Flux floated in and out of consciousness the next day, the first time she was aware at all as Trinity and Morpheus were starting to put the needles into the muscles in her legs. She let out a kind of half-awake whimpering moan and swatted at the needle. Morpheus caught her wrist.
     "Flux. Wake up."
 The girl frowned and turned her head away from him, trying to pull her arm away.
     "Flux." Trinity said. The girl's eyes opened wide, and then squinted shut again.
     "It's so bright..."
     "Your eyes aren't used to light. You've never had them open before." Morpheus explained to her. Trinity put another needle into the flesh just below her knee, and Flux started, trying to sit up.
     "What are you doing to me?"
     "We're rebuilding your muscles." Trinity explained.
     "Lie still." Morpheus put a hand on her forehead and gently pushed her back down. Her eyes closed and she went back to sleep.

     It took a week of constant rebuilding before Morpheus and Trinity were satisfied with Flux. She woke up, discombobulated and somewhat cold in a normal bed aboard the Neb, in what had been Switch's 'room'. Her eyes were sleep-sticky. She brought her arm up and rubbed the back of her hand over them, then realized there was some sort of weight dragging from her arm. Sitting up and shaking her head slightly, she inspected. Coming from a socket in her arm was a black wire. Taking hold of it near the connection, she pulled gently.
    *click* The magnetic catch holding the needle connected to the wire still in the socket let go and she pulled it out. Holding it up, she followed the wire back to what looked like a very low-tech I.V. bag. With a chuckle- *all that technology for an I.V?* she looped the wire and the needle around the hook holding the bag, and inspected her surroundings.
     She was wearing a beat-up old lavender-y sweater over a gray thermal shirt- both with sleeves just a tad too long, black pants and beat up black boots. "Now how did they know my favorite color was purple?" she wondered out loud, then shrugged. It didn't matter, really. It was common knowledge at school that her favorite color was purple. The room was small, like it was on a submarine... gunmetal and silver... rivets showing in the walls. The door had a circular-lock wheel in the center. As Flux looked at it, the door swung open to admit Morpheus. Without a word, he came in and sat down in a chair across from Flux. She remained silent. Moments passed as they both sat and looked at the other.
     "You have many questions, Flux." Morpheus finally broke the silence. "Come. I will answer as many as I can." He stood and ushered Flux out the door, draping a blanket over her shoulders as she left.

     He led her down a narrow hallway to a ladder-well, and up the ladder.
     "This is my ship, the Nebuchadnezzar." Morpheus pointed to the plaque on the wall bearing the ship name, place and date built. Flux looked at it, and her forehead wrinkled.
     "But.." Flux was hoarse. She cleared her throat and tried again. "It says built in 2000... 2000 just started..... didn't it...?"
     Morpheus slowly smiled.
     "You are catching on quickly, Flux. Things aren't always what they seem. In reality, it is closer to the year 2199. We have no way of telling exactly."
     "Twenty-one-ninety-nine?" Flux was amazed. "That's... bloody amazing!"
     Morpheus' smile grew bigger.
     "Come." He led her past a wall full of tangled wires, and through a cut-out door into an open area the size of a school cafeteria. "This," he gestured around them. "is the main deck." Trinity stood up from where she was putting a rivet back in the wall and nodded to Flux.
     "This is my crew. Most of them you've met already... Trinity, Neo, and one behind the chair is Mouse. At the control panel is Tank." Tank nodded towards Flux in greeting. Morpheus continued. "Flux, you told me you wanted to know what the Matrix was. Now is your chance to find out. Trinity."
     Trinity took Flux by the shoulders and steered her over into one of the seven chairs the crew used when in the Matrix. She took the blanket off of Flux's shoulders, and helped her get situated. Tank handed her the needle connector.
     "This may feel strange. Brace yourself." Trinity warned the girl. As the needle went in, Flux made a face in between a grimace and yawn. Her eyes closed, and she was inside the Matrix.
     A moment later, Morpheus followed.

