|"I'm sorry, Alexander..."|
There was the metallic click of a revolver advancing as Diastole turned toward the voice he knew too well. He turned to see her, clad in black leather as always, pointing a snub-nosed pistol at his head. Her face was impassive, but tears streaked down her cheeks from behind her mirrorshades.
"This is how it has to end." She said. There was a loud bang, a flash of white light--
--and Diastole sat bolt upright in his bunk, slamming his head into the bunk above him.
"Fuck, damn it!" he cursed, falling back on his bed and putting a hand to the welt forming on his forehead; he could feel it was bleeding.
He was covered in a cold sweat and felt nauseous. Fucking realistic dream he though, rolling out of his bunk and dropping to the floor, the metal cold against his bare feet. He staggered out into the hallway, heading down to the sick bay. And then maybe the mess, he thought as his stomach grumbled.
Bare-chested, barefoot, and breathing in the stale, musty air of the Hovercraft Cenobite, his home, Diastole remember to when he's first been Extracted; to when he'd first met her.
. . . - - - . . .
Mick, a tall square-jawed man, was showing him around the ship, Captain Ericava's Equinox.It was a mass of dirty metal and criss-crossed catwalks; it looked to Diastole as thought it had been thrown together with whatever spare parts had been laying around; not exactly the sort of think you wanted to be flying around in. Dialtone, the guy who had 'recruited' Diastole gave him a smile and a slap on the shoulder as he passed the other way.Diastole had met Dialtone through a newsgroup buried in the seedier end of the Internet, the place people went when they wanted to know the Truth.
That's what Dialtone had said, anyways, and he'd certainly shown Diastole a version of truth: the world's a lie. Everything you've ever experienced is just so many electric impulses that the Machines give you, to keep you sated and subdued. It was a hell of a lot to take in.Diastole didn't like a lot of the implications. He had found himself vomiting a lot those first few weeks.
Mick was the Operator of Equinox, the one responsible for running the broadcast software and managing the on-board systems.
"It used to be that all operators were freeborn -- birthed naturally in Zion, not grown in a vat like the rest of us. Not these days, though," he said, indicating the plug in the back of his shaved head. "Ever since The Truce, there have been more of us out here than ever; Zion can't even keep up with the demand for Hovercraft. Not that we really need them like we used to."
"Who's Operator when you jack in, then?" Diastole asked.
Mick laughed, but it seemed a little uneasy, "Oh, I don't.. that is, I can't, see... I mean, there's no one else to run it. I'm the Operator, that's my job." And he shrugged it off, but Diastole wasn't convinced.
The two of them headed into the mess, where Mick grabbed a couple dishes and filled them with the lumpy gray gruel that passed for most meals on the ship. 'High in protein,' they said, and Diastole believed them; it tasted like every health-food head ever tried in the Matrix.
Just as they were sitting down, though...
"Oy, Mick!" called the first of a pair from across the room. He was a short bronze-skinned man about as broad as he was tall, with wild black hair and a scar across the right side of his lip; Diastole knew him as Crosscut, and he'd been with Dialtone when they picked Diastole up. The second was new, though. She was a slight girl with short blond hair pulled out of her face with a leather strip. She was bare-foot and wore the same rough-spun clothes as everyone else on board, her face was smeared with dirt, but she was somehow... stunning. She didn't say anything, but glanced at him for a quick moment; her eyes were a golden yellow.
"Mick, Cap'n wants yeh. We're sending a group in ter scuffle with the Merv," Crosscut finished when he had Mick's attention.
"Right, right, I'll be right there." Mick grumbled, scooping spoonfuls of gruel into his mouth as the pair headed off toward the Broadcast room. He got up and dumped his unfinished meal back into the pot, but motioned for Diastole to stay.
"You eat up. And try not to spew this time." And with that, he left.
. . . - - - . . .
It felt like he'd been laying in his bunk for hours, but he really had no way of telling. That was one thing Diastole didn't like about the Hovercraft: no sense of time. It always looked the same. The only think he could measure by was the snoring of Crosscut on the bunk above him, which wasn't very much help after a while.
He couldn't sleep, so he got up and decided to walk the halls for a bit; maybe that would put him to sleep.
His feet sounded hollow in the corridors, a staccato beat against the subtle rumbling of the hovercraft's machinery. The lights buzzed,the pipes hummed, and somewhere deep the engined beat just below audibility. Out of the belly of one Machine and into another, Diastole thought for a second, just before he felt his bile rise. No, he didn't like the implications of that one, either.
