The Meaning of 'Rebuild'


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Scene Title The Meaning of 'Rebuild'
Synopsis Hana tracks down the only person in the world who can answer the question she needs to ask.
Date November 19, 2011

Las Vegas, Nevada

Leaving New York is like entering into a different country altogether — one not yet ravaged by damage and internecine strife. Peaceful. Mundane.

It seems an entirely alien country to the woman who has been driving across it for days now, having left her responsibilities on the ground in the capable hands of others. A corner of her attention remains oriented upon the events unfolding around New York City in her absence, eternally connected as the nature of Wireless' ability mandates — but only a corner. Most of Hana Gitelman's thoughts are focused forwards, towards the purely and pivotally personal tasks she has set herself, towards the potentially certainly rocky conversation yet to come.

A conversation that deserves, demands the courtesy of an in-person visit.

And so it is that Hana now rides her motorcycle through the harsh light of a Las Vegas afternoon, desert dust tasting faintly ashy where she breathes its traces in. She follows a route described only in the virtual space between her mind and map servers, her destination the home of a woman Hana doesn't expect to find particularly welcoming. Especially not once her purpose is broached.

Loss is ever painful to revisit; she should know.

Even before the bomb, Las Vegas was like an entirely different country. At least, Niki always thought so. It’s what she liked about it. And hated. But now, after everything that’s happened, it’s home and uncomplicated, for all that it’s full of ghosts.

The ones that haunt New York tend to still draw air.

While Niki would have been content to languish away in a hovel, the house she owns is small, but nice. Jessica made sure of that. There’s no grass out front, but a rock garden filled with stones the colors of a sunset over the desert set behind a short picket fence. There’s something she hates about that damn fence. It’s like it mocks her. But it looks sweet, and it makes everything look normal. She’s just a normal woman, living in a normal home, in a normal quiet neighborhood in Las Vegas. It feels like the biggest lie she’s ever told.

She’s drinking less these days. The more she drinks, the easier it is for Jessica to take control of their life. There’s limits to what ways she’ll run from her problems. When Hana’s bike pulls up, she’s curled up in an old armchair with a glass of iced tea in her hands, listening to a CD and working out a routine in her head. It keeps her mind from wandering to darker places. Places it leaps to whenever she hears a car pull up outside. But she doesn’t pull aside the curtain to look out. No one out to cause her trouble has ever been so innocuous as to show up in a car yet. It’s too damn obvious.

All too often, complications arrive quietly and without fanfare.

Slowing as she draws near to the house that is her destination, Hana considers the austere peace of its exterior, the surrounding yard, the neat white fence. It is… very nearly a shame to disturb such mundane normalcy — something her own life has been bereft of for all too many years now. But when it comes down to it, when the moment of decision arrives, Hana does not deign to yield to such paltry things as qualms; she does not heed them now.

Instead, she pulls into the driveway, turns off the motorcycle, and drops her feet to concrete. Tucking the helmet under one arm, Hana strides boldly towards the front door. She could announce her presence digitally; has thought about calling ahead for minutes and hours and days. But — no. Simpler, cleaner, to simply tackle the situation head-on, direct. Face to face.

Hana's knuckles rap firmly against the house's door.

Niki’s head lifts. Shit. Her reflection in a mirror on the other side of the room stares toward the door with narrowed eyes. She could pretend she’s not home, but whoever rolled up to her home on a motorcycle doesn’t care about subtle. Somehow, she knows there’s no point in ducking this one, as much as she’d like to be a coward.

Rising to her feet, Niki drains the last of her near empty glass of tea and keeps it held tightly in her hand. The deadbolt is thrown back first, then the one on the handle. The chain is left on as she turns it to open the door that bit it allows.

The breath in her lungs hitches when she catches sight of the woman on the other side. Her gaze is accusing. Maybe if she stares hard enough, she’ll go away. From the mirror at her back now, Jessica believes has better ideas about making a person disappear. Even this one.

“What is it?” Her tone is guarded, her voice low. And her hand is obscured by the doorpost.

Niki Sanders' basilisk glare is met with cool self-assurance, an expression on the somber side of neutral, dark eyes shadowed darker still. Challenged, Hana briefly tilts her hands palm-up, as overt a gesture of peace as she might be expected to make — and that rarely. She can't, however, say with honesty that she means no harm.

"I have a favor to ask of you."

The Israeli woman pauses, perhaps even hesitates; her expression flickers, lips tugging momentarily sideways in something far more rueful than a smile. But her gaze remains steady upon the blonde. "Personal, nothing to do with cattle rustling. And nothing you're likely to thank me for."

All that amounts to beating around the bush, for Hana. But really, there's no point in delaying now. She forges directly on ahead.

"I'm hoping you'll tell me about Micah."

