Trinity was just picking up a surveillance shift. That’s all. The Thanatos was supposed to have it covered, but then they didn’t, and she didn’t ask for details. They needed someone to cover four, maybe five hours in an old video rental store, and Trinity said she could do it, because she could. Not that she didn’t have a tonne of other stuff on her plate, but honestly, these last two months she had found herself missing the monotony of just sitting in the Matrix for hours at a time, just her and the computer screens, doing what she did best. Half of her best programs had started as stray thoughts when she was killing time during a long surveillance shift. They helped her think, forced her to sit still, like she used to as a teenager, bottled up in her room with her computer, finding new ways to exploit and break through the limits someone dared to impose upon her.
There hadn’t been a lot of stillness in her life since Neo… Well, since Neo.
Jacking into the Matrix with The One was like walking alongside a god. The Matrix felt different when Neo was there. Even the fabric of the Matrix itself seemed to shimmer with doubt when he was around, and she found herself pushing past her former limits as if they were little more than a small hurdle. With Neo alongside her, the Matrix was an endless series of possibilities. Although to be fair, the Neb also felt different when Neo was there. She felt different. It was a lot to process and she was sure she wasn’t doing a very good job of it, but whatever. Whatever.
It was almost midnight when she slid out from under the arm Neo had thrown across her in his sleep. He stirred but did not wake as she pulled on her boots and quietly opened the door. She’d told Neo about the shift when she agreed to do it and he’d offered to come with her, to keep her company, but she’d declined. With only four of them on the ship, there was too much to get done to have them doubling up on low priority shifts like this. She half-expected him to wake within a couple hours and come join her anyway. He rarely slept through the whole night, though he half-heartedly tried to hide his disquiet from her. She knew he worried. About his path. About her safety. And she couldn’t blame him for it.
Link was already at his console when she wandered over. He didn’t even look over his shoulder before he said, “The connection is all set up. Whenever you’re ready.”
“Thanks,” she said, going over to her chair of choice and keying in a few minor adjustments before lying down.
A few moments later she was behind the counter of a video rental place well past its prime. The shelves of tapes were caked in dust and the closed sign hung askew in the door. She scanned the tapes on the “New Release” shelf as she made her way to the back room and saw nothing released past 1996.
In what was once an incredibly sad break room for employees, the familiar collection of computers was set up, with a lone figure looking over her shoulder before standing and stretching.
“Thanks for coming,” Phoenix said with a nod, “We owe you one.”
“No problem,” Trinity said, looking at the computers behind Phoenix, her fingers already itching to play with the code.
“Target’s Wizard. She’s not up to much tonight,” Phoenix said, “Keep an eye out though. She’s getting close.”
Trinity nodded as she leaned towards the monitor tracking Wizard. The target was awake and chatting online, but it was all innocuous. “Any trouble so far?” Trinity asked.
Phoenix shook her head, “She flies under the radar. Doesn’t even skip class.”
Trinity nodded curtly and took Phoenix’s place in front of the two screens. She was going to get so much done tonight. She didn’t even know what exactly. Thinking maybe. Getting some thinking done would be enough.
The phone from the other room began to ring, and Phoenix gave a little ‘that’s for me’ gesture before she left. Trinity waited a few moments before she checked in with Link. Link had agreed to monitor her, though by his own admission he was going to be working on other stuff as he did.
“Just shout if you need me,” Link said for the fifth time, “I have my headset on.”
“I know,” Trinity said, rolling her eyes, “Don’t worry. It’s going to be a quiet night.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Link muttered darkly before hanging up.
Trinity watched Wizard intently for a few minutes as her mind began to drift.
Just under two hours into her shift, and half an hour since Wizard had gone quiet, there was a tinkle of a bell from the other room and Trinity froze, listening to the muffled footsteps in the storefront. She was already holding her gun when she heard a woman’s voice call out, “Hello? Is anyone there? Could you help me find a copy of Sleeping Beauty?”
Trinity held her gun at the ready as she crossed the room like a ghost and moved into position by the door to see who was there. She pushed the door open slowly, willing it not to creak and give away her position. If it was an agent, her only choice was the back door, and she had already mapped four separate routes to the next nearest exit in her head as the door inched open.
