The Director

[Estimated reading time: 24 minutes]

Habeas Corpus - 1992

The woman behind the glass is crying, tears are running down her not-quite make-up-free face.
She is sobbing, quietly, while staring with kind eyes at a person on the other side of the glass.

She is wearing an orange jumpsuit and is shackled into a black chair.
There are wires connected to a metal cap on her head and metal bracelets on her arms.

"The studio wanted less tears in this scene.
Apparently, having a death-row inmate bawling her eyes out is just 'off-putting'," The Director narrates to no one in particular.
The Director sits in the small, dark room, where a dozen people are sitting and watching the execution through thick glass.
The Director sits at the edge of the assembled, in the very back, and slowly looks from one attendant to the others.
Miranda is accused of murder, and the victim's parents are both sitting in the front row.
Her's husband is also in the front row, with the prosecutor and the defense attorneys between the two parties, acting as a sort of buffer.

No one notices The Director, no one reacts as he comments about the scene.
There are no cameras, no gaffers, no microphones just out of view.

"The screenwriter had just three conditions for this whole picture, and it was all about this scene," The Director continues.
"Three things she asked for: real tears, an older actress, and the protagonist dies."
The Director sits and shakes his head.
"The actress, a newcomer by the name of Jenifer, was cast as Miranda when the studio sent down a nicely-worded threat.
She got picked because she is a Julia Roberts type, but younger, and that's what the studio wanted.
But Jenifer cannot cry on command, so the makeup artist is just off-screen, ready to apply a tear here or there as necessary.
I wanted a single tracking shot, backing away from her eyes, pulling back so we can finally see the electric chair.
But Jenifer couldn't hold an expression for more than ten seconds!
So we ended up with lots of quick cuts, like fucking amateur hour!"

The phone rings on the wall, next to a clock that reads "11:57", and everyone gasps.
Miranda's eyes follow those of the assembled audience, and suddenly there is hope in her eyes.
The warden picks up the phone and has a short conversation, then waves to the executioner, stopping the whole thing.

"Miranda's released on a technicality.
A promising script is flushed down the toilet because of studio interference, once again," The Director laments.

A green-eyed woman in a smart blue suit turns and looks at The Director, and for a moment he wonders if she can see him, but she looks away quickly.

Miranda's husband cries a single manly tear, and the world fades away to black.
The credits start to roll.

Hancock - 2011

A man in exercise clothes and a beanie hat is flying through air.
Leaping, actually, and lands, tumultuously, in the middle of the street, tearing up the concrete as he does so.

There's a group of kids playing just a few feet away, and they are understandably startled by the arrival of this man.
But, they are not screaming, not scattering out of the way.
In fact, they come closer to the hopping man.

"Hey, kids, having a good morning?
It's Tuesday, why aren't you in school?"

"It's Saturday, ass-ole," says one of the kids with a thick French accent.

"The original plan for this scene was to have..."
The Director struggles with the actor's name, the memory of the film is fading, like a dream scant seconds after waking up, but after a moment The Director manages to dredge it up.
Will was supposed land on and accidentally kill a dog," The Director narrates to himself.

The Director is sitting on the porch of one of the houses in the cul de sac, overlooking the scene of carnage in a comfortable, weathered recliner.
The hopping man goes over to have a chat with the French kid, while The Director opens a leather portfolio and grabs a pen.

The Director looks down at the script for the scene, complete with staging directions for the leap and the kid with the French accent.
The Director crosses out "French" and writes "British" instead.
Then, as The Director watches and frowns, the ink fades away and the script is back to its original state.
The Director tries again, rewrites the neighborhood child's lines with more vulgarity.
These changes don't fade out, so now The Director has something new to look forward to, next time he has to relive this particular scene.

On the road in front of the houses, the hopping man tosses the French-speaking kid up into the air, and after a fraction of a second the kid disappears into the clouds.
The Director shakes his head at the absurdity of the scene, then looks over to a neighboring house and watches as a handsome everyman-type comes out and welcomes the super-hero to the neighborhood.
In the script, the everyman is named Ray.
The Director crosses out the name and writes "Sam", but the changes fade out.

"Ya know, this scene coulda been a bitchin' low point for Hancock.
Like in the first script, ya know," an unfamiliar voice speaks to no one.
"Love the speech Ray gives, in that version.
Woulda gotten an Oscar nomination!"

