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Title: Breaking the Barrier - Chapter 2 Author: Raúl Bonilla

“This must be The Matrix,” the old potential told himself while looking around the Marathon’s main deck. He felt amused, despite the fact the Marathon was under attack, because he thought his mind was involved in a computer simulation. Midas, the Marathon’s captain, didn’t share the old potential’s excitement.

This was supposed to be a routine flight for the Marathon; a small hovercraft used to transport supplies between Zion and a handful of outposts. In all its years of service, the Marathon had never encountered a sentinel. That changed a few days ago, when the Marathon visited outpost Omaha. Loop, the pilot, got no response from the control tower, but Midas told him to continue through the entrance tunnel. Once the Marathon reached the gates, the crew saw the outpost overrun by sentinels.

“Turn around,” Midas ordered Loop. “Turn around now!”

“People are dying down there!”

“This is not a full-fledged combat ship, Loop. If we get in there, we’ll die too!”

Loop turned the Marathon around and the ship flew away. He remembered with bitterness when he used to be a top combat pilot aboard the Prowler. Then, a sentinel took away his eye… “Battle stations!” Midas ordered and Loop was slapped back to reality. He glanced at the radar: the sentinels were chasing the Marathon. Sirius and Recoil took position at the turrets.

“It’s like a million of them!” Recoil exclaimed.

“All that practice will finally pay off,” Sirius replied.

The rain of bullets fired from the Marathon drilled a hole into the approaching column of sentinels. The carcasses of destroyed sentinels rolled down the entrance tunnel and they dragged along other sentinels as well.

“They are dropping like flies!” Recoil celebrated.

“Another round of needles,” Sirius said, “and the column will collapse into itself.”

“They’re breaking formation.”

“Go home and cry to your mamma, squids!”

“They’re regrouping.”

“What the…?”

“They’re forming two smaller columns.”

“That won’t save them from the Needle Man.”

“The columns are spiraling around each other. Our bullets pass right through them!”

“Keep firing, Recoil.”

“They’re closing in. What are we going to do?”

“The exit is not far away. Keep firing!”

The Marathon exited the tunnel and the ship returned to the sewer, followed closely by the sentinels, who regrouped back into a single column.

“Can’t we go faster?” Midas asked Loop.

“We need to lose the cargo.”

Midas said to Magik: “Come with me.” Magik followed him to the cargo bay on the back of the Marathon. They put on the safety harnesses and Midas opened the cargo bay door. There were so many sentinels outside and they were so close to the Marathon, neither Midas nor Magik could see what was behind them.

While Midas and Magik released the cargo safety locks, the sentinel heading the column (Delta-Omega) extended his tentacles toward the edge of the cargo bay door. Just a little bit further… and Delta-Omega grabbed it.

“Push it,” Midas ordered Magik, referring to a set of crates.

“I’m pushing.”

“Push it harder!”

“It’s stuck.”

Midas walked around the set of crates and he saw Delta-Omega holding it off. With a quick movement, Delta-Omega jumped on the set of crates and he attacked Midas and Magik.

“Look out!”

In the cockpit, Loop saw in the distance what he was looking for: a fissure at the bottom of the sewer. He spotted it on a previous trip and he thought it could be a good hideout, if they ever needed one.

“Captain, I got a plan,” Loop said over the intercom. “Captain, can you hear me?”

There was no response.

“Does anybody know if the Captain’s still on the cargo bay?”

“No,” Sirius replied.

“All I can see from down here,” Recoil replied, “is that the cargo bay door is still open.”

“Damn!” Loop exclaimed.

“What’s on your mind, Loop?” Recoil asked.

“Go to the generator and when I gave you the signal, turn off the power.”

“I don’t know, man. I’m not supposed to leave my position.”

“Do what he says,” Sirius intervened. “I’ll hold them off.”

“On my way.”

At the cargo bay, Midas delivered a blow with the axe against Delta-Omega’s head and he destroyed one of Delta-Omega’s eyes. Delta-Omega slapped Midas away and he removed the axe from his own eyeball. Before Midas could get himself together, Delta-Omega attacked him with the axe.

“Ready!” Recoil said over the intercom from the generator room.

“Everybody, hold on tight!”

Loop’s evasive maneuver began with tilting the Marathon’s nose ninety degrees upwards. The maneuver pushed Delta-Omega outside the Marathon before he could severe Midas’ head. Delta-Omega grabbed the edge of the cargo bay door and he attempted to get back inside. Magik picked up the axe and she cut off Delta-Omega’s tentacle, and he fell off the Marathon.

