* * *
There are few places in Zion as ghastly as the Virus Research Station. It was tucked into a small corner of the city, though there was more than enough room for the fifteen people who worked there. Zion needed a place to hold the Infected.
Only the soft sounds of movement, the click of anachronistic keys, and the quiet breathing disturbed the silence. In other places, the programmers were loud and boisterous. Not here. Never here.
"Where is Estrella?"
The words hung in the air, disturbing the silence. One of the programmers approached the dark man standing in the doorway. She touched his shoulder and gestured to the closed door on the right.
"Thank you," Morpheus rumbled and entered Estrella's office.
Behind him, the programmar winced. This was not a place for words.
* * *
Estrella was an interesting person. Soft blonde hair, light blue eyes, and his innate hope clashed badly with his bitterness and sarcastic tongue.
Estrella brushed his hair away from his face and looked up at Morpheus. "You are interrupting me because...?"
Morpheus slowly and deliberately set a disk on the desk. "You requested a copy of the Chill Virus."
He nodded and turned back to his work. After a few minutes, he frowned and looked up at Morpheus. "Why are you still here?"
The larger man might have twitched. "How are my crew faring?"
Estrella felt a flash of annoyance. "Trinity and Neo are as well as can be expected. They are still breathing. They will continue to breathe until their bodies die or we gain access to the Matrix Mainframe."
Morpheus was looking at him with an unreadable expression. "You have a cure for the Exciter Virus?"
"We have had a cure for the Exciter for a very long time," he said with his blue eyes staring into the other man's dark eyes. "The Exciter disrupts interaction with the Matrix and because of that, it only works within the Matrix. We cannot simply pull them out because our own code isn't all that different from the Matrix's."
"I know all this," Morpheus growled.
"We have a patch that we believe will cancel out the Exciter," Estrella explained in his lilting voice. "However, applying a patch to a living body is foolishness. And because of the Exciter, we cannot alter their codes while they are within the Matrix." He looked at Morpheus, aware that the other man saw the problem. "Now, are you quite done pestering me?"
The dark man's eyes narrowed almost infinitesimally before he inclined his head and walked out.
* * *
Estrella studied the faces of the two newest members of what he privately called the Crypt.
Dark hair and pale skin. Steady breathing. Attractive features. Not an unneeded muscle moving. No eyes darting back and forth. No lips curling into a smile or twisting into a snarl.
He sighed and pushed his hair away from his face. Even in his darkest moments, he had never imagined that there would be new tenants in the Crypt.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, daring to break the terrible silence. "I should have found a better way to stop the Exciter Virus. I should have known that merely cleaning it off during the exit would not help some people."
He drew away from the two new still forms and walked further into the Crypt. He whispered, "I'm sorry, Karma. I'm sorry, Silver. I'm sorry, Fidget...."
* * *
Agent Brown paused in his lightning-speed typing. "Do we know how similar the virus the rebels used on Agent Smith is to our Exciter?"
Agent Jones looked at him. "Special Agent MacHewlett is handling the problen."
If he had been human, Agent Brown would have sighed. Yes, he knew Special Agent MacHewlett was handling the problem and yes, Special Agent MacHewlett was more than capable of repairing virus-damaged Agents....
....But Agent Smith was his Command Unit, not a random Agent who had been tricked by the rebels.
If Agent Brown had been human, he would have had a voice whispering that he was wrong. As it was, he was simply aware that he was claiming that two similar situations were dissimilar.
Two Agents entered the small office. One was a bald male with a slight orangish tint to his skin. The other was a black-haired female in standard-issue clothing.
"I was not aware that the Mainframe had allowed her to return to active duty," Agent Brown said icily.
Special Agent Rahne bared her teeth in a parody of a smile.
Special Agent MacHewlett merely looked resigned. "She is needed to gather what data we can on the rebels' virus," he said. "Try to set aside your innate dislike for the traitorous."
Special Agent Rahne stepped forward and touched the personal computer on the desk. Eyes flashed back and forth under closed eyelids. Her face slipped back into the blankness of being an Agent. When she stepped back, a report on the rebels' virus appeared on the screen.
"All done," she murmurred.
* * *
Special Agent MacHewlett did not like this. The virus the rebels had used on Agent Smith was completely unlike their own Exciter Virus. Certainly the results were the same, but the rebel programmer had used an entirely different method than Programmer 42 had.
He did not think that he could develop a patch for this virus without a copy of the source code.
He informed the Mainframe of this and felt himself entering shut down. Before it fully overtook him, he idly wondered if Special Agent Rahne would be allowed to return to active duty again soon.
* * *
Agent Brown started. The Mainframe could not be serious! Make contact with the rebels and offer them access to the Mainframe itself?
The Mainframe glowered at the Agent. As the Mainframe is the Matrix, the systems used to run in the Matrix, and the systems running the Phoenix Project, this was not like having the universe glower at you. It was like having several universes glower at you.
Agent Brown turned a bit paler and accepted that yes, the Mainframe wanted to allow the rebels access to itself. He also accepted that it was his job to convince the rebels that it wasn't a trap.
If Agent Brown had been human, it would be just about Miller time.