Disclaimer: the Matrix is not my intellectual property. also, I have Lynx and Falstaff to thank. They both did several scenes each, helped, prodded. Staff's responsible for the crew; Lynx wrote Apoc, I did Switch. It's our story, not my story.

shake

 

It started with a fucking grenade.

Not a fancy one, not the kind I'd been learning to take apart.

A simple, every-day grenade.

You take it, you pull the pin, you throw. Basic training was almost two years ago-- it's that basic, that fundamental. Something I learned two years ago and do with my eyes shut, could stay awake for a week and still not fuck up.

And I land myself in the hospital. A desk job for three months.

I was going out into the field in two weeks, too. Real work. Real assignments. None of this, guard the ambassador shit that the other guys in the ranks stopped a year ago.

Just because I don't have physical balls doesn't mean I won't kick some.

But finally, FINALLY, I was gonna get to work for real. --and then, a grenade.

"Sir. Reports done, faxed away, sat-link ready for you to talk to the general any time you want. Sir, yes sir."

Another phone call to some tightass commander. More sirs. Some sixty year old bossing around the new female recruit because her leg's still in a cast and she can't do anything but crack satellite transmissions.

Sate-fucking-lites.

I was going into the *FIELD* in two weeks, for chrissake. I was going to be taken seriously.

No one takes the short blond seriously. Not even if she breaks their collarbone first. And that was the first mission I got.

~

Connecting.... trace blocked.... connecting....

This was the hardest part of the job, really. Trying to block traces. Anything else, I was confident, aware, and competent. Blocking traces, it needed more than training.

It needed finesse. Instinct.

I had that, too.

Connecting... Rerouting. A satellite travelling at thirteen hundred miles an hour above China's Great Wall; the high-speed fibreoptics that were just being installed through the Straight of Gibralter. A fishing vessel off the coast of Norway, with a radio transmitter. Back in a loop, around and around, until my signal finally gets to--

Connected. Online.

<I thought you were going to meet us last week.>

<Something came up.> It wasn't a lie. The general thought I wasn't ready yet. He's full of bullshit, but I follow orders.

<What's more important than this?>

<I have to be careful.>

<We all have to be careful. We're going to be back that way soon. Can you make it next week?>

<Maybe. You'll have to give me a place and time before hand.>

<No.>

<I thought you wanted to meet.>

<No, Switch. You wanted to meet us. You want. We deliver. Next week. We'll be in touch.>

Connection lost.

Shit.

This was the second month of trolling cyber-punk chat room and anonymous bulletin boards for any sign of real threats-- watching pirated signals coming through the ether and picking out the ones that might be of interest.

This group seemed different. They were competent, they were quiet, and I couldn't trace them at all. Not even a masked IP number, no domain, no network.

I didn't even have a clue what continent they were hacking from.

But I was supposed to get a meeting, or a way to trace them. Their method was flawless, they gave me no clues in our dialogue who they were or what their agenda was.

For some reason, this made them more interesting.

More interesting to the general, as well.

Someone was pressuring him to get things done. I knew it was someone above him, and not the general himself, because the pressure was coming in vague threats and the promise of rewards if I did a good job.

When it was his ass calling the shots, he was crisp, threats were clear. When it was his ass in the sling, he let his overbearing manner do the work of any threat to scrub bathroom floors for the rest of our lives.

He preferred not to scare us off our jobs.

He was an inefficient commander.

I had to figure something out for next week-- they would be 'in the area'.

My phone rang, and I answered it. The general. "Yes, sir. I'll have something by tomorrow night. No, sir. No, I don't know where they are yet. Yes, I will."

He was looking for answers, and quick.

So was I.

~

So I had to research these people. It could wait. There was something more interesting at play.

Whispers, in the Mossad, tend to travel far. The motto of most agents here is 'no secrets, especially from me', so you hear things all the time. Agents down, agents hit. Double agents. Hidden agents. Agents working with the other side, ready to be taken down and listening to the walls desperately to catch a glimpse of the day.

And then there are the whispers about the ones in charge. Those are the rumors that people disappear for. The Mossad, a thousand lies buried in a thousand truths, and none of them work independent of the other.

There was a word whispered that made people disappear faster than others. It was 'the matrix', and it was calling me.

~

There is a room where files on people are kept. And in this room, I would spend days and nights doing the grunt research the ass-general asked me to. And one time, I stumbled on a file of a man that happened to have 'mtrx' stamped on the top in big, red letters, along with a watchlist delegation of top priority.

The man's name is Morpheus. I didn't know it at the time, but I was about to meet him.

