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 Snake's Journey

Disclaimer: This is a story that has been taken from postings within a play-by-email game that I am involved in, and Snake is my character within it.  Other characters in this story were played by other people.  If the owners of any characters that are used in this story object, just let me know.  Any events relating to the past in this story have actually taken place in the game, which began after the movie ended.  If you're confused, just accept it. 

Snake sat on his bed, leaning against the wall.  He was looking out the window onto the street, but his eyes were distant.  He was remembering his life, leading up to where he was now...

He had served in the US Marines before being transferred to the Navy SEALs.  After completing a number of secret missions and achieving the highest enlisted rank possible, he was transferred to Special Forces, serving in the CIA. The missions became more clandestine, and more important to the country's national security. This was very important to Snake, and gave him great satisfaction in being a positive part of his country's efforts at getting rid of the 'bad guys'. He then became part of a 'Black Ops' teams, those who did the things that even the Special Forces never saw.  This included assassinations of political leaders, and strike missions against high-profile targets, making all of these actions look like terrorist actions or random events. The targets were usually American officials or facilities which, while giving the illusion of being pro-American, were actually acting against America by either selling secrets, or sabotaging American interests within the country or abroad.

One day, just a few months ago, he was on an assassination mission in South America when his world turned upside down. He was observing his target from a cafe, watching the man eating at an outdoor restaurant. He didn't know what the man had done, and he didn't care. It was all the same - they were acting against America, and they had to be stopped. Suddenly, his target was shot at from a passing car, and killed. Getting into his own nearby car, he followed the speeding car to a deserted warehouse. Getting out of his car at a distance, he managed to get close enough to the people who'd done his job for him, so that he could see who they were; he needed to know who these people were who had killed his target. He managed to get close enough inside the building to see and hear them without being seen. There were two of them, inside an empty office. One was a tall, bald black man, while the other was a tall, beautiful woman. Both of them were in black. He heard the man saying to her that the others wouldn't be long. He waited, and soon two more people turned up, another man with long hair in a ponytail, and a short-haired blonde woman. When they walked into the room, a phone on the table rang, which the black man picked up. Martin almost fell out of his perch in the ventilation shaft when the man disappeared and the phone dropped to the floor. He managed to keep his mouth shut and not make any noise, as he watched the tall woman hang it up. It rang again, and another one disappeared. This happened two more times, until he was alone. He lay there, stunned, not knowing what he'd seen. Suddenly two more men walked in. They were dressed in black suits, white shirts and black ties, and wearing dark sunglasses. He watched one of them pick up the phone from the floor and hang it up, before turning to the other and saying "They got out again." The other replied, "We'll get them. Next time. Morpheus can not evade us forever, especially since we have been contacted by one of his own." The other one nodded before turning to walk out of the room. The remaining one looked around the room before following his companion out. Martin waited two hours before he left himself.

Following that incident, he felt he had to find out what was going on. People disappearing into telephones certainly wasn't normal. He got one of his trusted friends, a computer hacker, to research the name Morpheus, and associate it with strange disappearances. While his friend was doing that, he continued with the Black Ops missions that were assigned to him and his team.

His friend contacted him a week ago. The information was startling and his friend couldn't believe it. After searching for 7 months, he'd found evidence of some kind of mystical resistance group that was battling a top-secret agency. By mystical, he meant that they seemingly had the abilities of telekinesis and teleportation. They seemed to be able to control space and time. Normally they conducted acts of terrorism against power plants and important facilities, but not only in the US. They were all over the world, and could apparently leave one place and be on the other side of the world within minutes. His hacker friend was amazed. There was one phrase that seemed to come up every now and again - the matrix. He didn't know what it was, but the resistance seemed to have a goal of destroying it, and the agency were trying to stop them.

His friend disappeared three days ago. Yesterday he saw one of the agents at his house - he left before being spotted by the agent, and now he knew he had to lie low.  Whatever he'd gotten involved in was dangerous to his work.  If some intelligence agency was after him, he knew the government wouldn't protect him... he didn't exist.  Right now, he was on his own, and he had to find out what was going on.

With a sigh, he looked away from the window of his room, and laid down and went to sleep.

Snake sat in the bar watching the world go by. He was looking out the front window, wondering if he would ever have his life return to normality. Nursing a beer, his mind drifted back over his life (which was becoming a habit lately). What was normality anyway? Compared to most people, he certainly hadn't lived a normal life. And now it's just gotten even weirder. What was this 'matrix' thing that his friend had discovered? And where was his friend? He remembered going to the man's house and finding the door broken open. Having carefully entered, he found the place a mess. It looked as if everything had been opened up and searched through. For what, he didn't know. The computer was destroyed on the floor, and he could see that the hard drives had been removed. He could only imagine it was something to do with the matrix. Someone had discovered him snooping around. Snake hoped that his friend's death had been quick... in his business, he knew it was foolish to hope that the man was still alive.

He finished his drink and left the bar, intending on heading home. He smiled at the thought. Home. What was it? Home was where he slept and dreamt about people disappearing into telephones. Home was nothing more than somewhere to sleep and dream about what's become of the world. Those dreams were more like nightmares.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a sharp movement. He glanced around just as he heard someone scream, and he saw two young street punks running towards him. One of them was carrying a knife and a handbag, and the other was just behind him. On the ground about 20 feet behind them was an old woman on her back. There was blood staining the side of her dress. It was obvious these kids had just stabbed her for the handbag. He shook his head and grimaced in disgust. It didn't matter where he went, there was always stupidity and traces of evil. He stepped to the side as they approached, making it look as if he was getting out of the way. Timing their speed and steps, he waited.

To the punks, he looked just like a bystander getting out of their way, which was just what they wanted. He was one of a number of bystanders, so they didn't take much notice of him, but were glad that he was out of their way and they didn't have to worry about him. That was their mistake, but it was one they could never have avoided.

As the one in front was about to run past him, Snake quickly stepped out and tripped the punk who was sent sprawling to the ground, the knife and handbag knocked out of his grasp. At the same time as he stepped out, he continued his movement and spun around to kick the other kid in the head, who obligingly collided with his boot. The impact threw him against the wall, and he slid to the ground. Snake continued his spin by bringing that boot around and into the side of the kid he'd tripped, knocking the wind out of him. The punks were down, and stunned onlookers gaped at him in amazement, at having seen him drop two punks in no more than two seconds. He looked at the old woman up the road, and saw that she was moving and was actually leaning up on her elbow while someone was trying to get her to keep still. He was relieved - she'd probably be alright, and he wouldn't have to kill the punks in return. He gave the one on the ground a kick in the head to knock him out, and picked up the handbag. As he passed the other one who was slumped against the wall, he noticed that the kid was looking at him in fear. He didn't look any older than about 14. He stopped and looked down at him, "You stupid piece of shit. You're lucky I didn't kill you. But let me tell you something. You do shit like this again, and someone's going to do it back to you. Do you understand me?" The kid looked at him and nodded with fear. Snake stood up and walked over to the woman. As he approached, he could see by the amount of blood that it was more of a cut than a stabbing, and he was happy that she would be alright. He handed the handbag to her and walked away, pleased with himself. It wasn't very often you could do something that would help out 'normal' people, but he liked to grasp it whenever he could. He'd often thought of becoming a vigilante, but was always too busy saving America instead.

