Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandoms: Iron Man & Captain America & The Avengers (MCU) / The Matrix
Genre: Action, sci-fi, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner, Clint Barton, Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis, Loki, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff, Betty Ross, Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor.
Guest appearances: The Architect, Emil Blonsky, Phil Coulson, JARVIS, The Merovingian, The Oracle, Persephone, Thaddeus Ross, Sati, Erik Selvig, Seraph, Samuel Sterns, Glenn Talbot.
Pairings: Betty/Bruce, Clint/Darcy/Natasha, Jane/Thor, implied Merovingian/Persephone
Summary: The Truce between men and Machines is threatened by a radical group called ‘the Cleansers’. Steve Rogers, the captain of a hovercraft named ‘The Avenger’, takes his crew to find the ultimate weapon the Cleansers are looking for, and reunites with an old friend whom he’d thought long dead. How is Tony Stark connected to their mission, and does a weapon exist that could destroy the Machines?
Complete. Sequel to “Creator”.
Written for: Science Fiction & Fantasy Big Bang’s Round 5.
Also fills the “free space” square on my card in Trope Bingo’s Round 2 (used trope: “au: fusion”).
Artist: raktajinos (AO3/LJ) – see banner HERE.
Warnings: Language, canonical violence.
The captains and first officers of the ships, as well as other key members of Zion society, had gathered with the Council for a meeting. It was as good a time as any to complete repairs on The Avenger, and most of the ship’s crew had remained in its vicinity. Only Betty had run off to get some extra supplies, and Bruce had joined her.
Thor was standing near the ramp leading up to the ship. He had already carried heavy equipment around, to help the more mechanically gifted people to do their job, and until he was given something else to do, he could just bask in the feeling of being home.
Of course, Thor’s family had not always lived in Zion. They had subsisted in a small colony, barely surviving, until finally joining the large community in the last city of Man. In time he had come to think of Zion as his home, and its people as his people. Just like this crew was his family now.
Before The Avenger, he had briefly served on the largest of Zion’s hovercrafts, the Hammer – also known as Mjolnir, befittingly named after a Norse god of thunder, Thor. He had been proud to work on a ship named after the old texts his own parents had used to name their tribe’s children, but somehow his path had led here, to The Avenger, and he was satisfied with his choice. After all, he had met Jane, the love of his life, and there was something about their captain that was not of this world. Considering the many stories the man had to tell, it was no wonder.
Clint walked by him then, a mechanical part in his hands, his eyes peering at it intently.
“How long do you think we shall stay in Zion?” Thor asked casually.
“Don’t know,” Clint replied, stopping, still looking at the gadget in his fingers. “Do you have business to attend to?”
Thor was quiet, looking at the people bustling around the Dock. If there was time, he might go see whether there was any news of his brother, whom he had not seen for quite some time. When the two of them had been growing up, they had been close, but the younger of the siblings had always held views different from Thor’s, and when they had to choose their paths to follow into adulthood, they had drifted apart. It did not mean Thor had forgotten about his brother, and knowing he was aboard another vessel, Thor had an urge to find out if he was doing well. After all, all of their family was gone save for the two of them, and Thor occasionally wanted to bring the two of them together again, to not lose the one person he had left.
Clint had raised his eyes to look at him, as if in question, and Thor shook his head in refusal. “Nay, I was just wondering.”
When he was alone again, after Clint had returned inside the ship, Thor wondered whether anyone else in their crew had someone they might want to reunite with. Most of them were lone wolves, as the saying went, which made their bond as a crew all the more astonishing. If not for Steve Rogers, they might never have been able to find a common path to follow.
Betty’s father was captain of another hovercraft, Thor knew, but the few times that fact had been brought up, it had also sounded like their relationship was strained. Perhaps that was why they didn’t work on the same vessel.
Bruce, Clint, Jane and Natasha had been released from the Matrix, so the family they thought they had was programmed and didn’t exist. All of them had struggled – and often failed – to fit in after arriving in Zion, and most of them were happier on a ship than outside it.
Darcy was perhaps the most well-adjusted one of them all, but she too had lost her true family and gained another in the form of Clint and Natasha. Thor wasn’t certain whether her family was actually dead, but she rarely talked about them and implied she had no real home to go to.