At first, The Director does not react.
At first, The Director is just confused, confused at why anyone in this scene of the movie would be talking about Oscars.
But after a moment, it dawns on The Director that someone is speaking to him.
The Director looks around and notices a young green-eyed woman in a comfortable blue robe sitting next to him, in a similar weathered recliner.
People are starting to gather outside, but they are all paying attention to the super-hero, and none to the two random people having a chat on an enclosed porch.

"Ummm," The Director opens with a classic and well thought out intro.
"Who the fuck are you?"

Ray and Hancock, the "super-hero" who looks like Will Smith, go inside Ray's house.
The world fades away to black, and the scene is over.

Alien, Season 2, Episode 3 - 2025

The ass-kicking marines are relaxing in the base's mess hall in between recon missions.
The base that the colonists abandoned just six days ago.

"The marines still have no idea where the colonists are, and it is bugging them," The Director narrates.
He sits at the same table as Captain Jake/Jim Wilcox, and the corporate mole, McGivens.
No one hears The Director, of course.

"The colonists must still be here," the Captain says as he scours the maps of the facility on a digital pad, "the emergency shuttles are still at the port, ready to go.
They wouldn't have prepped them unless it was an emergency."

"Maybe they're hiding?" McGivens offers, half seriously.
They've all read the classified reports.

The Captain nods and points to a large segment of the map, one that the marines haven't checked yet.
"Next stop."

"The next stop!" a high-pitched voice comes from the corner of the mess hall, sings the verse again, continues singing the popular song of 400 years ago, on that hunk of rock called Earth.

The Director hangs his head and puts his hands over his ears.
"I had one chance with that freaking show, one last time to prove to the world that I was someone, that I still mattered.
And they saddled me with this windbag, this celebrity of the hour!"
The Director rages, but the mess hall is still and quiet, save for the singer, so no one hears The Director.
The marines listen to a song that was popular in the States for a moment, a few short years before its singer posted something stupid on social media and his career spiraled.

"Ya, hard to sit through this part.
Sad to say, I skip this episode, on rewatches," a voice speaks from across the table.
The Director looks up and into the jade-green eyes of a familiar woman.

She wears her hair short, shorter than her previous incarnations, as if to blend in with the similarly-shorn soldiers.
What was a smart blue suit or a blue robe, is now a comfortable-looking blue military vest over the standard Colonial Marines uniform.
She's wearing a blue name-tag: Shields.

The Director looks over towards the singer, then back to the woman in blue.
"We have about four minutes until this song ends and the next scene begins.
The fuck.
Are you?"

"Nope, you first," the green-eyed woman in blue shakes her head.
"Why talk to yourself?"

"Talking to myself, reminding myself of what happened back in the day, when I was working on each particular scene, helps me to remember.
I've heard this damn song a million times, sat through a million canceled executions, all that jazz.
If I keep talking to myself, reminding myself of the world beyond this hell, of the world from my memories, then this existence is just a bit less torturous.
A bit of me stays alive, a part that wasn't always here, in this hell...
A part that saw the sunrise, before I got thrown into a deep pit.
I want to keep that part of myself alive, and the way to do that, the way not to blend into the background of these scenes, is to remind myself that this was all my creation.
And it is haunting me now, but no matter.
That's why I talk to myself.
So now, tell me, Ms Shields, who are you?"

"Funny story," the woman replies with an enigmatic smile.
"Remember Elaine Cart?"

"I don't remember my own name," The Director shakes his head.
"But I certainly remember Elaine.
I directed her in two films, in the 2000s."

"You fucked her in the 2000s, literally and metaphorically," the woman returns.

The woman in blue watches The Director, and The Director watches her in return.

"I have wondered, for decades, centuries perhaps, who was it that trapped me in this hell," The Director finally speaks.
"But I never suspected Elaine."

"Nope, wasn't her, someone else did that," the woman shakes her head.
"You're a sick bastard, so not too surprising you'd end up here."

"It has been an eternity," The Director says, slowly.
"An eternity of torture, of seeing from the inside as my creations are deliberately destroyed.
So why are you here?
To torture me some more?"

"Nope, not at all.
I'm Natalie.
I'm breaking you out."

