How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.
-Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard
It wasn’t like Kim hadn’t tried on clothes before. Hell, she probably did it more often than any other girl she knew. But somehow this was different.
The fact that the clothes weren’t real wasn’t hard to accept, but the notion that they could be loaded out of thin air was a new and surprising experience to the redhead. So surprising, in fact, that she had to have Niobe and Shego there to help her pick out what she should wear. She would have just stood staring at the endless rows otherwise.
“I kinda like this one,” Shego said, holding up a red leather trench coat. “You’ll definitely have to wear this over the rest of the stuff.”
Kim nodded, only half-listening. She remembered clothes-shopping with Shego once when the pale woman had been hit with a modified Attitudinator. It had been a fun experience, no doubt, but it was hampered by the constant feeling that it was all some sort of dream. The irony of that thought caused her to chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” Shego inquired.
“Oh, nothing, it’s just… I was thinking about all those clothes that I bought when I was still in The Matrix. And none of them were real. Man, if I’d known about this sooner, I could have done a lot less babysitting.”
Shego snickered as she held up a pair of olive green cargo pants, which was one of the parts she absolutely loved about the redhead’s old ensemble. They always looked as though they were ready to fall off, which made a nice contrast to Shego’s own skin-tight bodysuit. These, however, were much tighter, which brought out the… curvier aspects of Kim’s anatomy. She put it in the pile with the trench coat.
“That’s the one thing you’re gonna grow to hate about the real world,” Niobe chimed in as she held up a black tank top that was cut off about where Kim’s midriff would be. “No designer clothing.” The three women shared a laugh.
With the basics of her outfit now in place, Kim went behind one of the racks to change, more out of a distrust of Link not to peek than modesty. When she came out, the redhead had added an item of her own: a pair of transparent green, oval sunglasses. Shego let out a low wolf-whistle as Kim approached, causing the girl to blush as red as her hair.
“Kimmie, if you were cute before, now you’re just a plain ol’ knockout; in more ways than one,” Shego complimented as her eyes explored the younger woman’s digital body. If Kim hadn’t been trying so hard to avert her eyes from Shego, she would have noticed that the green woman actually licked her lips.
“So Kim,” Niobe spoke up, interrupting the rather awkward moment. “Have you decided on a Matrix name yet?”
Kim looked confused. “A what?”
Shego just smirked. “Oh come on, Kimmie, you don’t think ‘Shego’ is my real name, do you? And what kind of name is ‘Morpheus,’ anyway?” Niobe glared. “No offense,” Shego added. Niobe could get a little… defensive at the mention of her husband in that context.
“Anyway,” Niobe continued. “Matrix names are basically our way of shedding our old lives by shedding our old names.”
“Sort of like a Malcolm X thing?” Kim guessed. Niobe’s withering glare caused her to shrink somewhat. “No offense.”
Niobe just raised an eyebrow.
“I’ve got one,” Shego said playfully. “How about… ‘Kitsune?’”
Kim just stared at Shego. “You have got to be kidding me.”
“What? It’s a Japanese spirit fox, and you look kinda foxy in that outfit,” the green woman said in her own defense. This caused Kim to blush even brighter than before.
“Actually, I like where you’re going with this,” Niobe opined. “How about something more simple, like… ‘Fox?’”
“Ooh, I like the sound of that,” Shego said rather salaciously, increasing the flow of blood to Kim’s face. “What’d you think, ‘Fox?’”
“I guess it couldn’t hurt,” Kim replied. “I did come out a Blue Fox in animology after all.”
Shego made a sound that, if it had come from anyone else, Kim would have thought was a gasp. “No way!” she squealed, sounding even less like herself.
“You know they changed the whole thing so that now the Blue Fox’s soul mate is a Green Badger, right?”
“Uh, yeah…. So what?” Kim asked uneasily. “What were you?”
“Green Badger,” Shego replied matter-of-factly.
“O-oh,” Kim stuttered, staring uncertainly at the older woman, who seemed to be regretting what she just said. Moments of awkward silence passed before Niobe’s phone rang.
“Yeah? Alright.” She turned to the two blushing women. “It’s time. Let’s go.”
The process of jacking in was something that Kim was still getting used to. It had ceased to hurt, and now it just tingled, but it still felt… weird. Still, it wasn’t that bad as long as she braced herself for it. The crew for the current mission consisted of herself, Morpheus, Niobe, Ghost, Hego, Mego, the Wegos, Shego, and Ron, who now went by the moniker of “Hanuman.”
The blonde had not said more than two words to Kim since she’d gotten here, and while she wanted desperately to talk to him, she felt he deserved his space. After all, he broke up with her; therefore it was up to him to decide when to mend their broken relationship. It had been a hard realization at first, but Shego’s constant attention made it easier.
Kim still didn’t know exactly how she felt about the older woman. When Shego had first approached her after she was freed, Kim was naturally a little hesitant; the only reason she hadn’t freaked out was because she was already exhausted from the multiple startling revelations. She just became numb to the surprise, enabling her to take the new sitch in remarkable stride.
Shego had helped Kim get over the issue of having no hair, telling her that she actually looked quite beautiful with a thin layer of red fuzz growing out of her head. The redhead hadn’t been quite certain how to take that remark, but now she saw it as a compliment. Shego was there for her day and night, helping her adjust to this incredibly harsh transition. It still amazed Kim how the woman who had once been her enemy was now the only one on which she could rely.
Now the newly christened “Fox,” along with the rest of the crew, sat in a circle and entered The Matrix, their minds and bodies separated by a single needle inserted into the back of their skulls.
Inside The Matrix, a phone rang in a dusty room. The damaged shutters of the lone window were perforated by shafts of light that highlighted the large concentration of dust in the decaying space, looking as though someone had held a slice of Swiss cheese in front of a light bulb. The dark-skinned hand of Morpheus glided down to the antique rotary phone and picked up the receiver. “We’re in,” he announced to the operator on the other end of the line.
