Alex Draco hunched over his enormous electronics workbench like a gargoyle surveying the labyrinthine streets of its city. His mind raced through the maze of circuitry and data networks looking for that one shining path that would connect everything.
How long had he spent tracing and untangling the webs on the table beneath him? Weeks? Month? A mattress heaped with blankets lay on the floor near towers of plastic takeout containers leaning crazily like the miniature ruins of an ancient city.
Alex could feel his mind fogging with fatigue and frustration. He buried his face in his hands as he realized that no more work would be done that night.
Free of technical abstractions, his mind drifted to the memory of that day that had led him to this obsession, this life of ruin. The same moments flashed before him—the alien entity bearing down on them, the temporal tear in the transport portal, and the sick churning of his stomach when he realized that he had lost Chris in time and had no idea how to get him back.
That night, like many others, he dreamt of Chris.
This time it was the day they met. The young NSA agent entered the briefing room in a crisp tan suit, ID tag dangling from his pocket.
“Chris Hopkins,” he said, thrusting out an open hand.
“Alex Draco,” Alex answered, returning a weak handshake.
“You’re the tech savant.”
“Don’t be modest,” Chris said. “I’ve read the specs on your powered armor suit. Graviton accelerator. Coherent hypersonic wave projector. Amorphous titanium alloy. I don’t know what any of that means, but it sounds impressive. I just have one question, though.”
“Does it fly?” Alex smiled.
“53.6448 meters per second.”
“Is that fast?”
“About 120 miles an hour.”
“Cool,” Chris said, returning the smile.
That was twelve years ago, and on that day, Alex was introduced to a world he could have never imagined. A world of aliens, mutants, masterminds, and high-tech gadgets. With Chris’s encouragement, Alex joined a top-secret unit within the NSA—the Modified Advanced Tactical Response Intelligence Exchange.
Later referred to simply as Matrix, the team consisted of a yellow-skinned, impossibly strong alien with a laser eye called Vark; an android called Vulcan who could create fire out of thin air; vaguely feline, humanoid, alien twin sisters code-named Taz and Breaker; and a woman with telepathic and limited teleportation abilities who went by the moniker Vigil but whose real name was Annalynne.
Inspired by the slender, serpentine design of his battle suit, Alex adopted the code name Wyvern. For the next decade, Matrix operated out of a secret, subterranean base located in a remote suburb of Camden, New Jersey. From there, they gathered intelligence on rogue alien and mutant threats, infiltrated unsanctioned teams operating with criminal agendas, and apprehended or eliminated powers that threatened the public and the world at large.
For ten years Matrix was Alex’s purpose and his family. Other government teams came and went, but Chris carefully built the team’s reputation within the intelligence community to keep them active and well funded. Documented as a ”superhero” team by well-meaning conspiracy theorists, Matrix even enjoyed some occasional popularity among the public.
That was all before the coming of the Brood. Before Matrix and Chris Hopkins were lost forever.
“Hey, Alex. Wake up!”
The voice ripped Alex out of his dream state into the real world. Without windows, the basement workshop was perpetually bathed in the soft, phosphorescent glow of monitors and power indicators. But even though he couldn’t clearly see the figure standing over him, he recognized its voice.
“Vigil?” he said. “How did you get in here? If you tripped the house alarm, the police—“
“It’s a little thing I like to do called teleportation, remember?” she said. “And don’t call me Vigil. I haven’t used that name since…”
“Wait,” Alex said. “You teleported in? So you’ve got your powers back?”
“More or less,” Annalynne shrugged.
“That’s great!” Alex said, lunching to his feet. “That’s fantastic! I can run new scans and redo my calculations. If your psychophasic coherence is anything like it was—”
“Yeah, great,” Annalynne interrupted. “Can we get out of this basement though? It reeks.”
Even with the curtains closed, Alex found the main part of the house unbearably bright. The only time he ever came up was to pick up food deliveries and that was usually after dark. Annalynne’s arrival had awakened him, however, and not just literally. He ordered them both breakfast from the local diner—coffee and a bagel for Annalynne and pancakes for himself.
“I blamed you for a long time after Chris disappeared,” Annalynne said.
“I blamed myself too,” Alex said.
“I know, but the difference is you actually tried to do something about it. I… I just got lost.”
“What do you mean?”
“I went rogue. Oh, nothing criminal,” she added, noting Alex’s look of concern. “Mostly mutant underground stuff. I even tried tracking down some of our most wanted from the old days, but there wasn’t much I could do on my own.”