He frowned. Saving America... what did that mean now? Nothing made sense any more. He thought about that until he arrived at the street that his safe house was on, walking around and approaching it from behind. He made sure that no one was watching the place and was glad that the sun had gone down by this time, and that no one saw him enter it from the fire escape in the alley. You couldn't be too careful... at least it had gotten dark by now, making things that much easier.

He managed to get to the top of the fire escape without making too much noise, and as he paused there to look around and listen, he felt something was wrong. He always got these feelings... just before something went wrong! He sat there against the wall in the dark, outside his lounge room window. Listening. He heard nothing but the sounds of cars driving by on the nearby street. Watching. There were no lights on in any of the buildings on the other side of the alley, and he could see no one. The feeling didn't fade, so he slowly and carefully made his way down the fire escape and walked away, noticing that his feeling of danger faded away. He found a cheap hotel for the night and stayed there, realising that his safe house wasn't safe any more. Tomorrow he would prepare himself, and find out what's going on.

When Snake awoke the next morning, he did his customary hour of exercise, followed by a run in a nearby park for an hour. After breakfast, he checked out of the hotel that was his safe house and went to ring another of his contacts. This one was another friend, called Peter, and he was the best in the business at providing those things which Snake needed right now. After placing his 'order' and organising a pick-up the next day, he spent the rest of the day at an internet cafe. Using one of the computers to do a web search for the name 'Morpheus' and 'matrix', he was unable to find anything interesting in the time he had. Not that he expected much, considering his hacker friend had taken 7 months... but at least it was an interesting distraction from an otherwise empty day. While reading yet another web page about Morpheus and the god of sleep and dreams, he noticed the screen flicker. At the same time, he felt that all-too familiar feeling of danger... As quickly as he could, he deleted the cache and history folders on the computer and then shut down the browser. Standing, he walked to the door, looking around him as he went. Leaving the internet cafe, he headed across the road to a clothing store. Looking in the window as if he was window shopping, Snake studied the reflection of the internet cafe he had just left. Suddenly he noticed that one of the people walking past the shop had suddenly changed into someone else! Someone wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie, and wearing sunglasses. Snake could see that others noticed this as well, and those people stopped and stared in shock. He was almost about to turn around as well, to get a better look at this, when his self control kicked in and kept him looking in the window. He moved to the next one, as if he was browsing the clothing displays. He frowned when, in the reflection, he saw that the witnesses to this event seemed to stagger slightly and then continued walking, looking as if nothing had happened. What the hell was going on here?! The man in black entered the internet cafe and disappeared from Snake's view. In a slight state of shock at what he'd seen, he knew that other patrons of the internet cafe would be questioned about who was using the computer running the web searches about Morpheus and 'matrix'. He knew that he'd better leave the area before he was spotted. As casually as he could, he walked away up the street, watching two police cars come screaming around the corner and stop in front of the internet cafe.

His mind was racing a million miles a minute. What had he seen? What was going on? First, he'd seen people disappear into a telephone. Now he'd seen someone change into one of those men in black - he could only assume they were the agents that his hacker friend had told him about. They must have detected him doing the search on 'Morpheus and matrix'. In that case, both the resistance and these agents were 'mystical'. But how could they change into someone? And why did the witnesses to the change suddenly all act as if nothing had happened? There were too many questions, and his head was starting to hurt from the confusion. He decided to catch a taxi to a hotel far away from the area, and get some sleep before seeing his contact the next day.

Waking up early, he did his two hours of exercise, followed by breakfast, before heading off to pick up his equipment. He had a couple of hours to kill, so he sat in a cafe and, after getting a coffee, went over what he knew. Diddly squat, he thought. The world certainly wasn't the same as it used to be only a few months ago, and it was getting stranger and stranger. All he knew was that people could disappear, and even take over the bodies of other people. And Morpheus... what was that about? The god of dreams and sleep... He looked up in surprise. Dreams and sleep? Where else could a person disappear or take over someone's body, but in a dream? Was he in a dream? He'd heard the saying that all life is a dream, and when we die we just wake up, but this was getting ridiculous! Surely his life couldn't have been a dream! That wasn't possible! Was it? But neither was disappearing into a telephone...

"Dammit!" he cursed, startling the couple sitting at the next table. He stood up and left the cafe, heading towards his friend and his equipment. He arrived there two hours early, and Peter was surprised to see him. "You're early..." he said. Snake replied angrily, "Yeh, so? Do you have the equipment now or not?" The answer was an affirmative, and Snake opened up the two army-style duffel bags that were put in front of him, investigating their contents. After a few moments, he looked up and smiled. After making payment arrangements, Snake shook Peter's hand and left.

Snake went to another hotel and booked himself in, where he set out his equipment on the bed and checked it all very thoroughly. There were 3 heavy assault rifles, 2 sub-machine guns, 3 large-calibre pistols, a grenade launcher that fit onto one of the rifles, and enough ammunition for a small war. As far as Snake was concerned, that's just what he was about to get involved in...

He cleaned and loaded the weapons and then, from within one of the duffel bags he pulled out a weapon harness that could allow him to carry a number of small-arms simultaneously. After getting himself ready, he pulled a long black coat from the bag and put it on. It all fitted perfectly, and as long as he kept the buttons done up, it would be very difficult to tell he was carrying guns. He reminded himself to congratulate Peter - if he survived today's events...

He left the hotel and drove to the closest internet cafe. It was nearly dark as Snake spent half an hour slowly driving around the area, taking note of all the roads and car parks. After deciding that there was no safe exit from the rear of the internet cafe, he went to another location. He had to do this a total of three times before he found an internet cafe that was located in an ideal position for him to escape from both the front or rear exits if necessary, and had a building nearby that could be made defensible. As a bonus, it had an alley beside it as well. He parked the car near the rear exit and grabbed his bag and walked around the block, entering the cafe from the front. After purchasing some time on the computer, he sat down with the bag between his feet, uncomfortable at having to sit to hide the guns underneath his coat, but determined anyway to carry through on his plan. He started searching the web for Morpheus and the matrix.

Nearly an hour later, the screen flickered and he felt the urge to depart. With a grim face, he reached down for his bag and left the cafe, heading to the corner, where he waited for the fun to start. He didn't have to wait very long.

Walking out of the internet cafe was one of the men in black... one of the agents? He mentally shrugged. It didn't matter... he was going to die anyway. As he watched the agent scanning the people walking past, Snake brought a pistol into his hand and stepped around the corner. "You looking for me?"

