Professional, Personal, Existential


hana_icon.gif vincent_icon.gif

Scene Title Professional, Personal, Existential
Synopsis Conversation with moderately less dire implications at a dive in Rochester.
Date July 5, 2018


It’s a weeknight in Rochester, and some parking lots are emptier than others. The interior of this dive is dark enough to confuse the average cell phone camera — lit only by the glow effusing from a few scattered neon signs and a sallow fixture over the bar itself. An old jukebox turns over a Willie Nelson track next to a pair of pool tables, only one of them currently manned.

There’s a single television in an adjacent room.

“How has Colette been?”

Vincent is first to chisel through the quiet that followed them in here, right hand idle at the base of a dark bottle. His tie is loose around his neck, glasses touched with neon. The table between them is black, scratched in with the names and initials and phone numbers of patrons past. It’s hard to say if his security knows where he is right now.

He certainly didn’t stop to tell them he was leaving.

For all that Vincent said he had 'things to talk about', coming here, Hana hasn't pushed for that conversation to start — hasn't even nudged it. She is perfectly comfortable with silence, dingy ambiance, and the beer that accompanies them. She's still dressed in her atypical suit, but with a leather jacket thrown on top, she just gives the appearance of being someone altogether too fond of black.

Which fits right in, here. Also, not exactly untrue.

The question with which her companion broaches their bubble of silence draws an askance look from Hana, paused in the act of raising her drink to her lips. "Professional, personal, or existential?" she asks, clarifying the scope of the inquiry.

Assuming it has a scope.

Vincent doesn’t answer immediately, given over to the sluggish consideration that the three options presented to him might not be inextricably intertwined in a colossal laser-gridded mess. As previously assumed.

“All of the above.”

He locks that in as his final answer with a glance that falls on the dry side of weary.

If nothing else, the atmosphere in here lends itself well to privacy — dark and dim and with ambient noise just enough to keep conversation from carrying. Lazzaro looks comfortable enough, his read of the place limited to a quick once over upon entry. The pair tending bar hadn’t glanced twice.

Hana completes the drink she'd started, and idly regards the pool-players while Vincent mulls over his answer. Everything. Well, then. She takes another swig, then sets the bottle on the table with a soft thunk.

"Professionally, she's conducted herself well. Abides by Noa and Adel's leadership. Seems to be thinking things through more, looking beyond direct personal action, and soliciting approval when approval is needed." Implicitly, her approval, but Hana has no intention of further detailing that particular incident. It wasn't Wolfhound business, and isn't Vincent's.

"Personal…" Hana runs a finger around the rim of her bottle, contemplating her response. "I will admit to being less than pleased with her on a personal matter. But not one that has any bearing." Says the woman who lives and breathes compartmentalization; but it is, ultimately, a passing irritation. "Her relationships appear stable and sound, within and without the unit."

"Existentially, she's still attending therapy," of course, "and I have the impression it's working out for her. Whatever that's worth." Tipping back her bottle, Hana takes a deep drink. There might be implicit commentary in that action, if one's inclined to read into it. Its subject, however, would be ambiguous: therapists in general, or Colette's case in specific.

Hana’s answer is more promising than he expected.

So far is the qualifier it’s tempting to tack on, with her Liberty Island incident still fresh on the books. He muffles the instinct to coil around that sticking point with a long drink, and an even longer look away into space. They’re far enough out from November now that he can follow along (for the most part) without misgiving, willing to buy into moderate — realistic — success.

“Two out of three isn’t bad, considering where we were at last year.” It hasn’t technically been a year, but it will be soon enough. “Three out of three if the personal matter is — contained.” Like a mouse in a matchbox and not shrapnel in a pipe bomb. Hopefully

Vincent’s curiosity is too guarded to read as a prompt via another glance, and another drink, beer swallowed where further probing might otherwise go. Pool balls click across felt.

“Whatever gets it done.” His philosophy on therapy. “Eve Mas checked herself into the Benchmark.”

To the word contained, Hana lifts a hand in a gesture that straddles the line between throwaway and dismissive wave as if it can't decide which it should be. "It is," she asserts, finality offering no leeway for solicitation of explanation. Matter closed.

