Interior, below decks on the Presidential yacht. The tiny corridor is cramped and crowded with various government and military officials
We follow LT. MILLER, in Class A dress uniform, as she shoulders through the crowd, up a flight of stairs to the deck.
EXTERIOR: DAY, NEW YORK HARBOR.
On the deck, in the open air, people are gathered at the ship's rail, looking up, across the harbor...
The single surviving tower of the World Trade Center looms above them.
The angle and field of view establishes just how fantastically HUGE the structure is. We are at the tower's foot; people and boats and even other buildings are dwarfed in the foreground.
MILLER looks up at the tower. The camera tilts up to follow her gaze... and keeps going up, up, up... The tower soars into the clear blue September sky.
Dozens of unmanned security helicopters circle around the tower, like flies buzzing around a doomed giant.
(A trio of black stealth fighters streak overhead, etching hard white contrails into the sky. )
High angle looking down on MILLER, her eyes wide in awe as she clutches the rail of the yacht. This is her first time seeing the World Trade Center in real life. Sensing the true size of the structure, she appreciates the enormity of what happened here a year ago.... And what's about to happen today.
Beside her, SGT. LUCCHESE stares up as well. She looks intensely uncomfortable in her dress uniform (this is a modified Class A Women's, with trousers instead of a skirt, but even so... It wasn't designed for her body type.) She, too, looks awed by the scale of the building, although as a native Texan she would never admit this.
It doesn't look unstable.
Seismic damage. Looks fine on the outside, but thoroughly fucked up on the inside.
Huh. Just like the rest of us.
(She notices MILLER's right arm.)
Leesh. You're bleeding.
MILLER looks down. Blobs of red are appearing on the white shirt cuff on her right wrist... They grow, spread....
It'll be fine.
FLASHBACK: LAST NIGHT (SEPTEMBER 11, 2002)
INTERIOR, NEW YORK TATTOO PARLOR
Extreme closeup of a man's latex-gloved hands opening a leather pouch of wicked-looking tebori tools — bamboo-handled hooks and knives used in traditional Japanese tattooing.
JIMMY MAKOTO, the tattoo artist, holds up a hook and inspects its point.
JIMMY is himself heavily tattooed. (These can be varied, but one of the tattoos on his right arm is the iconic still from the movie ALIENS: Ripley, holding Newt in one arm, rifle in the other, staring up at the Alien Queen, ready to fight.)
You sure you don’t want to do this with the machine, Lieutenant? It’d be a lot faster. And a lot less…. Painful.
LT. MILLER is dressed in civilian clothes: an Adidas tracksuit in olive drab with multiple utility pockets and slanty zippers; a pair of black high-tech running shoes with funky alien-looking gel soles. She unzips and removes her jacket; underneath she wears a simple black t-shirt with the word "ARMY" spelled out in digital-camouflage block capitals.
I want it to hurt. I need it to hurt.
JIMMY looks slightly disturbed but says nothing.
(folding her jacket over the chair)
And I need it to last.
Tebori will last all right, Lieutenant. Do you have the art?
MILLER holds up an 8 x 11 inkjet printout: what appears to be a list of twenty-five women's names in serif-bold Roman capitals.
JIMMY assesses the art professionally.... then it occurs to him who the names are.
Lieutenant... are you... sure... you want to see these names every day... for the rest of your life?
MILLER seats herself, thrusts out her right arm and gives JIMMY a look to get started.
JIMMY's phone rings. (Musical ringtone, "Young'n Holla Back" by Fabolous, or some other cheesy song that was popular in 2002.)
Excuse me Lieutenant.
She nods. He flips out his phone and mumbles a few words to somebody.
While he is talking, MILLER gazes at the flash art on the walls. Some traditional, an assortment of tribal/hipster motifs, and some designs unique to this alternate world: Images of a single burning World Trade Center tower with the banner "REMEMBER FDNY 9/12/2001"
JIMMY pockets his phone and turns to MILLER with a sheepish grin.
Lieutenant... Aah... Word sorta got out that you were here.
Word "got out," huh?
Just a few of my friends, out in the foyer. They'd be so stoked —
I really wanted some privacy, Jimmy.
It'll be just for a minute, I swear.
JIMMY leads her through a doorway, out onto a balcony overlooking the building's foyer.
Assembled in the foyer are hundreds of New York hipsters, who erupt into spontaneous and wild applause as MILLER steps into view.
The applause turns into a chant of "MIL-LER! MIL-LER!"
LT. MILLER looks at JIMMY with a look of serious annoyance, but JIMMY is grinning ear to ear as he leads a PUNK ROCK GIRL in a black Plasmatics T-shirt up onto the balcony to meet her.