That night, I went into stores to put back a few files I 'borrowed', and immediately felt something was wrong. There's a movement in the corner, and I whip out my weapon, voice quiet.

"Hands."

There's no need to say where, and there's no need to mention that I have a gun at this joker's head. He's gotten this far into the building, he knows who and what I am. He has to be the same.

They go up. "Now turn around. Give me your ID."

He has to have some. There's no way he'd get past the guard otherwise.

He still hasn't said anything. His ID calls him one of my rank, year ahead of me. Already doing field-work, and same department. "Okay, soldier. What are you doing in the files?"

Quiet. "I'm not going to pretend to be tough." I pause, let him see my own insignia. "You know that I am."

He sighs. "I am looking things up."

"Looking what up?" Pistol steady. He knows that I'm serious.

"May I sit down, and would you mind turning the light on?"

The light means that he can see me, get an advantage. But I just came from outside, so my night vision isn't as trained as his, so it gives me an advantage as well. One hand flips the light switch, and he grimaces, blinking at the harsh fluorescence.

"Tell me what you're looking for."

And if he won't, maybe I'll try to break his collar bone. That worked last time.

"There are files on men we are tracking in here."

He sits down on the desk, hands still carefully placed within my sight. I say, "Name."

He knows what I'm asking. He sighs again, and I can almost hear his mind saying goodbye to his career, and a hell of a lot more. When he answers me, it suddenly makes sense. "He only has one name. Morpheus."

I gasp, and sag against the doorframe.

Twenty-one, and still able to be surprised. I should have such shame. His eyes widen, and I grin weakly. I answer him, "You won't find those here."

He cocks his head. "No?"

Split-second decision. He talks as a member of the Mossad, and of the group I am working with... and like the illegal criminals I have tracked for over a year now-- long enough to call them friends.

He is looking for Morpheus.

Split-second decisions. I'm trained for this-- body language, facial expressions. Interrogation. Everything gives a man away. I cock the safety, and put my pistol away. "No, you won't. They're in my bunk."

~

Pixie glowered at Morpheus, white hair in her face. "She's too old to unplug. You've already got the nineteen year old. Benamon. Don't you think this is a bad idea, Captain?"

Morpheus raised an eyebrow. "I think I am the captain of the Nebacudnezzur, Pixie. As such . . . and all deferense to your age aside . . . shut up."

Pixie snorted. "I've been wtih you," she said, "since they gave you this rustbucket. I was with you when Akbar died."

Morpheus glared at her. "That," he said softly, "is unworthy of you, Pixie."

Pixie rolled her eyes slowly. "Maybe. But that's life. And I'm a bitch. I've been one for a long, long time. The hours are good and there's no heavy lifting."

"Look," she said. "Elvis and Patchwork and the chimp have been going back and forth all week. They're full of piss and vineger. You need to stop trying to build up our arsenal and make sure nobody gets killed."

He raised both eyebrows. "First, it was you who insisted we take on the child prodigy," he said. "Second, he prefers 'Monkey King,' not 'the chimp,' as you well know. And third --" He grinned. "You are my executive officer. Discipline is, after all, your job."

She almost spat. "Don't drag little Mouse into this," she growled. "They'd have had him writing codes for them!"

"Indeed," he said. And raised an eybrow along with his voice. "Dozer! How ready are we?"

The deep, calm voice floated back down the corridor. "We're gonna make contact soon. I think we should take you, Pix, Cypher, and Patchwork. Oh, and Tank says he wants to go too."

"I did NOT EITHER say that!" shouted the fourteen year old. "You're a liar!"

Morpheus smothered his grin. "We'll be in the chamber presently, Dozer. Get ready to dial. And map it out for us. Cypher!"

A bald head stuck out of one of the doors. "I'm still on moniter. Somebody's gotta cover for me."

Pixie nodded imperceptibly, then took a deep breath. "ELVIS! Get your ass back here, boy, and fast!"

A slow thud echoed for a moment as a young man with a paunch and a faithfully recreated Calgary Flames hockey jersey ran down the corridor. He leaned against the bulkhead. "Aw, Pix, moniter duty sucks," he whined. "I wanna see some action!"

Pixie rolled her eyes. "Oh, sure," she said. "And then when we get in the Matrix you can hold my DRESS while I fuck Mel Gibson. Shut up and get to work, Elvis."

Morpheus closed his eyes. "Are you certain we cannot take the ten-year-old?"

~

It was a grenade that got me the job sorting files-- the grenade that made me a technical operative instead of a field operative.

I never wanted to crack satellite codes. I wanted to use my body, not my mind. Physical soldier, simple life. Not a mental one.

But it was meeting Apoc for the first time that really got me frightened, possibly for the first time in my life.