But it wasn’t an agent. From her angle, Trinity was just able to make out the back of an older woman wearing a green scarf around her hair, shuffling between the rows of shelves.
Trinity lowered her gun but did not move from her position. “We’re closed,” she said firmly, hating herself for not checking to confirm that the store’s door was locked when she arrived.
“I’m just looking for Sleeping Beauty. It’s my favourite. Do you know that one?” The woman said as she turned towards where Trinity was standing, allowing Trinity to see her face for the first time.
Trinity swore, more out of ironic disbelief than anything else. Of course the Oracle would show up tonight, the one night she was in the Matrix but Neo was not.
“Neo’s not here”, Trinity said, holstering her gun but not moving from where she stood, “But I can go get him-"
“He’s not the one I want to talk to,” the Oracle said kindly, like that should be obvious, and already Trinity felt like an idiot. The Oracle had that power over her. Suddenly she was 18 again, standing in the Oracle’s kitchen and facing her destiny with that special combination of fear and fuck you that her teenaged self had embodied so whole-heartedly.
But Trinity wasn’t 18 anymore. This wasn’t her first trip back into the Matrix. She wasn’t new to the truth and the real world and everything. Trinity wasn’t who she was when she was 18. Trinity was exactly who she was when she was 18. The collision of those two conflicting truths paralyzed her, though the Oracle did not seem bothered by her discomfort.
“Still,” Trinity said, falling back into her more guarded persona, regretting leaving her sunglasses on the table in the other room, “Neo wants to talk to you.”
“I’m sure he does,” the Oracle said, “And we will speak when it is time.”
Trinity felt a flicker of the restless energy Neo couldn’t shake out of him. He knew he was The One, but he still had no idea what he was supposed to do now. He wanted answers, he wanted purpose, that in the two months since…since he realized he was The One, they had been a flurry of activity, was not enough for him. They were freeing more people than ever before, outsmarting agents like they were little more than blips on their radar, and hope was rippling through Zion in a way Trinity had never experienced. The One had been found. They were making progress. There was hope. Trinity tried to reassure Neo that he was doing enough, but it never felt like enough. Because how could it be enough?
“Neo’s the one you should be talking to,” Trinity said, “I’m not The One,”
“Evidently not,” the Oracle said, gesturing for Trinity to join her on a small bench on the left hand side of the store, “You are something far more interesting than that.”
Trinity didn’t move from where she stood, though the Oracle did not look surprised by her choice not to join her right away, “I don’t understand.”
“The One is spare code and circumstance. Lots of people carry pieces of it. I once told you, all those years ago, just as I told Neo, that you had the potential, but-”
“I wasn’t The One,” Trinity finished the sentence for her, like she had once before.
“Neo once thought the same thing. You and Neo both have more than your fair share of the code embedded in you. But being The One is about more than just the code you carry.”
Trinity felt her eyes narrow, “I could have been The One?”
“Of course,” The Oracle said, like it was so fucking obvious.
“So why him?” Trinity asked, defiant anger rising in her, though she thought she hid it well (though was equally sure the Oracle saw right through her).
“I could ask you the same question,” The Oracle said with a smile, “You were the one who made the choice, after all.” She leaned back, gesturing to the empty space beside her and this time Trinity surrendered and walked over and sat down.
“You said I would fall in love. And that the person I loved would be The One,” Trinity did her best to say this casually, like the words hadn’t haunted her every damn day for the last ten years.
“That’s what you needed to know, to make your choice.”
“About who The One is?”
“About who you are,” the Oracle replied, “And what you were going to do with that information.”
“Neo’s the one who stops bullets and defeats agents. He’s The One.”
“He is,” the Oracle agreed, “But only because of what you did.”
Trinity shifted where she sat, not overly eager to examine exactly what she had done.
“Neo died in that hallway Trinity,” the Oracle said, as if Trinity didn’t already know this, didn’t fall asleep knowing that the man beside her was once dead and was now among the living. Because of her. "He was dead, in this world and your own, but you wouldn’t stand for that. No, you wouldn’t let the man you love die, so he was The One.”
“It wasn’t quite like that…” Trinity protested half-heartedly.
