Phantom Pain


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Scene Title Phantom Pain
Synopsis Avi Epstein tries to cope with Hana's absence.
Date April 5, 2019 — April 30, 2019

Most modern satellites can transfer data at a rate of 7.44 gigabytes per second.

April 5th, 2:42pm
Did you ever respond to the email from Jerry Conner about the contract for Citigroup security? He called me this morning.

These satellites orbit the earth at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour.

April 6th, 1:18pm
Demsky finally filed her dismissal papers with me. I left them on your desk to sign when you get back.

And there are approximately 1,866 satellites in orbit around the earth.

April 6th, 4:22pm
Hepler at the DoJ called to say you didn't digitally sign your consent release forms for mission testimony. Can we have that please?

Hana Gitelman could feel them all.

Network Notification
User: “Wireless” cannot be found.

Until suddenly, she couldn't.

The Bunker

Rochester, NY

April 12th


A lot had happened in the intervening week.

Avi Epstein sits behind his desk, blinds down and bandaged head in his hands. Gauze wrapped around his brow covers his missing eye and is stained dark with the blood of healing injuries. He draws in a deep breath, looking down at the tablet sitting in front of him with a report from Huruma and Rue about their investigation into Hana’s disappearance overseas. He's read it three times now, and it still doesn't fill him with any measure of confidence or reassurance. He should have gone himself, is how he sees it. Frustrated, Avi slides the tablet aside, looking at the window with blinds drawn, and instead chooses to reach for the orange pill bottle nearby.

A couple of painkillers are pulled from the rattling pill bottle, swallowed dry before the rest are thrown in a drawer. “Fucking Christ…” Avi mumbles to himself, noticing his cell phone is sitting by the pair of chairs and small table near the window, well out of arm’s reach. He sighs, frustratedly, reaching down to either side of his chair…

…and wheeling himself out from behind the desk.

“Fucking wheel my fucking ass around this stupid fucking office.” He continues to curse to himself, all the way over to his phone. He picks it up, unlocking the screen and hastily composing a text with his hand that isn't in in a partial cast.

April 12, 7:36pm
Pack up that fucking black box and send it to Richard. I need to know what the fuck happened.

Just as he finishes sending the text, an alert chime pops up. He turns his phone over, eyeing the response.

April 12, 7:37pm
You sure? When I asked you last time you said he was a “stupid fucking asshole” and that you'd find someone else.

Avi snorts, biting down on his bottom lip as he thumbs out an angry response.

April 12, 7:37pm
I said he was a “stupid motherfucking asshole” let's be clear. And yes. Tell him it's priority.

It takes a moment for the response back.

April 12, 7:38 pm

Avi closes his eye for a moment and wheels back over to his desk, pivoting his wheelchair until he's squared with it. It's a graceless fight to get there. For a little while, he just sits there in the chair, staring vacantly at the door to his office and seems to forget about the world around him. He closes his eye again, then looks down to his phone thoughtfully.

There's a lot on his mind. He stares blankly at his text messages, tabbing over to his sent log and scrolling back down through to earlier correspondences. His brows furrow, lips downturn into a frown, and he slides the conversation window open and starts angrily composing another message.

April 12, 7:42pm
I realize I'm just sending this into the fucking void, but it'd be nice to know what to tell your fucking daughter or the DoJ or SESA or literally any of the half dozen fucking people you’re avoiding. The half dozen fucking people angrily calling me because you have shit you're not doing.

Avi clicks send and slaps his phone down in his lap. He tenses his jaw, his good hand clenched into a fist and teeth clenched. Resentment blinds him for a long while, until he realizes he never got a response. Not an automated message saying user not found, not a warning about no signal, nothing. Avi unlocks and screen and checks what he sent. There's just a little gray notification under it.

Seen: 7:42pm


With each passing day, Hana has gotten a slightly better picture of just what her future (past?) self was involved in — a web of connections and associations utterly alien to the woman now operating under the moniker of 'Wireless'.

Telling them to shut up and go away would only open the door to more nagging, to poking and prodding, to questions of why — to demands she is not willing to commit to, responsibilities she is not prepared to shoulder, relationships she does not remember how to negotiate. So very many people want a piece of Hana Gitelman, even as said woman clings with all the fervor of one drowning to the bare handful of things she does have absolute faith in, the bedrock that ego shock and defensive paranoia and resolute denial cannot shake. There simply aren't any pieces left over to be shared.

Not by her. So she doesn't give them that inch, doesn't open herself up to losing miles, not for any of the clamor that claws at the inside of her skull.