Her expression is as opaque as those two words, at least until philosophy enters the picture, however briefly; the corners of her mouth twitch, fleeting concurrence with that simple, stark principle.

The conversational segue elicits interest more overtly in evidence, encoded in the tilt of her head, the arch of her brows, the focus of dark eyes on Vincent. "Did she? Hm." Hana looks at the brown bottle in her hand a moment. "Well, I hope that works out for her, too."

“She did.” Vincent’s eyes are dark in his head, hard-chipped edges hazy with distraction — a look more common to him in the span where he held no office at all. He follows Hana’s glance to her bottle and tips his own in late (dry) concession for the inevitable: “Not before the secret service hauled her up to my front door in Missouri.”

Drink when Eve Mas does something that would only seem like a good idea to Eve Mas. He drinks.

“She had a lot to say about Adam Monroe,” more seriously, “and the entity accompanying him.” As many other fires as he already has on his dossier to put out, this one has evidently been on his mind enough for him to bring it up now.

Maybe the opening chords to ghost riders in the sky reminded him.

Hana closes her eyes and shakes her head at the intimation of Eve's adventures in Missouri, breathing out a wordless huff. It's not even a surprise, really.

That dry blend of humor and exasperation bleeds away, and quickly, upon the mention of Adam Monroe and friend. The look she gives Vincent sharpens, though not so far as to acquire an edge. Not in this setting, the semblance of after-hours relaxation, and not against him.

She spends a moment in draining down the last of her drink, the empty bottle clinking briefly as it comes to rest. "I have the feeling I need a refill for this," Hana remarks, tone hovering on the border between dry and sour, hands bracing against the table as she rises. "You?"


Hana’s already rising; Vincent’s not in a hurry to beat her back to the bar, not yet having found the bottom of his bottle. He does stand after she’s gone, but it’s to shrug out of his jacket, collar dropped to hook over a neighboring chair, lapel swept smooth with the back if his hand.

He drains the rest of his beer on his feet, and slings it over into a barrel of a trash bin nearby. It lands with a satisfying smash against the bottles already in there.

He doesn’t sneak a look sideways after Hana at the bar until he’s retaken his seat.

The walk to the bar is unhurried but purposeful; so is Hana's return. She passes over Vincent's refill before dropping back into her seat, her own held idle for the moment. Her gaze flicks aside to observe the pool players setting up a new round, drawn by flurry of activity rather than any real interest.

She also might be stalling, just a little.

"Monroe and entity," Hana at last recaps with a weighted out-breath, looking sidelong to Vincent, "Please, do elaborate," is exactly as sardonic in delivery as it should be.

“Thank you.”

Vincent is at ease as only a lightly buzzed g-man who can retreat into intangibility can be, conscious of the game racking itself back into a fresh start behind him without paying it much mind. He drinks when she doesn’t, content to let quiet settle back in within the joint distraction of her return and a vrrrr at his pager that he’s already decided to ignore.

“It sounds like a conduit to me. Possibly female in — nature.” Is that even a thing, for conduits? Vincent opens his hand around the beer Hana’s brought him — silent confession of the loss he’s at, there. He doesn’t know.

“Old, daunting. Eve said it drove her out of her own head. It doesn’t sound like anything we’ve gone up against before. Granted,” he closes his eyes, slow, patience heavy-lidded for the inherent ridiculousness in reporting: “I was out of commission for most of the ‘Kazimir’ saga.”

So forgive him his remedial education. The table is damp under the heel of his hand — blotted at with the napkin he’d previously been using as a coaster.

“She went on about wanting to hunt them down.”

Hana mulls over Vincent's remarks with the aid — or perhaps absent afterthought — of alcohol, bottle resting against her chin after. "A conduit," she echoes, as mystified as the messenger.

"I didn't have much to do with Volken, either," she prefaces. Flunkies. Finances. Not the issue of the man himself… or the power, itself. "And my understanding is they were supposed to have been destroyed. But…" Her lips twist in distaste. "Who's to say there were only ever two?"

That thought's worthy of another drink.

"You might talk to Allègre, see what he knows." Or thinks. Speculates.

The subject of hunting, she leaves to itself for a moment longer.