“But it was,” the Oracle said, “And that’s why I wanted to talk to you now, after your choice was made. The One’s power is tied to the Matrix. You have already chosen to exceed it, life and death in both worlds bend to your will.”
“It wasn’t a choice.”
The Oracle smiled, “Often the biggest choices we face don’t feel like choices at all. Tell me, if Neo had died and stayed dead-“
“He wouldn’t," Trinity cut her off.
“You see? You'd already decided it was impossible. But if he did,” the Oracle pressed, “What happens next?"
Trinity thought about it, let the impossible scenario play out. “If he died…” Trinity began slowly, “I go back in and I destroy everything. And I start with you.”
The Oracle was not at all perturbed by this threat. On the contrary, her eyes twinkled as she replied, “And do you think I would stand a chance? Would any agent in your path have any hope of stopping you? Do you think the entire population of ZeroOne could do anything, anything to stop you if Neo had died then and there?”
“So either Neo lived and was The One or he died and I was?”
“There are never just two outcomes,” the Oracle said seriously, “Choices are more complex than that. Tell me, when he died in that hallway, had you not both killed an agent? Had you not both rescued Morpheus? And now one of you was dead, and the other was certain that could not remain true, and so it did not. There’s a version of this where Neo lived, not because he was The One, but because you realized you were.”
Trinity spent a moment looking at the battered copy of The Sword in the Stone lying on the ground in front of her before she couldn’t stop herself from asking, “Why are you telling me this? Why are you telling me this now?”
“Because once you’ve made the choice, even the ones you don’t see as a choice in the moment, it’s time to understand them. And you deserve to understand this one Trinity, because it is what makes you and Neo so unprecedented, so powerful, and so utterly dangerous. If I had told you before, that you had the power to choose exactly who The One was, to grant that person near invincibility in the Matrix, to protect them in a way that few could comprehend, when Neo falls in that hallway, what choice do you make?”
She didn’t even have to think about it. “I choose him.”
The Oracle nodded, “And if it had been Neo’s choice?”
Trinity thought of the long nights, the way Neo wandered around the Neb, desperate for purpose and constantly worried that she would get hurt or die and he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. She thought about the quiet way he sometimes said, “I think it was supposed to be you,” when she was almost asleep. The way he had to agonize over things in ways that she didn’t anymore. Neo was safe in the Matrix, and she thanked the universe for that every goddamn day, and she knew Neo would do anything to have her be the one he didn’t have to worry about, “He would choose me.”
“Funny how that works out,” the Oracle said, “You chose Neo, and he will always choose you. In that moment and every other. He will choose you over the Matrix, he will choose you over Zion, he will choose you over every living being on this planet. Every time. And this makes sense to you, perfect sense in a way that few machines will ever be able to grasp.”
“He loves me. And I love him.”
“Precisely. And so already, from The One’s first moments, the One was already more than the name implies. The fragmented code you share, the powers you are both discovering, is unlike anything this world has seen. He might be The One, but not without you. Tell me, if tomorrow you told Neo that you were The One, would he believe you?”
Trinity could hear Neo laughing with relief at the thought. “He would,” the truth of that statement hitting her hard, making her chest ache. She smiled slightly, “He’d say he knew it all along.”
“You see?” The Oracle said, “You are in control. You get to choose. Every single day, from the day you met Neo until the end, you will be making a choice so monumental, so astronomical, that it will change the shape of both of our worlds. It already has, and will continue to do so. And the fact that you do not even feel it as a choice only makes you both stronger. You are the linchpin. You are the trigger point. You are the beginning, middle, and end. It may feel like everything came down to that moment when Neo was dead and you refused to let it be so, and it did. But you need to understand that every moment since has been just as pivotal.”
Trinity exhaled, “No pressure.”
“This isn’t a fairy tale Trinity. You brought a man you love back from the dead, but what came next wasn’t simply happily ever after. Your story isn’t over. You get to choose. Every day, over and over and over, and you deserve to know that.”
Trinity didn’t know what to say to that.
“The time will come,” the Oracle said, breaking the silence she had allowed them to comfortably share, “When Neo will come to understand that his powers, like yours, are not limited to the Matrix itself. And when he does, you will have to make a choice.”
“How you want this war to end,” the Oracle said, “And on that day, like all others, it will be up to you.”