The agent turned his head to look at Snake, and then turned to face him completely. "And who might you be?" the agent asked. Snake thought he spoke too slowly for his own good. He gestured with his pistol for the agent to move into the alley. The agent hesitated before raising his fingers to an earpiece. Snake hadn't noticed that before... he was getting sloppy. "No talking. Move." He pointed at the man with the pistol and the agent nodded slightly before moving into the alley.

They walked down the alley, with Snake about 8 feet behind the agent, when he told the agent to stop. The agent turned around, keeping his hands out from his body, making sure he wasn't threatening. "Who are you, and what are you protecting?" said Snake. The agent looked at him and calmly said, "You don't need to know, but there is something I need to know. And that is... who... are... you? I don't know you, and that... is most unusual." Suddenly, before Snake could react, the agent drew his own pistol, moved to Snake's side and put the gun to Snake's head, before Snake could even move. He'd never seen anyone move that fast before! Shit, he thought!

The agent spoke into Snake's ear, "If you want to live, you will tell me... who... you are." Snake slowly moved his gun away and let go, letting it drop to the ground. He could feel the agent relax slightly, and the barrel of the agent's gun stopped touching his scalp, pulling away slightly. Snake didn't want to let it get too far away; he had to do something quick. He pretended to be afraid and said, "Look man, I don't know what's going on. I just need some answers..." As he spoke, he let his left hand move closer to his body, knowing that the agent couldn't see it due to his position. "I've seen some weird shit happening, and I need to know something." As soon as he finished saying that, he dropped his head and brought his right arm up and around to knock the agent's gun out of the way. At the same time, he grabbed a pistol holstered on the right-hand side of his stomach and, without pulling it out, moved it slightly and fired three shots. He was lucky he dropped his head, because the agent's gun fired. He could feel the powder burns along the top of his scalp, before he knocked the agent's arm away. He was turning to face the agent as he fired his own gun, and he could see that the agent was hit three times in the chest. Staggering back, the agent collapsed to the ground. Suddenly there was the crackling of energy, and electricity arced over the body before it changed. He remembered it as a woman from inside the internet cafe, another of the customers. He swore to himself. She was obviously dead. What the F**K was going on here?!! This wasn't going to get him any answers, that was for sure. He picked up his dropped pistol and re-holstered it, and then picked up the duffel bag and started running down the alley. He grabbed hold of the assault rifle inside it as he ran and lifted it out, at the very same moment that the same agent he'd just 'killed' came around the corner about 20 yards in front of him.

"Not so fast," said the agent, pointing a large pistol at him. Snake didn't hesitate. Quickly aiming it at the wall beside the agent, he pulled the trigger on the grenade launcher as he was running. The wall exploded, enveloping the agent in a ball of fire and stone. Snake lowered his head and lifted the bag in front of him to help protect against shrapnel and he continued running to his car. He went past the smoking debris on the ground and noted with satisfaction that the explosion had destroyed and blocked the rear entrance, which would give him that extra time to get away before anyone else could come out of the cafe. He couldn't see the body of the agent - or whoever it was that it had 'possessed'.

He jumped into the car and did a quick exit, looking in his rear view mirrors for any agents. He didn't see any as he sped away into the darkness.

An agent came out of the alley, looking at the tail lights of the departing car is it turned a corner and disappeared from his view. He was joined by another agent who asked, "What was that?" The first agent hesitated before answering, "I don't know, but it seems... we have... a new problem." They turned and walked away.

After a couple hours of aimless driving, Snake ended up at a small hotel on the outskirts of the city. He got himself a room and, after having a shower, went to bed. For the past couple of hours his mind had been numb, he'd been acting on auto pilot. He didn't know what was happening, and he didn't understand how these people could be killed and yet come back. All he could think of was that he was in some strange nightmare, and he hoped that he would wake up soon. Real soon.

As soon as they returned to the hovercraft 'Shockwave', Backslash flopped into the operator's chair. With nothing better to do, Ersatz peered over his shoulder. "Any messages from Zion?"

Backslash snapped his fingers. "That reminds me. Zion's found a potential, alias Snake, and they want us to go after him ASAP."

Ersatz cocked one eyebrow. "Why? What's so special?"

Backslash shrugged. "It appears this potential can't be seen by the agents; to them, he just isn't there."

"He's still plugged?" Ersatz replied incredulously.

"Yeah. They've run tests on him, and can't figure out what it is. They want us to bring him out." Backslash looked up at Ersatz. "You've been recruited, son."

Ersatz rolled his eyes. "Yay. Load me up."

"Right. Hang on, look at this first." Backslash called up a view of an empty hotel room.

"Yeah? So?"

"That's were he is," Backslash stated simply, shrugging. "I'll drop you right outside. Have fun."

But Ersatz wasn't listening; this was definitely a special case, and they trusted him to do it? A small smile tugged at his lips. Maybe they'd let him train this one.

Ersatz peered through the rain at the small hotel; nothing fancy, that was for sure. Striding across the road, sunglasses perched on his nose, he grabbed the bottom rung of the fire escape, quickly climbing to the third floor.

Being careful to stay out of sight, he squinted through the window. It was the same room Backslash had shown him; in fact, it was exactly the same. There was no one there.

Ersatz sighed. So much for that. Maybe Zion needed to check this guy out more carefully before sending people after him. Standing to go, he turned, but suddenly caught a small movement in the corner of his eye. Dropping into a crouch, he again looked through the window, half thinking it might've been his imagination.

Sure enough, there was a man sleeping on the bed.

'God,' He thought to himself. 'He's older than me. Zion can't think that we can bring this guy out in one piece...'

Ersatz dropped back to the ground, jogging slowly across the street. Stepping into a nearby phone booth, he punched in a few numbers. The phone only rang once, and Ersatz didn't give him a chance to answer.

"Hello, Snake. You don't know me, but you do know something. Just like your friend knew. If you want to see what I have to show you, then meet me at the bar on five and main in half an hour." With that, Ersatz hung up.

Snake sat there with the phone, listening to the dead line. He hadn't wanted to wake up like this. But what else was new? From one strange event to another... what else would happen in this dream? He got dressed, including the weapons. Snake figured that they'd be his second skin from now on. At least these agents could be... could be what? Killed? No, they weren't killed. But at least he could slow them down. He shook his head at himself, realising the kind of conversation he was having with himself. He was fighting ghosts, or demons, or something. They couldn't be killed... he shook his head again at the thought, and then left to meet the voice on the phone.

Sitting at the bar, Ersatz ordered a straight vodka, slamming it back and ignoring the astonished look the barkeep shot him. "Another."

Just then, a tough-looking man sat down next to him. Without even looking at him, Ersatz grinned slyly.