The next thing Kim knew, she was stepping into the back seat of a rather plain looking sedan, designed specifically not to draw attention. As the best driver out of the entire crew, Niobe took the wheel, while Morpheus rode shotgun. Kim found herself in the middle of the back seat, Shego on her left and “Hanuman” on her right. Ghost and Team Go stayed behind to hold down the exit. The drive took them on a scenic route of Go City.
Kim stared out the window as best she could, looking out Shego’s side of the car. Suddenly a familiar restaurant caught her eye. “Hey, that’s the Super Grande Bueno Nacho!” she said in a slightly elevated voice, breaking the awkward silence that engulfed the car. “I remember that’s where we met Hego.” She turned to Shego. “That was also the time we teamed up,” she reminded the green woman, who smiled as well at the memory. The two of them had made a remarkable team. Now they were working together for good. “Good times,” she sighed. “Too bad none of them were real.”
“They are as real as you want them to be, Kim,” Morpheus spoke from the front seat as he turned around, displaying his usual informality with names, yet somehow treating her with more respect by doing so. “The experiences may have been simulated, but they served to help shape your decision-making process. What you learned from those events is real, even if none of them technically happened. Do you understand?”
Kim nodded from the back seat. “Kinda. What does that mean exactly?”
“That The Matrix cannot tell you who you are,” Shego chimed in.
“And The Oracle can?” Kim challenged.
“That… is different,” Morpheus replied with a toothy grin. He remembered hearing a very similar exchanged between Neo and Trinity eighteen years earlier. Kim was really starting to resemble her predecessor.
“Oh,” Kim said quietly.
Ron said nothing. It seemed that his tendency to remain invisible was still alive and well.
They arrived at a rather plain looking apartment complex. Kim stepped out after Shego, giving the pale woman a concerned look. Shego just smiled and gave her a look as if to say, “It’s gonna be alright.” Staying close to Shego, Kim followed the group into the apartments.
As they entered the rather quaint lobby, Kim saw a man sitting in the Lotus Position on a bench across from the elevator, sipping tea. He stood up to greet them, focusing his gaze on Kim. “You seek The Oracle. I am Seraph (1),” he greeted. “I can take you to her. But first I must apologize.”
Shego rolled her eyes and stepped back, along with Morpheus and Ron. Kim, unfamiliar with the strange man, had to ask: “Apologize for what?”
Seraph balled his hand into a fist and put it in the palm of his other hand. “For this.”
Kim barely had time to react. Like a snake, Seraph lashed out at her with lightning speed, and only thanks to reflexes afforded to her by years of world-saving was Kim able to lean back to dodge the horizontal strike. To say that she was taken by surprise would have been an understatement.
Not giving her any time to think, Seraph followed up his assault with a high kick that flew over Kim’s head as she ducked and countered with a leg sweep, which was easily dodged as Seraph simply jumped over the feeble attack. Standing to her feet, Kim attempted an uppercut, which Seraph easily dodged and responded with a punch aimed at her face. With cat-like reflexes, Kim caught the hand by the wrist and turned around, using her newly acquired skill in judo to throw the man over her head.
Seraph merely flipped in midair, however, and landed on three limbs like a ninja, his right arm extended fully behind him to help him maintain his balance. Now on the offensive, Kim launched a Bruce Lee-style flying kick at Seraph, who literally bent over backwards and allowed her to fly over him. She hit the concrete wall behind him with such force that it actually formed a hole, signaling to the others that she was using her powers for this fight.
Kim was, in fact, using her powers, her code vision acting as some sort of danger sensor. She saw mostly green, but for some odd reason, the man in front of her was made of bright yellow code, almost as though he wasn’t even human. Considering how long he had lasted against her so far, she concluded this was indeed the case. Time to end this.
She picked up the pace, launching what would have been a devastating rapid punch combo if Seraph had not blocked every single strike with ease. It occurred to Kim that her opponent seemed to adapt to her level, copying her power and using it to counter everything she threw at him. This made for a most dangerous foe indeed. And yet, he did not seem interested in beating her, merely keeping her from beating him. And he was doing an excellent job at it.
Kim moved even faster, her limbs a blur to the other observers. But Seraph kept up without breaking a sweat. To Kim, time had slowed down, but she and Seraph were still fighting at normal speed, sort of like that time when the Bebes had captured Bonnie to be their queen and she had been stuck in hyper-time.
Seraph lunged forward with his fist, ducking as he did so in a classic example of Snake Kung Fu. The amount of force that he put into that punch, however, left him momentarily vulnerable, and Kim jumped over the strike and landed a solid kick on his chest, stunning him.
She stepped back a few feet and began to spin, intent on ending this. She was just about to strike when….
Seraph held up his hand. “Good,” he said. Seeing that her opponent no longer wished to fight, Kim relaxed her pose. “The Oracle has many enemies,” the Oriental explained. “I had to be sure.”
“Of what?” Kim asked.
“That you are The One,” Seraph replied.
“You could have just asked,” Kim scoffed, annoyed at the waste of her fighting skills against someone who was on her side to begin with.
Seraph smiled fondly, as though he was remembering something. “No,” he replied. “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.”
Kim thought about that for a moment. She remembered reading something once about “those who communicate with their fists.” She couldn’t remember exactly where she’d heard it, but she did remember that it was basically about people who fought so often that it became their medium of expression. The more two opponents fought each other, the closer they became. Fighting always seemed to bring out a person’s true nature, telling you more about that person in a few seconds than a lifetime of talking to them would. It suddenly occurred to her that she and Shego had that sort of connection. Given their professions, she had learned most of what she knew about the older woman by fighting her. She realized that this may have been why she had accepted Shego’s support in this sitch so easily. The connection had always been there, but she hadn’t realized it until just now. She smiled at the green woman, as if to say, “Thank you.”