But she isn't the only one listening. She isn't the only one who could respond.

The entity known as T.Amas reaches out into digital ether much as a cat might swat down a paper airplane. Only this airplane is a collections of 0s and 1s that conspire to carry a message, sent by someone who deserves more than self-protective silence in return.

Probably most of them deserve better, but one step at a time. After all, the entity isn't any more secure in itself than is its host; rather less, in fact, lacking any depth of history as it does.

It's not certain who Avi Epstein is, not personally, not beyond what can be gleaned from cyberspace; dry facts and gigantic holes, all of which mean little in the scheme of things T.Amas is concerned with. Even the few associative recollections that have surfaced from Hana in recent days tell it little about the man behind that name. Without that familiarity, it cannot expect this conversation to go 'well' — not for any value of 'well' whatsoever. But the least it can do is try.

There are disadvantages to being disembodied; it cannot draw in a steadying breath, square its shoulders, or otherwise do anything self-assuring. It can only compose its chosen bits and bytes… send them winging out along the return path… and wait.

April 12, 7:48pm
I am sorry.
I have tried to persuade her to answer. I do not believe it helped.
She is very stubborn.

The vibration in Avi’s pocket several minutes after he’d given up hope for a response draws him to a moment of furious paralysis. He retrieves the phone and stares down at the message with opaque frustration, teeth clenched.

April 12, 7:49 pm
Since when does she have a fucking secretary?
Where is Hana, what the fuck have you done with her, and precisely how long do you think you have to fucking live once we figure out where you’re keeping her?

Hana’s silence has only heightened the urgency of the demand.

If a digital entity could sigh, it would. Technically, it can — but not, via medium of text message to a man who is not a technopath, in a way that communicates any nuance whatsoever. Of which, the nuance would be the entire point.

In its virtual shoes, Hana would spark, fling irate words back — her temper palpable no matter the medium. But she is not part of this conversation, and T.Amas opts to skip over the emotionally-charged aspects rather than engage in kind.

April 12, 7:50pm
At minimum, since three days ago.
As to what was done, if your personnel retrieved the tablet as they asserted, and if it is as integral as I predict, it is likely you will in short order know more than we do.

Avi pauses, flinches, and his one good hand goes back to furiously thumbing out a response.

April 12, 7:50pm
Unfortunately our technical expert is not fucking answering my phone calls.
And I’m not appreciating having to route through either her current kidnapper
or her Ask Jeeves voicemail service

April 12, 7:51 pm
I’m sending the tablet off so I can get a fucking English answer. But my direct superior is strangely not answering calls about her multi-million dollar business she fucking runs
and I have government regulatory agencies breathing down my fucking neck asking why
and might I add they are NERVOUS when people like Hana drop off the radar
because we might have a small history
of fucking starting wars
and finishing them

Avi rolls his bottom lip between his teeth, looking briefly to an old squad photo on the corner of his desk, then back to the phone.

April 12, 7:52 pm
so if Hana can come out and play that’d be really swell

Digital silence ensues for a time, what might be a figurative flinch on the other end, or simply a moment of thought, weighing potential answers against their poorly-modeled potential outcomes. What it knows and does not know. What it can say and what is not its prerogative to reveal.

Proxy responsibility only stretches so far. As does T.Amas' actual ability to influence Hana Gitelman.

April 12, 7:57pm
I will tell her.

A promise without meaning or weight, when conveyed across digital connection with a stranger, and yet all it can give. There is another pause as the entity considers, weighing options. Finding them all lacking, again. Still.

At least the antipathy to "non-English" answers, interpreted in a certain light, flags some possibilities as more suboptimal than others. That closes one avenue. Another is almost as clearly contraindicated, and set aside accordingly.

Which is most of its options spoken for.

April 12, 7:59pm
If there is anything on the tablet you see fit to share.
We would appreciate it.

A last hesitation too brief to be marked by biologic perceptions, noticeable chiefly in the fact that separate messages exist.

April 12, 7:59pm
It might help.

Avi stares down at his phone, lips pressed together in a thin line, eye shutting and head shaking from side to side as if he had just read something crass about his mother in that text message, rather than what's actually there. Sighing, he doesn't respond. Instead, Avi tucks the phone between his leg and the side of his wheelchair, then starts the stubborn process of wheeling himself out of his office while shouting.


Two Days Later

April 14th


«…no, Mr. Epstein, that's what I'm trying to tell you. I don't believe it was an accident. There's a lot of data on here, but it's mostly logs of the circular input.»

