The Hand of Morpheus



Scene Title The Hand of Morpheus
Synopsis Greek myth.: The god of dreams, particularly 'likely' or 'plausible' dreams.

Sometimes what makes you sit up and take notice isn't the part of a dream that is most surreal (and there are definitely pieces that are). It's the part that seems almost real. The part that could happen.
Date January 24, 2010

New York City… maybe.

It's evening in New York, the sun low in the sky but high enough to peek through the tangle of tall buildings, nearly invisible against the canvas of the sky painted red and orange. It is not the mild-mannered New England sun that should hang low in the sky, but the merciless desert sun, indifferent to those under it, uncaring of their fate. The streets below are indifferent to the rays of the sun, cold wind whipping through the avenues and alleyways and over the silent hulks of automobiles — all sorts for all purposes — neatly scattered about, as if the streets had become literal parking lots and they were simply left by their owners to be retrieved and moved again later. Refuse — wind-blown newspapers and empty aluminum cans and plastic bottles — blankets the silent, empty sidewalks, its rustling, clattering and clanking the only sound to accompany the near but distant drone of battle.

Hana Gitelman is not a part of that distant battle, although that battle is her destination. The distance is unknown, the barking of machine guns and roaring of mortars calling out that they're just around the next corner, and the next corner offering no reward but a street empty save for trash, abandoned vehicles and the biting wind. But she is not alone, pursued by and at the same time in pursuit of another through the streets of New York City. Who they are is unimportant. That they are the enemy is enough.

Finally, after hours — days, weeks, who knows? — the next corner offers something more than the empty streets: The battle that Hana has missed, vehicles burned and destroyed, the street cratered from artillery, the air hazy from a seemingly literal fog of war. And ahead, vanishing just around the next corner, a shadow in the haze, on the move towards the sounds of battle. The fox the hound has been chasing.

She has a rifle, though it's been years since Hana Gitelman carried one; rifles are appropriate in battle, even — perhaps especially — battles joined late. So too with the uniform she wears, olive and khaki rightfully belonging to an earlier, abandoned part of her life. The desert's bitter, burning cold is as familiar as the sound of her own measured breaths, be it sere barrens of the Middle East or snow-laden Arctic wasteland; ignored for it, mindless and unreasoning backdrop to the mercurial chaos of war.

This is war, inevitably; or its derivative warpath, the soldier weaving around crumpled wreckage and pockmarks; training and experience embedded below thought handle how to figure her route, how to avoid trash, how to not stumble over a chunk of shattered asphalt. Thought is reserved for awareness, the flickering sweeps of her gaze over buildings to left and right, and above all else tracking her target's progress.

Hana can't think of why he's a target. Doesn't stop to wonder, no more than she wonders why the white noise of digital communications is absent from this continuity; no more than she thinks to reach out for any sense other than those she was born with. The rules of this engagement are otherwise — and Hana Gitelman isn't the one who wrote them.

Not exactly.

She pursues, because losing her target is not permissible; especially not when the wrecked space she now lopes through speaks volumes on the cost of war and is utterly mute regarding which side has paid the higher price. Hana strains her senses and reason for any hint of ambush or trap, but pursues at her best pace all the same, attention primarily honed upon the indistinct shadow half-glimpsed through sunlit haze of smoke and soot.

The next corner — the corner hiding her quarry — greets Hana with flashing fire and flying asphalt and cement as a shell, no doubt from some distant cannon, explodes not twenty feet away, ruining sidewalk and disemboweling the apartment or tenement complex it landed next to. The blast, the sound, the deafening roar is not so deafening, every bit as distant as the sounds of the far-off battle that continues to rage. Even on this street, as that shadow, silhouetted in the smoggy haze by fires and muzzle flashes, leaps over craters and around destroyed vehicles, there is fighting. Two factions at the end of the street, indistinguishable from each other in the poor light and haze, exchange fire from behind cars, trash cans, through windows high and low, the gunfire far off and muffled, just as the exploding shell was.

But they are not so silent. When the shell explodes, and with every trigger pulled and every grenade thrown between these battle lines that seem incapable of moving, the air fills with a burst of electromagnetic garbage, a staccato of radio-wave rifles that no one can hear. No one but Hana Gitelman, within running distance of frenzied, urban warfare.