We discussed the situation. He asked what I knew about Morpheus-- I told him as little as possible. I didn't know much more than I described to him. He was a terrorist, working with a cell of very talented and very dangerous people.

I mentioned that I worked undercover, deep.

He asked if my loyalties were being tested, and my respect for him rose dramatically. I was sure that I hadn't said enough to pique anyone's suspicions, but in the simple tone of my voice he knew I was feeling the beginnings of being conflicted.

One thing I have never known about Apoc is his name. One thing he has never asked me is mine.

"Sir, yes. Everything is in order. Yes, sir, people are in place. Yes. I'll be watching."

After that one night, I didn't see him again until that morning. A telegram came for me, asking for a meeting, and then a phone call when I didn't show up in Tel Aviv at noon.

No warning, no chance to trace the call. I didn't really expect to be able to. But that voice was unmistakeable. "You didn't come."

"No."

Clipped. Orders. "Meet me later on. Nine."

Again. "No."

Someone walked past, and handed me a folder about the newest mission I was supposed to 'oversee'. The bastards had me watching what I should be doing, and my leg was healed.

"It's important, Switch."

I froze. That wasn't a name I used outside-- it certainly wasn't a name my commander had chosen for the undercover op. And I was supposed to have pulled out of that last week. They were taking the group down today.

I get a phone call not two hours before they planned on hitting.

"Why?"

"You'll see."

He hung up.

My phone rang again, and an American-accented voice said on the line, "Have I reached office 234, Mossad?"

The phone call before threw me off-guard, and I was still a little shaken up. "How did you get this number?"

"Your commander. I am here, in Tira, to talk to you. We have a very interesting proposition for you."

Americans. They always sound like they are doing you a big favor, even as they start pulling out fingernails. "I'm not interested."

"We've been watching you, Switch."

I held my breath.

"Oh, yes. We know that name. Your commander filled us in. We are--very thorough."

Tira to Tel Aviv was almost five hours. I'd have to leave in three to make it. "When?"

A sharp-looking man with dark sunglasses opened the door to the outer office, where I was standing in front of a display and tracking troop movements. He had a slim mobile against his ear.

He smiled at me, and I got the same feeling as when the soldiers first came to drag me off to 'school'. "Now."

~

"You see, miss, we're very dedicated when it comes to our work."

I watched the creepy man pace.

Creepy. Not a very professional term, but I have always prided myself on bluntness and honesty.

"And when it comes to, our interests, we do our homework." He turned to me, and straightened his tie deliberately. Pulled on the cuffs of his shirt delicately. Very precise mannerisms, my mind noted absently. "You have been a very busy girl."

"I have duties."

A safe answer. He shakes his head, amused. "Ah, no. But you have been doing your work, above and beyond the call of duty. One might say," he drawled, "You have a love of work."

I stayed quiet. He was either goading me into admitting I had done something wrong, or deliberately pushing buttons to make me more pliable.

His tone was flat, uninflected. I couldn't read him, except to say, he was very direct and logical. He acted, as a machine would have in the circumstances. As the older men in our unit did.

"Aren't you going to say something?"

"Sir."

"Yes." He smiled again, and I remembered the first drill sergent I had, back before I was old enough to drive. The one that beat us to get us out of bed. "Sir, indeed."

He stared, and finally said, "I said I was here to offer you something. Aren't you going to ask what it is?"

There was no point in answering, and so, as taught, I stayed quiet. "Very good, miss. Very good. You know your training."

"Sir."

He either got bored of playing his game, or the glance he sent at the watch on his wrist told him that time was running out. Expensive watch, I noticed. Expensive black suit, too. "We are here, miss, because we know you are working on cracking the hacker-ring known to be operating in this area. We know that you are close."

My commander had said, reveal what he needs, before I entered this room. Obviously, this man was in-the-know. "Sir. We moved on that this morning."

"Ah! Yes. I had heard that." He paused, and took his sunglasses off. "Do you know who the leader of that ring is?"

"No, sir. I was unable to get names."

"That, is because he has no name. But Morpheus."

Split-second decisions. I've always prided myself on being able to make them. Killing those that deserved it, running when wounded, regrouping and knowing, deep in my gut, what my instincts were telling me. It was the reason I wanted to be in the field in the first place.

They were telling me to run.

~

Casually, I crossed the hallway to intercept her. The look on her face was best described in polite company as 'controlled annoyance', but since base was never considered anything approaching where polite company would be, I could think of a dozen other more amusing descriptives for that look.

Four operatives were watching me, as far as I could see out of my peripheral vision as I walked. I wasn't sure if they were routine surveillance, specifically set on me, or coincidence. I didn't think I wanted to find out, either.

