The Same Circles


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Scene Title The Same Circles
Synopsis "We move in the same circles" — Aria Baumgartner to Richard Cardinal
Date November 12, 2011

Somewhere in the Arizona Desert

Under a cloudless blue sky, a long and winding dirt road crosses the Arizona Desert. Scrub grass, broken earth, and a lone stand of power lines is all that can be seen for miles in any direction. The plume of dust kicked up by a single black SUV rumbling down that desert road billows in a faint wind. Rippling waves of heat emanate up from the desert floor, creating a heat haze mirage where the sky meets the horizon.

As the SUV moves along, a single concrete structure begins to come into view at the end of the road. It's a sloped structure built into a low hill, surrounded by a crooked chain-link fence. A sun-bleahced No Tresspassing signs dangles from the fence at a skewed angle. The SUV slows as it approaches the bunker, coming to a rumbling stop outside of the fence gate. The driver's side door opens, and a seven foot tall man with too pale and too bald a head for this head lumbers out of the vehicle. Already sweating, he wipes a hand over his scalp and moves to the gate, unfastening a latch and pulling both sides open before returning to the vehicle.

Once inside, yanking the door shut, the bald man exhales a heavy sigh at the presence of air-conditioning. "Mister Calavera," comes the voice of a woman in the back of the SUV, "I hope you brought your sun-screen." Manny Calavera has had a patchworked career, a history that traces back to the Linderman Group and an ill-fated career as the bodyguard of Kain Zarek. For a while now, however, he has more distinguished employers.

"Oh most certainly, ma'am," Manny notes with a glance into the rear-view. "Are you ready, Miss Zimmerman?" Manny rests his hands on the steering wheel, watching the older woman in dark sunglasses — Claudia Zimmerman — slouch against the fabric of her seat. Claudia turns to look at the younger woman at her side, one brow slowly raised.

"That isn't for me to decide," Claudia explains, and it is Aria Baumgartner that receives her full attention. Distracted, Aria looks away from the view of the desert beyond the SUV's tinted windows. She leans back, shoulders square and dark eyes averted into her lap. He rlips press into a thin line, fingers curl into the fabric of her dress, and she affords Claudia one wordless nod.

"Then," Claudia starts with a soft tone, finally reaching up to lightly tap Manny on the shoulder. "Let's get this messy business over with." Reclining back into her seat, Claudia relaxes her stare on Aria, bringing a hand to rest in on the younger woman's shoulder reassuringly. Aria doesn't meet Claudia's stare, just watches her own muted reflection in the window.

As Manny drives forward, the large metal doors of the old bunker are hauled open manually. A pair of plain-clothes men on the inside in light jackets and cargo pants allow the vehicle past, then quickly push the heavy doors shut on rusting hinges. The bunker is barely large enough fo rthe SUV, with rust streaks down the concrete walls and condensation dripping from exposed pipes. One by one, three doors on the SUV open as Manny steps out of the driver's seat and helps both Claudia and Aria out.

He then circles around the front of the SUV and opens another rusted, metal door that leads to a short series of concrete steps descending a half-floor down into the desert. Claudia and Aria follow closely behind, their high cheekbones and similar brows highlighted by the yellow light of old light-bulbs in unenclosed lamps hanging from the ceiling. A stencil on the wall, faded after decades of abandonment, reads COYOTE SANDS — RESEARCH SITE 2. Stagnant puddles of water collect on the concrete floor, and the trio's footsteps softly splash through them on their way past old and empty cells that — decades earlier — contained prisoners. Now they're justs ghosts of a darker time.

At the end of the hall, Manny stops at a newer looking door fitted into the concrete wall. He fumbles around in his pockets, eventually withdrawing a key with an awkward grimace. Then, leaning down, he unlocks the door and pushes it into a room significantly brighter than the dank hallway leading up to it.

The scent of herbal tea fills the air in the sprawling, open-concept suite beyond. Hardwood floors stretch out across a spacious and well-lit apartment. White walls are decorated with colorful paintings, plants adorn corners of the room in tall green fronts and multicolor wildflowers. A hospital bed rests in the middle of this living space, an EEG and EKG set next to it. A weathered old man lays in the bed, a breathing tubs at his nose, IV drip in his arm. He stares at a new broadcast on the television, showing the smoking wreckage of a skyscraper. When Claudia, Aria, and Manny enter, the old man presses a button on his remote and turns it off.

Claudia comes in, setting her purse down on a table at the bedside, and gently takes the old man's hand. He is wordless, at first, gently squeezing her fingers and looking past Aria to Manny. There's a weak, weary smile, and Manny quietly approaches with downcast eyes. "Hey pop," he offers with a sulk of his shoulders. The old man move shis hand from Claudia's, squeezing Manny's enormous hang in one of his much smaller ones. "You're lookin' good. You get your hair did?" There's emotion in Manny's eyes, and his father cracks a smile and taps Many's meaty paw.

