The Trinity Comes
Author's Notes: "Harsh Realm" was a Chris Carter creation that was a fic writer's dream—Hot guys (D.B. Sweeney and Scott Barstow), gunplay (a militaristic setting), angst, whumping. And of course, because the network was ticked off at Carter, they barely gave it a full season. I highly recommend it. Basically, the premise is that a virtual world—an exact copy of our own—was created to simulate war play. But a U.S. Army general high-jacked it and has created a dictatorship. And now characters are trapped inside the "game." (read the Wikipedia page).
The following story was taken from an unaired episode. I can only claim 1/3 of it since I found it on-line in script form. But I did add some dialogue and a couple of scenes. I would love to hear people's impressions.
PART 1 – Pearls Before Swine
Cleveland, Ohio. Far Territory: Harsh Realm
They were close enough to the town; Tom Hobbes waited for the familiar pattern to begin. As expected, Mike Pinocchio revved the Chevelle's engine as they turned into a deserted intersection. The balding tires pushed the vehicle into a fishtail and the untamed energy shuddered through the car, causing the steering wheel to vibrate.
Hobbes braced himself in the passenger seat. He wasn't sure what amped Pinocchio's aggressive driving when they neared what passed for civilization in Harsh Realm. He suspected that Pinocchio believed if you made a strong entrance you were less likely to get messed with once you were out of your car.
The road's intersection formed an asphalt crucifix amongst old factory buildings. The looming structures were too far outside of town to be inhabited by more than a handful of people. In Hobbes's limited Harsh Realm experience—just over four months—he had determined that the lack of protection offered by any town outskirts made such tumbledown buildings appealing only to those who were mentally unstable.
Hobbes glanced to the back seat but Florence's attention was locked forward, focused on the buildings and side streets. He'd have to ask her about his theory on Pinocchio's driving. Being mute forced the Healer to communicate and understand people in non-traditional ways. Hobbes didn't know how long Florence and Pinocchio had traveled together but he suspected it was long enough for the perceptive woman to sometimes understand Pinocchio better than he understood himself.
Florence, along with Hobbes's Jack Russell terrier, Dexter, often favored Pinocchio with the same expressions. Domesticated canines had adapted to read humans' subtleties. Hobbes suspected Dexter always settled in the backseat with Florence for a reason. They were both smart enough to anticipate Pinocchio's driving.
The Chevelle had barely grabbed a straight line when a loud pop caused them all to flinch. An unseen hand seemed to jerk the steering wheel from Pinocchio's command and the car spun out of control before Pinocchio reined it to a ragged stop.
Several seconds passed while each of them scanned the surroundings. Hobbes risked a glance at Pinocchio but didn't expect his friend's reaction—irritation.
"Don't tell me…." muttered Pinocchio as he jerked the door handle and pushed open the heavy steel door. The soldier's attitude and boldness indicated to Hobbes that no outside attack was forthcoming.
By the time Hobbes and Florence joined Pinocchio by the front left tire, their friend seemed to have verified his mumbled assumption. From his crouched position, Pinocchio looked up at them with an irritated pout.
"I half wish it had been a gunshot." He fingered the damaged tire and explained. "Rolling spikes. Damn paramilitary patrols. Nothin' more than glorified bandits and bounty hunters." As if in response to the description, the distant rumbling of a heavy vehicle whipped his attention from the tire.
"We need to get off the street," Pinocchio said.
They piled back in to the car and Pinocchio had it easing toward an alleyway before Hobbes even had time to fully close the passenger side door. Less than a minute later they flattened themselves against the alley wall beside the Chevelle. A deep growl introduced a Humvee, with a hood-mounted machine gun, which rolled down the road they had just been on.
Dust curls spun and swirled in the wake of the paramilitary vehicle. The sound of the engine faded and Hobbes, with Dexter securely under his arm, eased away from the brick wall to take in the posters plastered to it. The chipped red concrete rectangles were coated with a series of tattered posters featuring the visage of Omar Santiago.
The self-enacted leader of Harsh Realm stoically stared from beneath bold letters. ONE NATION UNDER SANTIAGO. Blood-red spray paint slashed across the posters, however, cutting a line through the dictator's face, and underneath had been added a slogan in all capitals.