The safety locks on the other sets of crates gave up and the rest of the cargo flew through the cargo bay door. The sentinels slapped the crates away and this produced a pyrotechnic show of food packages, first aid kits, tools, clothes, and toys. Midas noticed how high they were flying and he wondered: “What’s Loop doing?” He didn’t notice his safety harness had began to tear itself apart.

The Marathon made a sharp turn toward the bottom of the sewer. The maneuver pushed Midas and Magik in one direction and then toward the cargo bay door. Midas’ harness tore itself further apart. The sentinels divided themselves into smaller columns to turn around and they regrouped.

“Loop, stop messing around and get us out of here!” Midas screamed into the intercom.

“I got a plan, Captain.”

“This isn’t time to play the hero!”

“We can’t outrun the sentinels, but we can fool them.”

“What are you…?”

The Marathon made another sharp turn as it reached the bottom of the sewer and the ship continued to fly parallel to the ground. The maneuver pushed Midas and Magik, again, in one direction and then toward the cargo bay door. With the last push, Midas’ harness tore itself completely and the air pressure sucked him out of the Marathon. Magik, whose harness was intact, jumped outside and she grabbed Midas by the hand.

She extended the other hand to Midas, but he couldn’t reach it. Delta-Omega threw his tentacles at Midas and Midas kicked them off. The struggle made it difficult for Magik to keep holding Midas. Their hands began to slip apart.

“Wait for my signal, Recoil,” Loop said.

“Standing by.”

The column of sentinels opened its front like a mouth and it began to swallow the Marathon.

“Now!”

Recoil turned off the generator and the Marathon fell to the ground. The ship swept through the sewage and it crashed into the fissure. The column of sentinels passed over the fissure, unable to detect the Marathon any longer.

“Oh the humanity!” Magik exclaimed. She hanged from the safety harness.

“Are you OK?” Midas asked Magik from the cargo safety net, where he landed during the crash.

“I can’t stand the smell!”

“The door’s override panel is over there.”

“Let me help you first.”

“I’m fine. Shut the door. The smell is killing me too.”

Loop entered the cargo bay and the very first thing he said was: “Are you all right, Magik?”

“I’m fine. Help the Captain.”

Loop rushed to help Midas untangle from the net. Sirius entered the cargo bay with a long face.

“How are you, Needle Man?” Midas asked Sirius.

“Sir, I got a couple of bad news and I don’t know which one is worse.”

“Pick one.”

“The EMP charge got damaged beyond repair.”

“Is that what Recoil said to you?”

“No, Sir. He didn’t make it. That’s the other thing.”

“This is all my fault!”

“Don’t blame yourself, Captain,” Loop said.

A nearby explosion rocked the Marathon and it pushed Loop and Sirius to the ground. Magik tried to help them, but another explosion made her fall too. Midas rushed to help Magik and Loop. He helped Sirius on his way back to the cockpit, followed by the rest of the crew. Once inside the cockpit, they saw the sentinels into a sphere-like formation and they were launching bombs in every direction.

“Are they doing what I think they’re doing?” Sirius asked.

“The sentinels are trying to lure us out!” Midas replied.

“Or seal us in,” Loop added.

“Don’t they know what’s going to happen if they keep bombing this place?” Magik asked.

“I don’t think they care,” Midas replied.

A bomb exploded right next to the fissure and the Marathon sank further into the sewage. “We can’t stay here,” Midas said. “Needle Man, restore the power. Loop, take off as soon as possible.” When the Marathon hovered out of the fissure, the sentinels turned around and they launched the bombs against the ship.

“The controls don’t respond!” Loop exclaimed.

“What?” Midas asked.

“The controls don’t respond!”

Desperate, Midas kicked the control board.

“Stop it, Captain!” Loop said. “You’re making things worse.”

“How can things get any worse?”

As the bombs whistled through the air toward the Marathon, Delta-Omega’s eyes glowed with rejoice. In the cockpit, Magik sunk her face into her hands and she, accidentally, touched with her elbow a set of wires exposed after Midas kicked the board. The wires touched a circuit and all the controls on the board lightened up again with a spark. Hearing the spark, Midas and Loop stopped fighting.

The bombs’ explosion lightened up the sewer with a dazzling flash and the sentinels shared a signal of congratulation. They didn’t notice the fissure extending through the ground and crawling over the walls, until it reached the ceiling. When the sentinels tried to escape, the entire section of the sewer collapsed over them.