"Is it time, already?" The old man asks Claudia, and she nods once, ruefully. Taking a moment, she steps away and leaves Manny with his father. Aria, awkwardly in the middle of this, moves behind Claudia and follows her to the kitchen.

Claudia pauses, arms folded over her midsection, eyes cast to the countertop that divides the living room from the kitchen and the half-finished breakfast of ham and eggs sitting on the plate next to a tall glass of orange juice. "Where is she?" Aria aska, brows furrowed. Claudia slowly turns, apology already in her eyes, and Aria's expression shifts to one of wariness and frustration. "You're not going to let me see her?"

"I can't," Claudia's voice cracks with emotion. "Aria, I'm sorry. But this — " she briefly glances to the television that just turned off. "You know what a delicate position we're in now." Aria, unconvinced, clenches her hands tightly and draws in a slow breath through her nose, then exhales a deep and regretful sigh. Her nod of agreement is belated, but honest.

"I promise you, Aria." Claudia raises a hand to Aria's shoulder. "We won't let any harm come to her, and after today… she'll be free to resume her life." Then, hesitantly, Claudia moves her hand from her shoulder and holds out her palm. "The lenses,' she requests.

Aria's brows furrow, a breath drawn in slowly, and she reaches up to her right eye. Carefully, anxiously, she peels something off of her brown eyes. A flexible contact lens, with circuitry laced around the iris. She repeats this with her other eye, revealing a pair of blind eyes covered in cataracts. She second lens is land in Claudia's hand, and she sets them down on the countertop. "We can't have you bringing back any information, one way, or another." Claudia picks up the glass of orange juice, then uses the bottom of the glass to crush the lenses and grind them into the countertop. "And neither can we."

At that, a door opens behind Claudia and a tall man with dark skin and long, braided hair in sweeping dredlocks steps out. "Damian," Claudia calls over her shoulder, "Aria's ready." At Claudia's call, Damian approaches and gently takes Aria by the elbow. "Aria," Claudia calls firmly, moving a hand atop Damian's. "What you did here, will not be forgotten."

"Won't it?" Aria asks in a small voice, looking to Damian first, then back Claudia. The older woman's hand falls down, recoils at the notion, and her expression withers under the weight of difficult decisions. Aria says nothing else, and is escorted away by Damian across the room.

"So, pop, I um… M'getting married." Manny's smile grows wider, "Can you believe that? She's wonderful, likes tall guys with great hair," his father laughs at that, wheezing as he does.

"Melvin," his father murmurs, and Manny looks like he's nearly about to cry.

Then, weakly, Manny offers. "Only you get t'call me Melvin." Though he hates the name, hates that he took his step-father's last name after his biological father walked out on him. Never knowing why, no tuntil recently, shaped Manny's life in ways he could never expect. But now, here, in the months he's been able to know his father, things are better. It all makes sense.

As he sees Aria approaching with Damian, Manny gives his father's hand one last squeeze. "Looks like it's showtime, pops. You make me proud, ok?" Tears well up in Manny's eyes, and he watches as Aria comes to stand beside the old man in the bed. Damian waves a hand behind Aria's head, and her eyes roll back and a faint noise like a whimper escapes her. Legs buckle, and she nearly topples over, were it not for Damian holding her weight firmly in his arms.

"She is clean," Damian informs the old man. Tired eyes move from Damian to Manny, and the weary old man clasps a hand at his son's cheek.

"See you around, kid," the old man murmurs, taking one hand and pressing it to Aria's wrist. Manny smiles, weakly, jaw trembling as he lets go of his father and takes a safe step back.

"G'bye, Arnold — " Manny grimaces, "dad."

In that instant, both Arnold and Aria disappear from the room as though they were frames promptly edited out a film. Damian looks to where Aria was, then over to Claudia with a brow raised inquisitively. Claudia closes her eyes, looks to the crushed lenses on the countertop, then turns and approaches a door beyond the kitchen.

There's a muffled din of guitar coming through the door, vocals in German, and pounding drums. Claudia closes her eyes and braces herself. Then, with a few firm raps of her knuckles on the door she calls. "Dear," Claudia calls through the door. "Could you turn down your music and come out?" The music quiets, footsteps approach the door.

Then, as it opens, a young woman with dyed blue hair and visible brown roots pokes her head out. "Frau Zimmerman," chirps Aria Baumgartner, green eyes assessing the older woman. Claudia's lips press into a thin line, stern but at the same time relieved.

"I told you not to call me that, dear." Claudia states flatly, but also tenderly, reaching up to press a hand to her daughter's cheek.

"We have to talk."

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