Go to hell, says Jessica at Niki’s back, a voice only she can hear. Niki’s squares her jaw, the muscles in her throat coiling tense with the effort it takes her not to start crying then and there. Of all the things she thought she might get a visit about, her son never made that list.

“He’s dead,” Niki spits out, the anguish plain on her face. “What more could you possibly need to know?” Still, as much as that not-so-little voice is screaming in the back of her mind to slam the door in the woman’s face - or maybe slam it on her face - she doesn’t move a muscle.

“He was a hero.”

"He was," Hana concurs, the two words quiet and sincere. She takes half a step sideways, leans her shoulder against one of the posts supporting the porch roof, settling herself with the air of someone prepared to speak for a while. Oblique now to the woman barely visible through the door, she gazes out into the distant desert, though that's not to say her attention is in fact anywhere other than right here.

"The whole of it is— a long story. I don't know how much was passed to you," she continues, a suspiciously wet glitter in Hana's eyes belying the studied evenness of her voice, the stiff lack of expression now layered over her features. "The entity that went by Rebel was a melding of three people. One was your family. One of them…" She blinks. "…was mine. And the end of that long story— the end is that I have what remains of Rebel's digital self, and I have my rightful ability again.

"I am," Hana continues, casting a direct glance at Niki, "rebuilding what I can of Rebel." She turns her gaze away again. "I cannot promise anything. Not to you, not to myself.

"But the better I understand those who became Rebel, the more I will be able to do."

There’s a long moment of silence as Niki takes in Hana’s words, turning them over in her mind and digesting the implications. The door shuts slowly, but the rattle of the chain confirms quickly that she isn’t shutting the other woman out - she’s welcoming her in.

With a stiff nod, Niki stretches her arm out to her living room at large. “Make yourself at home,” she says. “I’ll be right back.”

The blonde disappears down the hall and into one of the rooms at the end of it. There’s a sound of boxes being lifted and settled heavily elsewhere. After two or three minutes, she returns with a large Rubbermaid tote. A strip of shiny silver duct tape serves as the backdrop for thick magic marker: MICAH’S STUFF.

Deposited on the floor, Niki sits down in front of it, peeling off the lid with a loud snap! and setting it aside. Inside is filled with the things a person might find in a child’s room. A teddy bear, a baseball glove, books with battered covers that have seen better days, but also an old laptop. The first thing she pulls out is a photo album. She flips past the images of firsts. First day home, first time trying baby food, first birthday, first steps… Micah’s mother doesn’t do anything to stem the tide of tears running down her face. There’s no audible aspect to it, beyond the occasional sniff. She’s long gotten past the point of wailing for her boy.

“Here,” she declares, holding the album out for Hana to take. “That’s the last birthday we spent together.” The boy and his mother are all smiles. “My little genius. He would be sixteen next month.”

Hana may often be impatient with other people, but she can also be patient — it is a necessary skill in her vocation. She practices that patience now, continuing to regard the distance while silence fills the space between her and the door; neither by direct attention nor indirect implication does she offer any pressure towards Niki. Matters such as this can only be decided in their own time.

Just look at how long it took her to reconcile with Rebel.

Eventually, the door closes; chain rattles, and the door opens again. Hana acknowledges the invitation in with a dip of her head. Left to her own devices in the living room, she sits on the edge of the couch, not so much uncomfortable or out of place as simply temporary. Though it's true, Hana hasn't frequented a place so normal as this in… far too long.

With family at the forefront in her mind, that thought… stings.

Niki's return distracts Hana from any incipient reverie. As the other woman settles on the floor, Hana moves to join her, kneeling with her hands settled neutrally across her thighs. She offers neither concern nor comfort as Niki weeps, only the sympathetic understanding of silence. When the album is handed over, Hana accepts it… then pauses, looking at Niki with a flicker of surprise.

Sixteen next month. She knew that Micah had taken grave injury from the Bomb, though his final bodily death was delayed. But Hana had never done the math. Had never drawn the parallels to their full extent. Her fingers hover over the latest and last birthday picture, that fleeting moment of joy now immortalized on paper long after time progressed on. "I was ten," she says quietly, "when I lost my mother."

There is no equivalence, no one-upsmanship in grief. Just a confidence shared, met in kind.

She was younger than that when she lost her sister. The original Jessica. (It’s definitely not a competition - there are no winners here.) Both women have lost much since their childhoods, but the first time still lingers painfully. “I’m sorry,” Niki responds genuinely, easily. She doesn’t say it must have been difficult, because that’s obvious. There is no reality in which losing a parent - or sibling, or child - is easy. “No child should have to go through that.” She’s responsible for Micah having to spend so much time without his father, even if she had no idea what she was doing at the time. The guilt gnaws at her still.