     She opened her eyes again and was immediately confused  She was standing in a white...room? Place? It was just that... white... as far as the eye could see.
     "What is the place?" she asked the air.
     "This is what we call the Construct." Morpheus' voice came from behind her. She turned and saw him standing there, leaning on one of the chairs from the room in the Joyce Hotel. The two chairs, an old-looking T.V. and a small end table had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. "It's our loading program. From this place, we can load anything we need, clothing, weapons, transportation, household objects, training programs, virus protection."
     Flux's eyebrows went up an inch.
     "This is a program?"
     Morpheus nodded once.
     "Jee-zus." Flux breathed. "I'm inside a computer program."
     "Is it extremely hard to believe? There is evidence this is not the real world. You're wearing different clothes. The sockets in your arms and head are gone. Your hair is longer."
     Flux's hand flew to her head, feeling for the port in back. She held a handful of curly brown hair out so she could see it.
     "This is what we call a residual self image, a mental projection of your digital self."
     "So this isn't real... this isn't really me?"
     "How do you define real?" Morpheus asked, gesturing for her to sit down. Flux perched on the arm of the other chair. "What is real? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain." Morpheus plucked the T.V. remote off of the end table and flicked the t.v. on. There was a shot of a big city, time exposed to show the lights of the traffic and buildings that looked reasonably like the background to the Madonna music video 'Ray of Light'. *But* Flux reminded herself *that was never a real music video.*  "This is the world that you know. The world as it was at the end of the twentieth century. It exists now only as part of a neural-interactive simulation that we call the Matrix. You have been living in that simulation, Flux. You have been living in a virtual world." Morpheus continued. He pushed another button on the remote control. The T.V. switched to show a picture of a ruined city-majestic still, but crumbling into nothing, scoured by the winds that rushed the thick clouds across the dark sky. There was a whirring noise. Flux blinked. When she opened her eyes again, she was standing inside the scene that had been on the television, looking at the city from a plateau less than five miles away. Taken aback, she stood up and held onto the back of the chair. Morpheus continued.
     "This is the world as it exists today.... Welcome to the Desert of the Real. We have only bits and pieces of information but what we know for certain is that at some point in the early twenty-first century all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth to technology."
     "The computer. The microchip. Silicon Valley."  Flux recited.
     "A single invention that spawned an entire race of machines. We don't know who struck first, us or them. But we know that it was us that scorched the sky. At the time they were dependent on solar power and it was believed that they would be unable to survive without an energy source as abundant as the sun. Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony. The human body generates more bio-electricity than a 120-volt battery and over 25,000 BTU's body heat. Combined with a form of fusion the machines have found all the energy they would ever need. There are fields, endless fields, where human beings are no longer born, we are grown." The T.V. which had been transported along with the chairs and table out onto the plateau, switched to show a red orb... a baby inside it. A machine swung up and unhooked the baby-orb. The shot pulled back. There were more orbs... on a stalk.... then more stalks. Ten. A hundred. A thousand, then millions and millions.   "For the longest time I wouldn't believe it, and then I saw the fields with my own eyes." Morpheus forged on. "Watched them liquefy the dead so they could be fed intravenously to the living. And standing there, facing the pure horrifying precision, I came to realize the obviousness of the truth. What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this." They were back in the white place... the Construct... and Morpheus was holding up a Duracell battery.
     "They turn us into batteries. Power plants. Nothing else"

     Back in the real world, on the Neb, Neo, Trinity and Tank watched carefully for Flux's reaction. Neo had one hand over his mouth and was looking a little paler than usual. He made a quiet sound in the back of his throat. Trinity glanced at him, then took his other hand, squeezing it gently.
     "She's taking it well." she whispered.
     "Better than I did, you mean." Neo whispered back.
     "You were older... more... set in your ways.... and beliefs." She squeezed his hand again.
     "I still feel weird thinking about all that... what I went through..." He shook his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Trinity slipped an arm around his waist.
 "You're fine now."
 They both turned their attention back to Flux and Morpheus in the Construct. Flux had sat down on the arm of one of the chairs. Morpheus handed her the phone receiver. She took it and dazed, brought it to her ear. Trinity slipped away from Neo, and went over to unhook Flux.