Hobbes read the words aloud. "Strike a blow." He glanced at Pinocchio, half-stating, half-asking. "The Resistance."
Pinocchio brushed the painted words with the fingertips of his left hand and for a few seconds Hobbes sensed it was a reverent touch but the hand was sharply withdrawn.
"Faded paint," Pinocchio said. "Old news. Santiago crushed all organized resistance long ago."
Hobbes followed the string of desecrated posters down the alley wall. "Maybe a small pocket survived."
Pinocchio shadowed cautiously and Florence brought up the rear, splitting her focus between the men before her and the open alley mouth behind them.
"Even if that's true," Pinocchio said, "even if they were here - are they here now? Resistance fighters don't live long unless they keep moving."
A graphic stenciled heavily in black on the wall stopped Hobbes in his tracks. Three silhouettes, one ahead of the other two—a slim figure flanked on the right by a lean, muscular person and on the left by one tall and lithe. Scrawled below: HE IS COMING.
"That's not old," Hobbes said. The shiny black paint picked up what sunlight reached the alley and gave the silhouettes a glowing appearance.
Pinocchio's eyes narrowed as he studied the figures and Hobbes thought he detected the hint of a wince. The expression was quickly flattened and Pinocchio rested his hands on his cargo belt. "I'll tell ya what we got here. Alley-taggers. Period."
He focused his attention past Hobbes toward the dead end of the alley. A few people lingered around the steel door of a warehouse. A couple of rail-thin bums slumped nearby with their hands out to beg and a heavily-muscled man stood guard by the door.
Hobbes set Dexter on the ground and followed Pinocchio's gaze. "What do you think?" There was still so much that Hobbes didn't know or understand about the world within the Harsh Realm game. He relied heavily on Pinocchio to lighten the shadowy gaps.
"Some kind of unlicensed club." Pinocchio cast a glance back to the open end of the alley where the paramilitary Humvee had passed by. "We need to get off the street."
Hobbes trusted his companion's intuition but didn't want to go into total hiding. Someone in the area had stenciled those silhouettes. He wasn't sure what it meant but something told him the message was one of resistance and hope. "We can make contact," he offered. He shot a glance at Florence, looking for support, but her expression was unreadable.
"With the heroic freedom fighters?" Pinocchio asked. The downturn of his mouth reiterated the caustic tone in his voice. "Dream on."
Noise erupted from the club. The door burst open and the doorframe was filled with a hulking man. Behind him, three other large men struggled to push him out. They all burst forth as the door slammed shut.
"No!" screamed the hulk. "Let me back! I need to turn on!" He spun on the bouncer closest to him and threw him against the wall before head butting another. "I need to dream!"
He seemed to sense the proximity of someone else and spun toward Hobbes, crazed eyes fixed on him. "You! DON'T YOU EYEBALL ME!"
Before Hobbes or his friends had a chance to pull their weapons, the huge man dove into Hobbes, slamming them both to the ground. Breath rushed from Hobbes's lungs but there was no chance to pull in any more as massive hands locked around his throat.
Over two-hundred pounds of spitting rage crushed Hobbes into the dirt. From near-by, Dexter barked furiously. Hobbes clawed at the man's forearms and fingers, desperate to escape the grip. Over his attacker's shoulder he saw Pinocchio, bearing a furious-frightened expression, drive his knee twice into the man's exposed ribcage but all it produced was a sweeping counterattack. One elbow swung out and caught Pinocchio across the jaw, sending him sprawling in the dirt.
Pinned under the crazed man's weight, Hobbes struggled with rising panic. Darkness clouded the edges of his vision. Then Florence was there. She laid her hands on the man's temples and he shuddered violently before straightening and toppling sideways. Within seconds he lay curled on his side, a sobbing, heaving mess, pawing at his head.
"They're in there…I can feel them in there…cockroaches in my brain."
Hobbes remained on his back, gasping for air and coughing as Florence put a hand across his forehead. A warm, tingling sensation flowed through him and a moment later he was sitting upright, massaging his sore neck.
"Thanks," he croaked. Through watery eyes he looked at the man lying in the dirt. "What the hell?"
"He's a Dreamer," Pinocchio said. He was back on his feet, gingerly fingering his jaw as if testing it for anything broken or seriously out of alignment. "Burnt-out crazy Dreamer. Worse that PCP ever was."