Alex hadn’t talked to anyone about his feelings since Chris’ disappearance. He wanted to tell Annalynne that he had become lost himself. Drinking to numb his nights and later Adderall to fuel his obsession to rebuild the technology that had sent Chris falling through a crack in time.
“Chris’ disappearance hit us all pretty hard,” he said instead.
“I know,” Annalynne said. “It was just… I don’t know if you knew, but Chris and I kinda had something going on.”
“I didn’t know,” he said.
“Good,” Annalynne said. “I mean, no one was supposed to know. The NSA wasn’t keen on agents getting it on with team members.”
Alex smiled. It had been a long time since he had felt anything but pain when thinking of Chris.
“Well, you’re here now,” he said, snapping closed the container of pancakes. “So let’s do your teleporting thing, take some measurements, redo my calculations, and get Chris back.”
For the next few days, Annalynne stayed with Alex, sleeping in his bedroom while he continued living out of his basement perched over his workbench. She ran through every iteration of her powers with Alex taking measurements and questioning her in excruciating detail.
Together they also relived every moment leading up to that horrible day. It had come after a year of fighting a powerful organization of mutants and aliens. They had finally discovered its hidden base, but they weren’t prepared for what they found.
The mastermind of the organization was merely the corporeal projection of a multi-dimensional alien being which later came to be known as the Brood. Cornered in its lair, the creature unleashed a terrible power in its final death throes, which threatened to rip apart the very fabric of reality. In a desperate effort to save themselves and close the rift, Alex had channeled Annalynne’s power through a strange portal in the organization’s base. Their efforts resulted in the destruction of the Brood and its lair but left the team scattered across the globe and Chris lost somewhere in time.
After a week, however, Alex and Annalynne were no closer to a solution.
“What’s the problem?” Annalynne asked one night over dinner. She refused to step foot in the workshop if she didn’t have to, so they ate more often in the living room.
“I don’t know!” Alex snapped. “I’ve compensated for every variable. Everything has been recalibrated based on the new measurements, but I still can’t create the temporal anomaly.”
And that was the frightening part. After years of focused effort and the hope and data brought to him by Annalynne, Alex was forced to consider that his plan might never work. He had never allowed himself to think about what he would do if he couldn’t bring Chris back. He had just assumed that, with enough time and resources, it could be done. But now, now he didn’t know anymore.
“We didn’t account for every variable,” Annalynne said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s just the two of us, right? The rest of the team isn’t here.”
“So, think about it,“ she said. “I’ve been pissing my life away for two years angry at you and the world for taking Chris away from me, and you’ve been sulking down there trying to build your magic machine that’s supposed to bring him back.”
“But what else can we do?” Alex said.
“I don’t know,” Annalynne said. “But that was the whole point of Matrix. To fill in the gaps. To make sure none of us were alone. We need to bring the team back together. Or whatever’s left of it.”
A jolt of electricity shot through Alex. It all made sense now. The whole team had been there when the portal was activated. Even though Alex was the one to make the connections and calculations, he hadn’t done it alone. What he found distracting at the time—Vark’s impulsivity, Vulcan’s odd android reasoning, even Taz and Breaker’s impatience—had shaped the decisions he made at the time. He hadn’t acted alone then, so how could he possibly expect to repeat the process alone now?
“Maybe I’m not making any sense,” Annalynne said, misinterpreting Alex’s stunned silence. “I don’t even know where we’d begin to look for everyone.”
“Well, last I knew, Vark was wandering around somewhere in the Canadian Rockies,” Alex said. “I kinda put a tracker on him.”
“Oh, he’ll be really happy about that,” Annalynne said. “What about Vulcan?”
“What’s left of him should be stored in a secure NSA facility,” he said. “I think I know which one, but it will be hard to get into.”
“We’ve gotten into worse,” Annalynne shrugged. “Taz and Breaker?”
“Off-world, most likely,” Alex said. “But with some creative hacking, I can probably track down their contact protocols.”
“Looks like I’m not the only one who’s gone a little rogue,” Annalynne said. Alex smiled.
“So, are we really going to do this?” he asked. “Are you ready to be Vigil again?”
“I am if you’re ready to be Wyvern again,” she said. Alex nodded.
That night, as Alex powered down his workshop for the first time in years, he looked with new eyes at his workbench. He thought back to the day when the team had adopted the name Matrix. At the time, his literal mind couldn’t reconcile it with the dictionary definition—an environment or material in which something develops; a surrounding medium or structure. But now he understood.
Matrix had been more than just a job or a team. It had been a family, the environment in which he developed. Without its structure, Alex had gotten lost, twisting in on himself. But that would all change, starting tomorrow.