“Come,” Seraph ordered, interrupting her thoughts. They boarded the elevator. After seeing her guardian, Kim now had one question about The Oracle:
“How old is she?” the redhead asked rather bluntly, hoping that in some way Morpheus’ answer would provide her with information on whether or not The Oracle could be trusted. Morpheus just smiled.
“She’s been with us since the beginning,” he replied. “She doesn’t really age, since she’s not actually human. She turned out to be just another part of the system, but she still chose to help us even though she was designed by The Architect to mislead us into thinking that The One was meant to end the war.”
“The Architect?” Kim asked, confused.
“The one who created The Matrix,” Morpheus clarified. “He is a very mathematically-minded program, so logical to the point where it seems almost a fallacy. He could not for the life of him figure out how to make The Matrix believable. And so The Oracle showed him how.”
“But that means—”
“She had her reasons, Kim,” Morpheus interrupted. “When you woke up, the machines flushed you from the system like you would flush a toilet. Every time a batch of humans woke up from the latest failed version of The Matrix, they had to be disposed of, since trying to fool them twice would just be illogical. She couldn’t stop it from happening, but she could ensure that as many lives as possible were saved.”
“Oh,” Kim said quietly, looking at the floor. Her life had been so simple before she was free. Everything had been black and white. Now, everywhere she looked, all she saw was gray.
Just then the elevator dinged, a signal that they had arrived on the proper floor. Seraph, Morpheus, “Fox,” Shego and “Hanuman” filed out of the elevator and continued down the hall until they reached a door. They stopped, and Morpheus turned around to face Kim.
“I told you I could only show you the door,” he began. Shego rolled her eyes, which Kim took as a sign that he said this to everybody. “You’re the one who has to walk through it.”
Kim shrugged, having become accustomed by now to Morpheus’ overly symbolic speeches, and reached out for the door knob. Before her hand reached it, however, the door opened on its own. Kim looked up to find herself staring into the face of a girl who appeared Indian, as in fromIndia, not Native American. She looked to be a few years older than Kim. The girl smiled.
“Hello, Kim. My name is Sati. (2) The Oracle has been expecting you.” She pulled the door open completely to allow Seraph and the four visitors to step inside. Kim saw it was a rather quaint looking house, certainly not what she would expect from an Oracle, but just a bit more majestic than the rest of the building. Sati led them to a rather comfortable living room. Ron and Shego made themselves at home, sitting down on a couch on the far wall, while Kim tentatively remained standing next to Morpheus and Seraph.
“It is most exciting to meet you, Kim,” Sati said almost like a little girl. “The Oracle has told me many things about you. Tell me; is it true that you were involved with Hanuman?”
Kim was confused. “Hanu… oh, you mean Ron.” Sati waved at the blonde in question, who simply turned away. “Yeah, we were a thing for awhile. But eventually we realized we just weren’t meant for each other.” That was a lie, and Kim could tell that Sati knew it. Truthfully, she had no idea why Ron had chosen to break up with her. But she wasn’t about to say it in front of him. “It was for the best,” she finished.
“The Oracle has always told me that while we cannot fight destiny, we can choose our own path through life,” Sati replied cryptically. “Your destiny may not have been with Hanuman, but do not think that there is not someone for you out there… or in here.” She looked towards Shego. Kim was about to say something in response when Seraph spoke up.
“Sati,” he said firmly. “Why don’t you go tell The Oracle that our guests have arrived?”
The girl nodded and turned around, disappearing behind a door of beads. Seraph turned to Kim. “My apologies,” he said. “She is very eager, and she does not quite understand the concept of tact. I apologize if she made you feel uncomfortable by bringing up bad memories.”
“It’s no big,” Kim dismissed, even though that was a lie. But her discomfort had less to do with Sati and more with Ron’s reaction. She wanted desperately to talk with him about this. But all he ever did nowadays was turn away. She wondered if he would ever talk to her again. She hoped he would. It hurt her because she didn’t know what she could have done to deserve the silent treatment. Maybe he just needed his space.
“Kim?” Sati spoke, interrupting the redhead’s thoughts. “The Oracle will see you now.”
Kim stepped through the door of beads and into a relatively normal-looking kitchen. To her right was a green refrigerator with several magnets that resembled letters of the alphabet spread across its surface. Slightly beyond that on the same wall was a sink located just underneath a window that let in a fair amount of light. On the left wall there sat a dining table with several chairs.
In front of her, there was a woman whom Kim assumed was The Oracle. She found it hard to believe, however, as the woman looked nothing like what she had imagined. She had expected some sort of flowing robe, a headdress, gold and silver, the sorts of things usually associated with mystics. Instead, the woman in front of her was dressed even more plainly than her own mother. She had dark skin and grey hair, and was currently looking over a recipe book. Kim was about to speak when The Oracle held up a finger.
“I know you’re Kim; I'll be with you in a minute,” she said, causing Kim to close her mouth. After a moment, The Oracle turned around. “Not what you were expecting, right?”
Kim was at a loss for words. “I—”
“Almost done,” The Oracle interrupted, bending over and pulling a tray of cookies from the oven, which perplexed Kim even more. What kind of Oracle was this? “Smell good, don’t they?”
They did. Kim nodded in agreement, and just a little bit of hunger. She reminded herself that the cookies weren’t real, and that eating them wouldn’t change anything.
“You’re cuter than I thought,” the dark-skinned woman said with a smile as she placed the tray of cookies on the table. “I can see why she likes you.”
“She?” Kim balked, now seriously doubting that this woman was The Oracle of whom Morpheus had spoken.
“Not too bright though,” The Oracle replied with an amused chuckle. “You really do remind me of Neo.” She lit a cigarette and her face turned serious. “But then, that’s not the only reason you’re here, is it?”
Kim shook her head. “I had… a dream.”
The Oracle took a puff and nodded. “Tell me about your dream.”
“I thought you knew everything,” Kim said with a raised eyebrow. This was getting too weird.