The Marathon emerged from the ball of fire and the ship passed through the sentinels and the tons of rock, concrete, and metal pouring down. After the ordeal, the sentinels emerged from the debris with half their force destroyed. The only thing that could have comforted the sentinels—the remains of the Marathon—was nowhere to be found. That gave them a terrible thirst for the blood of the Marathon crew.

The Marathon managed to repel the sentinels for the next couple of days, but in the process the ship was pushed farther away from Zion. On the third day, Midas gathered the crew in the machine room and he told them: “This is the end of the road. We won’t resist another attack.”

“What are we going to do, Sir?” Sirius asked.

“I’m sending one of you into The Matrix to get help.”

“We’ll have to come out to the surface, Captain” Loop pointed out.

“I know.”

“The sentinels will be all over us, Sir” Sirius added.

“I know that too.”

“Who’s going to be the lucky guy, Captain?” Loop asked.

“Magik.”

“Me?”

“No, Captain. Send me.”

“I need you in here, Loop.”

“Then send me instead, Sir.”

“I need you in here too, Needle Man.”

“Magik has no experience, Captain!” Loop replied.

“We have no choice.”

“There must be something else we can do!”

“Listen to me, Loop. We have no choice.”

“Sirius is a good gunner. He can take down the few sentinels left.”

“Loop’s right, Sir,” Sirius said. “The Needle Man can do it.”

“One sentinel is all it takes to destroy this ship—just one.”

Neither Loop nor Sirius knew what to say. Magik words broke the silence.

“I’ll do it,” she said.

Midas and Magik exchanged looks.

“You’re a brave soldier, Magik,” he said.

“I’m just following the example of my superior.”

The surface was a gloomy place. The sky was a confusing mass of never-ending clouds. The horizon, a layer of darkness between heaven and earth, cracked by the eventual burst of lighting bolts. Below, a rocky graveyard of debris and corpses made up the ground. A restless wind, impregnated with ashes, howled across the landscape. For the Marathon crew, it was their first visit to the surface and they all found it to be more appalling than the underground.

“Any signs of the sentinels?” Midas asked Loop.

“None, Captain.”

“Do you see anything, Needle Man?” Midas asked through the intercom.

“Nothing, Sir,” Sirius replied from the upper turret.

“This is too good to be true,” Midas said.

“Recoil visited the surface once,” Loop said. “He told me everything’s different around here.”

“This is just the calm before the storm,” Midas replied. “We better use it for our advantage.”

The Marathon landed among the ruins of a city. Loop took position at the operator’s station and Magik sat on the Marathon’s only ectoskeleton chair.

“Good luck,” Midas said to Magik and he plugged her into The Matrix.

“This is not The Matrix,” Loop said.

“What do you mean?” Midas asked.

“It’s some sort of spaceship.”

“What?”

“Hey, where did she go?”

“You lost her signal?”

“I lost The Matrix!”

Midas checked Magik’s vital signs.

“Everything’s fine over here. Check the console.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the console, Captain.”

“Let me see.”

Midas couldn’t believe what he saw on the console.

“Recoil was right,” Midas said after a pause. “Everything’s different on the surface.”

The beep of an incoming transmission came in from the cockpit. “I’ll get that,” Midas said to Loop. “You stay here and find Magik.” Midas returned to the main deck a few moments later and he found Sirius besides Loop.

“The machines are drilling a hole to get into Zion,” Midas said to them. “The high command is calling back every ship on the fleet.”

“How long before they reach the city, Captain?” Loop asked.

“They didn’t tell.”

“What do they say about us, Sir?” Sirius asked.

“Nothing. It was a recorded message.”

“Then there’s no one left on The Matrix to help us,” Loop said.

“Our main concern now is returning to Zion,” Midas said.

“On this conditions, Sir?”

“Last time I checked, Needle Man, the Marathon is still a part of the fleet.”

“Sorry, Sir.”

“We can’t leave Magik behind, Captain,” Loop complained.

“I know you got feelings for her, but…”

“What’s that?” Sirius interrupted and he pointed at the console.

“The Matrix or whatever it has evolved into,” Loop replied. “There’s Magik!”

“Who’s the other guy?” Sirius asked.

“You mean what’s the other guy,” Midas replied. “He doesn’t look like a slave, but I’m sure he’s not a program.”

“I’m going to call her,” Loop said.

While Loop talked to Magik, Midas said to Sirius: “We’re all worried about Magik, Needle Man, but I need you on the turret.” Sirius replied: “Sir!” and he returned to the upper turret. Loop finished his conversation with Magik. Midas asked him: “What did she say?”