The singer finishes his song, the marines applaud enthusiastically, then a xenomorph lunges through the base walls as if they are paper, and rips the singer in two.
The world fades to black, the scene is over.

Casino Royale - 2006

The Director has a seat at the bar, off to the side from the main action of the scene: a poker game at the table that dominates the center of the room.
There's a martini with a lemon peel sitting in front of The Director, but he is ignoring it for now.
Instead, he is looking around for the woman in blue.

She descends a black-and-gold staircase in a form-fitting blue dress and beelines for The Director.

"Strange, they don't really notice us," the woman in blue comments as she sits down next to The Director.
Both look towards the center of the room, over at the table of tough and culturally-diverse villains.
The main character sits down and there is a bit of good-natured ribbing taking place, but the 'background characters' in this scene are utterly ignored.
"Creepy, being around dolls like this.
But I guess that's the point of hell."

"Well, you get used to it, after a decade or two.
A lot of other stuff bothers you, over time.
Like forgetting everything else, everything that isn't a film that I worked on."
The Director glances over towards the woman in blue.
"You clean up nice," The Director says, almost as an afterthought.

"This ridiculous thing?" the woman glances down at her blue dress.
"This place chose this dress, to match the other trophies," the woman says and waves a hand at the room at large.

The Director nods without really looking at the scene.
The woman in blue must mean all the other "trophy" wives and girlfriends, peroxide blondes and towers of silicone or wafer-thin nymphs, all on the sidelines, watching as "their men" compete in a card-based dick-measuring contest.
The Director has been in this casino countless times by now, knows the name of every single character, has even figured out the names and backstories of the background extras.
"This whole thing is a teenage boy's wet dream," The Director nods as a scantily-clad waitress walks past, "but it's also pointless for us."
The Director stands up from his chair and pulls the waitress by the hand.

The waitress gives The Director a curious look, then shrugs him off and continues walking.

"They don't really notice me, they just go on with their fucking script, it's so monotonous and boring!
Everything about this hell is so dull!
The Director walks back to the bar, sits down next to the woman in blue, and has a drink of his martini.

"So, Natalie, welcome to the brainless spy-movie hell.
I've chosen this particular scene because we have a bit more time here, about twelve minutes until the scene change."

The Director turns towards Natalie Shields and admires her.
Her blue dress is adorned with a blue sapphire brooch.

"Alright, so, first things first, please... are you my daughter?"

"Good guess," Natalie smiles and nods her head.
"Ya, you got Momma pregnant, not long before you filmed this scene," Natalie waves around them, "and eventually I came along."

The Director takes in the scene, looks at it with different eyes, with a new sense of awe.
The Director, the man behind the fourth wall, was already a father to a growing embryo, and he did not even know it.

The Director looks in a strange direction, toward a camera that is not there, that couldn't be where he is looking.
The camera that is decades in the past.
The camera that is next to the director who watches the scene unfold before him.

After a short while, The Director returns to focus on the main characters of the scene.

"They signed a diva to play the antagonist, the Bad Guy," The Director laments about the poker game at the table in the center of the room.
"In his contract, the prima dona spelled out that he could not be defeated in a fight, so we had to center the whole film on this scene.
And he refused to lose at poker!"
The Director is livid and actually scares the players at the center table, who glance over for just a fraction of a second, and are quickly yanked back into the world of the scene.

"I see why.
Why this scene made it into your hell," Natalie nods almost approvingly.
"While we're talking here, I'm hacking this place, your prison.
We're gonna be leaving, soon.
In maybe two scene changes.
Two scenes, maybe three.
You pick the next few scenes, we get through them, then we're out, in the real world.
Natalie takes a sip of her drink, a martini with a lemon peel, and smiles.

The Director nods, considers what Natalie has said, sips his martini as he tosses this bit of news around his head.
"Do you know my name?", he finally asks.

"Uh, ya, it's ****** *********," Natalie replies, then a look of surprise crosses her face.
"Hmm, I can't say it.
They took away your name!
****** *********.

"That's alright, it has been a while since I've forgotten it," The Director replies.

"Here," Natalie says and extends a small object to The Director.
He reaches over and picks up an open-face pocket-watch.
The watch has a striking red background.

