Swords And Plowshares


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Scene Title Swords and Plowshares
Synopsis Samantha Meisner and Ted Barnes correspond by letter over the course of a few years of their lives…
Date 2014 — 2017

August 19, 2014g

Scranton, PA

The sun is warm, the grass is green. The sky above is that shade of brilliant blue particular to late summer, the light vibrant despite the technically early hour: celestial mechanics exist beyond the tyranny of clocks. It'll be hot today, but it isn't past warm now, and the air is only moderately cloying.

The city is still sleepy, only a handful of cars migrating along the asphalt veins of its streets. The only people on the sidewalks are rootless and roofless vagrants, and not so many of them as all that — not when compared against lingering memories of the war, makeshift camps thronged with refugees, corpses lying as if quietly dreaming on battered sidewalks.

For they're only almost the only people. Through this peaceful summer idyll, Hana Gitelman runs, the only sound she hears the steady beat of her shoes against concrete.

Dear Ted,
I've been assured this will make its way out to you, eventually. Almost didn't send it, but — well. Why start something and not see it through?
I find myself at loose ends these days. Adrift in a way — I was going to say, in a way I haven't been in ten years, but I wasn't adrift then, just a square peg in a round hole. I had a purpose; what I lacked was any means to effect it.
Now, I look at the world that purpose helped bring about and wonder how I am to fit into it from this point forward. …Not that I'm asking you.

The run comes to an end on an old residential street that has seen far better days, its surface pocked and cracked and crumbling, its sole sidewalk in even worse shape. Hana lets herself through a chain-link gate shadowed by a silver maple with several decades to its name, then into a narrow, white two-story house with plate glass front windows and a metal balustre ringing its porch.

Home, albeit borrowed, and a very long ways away from any other place Hana's ever applied that term to.

The war is over, and it seems the new order is at least trying to follow the straight and narrow. I spent these past months finally finishing the project that's been hanging over my head for years — you know the one. The outcome wasn't what I'd hoped, but positive nonetheless. If you're ever connected out there, don't be too surprised if he drops in to say hello.

But with that done, I find myself idle as I haven't been in years.
It's a very strange feeling, having nothing to do… other than dodge journalists and bloggers. At least the media furor around me has died down, and there's something to be said for doing nothing: even reporters have trouble turning that into a story.

The house's interior is as prosaic as its outside — more so, even, because outside there is ivy climbing up an outside corner, patchy grass in the modest yard, even a pair of chairs on the porch. Inside, the house is characterized by the distinct flavor of emptiness that goes with a new home, boxes not yet unpacked and belongings not yet distributed to the dweller's desires.

Only there are no boxes, not around a corner, not stashed in a closet. Not for ten years has Hana had a place to accrue possessions in, much less the desire to collect them. There are no personal touches in this house: not in the blank walls and bare hardwood floors, not in the plain white blinds or classically black-and-tan doormat, not in the minimum of furniture selected for form and function rather than coherence or complementarity of design.

When it comes down to it, this little house in Scranton, PA will never be home, not for her.

It won't last, of course. I suppose I should be grateful for the downtime. I'm not.
Send a reply if you want. I'll understand if you don't.
Samantha Meisner

October 17, 2014

Snoqualmie, WA

A rumbling generator echoes noisily amid otherwise quiet woodland. Tall fir trees rise up all around the single-story cabin adjacent to the machine, their sagging pine boughs glittering with last night’s rain. A low-lying fog rolls across the hilly forest floor, where bare rocks are encrusted with lichen and moss in equal measure. As he screws the generator’s gas cap on, Noah Bennet makes a soft noise at the back of his throat, one hand at the small of his back, and slowly rises to stand up straight.

There’s a look of satisfaction on his face, even if perhaps a recognition of the hubris at trying to handle all the handyman responsibilities here by himself. Coming around the side of the cabin, he’s managed to walk off some of the discomfort, making his way to the battered mailbox near the cabin’s front door. Fresh boot tracks in the dirt indicate the courier had come and gone while Noah was working out back. He opens the mailbox with a creek, finding a single letter waiting, addressed to Ted Barnes.

