HARSH REALM

ACT FOUR

RESUME SCENE:

INT. HEDGEMAZE CORRIDOR

Hobbes and Florence standing by themselves at the corner.

HOBBES

(nearly frantic)

Where the hell did he go??

Florence, who is looking around the corridor almost as frantically as Hobbes, turns back to her companion. Her composure almost, but not quite, covers the fear in her eyes as she shakes her head "no" and shrugs.

Hobbes turns back down the corridor in the direction that Pinocchio was headed, reaching out as he takes tentative steps forward. After a few feet, his hand disappears behind a digital haze, slipping into a glitch.

HOBBES

...No...

He pulls his hand back, heading back to Florence.

HOBBES

...no, no, no...

(takes Florence by her arms)

...he couldn't just disappear like

that...just slip through a glitch

without us knowing...

(panicked look)

...could he??

Florence stares into Hobbes' eyes and Hobbes soon realizes that Florence really doesn't know. Trying not to panic outright, Hobbes prompts Florence toward the glitch.

HOBBES

Is it safe?

Florence digs her heels against the tile floor, snapping a look back over her shoulder at Hobbes. On eye-contact, Hobbes realizes that he's being too forceful and eases off.

Florence turns back to the glitch, slipping her arm through and reading the sensations. After a moment, she pulls back and turns to Hobbes, gives a shrug that says "it's fine."

HOBBES

Then we have to follow him...

Hobbes is about to push past Florence to get to the glitch, when she cuts him off, adamantly shaking her head "no."

HOBBES

Why not?

Florence gives Hobbes a hard look before pointing to the glitch, indicating Pinocchio. She then traces her right hand upward and to the right; with her left hand, she taps Hobbes' chest, then traces her hand upward and left.

Hobbes sighs dejectedly, nodding.

HOBBES

Break up groups, hit each player

individually. We won't end up in

the same place.

Hobbes turns away from Florence for a moment, thinking.

Finally, Florence reaches out for Hobbes, placing a hand on his shoulder to turn him. Hobbes looks up to meet her eyes.

HOBBES

We have to follow him.

Florence gives Hobbes another hard look of disapproval.

HOBBES

(defiant)

You can dick around here if you want

to, but the Army taught me never to

leave a man behind, and my mother

taught me never to let a friend down.

I refuse to do either after all he's

done for me; I won't lose him, and

especially not here.

(looks to the glitch)

We have to TRY.

Hobbes looks back to Florence, who sees the determination in his face. She looks to the glitch for a moment, dropping her gaze to the floor before returning it to Hobbes.

She purses her lips, about to do something she doesn't really want to. She nods gently in the affirmative, knowing that abandoning Pinocchio is simply not an option.

Florence turns back to the glitch, taking Hobbes by the arm and taking the few steps between them and the scrambler. The pair steps through the glitch, disappearing.

INT. MIRRORED HALLWAY

The hall remains empty for a moment, built of mirror panels four feet wide to construct a corridor with no ceiling or floor; instead, a brilliant white light emanates from both.

The reflection of mirrors creates a most distorting effect, the illusion of incredible space within the narrow hallway. After a few moments, Pinocchio pops around a corner, his dark clothing contrasting heavily with the white light and mirrors. Because of the reflective properties of the walls, we see literally dozens of images of the soldier.

Gun drawn, Pinocchio cautiously makes his way down the hallway, occasionally glancing back over his shoulder.

PINOCCHIO

(whispered yell)

Hobbes??

He receives no reply.

PINOCCHIO

(whispered yell)

Florence...

Again, no answer.

PINOCCHIO

Damnit...

Finger on the trigger of his MP5K, Pinocchio takes careful steps down the hallway.

Ahead, he finds a hallway splitting off to the left, and he takes it. Immediately around the corner, though, he hears some noise that catches his attention. He backs around the corner into the previous hall, looking for the disturbance and finding a flutter of cloth at the end of the hall.

It's gone as soon as he see it, and he starts after it.

PINOCCHIO

Who's in here??

He receives no answer as he dashes down the hallway to the end, rounding the corner smoothly and stopping dead in his tracks. A few yards ahead of him, in a dead end that splits into a T-junction, a young boy of no more than 11 years old is standing still, staring him in the face.

PINOCCHIO

(confused)

Who are you?

(no answer)

How'd you get here??