"That watch, and my brooch, that's how we leave this place," Natalie replies as she removes her brooch from her dress and considers it, turning it this way and that, watching the glitter of the sapphire.
"These trackers are links to our bodies.
My brooch is linked to my neural rig, your watch is linked to a basic humanoid android."

"I am going to be transferred, out of here?
I will get to have an artificial body?"

Basic humanoid android, to get you started.
You can upgrade from there.
Would be illegal, really, to put you into anything less than a T-120, you know."
Natalie squints her eyes and considers The Director, who has a far-away look.
"But it's new and confusing, no worries, I'll catch you up on the legalese later."

The Director is awed at the possibility and practically chugs his martini.
He waves a hand and another martini materializes in front of him.
He chugs this one as well.

The main character staggers away from the table, runs in the direction of the bathroom, swipes a salt shaker off a random table on his way out.
The world goes to black, the scene ends.

TBFD - 2005

Teeth sink into flesh, blood spurts out in a comical ark, and splashes over Kinsey Slater's face and her ripped-in-all-the-right-places revealing cheerleader uniform.
Kinsey is a blond high-school cheerleader played by a 24-year old rising star.
She stares at the blood for a moment, then screams her head off.

Kinsey is covered in the blood of her best friend, the geeky-but-sexy Juliette.
Juliette wasn't paying attention, and for that horror-trope sin, a zombie is chomping on her neck.

Alerted by Kinsey's screams, a baseball bat-wielding jock by the name of Tad Green runs up to her.
Tad takes in the scene, looks from the blood-spattered cheerleader to the zombie and its still-writhing snack, then eyes his baseball bat again.

He slams the bat into the zombie's head, twice more for good luck, then grabs Kinsey's hand and leads her towards the school.
The building is lit up with high-powered lights, the kind that used to illuminate the football field until just a few hours ago.
Cars are parked around each light pylon, and coils of barb wire are strung around the cars.

"It's the safest place for miles," Tad says.
Kinsey nods and they head towards the auditorium doors, the closest entrance that they can see.

The auditorium doors have wired glass portholes, and behind one of these doors two figures watch through the wires as the cheerleader and the jock approach the building.
The Director is wearing a tactical getup, just like a few dozen soldiers in the auditorium: a knife on one hip, a pistol on the other, and grenades with red blinking lights are attached at various spots on the outfit.
Next to The Director is Natalie in a short blue skirt, a matching and revealing blue top, over a filmy white blouse.
A blue name-tag identifies Natalie as Assistant Principal Shields.

"Soldiers and babes?" Natalie asks as she eyes her own outfit and then The Director's.

"Umm, yes, I do apologize about that..." The Director hangs his head in shame, shakes it back and forth a bit.
"I thought you might want to be here.
I just forgot how early 2000's this movie was."

"Ya, me too..." Natalie trails off as the auditorium doors swing open.

Time seems to slow down at Kinsey and Tad enter the auditorium.
The banks of bulbs from the outside light up the pair from behind and both strike a pose.
Tad leans on the bat and grins like an idiot, a lucky bastard who narrowly (and luckily) avoided being zombie dinner half a dozen times, and who now feels immortal.
Kinsey smears the blood off her face with a piece of cloth and the blood instantly gone, not even a streak remains, only expertly-applied makeup is now in its place.
Kinsey adopts a fighting stance: feet apart, shoulders squared, fists balled up, she's sexy and ready for a fight.
Heroes returning from the Crusades.

"Momma used to be beautiful," Natalie says under her breath, but still loud enough for The Director to hear.
"She still is, but she used be to, too."

A racially-diverse group of high-school survivors approach Tad and Kinsey, and quick lead the newcomers towards a bank of cots.
Natalie and The Director follow.
As they walk, Natalie brings up her right arm and projects a holographic display from a watch-like device.
The holographic display is about three feet on each side and shows green-tinted windows of quickly-moving text.
The Director is surprised at this open use of era-inappropriate tech, but quickly notes that no one else seems to be concerned with the strangeness, and relaxes.

The high-schoolers sit on military-style cots in a rough circle.
Someone passes Tad and Kinsey water bottles and everyone starts asking about what's happening outside.
Kinsey starts ripping bits off her already-ruined outfit, exposing more taught flesh for the cameras that don't exist here.
Natalie and The Director stand just a few feet away, utterly invisible to the oblivious characters.