     The girl jerked back into the real world, breathing hard. Trinity pulled the connecting needle out of the back of her skull and helped her sit up. Flux's eyes were glazed and she moved as if she were sleeping. Without a word, she stood up and started for the ladder down to her quarters. Four steps away, she collapsed, falling to the deck. Silently, Neo came over, scooped her up, and helped Trinity take her down to her room, leaving Tank to unhook Morpheus.

     Neo put Flux down on the bed and pulled the cover over her. Trinity sat on the edge of the bed and put one hand on Flux's forehead.
     "She took it well, considering." Trinity said, looking at the girl.
     "She didn't react the way I did."
     "She tried to figure it out-to think it through. Her brain overloaded, and she passed out.  You took the more emotional path. What you did, what she did- they're both mild forms of shock. She'll be fine as soon as she sleeps it off." Trinity stood up and brushed her hands off on her thighs. "Lunch?" Neo nodded, and followed Trinity out, glancing back at the sleeping girl.

     Morpheus was sitting in a chair across from her bed when she woke up later that day.
     "It was all real, wasn't it," she whispered, facing the wall. "That the sky is scorched and the machines rule us. It wasn't a dream."
     "It was no dream."
     "Everyone I know... I knew... everything I ever used, held... it was all a virtual reality?"
     "Yes." Morpheus stood. "Sleep now. Your training begins tomorrow."
     As he left, Flux sat up, putting her hands up to her head to run her fingers through her hair the way she did when she was agitated. Realizing that the action was pointless with her centimeter-long hair, she settled for rubbing her temples instead.
     "How can I sleep?" she whispered. Her brain was going a million miles an hour, giving her a splitting headache. She lay back and just stared at the ceiling.

     That was the way Tank found her when he went in to wake her up the next morning.
     "How did you sleep?"
     "Didn't." Flux answered, still staring at the ceiling.
     "You will tonight." He offered a hand. Flux looked at him, then sat up and took the hand. "I'm Tank. I'll be your operator."
     "I run programs for you, basically. I'm really looking forward to seeing how you do. Come on." He helped her up off of the bed, holding the door for her on their way out and then taking the lead.
     "You don't... have any... sockets?" Flux noticed, looking at the back of his head.
     "Me? Nope. I'm 100% organically home-grown human. Pure and direct from Zion."
     "The last human city-deep underground where it's still warm near the earth's core. If we won the war tomorrow, the party would be there. And it would be one hell of a party, let me tell you. Sooner or later, you're probably going to get to go there. Here we go." Tank helped Flux into one of the reclining chairs and put the connecting needle into her head before jumping into the control chair.
     "Let's see." she shuffled through a handful of mini-disks. "In all honesty, we're supposed to start with command protocol and all that boring shit, but we had some fun with this one program before... if I can find it." He checked under a rag draped over one of the monitors. "Ah-ha. Here it is." Tank pushed the disk into the drive. "Combat training."
     "Combat training?" Flux echoed. The screen over her head lit up. "Kung-fu?"
     There was a click as the disk stopped loading. Flux's eyes widened then snapped shut. Underneath the lids, her eyes moved rapidly. and her whole body went tense. Her eyes flew open again and she panted for breath. A huge grin spread over her face.
     "You like that, huh?" Tank asked, grinning. "You want more?"
     "Oh yeah!"
     Tank hit another button and the disk started to rapidly download into the girl's brain, cycling through every different type of hand-to hand combat known to man.

     Two hours later Trinity came in to check on her progress. She paused in front of the girl, watching her for a moment before joining Tank behind the screens.
     "She's holding it?" Trinity asked.
     "She's soaking it in."
     "Younger brain, more open to learning."
     "Like a sponge!"
     Trinity smiled and patted him on the shoulder before leaving. Tank nodded, all his attention on the screens in front of him.

