A Comfortable Blindness


hana_icon.gif rebel_icon.gif

Scene Title A Comfortable Blindness
Synopsis In honor of those both loved and lost so very long ago, Hana and Rebel take a personal day and make-believe they never had a falling-out.
Date July 6, 2010

A Meeting of Technopathic Minds

The natives call this place Druk Yul — Land of the Thunder Dragon.

Trapped high within the Himalayan mountains, sheer cliffs bristling with leafless trees overlook a sea of clouds as still as a pond on a windless day. The air is thin up here, breathlessly so, and yet even higher than where the eagles dare a monastery is perched upon old and crumbling rock, its terra-cotta tiled roofs standing out against the slate gray of the mountainside.

Upon mossy grass beneath the twisting branches of an ash tree, Hana Gitelman stares up at the cloudless sky, a single shade of perfect, faded blue. The sun peeks out from between the branches looming overhead, a glare on either side of contrasted bark. Cool air blows across her cheeks, disturbs her hair from across her face and tickles paths over her brow.

Stone stairs are carved into the mountainside, hand-chiseled things that ascend over a hundred feet to the shadow of that remote monastery beyond. For all the natural wonder of the kingdom of Bhutan, there is an underlying current of surreality. The way sharp edges of the mountains aren't properly anti-aliased, the way all of the trees look the same, just turned to different angles to hide their uniform makeup, the way garbled blocks of data mottle in the sky like a poorly compressed jpeg image.

A Philip K. Dick science-fiction novel once asked, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Hana Gitelman knows the answer.

Her left hand runs over the stone wall looming above the stairs, feeling the texture of procedural stone beneath whorled pads. Dark eyes follow the curving path all the way up until it terminates at the monastery walls, then sweep down to study the clouds below, and the lack of path back presented to her. In the real world, every hair of the lioness' hackles would be on end. In dream, it's simply the way the landscape is. For now.

Combat boots scuff heavily against the first few stairs, her steps quickly transmuting into a lighter and more gracile gait; one that isn't soundless, but announces the woman's approach far more mildly. Olive and khaki cloth rustles faintly in the mountain breeze, and Hana squints her eyes against the brightness of the sun as she comes out from beneath the ash tree's obscuring canopy. She's willing enough to walk — and it seems like the monastery is the only destination to walk to.

The noise from the ridge where the monastery hangs sounds like a bell ringing, a slow and repeated chime of metal ringing through the mountains. As Hana ascends the carved stairs up to the monastery's crimson walls, the noise of the ringing bell grows louder, echoing thorugh the clouded valleys and to the other, more distant Himalayan peaks.

Passing through the weathered red-painted stone archway at the monastery's open gates, Hana steps within something that could be viewed as a digital Shangri-La, a forbidden city of only partially real appearance. Impossible digital artifacts marr the walls and the air, making the world seem more like low-resolution video at times, erratic and unpredictable.

Smells seem at some times muted and at others wholly incongruent; a sudden whiff of jasmine and lilac where there is only snow-dusted stone and leafless trees within the monastery walls. The courtyard Hana emerges into is littered with birds, ravens so black that they appear like eyeless blotches perched on the awnings of the sweeping tiled roofs.

Several of them take alight, sending fluttering black feathers falling like snow between Hana and a covered shrine where within, a white-clad man with a shaved head swings a wooden log on rope harness into a large, wrought-iron bell.

She pauses, at the jarringly out of place scents, at the sight of a mob of ravens cluttering the ground before her. The woman waits as the mob thins, tracing the upward flight of those who leave; waits longer still, as if to see whether the others will clear out also. Her fingers trace the outline of a flaw in the appearance of stone, brows drawing together as disquiet begins to wind itself about her spine. The unavoidable intrusion of her boots into peaceful, serene quiet — well, discounting the tolling bell — causes Hana's lips to press together, but she doesn't so much as check stride. Makes her way towards the shrine for lack of other evident destination, dark eyes focusing narrowly on the birds between her and there — until they have the wit to get out of the way.

When she arrives? The woman simply stands and waits, keeping wary, automatic watch on her surroundings.

"All know the Way, but few actually walk it." The voice is not one Hana is familiar with, and as the white-dressed man turns around, his appearance isn't one Hana has recognized either. Dark hair is buzzed scalp-short and tanned skin contrasts the white of this stranger's attire. The words though, reiterations of the Bodhidharma, is nothing outside of her realm of experience. For all that this man with a string Mandarin inflection is not Richard Drucker he shares so much the same mannerisms and cadence to his speech.

And yet for all his unfamiliarity, there's an unsettling sense of deja-vu about him.