Snake had already checked the place out, and noted that the place was a dive. He'd left his duffel bag in the boot of the car, thinking that he shouldn't need it here. There were only three customers inside at this hour of the morning, and only one was at the bar. He studied him for a moment before deciding that he must have been the one who placed the call. After determining that it wasn't a trap, he went over and sat next to the man at the bar.

"Hello, Snake," said Ersatz.

Snake looked at him for a long moment. "Talk. I'm listening."

Ersatz threw back another vodka before answering. "Got enough artillery?" He commented, glancing at Snake's trench coat. Snake looked shocked, but quickly composed himself, ordering a beer from the barkeep. Ersatz ordered a whiskey, growing tired of vodka. He smirked, enjoying the strange looks Snake was giving him as he continued to pack it in. He examined Snake out of the corner of his eye; he already had the black trench coat thing going. He'd fit right in.

"So what the hell is going on?" Snake said bluntly, and Ersatz cocked one eyebrow.

"Impatient, aren't we?" Ersatz offered his hand. "I'm Ersatz."


"I know who you are." Ersatz interrupted, shaking his hand. "Which is why we should get moving."

Just then, two agents appeared outside the bar. Ersatz paid their tab, then strode casually towards the back of the bar. Snake was quick to follow; 'At least he knows what he's doing,' Ersatz thought blandly. He threw open a back door just as the agents burst in and fired a few shots in their direction.

"In!" Ersatz commanded, and Snake dove through the door, Ersatz close behind as bullets knocked splinters from the doorframe. "Up there." Ersatz pointed to a small flight of stairs, leading to the roof. Snake quickly climbed as Ersatz followed, pulling out a silver handgun and watching their back. He could hear people shouting in the bar; the barkeep was clearly not pleased.

On the next floor, Snake stopped, letting Ersatz lead the way. "Lucky you brought those guns," He said, running around the next corner. "You may need them."

Just then, an agent appeared in front of them, and Ersatz took aim and emptied a clip, not hitting a thing but the walls. Snake let out a gasp, then followed Ersatz as he dove into a nearby room.

"How did he do that?!" Snake exclaimed as Ersatz looked around for an escape route, reloading simultaneously.

"That was an agent. Lesson number one; see an agent, run. Got it?"


"Then let's get the hell out of here."

Ersatz kicked through a window, then peered out; not too far up. "Can you jump?"

"What?" Snake answered, startled.

"JUMP, Sherlock, can you JUMP??" Ersatz yelled, pointing at the window and trying to listen for nearby agents.

"Sure!" He yelled back.

"Then go!" With that, Ersatz dove out the window

Snake looked out of the window and noticed that the ground was about 15 feet down. He looked up and saw that there was an overhanging ledge. Ersatz was standing down on the ground, waiting for Snake to jump. Climbing up onto the window sill, Snake grabbed hold of the above ledge and swung out into space, hanging by his fingers. He moved himself along the ledge to his left, edging towards the window next door. He heard the door from the room they vacated crash open, and he stopped and pressed himself against the wall, glad that his toes had managed to find a small ledge in the brickwork to rest his weight onto. Letting go with his right hand, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a submachine gun. Pointing it at the open window he'd just left, he waited. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Ersatz had begun to run away. Then Snake saw an agent's head look out of the window and see Ersatz. He could see that the agent was bringing up a pistol to aim at the fleeing man, and so he let loose a burst with the submachine gun. The agent's head disappeared back into the room, out of Snake's view. However, he saw the light of crackling energy from inside the room, and knew that he just got himself another agent. Looking down, he saw that there was a large open bin underneath him, filled with plastic rubbish bags. After holstering his weapon, he let himself go and dropped into it with a muffled crash. Quickly climbing out, he ran into the darkness after Ersatz.

He looked behind him as he ran, but he saw no one in the light of the open window. Neither did there seem to be anyone on the ground who had seen him. He kept on running, brushing the rubbish off of himself, and rounded a corner - straight into Ersatz, who was knocked backwards. Quickly grabbing him, Snake helped him keep his balance, and they stood there against the wall. Ersatz whispered in annoyance, "Man, you should be careful! I could have been an agent!" Snake looked at him and said, "You'd be dead if you were." Then he looked away as he continued, "Or trying to find another body..."

Ersatz looked at him thoughtfully. "Did you get one of them?"

Snake looked back at him, "Yeh. That makes 3 for the day. Or the same one the third time around..." He shrugged and looked back around the corner. Turning back to Ersatz, he said, "We should get out of here, and you've got some talking to do."

Ersatz shook his head, "Man, how do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"How do you manage to shoot them?"

"You make sure they aren't expecting it. How else do you shoot people with guns?"
  Snake turned and started walking, but Ersatz grabbed his shoulder. 

"Seriously, man," he said, demanding Snake's attention. "Over-confidence like that could easily kill you here. Those men - things - aren't human. You have to be careful."

Just then, Ersatz was rudely interrupted by his cell. Whipping it out and leaving Snake looking overwhelmed, he said curtly, "Ersatz."

"What have you gotten yourself into this time?"

Ersatz grinned. "Nice to hear from you, Backslash."

"Yeah, ditto. You all right, man? Saw the agents."

"Yeah," Ersatz reassured him, glancing over his shoulder at Snake.


"Yeah, he's good."

"Great. Get your ass in gear and head to Renthrow and Harker; abandoned warehouse. I'll get the gear to pull him and meet you there."

"Right." Ersatz flipped his phone shut, turning to Snake, who looked at him expectantly.

"You really need to explain things, Ersatz," he insisted, crossing his arms over his broad chest.

Ersatz only smiled. "Relax, the answers are coming." With that, Ersatz headed off towards Renthrow and Harker.

Ersatz kept Snake in front, so he could watch the back. Hands deep in his coat pockets, Ersatz kept his fingers curled around his handgun. It bothered him to think that so much gun training had gone to waste; no matter how good a shot you were, agents couldn't be hit, unless you managed to be within a very short distance, at which point you'd probably be dead. Ersatz figured Snake had been pretty close; he'd also been lucky that the agent hadn't shot first.


Ersatz snapped out of his reverie to realize they were standing in front of the huge warehouse where Backslash had told them to meet him. Snake was looking at him expectantly.

"Yeah." Peering in the window, Ersatz could see Backslash, alone, reading a copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula in one of two red leather chairs. Grinning, Ersatz stepped forward, flinging open the double-doors and letting them bang thunderously against the walls.

Abruptly, five shots rang out, and Ersatz rolled to the side, Snake diving in the opposite direction. Ersatz picked himself up, laughing. "Jumpy, Backslash?"

Backslash swore. "Don't EVER do that again!" He slammed the book shut and left it on the table.

"Sorry, man. Couldn't resist. Snake, meet Backslash." Snake stood up slowly, brushing himself off. Backslash offered his hand, which Snake shook as he regained his composure. "Good. Now that the formalities are over, Backslash, get the tracking ready. Snake, let's have a nice long chat, shall we?"