Hobbes looked up at him. "What's a Dreamer?"
Pinocchio offered a hand to help his friend up. "In there," he said, nodding toward the club as he bore Hobbes's weight to pull him to his feet. "You'll see."
Hobbes scooped up Dexter and followed his friends.
The transition from the light to the dark wasn't solely related to the sun. To Hobbes, the oppressive energy in the dim, converted warehouse felt nearly as suffocating as the chokehold he so recently experienced. Lyric-free music pumped through the high-ceilinged space—thumping base was highlighted by hypnotic, droning rhythms of electronic keyboard. The term "house music" drifted into his memory but he was not sure if that was correct.
Hobbes trailed behind Pinocchio as they passed a bar and tables filled with hunched, quiet figures. The three friends moved down a corridor to a roped-off area where people lined up under the watchful eyes of bouncers. Pinocchio barely registered the customers but Hobbes couldn't tear his gaze from the sedate activity at the front of the line.
A pale man, with long dark hair that was pulled into a messy ponytail, shifted with tiny steps from foot to foot. He gave something to the bouncer in charge of clearing people past the waist-high chain. Sent forward, another bouncer passed the man a handful of equipment.
Hobbes nudged Pinocchio and nodded at the curious exchange. "Dreamers," the soldier quietly explained. "Digital junkies. And every junkie needs works. That thing that looks like an oversized small pox vaccinator is a Digi-punch. Wires go from that to the Watchman…the little thing with the screen that he's got in his hand."
The man shuffled to a gallery of chairs and beds and dropped into the closest empty one. Hobbes watched, feeling uneasy as the Dreamer attached electrodes from the Watchman to his forehead before jamming the pointy ends of the Digi-punch into the flesh behind one ear.
"You punch a time-limited chip right into your brain pan," Pinocchio said, "then wire up to your own screen. Watch your own fantasies turned into movies, right on your private screen. But you don't just see the images; they're transmitted directly to your cerebral cortex. See, feel, taste, smell. They say it's the ultimate high."
Hobbes swallowed down a queasy reaction and scanned the rows of Dreamers that were blissing out in their own Private Idaho. "It's like an opium den. What about that big animal outside?"
"Circuits are fried. Would kill his own mother for one more turn-on." Pinocchio caught his friend's eye. "Nothing but a walking skull."
"You ever try it?"
Pinocchio's mouth twisted with a show of disgust. "Not me, pal. Once you go there you never come back. Not all the way."
Hobbes absently rubbed Dexter's head and held him a little tighter. "What about finding the Resistance?"
Raised brows and a surprised smile were Pinocchio's first reactions. "I gotta admire your optimism, buddy, in the face of all this human depravity and baseness. Of course, I don't share it."
Hobbes took the initiative and stepped up to the bar to address the bartender. "Those signs outside…Strike a Blow."
The man—shaved bald and with a face marred by several long scars—didn't register any emotion. "What about 'em?"
Pinocchio moved in beside Hobbes and laid a hand on the bar. "Let's say somebody was looking to make contact."
Hobbes was a bit amazed by his friend's quick show of support, but a second later he reminded himself that he shouldn't be. Pinocchio's protests and self-serving statements rarely held up when it came to backing Hobbes or Florence and their honorable pursuits.
The bartender answered back. "Let's say you order your drinks and leave it at that."
Pinocchio smiled and lifted his hand from the bar to reveal a 9mm round. "I like your style. Close to the vest. Fella can't be too careful out here."
One half-second was all it took for the bartender to snatch the round off the wood surface. He nodded toward the end of the bar. "Talk to her." He drifted away as a dark-haired woman approached.
With high cheekbones, dark brown eyes and flawless olive skin the woman radiated striking intensity, but the stare she had fixed on Hobbes was downright penetrating. In stiletto heels, she slunk toward them and Hobbes couldn't help but notice the curves accentuated by her high-necked, form-fitting dress. She brushed past Florence as if the tall woman wasn't there and stopped in front of Hobbes.
"You'd like to go upstairs? Follow me."
Pinocchio stepped forward and positioned himself to Hobbes's a half-step in front, effectively creating a barrier between them. "Who are you?" Pinocchio questioned.
The woman's eyes never left Hobbes's face and he didn't mind that Pinocchio had taken up the protective stance.