Pinocchio starts toward the boy, who quickly turns to his right and takes off down the hallway, leaving a digital afterimage trail behind, like a ghost image on a VCR.

Pinocchio shakes his head at the sight, bolting after the boy. He rounds the corner with the boy a few yards ahead, remembering that he's carrying a vicious-looking weapon.

Pinocchio slows his pursuit, calling out instead.

PINOCCHIO

Hey kid, I'm not gonna hurt you!

Pinocchio drops the weapon to his side, taking his finger off the trigger as the boy slows down and turns around. Pinocchio slows down considerably, taking smaller steps.

PINOCCHIO

How'd you get in this place?

ALAN

Same as you.

PINOCCHIO

What's your name, kid?

ALAN

Alan.

There is a hint of recognition in Pinocchio's expression, before the boy speaks again.

ALAN

(matter-of-factly)

After your father.

The recognition is instantly replaced with utter shock.

PINOCCHIO

What'd you say?

ALAN

You were gonna name me after your

father.

Pinocchio stares at the kid, horror taking the place of shock as a realization slowly mixes with memories.

PINOCCHIO

No...how do you know about...

ALAN

She lied to you.

PINOCCHIO

(beat, terrified)

She told me she miscarried. Her

doctor backed her up.

ALAN

You didn't actually believe her...

did you?

Pinocchio is still staring at Alan, slowly shaking his head "no" as if it will somehow convince him this isn't real.

ALAN

We both know that woman can be thrown

farther than she can be trusted.

The shock and horror in Pinocchio's face is slowly wearing away, now to be replaced by suspicious.

PINOCCHIO

(raising his gun)

Who are you?

Alan doesn't flinch at the sight of the weapon, only cocks his head curiously. Pinocchio advances on him, grabbing for his arm. Immediately on contact, though, he DIGITIZES.

Angry confusion burning across his face, Pinocchio stares at the empty spot the boy previously occupied, his own hand still hung in midair. He coughs up an uneasy laugh, and as he is about to drop his hand, he notices something amiss.

TIGHT on Pinocchio's right hand. On his ring finger, where none has ever been, resides a GOLD WEDDING BAND. Pinocchio flips his hand over to look at his palm.

BACK TO PINOCCHIO, his confusion deepening. In a frantic rush, he pulls the band off, tossing it down the hallway. It ricochets off the glass with a musical clinking.

INGA FOSSA (vo)

(whisper)

...Michael...

Pinocchio wheels around to find the source of the voice, but once again, he finds none.

INGA FOSSA (vo)

(whisper)

...I'm here, Michael...

Pinocchio looks at his hand again.

TIGHT on his ring finger. The band is back on his finger.

He pulls the ring off again, struggling this time in his eternal frustration. He hurtles the ring down the length of the corridor, listening to it clink down the walkway.

Heaving, he turns to look at the mirror to his right, staring his reflection in the eyes.

INGA FOSSA (vo)

(whisper)

...I'm always here, Michael...

PINOCCHIO

No you're not...

INGA FOSSA (vo)

...yes, Michael...

Tension in Pinocchio's eyes. He stares at his own face.

PINOCCHIO

Not here, not in my head...

INGA FOSSA (vo)

...I'm always with you...

PINOCCHIO

You're...not...HERE!

INGA FOSSA (vo)

...You won't let me go...

PINOCCHIO

I wouldn't keep you around!

A pause. Pinocchio looks like he might have won.

And then hears it.

INGA FOSSA (vo)

...I love you, Michael...

Pinocchio's face twists with rage.

PINOCCHIO

You lying murderer!

INGA FOSSA (vo)

...I love you...

PINOCCHIO

Not after what you did!

INGA FOSSA (vo)

...Michael...

Pinocchio jerks the barrel of his MP5K to his own temple.

PINOCCHIO

GET THE HELL OUTTA MY BRAIN!!

TIGHT on Pinocchio's trigger finger, twitching slightly.

INGA FOSSA (vo)

...Mi...

Pinocchio pulls the trigger, a deafening thunder erupting.

Pinocchio's digital image shimmers for a moment, flickering lightly before restoring itself to normal.

He stares his reflection in the face, slowly dropping his trembling hand and letting the barrel of the weapon graze the floor without dropping it. He leans forward into the mirror, his eyes dropped to the floor as he places his hand against the glass, closing to within inches.

PINOCCHIO

Whole lotta good that did...