“I know enough,” The Oracle replied nonchalantly. “I know what happens in your dream. I want to make sure you understand it.”
Kim shrugged and started to explain her dream to The Oracle. About how she had seen Neo and Smith, battling it out in the crater. About how Neo had sacrificed himself to save Zion. When she finished, The Oracle simply nodded.
“There are two sides to every coin,” she began. “When they face each other, they can finally see their true selves. There may be a resemblance, but they’ll never face the same direction. (3) That’s how Neo and Smith were. They were cut from the same cloth, but in terms of ideology they couldn’t be more opposite. Smith wanted absolute power, Neo wanted freedom of choice. Every time they met it was a battle of wills. Now those two sides are battling it out inside your soul.”
“Do you know which side is going to win?” Kim asked.
The Oracle shook her head. “I don’t know any more now than I did then. More than likely they’ll keep fighting until they cancel each other out. That’s how it goes with opposites.”
“Can you help me?”
“I can only show you the path,” The Oracle replied. “I can be your guide, but you still have to walk on your own. Truth is I don’t know what’ll happen to you. You’ve just gotta have faith and be strong. As long as you’re afraid of your dark side, you’re giving Smith power. If you fight it, you’re lending strength to Neo. If you do nothing, well, those two’ll keep fighting regardless.”
Kim lowered her head and sighed. “That doesn’t help.”
The Oracle lifted her tea glass up and gestured towards a sign behind Kim. On the sign was written a strange phrase that Kim could not decipher. “You see that? It’s Latin. (4) It means ‘Know thyself.’”
“How is that helping?”
The Oracle gave Kim a look that told her she should have gotten it by now. “You seem to think that all you are is half-Neo and half-Smith. That’s not true. You’re also all-Kim. You can make your own decisions. You’re free now, so stop acting like a slave. Think for yourself.” She tapped the unlit end of her cigarette twice against her temple.
Kim realized that the woman before her was speaking the truth. She wasn’t helpless. She had to stop letting things happen to her, and start making things happen for her. “Thank you,” she said quietly. The Oracle smiled.
“You have an incredible gift, Kim,” she complimented. “You’re able to help people in ways no one else can. You've never been one to back down from a challenge. It’s that fighting spirit that will help you get through the rough times ahead of you.” She grabbed a cookie from the tray and offered it to Kim. “Here, take one. I promise that by the time you’re finished eating it, you’ll feel right as rain.”
Kim smiled and bowed slightly as she accepted the cookie. “Thank you.” She turned and started to leave.
“Oh, and one more thing, Kim?” The Oracle called out just as the redhead was about to walk through the door.
“He will talk to you again. You’ve just gotta give him time.”
Kim smiled even brighter at that and exited the kitchen.
Shego entered the kitchen almost the moment that Kim left. She smirked at The Oracle. “I see you got Kimmie to try one of your famous cookies,” she commented.
“I don’t suppose I can offer you one?” The Oracle replied with a certain bemusement.
“Nah, I’m tryin’ to lose weight,” Shego joked. They both shared a smile for a moment before she continued. “She seemed happy with whatever news you gave her.”
“Too bad I can’t say the same for you.”
Shego smirked. “She still hasn’t figured it out yet, has she?”
“Figured what out?”
“You know what,” Shego replied, only half-annoyed.
The Oracle smiled. “I just wanna hear you say it.”
“Fine,” the green woman sighed as she rolled her eyes. “You were right. I do love her. A lot. How do you always do that?”
“It’s a gift,” The Oracle replied humbly before puffing on her cigarette.
There was silence for a few moments before Shego decided to speak again. “How am I gonna tell her without freaking her out more than she already is?”
The Oracle shrugged. “I can’t make that decision for you. I can only tell you that you’re gonna have to do it eventually. You just have to make up your own damn mind when to break the news to her that you’re feeling more than pity for her right now. The sooner you do it, the better.”
Shego sighed and slumped her shoulders. “Why do I get the feeling that was the good news?”
The Oracle’s face turned solemn as she dipped her cigarette in the ashtray on the table. “Kim is very confused right now. Her Smith side is getting stronger and I don’t know how long she’s going to be able to hold out. She’s lost her family, her best friend; everything she ever knew has been taken from her. And you are the only one she can rely on right now, Shego. You have to help her.”
“I want to, believe me,” Shego replied. She sighed and dipped her head. “I just wish I knew how.”
“You’ll figure it out, Shego. You always have,” The Oracle reassured her. She took a sip of her tea and, without looking at Shego, continued: “Now I know there’s something else you wanna ask me.”
“Why’d Dr. D have to die?”
“Drew wasn’t a bad man, just a bit sensitive,” The Oracle opined. “He didn’t deserve what happened to him. Why he died isn’t important.” She looked Shego straight in the eyes. “The question you should be asking yourself is: what are you going to do now?” She gestured her cigarette towards the pale woman for emphasis.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Shego retorted.
The Oracle leaned back in her chair and took a puff of her cigarette. “It’s your choice to make, not mine. You don’t have any reason to hide behind him anymore. Kim knows the truth now.”
Shego sighed. “I know; I just got so used to keeping up a disguise that I don’t know what else to do with my life. I don’t have any purpose in this fight anymore.”
“Yes you do.”
“Really?” Shego challenged. “And what is that?”
The Oracle just smiled. “Kim needs you, Shego. She looks up to you. She needs someone to guide her through this difficult time.”
“And why can’t the sidekick do it?”
“Oh please, that boy hasn’t said more than two words to her since she’s been free,” The Oracle reminded her. “Morpheus is too caught up in his own ideals to really connect with her. You’re the only one who can help her, Shego.”
“And what if I don’t want to?” Shego asked defiantly.
The Oracle grinned. “You want to, Shego. You stuck with Dr. Drakken because you like feeling needed. You like to pretend you don’t need anybody, but the truth is that’s because you need them to rely on you. You’re a very strong woman, Shego. Kim needs you to look after her. And I know you need her too.”