"It is both an honor to finally meet you, and relieving to see you after so long…" Always with the koans, even if subtly implied. The white-clad monk holds one palm flat and curls a fist against it, then bows with rigidity in his posture from the waist, eyes concealed behind black, round-lensed sunglasses staying alight on Hana.

"Welcome to the Tiger's Nest," the stranger offers as he rises to stand straight again.

In her turn, Hana does not bow, although the slight dip of her chin is an acknowledgement of his greeting that is as close as she is likely to ever come. She snorts softly at his aggravating doublespeak — doesn't even try to unravel significance from it. Those days were long ago. Her gaze sweeps up to the tiled rooftops of the monastery behind the courtyard, bouncing from one angular corner to the next before plummeting to rest on the monk before her. "And what will I find in the Tiger's Nest?" she asks, studying the dark lenses over his eyes.

"Nothing…" the stranger admits, brows creased together, "only what you bring with you. This is as much your mind's eye as it is ours." Ours. "You are not here to find anything, however. This place you are in is just an intermediary, a transient home to disparate consciousness so that… a message can be relayed." Taking a step back, the white-clad stranger motions towards the bell, both brows raised.

As he makes that inviting motion, Hana can see legs beneath the bell, someone circling around from behind it, walking opposite of where Hana stands and threatening to step out from behind the bell's silhouette. In the dream-like logic of this place, the white-clad stranger is gone the moment he is no longer in her peripheral vision, but this new person—

"Every year this comes around, I usually am left to wonder to myself just how much you look like your mother…" David Rooijker is an unassuming man, short of stature and slender of build, sandy tanned skin and dressed in hiker's gear. Reading glasses hide dark eyes and the low slung set of his baseball cap shadows part of his face, leaving the reflection of light off of his glasses lenses gleaming against shade.

"Happy birthday, Hana" shouldn't sound like an afterthought, but the man who became Richard Drucker is aware how little Hana celebrates this moment. "It's good to see you…"

Dark brows drop at the monk's reply, which isn't any more to Hana's taste than his enigmatic greeting — but with the intrusion of someone else into the courtyard, she bites back the words that might have been said.

Somehow, she isn't exactly surprised at the man who comes around the bell. Maybe because she's asleep; maybe because of their surroundings, the environment she associates with one person and one alone; maybe because it's just so much his style.

Hana crosses her arms at her chest, one over the other, fingers dimpling the skin of her biceps. Her lips thin into a white line, eyes flashing furiously: some things, a dream state doesn't excuse. "I wish I could say the same," the woman replies. Brusque as it is, stiff as her expression becomes, the statement falls short of fire: she does wish that, and in the poignance of this setting, the context of dream, it's harder to hide than it would be, waking. "Care to get to the point of this, or are you just exercising gall?"

"I thought…" dark lips creep up into a smile that actually seems sheepish, "better late than never?" Looking past Hana, as if to see if the monk were still there, Drucker offers a faint smile and finishes his path around the bell, old and worn hiking boots scuffing across ancient flagstone tiles underfoot. "You and I are all that's left, Hana, and I don't want ideological differences to put… the fact that we're the last of our family into a bad light."

Lifting up one hand to adjust his glasses, Drucker turns dark eyes askance, then looks back to her with a nervous smile. He looks younger than she'd imagined, and in truth seeing Drucker himself in the flesh is a somewhat jarring sensation. No photographs of him exist, as far as anyone has been able to find. For all his history and his contributions to society, Drucker is a ghost of the modern age. That he chose to appear to Hana like this, like himself, is unusual.

"I didn't think it would work…" Drucker explains, his dark eyes alighting to the ceiling of the temple, then back down to Hana. "This."

"Ideological differences," the woman, perhaps no older than the avatar before her, hisses angrily.

She pivots on her heel, dark hair swinging with the violent energy of the turn, combat boots clomping against the courtyard tiles with each long stride. First away from Drucker, but not leaving; there's entirely too much irate pique involved for that simple action. She comes back, inevitably, coming to an abrupt halt some seven feet away from him. One hand snaps sharply forward in his direction. "You come to me on this day, this day, in the appearance of a fucking dead man…" It's not his first death she means. The hand falls to her side. "And you want to smooth over ideological differences?"

Hana snarls and pivots again, but unmoving: turns her back on Drucker to hide the welling tears, for all that they fail to fall.

"We're— " A hasty assertion, "I'm not dead." Drucker's expression remains impassive as Hana's becomes tempestuous, both of his hands lifting, palms out to Hana. "I wanted to give you something I couldn't in life, and that was a face to remember. We were never close, ever, and that is mostly my fault for not wanting to dig up the past. But the past is all we have left, Hana, and you're the only tie to my old life I have left…"

Lowering his hands, Drucker exhales an entirely psychological sigh. "I thought you might… appreciate this. It wasn't my idea, I'll admit… but it's a good one, it— " Drucker's eyes drift askance, over to one of the red lacquered wooden pillars holding up the roof overhead. "I wanted to do something right by you, for once?"