He sighs heavily, realizing that everything he encountered -- Alan, Inga, and the wedding band -- were all constructs of his own mind, used by the game to break him.

TIGHT on Pinocchio's face, his eyes still floor-bound as he leans back from the mirror. He takes a moment, but he finally looks up. When he does, though, his face goes ghost white, pure terror in his eyes at what he sees.

TIGHT on Pinocchio's reflection. Not the normal reflection we'd expect to see, but his Real-World-reflection; half of his face disfigured from the blast in Yugoslavia.

BACK to Pinocchio with such horror in his eyes that what he does next could be considered the only logical solution.

He lunges at the mirror with a spine-chilling shriek, spearing the butt of his gun at the glass. The first impact sends a vicious crack streaking down the pane, but Pinocchio refuses to let up, impaling the reflective panel with half a dozen more full-force blows.

Finally, one last crushing impact sends a spiderweb of tears through the mirror. Pinocchio instinctively backs away from the glass as it erupts, spraying into the hall.

Turned away from the mirror on his knees with his face in his arm for cover from the flying glass, Pinocchio only now peeks out from behind his sleeve to examine his handiwork.

PINOCCHIO's POV: he looks at where a broken mirror should stand. Instead he finds an uncracked full-length mirror.

He drops his arm, confusion written on his face. He stands and steps toward the mirror, examining his reflection.

TIGHT on Pinocchio's reflection, which now bares the same unscathed face as the man looking at it.

BACK TO PINOCCHIO, as he quickly reaches his fingers to his cheek, touching the skin on the left half of his face to ensure that he is in fact seeing what he believes he's seeing. He pulls down lightly on his cheek to open his eye further, looking deeper into the image before him.

He runs his fingers through his hair as if to convince himself that he is still real. As he looks into the mirror, a quick laugh spreads his mouth into a wide smile, but is instantly gone again as confusion returns.

He narrows his eyes as his stare intensifies and his hand finds its way toward the mirror. On contact, the glass surface undulates lightly as if it were a liquid shield as Pinocchio's hand eases through it with an electronic hum.

CLOSE on Pinocchio's face, a subtle grin working his lips. He pulls his hand back through the glitch, reaching into his vest pocket and removing its contents; THE DIGIWAND he lifted from the guard before entering this nightmare.

He looks at the device for a moment, his mouth twisting further into what might be the first real smile we've ever seen from this man. He flips the device over, examining its apparently seamless shell, looking at the bottom.

He holds the device close to his face, running his thumb lightly over the black acrylic steel. There is a moment of hesitation before he presses his thumb more firmly to the particular spot, watching as it slowly depresses into the device. When he can't press it any further, he lifts, peeling the back panel off to reveal its inner components.

He looks through the hundreds of chips, switches and wires, prodding carefully through the device. He slowly removes wires from their plugs and replacing them in others, flip-ping switches and popping chips out of place to move them.

After a few moments, he is satisfied that the device has been properly modified and snaps the panel on. He presses the activation switch, turning on the device. He smiles proudly to himself before reaching for the glitch again.

He places the prods to the surface of the mirror, watching as the ripples undulate outward from the point of contact. He hesitates just a moment before discharging the device.

The digiwand gleams, sending a surge of energy through the

mirror-bound glitch. The surface flashes blue, then fades slowly back to normal after Pinocchio releases the button.

Pinocchio replaces the digiwand in his vest pocket as he steps toward the glitch, disappearing through the mirror.

INT. HEDGEMAZE CORRIDOR

Hobbes is lying on the dirt floor of the hallway, staring at the shrubbery ceiling blankly as Florence leans back against one of the hedges. They've been here for a while.

HOBBES

(without sitting up)

I can't wait to get home, throw on

some old Lonesome Dove reruns, and

get drunk like Bailey Salinger.

(looks to Florence)

You have no idea what I'm talking

about, do you?

Florence shrugs to imply that she has a vague notion. Hobbes finally sits up, propping himself up on his elbow.

HOBBES

You've always been here, right?

(Florence nods)

What'd you do before the game? I

mean, before the bomb.

Florence nods again, leaning toward Hobbes and reaching her index finger toward the dirt. In quick strokes, she writes three letters; VET. Hobbes flicks his eyes back to hers.

HOBBES

You were in the military?