But though the battle calls, her target does not intend to join. A second shell explodes, further down the street, tearing a hole in another structure, and the fox scrambles through this new portal, once more out of sight, but not so far away this time.

Around the last corner, to the rear, there is nothing save for a low, angry rumbling reverberating through the ground, as if the street itself were preparing to rise and take up arms in defense of itself. The city is surely lost. The target is not.

She ducks as chips of cement, brick, glass go whistling past her head; anyone would. Doesn't break stride in the doing; sure, it might hurt. That happens on battlefields. But she's still running, after, which means the rest can wait until the battle is done. Still running — into a cacophony which sinks beneath her skin more than battle's background noise alone should; for all that the shell and shrapnel somehow does no harm, the sounds, at this proximity, hazard — well, in truth Hana just plain doesn't want to find out what. For all that none of the shots are aimed at her (so far), each radio-static beat is a jarring blow in its fashion.

Here, here she misses a stride. A boot turned black by its coating of pulverized asphalt braces itself against fractured road; the other lands short of a full pace, but provides the push that gets Hana back into rhythm again. That lets her shove building discomfort beneath adrenaline and all-consuming determination.

The hole with its jagged ends of protruding rebar and fractured concrete isn't going to be easy to slip through, which is why Hana slings her rifle over her shoulder, freeing her hands for the task of climbing in. Climbing through. She's getting closer, gaining ground; she won't let him escape. Not now —

— even if the continued structural integrity of this particular building is… dubious at best.

Climbing in through the gap gives Hana a face full of burnt rifle propellent, acrid and stinging but not debilitating. A new blast of wireless interference fills her senses. Outside, the sound and "noise" of battle is momentarily silenced by a series of heavy, rocking explosions and the retreating roar of jet engines. But only momentarily, and then the fighting resumes as if it had never stopped.

The inside of the structure is undisturbed, despite the exploding shell. Desks neatly laid out in a large office and piled high with envelopes and papers are there to welcome her inside, each one of them an identical color with an identical telephone and identical desk lamp in the identical locations. If there is a ceiling, it is invisible; the darkness above seems to extend upward forever, even though every single desk lamp is burning bright. The dark grey walls are more forgiving, entrapping Hana in a neat, fifty foot by eighty foot rectangle, longer than it is wide, with matching grey carpet covering the floor: An open box, as it were. There is no sign of her fox, even as a burst of gunfire from the far end splits the air, bullets embedding themselves in the wall next to Hana's head.

Outside, the angry, reverberating rumble draws slowly, but inexorably closer.

Dark eyes reflexively scrunch closed at the cloud of offensive fumes that hits them; she automatically ducks sideways rather than making herself a 'shoot me now' statue outlined by the hole that disgorged her into the office space.

When she can force her vision to work again, across the sights of a rifle that returned to her hands without the aid of any conscious decision, the room is —

— empty.

Lamps and desks and papers… and no shadow-shape, only shadows overhead. Hana's eyes sweep the darkness that appears to be the only mystery in this contained, doorless space — aside from the space itself, of course.

And who or what just opened fire from the other end of the room.

It's fortunate that the bullets hit the wall instead of the woman, because her instinctive roll behind the (probable) cover of the nearest desk would have come far too late to save Hana from that burst. Pointing her rifle in the direction of its origin, she fires back — maybe she'll get a lucky hit, maybe she'll just make them take a little longer to shoot again. And maybe, during all this, her guarded attempts to glimpse her opponent around the edge of the furniture will bear fruit.

The stacks of papers are less fortunate than Hana and her opponent, several of them struck by the few bullets passing through the air and knocked over, crisp white sheets sent flying to create a virtual 'snowstorm' right in the office that obscures vision, although not to the point where it becomes impossible to see.

Rather, it's still easy enough to see the targeting retreating further towards the back, popping up into view just long enough to return fire with two short, wild, unaimed bursts, neither of which pose any danger to Hana. The lighting in the office changes again when a door — either one that was disguised or that Hana simply did not notice at first — along the back wall opens just enough for a person to slip through, spilling dim, yellow light in from some other space. Outside, the battle has calmed, the sounds of artillery and small arms fire having dulled to nothing. In fact, there is no sound now that the door along the back wall has been opened. Even the sheets of paper that flit and float through the air make not a sound, even when they impact with the desks and floor.

He retreats.