When Drucker's eyes settle back on Hana, his head shakes in small measure. "I could take you anywhere, show you anything… I don't want to talk politics, talk business. Not today, especially not on this…" his brows crease together momentarily, dark eyes lost behind the glare of an artificial sun on his lenses. "This isn't easy for me."

Hana doesn't turn around. Doesn't see his wandering gaze, the impassivity of his expression or the shake of his head. Doesn't show him her own expression, which has passed from fury into a flat, flat mask. He can see how her hands clench at her sides, fingernails biting into her palms, knuckles bloodless white.

She doesn't speak.

Doesn't speak.

Draws in a long, shuddering breath that bears suspicious resemblance to a sob.

"You're— He is dead." She doesn't quite notice the slip of the tongue, voice rising. "They're all dead. They're all fucking gone!"

It isn't the woman whose voice breaks on that last word, but the ghost of a ten-year-old girl.

Dark brows furrow and Drucker takes a few steps towards Hana, head shaking slowly. "Physically, sure… My body's been dead for eighteen years. People are more than their bodies, more than the sum of flesh and blood… you know that, I know you know that. Whether you believe in the philosophy of it or the reality of it… I am as much me as you are you, Hana." Stopping just short of arm's reach, Drucker's sigh is a noisy one, but still swallowed by the sound of a distant crowd returning to roost on the temple roofs.

"You're only as alone as you make yourself," Drucker offers in a quiet tone of voice, hand lifting towards Hana's back, but stopping before it becomes a touch, his fingers curling back against his palm. "I wanted to go see them, today…" is a softly voiced suggestion, "Joshua, Zahava. I don't remember them the way you do, I thought maybe… we could go together, you could show me how you remember them, I could… show you how I remember them."

There's a faint, weary smile on Drucker's lips. "Like photographs, but… more."

Hana can feel his hand hovering there, so close; she closes her eyes. She can't bring herself to step back, to turn, to meet his reach even a fragment to halfway; she's never been good at not making herself alone.

"I didn't mean the first one," she says so very softly, voice dust-dry, as wearily bereft of emotional color as bleached ashes. She stands there, unmoving as a statue, in the silent wake of Drucker's final words. Rigid, until the woman draws in a deep breath, her shoulders slowly sinking down. She is alone. But —

Could it be such a bad thing, really, to pretend she isn't — just for a little while? Just today, this day, the anniversary of the day that made her alone?

Hana turns around, finally, looking at the avatar of a man who was dead before she had reached her teens. Searching his expression with a wary hesitation that owes nothing to masks, everything to a very personal apprehension. She can feel the depth and breadth of the weakness in herself that this exploits — but oh, how she wants to believe.

Ideological differences and all, Hana wants to believe he's more than a relict fragment. That he's still her mother's brother.


She doesn't finish the statement she isn't even aware of 'speaking', not exactly — but the data is there between them, an almost tangible mishmash of impressions; there, if the technopath who's intruded into her sleeping mind chooses to listen.

Apprehension is written across Drucker's face, eyes hidden behind the way the fake sun glares across his rectangular glasses. Silence is his answer, and even the ravens abide by silencing their own incessant noises as he raises one hand, palm upward and fingers spread, a hand to be taken at Hana's choice, an option to follow him and see what the artificial world has to offer as a scrapbook of their collective memories. It won't be the last time his hand is offered out to her like this, but when that day comes the context will be entirely different.

You'll always be my family, even if it took me a long time to try and make myself a part of it.

Hana's momentary denial of this world, one that sent a ripple of data through it, is enough to peel back just a fragment of the facade that Rebel is taking, trying so hard to be just one man when he is so many more. But the voice that comes from Drucker's lips isn't just his, it's Micah Sanders', it's Shen Ningdao. Dark brows crease together, and Drucker's lips press together nervously.

"Just for a day," he finally manages to say in Drucker's voice, his expression a mercurial thing vacillating between an emotional wound and a paranoid worry. "Just for a day, we can be who we were… is that so bad?"

"Just for a day," the living woman echoes softly, her whisper a bare breath of speech. She closes her eyes against the water welling up in them, reaches up to dash it from her face.

"It better not be," Hana answers, her voice a steely growl that promises unkind ends for any such possibility. Reaching out, she slides her fingers across the offered hand, a shaky and fragile smile gathering at the feel of not quite realistic skin on the other side of the contact.

"Tell me about my mother."