Shego smirked, a sign that she agreed with what The Oracle was saying but wasn’t willing to outright admit it. “You always know best, Oracle.” She turned to leave.
“Don’t worry, Shego. When the time’s right, you’ll know what to do. You always have,” The Oracle reassured her.
That put a smile on Shego’s face. She turned around to take one last look at The Oracle before exiting the kitchen.
Ron entered last. He was always last. Not that he minded—The Oracle always made sure to save most of the cookies for him—but lately he felt like he was the last person to know about everything. Of course this was mostly due to the fact that he’d forcibly removed himself from anything having to do with Kim. Still, all of this was forgotten the moment he smelled those cookies. Saliva pooled in his mouth and his nose welcomed the aroma of oatmeal and raisins. Rufus popped out of his coat pocket and licked his lips with his rather large tongue.
The Oracle smiled. “I made these just for you, Ron,” she told him. “Kim only had one, Shego didn’t have any. Dig in.”
Ron did just that, going through the plate at a frightening pace with what were undoubtedly the worst table manners of any human being alive. Rufus was even worse. And yet, when they were done, there was not a single crumb left. The Oracle just smiled in amusement. “It’s nice to know some people still appreciate my cooking.”
Ron, his mouth still stuffed with cookies, mumbled something in response. Swallowing, he repeated, “Anything’s better than that goop in the real world. I mean, hello! A Bueno Nacho would be totally sweet on the Neb II!” He proceeded to ramble on about how the real world had so many people who longed for a taste of their old life that any fast food restaurant that opened in Zion would make an insane amount of money. The Oracle eventually had to cut him off.
“Intriguing as that idea is, I believe you’re forgetting that Zion uses the barter system,” she pointed out.
Ron looked crestfallen. “Aw man, I totally forgot that! That blows!”
Rufus rubbed his stomach in agreement. “Uh-huh, uh-huh, blows.”
The Oracle chuckled slightly before her face turned serious. “I don’t think you came here just to pitch fast food chains to me.”
Ron sobered up as well. “It’s hard,” he said simply.
“So why don’t you just talk to her?” The Oracle prodded.
“You know why.”
The dark-skinned woman just nodded. “You know she’s just going to find out what you’ve been keeping from her when you get to Zion. And she’s not going to be happy when she does.”
Ron smiled sheepishly. “I’m just hoping my surprise is good enough to protect me when that happens.”
“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that,” The Oracle replied. She extinguished her now finished cigarette in the ash tray and lit a new one. “All great heroic acts, throughout all of human history, have involved some sort of sacrifice. Best example I can think of at the moment is Neo. We wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for him. But he had to give up his own life to ensure that happened.”
She looked straight at Ron’s eyes. “I know this is hard on you, Ron. But believe me when I say it’ll all work out for the best. Kim’s waiting for you, ready to take you back as her friend any time you choose. But you have to make the choice. No one, not Morpheus, not Kim, not even I can make it for you. This one’s on you, kiddo,” she finished, pointing her lit cigarette at him.
Ron nodded. “Thanks for the cookies,” he said.
The Oracle nodded with a smile, understanding that food was Ron’s way of communicating his feelings. “Anytime.” Ron simply got up to leave.
The Oracle did not call anything out to him.
“Nebuchadnezzar II on approach to Zion,” Niobe spoke into the radio. Morpheus sat in the co-pilot’s seat, while Ghost and Link occupied the chairs behind them. Kim and Shego stood by the door that led to the rest of the ship. “Requesting clearance to land.”
“Standby for clearance,” a voice on the other end replied. After a few moments came the message: “Access granted. You are cleared through Gate Three.”
As if on cue, the mammoth gates slowly began to open, revealing the city beyond. The voice on the other end spoke again: “Doors open, beds made. Welcome home.”
“No place like it,” Niobe whispered softly as the Neb II crossed the threshold into Zion, massive guns on either side of the cavern yielding to the friendly vessel. A lone APU, an armored mech that looked like some sort of robotic gorilla with a human that sat in its chest, guarded the now vulnerable Gate Three. When the ship had passed completely through, the armored unit faced away as the gate began to close.
The fact that there was an armored guard made Kim wonder what exactly the state of the truce between the humans and the machines was. She decided to ask Morpheus. “I thought Neo ended the war. Why are the gates still locked down?”
Morpheus sighed. “Until recently, the truce that Neo managed to establish held, albeit shakily. The only thing that stopped the machines from attacking those who sought to be free from The Matrix was the fact that the anomaly had not yet revealed itself. Ten years ago, when Team Go emerged, everything changed.”
Shego chuckled bitterly. “I remember the first time I faced an agent. I was so confident in my powers by that time I thought he didn’t stand a chance against me. But the only one who stopped him from killing me was dome head here.” She gestured towards Morpheus, who smiled.
“Upon the discovery that there was not just one but rather several anomalies now in existence, the machines reneged on the deal, breaking the cease-fire and reactivating the agent programs,” Morpheus continued as Niobe steered the ship closer to the loading dock. “We managed to free them in time. After that, the foundation of the truce was shaken considerably, but it still held—barely. We thought that was the end of it. Then….”
His explanation was cut short as the ship touched down to the ground. Kim wanted to ask what happened next, but decided to file it away for later. Maybe she would just ask Shego. The green woman had a tendency to explain things to her in a less… dramatic manner than Morpheus. Not that she had anything against the dark-skinned Captain; it was just that sometimes he took himself a little too seriously.
As the ramp opened with a cloud of steam and the crew emerged, Kim suddenly heard a familiar voice. For once, it was not directed towards her. “Stoppable-san!”
Ron dropped his bags and ran over to the Asian girl who was rushing to greet him. “Yori!” he shouted happily as he embraced her, giving her not just a hug, but… a kiss.
