by Trisana McGraw
It was weird how something could totally turn a person’s world upside down, Enzo thought as he paused in the doorway of the Principle Office’s War Room. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he leaned against the door and gazed thoughtfully at his older self and AndrAIa from across the room.
Matrix was Enzo, but he wasn’t. Sure, they shared the major things like skin and hair and identical source code, but all the details were completely different. Like Matrix’s cybernetic eye that replaced the original one someone had ripped out. Enzo was afraid of flu shots, for User’s sake! And there was so much about Matrix’s attitude that was opposite of the way Enzo acted. His older self had gone through some tough times, but Enzo didn’t know what.
Enzo straightened and headed toward the steps where Matrix and AndrAIa sat talking. AndrAIa, with her back to Enzo, was waving her hand and saying something, making Matrix smile slightly. However, when his eyes focused on Enzo, standing behind the game sprite, Matrix’s expression shifted back to its usual sullen frown.
AndrAIa turned around and greeted the small sprite with a smile. "Hey, Enzo. How are you?"
"Okay," he answered with a small smile for the pretty, young sprite. "I just wanted to see you guys before you . . . you know, leave for the Net and all."
AndrAIa smiled again, but Matrix just stared at Enzo intensely until the little sprite began to feel uncomfortable.
With a glance between the two sprites, AndrAIa rose. "Sorry, Enzo, but I have to go," she said. "I was going to check with Dot before we left." She gave Matrix a kiss on the cheek. "See you later, Sparky." The renegade didn’t smile, but Enzo noticed a definite gleam of amusement in Matrix’s good eye.
Both Enzos’ eyes followed AndrAIa as she left the War Room. Then, when it was just the two of them — not including the CPUs and binomes also present — Enzo sat down on a step beside Matrix.
"What do you want?" Matrix sighed.
Enzo was unfazed by his curt tone. He folded his hands in his lap and replied, "I . . . uh, I wanted to know more about you and Andi. You know, you being my older self and all."
"Yeah," Matrix muttered in response to Enzo’s second sentence. He closed his eyes for a nano, then reopened them. "What do you want to know?" he asked resignedly.
"For starters, how’d you get through the Games?"
Matrix paused thoughtfully and raked his hand through his hair. "That’s a big question ‘for starters’, Kid."
"Just tell me what it was like," Enzo begged.
"It was bad," Matrix answered bluntly, "and hard. I wouldn’t have made it through on my own if I hadn’t had AndrAIa and Mainframe to look forward to."
His comment gave Enzo pause. "So, you really love her?"
Matrix was becoming irritated by Enzo poking into his private life. Rather than rudely order the kid to buzz off, though, he took a deep breath and tried to give an answer so Enzo would shut up. "Yeah, I do."
Enzo tilted his head to one side. "Did you find out you loved her in the Games, or did you know before that?"
"Probably in the Games," Matrix replied, starting to warm up to the conversation. "She was the only thing that got me through them. If you remember, back in Mainframe, before the war —"
"No, I don’t remember," Enzo cut him off, his tone surprisingly flat. "I’m the backup; I don’t have memories from then."
Matrix’s eyebrows raised slightly at Enzo’s curt comment; he figured he had touched upon something of a weak spot on the kid. After a moment, he continued, "Well, she was my best friend in Mainframe; she was the only sprite my age."
Enzo understood; and hearing about Matrix having a friend at Enzo’s age made the small sprite yearn even more for a sprite his age.
"Well, I gotta go," Enzo announced, a little hastily. He pushed himself up and went for the doorway. Matrix slowly stood, his gaze thoughtfully following his backup as Enzo left the War Room. But Matrix didn’t trail after Enzo.
Enzo zipped to Baudway and entered the Diner. Without stopping to say hello to anyone, he sneaked downstairs to the apartment where he and Dot lived. The boy went into his room and slumped down on his bed, staring around at the racecar sheets and his games. He kicked aside some homework files and sighed mournfully.