Two drinking coffee, one trying to flirt with the newest army recruit that had been unlucky enough to draw desk duty, one pretending to read. Two European men in black with dark glasses had their attention focused on her.

I wasn't the only one that had found out her interest in Morpheus, then. Shit.

Time for plan B, since plan A would now be nothing but suspicious. Draping an arm around her shoulders and hoping for the best, (hoping that she wouldn't rip it off and beat me to death with the bloody end, since I didn't know her well enough for that sort of informality) I whispered quietly for her to cooperate.

Like the good little operative she was, she nodded almost imperceptibly, slipping an arm around my waist, resting her hand ever so gently above my kidney and reminding me with a little pressure that if I wanted to play nasty, I'd end up pissing blood for a week. Assuming I survived, that is.

Cheerful thought.

"What's your game?" she murmured, head turned to me to foul any lip-readers attempts to find out what she was saying. Wouldn't help if they had us bugged, or the room itself, but it was as good as it would get. "Fuck with me and you'll never be able to do it again."

"I have no intention of fucking with you--unless you ask. You're going off-base tonight?"

"Maybe."

"You should. The suits are unhealthy."

"Experience?" She did a sardonic raised-eyebrow smirk. Not as shaken as I'd have thought.

"Don't need to take a bullet to know extra ventilation is a bad thing."

"Score one." Half a beat, and she made up her mind about something. If I was lucky, it'd be the same something I had determined to try and convince her about after my information update. Morpheus was in Tel Aviv, and was interested in her.

I saw a trace of a read-only hack in files earlier that morning. Her file, the 'signature' of the hacker linking through to other Morpheus-related hacks. Black suits.

Something was closing in on Morpheus, and she was involved.

She said, "We're going to Tel Aviv this afternoon."

"Justification?"

She decided as we turned the corner and went towards the barracks. "Young lust." Sarcasm was barely hidden in that statement, if you'd heard her enough to decipher through the accent. I liked it. "You're so hot I can't keep my eyes or hands off you."

"Yeah, right." For half a minute, I contemplated moving my hand lower in retaliation when she pinched my ass. Then decided not to. Discretion was the better part of valour--and I would need that hand later in the evening.

~

I asked what I should call him, and he shrugged, said whatever I liked. So I asked him what his code nick was-- he told me Apoc. I don't know whether it really was, or whether he just happened to like that particular nickname. I doubt he had any friends to call him by it, even if he had. Agents didn't frequently keep friends. Or names.

My business with the hackers was done, and I wasn't needed for a day or so. I had a meeting at nine with-- someone that frightened me. I had another operative with me, a field agent and a good one, who had some connection to the group I'd helped take down. The group I was going to meet.

We were sitting on the train, and I murmured to myself, "He never told me his name."

"Who?"

Shook my head. "It doesn't matter. We're almost there."

If the American had given me a name, I'm sure it wouldn't have been a real lead, anyway. And Morpheus has no name-- that's what they all say. They have no face, no name, no whereabouts, no mailing address. He was either the deepest undercover agent in history, or one of the most dangerous men on the planet.

He asked, "What happens when we get there?"

"Hopefully, we don't die."

He nodded. I liked that about him. I continued, a little hesitent, "What do you want with Morpheus?"

He was immediately suspicious, glancing around the train at children with mothers, and older women with kerchiefs on their head, keeping the sun away from their hair. His gaze finally settled back on me. "Why?"

"Because it's important for me to know, before we arrive."

He narrowed his eyes, and replied, "By asking me, you are asking a hell of a lot."

I knew. I was asking him to trust me. He ran a hand through his hair, and said, "Answers. I'm looking for answers."

"What's the question?"

"I don't know."

~

Something about Mossad operatives, they know what's going on, and where people are, and what kinds of elements would be dangerous in a crowd. I was trained for fieldwork, being out in crowds-- that was my specialty.

Until the accident, I was planning on doing surveillance, high-profile. The kind of thing that means, you keep your ears and your eyes and your other senses open to all the input they can get.

The platform our station pulled into wasn't crowded, but a fair number of people were around. Most of them were casual travellers, people who lived in the area, visitors. A few tourists dotted the scene; one looked like a possible candidate for drug smuggling, or possibly another agency. It was the camera he held. No one took a three thousand dollar camera, complete with delicate little zoom lens, on vacation.

I muttered to Apoc, "What's your specialty?"

He was always quick on his feet, always thought things through fast and figured out the answers before he had to ask the questions. He knew I was asking in case of trouble. "Weapons, mostly. Arms' deals."