Seated in his office, Avi stares at the matte black dome of his conference call hub, listening to the voice of an unfamiliar woman from Raytech discussing something leagues over his head. His head, which rests down against his one good hand. “Look. Doctor Cranston,” he says with an exasperated tone of voice. “Pretend like you're talking to a child about this, okay? Can you explain it to me like I'm five?”

A sigh emits through the speaker. She'd been trying to.

«It's a security system. Basically, it… once a technopath interfaces with it, the device — the Well — turns a technopath’s ability on themselves. They're fed their own thoughts and ideas, like… a feedback loop.»

Avi grunts, lifting his head up enough to scrub his mouth with one hand. “So, what it's a trap?

«Yes. I'm not sure that's what it's original design was intended for, I can't infer intent out of any of this, but it appears as though it's meant to intercept a technopath and route them into a…» She searches for a simple enough metaphor. «A prison of their own making.»

“So, marriage.”


“Nevermind.” Avi sits up, looking at his cell phone sitting on his desk. “What's the overall effect? So you get a technopath trapped in their own little Mayberry Lane, then what?”

«I'd need to research more about the processes of technopath and liberated consciousness. It's not precisely my area of expertise. But…» There's wariness in Doctor Cranstron’s voice. «I can infer it could be used for numerous things. Information-gathering, simple imprisonment, potentially even reprogramming.»

Avi’s brows crease together, suddenly more invested, more clear on the implications. “What do you mean reprogramming. We're talking about people, not machines.”

«The delineation between human consciousness and a computer isn't as stark as it might seem, especially with technopathy bridging those differences. But— let me be clear— that's just a theory. The data is there, the technopath’s thoughts and memories. I don't know what would happen if someone tried to… manipulate them.»

Avi exhales a sigh through his nose and nods once, then looks back over to his cell phone. “Thanks, Michelle. Can you forward the data you pulled out of that thing to my email? You all can keep it for research for now. And tell Richard he's an asshole, but also thanks.”

There's a muffled piece of half-laughter from Michelle on the other side of the call. «I'll do that, Mr. Epstein. Have a good day.»

“Yeah. You too,” Avi says before hitting the end call button on the hub. He turns, picking up his cell phone and eyeing the lock screen displaying the Tlanuwa sitting in the hangar in Rochester on the first day Wolfhound officially moved into the Bunker. Sitting back in his wheelchair, Avi goes about composing a new text message.

April 14th, 5:23pm
The tablet was fucked, somebody stepped on it. Got a consulting company to do a backup.
Data recovery of the device is in my email. Do I even need to forward it to you?

Avi chooses not to mention what he's learned, provided the technopath wasn't already eavesdropping. What this T.Amas has to say on his own, or if he admits to eavesdropping, will all tell important things to Epstein.

Given two days of silence, T.Amas had not expected a reply at all. That said, the second most likely prospect looked at least something like this. Second-ranked just hadn't rated much in absolute terms.

Its reply is prompt, the only delay that of processing by the mindless mediating system.

April 14th, 5:23pm
I am not going to hack your email, Epstein.
Send it, or don't.

There are a number of implications that can be distilled from that statement, as with others sent by the stranger. But perhaps the most striking is that although delivered by unornamented text, the words carry a distinctly Gitelman-esque acerbity.

Epstein's brows furrow, head tilts to the side, and he switches out of the messenger app and drags a file from his email back into the messaging client and drops it in. As the progress bar is filling — slowly, given the state of the Internet — he composes a response.

April 14th, 5:25pm
How very polite of you.

Epstein can fill in how, if it were Hana on the other end of digital line, receiving that message, he would receive the flattest of flat looks in response. For its part, T.Amas merely sends no reply, letting the remark stand in silence. It waits while the network processes, and grabs the data just as soon as it might.

Mundane connections are slow. It's no small amount of data.

It doesn't take long for T.Amas to begin to put together a picture of what that data is, even before the full content has been transmitted. Or to get buried down in the weeds of what it means, from its host's perspective — and what is missing, from its own.

Stream of consciousness, dream and dreamlike thought and associative memory and technopathic representation all flowing one into the next — but only one such stream. So far.

There's plenty of data still to be looked at, but T.Amas doesn't expect that trend to differ.

Eventually, it separates enough attention from perusal of the data to acknowledge the person who sent it.

April 14th, 5:38pm
This does help. Thank you.

There is a pause, a moment, a minute — and three staccato chimes herald another series of messages, as if the decision of what to reveal evolved even as the messages were being composed.