"I'm Circe. I bring up the high rollers."
"And turn them into swine?" countered Pinocchio. As if his physical display wasn't enough, his reference to the Greek myth drove home his apparent attitude toward the woman. Beautiful or not, Pinocchio didn't care for the lady.
Circe's eyes flicked to the soldier who now stood less than a foot in front of her. "With most men there's very little work involved," she said coolly.
Hobbes felt like he was watching two alpha animals and knew he should step in. "We're looking for people…who want to strike a blow." He saw her brow momentarily furrow but a beat later it was smooth again. "Okay, soldier, this way. But you two only. She stays here." Circe sent a small nod over her shoulder back to where Florence stood.
"She comes with us," Hobbes stated.
Circe seemed not to hear. "No Healers. It makes the customers nervous. Like having an ambulance standing by…or a priest."
Pinocchio exchanged a glance with Florence before asking Hobbes, "How bad do you want to meet them?"
Hobbes looked to Florence, who shook her head as if to say, "Don't go." He had, however, already made up his mind. He stepped forward and passed Dexter to Florence while replying to her silent plea. "We'll be right back."
Circe nodded toward the back wall. "Wait over there. I'll just be a moment."
Hobbes took two steps before he realized Pinocchio hadn't moved. He hitched two fingers into his friend's tactical vest and tugged him along. "Would you c'mon?"
As they walked away, Circe leaned across the bar and whispered to the bartender who picked up a house phone. Less than a minute later, she walked straight toward the wall they stood by and passed through it, making the spot pixelate and blur. Pinocchio gave Hobbes a look, dropped his hand to the butt of his pistol and stepped into the programming glitch, leaving his friend to follow.
The change was palatable but unlike the first entry into the warehouse this taste was sweet and savory. Candlelight and ethereal, haunting music enveloped them. Plush couches, tiny tables and secluded nooks were sparsely populated with a better looking range of clientele but Hobbes still felt he had been dropped into a drug nest.
A contingent of dangerous-looking men draped in gold chains and pinkie rings were mixed with women who had too much beauty and exposed cleavage. Circe again fixed him with a gaze, which Hobbes finally refused to ignore. "You keep staring at me."
"Sorry," she said. "We'll keep this professional. Follow me."
Pinocchio balked. "Follow you where?"
Circe flipped back the attitude. "Do you want to see the man or not?"
"I don't want to get rolled by some B-girl like a drunken sailor. Or get my throat cut in the alley."
A sarcastic smile curled Circe's lips. "Scared of the dark? Want me to hold your hand?"
"I'll give you something to hold," Pinocchio said, "and teach you some manners."
Several hefty bodyguards materialized from the shadows and Hobbes noticed Circe's expression hadn't changed. "Maybe another time," she said.
Hobbes thought he was going to have to play referee again but one of the bodyguards beat him to it.
"Step through here, please." The man nodded toward a freestanding metal doorway in front of another door.
Hobbes looked to Pinocchio and saw an uneasy expression that he was sure mirrored his own. His friend was only here because of him; he had to keep them moving forward. "We've come this far."
To encourage Pinocchio, Hobbes moved first. He was barely a half-step from the metal doorway before a long squeal raked the air. A bodyguard had already stretched out an arm at chest level to stop him. "Take 'em off. No one gets in strapped."
Hobbes undid his holster and laid it on a small table behind the bodyguard. After a long hesitation, and a look to Hobbes that clearly showed he was not happy, Pinocchio relinquished his own weapons. When he'd finished, the table's surface was scattered with his MP5, 9mm, a pilot's survival knife, brass knuckles, and extra ammo clips.
"Lemme guess," the bodyguard said, "you're a collector, right?"
"Yeah," Pinocchio answered, pulling himself up to his full six feet height to take advantage of the couple of inches he had over the guard, "and I better collect everything I dropped off when I get back or somebody's face is gonna be meeting floor." He passed through the metal detector again and headed for the door.
Hobbes, having stepped to the side while Pinocchio surrendered his gear, now made a move to follow but Circe caught him by the arm and whispered in his ear. "Whatever business you think you have here, ask yourself: are you ready to lose? Because you will."
He pulled out of her grip and met her gaze with a confused expression before catching up with Pinocchio.