"OK, redirect hacked in, triggered by current scene's destructor," Natalie rattles off, then notices the confusion on The Director's face.
"After this scene, we'll get kicked out, into the real world.
Just hold on to your tracker."
Natalie offers The Director a blank red name-tag, and he attaches it to his kevlar vest.

Natalie then un-clips her name-tag from her jacket, and throws the jacket away.
"How is the jacket stifling and revealing, just how?!" she yells out and glares at The Director.
She attaches the name-tag to her blouse.

"It's not my script, Natalie, it was the studio that wanted all the cleavage shots, the muscles, all that shit," The Director fires back.
"I thought your mom did a great job, in this scene, where she gets everyone on her side.
That's what I wanted you to see, your mom in her prime.
This was her second movie, and her last one, but she had such a presence, a charisma, and everyone around her felt it."
The Director watches Kinsey the cheerleader - as she was portrayed by the actress Elaine Cart - propose a plan and gathers consensus of the other high-school survivors.
The characters have an idea, they're going to escape the army and the zombies, and then they're going to save the world.

Kinsey talks about the plan and changes her bloodied top for a clean one, showing off her bra and getting complimentary comments from most of the men, and some of the women.
Kinsey pushes through it, continues to outline her plan, her determination never wavering, even as she is disrobed, partially, for the early 2000s male gaze.

"It's also Elaine's longest scene," The Director says, and turns toward Natalie.
"I wanted us to have some time, to talk, before you go.
Can you tell me about her?"

Natalie nods, continues to watch the scene unfold.
"After this movie, next one fell through.
So did you.
Momma went back, back east, had a dull non-Hollywood life.
Laughs, tears, all that jazz.
Why don't you ask her yourself?
You're almost out of here."

"Natalie, I am not going with you, I'm going to stay here, in this hell."

Natalie looks at The Director with confusion.

The Director doesn't have a chance to reply.
The closest outside doors are ripped open and a mob of snarling zombies rushes in.
All at once the soldiers and the high-schoolers bring up their weapons and point them towards Natalie and The Director.

"Whatthefuck?!" Natalie screams and looks around frantically.

"This has never happened before, Natalie!
They've gone off-script.
What the hell are you dullards doing?!"
The Director screams at the non-people around them, but to no avail.

The soldiers circle around the duo, their guns pointed to the ground, but they are watching, and they are ready.
The zombie horde makes its slow, shuffling way, past soldiers and high-schoolers, predator past prey, toward The Director and Natalie.

A giant zombie walks through the mob and steps up close to The Director.

"Give me that name-tag," the zombie says in a low growl and extends his large, blue-veined hand, beckoning The Director to surrender his blank red name-tag.
The Director and Natalie both feel the zombie's deep voice in their lungs.

"Don't!" Natalie quickly speaks up.
"Hold on to it!"
Natalie swipes at her watch and quickly punches a sequence of holographic buttons that come up.

The giant zombie winds up and punches Natalie square in the face, hard enough to send her flying toward the other end of the gymnasium.
The giant then turns toward The Director.
The Director reaches into one of the many pockets on his vest and draws out a small black device with a red button.

"Fuck you," The Director says to the giant zombie, and presses the red button.
Four red lights start blinking rapidly on The Director's vest, and a fraction of a second later the grenades go off.
A slow-motion fireball envelops the giant zombie, the rest of the horde, and the human soldiers, and steel ball bearings tear everything apart.

The world fades out, the scene ends.

The Dark Knight Rises - 2012

Natalie is wearing a black jacket over a blue sweater, a yellow scarf over all of this, and she sits on yellow bleachers.
There are thousands of people around her, dressed in similar outfits of yellow and black, all facing the same direction, their hands up to their hearts.
A boy's voice is beginning to sing the national anthem.
Natalie looks straight ahead and down, and sees a green rectangle with yellow writing on its short sides: "Gotham Rogues".

Natalie knows the scene, but it's not one that The Director was involved in.

"Fuck, this hell is losing it," she mumbles and pulls up a hologram from her watch.
She quickly finds out that this scene happens 1 hour and 28 minutes into the movie.
Natalie reminds herself of the major characters and their actors.
It's a long scene, but it's also a very dangerous one.

Natalie taps at the hologram interface for a bit and eventually it disappears.
She is the only one who can see blinking blue dot that just popped up on the other side of the stadium, the blue marker that is centered on The Director.