     For the next six hours, Flux soaked in any and all information she could get. Neo and Morpheus were there when the download finished. The girl's eyes flew open.
     "I'm Superman." she whispered.
     Morpheus leaned over her. "Prove it."

     There was a second of darkness, then white and then Flux was standing opposite Morpheus in a Japanese-style room, wearing what looked to be gray and purple karate dress. She looked around her.
     "This is a sparring program, similar to the programmed reality of the Matrix. It has the same basic rules, rules like gravity. What you must learn is that these rules are no different that the rules of a computer system. Some of them can be bent. Some of them can be broken. You need to learn the difference. Understand? Then hit me."
     The girl went through an elaborate move that put her in a ready position. Morpheus copied her, waited a second, and then attacked, striking for her stomach. Flux blinked and jumped to the side, bringing her arm around and down. Morpheus took the blow on a forearm and launched a series of attacks on the girl. She blocked all of them, pausing a moment when he did, then kicking strongly upwards. Morpheus grabbed her heel and tried to tumble her onto her back. Rather than fall, she used the extra momentum and managed a total backflip, landing on both feet.

     "Jeezus!" Neo breathed, watching outside.
     "She's good." Tank said.
     "She's had to fight before." Trinity added, coming up behind the two men to watch the fight.

     Morpheus paused only briefly, but it was all Flux needed. She had decided she had had enough of this defensive stuff and it was her turn to attack. The girl let fly a series of blows at Morpheus' head and neck-impressively, as she was at least half a food shorter than he was. He blocked everything she threw at him, then dropped to the ground with a sliding kick that knocked her legs out from under her. With a yell, she landed hard on her butt on the ground.
     "Owww...!" Flux rubbed her tailbone.
     "Good. Modification, spontaneity. Your technique is good."
     "Then why am I on my ass?"
     "You are still thinking. When you learn to free your mind, not to focus on what you can do or can't do, when you learn to move without thinking beforehand, when you learn to instinctively know what to do, then you will be better. Again."
     Almost reluctantly, Flux peeled herself up off of the floor and took another ready pose. Morpheus followed suit, this time allowing Flux to initiate the fight, which she did in spectacular fashion, throwing a series of quick, fast, hard kicks at Morpheus. He blocked them, almost missing the last one as the girl spun on one heel and threw the other leg into the air high enough to decapitate. In the split second as her leg came down and she was off balance, Morpheus gave a tremendous one-handed punch that caught her right in the solar plexus and knocked her sprawling backwards six feet away. Instantly, the girl had spun around and jumped to her feet again, moving to meet Morpheus, catching the first punch he threw and ducking the second one.
     "Is he going easy on her?" Mouse had followed everyone else in and was watching the fight. "I mean, because she's so much smaller?"
     "I doubt it." Trinity said. "If she runs into an agent, he's not going to be any easier on her because she's small. Morpheus'll know that, and probably take it into account."
     "Even so, Morpheus' 'easy' isn't really all that easy." Neo added.
     Morpheus had succeeded in tangling Flux's arms in a way that kept her a foot away from her and unable to use anything but her legs to fight. With a yell, Flux broke the hold and moved away. The two circled each other warily, watching for the other's move. Flux faked, darting in and then back out, drawing Morpheus forward, then jumped up as high as she could and kicked out. Everything seemed to slow down. Morpheus ducked, then grabbed the kicking leg and bodily threw the girl across the room to hit one of the columns and then come to rest on the ground.
    He walked over to where Flux was lying on the ground, trying to decide if anything was broken. He leaned over, close to her.
     "How did I beat you?"
     She raised her head, a stormy look in her eyes.
     "You're too damn big and too damn fast."
     "Do you really think size or speed has any influence in this place?"
     She glared at him, and wiped her sweaty forehead off on her sleeve.
     "Do you think you're really sweating?"
     "I know what you're doing." she growled. "Think outside the box. Don't believe everything you see. I've heard it before."
     Morpheus grinned. "Good. Hearing it is the first step. I'm trying to free your mind. I can only show you the door your possibilities lie behind. You have to make the choice to either open it or walk away. Tank. Load the jump program."