Backslash slipped Ersatz the pills, then silently stepped into the next room. Ersatz led Snake to a pair of ratty, red leather chairs, sitting down and absently examining the silver box. Snake sat opposite him, perched at the edge of his seat.

Ersatz let silence fall a moment before he spoke. "Do you know why you're here, Snake?" Snake nodded, almost imperceptibly. "It's because you know something. Your friend knew, but they got to him first. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

"The Matrix," Snake said quietly.

Ersatz nodded. "Do you know what it is?"


"It's this room. It's this city. It's this entire planet. It's an elaborate hoax meant to keep you from knowing the world as it really is." Ersatz slowly opened the box. "No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself." He grinned inwardly. He'd always wanted to say that.

Leaning forward, Ersatz offered a small, blue pill. "Take this blue pill, and you'll go right back to sleep. You'll forget everything I've told you, and this world will stay your reality." He revealed the contents of his left hand. "Take the red pill, and I'll show you everything you've been wanting to see." Peering at Snake over his sunglasses, he conveyed just how grave this decision is.
  "It's your choice."

Snake frowned at this. Choice? There was no choice at all. How could a person continue living without knowing the truth? He reached out for the red pill and took it.

Ersatz cocked one eyebrow as Snake immediately reached for the red pill. "Remember," he said quickly, and Snake paused. "There is no turning back."

Still, Snake never hesitated, eagerly swallowing the pill. Ersatz stood, smiling. "This way."

Stepping through the small door that led to the back room, Snake following, Ersatz motioned for him to sit in a rickety old chair.

"Give me your coat." Snake dubiously pulled off his trench coat, revealing what looked to be at least ten guns of every kind. Ersatz sighed. "Those too.  You won't need them." Snake hesitated. "Trust me," Ersatz insisted.

With a sigh of resignation, Snake removed all his guns, piling them on the floor in front of him. Ersatz shook his head at the growing pile, chuckling softly. "Just like the Boy Scouts. Always prepared."

Backslash tapped a few keys, then took the receiver off the phone as a machine dialled it. Ersatz placed a few wires on Snake's skin, explaining, "The pill you took will help us find your location outside of the Matrix."


Ersatz looked him in the eye. "You'll see." He turned to Backslash. "Ready?"

"Yeah. Crash's got a signal ready and waiting."

"Good." Ersatz turned back to Snake, who was peering in confusion at the undulating mirror. Saying nothing, Ersatz watched him as he reached out, gently touching the surface. It bent and rippled, leaving a residue on his hand. Snake watched in confusion and shock as it slowly expanded, seeping up his arm.

"What-??" He shivered, holding his hand as far from his body as possible. "It's cold!"

Ersatz knew that cold far too well. He looked over his shoulder. "Tracking, Backslash?"

"Almost..." Backslash was concentrating hard. "There!" he cried triumphantly.

The metallic ooze was up around Snake's neck, and his mouth flew open in shock. Suddenly, the stuff flew down his throat, and he screamed. As Ersatz watched, he slowly disappeared, leaving the seat empty. Turning back to Backslash, Ersatz grinned. "Got him. Let's go."

In turn, they each answered the phone, disappearing in a blur of green code.

Snake opened his eyes, looking at a metal ceiling with cracked paintwork. His head hurt, and he felt weak... He went to rub his forehead, and felt something pull at his arm as he raised it. He lifted his arm and looked at it and recoiled in horror as he saw a cable sticking out of a socket in his forearm. "What the hell...!!" He made to sit up, and saw that there was an empty, metal socket in his other arm. "Jesus Christ!" He stared in shock, and then he opened up his shirt and looked at his chest... there were more sockets there too! He touched one, with a look of fear on his face. Suddenly, the door started to open...

Backslash walked into the room where Snake was. Snake was sitting up looking at his plugs. "Get some more rest for now", Backslash said. "Oh yeah, welcome to the real world", he said as he turned away and left.

Snake sat there looking at the door close behind the man. He was angry that whoever that person was, they hadn't explained what was happening to him. They also didn't seem surprised to see all the sockets in his arms... did they put them there? He rubbed his forehead. This was seeming like some kind of science fiction movie that he'd wandered into. As he gazed vacantly at his forearm while he was rubbing his forehead, he realised that his skin was pale. It also wasn't as muscular as he remembered. He'd never had pale skin... What? Did he suddenly have a new body now as well? This was seeming more and more like some bizarre dream based on some kind of crazy science fiction reality...

He tried to remove the cable from his arm, and found that it twisted out easily enough. Climbing down from the bed, he stretched himself out on the floor and began some stretching exercises. Very quickly, he found himself out of breath. His 'new body' seemed quite weak, and certainly wasn't up to the exercise regime that he normally put himself through each day. With a scowl on his face, he began a new set of exercises, pushing himself to the limit, determined to make the most of whatever he'd gotten himself into.

Half an hour later, he fell exhausted onto the bed. Before falling into a deep slumber, he hoped that someone would come along soon and explain to him what the hell was going on...

The door opened and a young woman walked in.  Snake wondered who this new person was. It seemed that every time the door opened, someone new walked through it. Would this one have the answers for him?

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I'm not important. Do you have a name?" She answered with a question.

"Snake. Where am I?"

The woman jumped on the bed's lower end and folded her left leg, putting the foot on the right thigh. Snake noticed that she seemed to favour her right leg, leaving it hanging over the edge of the bed. An injury?

"You've just left a level of illusion and entered another stage. So to say, one step closer to the truth." She smiled at him.

Now Snake was getting annoyed. Was he surrounded by insane people?! "What does that mean?" he asked.

"Simply that all this is an illusion just as well. Lao-tse had known long before the Matrix. Or, as Poe said: a dream within a dream. You see, so different people saw the same thing must be a kind of truth then, hm?" She sat there, motionless.

"So this is a dream?" This was turning out just like he thought... but why was a dream-person telling him it was a dream? Weird.

"It's not that easy. Is the moon you see on a calm lake true? Not? But is the moon in the sky? How do you know, can you touch it? One you can't reach, the other you can't touch without destroying. So what is more real?" She sat there with a small smile on her face, watching him. Snake shook his head, thinking that this wasn't the time to beat some sense into her.

"What are you guys doing to me?" he asked instead, stretching out his arms, showing her the plugs.

"They did. We undo."

"Who's 'they'?" he asked.

"The machines. The masters of your mind. Those who controlled your thoughts and dreams. Those who put that big socket into your head."

She giggled when Snake's searching hand found the large metallic socket on the back of his skull.

"Jesus Christ!! What the hell is that?! What is all of this? You'd better give me some straight answers, or..."

The woman smiled before continuing. "You can call me Diamond. Are you ready for the truth?"

Snake nodded.

