I take the blue pill and wake with a migraine the next morning. Rushing to the office only amplifies my nausea, but after I vomit in the elevator the workday normalizes. My boss singsongs his threats to fire me. Clouds reflect off the opposite skyscraper. I imagine my soul could latch on, soar above the city. Moments fizzle away at the computer.
When I return to the club, I try the red pill. As I gag to consciousness, I know I’ve made a mistake. Pink sludge baths haunt my dreams, and I long for the days I could buy the red dress from initial training with the crew. Dank tunnels and constant storms make me miss everything from before. My bed. My hair. Mostly, I miss my comfortable misery.
Once my muscles support longer walks, I put everything toward learning the nooks and crannies of this reality. In a dusty drawer in the medical bay, I find a gel capsule tinged azure. I can’t bear another glass of the ship’s metallic water, so I gulp it dry.
Chocolate chip cookies and cigarettes. I rouse to scents from before. I don’t know why I’m on a couch surrounded by bald children and bending spoons, but I know my legs are marathon strong as I race to exit the apartment. The building’s stairwell door swings open, revealing a suited man in glinting aviators. As I run, the knobs I wrench are all locked until the door at the corridor’s end. I enter a reception mirroring the club where this all started — a glitch? — but pedicure tubs and massage chairs indicate it’s a spa. From the menu, I select the morphin’ manicure, and the nail technician proffers a coral-colored lozenge. It goes down smoothly as sunglasses shimmer from the desk phone onto her changing face.
The breakfast gruel remains tasteless, and my nose craves the bite of secondhand smoke. My crewmates either don’t acknowledge or don’t know about my attempted escape. Training must go on. I layer another threadbare sweater for the hours my plugged-in body will be stationary. I palm a sphere, sticky and hidden under the wires of my seat. Its shimmering lapis beckons, so I crunch it between my molars as I’m strapped and jacked in.
Merlot, I decide, will be my final color. Locked in the swordplay module’s castle, I cozy into the wine cellar. Like my crewmates shout from across the moat, I know I’m wasting my power. Throw any pill my way, cerulean, amber, cornflower, but I know I can’t unknow. I’m not The One. The One wouldn’t swig straight from the bottle. The One wouldn’t bank on what Morpheus said. When you die in the Matrix, whether by agent or alcohol poisoning, you die in real life.
Lauren Kardos (she/her) writes from Washington, DC, but she’s still breaking up with her hometown in Western Pennsylvania. You can find her on Twitter @lkardos.