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Exit and Enter

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No one got onto a ship fresh out of the pods. Well, almost no one. There were rare cases. Trinity desperately wanted to be one of them, but all the ships were full up. So she went back to Zion to relearn the world. They had families willing to take in newly-freed kids like Trinity, but she'd been running her own life since she was twelve and chafed at even the idea of being in someone else's home. So it was the dormitories for her, groups of kids housed together, free to come and go as they wished or needed, overseen by a handful of adults more for safety than anything else.

She didn't cry the first night. She'd done a little crying on the ship when she'd realized just what she'd gotten herself into. When she'd realized what the red pill really meant. But she'd wanted so much to make a good impression. It wasn't hard to hold back the tears on the ship. In the dorm? It was harder. Especially when she heard some of the others chatting, talking about what they were working on, jobs scavenging or refurbishing old parts. The first night, she managed. The second night? The second night she pulled her pillow over her head and sobbed until the girl in the bunk beneath her climbed up and put an arm around her shoulders.

"I cried too," the other girl said. "I cried for days. Magda, she had the bunk below mine when I got here and she used to tell me to suck it up. She's on the Novalis now."

"Good riddance," Trinity muttered, wiping her face on her sleeve.

The other girl laughed and nodded. "Yeah. Totally."

Trinity looked over at the girl who'd climbed up to her. She was almost unnaturally pale, her hair light blonde and cropped short, close to her head. They'd been introduced, but Trinity couldn't remember her name.

The other girl must have realized. She smiled at Trinity. "I'm Switch. You're Trinity, right? Heard about you before you came through. I got to watch your exit remotely."

"Yeah?" Trinity shifted on her bunk, wrapping her blanket around her shoulders and crossing her legs so Switch would have more room.

Switch nodded. "Yeah. I've been doing ship classes. They made me take operator class even though I'll never be one. Easier to have everyone with plugs go in and the op be Zion-born. I just want to kick some Agent ass, you know?"

"Yeah. I know. One of those things chased me a couple of days before I got out."

"Wow, yeah. I remember. They're tough to get away from. So what do you want?"

Trinity had to think about that. In the Matrix, well, she'd wanted the truth. She'd wanted to know more about the world. She'd wanted answers to all of the things that didn't add up. The things she couldn't quite connect. She'd wanted to overthrow the people in power. Now? Now it seemed like an impossible task. But there were some people doing something to help. The people on the hovercrafts. The ships. The One, if such a person was even out there. The rumors were everywhere but no sign of the person they all spoke about.

"I want a ship," she said quietly. "I want a ship and I want to get more people out. The more of us that wake up the fewer they're controlling."

"They'll just breed more," Switch pointed out. "When you're low on batteries you go buy more."

"I don't care," Trinity told her. "I don't care. I'll keep doing it. I'll find the people who are ready. I'll help them get ready. Who knows? Maybe I'll find the One."

Switch laughed and punched Trinity's shoulder. "Let's team up. We'll do it together."

The next morning Switch was still asleep when Trinity woke up. She debated shaking the other girl awake but they'd stayed up so late, talking and making plans. Switch knew all there was to know about all of the ships. She'd left the Matrix six months before, on her fifteenth birthday. Trinity smiled when she realized they were almost exactly the same age. She'd have to do something for both of their birthdays. But when she saw one of the other girls sharing a piece of what looked like beef jerky with her sister, she frowned. Did they even have birthday cake here? Or anything like it? How did they celebrate? How did they get food that wasn't the glop they had on the ships?

Trinity resolved to find a way to have something better than that by the time her next birthday rolled around.

Switch woke up just as Trinity was getting back from the showers. She seemed to go from asleep to awake in a matter of a second. She grinned at Trinity and grabbed her by the arm.

"Come on. Let's go. You can come with me to class. I'll convince Louhi you're good enough to join our class. She won't argue once she sees what you can do."

"And what can I do?" Trinity asked.

"From what I saw? You can do plenty."

Trinity smiled at the idea that Switch had seen some of what she'd done while she was still in the Matrix. "I worked hard."

The class Switch took her to was full of people of various ages, all former copper-tops, as Switch called them. They were learning how to read the Matrix screens, identifying people and scanning for likely candidates to retrieve from the pods. There was an art to it and some were better than others. Switch admitted she was better at going into the Matrix and doing things by force but Trinity loved the intricacy of the patterns of code they were watching.

There was a way to insert a little code here and there, communicate with people inside the Matrix from outside. It took two weeks before Trinity could do it well enough for Louhi to nod in approval at her, but Switch said that was a month faster than anyone else.

She wasn't sure what she was looking for, really. She focused on just finding people to send the ships to, people who were almost ready. She watched exits and refusals and two people killed by Agents. Everyone she found seemed pretty good, but somehow not quite perfect.

Two months after she arrived, when they had a rare day off, Switch woke Trinity early by tugging on her sleeve.

"Come on," she said. "We got permission to go meet the Oracle."

"The Oracle?" Trinity asked, hopping down from her bunk. "Really?"

Spoken of in tones reserved for the Councilmembers and the One, the Oracle was hard to get an appointment with. No one kept her schedule but her. If you wanted permission to see her, you'd have to hope she wanted to see you.

A few hours later, waiting outside the Oracle's door, Trinity wiped her palms on her legs. Somehow she knew. Somehow she was sure this would be the day everything fell into place. Today she would know what she had to start looking for.