem particularly upset with us."
"Get us an exit."
"What about Jade?" Ramrod asked him.
"We'll deal with that later."
Jade walked through the darkened room and made her way to the door. The hallway she entered was lit. She immediately began to search for an exit. She went to the end of the hall toward the door she saw. When she go there she paused. The sound of fast moving footsteps on the other of it worried her and she began to back up. Sometimes Jade hated being right. The man came jumping through the closed door and landed right on top of her. At first Jade assumed he would go through her the same as he did the people on the street but he obviously had complete control over his ability. He wrapped his hands around her neck and began to squeeze. Jade pulled her gun and began firing into his chest. All that accomplished was pushing him off of her. When the two of them made it to their feet he came at her again.
Jade grabbed him as he approached and tossed him through the door next to her. He didn't seem to have the luxury of passing straight through it like he did the other one. Jade's fury had been ignited as she walked over the remains of the door and entered the dimly lit room. The office was empty of people so Jade had little worry of their party beng crashed by Agents anytime soon. She went to work on him right off, landing almost every one of the punches and kicks she threw. The damage she caused appeared to be minimal. After everything she hit him with he just kept coming back. When she turned around toward the door she saw two Agents blocking the exit. There were no windows in the room and the only other door was going to lead to the next office. It wasn't much but it was going to be her only chance.
Just as she went for the door it opened and she saw the man that was responsible for her being the center of attention. The gunshots broke her from her trance and sent her rushing in the direction of the wrinkled faced gentleman who stood in the open doorway. The program she'd been fighting trailed behind her. The doorwas closed just as Jade made it through and even though her persuer moved through wood behind her he found himself alone in the room on the other side.
Jade stood in the hallway of endless doors next to the gentleman dressed in all black. Neither one of them spoke at first. "I thought you could use a little help," the man said.
"That's funny. I thought I was the one helping you out."
"Come." The man started walking down the hallway and Jade followed. "I trust everything is going accordingly?"
"I want to know what's going on and I want to know right now."
The gentleman stopped walking and turned to one of the doors. "Very well then." He pulled a set of keys out of his pocket, unlocked the door, and opened it. "Right this way."
"That was the Adamant. They just fired their EMP. And if we don't do the same pretty soon we might not be as lucky as they were."
The ships sensors were going crazy. Kyla looked at the 3-D between the two chairs and got a view of the horde of sentinels that followed closely behind them as the hovercraft sped along. "We can't do that," Kyla said.
"Why the hell not?"
"Jade," Cronus responded.
Jade stepped through the doorway. The walls around her were nothing more that a circle of glass at the outer edge of the room. The glass was seperated into four sections by four door. The one that Jade had just come through, the one across the room directly in front of her, and the ones opposite each other to her left and right. There was nothing but emptiness between the floor and ceiling and other than Jade and her escort there seemed to be three other people in the room. If you could call them people. She pulled her gun out and let it hang at her side.
"No need to worry," the gentleman in the black suit said to her. He came inside the room and closed the door behind him. "You're safe here."
At the sound of his voice the three other men turned around at their posts, each in front of a section of the window, and looked at her. They were all elderly gentleman and wore the same outfit as her escort except one was dressed in green, the other in yellow, and the last in red. "Friends of your's?" Jade asked as she tucked the gun back under her coat.
"Associates. Who share a common interest as I do in the outcome of your mission."
"You mean they're all apart of your little suicide pact?"
"Self destruction was never our main intention," red suit said as he and the two others began to come closer to her.
"Merely an exceptable variable in our search for the answer," yellow suit continued.
"Our search for self realization and the meaning behind our purpose," red suit said.
"Great. You all want answers. Why don't you start by telling me what the question is. Or maybe we could start with you telling me who the hell you people are and what you want with me."
The man in the black suit stretched his hand out and Jade followed him as he moved toward one of the windows. When she got close enough she could see the sun beginning to set at the edge of the Mega City skyline. She looked down at the vast cityscape beneath the room of the building they appeared to be in. They had to be at least a hundred floors up.
"I'm not sure if you're aware of exactly how old the matrix is or if you even know of the numerous versions that have been in existence. What I will tell you though is that the four of us came into being during the one that was initially patterned after the baser instincts of human-kind." Jade looked up at him and then at the three gentlemen that drew closer behind them. "Our primary functions were to create, initiate, and govern the main software and programming dealing with certain realms of conflict and indulgence that dwelled with the very nature of the human species. More specifically the psychological ramifications of the inevitablity regarding its final resolution."
Ramrod rushed to the lower deck of the ship and quickly took his place behind one of the aft gunnery consoles. He was joined behind the ships arsenal by Davin and Viper. Together they opened fire on the persuing sentinels that continued to close in on them.
"The gentleman you see behind me to my far left," he said raising his hand while Jade looked at the man in the yellow suit. "He dealt with the relevance of human mind's fear and bout with the various virulent threats and other contagious elements on the planet. The one next to him concentrated on the concerns of the diminishment of addequate nurishment supplies among a fixed and reproducing number of humans." Jade let ehr eyes move to the man dressed in green. Before the gentleman beside her started to speak again she'd already taken notice of the man in red.
