The Start


hana_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title The Start
Synopsis There's a difference between acting as leader and being told you're stuck with it. This could be considered the beginning of Teo's time in that role. Also, as usual, he asks annoying prying questions.
Date February 3, 2009

Primatech Paper Facility, Staten Island

Morning, afternoon, evening; unlike other parts of the geographic composite called New York City, those words don't mean much on Staten Island. Not like they do in places where the curfew is in effect, enforced by the dedicated men and women stretched far too thinly across a large urban area. This is the one place where the phrase 'the city that never sleeps' can presently be said to actually apply — though it is still too early yet, by most clocks, for sleep. Evening hours, after sunset, past curfew; the day's warmth, such as it is, being leached out of earth and stone by an occluding layer of marine fog.

Hana is here, beneath that superficial environment, in the abandoned, damaged facility that could be termed her stronghold; inasmuch as the lioness chooses to claim a den, it is this. But for once, the gym is dark, the mats rolled up and stored away. It's another room the Israeli woman presently occupies, notable for the computer amidst its sparse scattering of furniture. The second-most-likely place in which Hana might be found, if a searcher comes here — and if said searcher did not call ahead in some fashion, which most do. It is, after all, Hana being met.

He is a figure heralded by camera surveillance, if the woman hadn't tracked the steady blip of the GPS unit in his phone making its way over Manhattan Island and onto the ferry boat, the dock, the parched and frosted shore. He looks—


Unlike the chalky, sea-slimed thing she had hauled out of the ocean and brought to shore. The differences between the body Teodoro had owned before his fall and the one he moves through the deserted center now are subtle but many. The seams of rehealed finger-bones smoother, the line of his nose straightened, less squint to the stare he presses through the dark. Abigail had restored more than a small chunk of brain.

The part she did, however, left his memory of the facility's layout intact. He emerges out of the hallway on his characteristic gait, leggier than it strictly needs to be, more in the shoulder, more raw motion period wasted in the hooligan's braggadocio he hasn't grown out of.

"Buona sera," he says to the darkness. Or, to the lone profile illuminated by the lone monitor live in it.

Darkness is relative; the room is lighter than the night outside, if not so well-illuminated as its counterpart in someone's house might be. Residences don't generally rely solely upon a single lamp to light a room.

She has the option of full illumination. Hana just isn't using it.

"Hello, Teo," the woman greets, voice typically cool in tone, as though viruses and the Invierno and fishing Teo out of the drink had never happened. As though the stressors of people missing, chaos in the streets, and restrictions implemented are somewhere far away from here. She rises from her chair, turning to face the Sicilian; it's the Israeli's dark eyes that give the lie to her inflection, though any more meaning than that simplest truth is unclear. The cant of her head asks without words, What do you want?

Some things don't change.

Colt wobbles up to mare with knobby knees and lanky limbs, only the coarse bristle of shaven head to betray in readily available terms that anything has changed, and remind why. They cut off your hair before they have to cut open your head. It's the only time they cut off your hair. It's practical.

And so is Teodoro, seven times out of ten. Frequently enough that he has had enough practice bullshitting his way through the remaining three, though he falters first, trips over the something in Hana's eyes. "Nothing." Regains his footing, squeezing a blink out of pale eyes. "I mean. I wanted to see — if you had any updates regarding the government transports. Or if you'd heard Sergei or Gillian raise their heads anywhere on the cell grid.

"And if there's anything else you need doing. I…

"'M glad you're doing well here. While everything's gone batshit loco out there. With the curfews and riots, and…" And obviously Hana Gitelman would have trouble with curfews and riots. Because she can't track whole patrols by radio, keep abreast of current events by same, misdirect electronically and retaliate by hand. Teo somehow refrains from whistling.

If you heard… A hint of exasperation flickers across Hana's face; Teo could ask that by any of several different media and receive an answer in the time it takes the technopath to think. He doesn't need to come all the way out here after dark for this. Though that doesn't mean the former operative is ignorant of why her student came.

That falls into the realm of things Hana doesn't know how to acknowledge. And so she lets it pass by.