“Thor,” a voice called out, and he looked to the side, seeing a thin man approaching. Thor was aware they had met before, perhaps even worked together in the same crew briefly, but he couldn’t bring the man’s name to the forefront of his mind right now. “How’s it going, big guy?” the man asked, a bit nervously, stopping beside him, hands pushed deep into the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt.
“No reason to complain,” Thor replied simply.
“Good, good,” the man nodded along, then looked around. No one was paying attention to them, and he seemed to like that. “So, who’s your captain now?” It was a question, clearly, but somehow Thor felt like the man was already aware of who his captain was – and was aiming at something else with this conversation.
“Steve Rogers,” Thor replied nevertheless, because there was no reason to lie, and he was proud of being included in the crew of The Avenger. Many did not agree with him, considering Steve a lunatic of some kind, but whether he was crazy or not, he had more conviction than most men Thor had ever met in his life, and he had to respect that. Besides, he loved a good story, true or make-believe.
“Right, right,” the small man nodded jerkily. “Look, I’m… Is it true that they call him, you know…. with that name?”
“What name?” Thor was aware that he was growing tense, not approving of the direction their little chat was taking, and the man immediately read the unhappiness in his demeanor.
“Captain America,” the man offered, like a token of friendship. “It sounds a bit like a joke, of sorts, but… do they really call him that? I mean…”
“He was called by that name, a long time ago. Another life, he calls it,” Thor stated.
“And there’s no one else called by that name?”
“Have you ever heard anyone else being called by that name?” Thor challenged.
“No,” the man sighed, then stood a bit straighter and seemed to lose some of his nervousness. “In that case, I have a message for your captain. Or, Captain America. From the Oracle. She wants to meet him. Captain America, that is. She was very… insistent about it.”
“The Oracle?” Thor asked, eyebrows shooting up.
The man nodded. “The last time we were in the Matrix, one of her children caught up with us. Delivered us her message. Soon as possible, she said.” He removed his right hand from his shirt pocket, and clutched in his fist was a piece of paper. Thor took it hesitantly as it was offered, then unfolded it and looked at the address scribbled down on it. An address in the Matrix, no doubt; he had learned enough of the virtual reality to know how it worked – how the old world had worked, according to their captain.
“I shall deliver your message,” Thor promised.
“Thanks,” the guy nodded, then took another nervous look around and walked off, hunched and moving as fast as he could without breaking into a run. Thor wasn’t sure how to take that, but then looked down at the paper again and guessed their captain would understand once he met the Oracle.
Steve and Natasha walked back towards their ship. For anyone who cared to look, their steps were in perfectly synch, but whenever Steve glanced at her, Natasha was a half a step behind him – either out of respect, or using him as sort of a shield against any threat that might approach. Here, in the real world, the threat was unlikely, but in the Matrix Steve had learned to accept her subtle signs.
It was not that Natasha was afraid, but she would rather have someone else take the brunt of the attack and thusly raise the chances of her own survival. That kind of behavior might be considered cold and selfish, but it was also a trait all survivors had, at some point. Luckily for her, Steve had never had a problem with being the man to jump on the live grenade.
Besides, she was not a deserter: in a tight spot, Natasha would leave the group just long enough to find herself, and possibly Clint, a vantage point, and then circle back to stab the enemy in the back. Not that they encountered a lot of problems in the Matrix, but they practiced in Constructs often enough – loading programs that ran simulations much like the Matrix, providing a safe setting to learn new things, hone their skills and work as a team.
“What do you think that was really about?” Natasha asked once they were well and truly alone in the hallway. She was referring to the meeting they had been sitting in for hours, which mostly circled concerns about a small group calling themselves Cleansers – who were, possibly, trying to end the Truce between humans and Machines.
“I’m thinking there’s a lot of conflict,” Steve replied. “Many people think the Truce is the only thing to ensure our survival; breaking it would put us right back into the war with the Machines.”
“That’s the common theory people like to hold onto,” Natasha agreed.
“But inside, they all wish the Machines could be destroyed. Then there would be no need for the Truce, and we would be free to… live as we like.” He wasn’t sure what that entailed. He had been to the surface. There was nothing there, not anymore. Not with the sun gone, the skies dark and poisonous. Even if the Machines fell overnight, there was little to no life outside Zion. A few, small tribes here and there, like the one Thor came from, but even they eventually joined Zion or died out.