Wet napkin flopped flat, Vincent squares his bottle down onto it and sinks back, shoulders stretched and rolled. Just a little over one beer in, he glances to the chair that’s host to his jacket like he’s thinking about kicking his feet up into it.

“I’d like to borrow him for a consult, actually.”

Allègre, he means.

He looks back to to Hana to see how she takes that, thoughts still snagging elsewhere, if the slack in his neutrality here is any indication. This has the feel of a notification out of courtesy more than it does a request — a little brazen, but well within the known parameters of his audacity. Particularly where matters of what he’d consider National Security are concerned.

“I need to know what Ruskin’s intentions are, once we’ve cleared Irwin.”

Vincent's request-that-isn't receives a tersely permissive tilt of hand not unlike the gesture that prefaced in this venture. She offers no objections, has none even if this weren't an issue of common concern.

Her next drink is interrupted by what also isn't a request, but has more the form of a demand. Hana pauses in the act of raising her bottle, sets it back down with glassy clink. Where the first received unembellished acquiescence, this receives incredulity, and perhaps the hint of incipient scowl.

Someone inclined to snark might reply with That's nice. "And do you expect me to know them?" owes rather more to acerbity, and the prefacing context of Wolfhound as information source.

“Oh, don’t bristle.”

Vincent hoods his brow, chiding, napkin (and bottle) drawn in close enough for him to cool his knuckles against condensation. Please.

There’s no heat in it, and certainly no vitriol, lazy affection at a low baseline beneath reproach.

“I intend to meet with her. Francois is the only backup I know of well-equipped to gauge how in control of her own faculties she is, or what she might really want. That’s all.” It’s not his fault she hired up the foremost (and maybe the only extant) expert on conduit affairs in the country. Brow still knit, he keeps an eye on her while he hooks the aforementioned chair out towards him with his foot.

The legs grate.

“She ashed a room full of gangsters on Staten Island back in June.”

It's not her fault that he's sometimes terse to the point of non-sequitur. Even when the thought behind isn't actually. Hana merely gives Vincent a look most of the way to reproach, brows raised, then takes a long pull of her beer.

Bristling comes with being Gitelman. That probably is her fault.

"That's fine." Francois as backup, that is. Maybe also the deaths of gangsters, whose loss she's not inclined to grieve under any circumstance. What Hana thinks of ashes remains between her and the dark glass beneath her gaze. A gaze whose actual focus is on evaluating something rather far from here.

"Talked to her a couple weeks ago," she remarks, almost absently. "Very brief, two ships passing in the night. She seemed consistent with what I remember." For whatever little that's worth, as another drink attests.

One across the other, Vincent kicks his brogues up into the adjacent seat, a barely-there crook at the corner of his mouth for her look. He watches her look at her bottle at news of that recent ashing too, gauging her lack of any comment with a beat of quiet to match.

“I only spoke to her the one time.”

A plastic tin rattles near the pocket he’s fished it out of, something small and white shaken out and hooked behind his lip.

“She was with Colette when they handed over the ACT system.” The one he turned over to the Times. He reaches for his beer, lifting the open noose of his tie up with a sigh. “Hard to believe she was only twenty-two.” A long swig later, he adds:

“I hope you’re driving.”

There's a conversational path that wanders down into the weeds of reminiscence, or at least brushes past them: who Eileen Ruskin was to Hana, to the Ferry. Rather than follow it, she lets silence reign — up until Vincent speaks again.

He gets a sidelong look. "Sure." She can drive.

Long fingers tap on the side of the beer bottle — pads, not nails. "If Adam has a conduit…" Associates with one, whatever; the important part is that they seem to come as a set. "…does it have a counterpart?"

That merits another drink, too. Hana doesn't take it.

Vincent isn’t overly given to plucking at loose threads of nostalgia himself. What’s done is done, who’s dead is dead. Most of the time.

He looks away in the low light, eyes heavy-lidded after the drift of more sober thought. Serious might be a better word, in this case, actually. Someone behind him sinks a shot worth celebrating; and what had been a very quiet game up to now raises its stakes into shit-talking and a friendly shove. Vincent hefts his beer at the wrist in mock honor of whatever success, reminded of where they are.

The jukebox beats on.

“Great.” Hana can drive. He finishes what he has left.