She scuttles forward, crouched down and shoulders curled forward to maintain balance over feet questing for floorspace made not too potentially slippery by bullet-strewn papers. Catches a glimpse of her target silhouetted against the yellower light of the doorway and takes the opportunity to fire again, three-shot burst interrupting her progress forward. Or back, as it were.

Hana moves not directly for the door, but for the wall beside it, where she is less exposed to the space beyond. Of necessity, this also means she can see less of it, but the tradeoff is accepted in the interests of not catching a bullet. Shoulder against the wall, she listens to the deafening silence, hearing only the brush of her own feet against gray, gray carpet with each creeping sidelong step towards the door.

It isn't good if he can hear her, but she can't hear him.

Dark eyes narrowing, rifle held at ready, Hana pivots into the threshold and steps to the side to put her back against the wall behind.

There are two features of this next room that Hana will note immediately, aside from the smallness of it, barely three by three meters on the floor. The first is the presence of a steel ladder bolted against the wall across from her that stretches up and up and up along the concrete walls, well past her viewing range. The second is the distinct return of that familiar background static and radio noise of the modern world, even if there is no data in this noise. String after string of randomized zeroes and ones with no immediately apparent meaning. The yellow light that Hana saw earlier comes from any one of a number of domed lamps placed periodically along the walls as they rise up into seeming infinity, much like the office room she had just left.

Sound has returned as well. The familiar cold wind from outside is present here, little more than a gentle breeze coming from above, but it still sounds like wind. Of Hana's prey, there is no sign. For them to have climbed the ladder out of view so quickly is preposterous, but there is nowhere else to go unless this concrete box is hiding its own secret from prying eyes.

Curiouser and curiouser.

There's clearly nothing notable about this little room, no cracks delineating hidden doors or weak points, no holes her fleeing shadow may have escaped through. He didn't go back, towards the silent field of battle, the pockmarked streets and crumbling buildings; can only have gone up, up into the distance beyond what Hana's eyes perceive.

Somewhere up there is a way out, if the cold caress of wind against her cheek is any indication. A way out means escape.

She can't let him escape.

The rifle is slung into position across her back, leaving the Israeli woman's hands free — the better to climb the steel ladder. It isn't a quick thing, going up, hands and feet settling into a steady rhythm of clomping motions. At least the streaming binary code provides something a part of her mind can occupy itself with, sifting through the digits, collecting them in search of significance.

There had better be an exit up there, or else she's going to run into a bit of a problem after a while.

The climbing goes on for — how long? — with no discernible change in the temperature, or the proximity to any exit. But the secret of this room is not in the ladder, the lights, the walls or even the wind. Over time, patterns start to emerge in the noise as bits become bytes, bytes become words, and words become, eventually, messages that make sense of one sort or another. 'NEVER STOP' is the first to emerge from what becomes a repeating, random cycle. 'NO END' and 'ALMOST THERE' always appear together, no matter what comes before or after them, although their order changes frequently. 'DON'T LOOK BACK,' 'KEEP CLIMBING,' 'FAILURE,' 'BETRAYER,' and 'GOOD SOLDIER' work their way in, along with the strange and somehow out-of-place, 'FISSION MAILED.' The cycle of unordered messages repeats for several seconds — minutes, hours? — before one final message emerges and the stream of data terminates: 'BEHIND YOU.'

The message does not lie, for though quiet and distant, there is sure enough the sound of shoes clattering rapid-fire against steel rungs emanating from below. Just as Hana has been chasing her target, someone else has been chasing her.

Nonsense. The words, the fragmentary sentences, are meaningful in and of themselves — even FISSION MAILED, for all that it's also completely preposterous. But in their juxtaposition, mutual contradiction and random assortment, they give no real information. Nothing that inspires Hana to stop her upward motion, chasing a long-since disappeared target and the barely tangible kiss of wind that only presumably originates outside.

Fortunately, she doesn't seem to be tiring from it.

The woman, narrow-focused as she can often be, shoves the insinuations aside even as she processes them, innate gift translating digital noise into human-comprehensible words. Yet at some subliminal level, those words prick, thorns drawing blood as figurative as it is significant; for their chaos, and for their content. She listens.

She hears.

She looks down.