To say 'arms deals' in Israel meant he was probably high-up in rank, too. For a wild minute, paranoia fell in, and I got afraid he was my loyalty test. But then, sense took its place-- if he was, then I'd have to try and kill him if he thought I wasn't, and watch him for signs.

There was another person on the train platform, now that people were filtering off it, that didn't belong, aside from the man with his camera. He'd already gone, melted into the crowd going down the steps.

Leaning against a railing was a woman wearing a black-leather catsuit, dark glasses, and black leather gloves.

She looked like she'd just come out of a motorcycle-racing ad.

Apoc saw her as well, but looked away. I approved, studied her for a minute, and then pretended to look at the train times, and the map, on the wall in front of me.

Whoever this woman was, she had to be hot. It's almost forty degrees out, and she might have looked stunning in black leather, but no one can stand it that long.

I rubbed the back of my head, feeling the fuzz growing there. Muttered, "That girl must be her, or we've got a stupid American trying to get dead. Possibly both."

He answered, more for the illusion of conversations's sake than anything else, "Quite noticable."

"There's someone watching her, as well."

He had on a black suit, was sweating all over it, and dark glasses. He nodded. "Suits."

Took another look at her, quick, admiring, then nodded. He murmured into my ear, as if being the delicate beau, "Think she knows?"

I took a firmer grip on his waist, and let myself feel the gun at the small of his back. I could get to it in a hurry. He knew it. He could reach mine. --the question was, did I want him to?

Too late for that, I knew, and there was nothing I could do about it. Split second decisions-- they were part of the training. I put on my best confused and dumb female look, and started walking to her. A big smile on my face, I said out of the corner of my mouth, "Let's find out."

The first words out of her mouth, before I even had a chance to bullshit a story about needing to know how to find a train to Jerusalem were, "You're being followed."

Very subtle of her. Apoc answered, "No, you are. You're not really Ms. Inconspicuous."

She pulled off her glasses, and addressed me, "This is very important, and we don't have a lot of time--"

I interrupted, "I have a job with the Mossad. I am not for sale. I am not--"

"I can show you what the Matrix is."

My mouth stayed open, but somehow, the words stopped coming.

Apoc saved the day and kissed me.

It's the only time a man has ever kissed me and I've enjoyed it. Most of the enjoyment was coming from me, sneaking glimpses at the dark-suited robot coming towards us with a very determined glint. The woman we were talking to saw him as well, and immediately looked afraid.

She might stand out, but I knew the group she was attached to-- they were serious, and dangerous. Her fear was a bad sign.

Trinity, afraid, is always a bad sign.

She muttered, "We have to get out of here. Are you coming, Switch?"

Again, that name said aloud startled me, and made me nervous. Any of these people could have been working for someone, and she bandied it around as if it had come into every day usage. I answered, "I didn't come here to be lured into something that will get me dead, or hunted. You're a wanted woman."

"I don't have time to argue--"

A shot was fired, and she grabbed my hand, pulled me away from Apoc. "Come on! Leave him and let's go, if you're coming!"

I stopped just long enough to jerk my head at him, and stare her in the eyes. "No." Then we both raced after her down the steps and into the waiting car.

~

"Why is he here?"

"There wasn't time."

"He looks kinda fun--"

"Not now. Just watch the road."

The three men-- two of them were barely old enough to deserve the title-- were arguing. I was wedged into the back seat beside the woman-- who had introduced herself as Trinity-- and Apoc. One of the boys had trained a semi-automatic on Apoc the minute we got in the car, and Trinity said it was for 'their protection'.

I've heard those words before, used by executioners. A gun, in her own hand, was pointing at my head, so I didn't have much grounds to argue.

Trinity was on a phone to someone. She asked, "How many?... good... no, I don't know. I don't think they know he's here... no, we'll be alright for now. This one isn't bugged. There wasn't time."

Terms I recognised. This was another op.

Apoc was staring out the window, and suddenly said sharply, "Turn left here."

The black man-- the one who had 'leadership' written all over him-- asked, "Why?"

"Because this street is about to dead-end because of construction, and your car isn't big enough to turn around."

These people, however, weren't as organized as a government operation. They had to ask when people gave them orders-- they had opinions and it didn't seem to occur to them to think about something before they asked it. Trinity had asked me why I had brought someone before she had thought about what I might say, why I might say it, and whether or not I might tell the truth.

If she had, she would have realized that asking was pointless-- I would either say, "Because I don't trust you," and that was obvious, or, "He's my lover," which means nothing in terms of business and is irrelevant, or, "we're setting you up," which I most assuredly would lie about.

The question was pointless. She didn't seem to know.