April 14th, 5:40pm
Disrupting the device's activity seems to have had adverse effects.

April 14th, 5:40pm
Data loss.
We do not remember what happened. What went wrong.

April 14th, 5:41pm
I cannot say if that was a function of the device or of how it was interrupted.
Given this data, I conclude it was not the primary intent.

At first Avi seems to accept that answer, a resigned sigh slipping out his nose. Right up until he thinks about it for any amount of time, and suddenly doesn't.

April 14th, 5:42pm
back the fuck up
define “don't remember”

April 14th, 5:43pm
As phrases go, that is rather self-explanatory.

April 14th, 5:43pm
Pretend I'm a ducking idiot and need things explained to me
you know what I meant

The pause that follows is distinctly palpable, although not excessively long.

Though it might feel like an approximation of forever to the one waiting.

April 14th, 5:45pm
We woke up in the desert with no memory of arriving there.
No recollection of being in the mine. Or of the device.

The exasperated noise that comes out of Avi almost sounds like a balloon deflating.

April 14th, 5:46pm
Ok i’ve been really patient on this
Who the actual fuck are you and why didn’t Hana come back?
Why is she ghosting her entire company?
Why is she too much of a fucking coward to talk to me face to face?

So many angry thumbstrokes.

April 14th, 5:47pm
I cannot tell you.
For all I know, my existence began five days ago.

April 14th, 5:48pm
If you found yourself in a personal crisis, what would you do?
Would you turn to her to solve it?
To anyone?

Avi starts to compose an answer, then stops, deletes everything he had written and furrows his brows thoughtfully.

April 14th, 5:52pm
of course I wouldn't
but I'm a fucking idiot
and so is she
because there's a building full of people who care about us both
and we’re too goddamn stubborn to admit we need anyone else
because we’re fucking damaged
but just because we have bad coping mechanisms
doesn't mean it's right

Sliding his tongue across his teeth, Avi sets his phone down on his desk for a moment and rests his head in his hands. It had taken him his entire life to listen to that advice. Just shy of too late.

April 14th, 5:54pm
I concur.
If she were thinking rationally. If she was giving advice instead of being the one affected.
I am confident she would say the same.

April 14th, 5:54pm
That is no small factor in why I have answered in her stead.
I cannot make it right myself; I cannot stand in for her.
Not in the ways that matter most.
But it does not serve her for me to stand by, either.

Another distinct pause, then two more chimes in quick succession.

April 14th, 5:56pm
I can say this:
The woman you know, the woman the world constantly tells her she must be, and the woman she remembers herself being do not align.
She has had only five days to even begin coming to terms with this.
Which is to say, she has not done so at all.

April 14th, 5:56pm
As I said, as you know: she is very stubborn.

Watching his phone to make sure T. Amas is done, Avi’s preoccupied himself with taking off the wrist brace that's replaced the cast he had just a few days ago. The tear of Velcro breaks the silence of his office, and he flexes his hand open and closed as if testing out a new hand. In many ways it is.

Satisfied that T. Amas is done, Avi picks up the phone and goes back to messaging.

April 14th, 6:02pm
that's swell
but the world isn't stopping for her
so I need to know what the fuck we’re doing
and when she’ll be back
or where she is so I can drag her the fuck back myself

April 14th, 6:03pm
You'll have to take that up with her.

The entity's willingness to go behind Hana's back only extends so far.

The noise that erupts from Avi at that message is nothing short of a howl.

April 14th, 6:04pm
what the duck do you think I've been trying to do!?
and you know I didn't
mean duck

One minute stretches into two, three, five minutes that pass without response, until it can only be concluded that what rapport they had has broken. That the stranger on the other end means to remain silent, figuratively signing off from the conversation without any nod to social niceties.

That mannerism, too, hearkens back to the woman who was the subject of conversation — if with markedly less invective, glaring, and emphatic energy involved. Or maybe it's just the disengagement of a stranger engaged in cyber conversation: anonymous, faceless, and beholden to nothing on the far end.

“Goddamnit,” Avi says quietly, slouching back into his chair and staring up at the ceiling.

April 17th, 3:33 pm
Finalizing the NYPD contract, really could use your eyes on this.

April 19th, 2:08am
Yamagato’s CEO moved to the Safe Zone. Who was your contact there?

April 23rd, 6:17pm
Devon’s alive.
Monroe had him. Experiments.
We need you.

April 30th, 7:01am
I’m pregnant. It’s yours.

Where are you?

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