Looking down, looking back in defiance of the messages riding the waves of static, the sounds of someone climbing the ladder from behind vanish. At the same instant, Hana is struck by a blast of icy wind that nearly unseats her from her perch on the ladder and threatens to snatch her rifle away. Looking up and around again, she will see that somehow, impossibly, she's done it. She's reached the top of the ladder, the sky looms overhead, half red and half deep purple, the terminator between night and day directly above. The top of the ladder is in sight, just a few feet further.

Even still inside the concrete tunnel, for the walls have not vanished the way the ceiling has, the wind is fierce and violent. Above, it must certainly be even more powerful. Below, they may as well be nothing, the ground, if it is even still there, invisible in the inky blackness.

What's in a wind?

Cold. Her hands reflexively tighten around the cold metal rungs as the wind threatens to shove her downwards, frigid fingers of air blasting in past the hems and edges of her clothing, drawing to mind memories of Arctic ice. Hana's skin begins to prickle where the air reaches it, progressing quickly in the direction of numb; but she's slogged through that before, and she's not going to give up now.

There's no irritating pest on a snowmobile this time; fleetingly, the woman is peculiarly grateful for that fact.

Squinting against the wind's fury, she moves up the rungs, one hand, one foot at a time, dark gaze keeping the lip of the tunnel in view. Until she's in position to look over it, anyway, cautiously exposing as little of her head as possible and peering in all directions against the distracting obscuration of windblown hair.

The frigid chill bites, threatening to stiffen joints, to slow her down; determination only counts for so much. Yet it's forward Hana considers her only option.

Above the edge of the tunnel where the ladder ends, there is only a bit of concrete sitting in the middle of a sea of finely-pulverized rocks. From skyscrapers to sand dunes, with the least appropriate passageway in the middle of it all. At the very least, the wind is not, in fact, so powerful or so chilling outside of the tunnel.

No one opens fire when Hana's head pops up, either because no one has seen her or no one is there. The desert shadows are made long and dark by the approaching night, and there is little around her aside from rocks ranging from small stone to one large boulder, and bushes so dry they don't look out of place.

The shadows that surround Hana are thankfully still, although the sound of rocks clattering together just beyond one of the dunes indicates she is not alone. The dance yet continues.

Is this desolate wasteland in any way related to the city she came from?

The woman has no way to tell as she emerges from the hole, attention sharpening on the sound of stone shifting underfoot. Her hand caught up two tiny gray pebbles in the process of her rising, rubbing them lightly against one another within its confines; the surface yields beneath the weight of her boots, each lifted foot leaving a rounded depression in its wake.

The pebbles are tucked into one of her uniform's many pockets, the action impulsive rather than forethought; Hana unlimbers her rifle again, fingers taking up comfortably familiar positions to support its frame. She steps around one parched shrub, more stick than foliage, stone clicking and clattering underfoot in a fashion that seems deafening compared to the silence of her surroundings, broken only by the wind's quiet whistle past her ears.

And the sound of footsteps receding, footsteps pursuing. But Hana casts one last questing glance over her shoulder — just in case whatever was behind her before might remain somewhere out there still.

But if it does, it's not presently behind her any longer. Any relation to the city she'd found herself in, if there was ever one to begin with, is hidden from her, as are any other occupants of this landscape. Save for the stray sounds of rock softly crashing against rock, Hana Gitelman and the wind are seemingly all that are around for hundreds, for thousands of miles in any direction.

The air is split suddenly by a burst of automatic fire, although the sound is not accompanied by the dull thuds of bullets piercing a human body, nor even the telltale 'snaps' of rounds impacting mere inches away. A false alarm, but a critical error all the same, giving away a position just on the other side of a large dune flanked by two smaller ones. This is no room for mistakes in this harsh land. If mother nature does not punish, then the enemy will. And now, the hound is closing on the fox.

The gunfire isn't aimed at her, but Hana ducks down anyway, reflexively attempting to present less of a target. In the gathering darkness, she might inherently be less of one — but perhaps her quarry has the night vision equipment the woman herself lacks. One never knows.

Crouched, her pace quickens, feet carrying Hana towards the depression on the right-hand side of the dune. She puts her rifle back away in favor of scrambling up and into the little gully, hands being a necessary part of doing so in haste on this scree slope. The weapon swings back down into her grip once she's not fighting against gravity on a mobile surface, muzzle automatically matching up with with Hana's line of sight as she comes more cautiously around the breadth of the dune to see who was shooting — and what was being shot at.