“Why wouldn’t it?” A legitimate question, wreathed in bleak humor. It’s hard to even pretend he understands the way the world works anymore. He’s just the Secretary of Damage Control. “There must be balance in the Force.”

Hana's expression reflects that bleak humor back in kind. So where is it? goes unsaid. Even she only tempts fate so much.

"I guarantee Monroe has the evil twin," is what she voices instead. "Mas had better be careful where she goes poking sticks."

She won't be goes unsaid but not unheard, implied in tone and in the gaping void after that statement. Now, Hana takes that drink.

Hana doesn’t ask and Vincent doesn’t volunteer an answer. The more of them there are, the more dire the world’s position in the middle of whatever eternal struggle. And when has anything they’ve encountered ever not been part of a larger worst case scenario?

“I agree.”

On both counts.

Predisposed as Lazzaro is to keeping his cards close, he’s capable of conveying enough with something as simple and secure as eye contact. Loose tie, collar still bit stiff at his neck, his dark eyes are unmoved by the implicit international nightmare of a crazy person going toe to toe with Adam and his big black conduit. He’s already keeping tabs on Eve Mas.

“You’d think someone would’ve written a dissertation on these things already,” he says, and lobs his empty bottle lazy across the room into the same bin as before. It shatters. “Maybe we should offer a scholarship.”

More presently, he gestures to Hana’s beer.

“You going to want another one?”

"Bit hard to get one to study now," is Hana's response as she leans back in her chair, crossing legs at the ankle beneath the table. Just whatever's left in Francois' recollections.

"Might have to settle for a bounty instead." And not one Wolfhound's about to take on, not without a lot more information. Which, who knows? Eve might even deliver.

"Yes," Hana affirms at the last, picking up a bottle that isn't quite empty, but can be made so in short order. "One more."

“Well,” says Vincent. “We know where one is.”

So that’s a start.

Rather than drag his heels down off of their perch, he nods to her agreement for another round and sublimates where he sits, black vapor eddying in the turbulence his departure leaves behind. It flushes low around the chair as it disperses, and a beefsteak choking a pool cue straightens up from a missed shot to stare at Hana through the haze. He nudges his friend.

Elsewhere, she might catch the tail end of Vincent slipping into the restroom at the bar.

He returns on foot a few minutes later, Hana’s bottle planted down before his — freeing up his hands for him to slouch down into his seat. Feet up, one elbow hooked up over the back of his chair. A normal thing for a normal person to do at a normal bar.

“I don’t think I have anything else,” he admits, once he’s settled. They might have to do this last round in awkward silence. Or talk about something else.

The inconsequential stranger staring at her gets a flat, forbidding glare in return before Hana finishes off her drink. She pitches her two bottles unceremoniously into the bin with sharp, chiming clatter, and settles in to wait, her posture as close to casual as it's apt to be, considering.

She only moves to glance at Vincent when he returns, a brief nod acknowledging the delivered bottle. She's slow to pick it up, slow to drink from it, slower still to break the silence that stretches in the wake of his admission.

"Hypothetically," she says at last, gazing into the dim reaches of the room, seeing none of them. "You given much thought to AI?"

Hypothetically, says the technopath.

She doesn't mean the cutting-edge yet utterly mundane machine learning techniques that have co-opted the term, either. It's a terrible term for what she does mean — but good enough for now.

“Hypothetically, have I given much thought to AI,” Vincent echoes, and it’s already clear that he has not.

“I mean, I’m sure at some point…”

Surely it’s come up in a brief somewhere; there were whispers of unusual experiments back from the development of robots for the Department of Evolved affairs. Things that might have been testified about in the Albany trials.

He mulls over his beer, slow to commit to round three. A little slow in general, actually, a shade of muzzy delay to his recognition of the significance inherent in Hana being the one to ask.

“…Have you?”

Hana's lips quirk in rueful recognition of the response she expected, visible in profile. "Far as I know, any technopath might make the jump when they die." That might sound morbid, were it delivered in anything other than a matter-of-fact, purely informative tone.

"I know of three who did," she continues, "and three… three cases that are rather stranger. Without counting the Institute," is appended after momentary delay, inflection gone rather more flinty there.

The part Hana fails to share is that she's directly responsible for two of those 'stranger' cases… and poised to be involved with the third.