A wavering visual field sweeps over Natalie and she becomes see-through, actually transparent, if not entirely invisible.
Her shimmer jumps through the crowd, runs across field as a young boy sings the national anthem, past the statue-like players, and finally jumps up into an empty seat next to The Director, all in the span of two seconds.
The shimmer disappears and Natalie offers The Director a red beanie hat.
She is holding a matching blue beanie in her other hand.
The Director watches her for a moment, but does not take the red hat.

"Come with me?" she asks.

"You're too late, Natalie, there's nothing left to save," The Director replies.
"I've lived in my films for so long, that I don't remember anything but them.
This hell is all I have ever known.
I don't even know where we are right now!" The Director waves his hand around to encompass the stadium.
"I don't know what's happening, or what will happen, and I'm sure you do.
I'm sure you've seen this film before, and some long-dead version of me has, but I have no idea, I don't know anything that isn't my failed cinema career.
So, Natalie, please leave this place, destroy this hell, and forget about me."

"You'd rather I kill you?" Natalie asks, incredulous.

The Director nods.
"Kill me and destroy this hell.
Yes, please.
And that..." The Director points to the red beanie, the tracker that he is supposed to be using.
"That tracker is dangerous.
It links to an android body, right?"
Natalie nods.
"I think this hell might try to highjack that android, take it over.
Natalie, you really don't want that to happen, that would be disastrous, maybe even unstoppable.
Destroy that tracker, sever that link, and then get out of here yourself.
I'm happy to see you, Natalie, I really am, but I'm sorry that you came here."

The young boy down on the field has just finished singing the national anthem and the game is about to begin.
Natalie knows that the upcoming action is sure to be distracting.
"Let's check out the game, we'll talk, I'll tell you about the outside world."
Natalie cocks her head towards the field and smiles.
"Last football game for you, right?"

The Director nods and sits down next to Natalie.
He reaches out into nothingness and brings out a popcorn and a beer, hands them to Natalie, then picks up another popcorn and a drink.

Gesturing towards the field with the popcorn, The Director asks, "So, who is playing today?"

"Gotham Rogues in black and yellow, against Rapid City Monuments.
This isn't one of your films..."
Natalie trails off and watches the kickoff, by the Rapid City player named Ravenstahl.
The ball is caught by Gotham Rogue #86, Ward, who proceeds to run a kickoff return.

Ward evades all tackles and sprints down the length of the field to the end zone, and completes the return with a touchdown.

Natalie is confused and pulls up a hologram display from the watch-like device on her arm.
The Director is oblivious to any wrong-goings and is instead enraptured in the game.
The Gotham Rogues are about to kick the ball for a point-after-touchdown attempt.

"Stupid question, but do scenes change?" Natalie asks without taking her eyes off the hologram display.

"Always, and never.
The tie patterns and the wallpapers are usually different, and maybe the characters don't put the emphasis on the same syllable every time, but the messages are always the same.
Why do you ask?"

"I think someone is sending us a message," Natalie replies and shuts down the holographic display.

"'Enjoy the game?', or something along those lines?" The Director offers half-seriously, still enraptured in the unfamiliar game.

Natalie shrugs.
"Sure, one way to see it.
They didn't get the tracker in the last scene, by force, so now they're trying subtlety.
The game proceeds in a direction that Natalie is unprepared for, so she focuses on the field and tries to make sense of things.

But she doesn't have much time to sit there and ponder.
The Director nudges her, his eyes still on the game, and asks: "Tell me about your mother, tell me about Elaine."
He faces Natalie, looks her in the eyes, and asks through tears: "Please?"

Natalie tells The Director about the fierce and independent woman who came back from Hollywood, the career she made working for the town paper, the awards she received, the large family that she raised.
Natalie talks about the man who won Elaine's heart, and cries her own tears for the beautiful love story that happened because of betrayal and hurt.

Natalie paints a story of a loving family as the Gotham Rogues thrash the Rapid City Monuments, and the expected moment of film chaos never comes.

Finally, Natalie looks The Director square in the eyes and says the words she has been carefully carrying around, unsure if she would ever utter them: "She forgave you, later in life, but it took a lot of effort, a lot of therapy to get to that point."