“If there really is a way…” Natasha mused. She wasn’t a dreamer, but a realist. Steve knew she wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon that was willing to take it on faith that there was a way to defeat the Machines.
Or maybe it was more than faith.
“We have to find them. The Cleansers,” Steve decided.
“That’s what every other captain swore to do,” Natasha reminded him.
“Yes, but I don’t know how many of them won’t end up helping the Cleansers instead of bringing them in. If the movement really starts raising its head, that alone could provoke the Machines into action.”
“Unless they really have a way to destroy the Machines.”
“In which case we’ll find out,” Steve decided.
They arrived at the Docks, making their way to The Avenger. It seemed none of the other captains had arrived yet, nor would all of them be heading out at once. Steve still needed to make sure the repairs to his hovercraft were complete, but after that, he would have to devise a way to find the Cleansers.
As many whispers as there were, no one was willing to name names. Steve had a feeling many in the Council itself knew who was leading the movement, but with the small hope that there was a way to destroy the Machines for good, they kept quiet. Those who did not believe in it and wanted to keep the Truce alive were the ones making noise, instead of allowing for things to play out.
Steve had seen Zion destroyed too many times to let it happen again because of the stupidity of a few people. He had also seen the capacity humankind had for bringing about its own destruction, and remembered how good ideas had led to this life, deep beneath the earth, persecuted and enslaved, their old way of life perhaps forever gone.
“Cap,” Clint, who was inspecting the outside of the hull, nodded as they approached. Thor soon walked down the ramp to join them.
“How go the repairs?” Steve asked.
“Well. We’re working as fast as we can,” Clint replied. “Did we get orders?”
“Sort of. I’ll tell you when the entire crew gets here.”
“Betty went to get some extra gear for the med bay and Bruce joined her. Everyone else’s here. I’ll prioritize the remaining repairs so that we’re ready to take off when they get here, and do the rest while in the air,” Clint summarized.
Steve nodded his approval, then glanced at Thor. “You seem anxious.”
“There was a message left for you,” Thor announced.
“A message? From whom?”
“The Oracle,” the tall blond announced, offering a piece of paper.
Steve took it, stared at it, and wondered if the name meant something else than he thought it did.
“I thought no one had seen the Oracle in years,” Natasha noted, which confirmed Steve’s belief that they were talking about the Oracle in the Matrix.
“That is what I was told, and I believe it to be true; the messenger was quite uneasy,” Thor explained.
Steve unfolded the paper, finding an address written down on it. He turned the paper over, to see if there was anything else, then returned to the address as he found the rest of the note blank. Clint and Natasha both peered over at it.
“Does it mean something?” Clint asked.
“Yes, it does,” Steve nodded. “The moment Betty and Bruce arrive, we’re taking off to find the safest possible location to broadcast. We’re going to Brooklyn.”
Bruce looked up and watched as Selvig rushed down the hallway, hastily apologizing to people he accidentally pushed up against in the narrow space.
“Selvig,” Bruce inclined his head at the older man and waited for the other to catch up, then resumed walking towards the lifts.
“You’re heading back out already?” Selvig asked, looking at the gear he was carrying.
“I assume so,” Bruce agreed. “There’s a lot of work to do, experiments to conduct, and we never stay in Zion for long.”
Selvig made a noncommittal sound and fell silent afterwards, but he still kept up with Bruce and then stopped at the lift door while Bruce waited for the ride. “Bruce, I’m not… saying this out of malice, but I’m a little concerned,” Selvig finally stated, tone low although for the time being they were alone.
“Concerned about what?” Bruce asked, frowning.
“We’ve known each other since you were freed from the Matrix…”
“And you know I respect you, as a friend and a scientist.”
“I think so,” Bruce smiled briefly, then looked at Selvig properly. “What is it? Clearly you have something on your mind.”
“Rogers,” Selvig finally spat it out. “You know he’s mad, right?”
Ah. So that’s what this was about. “Maybe,” Bruce responded and looked at the floor indicator above the door that still remained shut in front of them.
“I’m not saying he’s a liar, but the fact that he believes, without reservation, that he’s from the past… It’s dangerous. That man shouldn’t be captain of a ship,” Selvig spilled his concerns.