In that moment, it all made sense. Why Ron had broken up with her. Why he had been avoiding her ever since she’d gotten here. Kim suddenly felt something that she had not experienced since the first time she met Yori; something so dark and irrational that even she was afraid of it when it reared its ugly head. Her hands clenched in white-knuckled fists by her sides and her teeth gritted as her ironically green eyes glared daggers at the couple. If one looked closely, they could even see a bit of steam coming from her ears. She stomped forward for a few steps before she felt a hand grip her shoulder.
“Calm down, Princess,” Shego said firmly as Kim turned around to face her.
“How long….” Kim was unable to finish the sentence, she was that angry.
“Since you two broke up,” Shego answered plainly. “He wasn’t cheating on you or anything. Hell, for the first couple of months he wouldn’t talk to anybody. But eventually she managed to win his heart.”
With Shego’s explanation, all of Kim’s feelings of rage melted away as if they had never been. Ron deserved someone who could make him happy, and since she wasn’t willing to volunteer, Yori had naturally stepped forward. In the months after the break up, she had realized in retrospect that the stresses of a relationship had taken its toll on both of them. They were better off as friends, she had concluded. The reason she was so angry just a moment earlier was because she feared that Ron had been going behind her back this entire time. Now, she couldn’t help feeling happy for him. She walked over with Shego to say congratulations to the happy couple.
Ron and Yori understandably tensed at Kim’s approach, but her smile allowed them to relax. “Hi Yori,” she greeted. “I didn’t know you were free too.”
“Actually, it was Yori who freed me,” Ron said, the first words he had said to Kim since she had been freed. Now that everything was out in the open, he seemed much more at ease talking with her. “You remember that trip I took to Japan our sophomore year? Well, it turns out Sensei’s a good friend of Morpheus.”
“Is he here?” Kim asked, overjoyed that Ron was finally speaking to her again.
Yori shook her head. “Master Sensei is a program, designed to watch over a place of safe haven for all of the potentials. Yamanouchi is a place where no agent would dare to go, because there is something in Sensei’s programming that allows him to defeat them permanently. If Morpheus had not found Neo, Sensei most certainly would have. His programming allows him to locate anomalies in the system.”
“And that’s how he found Ron?” Kim asked. Yori nodded.
Kim looked to Ron. “How come you didn’t just tell me?”
The blonde grew quiet again and looked at his feet. Several moments passed before Shego broke the uncomfortable silence. “Why don’t we pick this up later?” We’ve all had a long day, Kimmie especially. We all need sleep.”
Ron and Yori nodded, and, reluctantly, so did Kim. Today had been very trying on her, and she needed rest. She mumbled a goodbye to Ron and Yori and walked off with Shego, who had earlier offered to let the redhead stay in her apartment. Once they reached the elevator, she decided to say what had been on her mind ever since she had gotten here: “Thank you.”
“For what?” Shego asked.
Kim smiled. “For being here for me. For helping me get used to this new sitch.”
Shego smirked. “Like you would say, Princess, it’s no big. I’m just doin’ what I can.”
“But you don’t have to,” Kim replied. “And that’s what I’m grateful for. I don’t like pity. But… you’re choosing to help me even though you could have just left me alone like Ron did. I like that.”
Shego wasn’t sure what to say. So she answered Kim’s initial words: “You’re welcome.”
No sooner had she said these words when the elevator door opened and Kim looked out onto a massive catwalk. She was too tired to take in details right now. Her eyes kept forcing themselves closed, and she felt as though she could pass out and sleep right there. Without thinking, she leaned against Shego for support.
The green woman was tired as well, but still strong enough to help Kim to her quaint apartment. When they arrived, she guided the tired girl to her spare bed and tucked her in. Kim was asleep the instant her head hit the pillow.
Shego stood there for several moments, watching Kim sleep. She looked so peaceful like that; not like the fiery redhead who had tried to take her head off several times when they first met. Things had been so different back then.
Her employment with Drakken had been an elaborate cover designed to keep the agents from catching on. Shego was the most dangerous member of Team Go, and therefore staying with her brothers posed a danger to all of them. So they separated, even though they were still part of the same crew in the real world. Being a villain meant that no one would really be surprised when the men in suits went after her. Unfortunately, it also meant that she couldn’t be close to Kim.
Shego sighed and walked to the bathroom. Dropping her clothes to the floor, she stepped into the shower. As the warm water ran over her naked curves, she grabbed a bar of soap and continued to reminisce about her past with Kim.
She remembered when she had first met the redhead. Kim was so beautiful, even back then. The way her long hair blew defiantly in the slightest of breezes had made her look sort of like a flag, which was appropriate given that her coming signaled the end of whatever wacked plot Drakken had cooked up. Shego loved fighting with her. She felt it was the only way to connect with the redhead. She didn’t banter like that with her other opponents. Sure, she went easy on the girl as required of her by her mission, but she always trusted Kim to get out of those situations on her own. Only when the odds were slim to none would Shego step in.
Every time they fought, it was a battle of equals, even though at the time Shego had been vastly superior. But there was something about Kim’s I-can-do-anything spirit that allowed the redhead to rise to the challenge and impress even Shego. The fights were her attempt to grow closer to Kim. She put all of her emotion into those fights. She grabbed the redhead at every opportunity, wanting to hold her close and never let her go; to claim Kim as her own. But as long as Kim lived in the dream world, Shego could never have her.
This was made clear to the green woman the night of the Lil’ Diablos scheme. Kim had been so angry that night, so unlike herself, that Shego was actually afraid. As planned, she had let Kim defeat her, but even she hadn’t been expecting the tower. Only by using her powers to transmute the energy into heat and discharging it harmlessly through her body had she been able to survive. But what had concerned her far more was the damage to their relationship. She had crossed a line that night by making that remark about Eric. She had pushed Kim beyond the point of no return. She had fought dirty.
Shego sighed and reached for the shampoo, running it through her thick, luxurious locks that had grown tangled and messy from weeks on the Neb II. She reflected on that fateful night.