"So yes," she finishes, before taking a long drink and finally looking back over at Vincent. "You could say it's come up."

Information like this requires a frameshift in understanding of life, the universe and everything to be assessed from a practical perspective. Vincent goes ahead and takes a drink, bottle set aside so that he can scuff against the grain of stubble under his chin, right hand fanned out blocky over and under his jaw.


To his (very limited) credit, it doesn’t take him long to cross whatever bridge of acceptance he needs to cross. Artificial intelligences exist now, sure. There isn’t just one. There are six.

The alcohol helps.

“So three of them are ghosts.” Technically, right? He furrows his brow at her. Is that insensitive of him to say? “And three of them are something else.” Without counting the Institute.

“You’ve spoken to them?” Curiosity and beer and long-jaded acquiescence to the strange dull down at the anxiety threatening to crawl up behind his collar. “Do they have a sense of humor?” Because at the rate things have been going, that might be the only buffer between humanity and an executive AI decision to grey goo the solar system.

Hana's brows arch as Vincent ponders the paradigm change she's presented, a fleeting moment of shadowed humor at having broadened his horizons to include some of the strangeness that is part and parcel of hers.

"Two were ghosts," she corrects, distinctly quiet for reasons other than any possible insensitivity. "The third… disappeared." Implicitly: good riddance on that account, too.

Questioned about humor, Hana idly toys with the bottle in her hands, considering. "Yes," she says at last. "Five, at least; one was a teenage boy with a massive chip on his shoulder," she qualifies, "and if he had humor, I never saw it." On the other hand, still an eminently relatable psychology.

"Each one started with a person," she continues. "If not an outright 'ghost', still based on someone. Rooted in who they were. Memories. Personality. Likes, dislikes. Attachments. …And humor."

She takes another drink; somehow, this bottle's almost gone already.

Three were ghosts, then, and one was exorcised, leaving two ghosts and three, what? Shadows of personality in code? He’s withdrawn from focus, watching her toy with the bottle while some part of him tries work its way through the math.

If one artificially intelligent train leaves the station at 10:00 AM travelling south at 60 miles per hour…

What do you even do against a hostile artificial intelligence? Unplug your ethernet cables and hope for the best? It doesn’t matter. He’s over the limit and he knows it, thoughts of worst case scenario abandoned in favor of the table edge rough under his thumb, neon light, Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, and Hana. The robot apocalypse can wait until tomorrow.

He groks enough to zero in on her in the midst of it.

“Why do you ask?”

Why, indeed.

It's a question that gives Hana pause, forces her to look back, pick at the thoughts that sparked this line of conversation. Certainly the subject isn't like those before it: Of the three that remain, two she trusts; the third is less well-known, but soundly shackled.

"Not a present concern," Hana replies at length. "More of an… existential matter." She considers the glass in her hands, dark surface that reveals nothing and only reluctantly even reflects light. Somewhat like her own recent choice, a commitment presently impotent but one that burdens her shoulders nonetheless. One she cannot readily seek reassurance on, not even from the memories of her dead.

Also, she's definitely reached her limit on alcohol for this outing.

Draining the rest of her drink, Hana pushes away from the table. "I'll let you know if it turns into something to worry about," she states before moving in the direction of the restroom, away from the subject, disposing of now-empty bottle on the way.

Vincent sobers when she moves back from the table, eyes near dark as the bottle glass in their lack of comprehension. He starts to open his mouth, and closes it again, his own beer re-centered in front of him as he pulls his feet down and leans forward to fold his glasses off.

She’s already gone.

Brow knit down into the heel of his hand, he has a second or two of repose to think in before there’s a heavy tap at his shoulder. A glance that way reveals that it’s the business end of a pool cue.

He ignores it, and whatever Charlie Brownesque wuah wuah taunt that comes with it; the cue’s tip twists to screw in behind his ear.

Vincent vanishes.

From inside the restroom, Hana’ll hear a clatter, a muffled shout, the grate of a table being lurched back under a heavy weight. She’ll also see Vincent when he churns up out of the floor at the sink with half a pool cue sizzling in his hand and chalk raked blue down across his neck. His glasses are missing.

“We should go.”