I hardly know how to respond.
I’ve sat here, reading your letter for a long while. Long enough that the rain came and went again. It’s peaceful out here, in ways it doesn’t sound like you’d been able to appreciate. I’m not entirely sure I deserve it, either.
It also feels like the world got smaller. I rarely hear about what’s happening outside of a hundred miles around me. The world could be gone, for all I’d know, and we’d just keep moving along as we have. The people are are resilient and stubborn, survivors who aren’t afraid to work hard when they can, and help those who can’t.

Inside the cabin, there’s an old pair of show shoes hanging on the wall by the door. Skis, too, more suited for cross-country than downhill, even though the poles hanging next to them are a little bent. Tearing open the envelope on one end, Noah slides the letter out and unfolds it, pacing around beneath exposed wooden beams hung with dried flowers. He adjusts his glasses, looking down and stopping after a double-take. The corner of his mouth creeps up into a hesitant smile.

He turns to look out the front windows, listening to the wind rattle up against them. Part of him hoped to see a silhouette at one of them, watching. Waiting until he realized what he was reading before making an entrance. The other half of him knows that couldn’t — shouldn’t — ever happen. Instead, he takes the letter over to a small unpolished wooden table by the window, and sits down to read it over more thoroughly this time.

There’s nothing like order out here. Except for what individuals make of it for themselves, at least. We’ve got electricity, which is more than most people out on this coast can say for themselves. It’s quiet, too. Quieter than the garden we used to tend together, that’s for certain. But there’s just as many people with as many personalities. The spirit of these survivors is inspiring.
Some of them have started to turn to me for guidance. When the hard decisions come up: what to do with a thief, what to do about rationing. It started as my making harmless suggestions and has snowballed into something bordering on official.
You must be able to imagine my horror.

Looking out the window, Noah watches the clouds roll in. The wind picks up, playing at the treetops and rustling the overgrown grass, blowing the fog down into the lowlands. Eventually, rain comes to patter softly against the glass and streak down in ever-forking paths. Noah takes a moment to regard the letter again, looking at the name signed on it and smiling wistfully.

I suppose we’re alike in that regard. Neither of us are satisfied by the quiet, by the stillness or by the certain. We’re born of a different world, and no matter how many times we try to change our spots, they always seem to come out in the wash.
Ted Barnes

May 9, 2015

Rochester, NY

Strong sunlight glares out of flawlessly blue sky, glitters off slow-moving water with all the keenness of broken glass. There are birds in the trees scattered around, but most of them remain quiescent during this afternoon lull; rather than birdsong, the ambient noise instead comes from running water, from the ebb and flow of distant tires down paved lanes, the sound of footsteps on gravel. Two pairs.

Hana Gitelman is dressed for business today, carries a clipboard, and it's not even for sake of subterfuge. She hasn't gone so far as to wear heels, at least; while those have their place, that place isn't here. Beside her walks a man in jeans and pressed white polo, taller and sturdily-built yet somehow still lagging ever so slightly behind the major's purposeful strides.

"You really don't need to go to all this trouble," the man says as they cross the graded stretch slated to become the exterior workyard. "I expected Mr. Harkness to just send his pick list on." And by extension, to not require his presence on-site at the time.

Hana glances sideways, expression opaque. "I wanted to take a look at things myself."

Dear Ted,
I am very quickly learning to despise paperwork all over again. Not that this comes as a surprise.
Permits for this. Licenses for that. Inspections for the other. Don't even get me started on the layers of contractors, subcontractors, sub-subcontractors. Some have been stupid enough I've had to kick them out altogether. One contractor then had the gall to complain about delay. I had to remove him, too.
I was polite about it, I assure you.
I apologize for being silent these last couple months, but as you might infer, there's been a lot going on out here. No doubt you noticed that my return address has changed. I own a building now: a building to go with the company I mentioned before. Two things I never in my life would have expected to own. Never.
Sometimes, I stop in front of a mirror and wonder, is that really me looking back?