"The truth is, that you've been living in a prison, a virtual reality created by an artificial intelligence, that's been created to keep humanity imprisoned within illusion, giving them a false sense of security and happiness - if you can call it that." She noticed that he was having trouble following her, so she changed tack.

"About 200 years ago - we think - humanity created artificial intelligence, or AI. There was a war, and we lost. As a result, we became slaves of the AI, and in order to keep us suppressed, they created a virtual reality that everyone is plugged into. This is the Matrix, a virtual world designed to keep the truth from everyone, and make them think that everything is normal. The AI have representatives of themselves inside this Matrix, and they are called Agents. They can take over anyone who is plugged into the Matrix and use their bodies - well, the virtual representation of their bodies."

Diamond was pleased to see that he seemed to be understanding her, and she continued.

"The reason you have all those plugs in your body is because you've been removed from the Matrix. You're free now. It's those plugs which kept you linked into it, and also fed you. It's also why you don't have the body that you probably remember, because this body has done nothing, and is relatively wasted and weak. You'll need training to get your strength back, and also to fight inside the Matrix."

Snake frowned. "Fight inside it? What do you mean?"

Diamond smiled. "This is the exciting part... I don't know what you used to do inside the Matrix, but now that you're free, you're a freedom fighter. You're to help fight for the freedom of humanity." She stopped and listened. She could hear voices approaching. "I have to go now - good luck. Maybe I'll see you again soon." With that, she left the room, leaving Snake alone with his thoughts.

He went back to sleep.

Agent Smith looked up as the door opened.  Agent Grey entered and stood in front of him. After a moment of silence, Black impatiently said, "Well? What have you found?"

"I have traced the individual. He is no longer present and must have been removed. It was only recent."

Smith grimaced and said angrily, "How... could he have been in the system and yet not have been... observed by us! HOW could this individual... remain undetected by us, even in direct combat!" Grey took a step backwards, avoiding Smith's anger and saying nothing. Agent Smith turned and looked out of the window at the city outside. "This man... 'killed' me... three times. That should have been impossible!  And he was still INSIDE of the Matrix! What do we know of him?"

"Our records indicate that his name is Martin Kelly, and he has an alias of Snake. He has been in the military, serving as a Black Ops specialist. Everything was normal until nearly 3 years ago. It seems that whenever he went on a mission, his presence was invisible to us, and therefore does not show up in the records of his activities within the Matrix. It happened only on some missions, but he seemed to be getting better at it, with it happening on every mission from 16 months ago. Eight months ago, we caught an individual running internet traces on Morpheus. We took him in for questioning and found out that he was working for Martin Kelly. He had already given some of this information to Mr Kelly. We went to get Mr Kelly as well, but were unable to locate him. It seems that he has been masked completely from us since that time. And now... he has been taken by the rebels."

Smith noticed the tone of Grey's voice, and turned to look at him. "What are you implying?"

Grey looked back at him before replying. "Why wasn't this information discovered sooner? You were in charge of this city at that time. The information should have come to your attention."

Smith felt anger building up inside of himself, and fought to control the human-like emotion.  Ignoring the other Agent, he turned back to the window, and Agent Grey left the room. As Smith looked down upon the people on the streets, he muttered to himself, "Who are you, Mr Kelly? An invisible man... a very dangerous man. I wonder if your... ability... will help you now that you are out..."


Ersatz jumped, cursing himself for sleeping. He turned quickly, seeing a man he didn't quite recognize. "May you?" Realization hit him like a freight train. "Snake! Holy shit! Gees, man, I'm so sorry! We've been...busy!"

Snake glanced around, looking a little dazed, like he'd just woken up. Ersatz approached him warily. " do you feel?"

"A little confused."

He was taking this better than Ersatz had suspected he would. "I trust Diamond told you everything?" Snake nodded. "Great. Ready for training?"

Snake blinked. "What?"

"You think you can just run 'round the Matrix with no training? Well, you can, but not for long. Have a seat." Motioning to one of the unoccupied chairs, Ersatz caught Snake eyeing Blitz and Lucas's prone forms. "Oh, introduction will be short with these two. Blitz," he said, pointing to the young woman. "and Backslash. They're...busy."

"Anyone *not* busy...?" He heard Snake mutter as he climbed into the chair, but didn't respond, closing the clamps over his feet.

"Ok, this is a plug. It goes in the little socket on your head." Holding up the jack, Ersatz smiled unconsciously as Snake swallowed hard. "Relax, it'll just feel a little weird."

"Uh..." Not giving Snake a chance to change his mind, Ersatz pushed the plug in, and Snake stiffened. "SHIT!"

After a moment, he relaxed, and Ersatz smiled. "Ok?"

"Define 'ok'."

"Great, let's get started."

Returning to the operator's chair, Ersatz pulled out a small disk. "Ever take Jujitsu?"

"A while ago."

"Time for a refresher." Ersatz shoved the disk in and uploaded it, monitoring Snake carefully; he was receiving the data well. Maybe Snake wouldn't have too much trouble adjusting.

Snake's eyes flew open, and he exhaled loudly. "Whoa!!"

Ersatz grinned. "Cool, huh?" Stepping out of the chair, Ersatz prepared himself to go in, with a little help from Crash, who offered too keep watch while he and Snake had some fun.

"See you in the construct!"


Ersatz smiled at Snake, who looked around in confusion. "What the..."

"This is the construct. It's used for the training of potentials, the newly freed, such as yourself." Ersatz moved into a defensive stance, smirking.

"Bring it on."

Snake looked at Ersatz, and looked at himself. He was back to normal, as he remembered himself to be - but he was dressed in a martial arts suit. He felt for the plugs in his arms, and they weren't there. Suddenly the wind was knocked out of him as Ersatz kicked him in the stomach. He doubled over, kneeling on the floor, trying to get the air back into his lungs. He could see Sabre's legs in front of him. Managing to regain his breath, he began to stand up. "What are you - " his question was cut off as Ersatz began a series of punching manoeuvres, but this time Snake was prepared. Knowing he wasn't in a defensive position, he threw himself backwards and somersaulted across the floor away from Ersatz.

Coming up into a defensive posture, he looked at Ersatz, who was smiling at him. "So you want to get hurt, little man?" Ersatz only grinned some more, and motioned for Snake to attack. Snake smiled back at him and said, "Where I come from, loser goes first," and he stepped back.

Ersatz threw himself into a diving attack, rolling and coming up for a powerful punch to Snake's midsection - but Snake wasn't there! Suddenly, he felt the sharp pain of a foot landing heavily in his kidneys, throwing him forward onto his face. Looking around, he saw Snake standing back, and realised that Snake must've leapt over him as he dove forwards, thus catching him by surprise.

Ersatz picked himself up, grinning uncontrollably. Ah, to be training again...! Such joys were hard to come by since he left Zion.

"Not bad," he admitted, smirking. "Again."