(Nods to PUNK GIRL)
Go ahead... Show her!
PUNK GIRL smiles at MILLER, turns around and hikes up her t-shirt, revealing the bare skin of her back.
Tattooed there, enormous and in blazing color, is the (now iconic) image of Lt. Miller mounted on horseback, raising the American flag in one arm while charging into the Taliban assault at Kar Haluba. (It is a fresh tattoo; scabs and droplets of blood can be seen on it.)
MILLER can only stare, dumbfounded.
In voiceover we hear a female VOCALIST, singing a sad operatic eulogy.
Camera zooms in on the tattoo, on the cartoon-Miller's bloody, scabby face...
CUT BACK TO:
PRESENT DAY (SEPTEMBER 12, 2002)
Empty blue sky with a bone-white crescent moon.
The song performed by the VOCALIST is mournful but at the same time steadfast, hopeful. (Similar in tone to Michael Nyman’s “Song for a Woman in the Shadows” as sung by Hillary Summers.)
Tilt down: the lone WTC Tower seems to rise up into the blue void. In a few minutes it will be no more, but for this, its final moment on Earth, it stands proudly.
The camera tilts down to reveal the VOCALIST, dressed in black, singing into a microphone on a large raised stage. We're on Liberty Island, facing Manhattan. The stage is decorated with American flags and draped heavily in black.
The camera does a wide orbit around the VOCALIST: taking in the panorama: Across the harbor, the lone World Trade Center tower waits, stoically. Hundreds of police boats patrol the harbor.
We orbit around... at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, hundreds of active soldiers, police, and security personnel stand ready. (An unmanned robot helicopter with fearsome weapons slung under its belly choppers past.)
Orbit around... A veritable forest of television cameras and microphones on high booms, teeming with technicians and journalists.
Orbit around: An audience is assembled and seated at the foot of Liberty, hundreds of persons clothed in dark suits. At least half of them are military personnel in dress uniform.
Orbit around... We see PRESIDENT AL GORE seated on the stage next to GENERAL CONCHIS, whose burned and deformed face is as unreadable as ever...
Seated next to him, GENERAL BROOKS, his jaw set, his eyes flinty, looking (as always) as if he's calculating three moves ahead on his own private chessboard.
The camera finishes its sweeping orbit and zooms in on LIEUTENANT MILLER.
The VOCALIST is hitting the saddest part of her song.
MILLER's expression is troubled -- profoundly sad, deeply confused.
The VOCALIST finds a courageous cadence in the song, and concludes on something like a triumphant note.
No applause, just silence.
In this silence, PRESIDENT GORE and GENERAL CONCHIS stand up and move toward the podium.
(Stepping up to the microphone)
Of all the privileges that come with serving as President, none is greater than serving as Commander in Chief of the greatest military the world has ever known.
Miller looks around. Off and to the left: TV news camera crews, recording everything. Off and to the right: mysterious tiny flying robots with their creepy eye-lenses hover over everybody.
Of all the decorations a nation can bestow, there is none higher than the Medal of Honor.
It is my privilege to present our nation's highest military decoration to a soldier as humble as she is heroic...
First Lieutenant Celicia K. Miller.
ZOOM IN SLOWLY ON MILLER. HER EXPRESSION STOIC BUT PAINED.
(in voice over)
Fuck the Medal of Honor.
FLASHBACK: TWO DAYS AGO.
INTERIOR: GENERAL BROOKS' OFFICE.
MILLER, dressed in her civilian tracksuit, seated before BROOKS' desk, slaps a document down onto the desktop, shakes her head wearily.
Twenty five women are dead because they followed my orders. I don't want this, sir.
They're gonna hang it around your neck anyway, Lieutenant.
GENERAL BROOKS is in Army PT gear (gym clothes), drenched in sweat, a handtowel draped over the shoulder of his missing right arm. (This is the first time we've seen him out of Class A uniform. For a man of 65, he's ripped, muscled like a classical Spartan warrior. Even with only one arm he looks as if he could beat up an army of bandits.) BROOKS ambles around his desk to a small refrigerator and pulls out a bottle of Red Bull.
BROOKS' desk is clean and organized to a nearly OCD level. A laptop, a stack of magazines -- news magazines, all of which display Miller's photo on the cover -- and on the edge of the desk, noticeable to the careful observer is a tattered paperback novel titled "Seven Days in May."
Kar Haluba was a colossal goatfuck. You know it, I know it. And as far as I'm concerned, all "heroism" means is that somebody in command fucked up... so badly that somebody on the ground had to put their ass on the line. In this case, you and your soldiers, Lieutenant.
But the civvies need their "heroes."
I didn't --
I know what you're going to say. "I didn't do anything brave..." right?