Who was the real Enzo Matrix? Since Dot had explained the truth about Matrix, Enzo had been wary of the older sprite. Matrix couldn't really be Enzo, he had thought. He doesn't act anything like . . . me. It was true that they were completely different. While the renegade was angry, bitter, and maybe a little psychotic, Enzo was the essence of the same sprite. Matrix didn't have anything of "Enzo's" personality in him, so why did people say he was like Enzo?
But talking with Matrix just a little earlier had brought up new doubts for Enzo. Seeing Matrix, the little sprite couldn’t help but think: "Enzo" had already lived out his part: he had become a Guardian at a very young age; gotten lost in the Games; grown up into a big, powerful sprite; and defeated Megabyte at the battle for Mainframe. A gnawing fear made Enzo's stomach itch with anxiety: if "Enzo" (the other him, but Enzo Matrix all the same) had already done what he needed to do, the appearance of another -- him -- was awkward.
Enzo's doubt, only a single thought, had now grown with his pondering. What if he were just a . . . a mistake? Phong had told Enzo that he had been brought back by an error in the system accounting the PIDs. Enzo wasn't meant to be in Mainframe, when one was already living there.
Enzo scrunched his face up to stop himself from crying, but he was still breathing hard with his distress. Why should he even stay in the system, when he wasn't needed -- and had probably never been needed? Enzo bunched his hands into fists and jumped up angrily. He swiped away his tears and marched upstairs.
Not able to see clearly through his haze of tears, he bumped into someone on his way up. "Sorry," Enzo muttered without looking up. A slender hand touched his shoulder, and he slowly lifted his head to see AndrAIa's beautiful, smiling face. He had forgotten she was at the Diner.
"Enzo, I was hoping to find you here," the game sprite said.
The little sprite was surprised. "R-really?"
AndrAIa nodded. "You see, Enzo, I wanted to talk to you. Can we go over here?" A little confused, Enzo nevertheless followed AndrAIa into the main room of the Diner. He sat down in a booth, and AndrAIa slid in opposite from him.
"Enzo, I just wanted to say that I'm glad you're here." Enzo started and stared at AndrAIa with increasing interest. He couldn't help but ask, "Why?"
AndrAIa laughed. "Enzo, you're a wonderful sprite." Her expression darkened just slightly. "You see, Matrix is -- I was afraid he had lost the 'Enzo' part of him. He wasn't doing so well nearing the end of our time in the Games. He didn’t enjoy himself at all, and he was so dark and angry." The frown on her face only began to tell of the conflict AndrAIa had seen in the Games.
The game sprite refocused on Enzo. "But when the restart occurred and you came back, I saw the sprite I fell in love with." Enzo couldn’t hide his blush. "You’re sweet, and funny, and you believe in anything, and Matrix seemed to lose a lot of that in the Games. It really made me happy, to see you again.
"I think it helped Matrix, too," AndrAIa added. "He’s softening." Enzo made a face. "I know that doesn’t sound true, but he’s different than he was in the Games. It’s partly being home, but it’s also having you here, Enzo. So, thank you."
Enzo was shocked, but it was a pleasant feeling. He smiled shyly and was only able to answer, "Your — your welcome, Andi." AndrAIa smiled warmly at him, and Enzo felt like he was floating. His core-com lightened even more when AndrAIa added, "Enzo — you’re like a second chance, for all of us."
"What do we have here?" Both sprites looked up as Dot approached their booth. "Hi, AndrAIa. Hi, Enzo," she said, giving his cap a spin. Dot slid into the booth next to Enzo and wrapped an arm around him. "How’s my pixelacious little brother?" she grinned. She made him look straight at her. "Enzo, I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re here. You know I love you, right, Enzo?"
"Dot," Enzo groaned, squirming in his seat. But inwardly, he was overjoyed. Dot’s words, on top of the praise he had received from AndrAIa, lightened the burden that had weighed down his emotions earlier.
AndrAIa leaned forward and smiled at the siblings. Dot hugged Enzo tighter, and he happily leaned his head on her shoulder. He did have a reason to be in Mainframe; more than one, it seemed. He was the little sprite who would keep the innocence during the war. He smiled.
Enzo’s appearance in Mainframe wasn’t a mistake; he was a second chance.
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