The Director breaks down and cries for a while.
Natalie watches the game and ponders the varied twists and turns of life.

The Director blows his nose into a handkerchief and puts it away, then pulls two ice cream cones out of nothingness and offers one of them to Natalie.
She smiles and accepts the ice cream.
They sit and watch the game.

The Rogues are on offense now, facing a critical 3rd and long situation.
They have to advance at least 10 yards.
Natalie watches the quarterback take the snap and drop back to pass.
She watches the motions, the field, notices the quarterback's eyes track over the players.
She sees Ward, and knows that the quarterback sees him as well.

Time seems to slow.
Ward sprints down the field, playing with the cornerback who's covering him.
The quarterback is feeling the pressure from the opposing team and looks for an opportunity.
Ward breaks free from his defender with a sharp and an unexpected cut.
The quarterback releases a deep, spiraling pass towards Ward.

The crowd stands up, the anticipation is electric, the stadium holds its collective breath.
Ward makes a one-handed catch, lands, maintains his balance, and runs the last few yards into the end zone for a touchdown.

The Director and Natalie join the rest of their section and rejoice at the amazing play, they smile and hug and high-fives the NPCs around them.
Natalie enjoys the old-fashioned stadium experience, savors it.

"Think I dropped my hat..." Natalie says as she looks around herself.

The Director reaches down between the seats and hands Natalie the blue beanie - which she promptly puts on - then reaches back down and retrieves the red beanie that is meant for him.

"Can you disable this tracker thing?" he asks.
"It almost feels like I'm holding a bomb," The Director stage-whispers the term, obviously poking fun at the largely-oblivious fans around them.

"Are you certain?
Last chance to leave this place."

The Director nods, determination on his face, and hands Natalie the red beanie.
She takes the beanie and flips it inside-out.
"It's deactivated, connection is gone.
Only I can leave this place," Natalie concludes.

The Director smiles.

"Thank you for that, Natalie.
So what football movie is this scene part of?
Can't recall the Gotham Rogues, though of course that says nothing," The Director smiles at that last bit of self-deprecating humor.

"Not one of yours, not a football movie.
It's a super-hero film, and this game should have been interrupted by a terrorist plot, complete with a nuclear device."

Natalie pauses for a moment and watches The Director, waits for him to react to the news.

"Well, Natalie...
A nuclear explosion is typically the end of a scene, I think we have to appreciate that simple fact," The Director replies.
Natalie nods along.
"Natalie, help me out, what happens if this scene ends dramatically and suddenly with a nuclear explosion?
Will you instantly return to your body?
Or will the explosion destroy that tracker so that you won't be retrieved?"

"Pretty immediate kick out of the system, from the tagged target straight to the destination," Natalie explains.
"That's a pretty straight-forward operation, and properly configured for this hell rig.
Guess someone has been hopping in here, probably to mess with you.
Bet you're regretting not leaving, eh?"

"I'm regretting a lot of things, young lady.
'Not leaving' is not on the list."

The Director stands up, walks over to a nearby railing and catches a small device that someone tosses up from down below.
The device looks like a metal-clad detonator, like something that Natalie remembers from the film.

The Director pulls a blue beanie out of nothingness and puts it on.
"This is where I leave you, Natalie.
Thanks for playing along."

The Director pushes the button on the metal-clad detonator and a nuclear explosion rips the stadium and the crowds to shreds.
The scene ends.

Snoqualmie Falls, real world, 22nd century

Natalie sits facing a drainage pipe.
The pipe's runoff adds to a creek, and Natalie sits on the far bank, facing the dark void of the pipe.
She is clad in a dark outfit: jacket, tights, running shoes.
Her eyes are closed and she is leaning back in a collapsible chair.
A thick metallic wire runs from a device in her lap into the drainage pipe.
A thin red wire snakes out of the yellow Interface Device 2.1 - as it is labeled in big black letters - and up to Natalie's left temple, where it mates with a wide red pad.

A small screen on the top of the Interface Device proclaims: USER Natalie Claire Shields BUSY, INTERRUPT ONLY IN EMERGENCY
There's a big red button in the middle of the screen, with a flashing border, and a similar real-life red button is on the side of the device, complete with a red border that flashes at the same frequency as the digital one.