“Micah was always smart,” Niki begins in a soft voice. “Smarter than me.” Her eyes fall to the album, but she’s distant, like she can literally stare into the past. “Kids grow up with all this technology these days, and he absorbed it all. I just thought he was bright. And then we slowly realized it was more than that. That he wasn’t just intuitive, he could… talk to the machines. Feel them?” The blonde head gives a shake, and the grieving mother lifts her head again. “I don’t know. I never understood it. But we never hit a red light when we were running late to school and he could always fix my computer.”

Quiet hangs in the air for a time, a mutual silence born of shared sympathy. After a few moments, Hana turns the album to its very first entry, paging through the images of Micah's babyhood with slow, deliberate consideration. She commits each to memory both biological and digital. Her motions pause as Niki begins speaking, dark eyes lifting to glimpse the external hints of her companion's reminiscence.

"That sounds like quite an ability," Hana remarks. The corners of her lips lift in a faint smile. "And it sounds like you did a good job raising him if those were the kinds of things he used it for." After all, with as pervasive as technology is, a technopath can get up to no end of trouble. Hana turns another page, but does not yet look at the images on it; her hand rests idly in the middle of the page. "I only spoke with him a few times… later," she remarks, "but I can say… he was a better student of Drucker than I." That statement, she promptly realizes, needs unpacking. "Drucker — you may have known him as Monk — ascribed to Zen philosophy. Being, becoming a better person." Hana's smile is a self-deprecating flash of teeth, there and gone again. "I am not that better person."

“None of us are better people,” Niki responds, not unkindly. Compared to her son, who is? It’s easy to hold him up on a pedestal, and it feels good to do so. This incorruptible, sunny child of hers; better than anybody else. Certainly better than she ever was or could be. Part of her is glad he’s not around to see what she’s become.

But the woman sitting on her couch has given her hope that he might yet return to her. In some form. Niki blinks away more unshed tears. “We’ve all done terrible things. We had to.” She doesn’t reach out to the other woman; like recognizes like. “What does it mean… to rebuild them?” Is it her kin anymore? Is it Hana’s?

What does it mean, indeed. Faced with that question, Hana settles her weight back, her gaze dropping to the album without really seeing it. Silence reigns for a moment that stretches out into a while. "…I don't know," she admits to the pictures of a no-longer-living boy, to the woman who is his mother, to herself. "I hope," Hana continues, lifting her gaze to regard Niki levelly. Her expression is resolved, determined, with an undercurrent of uncertainty that echoes her words. "I hope that their essence persists. The… manner of people they were. As much as I can manage to grasp." She looks down to the album again, touches a picture of a laughing boy.

"I expect… I expect it will be most… reasonable to think of what follows as a child," she continues, glancing towards the room's front window, curtained though it be. "Born of both of them, not truly either." Reasonable, yes; yet it is plain from manner and tone that reasonable is not the goad that drives Hana, does not describe the lofty, doomed goal she hopes to achieve. But for all that Hana herself lives in a black-and-white world where success is absolute and all else is suboptimal, she is well aware that others do not, even should not — and she will not promise Niki what likely cannot be delivered.

Settling her weight, closing her eyes, Hana draws in a breath. Releases it. "I don't know how much anyone told you of the… circumstances… of Rebel. Their creation. Their death." She hesitates a moment, continues in a low, muted tone. "I don't know how much you want to know."

Hana does know she doesn't want to talk about it… but she will, if asked.

It’s a lot to digest and interpret. Niki’s never had the brain for this stuff. Oh, she’s plenty smart. She can balance her checkbook and change a tire and — if her son had been at that age in school — help compose an essay, but she’s never understood technology the way Micah could, and never knew enough about his ability to help him.

“I never really understood it,” Niki admits with a gentle shake of her head. “My son was dead, and then suddenly he wasn’t, and then he was again. I never had time to… grasp any of it. It was like my son died with the bomb, but sometimes I received e-mails from his ghost.” Part of her feels a little sick, because she’s made a joke - even if it’s also the closest approximation to what she experienced. Is she allowed to do that? Is it ever okay for her to find moments of levity when discussing Micah like this?

She sighs and rakes manicured fingers through her long, blonde hair. “So… They’re gone, but they could become something new that’s a part of them both, but neither of them?” That part she can sort of wrap her head around.

Spared the need to explain events she doesn't want to revisit — not any more than already happens as a matter of course, anyway — Hana looks back at Niki, and nods. Smiles faintly at the moment of levity, more with the lines of her expression and the shape of her eyes than a curve of lips.

"That's… the most likely outcome," Hana affirms, setting that brief moment aside. Not what she wants. Not what she hopes. But… realistic.

"A legacy. A successor. Someone else who will at the very least remember that he lived, possibly long after we are gone." Tears prick at Hana's eyes, remembering her own personal crisis, her own choices and the unexpected consequence born of them.

She lifts the album slightly, drawing attention to it. "So tell me about your son," Hana prompts, bringing the conversation around full circle. "Everything you would want his son to know."

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