It's not the graveled stretch that merits inspection, of course, but the building under renovation at its far end. The outside is unchanged; the inside is all bare studs and exposed wiring, waiting hookups and blocked-out spaces awaiting furniture.

They're halfway through the list of everything Harkness found fault with — which is much — when someone else interrupts.


It isn't a name, not really; it's a wordless ping of distinct type, meaning arrived at by idiosyncratic synergy. Hana freezes stock-still for just a breath, long enough for her digital companion to capture her field of view and send it right back, a specific bit recolored in red.

Kneeling, she studies a particular socket, examines the tiny print on the associated wire's insulation. Behind her, she can hear feet shuffle on the concrete, impatient. Probably a bit perplexed, too.

"This line," Hana says as she rises, turning to fix the contractor with a level stare, "is three-quarters the capacity we specified."

I have an office. Somehow, that's even more surreal. I made certain it looks nothing like the office I used to have, in my first job; I still remember how much I despised that place, what it represented to me.
I still remember a lot of things.
I don't hate this office, though — just the paperwork. But paper, in all its forms and derivations, seems set and determined to never die, no matter how much the rest of the world moves on. At least this, I actually chose to do.
The strangest part of all is looking out the window here and realizing I can expect to see this same view for years to come. Years. I haven't expected to stay since…

"You— it— really?"

Hana steps aside without another spoken word, letting the contractor examine the offending element for himself. Silently, she thanks Tenzin for the catch, through mechanism just as wordless as its original alert.

"Huh." The man straightens, dusts off the knees of his jeans. "Must have been a mistake in ordering, though Jim should've caught that before anything was actually installed. Still," he continues, turning back towards her, "this's a pretty standard rating for mechanical use. Should suit your needs just fine…"

His voice trails off as the major fixes him with a flat, forbidding glare. She says nothing.

"…okay, okay. I'll get him on replacing it."

Of all things, it occurs to me… I think my mother would have approved.
Samantha Meisner

October 31st, 2015

Ruins of Seattle, WA

A flock of gulls alights out of an empty fifteenth-story window. The cold autumn air collected between buildings within eyeshot of the rusted remains of the Space Needle sinks into bone like animal teeth. There is little reprieve from the cold, let alone the biting wind that howls between the buildings. Ducked into the shelter of a fire-blackened storefront of what was once a coffee shop, Noah Bennet stands before the heat-shattered windows, looking out to a sea of grass growing up where asphalt has crumbled away from erosion and violence.

“Take it or leave it,” a tall and thin Japanese man behind him says, offering out a scuffed and notched laptop. Noah turns around, sunlight reflecting off of one corner of his glasses as he surveys the man thoughtfully. “It's got what you want on it… it's just— ”


There are some days when I'm presented with a problem and my first thought is to turn to you. Then I remember you're not there, and the shadow on the wall is only a trick of the eye.

Encrypted,” Noah reiterates, cutting his contact off. “I asked you if you could get me DoD files on four people, I didn't ask you to bring me an encrypted hard drive.” He motions to the laptop with an incensed gesture. “That might as well be a snow globe paperweight.”

Part of me misses the paper days. Business was simpler, then. The lines were clearer and resources abundant, making even the most complicated task something manageable. But, I'm pining for the idea of what that time was, not the reality of it.

I don't think you were ever under any illusions about the old job. That's what made our time together so synchronistic. We knew what it was.

It's good to see you've landed somewhere fitting of your skills. Life has been quieter for me; tying up loose ends, and doing some traveling. Devil’s Lake in Colorado was a considerably good vacation.