"The best thing we can do is lie low," she replies. Curfews. Riots. "We're not in position to create stability; neither can we take advantage of chaos." Not amongst the general populace. The unspoken reason, a hidden but no less important third, is that Phoenix itself needs time to regroup and recover.

Regroup, recover, regain their missing operatives. There's no way that isn't on the list, too, but Teo understands that doesn't bear saying as long as they're in tacit agreement. And if they aren't, that isn't a tantrum he has the time, inclination, or faculties to throw just yet. Regroup and recover. Can't do that if your sole remaining leader is stll twitching, sticking out of the wall his sensei put him in.

"Okay," he nods his head, obedient as a puppet tugged by the appropriate string. "That makes sense. That's orders so far and for the next two weeks or so. We're getting together on Friday. As many as can make it. Touch base, do a little mourning, planning. Reorganize structure, temporarily. I can't do this by myself. Actually, I was wondering— on that note."

The young man squares his shoulders into a configuration that approximates confident. He isn't, of course. Feels like he knows the answer before he even asks the question, which only makes sense if he already knows the question is one he shouldn't ask. Not because it's impractical or specifically stupid, but because it isn't only practical or intelligent: he lacks purity of intent. All the same, neither his resolve nor his voice waver on any level Hana can read. "Would you take over Helena's half of the leadership?

"I know it frustrates you, being in the fucking background so much. Helpinging the training, prep-work, communications, not getting your hands on things. Maybe you'd feel better this way. 'Cause it'd be a better fit." Another sentence attaches itself to the list of reasons though it would be a stretch to call it sequitur, haphazard, never insincere: "And you saved my life."

On that note? Hana regards Teo with a detached curiosity that transmutes into something far less readable when the words are actually spoken. She turns away; strides across the room. There are neither windows nor paintings to look at on the walls; just the wall itself. Hana doesn't notice the lack.

In the fucking background is right… and yet. Though it isn't where she wanted to be, it's where she is, and neither of the Israeli woman's beloved role models ever did anything so crass as shirk their responsibilities.

Besides… Lone wolf does not necessarily alpha make.

"No, Teo," Hana answers, her moment of deliberation come and gone. There is no suggestion of regret in her voice as she turns back around to face him; any such emotion lies concealed. "I don't think it'd be the fit you imagine." She regards him steadily, silent on the subject of saving lives. There isn't much else to say, by her reckoning.

Teo will not screw up his face and stomp his feet. He will not. He will not point out she has no idea the day he just had, the ragged handful of Phoenix operatives who'd met, looked at him, pointed out in ways both subtle and not that he was no Helena Dean, that he had neither lieutenant left, that he had never even wanted to be here. He will, however, scowl, his shoulders a starkly sullen stoop under the black fabric of his jacket.

Fortunately for Teo, he believes in Hana's judgment above his own. It precludes the indignity of disguising cowardice with flattery and aversion to responsibility with aggression. It takes him a moment, and reluctance, but he lets it go. A blink of beatific blue eyes, and his head squares back upright, disciplined with the lines of his shoulders.

"Anne — our teleporter. She's put up the idea of getting each of the Phoenix kids panic buttons. GPS unit with an SOS signal out, in case anybody needs emergency extraction out of a situation. Obviously there are risks— some twat gets their hands on one without our knowing, that could put Anne in danger, or an EMP pulse or 'nother cyberpath would get in the way pretty easy. But I think it could be — helpful, if you'd be willing to relay coords to her.

"'Specially the way New York is right now. I think I'm going to start rooting around here—" Staten Island, he means, "for our missing. There's a lot of wreckage from the V-N bridge along that shoreline, and rumors say bodies. It's a shithole here, isn't it? Dangerous, just not the cops kind."

"It is dangerous," Hana affirms, a simple statement of fact. She nods at the suggestion. "I can do that," the technopath agrees. "It's straightforward enough. Anne is willing to take the risk?" Presumably, given that it was her idea — but she may not have thought her way through to the trouble she could wind up in teleporting blind to such situations. She nods, coming back to the last of Teo's statements. "There are any number of people who could have picked them up. Jezebel is not one of them." Meaning, none of the missing have come into the Garden.