     Tank tapped out a series of code on the keyboard and hit enter. On the screens, the familiar building roof appeared. Trinity moved to stand next to Neo and put a hand on his arm. He glanced at her, then focused back on the screen.

     There was white, then Flux saw her booted feet flying at something-the roof of a building. She was wearing the same clothes and boots she'd had on in the Construct. Looking around, she didn't recognize the skyline. Morpheus was beside her, she realized, as he spoke.
     "You have to let go of your fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind." He ran to the edge of the building and jumped, never breaking stride. In one smooth, fluid, amazing motion he was sailing through the air, coat flapping like Superman's cape to land,  totally unharmed on the concrete of the other building's roof, seventy feet away.
     Flux stood, mouth agape.
     "Oh. Cool."

     Neo's jaw tightened. He reached up and held Trinity's hand as the girl jumped.

     "Awesome." She combed both hands through her hair, fluffing it out in nervous habit, then ran at the edge of the building. As her foot hit the edge, she closed her eyes and jumped as hard as she could. She sailed out into mid air, still running. All her thoughts were focused on reaching the other building.

     "She's gonna make it." Mouse breathed.

     Ten feet away from being the only one to ever make the first jump, she opened her eyes and got her first view of how high she was. "Oh SHIT!" she screamed as she looked down. Almost immediately, she started to drop like a stone. Flailing out wildly and using as much forward momentum as she could salvage, she managed to catch the ledge to the roof with one hand. She dangled precariously for a moment before grabbing the ledge with her other hand. She hung for half a second, catching her breath, then hauled herself up onto the roof.
     "What does that mean?" Neo whispered, still watching the monitor.
     "I don't know." Trinity replied. Across the room, the girl's chair lowered, and she opened her eyes. Tank was there, taking the spike out of her head, then moving to Morpheus and doing the same. Neo, Trinity and Mouse turned to face them. Flux started to sit up, then leaned back in her chair with a groan. Lifting her shirt, she inspected the huge purple bruise on her stomach.
     "I thought you said it wasn't real."
     "Your mind makes it real." Morpheus replied.
     "So if you're shot, or hurt in the Matrix, it shows up on your body here?"
     In silent reply, Mouse walked over and pulled his shirt off over his head, showing her the scars from the Agent's weapons.
     "God." she breathed, leaning forward and gently touching one of the round scars. "What happened?"
     "Agents. They cut the hard line and then trapped me-us in the safe house. I was the first one they met. After they thought I was dead- my heart stopped for, like, half a minute, somehow I managed to get to the other phone in the safe house, and get out. Dozer- Tank's brother, hauled me into the infirmary and hooked me up to life support. I almost didn't make it." he whispered.
     She looked at him, her eyes full of sympathy, then stood up and hugged him. "I'm sorry."
     Taken aback, he put his arms around her briefly too. Trinity and Neo shared a small smile, and from behind Morpheus, Tank grinned. Flux stepped back and yawned.
     "Mmph... tired! I'm going to go sleep for another five hours." She disappeared around the control panel in the direction of the ladder.
     Tank let out a soft whoop. "Yeah, Mouse!" Mouse turned red and yanked his shirt back down over his head, jamming the hat over his reddening ears. Without a word, he stalked off towards the other ladder, Neo and Trinity both patting him good naturedly on the back as he went.
     In the middle of the night, Flux woke up, cold and sore. She wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and wandered up to the main deck where Neo was in Tank's chair watching the scrolling green code of the Matrix. She walked up behind him and watched the characters for a minute. Neo realized there was someone behind him and turned to see who it was.
     "Oh... hi. What are you doing up?" He stretched his arms over his head, leaning back in the chair to see her.
     "Woke up and couldn't get back to sleep... I'm sore all over."
     "Yeah, I know how that goes. Morpheus doesn't exactly hit lightly, does he?"