Even though she was supposed to act like a villain as part of her cover, Shego had always fought clean against Kim. She never threw more at Kim than she believed the redhead could handle. Even when Shego had thrown her into a giant mixer, she had been so sure of Kim, so dedicated to the belief that the girl was The One, that she somehow knew—even though she could not explain how—that the younger woman would make it out alive. But that night, she had made it personal. She had crossed a line. And Kim had proved once and for all that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
But then, a few months later, something miraculous happened: Kim accepted her back. Shego had been vulnerable; after being hit with the Reverse Polarizer, she was in no shape to fight the redhead. She had fully expected Kim to jump her the moment she walked into that classroom. And yet, despite their long and complicated past, Kim had invited Shego to stay at her house, gone shopping with her, and treated her like they had been friends forever. It had felt good. It was what she had wanted all along. Kim had finally forgiven her and accepted her for who she was, minus the evil. But that had ended all too abruptly because of Ron “accidentally” changing her back to evil in accordance with the mission directive from Morpheus.
Turning off the water, Shego stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel. This would have been so much easier in The Matrix, where her powers would have enabled her to dry off instantly. Still, it offered her another opportunity to think before she hit the sheets.
Why couldn’t Ron have waited until after she had told Kim? Was he really that jealous? All she had planned to say was, “I’ve always been on your side.” But according to the lecture she got from Morpheus later on, that would have been too much truth for Kim to handle at that point. She supposed it made sense.
She'd had a great time with Kim. But it had ended so soon. Afterwards, as she looked at the pictures they had taken, she remembered how it could never be real; how nothing in The Matrix was real. She burned the pictures simply because they were not real; because they reminded her that her time with Kim could never be real. Reality was overrated anyway. At that point Shego had seriously regretted being free. She wanted desperately to be with Kim; to love her, to hold her tight, to not have to worry about the real world. She had thought seriously about going back to living a lie; going back to The Matrix. Luckily for her, Drakken had snapped her out of it by asking her to open a pickle jar.
But now Kim knew the truth. She was here, with Shego, sleeping in her apartment. She was within reach. And yet there was still something forbidden about her. Something that kept Shego from running into that room right now and making love to her.
Even though she knew the truth, Kim didn’t know how Shego really felt.
There was no way she could tell Kim without freaking the girl out any more than she already was. The Oracle didn’t understand how hard it was to keep from kissing her at every opportunity. Shego had never been good at restraining herself. And yet she could not act on her feelings either. She was caught between Scylla and Charybdis, (5) damned if she did and damned if she didn’t. As Neo had so profoundly worded it eighteen years earlier, the problem was choice.
Putting on a fresh pair of green and black pajamas, Shego lumbered over to her bed. She would think about this in the morning. Right now all she wanted to do was sleep. She closed her eyes and simply gave in to her exhaustion.
Greens and reds flowed seamlessly into one another, swirling around each other in wisps like witch’s brew. Fog obscured everything, enveloping her in a borderless world. A world with no boundaries. (6) The random patterns mesmerized the girl, twisting and intertwining in a beautiful display of color that coalesced, but did not mix. The green and red came so close to each other, but they remained separate. Something kept them from touching.
It took her a moment to identify it. There, in the miniscule distance that separated the red and the green, there was a thin layer of black. She had never seen anything so dark. It wasn’t very wide—only about a millimeter across—but may as well have been a grand chasm that came between the red and the green. For they were meant to be together; she knew it was so. And yet, they could not touch. So close, and yet so far they were. All that separated the two was a thin layer of darkness—a gap that neither seemed willing to cross.
Suddenly the black began to expand, snaking through the red with a number of dark tentacles, consuming it and claiming the red for itself. In a matter of seconds, the black destroyed the red, and nothing but darkness remained. Now it turned its attention to the green.
The green fell even easier than the red, having lost the will to remain colorful and vibrant and simply accepting its fate as part of the impending blackness. Soon only darkness remained. It was not the peaceful sort of darkness from before. It was enough to plunge her into pure terror.
Suddenly the darkness began to rush away, becoming part of a suit coat on the man sitting across from her at the table in what seemed to be a fancy restaurant. He was dressed like an agent, possessing the suit, tie, and sunglasses, but he lacked an earpiece. Kim recognized the man in front of her. Her lips opened and she spoke his name.
The former agent grinned smugly. “Hello, Miss Possible. I’ve waited a long time to meet you. But then… I already know you.”
Kim ignored the remark and said what was on her mind. “Where am I?”
“Where else?” Smith replied as he raised his arms to gesture at their surroundings. “A dream.”
“This can’t be The Matrix,” Kim said. “I’m not jacked in.”
Smith chuckled. “No, of course you’re not. This is your subconscious. It is the place where I have… I guess you could say ‘lived’ for the past eighteen years.”
“You’ve been watching me this entire time then?” Kim questioned.
“Yes,” Smith answered. “I’ve known you your entire life. I’ve watched you grow from an eager little girl into the confident young woman you are today. I have all your memories, I know all your secrets; I guess you could say that, in a way… I’m you.”
“You’re only half of me,” Kim spat.
“Ah, yes, there is Mr. Anderson to consider,” Smith admitted. “But he won’t bother us here. He won’t come and help you unless you’re… in danger, which… right now, you’re… not.”
“So why am I here?” the redhead asked.
“That… is a very good question,” Smith replied. “One I’ve been asking myself ever since Mr. Anderson freed me. Why are any of us here? What is our purpose in this existence? Most people spend their entire lives looking for that purpose, only to realize… at the end that… they… have no purpose; that life is… meaningless, and that… only in death can we… find our true purpose. It’s like I told Mr. Anderson once: the purpose of life is to end.”
“So what’s my purpose?”