The black man squeezed the boy's shoulder who was driving, and said, "Stop here."

He did.

He said, "Switch, this is a very important point in your life. I'm about to offer you the world-- and I don't mean money, or power. I mean, freedom. But you have to let go of everything from this world," and he glanced at Apoc, "before I can give you the answers."

I, too, glanced at Apoc.

I remembered asking him what he was looking for in Morpheus' files.

I'd never had a friend before. I think, I might have even let him watch my back. It was instinctual, that Apoc was okay. Maybe not trustworthy yet, but he was looking for the answers-- I just happened to be doing my job in the wrong place at the right time. "You want to give me a choice. Give it to us."

Apoc turned and looked at me. The man took off his sunglasses-- dark, greyish suit, of course, to accent them-- and stuck a hand out, over the front seat of the car. "Switch, I don't think you fully understand. Let me introduce myself." He smiled. "I am Morpheus."

~

Outside the car, Trinity and Morpheus were having quite an argument about what to do with two possibly hostile people who knew far too much about both them and their whereabouts.

Trinity was starting to be convinced that they were going to be useful. "I thought you wanted to get Switch!"

Morpheus was calm. "I told you. I was considering it. But she is farther along-- older, more integrated-- than I had thought originally."

"What are you afraid they're going to do if we release them?"

"It would be cruel to take them out of this world and put them into a new one if they were not ready for the change. And they are not skilled enough to be worth that risk."

"But they didn't bolt. They're not fidgeting. How LONG did Mouse have to train before he could even sit *still* for thirty seconds!"

"He's just a child, Trinity, there is no way to compare him to two highly trained Mossad agents--"

"That's it. He's a child. They are capable, and they are watching you to see what you're going to tell them to do. That's just as much an asset as brilliance."

"You were young enough when we unplugged you. Fifteen, and all teenage angst and depression--"

"With skills."

"Granted. Those skills are why we picked you--"

"These other kids might have skills too, but look! They're DYING out there because they can't learn like I did."

"That's--unfair."

"That's true, Morpheus, and you know it."

"This isn't how things are done, Trinity."

The two of them-- Switch, and Apoc, he said-- were sitting in the car while Trinity and Morpheus paced outside in the sweltering heat. "This can't be done."

"It can't be done, or you just won't allow it?"

He snapped to attention. "Are you questioning me?"

Trinity paused, rubbing sweaty hands over a sweaty face. "We're thin, Morpheus. You know that. You said she was flexible, and suspicious. Well, he looks, solid."

"We know nothing about him, Trinity."

"We know he's been looking for you."

Morpheus folded his hands in front of him. "And simply because he is here, we should allow him to enter a life which he is not prepared for?"

She looked into the car, eying the two passengers in the back seat and the kids talking to them-- guns ready. Trinity and Morpheus were wary of leaving two very capable Mossad-trained people in a car with kids, but they needed some privacy.

The woman had close to a buzz-cut, and a scowl. The man was a little amused, and calm. Relatively relaxed. He seemed to be the more dangerous of the two, and yet-- "He seems to be taking the situation better than she is."

"Trinity," and his voice was gentle, "He is a very capable man. He would not have gotten this far otherwise. But he is not the plan."

"I think we should *think* about this for a minute! He's only twenty-three-- his records with the Israelis are good. And you know better than anyone that plans need to be modified."

"Trinity--"

"And we could use the hands on the ship."

The reminder between them of the girl they'd lost not a month before to an agent, while they were scouting Switch out, stung him.

"Trinity, we need the best of the best. These people are already rigidly ingrained with military training. The girl is just about finished-- he's already been done for a year. To break that would be next to impossible--"

Trinity tilted her head. "Fine. Let's see what they have to say about it." She opened the car door. "Get out."

They got out, and stood in front of Morpheus, hands casually at their sides. She folded her arms across her chest, and studied them. "Switch. Apoc. If I told you that your world was about to change, what would you say?"

Apoc answered without hesitation, "The world is always changing."

I recognised the line. That's one of the first things a Mossad is taught. That, and the skills to recognise it.

Morpheus looked pleased, and annoyed. I assumed that the woman Trinity had won whatever argument they were having. He said, "Fine, Trinity. We will try this. Please, come inside."

I crossed my arms. "What's inside?"

Trinity watched my expression as Morpheus opened the door of the little grocer's shop, going inside noiselessly. She smiled, encouraging, and told me, "Your answers."

~

Observation is one of the key elements to any successful venture.

More than determination, more than planning, more than weaponry. Observation will save a man's life a hundred times over, when a bullet or his knife or his back-up fails.

Why?

Because observation will yield those oh-so-tiny, delicate clues about what things are and are not real in a situation.