"And the last gentleman you see dealt with the human psyche's processing of data as it concerned to the more violently physical forms of confrontation between both individuals and masses."
"Well that's just wonderful," Jade said. "We've got plague, famine, and war covered. What's your little contribution to the mental state of the pod people?"
"My pupose was the inevitable result of the work of my associates. I was responsible for programming certain aspects of mankinds' interpretation of death within the construct of the matrix. And you're wrong. It is you that created the functions we serve."
"They're right on top of us," Davin yelled as he peered out of his scope while firing rounds at the sentinels that swarmed around the Phoenix.
"Just by me sometime," Caleb said over the radio. "I'm gonna try and shake 'em as best I can."
"You mind telling me how you plan on doing that?" Kyla said to him.
"Make yourself useful," Cronus said. "Go back there and help Clutch get a lock on Jade, will ya?"
"You wanted to know the question. Where are we going? Where does it all end? We've interpreted the human's cognition. We've explored the results throughout the virtual realm." Jade watched as the gentleman next to her draped in black looked down at the populus beneath him. She couldn't help but take a peek or two herself. "And we've watched it play through over and over again within each individual, within societies as a whole, and even within the matrix itself as the end became the beginning once more. Time and again. And now. We're looking for the truth."
"You're looking to die," Jade said.
"We're looking for the same thing you are. "Tell me. Your war with the inhabitants of the machine city. Where do you see it all ending?"
"Honestly, for the longest time I never thought it would. Then you and your inquisitive friends over there dropped the answer right in my lap. Now, I think we're gonna win this."
"We've seen many win. And even more loose. And still the postulate remains."
"Then tell me this. What happens if I fail?" Jade asked.
"Then eventually, we will try again."
"Machines," Jade said. "Always hard at work. What made you decide to come to me now with this?"
"You were doing fine. Then you ran into some trouble. We figured you could use a hand. Now it is time you returned to your companions." The gentleman in black turned around along with the three others who started to make their way back to the respective window from which they previously stood watch over the inhabitants below.
"Where are they?" Jade asked. "Are they still in the matrix?"
"No. They got out some time ago due to the deployment of sentinels on their position. And now you must join them." He opened the door they had used to enter the room and then handed her a key. "This will open the fifth door to your left after you make the right at the end of the hall. The door will lead you back."
"And you? Will I see you again?"
"Only if something goes wrong."
The claws of the various sentinels dug into the hull of the Phoenix, holding them in place as their lasers went to work on the ships hull. The cannons that Viper worked knocked one and then two more away as he continued to fire. Caleb had taken the ship out of the pipes and up to the surface as he attempted to loose them amongst the ruins of the planet. It seemed to work for a moment as he swerved around one corner after the next and moved throughout the wreckage of the desolate buildings of the crumbling city.
"I got her!" Clutch said at nearly the top of his lungs. Kyla ran over to the monitors he sat behind. "She's ten feet from an exit, the tour is over, and I hope she's done sight seeing."
"She better be," Kyla said as she ran over to the chair Jade sat in.
Clutch dialed the number and the phone rang. It didn't take long for Jade to pick up and he was soon wisking her mind across phone lines in no time. Kyla pulled the plug out of her head and Jade opened her eyes. "We got her," Kyla said to Clutch. he repeated it over the radio.
Caleb pushed on the ships controls and barreled the vessel toward the murky earth below. The landing wasn't a three point but it was going to do. Hearing the clammering within the ship, Davin and Viper bolted out of their gunnery booths and made their way through the ship armed with guns that they used to fire electronic blasts at the sentinels that had made their way through the hull of the Phoenix. Clutch fired the EMP. After the blast fitered through the ship and out toward the surrounding radius the sentinel threat fell dead.
Jade made her way to the cockpit and sat down in the empty chair next to Caleb. She looked out the window at the dilapidated structure in front of them. Cronus was off with the other assess ing the damage caused by the sentinels. "Can you get us out of here," Jade said.
Caleb stopped what he was doing with the ships controls and looked at her. "We'll be out of here soon enough. Why? You can't be to anxious to get back to work in the matrix after what the lot of you just been through."
"I'm anxious to get it over with," Jade said.
She had one more code to aquire before she could achieve the endgame malevolent programs had sent her out to accomplish and she meaned to do it. Jade continued to try and delude herself that what she was doing was for the good of humanity and not simply the will of the machines that held them all captive. But she believed they had a point. She wanted it over. She wanted it to end. But with what she knew of as the whole of the mechanical world knowing what she was up to, her objective was going to be that much more elusive. It was more than likely going to be more beneficial than she's perceived to have elements of the human resistence on line to back her up. Jade had every intention on finishing this. She stared out at the decay that lie beyond the Phoenix and invisioned the next age of man she would usher in to retake its rightful place among the rubble.