“Look,” Bruce looked at the other man, trying to be patient. This wasn’t the first time he had talked about this with someone, but mostly it was with people he didn’t respect half as much as he respected Selvig. “You can believe he’s a pretender, or delusional, but the thing is… He’s a believer, and he makes believers out of the rest of us. He inspires something in others – something I had never encountered before the day I met him in the sewers. I don’t have to hang onto his every word, but I choose to believe in his version of things, because honestly? It might be just as correct as anything else we’ve ever been told.”
The lift arrived, and he wrenched the door open, pulling his gear inside. Selvig followed him in and closed the door, allowing Bruce to punch the controls to take them to the same level as the Dock.
“Fine, so you’ve become a believer,” Selvig said, exasperation clear in his voice. “What about Betty?”
Bruce frowned and knew he wouldn’t like whatever came next.
“She’s on that ship solely because of you. She doesn’t believe in Rogers and his tales. She doesn’t share your conviction – but she’s going to crash and burn with you either way, because she’s too damn stubborn to let you go on alone.”
Letting out an angry exhale, Bruce tried to rein in his darkening mood. “She doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to.”
“Of course not, but she loves you, Bruce,” Selvig insisted. “If you love her –”
“That’s a dirty trick,” Bruce snapped, pointing a finger at the older man, his voice a few notches lower. “Stop it.”
“I’m trying to look out for you two.”
“Of all the people out there,” Bruce motioned angrily around the lift – and Zion at large, “I don’t think Steve Rogers is the one you have to be afraid of. You’ve heard the rumors, right?”
“The cleansing,” Selvig snorted. “Yeah, I have, and I think it has just as much credit as your ancient captain, or even less.”
“Yes, but ideas like that take hold and start to grow,” Bruce said. “They slowly brainwash people into believing that there might be an out, bringing in their ideology bit by bit – and before we know it, Zion lies in ruins yet again, because the Machine won’t tolerate an open rebellion.”
“Especially if they have something to be afraid of,” Selvig noted.
Bruce sighed as the lift came to a halt. “I prefer believing in a man out of his time, rather than some weapon that can wipe out the Machines. My belief is relatively harmless, anyway.”
“Not if it makes you forget what’s real,” Selvig called after him as Bruce set down the hallway towards the Dock.
“The day you see him in the Matrix is the day you’ll believe,” Bruce called over his shoulder and then continued on, refusing to let his friend’s words sway his resolve. He had seen the things Steve could do, the sincere confidence in his eyes when he spoke of the old days.
Even if Steve was a fraud, what was the harm in believing every word he said?
“The Oracle,” Darcy said from her chair. “You’re so lucky, Cap. Not a lot of people have seen her after the Truce was formed, and even fewer have gotten a personal invite!”
“It wasn’t Steve Rogers who was invited, but Captain America,” Steve mused, glancing down at the piece of paper once more. It was laid out in the middle of the table for all to see, yet the three scribbled lines of text hadn’t morphed into anything else, and every member of his crew had taken a turn staring at the address.
“Maybe it’s a code,” Clint offered.
“Maybe she’s a believer,” Darcy threw back at him with a wide grin. “Wouldn’t that be awesome?”
“A believer?” Betty’s voice rose in a challenge. “What would she ‘believe’ in?”
“Everything,” Natasha murmured, and as unsatisfying as that reply was, it seemed to satisfy most people gathered in the cockpit.
“Do you think she’ll mind if we tag along?” Jane wondered. She was working on the chair Steve always used, making some adjustments.
“I’m sure she’ll let us know if you’re not invited into the meeting,” Steve guessed.
“We’re approaching broadcast depth,” Thor announced.
“Let’s find us a safe spot to land,” Clint echoed and moved to the controls, to assist the bigger man in landing The Avenger.
Darcy turned towards her controls, to prepare for a transmission.
Jane finished her work just as the hovercraft settled down in a sheltered tunnel and everyone who was going into the Matrix started moving towards the chairs, taking their places, settling down. Nervousness was in the air, palpable, but Steve knew it would ease once they were on their way.
“All set,” Darcy called out, and Clint joined them at the chairs. “Good luck, guys.”
