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Shattered Illusions

Fanfic by Nightingale

Aeon sat on her bed and stared out one of the ship's tiny windows. It had been a few weeks since the death of her sister, but nothing seemed to ease the pain even slightly. The only other thoughts in her mindwere ones of anger towards everyone involved in the events surrounding Chloe's death.

First and foremost, her heart was filled with hatred for the Agents... it wasn't enough that they had ruined her own life. She'd done so many things that she was ashamed of - so much that sometimes she wondered how she could live with herself.. but until then she had told herself that it was all worth it - anything was worth it, as long as they didn't touch Chloe. But now Chloe was gone, and here she was, supposedly fighting for the 'good' side. But were they any different?

Every time they went into the Matrix, innocent people whose bodies were inhabited by Agents ended up dead. What gave them the right to just kill those people like they were nothing? She had always told herself that what she did wasn't so bad, as long as she didn't pull the trigger on someone herself. She rationalized that if she happened to lead someone to their death, well, that was their fault for following her, for trusting her. They should know better than to trust someone like her.

In fact, she would have been better off if one other person had not made the mistake of trusting her. Or maybe it was she who put too much trust in him. She remembered the first time she'd laid eyes on Neo; immediately she knew there was something different about him. And unlike his partner, Trinity, he hadn't looked at her with the kind of vague suspicion that always showed up in the eyes of people she dealt with regularly. But she would have been better off if he'd never helped to free her from the Agents' grasp. She knew that now.

"Damn him... I was fine until he came along, just fine!" she said to the silence that filled her room.

She should have stayed where she was, with the Agents, instead of blindly following her strange attraction for a man she barely knew, and putting her trust in him based on some dumb prophesy that he was 'The One', whatever that meant. She didn't believe in that kind of crap, anyway. If he'd been any kind of superhero, he should have been able to save her sister. He should have known what would happen, and he should have been able to prevent it. How could he save the world if he couldn't save one innocent girl?

Any illusions she'd had about him, any false attraction she'd had for him, had been shattered by the death of her sister.

In the end, someone had to take the blame for Chloe's death, and at the moment, Neo was the easiest person to hold responsible. He could have saved her. He could have left well enough alone with Aeon, and not gone out of his way to help her that time that the Agents had caught her in one of her deceptions. She could have talked her way out of it - heavens knew she'd done it a million times before. But no, he had to interfere, and to this day she still had no idea why. If he could give her a reason - it didn't even

have to be a good one - just some explanation of why it was worth it to save her and sacrifice her sister. Then she could be at peace. But as it was now, she couldn't bring herself to face Neo, or any of the others for that matter, again. She'd stayed on the other ship, the one that she had been assigned to after her rescue, and done random things like monitor duty - anything that didn't involve going back into the Matrix with the others. She wasn't ready yet. Not until she figured out whose side she was on.

Later that night, she stared into the computer screen. Everyone else on the ship was either asleep or on monitor duty. She had been assigned to look over some programs that had come in from other ships. She noticed that one of them was from the Nebuchadnezzar, and she popped in the disk, curious as to what they were up to over there.

It was a copy of the clone program - the one that they said they'd erased. Aeon frowned, wondering why they'd kept it. The program was a 'gift' from the Agents - designed to confuse them and turn them all against each other. She remembered that particular mission well, as it was her first trip into the Matrix with her new allies. She remembered how easily it had been for Neo's clone to trick her - all it took was a few lies that appealed to her attraction to him, sealed with a kiss that she regretted bitterly now. She felt

her anger toward Neo return as she read his clone program.

"Hmm, interesting... nothing in here about his supposed love for Trinity" she noted, and then hated herself for thinking that. Of course it wasn't there - programs like these couldn't love or hate anybody. All they had were programmed-in characteristics, based on psychological profiles that the Agents had created. Aeon still wasn't sure how they went about obtaining the information they used to create the clones. She knew that they were made to resemble their human counterparts through digital DNA replication - but she had no idea how they went about getting the memories and personality traits exactly

right. She didn't think she wanted to know. If supposedly complex human beings could be reduced to a bunch of computer code, they really weren't all that different from the machines. Still, she was curious about something.

She wondered how these programs would operate if they weren't under orders of any kind. She wondered if they had any concept of free will. And most of all, she wondered if Neo's clone could give her the answers she searched for - even if they weren't the ones she wanted to hear. With only a moments

hesitation, she entered a few things into the computer, then got up and prepared herself to enter the Matrix.