Highly trained powers of observation will prevent you from having to use that gun, or throwing that knife-- or *needing* *that* *back-up*.

That is one of the first things the Mossad teaches its people.

The room Morpheus showed us into was larger than a normal store. Steps lead down to what looked like a cellar. There were wires running from a table in the center of the room, down the landing and the steps, and disappearing into the darkness. Onto that table, he placed a computer, and plugged it in.

He turned back to us, and the rest of them traipsed down the stairs, where I could see the kind of glow put out by other electronic equipment. He ignored his followers to address Apoc and I. "I would like you to know something, before we begin our negotiations. My, mission, if you will. I act in the goodwill of man, nothing more."

Men as this have told me these things before. They were religious zealots, mass-murderers, and friends alike. I know many such men. His tone bears that of someone believing what he is doing to be fundamentally *right*-- which makes him more dangerous than the Mossad had suspected.

I answered for both of us-- a rapport was building between Apoc and I, a method of doing things. "Many people say the same."

"They are unaware of the truth that surrounds us, the truth that captures everyone on this planet. They do not *know*."

His voice became more impassioned, lending weight to my private theory of him as a fundamentalist of some sort. Perhaps working with the Palestinians, perhaps someone we were unaware of yet. "You're going to show us."

His face lit up. "Only if you want me to, Switch. I can open the door. You have to be the one to walk through it."

Apoc spoke for the first time since we came inside. "And end up, where?"

To ask was to admit he was afraid of dying, but I suppose at the time he didn't see any better options. Morpheus turned to him. "You were an unexpected-- bonus, my friend. The choice is yours, as well. I just hope Trinity is right."

Before I can stop myself, "About what?"

He smiled, and turned away, mumbling, "About the two of you." He took something out of his pocket, and started playing with it between his fingers. A nervous gesture. Perhaps he knew that Israeli agents were set to move in on the location of his car in ten minutes. "We don't have a lot of time, and with the both of you, this is going to take longer than expected. Switch, you're first."

Morpheus descended the stairs, with a brusque gesture that meant I was to follow him. Trinity gave him a Look as they passed each other down the stairs. Before I moved, Apoc gripped my arm. "Switch."

I nodded. Trinity waited a respectful distance away. He nodded back, once, and let go.

It was an old Israeli habit. About watching each other's back's.

~

"Because there are two of you, we'll have to hurry. You have a choice now, Switch." He held out his two hands, fists closed. "One will put you back into your life. One will show you--"

"The Matrix?"

He opened his fists, holding out a red and a blue pill. "Good girl."

"You're drugging me?"

I'd picked up on Trinity's habit of asking stupid questions. He answered, "No. It's part of the process-- an integral process. I promise. No drugs."

I don't know why I believed him, but I did. He held the pills between thumb-and-forefinger, clumsy, as if he wasn't used to being the one to do this kind of work. "You take the blue pill, you go back to being an agent for a government that is being lied to, an agency that won't allow you to utilize your skills because of your gender, and a job behind a desk being bored and secretly connecting more with the undercover cases you're supposed to be breaking."

Pause.

"You take the red pill, and things become-- clearer."

Instincts.

If I had been in the jungle that day, running through the trees avoiding a hunt-- I'm sure, not one arrow would have hit. My instincts have never been finer. No hesitation, a split-second decision.

Swallowed the red-pill quickly.

"Good." He pushed open a door, and lead me into a room full of strange equipment, and the rest of his agents. "You're going to feel nauseous, as if you were drugged. It's not a drug. When you awaken, the world will open."

My knees felt weak, and I sat down heavily. "What are you doing to me?"

His voice came from far away, as I started to black out. "Freeing your mind."

Panic.

Choking.

Gasping.

Clawing.

I sat up, looked around me, and screamed.

~

I never remembered light being this bright before. And, aching in my forearms, my skull-- thousands of tiny needles, sticking out of my skin.

This wasn't in training. Something must have gone wrong.

Squint. Morpheus' face swims into view. My eyes narrow, try to read his face.

I could swear it's full of pity, but then consciousness fades again.

~

The next time, it's darker, and my eyes hurt less.

Out of the cubicle, the needles are gone. There's a drip attached to the inside of my elbow-- it aches, painfully.

The walls are metallic, like the hold of a ship. I don't feel the rocking of the sea. Perhaps a shipyard, or dry-dock. Rust covers the floor.

Morpheus can't be well funded. The sweater I wear is full of holes, the boots on my feet two sizes too big.

Door shut, possibly locked. I can't decide whether I'm a prisoner or a guest.

It smells like engine grease in here. God, what a shithole.