He'd almost made a complete circuit when he heard a muffled cough from the bridge. He went to see who else might be up and found, curled in a tight ball on the navigator's chair and wrapped in a thick rough-spun,the blond girl from earlier. He cleared his throat and she looked up at him, then returned to looking out of the bridge's large windows, out at the dark, barren landscape beneath the rolling, angry sky.
"Can't sleep either, huh?" he said after a short pause.
She shook her head. "No. I.. the engines keep me up, sometimes."Her voice was light and smooth and warm. Diastole couldn't help but smile a little bit.
"You're the new guy, aren't you?" She looked up at him again. "Dialtone just brought you out."
"Yeah. I haven't seen you around, though. I mean, not that I've been all over, just..." he trailed off feeling a little foolish.
She gave him a quick smile. "I keep to myself, usually. They...Captain Ericava... that is, I'm pretty new, too. I was still getting used to things when Dialtone found you."
She looked back out the windows. "Still am..." she said, almost to herself.
"I'm, er, Diastole," he said awkwardly, extending his hand. She looked back at him, then at his hand, and smiled in truth this time.She took his hand lightly; her hand was warm and soft.
"They call me Revelation Two-Sixteen. Or just 'Rev,' when they're feeling laconic."
"They named you?"
She laughed. It was musical. "No, I named myself just as anyone else here did. What I meant, was... Never mind."
"Why'd you pick 'Revelation Two-Sixteen'? It seems... odd."
"And Diastole isn't? Why'd you pick that?"
Diastole could feel himself blush. "Er, well... it's a medical term. From 'Intro to Biology,' that is. I was studying one to... That is... It's, uhm, part of the heartbeat, when the heart fills with blood. And, I don't know, I just liked the sound. Seems like the sort of name that says 'alive'; and I guess that's how I want to feel."
"How visceral." she said flatly, but passed it off with a smile. "Revelation 2:16 is book, chapter, and verse in the Bible. Quote,'therefore, repent. Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and wage war against them with the sword of my mouth.' It's God telling his Chosen People that they're botching things again and he's not happy. But underneath that... It seems strangely suited to our world, one marked by violence and ruled by information. The sword of our mouths can be a potent weapon..."
She stared out the front windows again. When she spoke again, she didn't look at him.
"Who were you before they pulled you out? Before you were Diastole?"
"Uhm, well... My name was Alex. Alexander Pilate, I guess, really. I was studying electronics in college when I first started wondering.You know, about the way things were. I guess that's when I 'became' Diastole..."
"Did you have any family?" She was still staring out the windows, but her voice was softer, almost brittle.
"Well, there was my mom. My father left when I was young, just after my little sister was born." He felt his bile rise again; in the Matrix, what was family?
"I was Sophia Locke. I..." She shook suddenly, then went on. "I had a family, once, but..." She curled tighter, visibly shrinking into the blanket she was wrapped in. "The Matrix is a scummy dreamworld, Diastole. A cage of lies that we're told, and that we tell each other. They say the Machines are to blame for our suffering, but people, real people, are capable of such... We leave the dream of lies and enter this nightmare that they call Real, and I'm not sure it's any better; the same thing with a different face..."
She stood abruptly and pushed passed Diastole saying, "I have to go."
He though he saw tears streaming down her face as she rushed by.
. . . - - - . . .
"Not looking where we're going again, Dis?"
It was Gethsemani, the Cenobite's resident 'fixer,' always with a snarky quip to make sure the crew was on it's toes.
"Hey Geth. Busted my head on the bunk; fucking awful dream."
"By the look of that welt it was more than a dream."
"Funny. I'm looking for the painkillers."
She handed him a bottle of pills and sat down on the examination bench. Even clad in rough-spun clothes instead of leather, and with her naturally mousy-brown hair instead of her wildly styled RSI, there was something about Gethsemani which demanded to be sultry.
"You look troubled, Dis. Something on your mind."
He shook his head. "No, just... the dream reminded me of when I was first unplugged. Back on the Equinox..."
Gethsemani smiled wickedly at the mention of Dis' old ship. "I've always thought it was rather funny, in a morbid way, how that Captain Ericava went rogue not long after we 'smuggled' you from the Zionites. They say he killed nearly his whole crew before taking his ship into hiding. Did you know any of them very well?"
Diastole thought of Revelation Two-Sixteen. Therefore, repent.
"No. I didn't really know his crew that much."