Jezebel. The name goes through Teo's lips silently, trying to conjure some Biblical association or other, more because he's chagrined he can't remember than because it actually remembers. He quashes the urge between the lines of a boyish grimace, and blinks back to the present, a low exhale cut out from between white teeth.

"I didn't do much with the Garden," he says, referring to some ambiguously-defined time before, when Phoenix had not yet riven from PARIAH and Teo was still more of a glorified plumber on lease to the Ferrymen than the thing he is now. "I don't know how long it's been here. Or Jezebel. Does she have much in the way of connections in the community?" A quaver-beat's pause, back-tracking, past the auto-trigger of Catholic inculcations he'd tripped over before. "I'll verify with Anne."

"The Garden has been occupied almost as long as there's been Ferrymen," Hana supplies. Two years, give or take. "Jezebel is a fairly recent operator." The Israeli woman's eyes narrow slightly in concentration; her gaze drifts. "I don't know how involved she has or hasn't become." Each operator is autonomous; Hana doesn't exactly worry about their day-to-day lives. Dark eyes flicker back to Teo at his final comment, and the woman nods.

This revelation, however mild and obvious, makes Teo blink his eyes. Not that Hana had really worried about his 'day-to-day' life, but perhaps because he had little enough of one that she apparently did enough worrying about it to substantiate a greater presence in his days than she did in that of one of her own Ferry. His face goes still for a long moment. It passes for a thinking expression, though by now Hana can tell the difference between Teo thinking about something practical and wasting his mind on things neither of them know how to confront.

Or she might not think it a waste, anymore, but that's parcel with the rest. The paper crane, Morse tapped out against bulletproof plastic, a sinking ship. "Did you get hurt?" The query passes for practical. Easily excused by the fact she's in this room and the gym lights are off. It isn't, though. Not really.

The situations are not the same; parallels can't really be drawn. But since Hana doesn't know what Teo's thinking, she can't explain the distinction — even had she wanted to. Which she doesn't. One slender brow arches at the Sicilian's next question, before the Israeli shakes her head. "No." A few close calls, mostly from bullets flying about. Swallowed more seawater than she really cares to think about. Somehow managed not to actually take any physical harm worth notice. "I'm fine."

"I'm glad," he says, for no other reason than because it is true. Teo keeps his hands still and begins to glance at her monitor, a casual fidget, before better manners belatedly strike his gaze away with an apologetic jerk of his head. "Were you planning to be on the Invierno from the start?"

This line of questioning is probably not going to go anywhere, Teo is aware. There is a little blond seeress out there, somewhere, who has verbally pointed out the relative insignificance of the past, and a cyberpathic scuba assassin right in front of him who has through subtler but no less ambiguous gestures of the eyebrow to stick to the practical. This line of questioning is probably not going to go anywhere, Teo is aware, but he can't know for sure until he tries.

It's not like Hana is going to leave things out on the computer screen that she doesn't want other people to see. Teo's glance towards the monitor, therefore, elicits no comment. Instead, the other brow lifts to join its partner. "Which start, Teo?" the Israeli woman prompts, in a tone of voice that suggests this line of question is reaching the end of its allowability — fast.

Then again, this is Teo — he knows quite well that almost not allowed and not allowed are not exactly the same thing.

There's Hana putting you in the wall and then there's Hana glaring cryogenic agony through the air, and then there's the corpses Hana left underneath the stairs that Teo and Brian carried the thermite past and up. There are different lines to cross. Sometimes they're kind of blurry. Teodoro squints as if that will help. "When I went to see you in Grand Central Station. Or its dusty carcass," he says, as if that small detail could possibly clarify which evening he had meant.

As if she might have forgotten his petulant disappointment, the fear that had soiled the air around him, the way his eyes had riveted to her duffel bag and the slight tearing noise they'd made when he forced his stare back to her. "That start."