“She says the other guy is an old potential who’s helping her out. She wanted us to pick him before returning home. I told her we can’t do it, because of the invasion, and I promise her I’ll call her back once I find a phone.”

“You better hurry. With The Matrix working again, the sentinels will be here in no time.”

“I’ll… Hold on, the Marathon is detecting a phone line and Magik is nearby.”

Loop made the call.

“Is that an agent?” Midas asked.

“I don’t know. They’re moving too fast. Now they’re moving too slowly. Yes, it’s an agent. Magik is saying something to the old potential. He… Huh? No way!”

“What happened?”

“The old potential picked up the call.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m positive, Captain. The old potential picked up the call.” He pointed at Magik and he said: “That isn’t Magik. That’s the old potential, wearing Magik’s body.”

“Who are you?” the old potential asked. “What is happening in here?”

“Wait a minute,” Loop said. “Maybe if we plug him back into The Matrix, he and Magik could switch back.”

The alarm sounded and Midas said: “Sentinels! We must go!”

“What about Magik, Captain?”

“Pray she won’t suffer when the agent kills her.”

The Marathon took off with the sentinels in pursuit. Sirius shot at the bombs and they bounced back to the sentinels. The sentinels broke formation to let the bombs pass them by, but the bombs detonated before time and they blew on the faces of the sentinels.

“That one is for you, Recoil!” Sirius exclaimed.

The old potential looked around the Marathon’s main deck and he told himself: “This must be The Matrix.” He sat on the cockpit with a smile on his face.

“What are you so happy about?” Midas asked him.

“This feels so real.”

“This is real!”

“Sir, requesting permission for a one-eighty!” Sirius asked through the intercom.

“Do it,” Midas ordered Loop.

The Marathon turned upside down and Sirius “stitched” a sentinel approaching outside the upper turret’s range. In the cockpit, the old potential, who wasn’t wearing his seat belt, rolled all the way to the ceiling.

“Are you OK?” Midas asked him.

“This simulation is flawless!”.

“You still don’t get it, don’t you?”

Sirius was euphoric: that was the last sentinel! He screamed at the top of his lungs while the Marathon turned back to its original position. Sirius spotted movement at twelve o’clock and he realized there was still one sentinel left. It was Delta-Omega.

Feeling the blood pounding in his temples, Sirius pulled the trigger and… click! Sirius pulled the trigger again and… click! “I can’t believe this!” he exclaimed and he pulled the trigger repeatedly. Click! Click! Click! Delta-Omega started to drill a hole in the Marathon’s hull.

“Sir, there’s a sentinel over here trying to sneak in,” Sirius said over the intercom, “and I’m out of needles.”

“Can you fly close to that building, so it doesn’t hit us, just the sentinel?” Midas asked Loop.

“You just read my mind, Captain.”

The Marathon turned ninety degrees to the right and the ship flew a couple of feet away from the skyscraper. Delta-Omega saw what was about to happen and he jumped out on time.

“Sir, the sentinel’s back,” Sirius said, “and it’s about to breach the hull.”

“Crash the ship,” Midas ordered Loop. “We’ll take the squid down with us.”

Midas glanced at the old potential: he still wasn’t wearing the seat belt. Midas unlocked his own belt and he rushed to lock the old potential’s belt. Delta-Omega thought he could get in before the Marathon reached the other skyscraper. Just another cut with the laser… Both Midas and Delta-Omega ran out of time.

When Midas woke up, he saw Loop, Sirius, and the old potential around him.

“Anybody hurt?” he asked.

“We’re fine, Captain,” Loop replied.

“What about the sentinel?”

“He promised to send us a postcard from the great beyond, Sir,” Sirius replied.

“The Marathon?”

“We can take off on auxiliary power, Sir.”

“Great. Now I can die in peace.”

“Why don’t you give us that pleasure another day, Captain?” Loop replied.

“Where is the ship doctor?” the old potential asked. Loop gave him a bad look and he replied: “Magik was our doctor. Now she’s death, thanks to you!” The old potential was about to give Loop a piece of his mind, but Sirius said to Loop first: “How can you be so sure?”

“What do you mean?”

Sirius went back to the main deck and he turned on the console.

“They haven’t done anything yet,” Sirius pointed out.

“They’re standing still,” Loop said.

“No, they’re moving; they’re just doing it at a slower pace. The machines must be concentrating all their power on the invasion to Zion and that had slowed The Matrix.”

“We still got a chance to rescue Magik!”

“Yes, but we must hurry. This lag won’t last forever.”

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