“Look, friend, there's other buyers who want this hardware. I didn't come all this way not to get paid. We had a verbal arrangement.” Visibly agitated, Noah’s contact stuffs the laptop into a courier bag and makes a demanding motion with one hand. “Cough up the payment. Now.

Noah looks down at the hand held out at him, then back up to the man making the gesture. He straightens his back, takes his glasses off, and pinches two fingers at the bridge of his nose in a moment of stressed contemplation. “Do your other buyers know it's encrypted?”

However, all the travel east has had me on radio silence. It feels like it's been forever since we last corresponded, and that's my fault. But, I caught wind of a mutually-familiar rumor and ran into an old friend of ours while I was in Colorado, so it's not a total loss.

He was in our network, but worked for Leon. I'm sure you remember him?
Unfortunately, he passed away rather suddenly. Cancer had strung him out quite a while, but he had other arrangements in mind. I'm of the belief he may have suffered considerably in his final days.

“It— it doesn't matter,” Noah’s contact splutters. “You got what we agreed on or what?”

“I thought you had other buyers, because I'm not interested.” Noah eyes the younger man up and down and takes a step forward across crumbling plaster flakes and broken glass. “Unless you can drop the price?”

Noah’s contact eyes the laptop, then looks back again with a need to crane his neck up now that Noah is so close (and so tall). “Half,” is a quick concession. One made out of desperation, and Noah looks down the laptop in the bag.

“Half,” he agrees quietly.

In spite of my traveling, I keep coming back here to Washington. The people out this way remind me of characters from old westerns; running the gamut between stubborn and independent to charismatic and unpredictable. It would take a miracle to make all of this orderly.
And yet, here I am trying to make it work. I may pine for the way things used to be, but I know better than to try and repeat the mistakes of the past.

At least… I do now.

The laptop bag is practically shoved into Noah’s hands and in return Noah reaches into his jacket and pulls out a wrinkled paper bag around a bundle of money. “Fifteen thousand,” Noah explains, the money having little intrinsic value where he is. “Try not to spend it all in one place once you get back to Osaka.”

His contact flinches, looking surprised. “How did you…” he half-interestedly asks, flipping through the stack of bills.

“Kansai accent,” Noah offhandedly remarks, checking the laptop and the bag. “But you're not Yamagato.”

His contact shakes his head no, but doesn't expand on the idea.

“You should probably go,” Noah suggests, slinging the laptop bag over one shoulder. “Before your employers notice you're missing.”

But, as much as things change, they also seem to stay the same. I wonder if you feel the same way, when you give yourself time to reflect.

I can't say whether your mother would be proud of what you've accomplished. But I’m certain at least one person is.

Ted Barnes

July 9, 2016

Rochester, NY

Night has settled over Rochester, an enveloping blanket that evokes jewel-like brilliance from the city, the combination of shrouding darkness and vibrant illumination masking the city's worn contours and rough edges. For once, Hana has the shades up and windows open in her demesne, the sounds of flowing river, chirping crickets, and croaking frogs filtering in through the screens.

She hardly even hears them.

Seated at the table in the center of the room, arms folded on its surface, bare feet resting on the rug beneath, back straight in her chair, Wireless isn't here. There is no outward sign of the true focus of her attention, no projector display, no active monitor screens, nothing at all intended for anyone else's enlightenment.

Deep below, the quiet hum of cooling fans indicates systems hard at work, but there's no one around to hear.

Dear Ted,

I almost took a vacation this week, if you can call it that. I used to go every year, you remember. The last time was two years ago. Before that — not since '09, when vacations became all but impossible. I feel I should, and yet I find there's no draw for me, not anymore.

It's not that I miss them any less.

Sometimes I wonder if I've left too much of the past behind. My sister only knows it through the stories I tell, and others she's heard third-hand. Some day, there won't even be those anymore.

It's a bit strange to reread what I just wrote. Leaving the past behind is not something I'm ever accused of — not by anyone else.