It feels real enough, when Drucker squeezes her hand. In that same physical pressure, there's a wave of change that spreads from the horizon behind Drucker and fades past he and Hana. A montain-top monastery in Bhutan quickly becomes something smaller, more intimate, a darkly furnished bar of some kind. The doors have rounded arches atop them, everything wood stained a rich walnut color and the scent of cigarette smoke clings heavy in the air.

"Did you know she was a singer?" Drucker's brows rise, his smile a bit more coy as he looks around the crowded bar, past circular tables where dusty-looking men crowd together around the sculpted frames of hookahs. At one end of the L-Shaped bar, a voice coils like the tendrils of smoke in the air, as much serpentine in its grace as it is lilting and evanescent.

With a tone as smoky as the air, a young Zahava Gitelman looks nothing like Hana remembers. Long, dark hair is wound up behind her head in a bun, eyes partway lidded as she sits beside a piano where a man in a forward-tipped fedora plays a tinkling melody of jazz piano.

"She was only nineteen at the time… just a year before the war." Turning his attention to Hana, Drucker affords a smile as he looks around the bar, brows creased together. "This was the first and last time she ever sang… it was also the last time I ever saw her."

Hana's eyes widen as the scene changes — not because it changes, but at the unexpectedness of its composition. "She sang," the woman says, taking an unconscious step forward but making no move to release Drucker's hand. "To me, I mean. But not…" Her gaze sweeps the bar again, not out of wariness but with the intensity of one storing all the details. Shaped by the mind of a technopath, they're digital details — easy for his niece to store.

"Her voice is just the same…" Or the same to a generous memory, one never inclined to find fault with that person. Her lips curve up. "Better than mine." But then, Hana has never wanted to sing; she probably hasn't even tried in twenty-one years.

Reluctantly, Hana pulls her attention away from the stage, the singer and her piano-player companion, turning to the man with sunglasses whose hand she still holds. "Then you didn't see our apartment, did you? They got it just before I was born, for the extra bedroom."

Looking to the scene again, dark eyes narrow as Hana reaches out to its digital underpinnings, feeding an entirely different sea of information into their shared environment. A tiled floor spreads out from their feet, gray sofas and a walnut-stained coffee table, white cabinets and glossy black stovetop, cabinets full of knicknacks and mementos hunt on the white walls which build themselves upward from the flooring. As she looks at the room, other details phase in with refreshed memory — the red patterned pillows added to the couch, a loaf of fresh bread on the counter, the radiators for seasonal heat beside the walls, faces on the photos decorating one shelf.

Sounds come next — the sounds of an elderly woman, voice thinned by age but still anything but weak, gently chiding her charge; the rapid-fire patter of bare feet in a hallway, a dark-haired girl some five or six years old bursting out of the hallway in a beeline for the apartment door. Hana smiles with the memory and the vision, wistfully melancholic; the door unlocks from the other side, but it's the younger Hana who opens it so Zahava Gitelman can come in.

Drucker's expression hangs when he sees Zahava come through the door, more so than the young Hana. Twenty years past the last time Drucker had seen her, she looks like so much a different woman. No longer the near spitting image of Hana herself, harder now, from the world that has turned around her. Unconsciously, Drucker's fingers curl around Hana's hand, and the technopath's avatar advances forward in half step hesitation, watching this scene as a silent observer.

Opening his mouth slowly, his words come as silent breaths, then eyes avert and his head dips down. "You're growing up into her…" sounds more like a warning than it does a compliment, but both parts are there. Severe as she is, Zahava is still an attentive mother, still has her heart down in there somewhere.

"It's not so bad, is it?" Drucker changes the subject, looking to Hana with a smile, trying not to seem like this affects him as much as it does. "This journey of ours." Maybe he means life, maybe he just means this.

She is a different woman; and that the daughter who has tried to imitate her is regarded so, well… Hana discards the caution entirely, taking only the words that affirm her goals. Despite this, one slender brow arches as Drucker turns back to her, the scene behind him stopping still, a press of pause on the nonexistent player. He's treated to a coolly level look, expression disapprovingly neutral. "Don't push your luck," she informs him, with all of that inherited severity shaping her voice — nothing but warning in those words.

But there's warnings, and then there's warnings: this one doesn't come with threats of violence attached.

"Come on…" Drucker offers in a hushed voice, trying to look past the warnings; both his and hers. "There's plenty more to see, did she ever tell you about how she met your father?" There's a nervous smile that crossed Drucker's narrow face, stubbled-shadowed mouth turning up into that expression as he reaches out for a door that wasn't there a moment ago.

"Then maybe… you can show me some more of your childhood." Just enough, is the implication, just the good parts.

In here, moments can be cherry-picked.

It's a comfortable blindness.

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