This time, Snake decided to attack, and a split-second before he connected, Ersatz leapt vertically, fifteen feet in the air, before performing a forwards somersault and landing right behind him. Whipping around just as Snake did, he buried his shin in Snake's stomach, sending him flying back onto the floor. Leaping to his feet, Snake's face showed complete astonishment. "How-?"

"How did I jump like that?" Ersatz smiled. "You must remember, this is a computer game. Rules can be avoided, bent, or broken. Fundamental rules like gravity, as I just showed you. Got it?"

"Yeah, sure." With that, Snake whirled around in a round house kick, flying towards Ersatz, who barely ducked as Snake's foot went flying over his head. Watching where he landed, Ersatz flung out his foot to trip him, which Snake avoided well.

"Good!" Ersatz approved, stepping back to collect himself. He noticed Snake regarding him somewhat strangely. "Something wrong?"

"You're not out of breath..."

"I'm not breathing air."

Snake blinked.

Ersatz shook his head. "Don't worry about it. Come on," he challenged, holding out his hands and motioning for Snake to advance.

Snake stepped backwards, into a non-combat stance. "Stop." After seeing Ersatz relax, he spoke again. "This is ridiculous. I need some answers here, and kicking the shit out of each other isn't helping anything. So what if we can fight? I'm sure you know that knowledge is far more powerful than combat skills - they're the backup for when the shit hits the fan. What I want to know is, what does the fan look like, and who's the shit?" He smiled at his little joke, and waited for Ersatz to reply.

"Ok, what do you want to know in particular?"

"Well, for a start, let's go back to what Diamond explained to me, about humanity being slaves. What I don't understand is - why are humans slaves? What's the point if all we do is lay there doing nothing, except dream about this virtual reality we're all hooked into? Slaves usually serve some purpose, otherwise there's no point in having them."

Ersatz looked at him, nodding. "My man, you've only been told MOST of the story. The reason humans are slaves is because a body's energy is tapped by the Matrix, and it uses that energy as a power source. The earth's resources are nonexistent now, and the sun is blocked by a continual cloud cover. Humans are batteries now... that's our purpose. We provide energy for the AI."

Snake frowned. Ersatz looked at him; this was where people usually went into denial, and he wondered if Snake would be the same.

Looking at Ersatz, Snake spoke, "And so now I'm some kind of freedom fighter?" Ersatz nodded. "Well, it all makes sense, I guess." Ersatz raised his eyebrows in surprise, and Snake continued. "I mean, in relation to what I've seen. But... what's with those people that I saw who disappeared into telephones?"

Ersatz was surprised. "You saw that? When?"

"About 8 months ago. A group of people who seemed to be led by a bald, black man."

"Morpheus? You saw Morpheus? Wow, man... you were pretty lucky." Ersatz looked away, reflecting on the past. "Morpheus is one of our greatest leaders. He found the one..."

Snake waited, but Ersatz seemed lost in thought. "The one... what?"

Ersatz looked back at Snake. "The ONE. Neo. The saviour of humanity. Supposedly..." He frowned as he finished.

"What do you mean, 'supposedly'?"

"Well, Neo was found by Morpheus, who believed that Neo would save humanity from the AI. At first, it seemed to be true. Neo managed to save Morpheus from the Agents, after Morpheus had been captured by them. He also fought one of the Agents and not only survived - which no one else had done - but also destroyed that Agent. Neo had the ability to manipulate the Matrix. But twice now, he's been controlled by the Agents and has done far more harm than good to our cause. He's killed more of us than the Agents probably have, including potentials, and the Oracle." He stopped, anger obvious on his face. He took a deep breath before continuing. "Morpheus still think he's 'The One'. But not many people trust Neo now..."

"I can understand why..." said Snake. "But... what are 'potentials'... and... Oracle?"

Ersatz sighed. "Potentials are those people in the Matrix who begin to question reality. They feel that there's something wrong, but they don't know what it is. That's when we try to find them, to bring them out. Some of them have even been able to manipulate the Matrix - to some extent. I'm not sure why Morpheus still thinks that Neo is the One..." He lapsed into silence, and had to be reminded by Snake to continue. "The Oracle... well, she was psychic, that's for sure. She could see the future of those who came before her. She was very old... maybe as old as the Matrix itself. Neo killed her." He shook his head, as if to clear it of bad memories or feelings.

"Ok, let's get back to this... construct. What is it, and how the hell did you jump straight up like that?"

Ersatz looked up and smiled. "The construct is like the Matrix - it's a programmed environment that you exist in. When you sat in the chair and jacked in, your mind was linked up to this program. Here, nothing is real - except for what your mind makes real, or believes is real. Once you understand what that means, it allows you to not only be PART of the Matrix, but also to use it to your advantage. When nothing is real except for what you make real, then anything is possible. Including jumping like that - and more. Basically, your mind, by being part of the program, can also RE-PROGRAM the program - to your advantage. You're not breathing air here... you can't get out of breath, and you don't need to be limited by your expectations of what you believe reality is. This is different."

He finished, noticing that Snake was looking at the floor, deep in thought. "Shall we try again?"

Snake looked up, and smiled. "Alright, let's play."

Grinning, Ersatz went over to the wall and picked up a long staff, feeling the smooth, light wood in his hands. Turning around, he tossed it to Snake, who caught it, confused.

"Ever play with one of these?" Snake shook his head. "Well, you will today." Looking up, Ersatz said, "Crash, can you teach our fine young man here some quarter-staff skills?"

Snake regarded him strangely. "She can hear you?"

Ersatz nodded, and was about to respond when Snake's eyes screwed shut, and he grimaced slightly. A moment later, his eyes flew open, and he gasped. "That wasn't half as bad as before..."

"You get used to it quick." Backing into a defensive stance, Ersatz grinned. "Ready?"

Snake twirled the staff like a baton. "As ever."  Twirling the staff, he was amazed that he now knew how to use it like a master. In a brief flurry of attacks, he and Ersatz moved around the room, dodging and weaving and feinting. Both of them seemed unable to get past each other's defences, and they paused. Snake smiled, "You got the same download as me, huh?" He grinned at Ersatz, who chuckled. Suddenly Snake threw his staff into the air - "Here, catch!" Ersatz glanced up at the staff and then realised his error as he quickly attempted to dodge Snake's flying snap kick. Throwing himself sideways, he nimbly evaded Snake's attack, and then had to jump over a leg sweep. As he brought his staff down on Snake, he missed as the man threw himself into a dive and grabbed his staff as it came down. Coming up from the dive, Snake turned and jabbed down at Sabre's foot. Ersatz nimbly leapt backwards and was rewarded by a solid kick in the head as Snake used the staff like a pole-vault as it hit the ground, and launched himself at Sabre's head.

Shaking his head, Ersatz realised he was face down on the floor. Getting to his feet, he looked for Snake and saw him about 5 yards away, standing with the staff resting on the floor. Snake was grinning, and then he bowed at Ersatz, saying, "Did I win?" Ersatz laughed.