Steve felt a brief stab of discomfort at the back of his skull, then closed his eyes. It felt like sinking into sleep, only, when he jerked and woke up, he was no longer in the chair but standing in the morning sunshine that was streaking down into a small alley. One by one his team appeared around him, dressed up and armed, just in case.
With his fingers curling around the straps of his shield, which faithfully sat on his arm the moment he became aware again, Steve led his team onto the street and looked around. They were close to the address they had been given, and they proceeded down the street. Some of the people they came across looked twice at Steve’s shield, while others dismissed it completely. Maybe even they thought him a crazy person, walking around with what looked like a painted trashcan lid.
“You seem to know where we’re going,” Clint observed.
“I used to live around here,” Steve confessed, “before the war and after they fished me out of the ice. It’s… a lot like I remember it being.” They continued on in silence, because all everyone wanted to talk about was the upcoming meeting with the Oracle, and Steve didn’t want to speculate. He was nervous, knowing what kind of status the Oracle held among the people of Zion, especially Redpills. He had no idea what she wanted with him, specifically, but they would soon find out.
They arrived at a shabby-looking apartment building. Steve double-checked the number, then strode towards the door. There was no reason to start hesitating now, and besides, if this was a trap of some kind, he was more than eager to find out who had put it together.
The main door was unlocked and they stepped into a lobby. Paint was peeling from the walls, the carpet hadn’t seen a good scrubbing in years, and there was only one person in sight: an Asian man dressed in a long, white jacket, black shirt and pants, with sunglasses on his face even in the gloom of the indoors. He seemed to be expecting them and inclined his head, looking them over.
“Who are you?” Natasha asked, ever suspicious. Clint’s hand was moving to his bow, and Bruce and Jane had moved further away, closer to the door, should there be trouble.
“I am Seraph,” the man greeted them, words accented. Steve felt like the eyes behind the sunglasses were glued to his face. “You are Captain America.”
“I am,” Steve replied.
The man smiled. “Normally, I would test you, but you are the only one who can carry that shield. Thus, your identity has been verified.”
“Huh,” Clint muttered. “Maybe I should grab the shield, just to show the man anyone can carry it around. Maybe he’ll think I’m Captain America.”
Seraph pretended not to hear, motioning with his hand. Every movement he made was calm and measured, and he looked like a man who could control himself. “Please, follow me.”
Steve took a step, and the others began to follow.
At once, Seraph stopped and shook his head. “Only you, Captain. The others must wait.”
He felt like arguing, but Bruce nodded his head and motioned for the others. “We’ll hold down the fort. Take your time.”
Steve still wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t concerned for his own safety and decided the others could handle themselves should this be a trap. He walked after Seraph, who took the stairs. Steve was glad, because taking into consideration the condition of the building, he had no desire to test whether its elevator worked.
They climbed up five floors in silence. At the top, Seraph didn’t appear winded in the slightest, and Steve followed him down a hallway to the second door on the left. Seraph fished a key from his pocket, thrust it into the lock and opened the door, stepping aside to allow Steve inside.
Steve stepped over the threshold, holding his breath, body braced for anything, but the door simply closed behind him with a soft click and he found himself alone.
The gentle smell of baking cookies reached his nostrils and he followed it to a room on the right, finding an elder black woman bustling around a crammed kitchen. Steve looked around, then up and down the hallway, but there were no sounds other than the woman’s gentle humming.
“Captain,” she finally greeted, not turning. “Would you like a cookie?”
“Yes, please, ma’am,” Steve agreed, supposing it was polite to accept a treat. He kept his shield on his arm, careful as he moved into the kitchen.
The woman finally turned, chocolate eyes surveying him. A small smile played on her lips. “Steve Rogers,” she greeted. “I have waited to meet you for a long time. A living legend.”
Steve didn’t react. She turned back around, taking a plate from the cupboard, setting several cookies on top of it from a bigger plate, then set it on a small dining table. She turned away again, fetching a glass and filling it with milk. Steve watched the proceedings, uncertain if this was a ceremony of some kind; in the Matrix, simple things could mean something very different, especially with programs. He was fairly certain both she and Seraph were programs.
“You are the Oracle,” he finally guessed and slid down into a chair by the table, where she had placed the milk and cookies for him.