The shooter is not other than that familiar shadow that Hana has been chasing for, how long? Who knows? But what was being shot at is more nebulous. With their back to Hana, there is nothing easily visible downrange other than some scrub brush and some largish rocks. A specter was being shot at, something that looked like Hana in the darkness. This means the playing field is, aside from Hana's superior position, level. Neither has low-light equipment, and neither can see in the dark.

She levels the gun at the shadow before her, only to realize —

Now that she's here, Hana isn't sure what she's supposed to do. Does she need to neutralize her quarry, to capture them — so long a chase, and yet its rationale eludes her.

Why did the lioness hunt the fox in the first place?

"Weapon down," the woman barks, whiplash tone. "On the ground." She shifts her weight, pebbles sliding, feet sinking some fraction of an inch farther into the depth of scree; but her weight is balanced, now, in a way that can translate into rapid motion if she needs it to.


The chase culminates in this one, critical moment. While Hana isn't entirely sure of what to do, it's clear the shadow she's been chasing isn't so sure, either. For a second that stretches into three, both of them are motionless, crouched on the desert sand with their weapons trained, one at a target, one at the air. In the end, they are more similar still, for just as Hana was unwilling to allow her target to escape, her target is unwilling to be captured.

It is in this critical moment that the shadow Hana has been chasing whirls around on the spot, blindly firing from the hip, harmlessly kicking up sand as bullets fall too low on the first sweep to kill or even wound Hana. A second cannot be far behind….

Silence, stillness; she lets the moment stretch, hunter's patience extending despite the tension that ratchets upward with each adrenaline-infused heartbeat. She waits — until he moves.

The course of action to follow, in this situation, is as simple as can be.

Movement initiates reaction, on a level instinctive and primal. Hana squeezes the trigger of her rifle — in bold defiance of any bullets that might strike her in this exposed position, that is the only motion she makes; she's always been willing to take a hit rather than lose the quarry.

And her weapon was already aimed at the shadow.

The result is obvious. The shadow's rifle does not make a second sweep, the muzzle arcing sharply downward to discharge several rounds into the sand before going quiet. How many rounds slam into the shadow's chest is not apparent, but it is enough to knock them backwards and down to the ground, perforated lungs not holding enough air to do more than provide a weak grunt. Sprawled out and bleeding, any threat from them is neutralized. Strained, wet coughing is enough to confirm this, their body attempting futilely to expel fluid from their lungs.

And all at once, the only sound to accompany Hana is the wind, icy but strangely gentle, blowing across the dunes.

The reaction to a downed person, in many cases, is to go to them; to aid, or to ask demanding questions, or perhaps simply to be there. Hana does none of these things, but stands on the angle of unsteady stone, selectively tuning out the bit of brown hair the wind causes to dance at the edge of her face. She adjusts the aim of her weapon, a minute fine-tuning that doesn't quite take it off the shadow but brings it up a little more, hinting in the direction of — well, where whomever the shadow had been shooting at was a short time before. Dark eyes narrow, attempting to pierce the gathered gloom; to see who is there, silent, somewhere, beyond her downed quarry.

If there is, in fact, anybody out there, they're doing a fine job hiding themselves, not keen on taking the risk of being shot just yet. But that is if there's anybody out there, and there does not seem to be. Hana can wait for minutes, even hours, should she fancy to. No one else appears across the desert sands. It could well be her enemy was firing at phantoms, something they only imagined they saw slinking around the rocks and bushes.

A final, choked gasp marks the expiration of Hana's opponent, as noble an end as they could hope to receive.

She can wait for a long time, in the darkness, in the cool desert's night air. Wait for the phantom to show, or not; wait for the sun to rise again; for footsteps, a bird's cry, the rustle of serpent scales across fine-ground stone. Fatigue isn't a problem here, unless it's of the mind; nor hunger or thirst; nor any other constraint of the body.

She sinks down to sit on the pebbled earth, disturbed rocks the only clattering noise to disrupt the soft passage of air. Waits, alone with her thoughts, for nothing she can put a name to here and now — but knowing, in a way, that all dreamscapes shift in their time, one stage turned over in favor of a new.

Though she knows it not, Hana Gitelman waits to wake up…

…and with the sun only just set, dawn is still a long, long ways away.

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