Out of habit as well as convenience, she chose the same abandoned hotel where everyone usually met and returned to during a mission. It was the easiest place to return to the real world without having to place a phone call, because of the equipment that was set up in one of the back rooms. However, Aeon didn't really care about this - she knew she was taking a risk by coming into the Matrix alone, but then again, her whole life had been one huge risk for the last three years. If she was going to die, this night was as good as any other.

The hotel room was old and dusty, but still elegant, even after several years of disuse. This particular room hadn't been touched by the fire that had damaged other parts of the building, and although there was

no electricity, when she pulled the curtains back, moonlight intermingled with city lights to give the room an almost ethereal glow. She didn't have to wait long before there was a knock at the door. She did notmove to open it, but said "Come in" in a voice that revealed no emotion. In the next instant, the door opened, to reveal Neo - or rather, his clone - standing there, looking just as real as the original.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, managing a very human expression of both confusion and concern at the same time. Aeon wondered if maybe these things had feelings, after all, but she wasn't in the mood to find out.

"I could ask you the same thing." She replied

He took a few steps into the room and closed the door. "I'm here because you called me."

Aeon would have been amused at that, if she'd been in a laughing mood. "You didn't have to come. I didn't program you to follow any orders."

"I know." He said, simply.

She wondered what else he knew. She was going to find out, and quickly, before she lost all her resolve. She sat down on the bed, feeling the gun that she had placed under the pillow. It was there in case things went wrong, and this clone decided he was going to try to kill her again like he had when the Agents had programmed him. It was also there in case she didn't like the answers he gave her. She didn't know if she could bring herself to actually 'kill' the clone, but shooting him would be one constructive and relatively harmless (in the overall scheme of things) way of venting her frustrations.

Neo was still waiting for her to say something. She took a deep breath, gathering all of her inner strength and resolve, and began.

"So you want to know why I called you here. Well, you see, Neo, there are a few things I've been meaning to ask you." She watched to see if the coldness that she had forced into her voice was having any effect on him.

"Why not ask the other me?" he asked.

She smiled, a smile that contained no happiness. " Funny thing about us humans...there's this little problem that we humans have." She looked up at him, enjoying the look of mild confusion on his face, and continued.

"We have this habit of telling people whatever it is we think they need to hear, what we think is best for them to hear. Knowing the other you, he'd probably do just that. He's a real nice guy that way." She added, sarcastically.

Neo's clone nodded. "I see", he answered.

He seemed to understand and accept her anger, though she knew that was probably impossible, given that his memories shouldn't have included anything concerning her sister's death. "Of course", she thought, "maybe he's sorry that he tried to kill me and the others." But that wasn't likely, considering that those memories had probably been erased by whoever had saved the cloning program. They wouldn't want to be taking any chances. Besides that, she had to remind herself that no matter how human a clone program seemed, all 'feelings' that it had were merely computer simulated responses.

She thought of her sister, and all of her anger returned full force once more. "Well, that's good." She answered Neo. "Because from what I understand, you should, in theory, know everything that the real you knows." She didn't wait for Neo to confirm this for her as she continued, her voice stronger and angrier as she continued.

"So, why don't you tell me why I'm here. Why you took it upon yourself to 'rescue' me when I was doing just fine on my own." She laughed, bitterly. "What was I, just another mission for you? A helpless damsel in distress for you to save? Or did you do it because as it was I was a potential enemy, and you didn't have the strength to just kill me?"

She saw that he was about to answer, but she wasn't done yet. "Oh, no, don't try to tell me any stories. I know you didn't see any great qualities that were worth saving in me. You'd have me believe that, you'd have me think that you wanted me as an ally, a partner, but all you really wanted was to be able to control me. Isn't that right? It wasn't enough that you already had my cooperation. It wasn't enough that I was willing to risk my life just to get you and your precious Trinity the information you needed. You wanted to have me under your control, just like everyone else." She focused her cold gaze on him, narrowing her eyes. "You think you're so special, you think just because some crazy old woman says that you're 'The One', that means you can do whatever you please. But you know something? You're no better than the Agents. You kill just as many people as you save, only you think you're doing it for some higher cause. And yet, when it comes down to something that matters, when it comes to saving the life of an innocent
child, you're absolutely worthless." She finished her speech and waited for him to reply, although truthfully, nothing he could say was going to help.

But he made the mistake of speaking anyway. "I'm sorry about your sister" he said, quietly.