~

The lights flick on, and I wince. Door opens before I know it-- Morpheus, holding a hand-towel and some gloves. "We could use your help. I wouldn't ask this of you, so early on, but... we're a bit short-handed."

Rubber gloves, dirty towel. Instincts telling me this isn't any normal freighter. "What do you need?"

"Mostly a pair of hands," and I follow him down the corridor and up a ladder, through a hatch to some ungodly tangle of engine parts. "The-- transmission, is acting up."

"Transmission?"

He points to a handle, and indicates I should twist. Okay, I can do that. Grab on, and strain. "Transmission is an approximate term." Smiles at me, again with that half-pitying tone. "You'll see."

Eventually, the monster moves, and I guess that's my part done, because a larger man comes through the hatch at the end of the room, and nods. "That should do it, Morpheus. I can take it from here."

"All right, Dozer. I'm going to take Switch here to," and he trails off. "Switch, this is Dozer. Dozer, Switch."

The man nodded to me, and then turned back to his machines. Morpheus gestured with a hand, and I followed him out.

Two things were bothering me, a little nagging in the back of my skull. One was the fact that I hadn't seen Apoc since I'd strapped myself into that machine, back in Tel Aviv.

The other was, I had no idea, not the vaguest clue, of where we were.

~

Morpheus took me on a short tour, pointed out the bedroom door that I'd emerged from. "That will be your temporary quarters until we can find better room."

No sign of any of the rest of his crew, or Apoc. "Sir--"

It was instinctual, calling him by a tag of authority. He held a hand up. "Please. Morpheus will do."

"Fine. How did you dispose of Apoc?"

It wasn't really the question that I wanted to ask, but I'm a practical woman. He seemed surprised. "What do you think we did with him?"

We were standing in front of a ladder, and I could hear bootfalls on the deck above us. Hasty question, Switch. He might have told you, eventually, and now he's hesitating in showing you the rest of-- whereever you are. Instead of answering, I asked, "Where are we?"

He rubbed his head, purse his lips. "Apoc woke up about a day before you-- he's eating breakfast, right now. We are in my ship. A hovercraft. That's not the whole truth, but it will have to do for now." My stomach growls. "You have to eat something, and then I'll show you what's truly going on."

Door opened, and five pairs of eyes looked up at me, one of them belonging to a bald-Apoc. A strange sight. Trinity moved over on the bench, someone else got me a tin of slop. Looked like gruel, jiggled like moldy tapioca.

I wrinkled my nose, then started shovelling. I suppose boot-camp rations were worse.

Morpheus introduces me around while I'm putting the vile stuff in my gut. Most of them have little reaction. Tank is the only one I don't recognise from the time Before.

I finished up breakfast, and Morpheus put a hand on my shoulder. Looking at Apoc, he said, "Are you ready for the truth?"

I didn't answer, neither did Apoc. There didn't seem to be much point-- I sensed we were going to get it, either way.

~

"The world, my friends, is not what you remember it. It is brutal, it is false. Do you know what the Matrix is?"

We shake our heads. Honesty seems prudent. Trinity makes me sit down in something that resembles, for all that's holy, a dentist's chair. Across from me, Apoc is starting to show the first signs of nervousness. Morpheus is beside him, talking smoothly.

He continues, "Just relax, please. This will be akward, but in a minute, it will be fine."

Something jabs into the back of my neck, and my fingers feel numb. Close my eyes tightly, scrunch my face up.

That first sensation of the input going into my skull, I'll never forget it. It's impossible to describe, and the most horrible feeling in the whole world.

Vertigo. Dizziness. Then, I open my eyes, and Morpheus and Apoc are standing beside me, Apoc's face one of shock.

There is a great, gaping maw of whiteness all around.

Morpheus sits down, and begins teaching a history lesson. My mind absorbs it all in, the part about the batteries, the part about a revolution. The line that sticks in my head is him saying, 'we torched the skies.'

I didn't think-- hoped--

No. I wanted to believe that us-- humans-- wouldn't ever make it that low. Apparently, it was all in vain.

"The Matrix is control, and we, we are the people who fight back."

Apoc's face didn't change-- Mossad training rigid and spine straight, fingers clenched. The only sign of worry in his body was the tension in his jaw.

I don't know what I'm going to do. My instincts are useless here, and that's the thing that's frightening. Those things that I've relied on for years, the truest thing I lived by, are now blind.

My senses are cheating, is what Morpheus is telling me.

I close my eyes, and open them to see the ceiling of his ship. His, ship. We are his crew.

We are revolutionaries, now-- but part of me, a fairly large part, and a part of Apoc too, will always be soldiers first.

 

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