Someone else might be alarmed at the ruckus. Hana merely takes note of it, makes an extrapolation as to what she'll return to outside.

Outside returns to her first.

Vincent's abrupt coalescence is met with a flat look and a dry huff, neither of which owe anything to propriety. "Evidently," is all Hana has to say on the score, taking in and dismissing the evidence of altercation with a single glance.

"I'm done here," she declares.

“I need to grab my jacket,” Vincent confesses, by way of priority. Also his glasses.

…And his beer, which he wasn’t finished with, thank you. He pinches at the chalk on his collar in the mirror next to her, as aloof to the temporary change in setting as Hana’s own indifference begets.

“Meet you outside?” In the off chance she feels any compelling need to turn one of the regulars inside out on the way.

He boops her in the small of her back with the butt of the cue before he rolls away into smog, a shade too quick to catch anything deadlier than a look for the trespass.

Hana Gitelman is expert in deadly looks, and in the moment before fleeing, Vincent gets one worth the phrase.

Its shadow lingers in her expression as she emerges from the restroom and stalks directly for the exit, not having anything at the table in need of collecting. Long, swift strides carry her through the room before any regulars can do more than think of getting in her way, which is probably for the best all around.

Outside, the hard-edged radiance of streetlights feels harsh, even actinic in comparison to the dim murk within the bar. The same can almost be said for Hana's demeanor, her progression through keys and door and ignition perfunctory and abrupt, her mode returning to closemouthed and aloof.

If nothing else, no further musing confidences will be forthcoming on the drive back.

The biggest of the boys starts to take a step into Hana’s path when she emerges — and plays it off into a move literally any other direction upon getting a load of her, like a rottweiler thinking better of pawing a cat. It’s probably not a coincidence they waited until she was out of the frame to stir shit.

Outside, Vincent’s not far behind her — exit announced by the crunch of his shoes along the dirt walk to the parking lot.

He lets himself into the passenger side with glasses in hand and his coat over his arm, door clomped properly shut after him on his second try, slicing off some of the street light. Only once he’s slid his seatbelt down across his breast does he look over at her to say something, caught up hazy in an immediate second glance.

Seatbelting efforts muddled in the moment, he keeps it held short of the lock.

“Sorry.” Plain, to the point. An excuse would fit in pretty nicely here. There’s certainly room for it, in the break that follows.

“…You want me to call a cab?”

The excuse doesn't seem to be missed for its absence. Vincent's query earns him another look, flat and exasperated, shorn of humor but also seemingly free of the heat of ire.

"I'm not petty, Lazzaro," is dry to match the look. She doesn't elaborate further — no apology of her own, no recriminations, no directives. No waiting on any internal debate her passenger might be having, either, as she takes the car out of park and out of its parking spot.

Once they're on the road, the tension in the atmosphere can be felt to diffuse, albeit by matters of degree. It isn't until a red light forces her to stop that Hana speaks again. "What happened while I was out, anyway?" she asks, with no more than the most mild of curiosity; what happened doesn't really matter. The fact of conversation reopened — might.

Cl-ick, he snaps the seatbelt down into its socket, taking her at her word, however sidelong — dry right back at her. Like maybe that’s not quite how he meant it. It’s hard to say. He doesn’t argue.

He looks forward instead, with an eye for the passenger side rearview, as much out of habit as a drowsy draw to the current of streetlights peeling away behind them. Makes it easy for his thoughts to drift into nothing, just the one metaphorical arm hooked over whatever tightrope tension is still rigged through the driver and passenger sides.

“After you got up?” He doesn’t really give her long enough to clarify, past finally checking back her way with a glance. “I think they just wanted to see what would happen.”

Like poking a porcupine to test whether or not they really can fire off quills.

Vincent's reply elicits a veritably caustic snort. "Of course they did," is inherent commentary on everything that comes under that particular brand of curiosity, at least where said porcupine's quills have sharper edges than the norm.

The light turns green, the car proceeds forward, and Hana lapses back into silence not so much stiff as simply depleted of things to say. She keeps her attention on the drive instead, on line-striped surface and the gleam of mirrors offering complementary perspectives, for all that they've come to roads whose courses are familiar to the point of being ingrained.

Tenzin watches too, as silent in its monitoring now as it has been all eve.

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