This threw Aeon into another rage. "You're SORRY? What the hell do you know about my sister, anyway?"

He moved from the place where he had been standing all this time, and approached her, slowly. Her hand tightened on the gun that she still kept hidden under the pillow.

"Aeon, I'm sorry. But those things you said aren't true." He continued to move toward her. "I saw someone who wasn't afraid, who should have been broken by all the things she had gone through, but who still retained her spirit in spite of it all."

"No..." Aeon said, shaking her head. She wouldn't believe it. "NO!" she shouted, more firmly this time, and she pulled the gun on him. "You're lying to me. You're doing just what the real you would have - telling me what I need to hear. It's not going to work." She said. But she felt herself weakening. Tears began to cloud her eyes, and she willed them not to fall.

Still he continued speaking, softly, his voice comforting her more than she wanted to admit. "You wanted to be free of the Agents. You needed to be free of them - even someone with your courage couldn't have stayed that way forever. You'd have lost that spark, they'd have made you into one of them, eventually. I couldn't let that happen."

She shook her head, a million emotions filling her at once - sorrow, anger, confusion and that undeniable attraction to him that she fought even now. She still held the gun on him - not because she had any intention of using it, but because she felt that if he came any closer to her, if he dared to touch her, she'd shatter into a million pieces.

Neo cautiously sat down on the bed next to her, and reached for the hand that held the gun, gently running his fingers over hers, all the while staring into her eyes. She allowed him to take the gun from her- it was no use to her anymore, and she knew he didn't intend to use it against her. One lone tear fell and traced its way down her cheek. He reached up and brushed it away, once again whispering "I'm sorry, Aeon."

That did it - the honesty that she heard in his voice finally unleashed the flood of emotions that had been threatening to break loose. All the tears that she hadn't been able to shed at her sisters death came at once, and he pulled her into his strong arms and held her closely as she sobbed. She could feel her tears wetting his shirt, and she wondered if he could feel them as well. And she found that it didn't matter. Maybe he wasn't the 'real' Neo, but at that moment she didn't care.

When all her tears were gone, she looked up, not knowing quite what to say. As it turned out, she didn't have to say anything. Neo gently smoothed a stray piece of hair out of her eyes, and allowed his hand to linger along the side of her face. He lifted her chin so that she was looking directly into his eyes, and kissed her softly on the lips.

She pulled away from him, her eyes asking the question before her lips could form the words.

"What about -"

"Trinity?" he finished the question for her. She nodded mutely. He looked down for a second, closing his eyes as if searching for the answer. Then he looked up at her again. "My memories of her... of everything - aren't what you'd think. They're not mine, really. They're his." He said, referring to the 'real' Neo.

She nodded in understanding. This probably meant that he couldn't have real feelings, either. But she wondered again about that, as he kissed her a second time, this time more intensely. She found that she truly didn't care if this wasn't real, and she lay back on the bed, and allowed herself to give in to thepassion that had been locked up inside of her all of her life.

Later, she stood above him, watching him sleep, and wishing that she could have stayed in the comfort and safety of his arms forever. But she had to return before anyone found out what she was up to. She smiled down at him - wondering if programs really needed sleep, or if he was just pretending for her sake. She wondered if he was dreaming anything. She got her answer as he stirred in his sleep and murmured one word that turned her heart to ice again. "Trinity..."

She smiled sadly and realized that not even a program could forget who he was 'supposed' to love. She walked out before the tears could start again, and once back in the real world, she took the disk out of the computer and buried it in a drawer, vowing never to use it again.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel room, Neo woke up alone in the darkness. He immediately felt a twinge of guilt at what he had done. He knew that he hadn't had much of a choice- he couldn't take the risk of leaving Aeon alone with his clone, they were unpredictable, and all the bugs weren't quite worked outof the program. And he knew that she'd needed to deal with her feelings, or they were going to kill her. But he still felt guilty. Not at betraying Trinity, because she had known the possibility of what would happen when she gave him permission to go. Not even at deceiving Aeon, because she would most likely never know the truth. In all honesty, he couldn't even pinpoint why he felt the way he did. He told himself that what happened in the Matrix didn't matter, that it wasn't real - it was no more than an elaborate illusion.

But the trouble was, he knew that no illusion was perfect, and that human emotions had a way of breaking through, no matter how strong the illusion. He wondered, now, which ones were real, and which ones he needed to conceal from even himself...