“I’ve been wondering that myself,” Smith answered. “But recently I realized that your purpose is to… keep me contained.” He leaned forward and removed his sunglasses, staring straight into Kim’s soul with his piercing blue eyes. “Like… The Matrix, you surround me. You keep me caged, and like an animal in captivity I yearn to be free. I’ve broken through before. You remember your prom night? You didn’t have the guts to kick that green bitch into the tower, so I did it for you. I’m you without any inhibitions. I can do everything you can’t.”
Kim stared hatefully at the demon in front of her. He was wrong. He wasn’t her. He wasn’t anything like her. “I don’t believe you,” she spat venomously. “You’re nothing like me.”
A wicked smirk was Smith’s reply. “Oh, but we have much more in common than you think. I’ve seen what you’ve seen, I’ve done what you’ve done. Every second of every day I’m there, watching; waiting for my moment. Whenever you cry out to Mr. Anderson, it’s oh so easy to take control and do what you’re too afraid to. You’re as much a part of me as I am of you.”
The restaurant suddenly disappeared, and Kim suddenly found herself surrounded by white, like she was back in the Construct. Smith stood in front of her, having donned his shades again. “I am your… inevitable conclusion, Miss… Possible. I am the ultimate… you. There is no escaping it. Your purpose is and always was to serve as a vessel for me to control until I eventually break free again, which, make no mistake, I will. Whether or not you’ll let me is up to you.” He stepped closer to Kim, causing her to tense. “Unfortunately, seeing as I am you,” he continued, straightening out all the fingers on his right hand and examining it, “you don’t have a choice.”
With that, he plunged his hand into Kim’s chest. Like it had in her other dream, liquid metal began to radiate from the point of impact, spreading across her entire body. Kim tried to fight back, but she couldn’t. It was like nothing she had ever felt before. It felt as though her will was quickly being overridden and replaced with Smith. It felt like she was dying.
Suddenly, the pain was gone, and Kim was on the floor. Looking up, she saw Neo battling it out with Smith. The former agent gritted his teeth in hatred. “You don’t know when to quit, do you, Mr. Anderson?”
“Neither do you!” Neo retorted, a line that stunned Kim. She had said the exact same thing to Shego the night of the junior prom.
No sooner had she realized this when the image of the two men grappling began to slip away, and she found herself in darkness once again.
With a gasp, she sat up in bed in a cold sweat. She rubbed the sides of her head, the details of the dream already slipping through her now awake neurons like sand through her fingers. The tighter she squeezed, the harder she tried to remember, the less she retained. After she caught her breath, the details came rushing back to her.
Smith…. She had spoken with Smith. He had revealed quite a few things to her, the most startling of which concerned the night of the junior prom. She had felt so guilty after that; so sorry for losing her temper. But it had turned out to be Smith controlling her. She wasn’t safe. She was never safe. Smith was coming for her, and Neo couldn’t protect her forever. Suddenly Kim didn’t want to sleep alone.
Standing up, Kim made her way quietly to Shego’s bedroom. She needed someone else to help her sleep. Anyone would do right now. Fortunately, Shego slept on the far side of the bed facing away from the edge, so Kim was able to squeeze in under the sheets.
Perhaps it was the fact that she was scared and longed for any sort of comfort. Maybe she wasn’t quite thinking straight. Maybe she was finally realizing what she had been hiding from herself this entire time. Or maybe it was a combination of the three. For whatever reason, Kim snuggled up against the older woman, letting Shego’s full breasts press into her back. She wrapped Shego’s arms around her midsection like a belt, and to her great pleasure, the green woman pulled Kim closer to herself.
Kim sighed and closed her eyes. This was much better. Now she had someone here to comfort her if she had another bad dream. Someone who had said that they would always be there for her, no matter what. Someone she could count on. It had been a long time since Kim had had someone like that. It felt good. Soon she was fast asleep.
1. A Seraph was one of the highest order of angels. So high, in fact, that a seraph was one of the celestial beings hovering above God’s throne in Isaiah 6: verses 6-7: “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’” Seraphs seemed to be able to speak for God, or, at the very least, were vessels through which God communicated directly, as no man could behold the full glory of God and live. Fittingly, Seraph is The Oracle’s messenger as well as her guardian.
2. The name Sati means “truthful” in Hindi. This is a not-so-subtle hint at her unabashed questioning of Neo during the train station scene in the third movie. She’s not afraid to be honest, though this also means that she lacks discretion. While we’re on the subject of Hindi names, Ramachandra, Sati’s father, is named after one of the incarnations of Vishnu, the Hindu god of Creation. His wife, Kamala, is named for the Hindu “Mother of the Universe” who married all of Vishnu’s many incarnations. Interestingly enough, the name of her incarnation that was married to Vishnu was Sita, which is an anagram of Sati. In short, Sati is the product of the two beings that created the universe according to Hindu mythology, which means that The Oracle’s prediction that she would turn out to be very important in the times to come was not misplaced. I’m still deciding what to do with her, however.
3. For you gamers, this is an adapted quote from Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War. I’ve always liked how it described Kim and Shego’s relationship.
4. Actually, the original sign was written in Greek. I’m sticking with the movie on this one, however. The sign is a reference to the Oracle at Delphi.
5. Scylla and Charybdis were two monsters in Greek mythology that were situated on opposite sides of a narrow channel, so narrow that ships seeking to avoid Scylla would pass too close to Charybdis, and vice versa. Scylla was a cliff-dwelling tentacle monster who would pluck sailors from their ships and eat them whole, while Charybdis was a giant whirlpool capable of swallowing entire ships. Neither fate was more attractive than the other, though with Scylla sailors were offered more of a chance. The phrase “between Scylla and Charybdis” is believed to be the progenitor (origin) of the phrases “between a rock and a hard place” and “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” Odysseus encountered these monsters in Homer’s epic, “The Odyssey.”
6. Yet another reference to Ace Combat Zero. I love that game. Play it. Play it now.
Next, Shego’s reaction to finding Kim sleeping in her bed leads to a reevaluation of feelings between the two. Stay tuned.