     Flux shook her head emphatically, making Neo smile.
     "Is that the Matrix?" she asked, pointing to the screens. Neo nodded.
     "Do you always look at it in code out here?"
     "The image translators only work for the Construct- there's too much information for them to handle onscreen." He shivered.
     "Cold?" Flux asked.
     "No, just a really bad case of deja vu. I had a conversation like this with Cypher right after I had been freed, and right before he went postal and killed Switch, Dozer and Apoc. Bad memories, that's all."
     "I'm sorry." She looked away.
     "It's not your fault. Quit apologizing. If you apologize for everything that goes wrong, you'll have no breath left."
     That got the smile he had been trying for out of the girl.
     "I just feel so out of place and on the outside, like an elephant in a hamster tube trying to fit in."
     Neo shook his head. "It's only for the first week or two it feels like that. Then you start being able to jump into things just as fast as everyone else. You're doing fine."
     The dejected look was back on the girl's face.
     "Hey... don't...." Neo had an idea. "Come here." He held his hand out to her. She shuffled forward, intregued. He put an arm around her shoulders and pointed at the screen.
     "Do you see anything?"
     She shook her head.
     "It's like one of those Magic Eye things. Try crossing your eyes just a little bit and looking again."
    Flux did as she was told. She saw people, outlines, moving around.
     "Whoa!" She grinned. "That's awesome!"
     "Isn't it?" Her smile was infectious. "After a while you won't even need to squint to see it, either. Now, feel better?"
     "A little bit."
     Neo took his arm back from around her shoulder and typed something in to the keyboard. The screen in front of them switched over to a schematic of the Nebuchadnezzar, running a check on the battery cells.
     "You know, you embarrased Mouse today."
     "I didn't mean to." Flux said. "I just thought... I mean, that must have been a hard story to tell... a hard expierience to relive, especially in front of everyone... I hug people a lot..." She crossed her arms and looked away.
     Neo chuckled.
     "No, let me say that a different way. He acted like he was embarrased, but in all honesty, I think he liked it."
     Flux looked up, an evilly-amused look on her face.
     "Oh.. embarrased that way, huh?"
     "Yeah... don't tell him I said this, but I think he's got a thing for you."
     She snorted. "There's a first. Guys don't ususally go for girls who have more technical knowledge than they do."
     "Yeah, well, girls don't ususally go for guys who spend all their time in front of a computer either, so it all balances out in the end, I guess."
     "I guess." Flux yawned. "God, I'm tired again now. I feel like all I've been doing is eating, sleeping and thinking too hard."
     "And apologizing."
     "Shut up!" She gave him a good-natured whack on the shoulder. and they both laughed. "Thanks for making me feel better about this whole thing."
     "No problem. Everyone else did it for me when I came out... and I think I had it tougher than you, trying to live up to expectations-you know about that, don't you?."
     "I don't know...." Flux shrugged the blanket back up onto her shoulder.
     "I'm the One... inside the Matrix, I can do just about anything. And when I first came out, they expected me to do just that... everything. It took until I-we almost lost Trinity before I started to believe that I could be the One at all. Then when I died and came back to life, that was the real clincher. You don't have anything like that hanging over your head, watching your every move."
       "I guess not. I had no clue about the One thing, though."
     "It's not that obvious. Out here, I'm just another scrawny new guy on the crew. It's not until we're in the Matrix I can do anything all that wonderful."
     She yawned again. "Hey-hug?"
     Neo paused for a second, then smiled.
     "Yeah, sure."
     She gave him a quick hug and started back for her room.
     "G'nite, Flux." Neo called after her.
     "You too!" she called back, and climbed down the ladder. As soon as she got into her bed she was asleep, curled up under the fuzzy blanket. As Neo came down to his bed, he peeked in to check on her, smiling as he saw her sleeping form.
    *She's gonna do just fine.*