There's a kind of oblivion in a deep data dive; the overabundance of information consumes, subsumes. It begins with the mind-numbing tedium of paging through file after inane file, struggling to keep wits sharp despite the utter boredom involved. It continues as pieces of potentially interesting data are drawn into working memory and held there, balanced one against another, tested for connections and correlations. All this together cultivates a nearly zen state of concentration that lets hours tick by like minutes, gone before they're even noticed.

Hours where nothing else matters. Not the week, not her physical location, not what she has or has not done — not the impossible idealization to which Hana Gitelman has always aspired, nor the reluctantly gathering understanding that she has outgrown that idealization. That she does not, cannot live forever in the shadow of her ghosts.

Drowning in data is a different kind of oblivion than she used to seek, less inherently self-destructive. Somewhere, Ghost would be pleased, if he knew.

But you asked, a few months ago, if I feel that things stay the same under all that change; I never really answered. Yes, they do.

I'm doing now what I wanted to twenty, twenty-five years ago. I may be on a different continent, in a different organization, with different labels on the goals, but that's just details. In that light, our former social circle was the change; in some respects, I feel I've come back to — myself, if not truly my roots.

I think, if I hadn't found a calling here, I would have returned to the desert and the sandstorms forever brewing there. Sometimes I think that would be fitting, to be where she was, continue the same struggles she fought. Other times… other times, I have enough self-reflection to realize doing that would be no different than falling into a hole, the kind I never know how to get back out of.

I suppose it says something that I've learned to see those holes, at least on occasion. Some things change, just — very slowly.

There's a lead in here somewhere, a loose end. Something that will lead Nambiza to her quarry, or at the least to more information.

Personnel records, spotty and scarce. Intercepted messages. References to archives, but cryptic, because the people talking knew what and where those archives were. If she could determine that… getting her hands on those archives could open up a multitude of new leads.

If. When. She will find them, it's only a matter of time.

All the more so because Wireless is no longer working alone. Even as she digs up names, communications, locations, it falls to T.Amas to pursue external sources — vital records, property purchases, driver's license and tax records, and above all the remaining snapshots of social media that was. The vast, vast majority of this is pure noise, uninformative, irrelevant — but it builds a web of connections, glimpses into the lives these people led.

Somewhere in there is something useful… even if just a better sense of the people Nambiza hunts.

Knowing the quarry is the first step to finding it.

But enough rambling. In any case, I didn't take a vacation, I just took a day. While I was out, apparently the kids organized themselves a karaoke night. You're more than able to fill in how much alcohol that involved. I'm given to understand Aaron and Helen even egged them on through it. Couldn't say whether they really thought I wouldn't call a meeting the next morning… or if they just wanted to see how many of the kids showed up utterly hungover.

(Though I'm not taking odds. I do have a pretty good guess.)

Sometimes I really feel like the only adult around here.


Samantha Meisner

November 22, 2017

Kansas City, KS

A key card reader beeps politely as an LED turns green. Opening the door beside the key card reader, a tall and well-dressed man in a crisp navy blue suit strides confidently across a tiled floor with a document folder under one arm. His badge returns to dangling around his neck on his lanyard, indicating that he is Geoffrey R. Penn and works for the Department of Defense’s Electronic Logistics and Strategic Planning Division. Passing by another employee in the hall, Geoffrey flashes a warm smile and gives a polite nod back.

Down the hall, past a break room where several younger men and women sit and talk, there’s a small conference room with narrow windows looking out to the Kansas City skyline. Rapping his knuckles on the door, Geoffrey leans into the room, looking around for someone and at first seeing nothing but empty chairs and a flat screen display that says [No Input] in a blinking box.

“James?” Geoffrey calls out, stepping into the conference room and slowly closing the door behind himself.

This letter will likely find you later than anticipated. I’ve been preparing for a business trip this last month while juggling my civic duties back home. But it was a pleasure to hear from you, and an unexpected surprise. Professional relationships are so difficult to maintain at a distance, especially once the profession itself has evaporated.