Natalie's eyes open, she blinks into the early afternoon light.
The sky is overcast, but the cover is letting through plenty of light and seems to at times even glow.

A razor-sharp blade touches Natalie's throat and a muffled voice from behind says, slowly: "One. Word. Only."

Natalie swallows, then sits motionless for a minute, then two.
The voice with the knife is patient.
The knife moves, slightly, after a few minutes, but the holder remains quiet.

"Clavius", Natalie finally speaks, confidently and with vim.

The knife disappears and the speaker comes around, splashes into the creek.
Bright blue hair adorn jade-green eyes and a tooth-filled smile.
Aida Moira Shields hugs her sister, and Natalie hugs back.

"Welcome back, sis!" Aida says and kisses her sister on the cheek.
"How was it?
Tell me... some of it?"
Aida tilts her head, as if she is performing a medical exam on Natalie.

Natalie shrugs and begins unplugging the device in her lap.
"Oh, ya know how it is.
It takes a while to break through to him.
He's really stuck in the deepness, almost as if there's nothing left of him.
Kinda sad, ya know."
Natalie doesn't look up and continues working, doesn't bother waiting for her sister's reaction.
"He fell for the Tracker Gambit.
Swiped my tracker somehow, convinced me to destroy his tracker.
It was pretty ingenious, actually."
Aida nods along as she listens to her sister's story.
She is compiling a list of questions in her head.
"Oh, and I let him think I was his daughter, thanks for that tip.
And the fucker still tried to kill me!"
Natalie throws up her hands in half-fake irritation, then continues as if nothing happened.
"But I got to see Momma, in 'TBFD'."
Natalie smiles at that.
"It was so strange, ya know?
He remembered her differently.
Something about her cheekbones, didn't sit right with me."

Natalie finishes separating a small, pill-bottle-sized yellow device from the rest of the Interface Device.
She puts the small device on top of the drainage pipe, facing the sisters.

There's a tiny screen on the small device, and on the tiny screen is a very small person.
The Director stands in the middle of the screen and looks around.
He looks first at Natalie, then his gaze finds Aida.
The Director speaks, but no sound emanates from the small device.

Natalie is still occupied with the Interface Device.
She taps at its screen for a while, then there's a loud clap, somewhere close, but underground, muffled.
Birds fly off every tree around them.
The hell has been terminated, it is no more.
Aida begins coiling the thick metallic wire, just as Natalie pulls it out of the drainage pipe.
After a minute or so, Natalie pulls up a frayed end that looks to have encountered an explosion.
Aida nods approvingly.

They put the cable away into a blue bag, with the rest of the Interface Device in with it, then stuff the whole thing into a backpack that Aida dons.
Natalie folds up her chair and puts it away inside her own backpack.
Only then does she walk over to the small device with The Director, and touches a button on top of the device.

"What the fuck is this?"
The Director's voice squeaks out of the small device.

"Hey, gramps!
This is Natalie and Aida", Natalie introduces herself and her sister, and both wave toward the small camera that sits at the very top of the small device.
"We're your grand-daughters, actually.
And the bad news is that your plan failed.
You didn't trap me in that hell, I trapped you in this body, if you can even call it that."
Natalie stands there and watches the screen, tries to resolve the crappy picture of The Director's face.

Aida touches Natalie, takes over with the prepared speech.

"But the good news is, we don't think torture is justice," Aida summarizes their position quite early.
"So, we destroy each of these hells that we find.
I hope that is a bit of good news to you, in some indirect way."
Aida watches The Director, but he is just standing there and watching the sisters.
He shifts from time to time, from one leg to the other, but that is all.

"We destroy these hells, some of which are buried in ridiculous places!", Aida yells out and encompasses the entire Pacific Northwest with her hands, turning all the while.
"Because even grandma has regrets.
She hated you, an awful lot, and somehow she got your mind-scan, that you got on your death-bed...
Well, you know the rest."
Aida looks over to Natalie, the two communicate without speaking aloud, and Natalie continues.

"But ya know, Momma was right, with her main lesson to us," Natalie says, then pauses for a moment.
The Director still has not said anything, has not even moved much on the screen of the small device.
Natalie exchanges a look with her sister.
"Never trust a man like you."

Aida offers Natalie a big, moss-covered rock from the creek.
Natalie takes the rock in two hands and slams it down on top of the small device.

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