A smile nearly takes Florence's lips as she leans back down adding letters. After a moment, Hobbes looks back down at the ground to find a new word; VETERINARIAN.

Hobbes laughs at himself when he realizes his error, laying back in the dirt with his hands to his forehead.

HOBBES

I've been stuck here WAY too long.

EXT. BLACKNESS - UNPROGRAMMED GAME SPACE

In total darkness, we find one lone figure. Its identity is obscured by the surrounding void, but after a moment we track in on the face and find Pinocchio, his attention secured by the small screen on the modified digiwand.

PINOCCHIO'S POV: he concentrates on the streaming series of green 1's and 0's flashing across the screen. The device has apparently been altered to read game code.

He heads through the darkness of unprogrammed game space, watching the display closely. After a few more steps, the display shifts, showing a binary series in light blue. In a flash, though, it is gone again.

Pinocchio backsteps quickly to his former location, finding the series again. He checks the display screen, finding a string of blue 1's and 0's, indicating a virtual character, along with a lone blue numeral 1.

Pinocchio reaches the digiwand out at arms length again, activating it. A dull hum ricochets through the emptiness as he swipes the device and disappears from the darkness.

INT. HEDGEMAZE CORRIDOR

Florence and Hobbes sit on the floor, having succumbed to the lure of boredom long ago. Hobbes is fidgeting with his hair at the moment, looking like a bored toddler. Dexter is sniffing around his owner, looking almost as bored.

Both individuals are shocked to their feet, weapons drawn, as the hedge that Florence is leaning on suddenly twitches, fazing as a glitch opens. They quickly avert their guns, though, when Pinocchio steps through, leaving one foot on the other side to keep the portal open.

Pinocchio looks at the two soldiers, both weary with fear in their eyes, before cracking a wry grin.

PINOCCHIO

Coming, kids?

In an instant, Hobbes and Florence are on their feet and following Pinocchio through the glitch, disappearing.

EXT. FOREST (DAWN)

The group's camp, just as they left it except that the fire has long since gone out. There is stillness for a moment until the same glitch that began this nightmare opens up again, allowing Pinocchio, Hobbes and Florence through.

Pinocchio heads across the camp to the crates, but is caught by Hobbes and turns to face the man.

HOBBES

Seal it.

Pinocchio glances down at the digiwand, nodding. He crosses back to the glitch, reaching the device out to contact the surface. He snaps the button, sending a slight electronic twitch through the space that once lead to the Labyrinth.

He retracts his arm, looking back to Hobbes as he swings his left hand through the space to prove that the glitch is no longer there. Hobbes nods as he heads for the crates with Florence, followed slowly by Pinocchio, who gives one last look to the space where the glitch used to be.

The trio packs up camp, heading off in the direction they had formerly been going to get back to the Chevelle.

INT. MILITARY INFIRMARY

In the sterile confines of a large room, very similar to the Harsh Realm Players Bay in the Real World, we find a row of soldiers lain out on stretchers, visors covering their eyes and wires connected to their temples.

3 HOURS LATER

CLOSE on one of the soldiers, as the top portion of the computer screen next to him shows a brainwave pattern of smooth undulating waves. Delta waves, unlike the sharply erratic waves of an Alpha pattern.

After a moment, a technician steps to the computer, tapping at the keyboard until the screen displays a percentage bar in the empty lower half, which descends from 100 to zero.

DOWNWARD SHOT on the soldier as the wire is removed from his temple and the visor slid off of his face to reveal his identity; it is Chris. His eyes slide heavily open.

The technician steps back to allow Santiago through to Chris, followed by two uniformed officers.

SANTIAGO

Welcome back, soldier.

Chris looks at Santiago with only vague recognition, until his mind suddenly clicks and he remembers who the man is.

CHRIS

I failed, General. I couldn't beat it.

SANTIAGO

That was the point, soldier.

CHRIS

(confused)

But...I broke, sir.

SANTIAGO

Of course you did. I might be more

Concerned if you didn't.

Still not understanding, Chris tries to form a response, but can only force out one word.

CHRIS

Sir?

SANTIAGO

Rest up, soldier. Your training is

complete. You ship out tomorrow for

Charlotte at oh-six-hundred.

Chris stares at the General, nodding after a few moments. Santiago grins wryly back at him, turning curtly and heading out of the room with his officers in tow. As he exits, we see Chris watching him leave.

FADE TO BLACK

THE END