It’s good to hear you’re acclimating to the limelight. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I fled from it. I’ve been told my name came up from time to time, and though my ears weren’t ringing, I had a feeling that people were talking about me. I haven’t had the courage to look at what was said, however. Because it’s either easy to read lies, or difficult to read truths.
It’s hard for me to tell which I would be more challenged by.

Hearing a clank of something under the table, Geoffrey steps closer, one brow raised over the rims of his glasses. “James? Are you in here?” Then a hand comes up from under the table, followed by another holding a blue CAT-5 cable. Geoffrey pauses, then slowly approaches.

“Yeah, yeah I am, I’m just trying to get the conference call hub working. Can you plug that in? I think these are mislabeled.” James holds up the cable with his visible hand, and Geoffrey leans down and politely takes it, and then plugs it into the side of the plastic call hub in the middle of the table.

After a moment of hearing more clicking under the table, Geoffrey smiles. “Sorry I’m… not actually here for the conference room. You’re James Walton, right? Signals Intelligence?” Under a desk, doing basic IT, because things aren’t streamlined right now. James pops up from beneath the table, scruffy beard and hair combed to one side, pushing thirty now. He looks a little older than Geoffrey remembers him being from his photo.

“Hey, yeah, that’s me.” James’ eyes go down to Geoffrey’s badge. “Electronic Logistics and Strategic Planning Division? I didn’t even know that was a thing…” he notes on circling the table and offering a hand out. “Was… Is there something I can help with?”

Running a community, even in part, is challenging work. Balancing egos, weighing concerns, and being responsible for a disenfranchised people. I never thought I’d do it again, after how our last job ended.
I understand why I was let go, though. It was ultimately a clear HR decision, and I think you not only made the right call, but a compassionate one. I never did get to thank you for your candor that day. So, thank you.

Geoffrey smiles, motioning to the folder in his other hand. “Actually I wanted to talk about your resume.” That makes James’ eyes light up, and he’s quick to offer a handshake to Geoffrey. “You said that you worked for the DoD in 2011? Tactical autonomous operations, so that was… drone operation, correct?”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah I did that for three years,” James notes with a furrow of his brows. “That was— ” it’s suddenly an awkward topic. “That was a long time ago though, I transitioned out of there during the war. After,” he points at the folder, “I moved into signals and— ”

“You did the drone operations over Cambridge though, right? During the riots?” Gregory flips open the folder, looking down at a printed document. James smiles reflexively — nervously — and it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I mean, it says you did here, I just wanted to check up on— ”

“Look,” James raises his hands in a gesture of conceit. “I did, but I already testified about that. I was cleared of any wrongdoing and all I want to do is go forward with my career and— ”

The time between when we worked together and now has given me a sense of clarity I don’t think I had before. It’s shown me that the person I was trying to be, back in those days, may not be the man I’ve actually become.

Geoffrey’s hand comes up and grips James by the throat. Though Geoffrey is older by many years, he has the leverage of height and surprising strength to bear down on the unsuspecting analyst. One foot sweeps out James’ balance, and the grip around his neck becomes a chokehold as he’s driven downward, the side of his head connecting with the corner of the table at full force.

I did some soul searching.

There’s a muffled noise that might be a plea to stop, but Geoffrey raises his shoe and slams it down against where the sound is coming from. Once, twice, three times, enough that the sound changes from something hard to something soft. By the time he’s taken control of himself again, he smudges a drop of blood from his blue necktie and adjusts his horn-rimmed glasses.

I realized that the skills I excel at, the ones I was trained for, were rusting in that old position. I’d been untrue to myself, and in that way I’d forgotten who I am. First and foremost, I’m a family man.

Geoffrey looks down, squinting, and then turns for the conference room door with an urgent quickness.

But, deep down, I’ll always be a company man. What’s changed is how I apply those skills, and the people that have come to rely on them.

He leaves one bloodied heel print on the floor on the way out.

Ted Barnes

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