"Let's go jumping... Crash? Jump program."

Snake realised he was standing on the roof of a building. Stepping backwards in surprise, he looked around. "Wow."

Ersatz looked at him and said, "Remember - nothing is real except for what you believe. If you believe you can do it - you can. And I know you can." With that, he leapt straight up into the air. Snake watched him 'fly' through the air, and land on the roof of the opposite building.

"Jesus." Snake looked at Ersatz, standing about 60 yards away. Shaking his head, he whispered to himself, "It's not real. I can do this. It's just a program." He took a running jump and leapt off the building - and screamed all the way to to the bottom!

When Snake woke from being jacked in to the construct, he found that he ached all over. His arm was bruised, and his lip was bleeding. Looking over at Ersatz, he asked, "How can this happen if we are in a virtual reality?"

Ersatz smiled as he remembered the words of someone else. "Your mind makes it real... If you think you're being injured, then you are."

Climbing out of the chair, Snake asked, "So if you believe you're immortal, then you are?"

Ersatz shot a surprised glance at Snake. "Yeh, I suppose so. But only Neo has been able to disbelieve his own death..."

"You mean he was killed in the Matrix but refused to believe it, and survived?"

"Yep, that's right."

"Well, I don't see what the big deal is," said Snake. "If you believe that nothing is real except for what you decide is real... well, I can see a few interesting possibilities." He looked at the chair he'd just left, and then back to Ersatz. "Do you mind if I go back in? I'd like to experiment a little..."

"Be my guest. But what are you thinking of?" Ersatz asked, as he strapped Snake in again.

As Snake laid his head back, allowing himself to be plugged in again, he said, "I want to be Superman." He smiled and closed his eyes, waiting for Ersatz to load the construct.

Hesitating, Ersatz thought about what Snake was saying. "Look man, it's dangerous to get feelings of grandeur..."

"Why?" said Snake, opening his eyes. "You told me that you can re- program it according to your will, right?"

Ersatz looked uncomfortable, "Well, yeh... but..."

"But what? You also told me that there have been potentials with psychic abilities, able to manipulate the Matrix. And Neo disbelieved his own death and continued living? It sounds to me as if anyone can do it - if they believe they can. And isn't that what it's all about? I believe that I can do anything anyone else can - and more. I've been living my entire life to that belief..." He paused, thinking back on his life. None of it was real - and yet, it WAS real. He had skills and experiences which made him into who he was. If anything was real, ultimately it was a person's PERCEPTION of reality and what they learnt from it, regardless of how real that reality was.

Ersatz looked at him, thinking about what he said. "So what makes you think you can be Superman?"

"Tell me why I can't."

"Only Neo has the power - "

"Bullshit. Others do too. Only Neo has developed his belief beyond anyone else. What if..." Snake thought for a moment, before continuing. "You said that he's done more harm than good. What if his role as being the saviour is only to show everyone else what they're capable of?"

"I thought you were just a soldier? You sound more like a philosopher to me... you sound more like Morpheus..." Ersatz smiled at the thought of someone sounding just like Morpheus.

"I was never just a soldier... I was one of the best combat specialists in the world. I learnt very quickly to take what was taught to me, and exceed it. Never accept something as being a given - always look for something beyond what you've learnt." He looked hard at Ersatz. "You teach, but you don't learn. Why do you teach others not to limit their beliefs, and yet you limit your own?" Snake closed his eyes again. "Plug me in. Give me a... Buddhist temple."

As he waited for Ersatz to do so, he thought about the teachings of his Buddhist master, so many years ago in Cambodia. Maybe they knew what the Matrix was, without realising what it REALLY was. Reality is an illusion, and all that... He smiled to himself. Going back to Buddhism seemed to be a perfect way of practicing the arts of surviving and manipulating illusions...

Ersatz sighed, folding his arms over his chest as he watched Snake's vitals. The guy had guts, that was for sure, and the mind to go with it.

He'd never encountered this philosophy before; it seemed logical, but at the same time, he wasn't sure if it would work. It was certainly something that should be explored. Ersatz wondered why no one had imagined this before. To have a whole army of Neo's - again, it seemed improbable, but Snake's simple explanation still made perfect sense.

Snake could hear the birds singing, and the sound of a stream somewhere nearby. He could feel the breeze on his face. His eyes were closed, and he could feel the mat underneath him on which he was sitting. In his head were various quotes that he remembered from his Buddhist teacher, who quoted Buddha extensively, with one of them being most prominent.

"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world."

'What do I think I am,' he thought to himself. 'I am a soldier. My world is dark and dangerous.' He realised that he wasn't happy with that - he never was. He remembered something else his master had quoted:

"What man sees are like seeds sown in the heart. Evil scenes give rise to evil thoughts. Good scenes evoke good thoughts. When sacred seeds are implanted in the heart there will be no room for bad feelings or thoughts to grow in the heart."

Back when he first heard it, he never understood it. He was a soldier, and violence had to be met with violence - he had a necessary evil to perform, for the good of his country and the people in it - but that didn't make him evil. Did it? The words of Buddha were meaningless rubbish then. But now, reflecting on subtle meanings, he felt something different.

Everything that he had done, that he had believed in... all of it was wasted. Nothing had been achieved, and nothing had really been done at all. It was all in his mind. And now he wasn't sure if he had even chosen it all... What if everything he had done was part of the program? Had he been programmed to do all of that...? He shook his head. That wasn't where he wanted to go with his train of thought - that way led nowhere.

The subtle meanings... they meant something. And they meant more now than ever before. Because now was real. This wasn't an illusion. Everything he did now was completely his choice - he was out of the Matrix.

There was no one to kill. There was no government to support, and no country to uphold. There was only an inhuman machine intelligence to fight, in order to free the slaves that were his fellow men and women.

Snake opened his eyes and looked out over the temple garden. He knew what he had to do now. Now his reality could mean something, and much more than he ever thought possible.

"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world."

He thought about that for a while. Striving to achieve the freeing of humanity wouldn't be achieved through violence - from all accounts, the Agents would most likely win. Being an intelligent computer program, it could rebuild and reprogram itself and even create more Agents. It was a useless struggle. It would take something else. But what? How do you defeat a program?

Smiling at the absurdity of his inner conversation, he reflected on his meagre knowledge of computers. He couldn't even BEGIN to imagine how to defeat an intelligent computer program!

He sighed. But he knew what he COULD do. And this wasn't the way. Looking up, he spoke to the sky. "Ersatz? Crash? I've finished now. Er... could you let me out?"

Everything went black, and Snake opened his eyes to see Ersatz bending over him, removing the jack from the back of his skull.

"Ersatz... tell me how I can be of best use here. And... how do I get to meet Neo?"

To be continued...

2001 Alan Howard