“I am,” she agreed. “And you are the man out of time – and place. After all, you shouldn’t be here,” she noted pointedly. Steve knew she meant the Matrix. How she could tell, he didn’t know. “I hope you don’t mind,” she suddenly said, reaching out for a pack of cigarettes that lay on the counter beside her. She fished one out and lit it with a lighter. It was easy to tell she was a smoker.
“Smoking isn’t good for your health,” Steve observed.
“And yet you could be smoking to your heart’s content and it would never affect you,” she smiled, taking a drag, holding the smoke in before letting it out, slowly. “There are no superheroes in the Matrix. They were written out, long ago. Yet you have your shield. Tell me, how does that feel? To be reunited with it.”
Steve remained as passive as he could. There was no way she could know he had lost his shield – his real shield.
The Oracle smiled. “I know a lot about you, Captain. I know you are real, in every sense of the word. So real, in fact, that you should have never been able to come here.”
“You’re not the first to say that,” Steve mused and glanced at the cookies.
“Of course not. Your fellow humans must think you an anomaly – but they are nothing compared to the Matrix,” she explained. “For mankind, you are simply an oddity. Here, you should not and cannot exist. You are a reminder of a time long past – a time that existed, and your mere presence is upsetting the balance of the Matrix.”
“Is that a threat?” Steve asked, tensing.
She chuckled, the sound raspy and deep. She finished her cigarette. “No, son. I am merely telling you why you will, eventually, become a man of much interest. For now, you are a recurring error in the fluent data, but eventually someone will take notice.”
“The Machines,” Steve realized. “The Matrix is built to not remember me, construct of an altered past – but the Machines running the show remember the time I have come from.”
“You are smart,” she complimented him, then nodded towards the table. “Eat your cookies, dear. I know you must be hungry.”
“Not here, I’m not,” Steve confessed, but he did grab one cookie between his fingers and took a bite of it. The taste of it was delicious, yet he knew, rationally, that it was just an illusion. “Why am I here?” he asked after he had finished one of the cookies and washed it down with some of the milk – which, too, tasted just like the milk he remembered from his childhood. That was a bizarre notion.
“I invited you,” the Oracle replied.
“Why?” Steve pressed.
“Because I need you to find the Weapon before anyone else does,” she said, dropping all pretense.
“The Weapon?” Steve was immediately alert. He had heard the word used, briefly, in the meeting in Zion. It was what the Cleansers were after. “So, it exists,” he deduced. The Oracle’s face was unreadable, but he felt the pieces coming together. “If there were a Weapon that was a threat to the Machines, then the Machines would do everything in their power to conceal it and keep it from the humans. Since you’re part of the Matrix, why are you telling me to find it?”
“You will understand when you find it,” the Oracle replied. “For now, it is crucial that you discover it before anyone else. The Weapon has the potential to change everything, not just here but in the real world outside the Matrix.” It was somewhat unsettling that she knew the difference between the two. “I trust that in your hands… it will not be misused.”
“If there is a chance to destroy the Machines, I will take it,” Steve told her; there was no reason for him to lie.
She smiled somewhat sadly. “I know, Captain. I’m the Oracle. However, when the time comes, I am confident in your judgment.”
Steve looked at her, then picked up another cookie and ate it in a few bites, then finished the milk. “Where can I find the Weapon?” he asked, looking at her. He didn’t expect it to be this easy, because she seemed like a cryptic person – program – and he had learned long ago in his life that most answers came with a price.
“When was the last time you visited Malibu Point?” she asked.
Steve’s eyes widened. “I’m sure you know the answer to that,” he finally replied tersely.
She nodded. “I’m sure you’ll find your way around. That’s where you’ll find your answers, Captain.” She smiled kindly and then turned towards the oven, opening it. A warm breath of air wafted out of it and she pulled out a fresh baking tray of cookies, placing them on top of the stove to cool. “Would you like a few cookies for your journey to the West Coast?”
“No, thank you, ma’am,” Steve responded and stood up. “I should go.”
“Good luck,” the Oracle hummed, giving him a quick glance just as Steve was leaving the kitchen. “When the time comes, you will know what is the right thing to do,” she promised.
Steve had no doubt of that, if the Weapon was real. Now they just had to get across the country and hope that the Oracle had meant the Matrix when she spoke of Malibu, and not the real world; she had offered Matrix-based cookies for the journey, so Steve was confident their destination also had to be within the virtual reality.
to be continued…