"That start," Hana echoes. There's no surprise in her tone; rather the opposite. It's the 'start' that made the most sense. Mattered the most to him. She regards Teo with a level gaze soon accompanied by the slightest cant of her head, recognizable more in the asymmetric distribution of the woman's unbound hair than an actual orientation of her face. "What did I tell you?" It's not an answer, and it is. She doesn't stand there and wait for him to think, gives no indication that the question is anything other than rhetorical; Hana turns away, walks unnecessarily over to the monitor.

If he were to write them all down and arrange them on a grid, Teo wouldn't be able to say, really, which start mattered the most in the grand scale of things, but for his current intents and purposes, and the manageable level of intimate inquiry, that is the one that matters because, he thinks, it is the most he can ask for. Already more than he would deserve.

"You said I'd see you again," he paraphrases. Kind of. She'd 'said' — she had texted. He had kept the message, insofar as that he had not deleted it and read it again in the days of silence that followed, until he had to stop. And then the phone had drowned in the sea, instead of him. He watches Hana walk away in the little room and resists the automatic instinct to pick up his feet and follow.

Said, texted. There is very little difference from Hana's point of view, except that saying something usually comes with personal interactions that are undesirably frustrating. Yes, that's what she said. If the Israeli woman were someone else, she might applaud Teo most sarcastically for remembering right. Instead, she looks down at the monitor for a few moments, then lifts her gaze, not turning around. "Is there anything else, Teo?" It's a fairly pointed question. Most people would be more inclined to pick up their feet and walk away, not follow. But — she hasn't lapsed into using his surname yet.

Given Teo is Teo, he might have taken to sarcastic applause more easily than this polite acknowledgment, except that Hana is Hana, and sometimes you can tell that what passes for normal people as politeness is her token kindness. If you get enough of them, you win a plush bear.

"I don't think so," he says, after a moment's lull spent straining every last detail out of the answer she had served up, however brief and small it was. "Uhh." A dozen languages in, and he still isn't the most articulate man anybody's ever met. "On — Friday, we're going to meet up. Brian's coming up with the location. I'll bring something so you can listen in, if you don't want to show. And—

"I think that's it," he concludes, rubbing the sole of his shoe into the floor, the ball of his foot rotating clockwise and counter-clockwise in abortive stops and starts.

It's probably Bennet who would supply the bear. Given that he has weathered years of Hana's moods and somehow survived them all. Even the last. Said woman turns her head as Teo resumes the conversation, looking over her shoulder at the fidgeting Italian. She nods, the motion a very brief bob of her head. "Thank you." Dismissal, acknowledgment, token kindness; less so any actual gratitude, given that she probably won't go. Too many loose ends. Too many people, even if not so many are left these days. And if she can listen, she can probably also speak. It's almost the same as being there. Hana returns her outward attention to the computer screen, a sturdy CRT monitor displaying an assortment of textwindows and not much actual information.

It's the same as being there. Most of the time, that's enough. For Teo, anyway. Possibly, he's had too much practice holding exchanges with an impassive and seemingly incorporeal eye in the sky. Or not enough: he doesn't pray as much as zia Lucrezia would want him to. Well, you can't please everyone. Teo isn't smart enough to know not to try, but it's worked out tonight, or near enough. He got what he came for. Do him a favor and don't ask what that was.

"Thank you," he echoes, intelligently, as he peels his shoe off the floor. He turns around and puts it in front of the other, and he starts to go away from Hana. Slowly, but only at first.

She listens, as that slow pace gradually quickens into something more normal. Perhaps not casual, but not dragging, either. When the empty, lonely halls of the damaged facility swallow the sounds of Teo's footsteps, Hana watches through the various systems that expose every part of the buildng and its grounds to the scrutiny of her awareness. When the Sicilian has passed beyond all the easy, immediate avenues of observation, the technopath finally draws her awareness away, turning her attention inward instead. She sits down in the chair she had originally occupied, leaning back against it; long-fingered hands fold in her lap, and the woman looks down towards them. Silence stretches, but there's no one else to notice; to Hana, it's irrelevant. Until it's broken.

"You're welcome."

Instantly after that final pose was made, the MUX itself commented:

GAME: Fatal signal SIGSEGV caught, restarting.
GAME: Restart finished.

February 3rd: Gameplan
February 3rd: Forced Smiling
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