It was a simple calculation, sir. If we'd run, the Tallies would have picked us off with RPGs. Our best chance of survival was to go eyeball to eyeball and hope superior body armor carried the day. That business with the horse and the flag? That was just the quickest way to rally my girls in the poppy field.
You sure you weren't doing it for the cameras?
As far as I knew, General, the EMP blast had wiped out every electronic device in a hundred mile radius. I wish there'd been no cameras there that day.
Fuckin' amen to that, sister. Cameras have no place on the battlefield. The less civilians have to see of the violence we commit on their behalf — the better.
He gulps down the last of the Red Bull and flings the empty bottle across his office. It knifes through the air and lands precisely in a recycling bucket nearly ten meters away.
MILLER raises an eyebrow, impressed.
The follow shot gives us a wider perspective on BROOKS' office. The office is set up in a basement; raw concrete slabs and bright light gives it an appearance similar to the Temporary Batcave in The Dark Knight.
Boxes of documents are stacked on Ikea shelves. Mixed in among these are various historical military items: spears, shields, model airplanes, antique flintlock pistols and a Kentucky long rifle.
The recycyling bin, where the bottle landed, was next to a rack on which hang a pair of replica Greek swords (Xiphos swords -- leaf-shaped, double edged steel thrust & parry blades. MILLER's gaze lingers on them for a moment .
Then she notices, on a table nearby, a prosthetic ROBOT ARM. (It is similar in design to the Spider robots we will see later. Possibly it was made by the same company.)
Begging your pardon, General. Why haven't you attached your arm yet?
I want to be reminded -- every second of every day -- what the enemy took from me.
Will you ever attach it?
Not until Osama bin Laden is dead.
That might be a while, sir.
(Groans in disgust.)
If only the dumb sons of bitches had followed my recommendation to begin with! Put the nation on war footing. Commit a hundred thousand troops to the 'Stan. Hit the enemy, visibly and dramatically, while they're still concentrated.
If we'd done that a year ago... Today we'd be celebrating! But no. The dumb assholes had to give this operation over to the spooks and the mercenaries. We feinted and danced and now the enemy's dispersed and hidden themselves in the most rugged terrain on Earth.
So now... We have to do what I suggested to begin with. Only now, the job's gonna be ten thousand times harder. The casualties are going to be through the roof. Hundreds of thousands, Lieutenant. Worse than Viet fucking Nam.
(He looks sharply at MILLER.)
How's that sit with you, Ell Tee?
Pisses me off, sir. But -- the past can't be changed.
(Abruptly changing the subject)
So. That fruitbat Conchis is trying to poach you out my Army.
General Conchis has invited me, sir... to join his new Cyber Division.
"Cyber Division." You gonna accept?
Don't know sir. Haven't heard his offer yet.
I'd like to make a counter-offer.
(Raises an eyebrow.)
Stay in the 13th. I'll bump you up to Captain and give you your own company. If you like... it can be all women.
(Looks genuinely surprised.... then suspicious)
Is this to reward me or to spite General Conchis?
Both. You're a sterling asset, Lieutenant. I can't stand to see a good asset go to waste. Conchis would waste your talents.
Didn't you serve with him in Vietnam, sir?
(Snorts.) I was infantry, he was an airman. His feet literally never touched the ground! After 'Nam he spent ten years in psy-ops, then another ten in black ops. He's been regular Army for the past 6 years but his dick's thoroughly wet with spook-juice. I trust him about as far as I can spit.
We are the same Army, sir.
BROOKS responds with a hard stare and an enigmatic silence.
Then he walks over to the replica Greek swords.
Saw you looking at these earlier, Ell Tee.
He picks one up, pulls it out of its scabbard with a steely *shling*. The blade gleams fiercely under the fluorescent lights.
You wanna hold it?
Miller smiles despite herself... gets up, takes the sword into hand. It's heavy! She hefts it, feels its balance.
How's it feel?
Reliable. No EMP blast is gonna take this offline.
BROOKS unsheathes the other sword.
You fence, don't you Lieutenant?
Bamboo? P'shaw. You gotta feel the real thing — steel on steel.
He taps his blade against hers. They ring out with an almost musical *kting.*
These are sharp, sir. And you've only got one hand to lose.
I promise -- I won't slice off your hand if you don't slice off mine.
MILLER looks dubious, but BROOKS gives her a devilish grin.
We're fellow warriors, aren't we?
MILLER grins. They lock eyes, circle around onto the sparring mat and step into the ancient dance.
The weapons ring out with a loud KSSSHING!
(There is some banter here about which would be less gruesome: to be a soldier in the age of swords or in the age of firearms.)
What do you think of our Commander in Chief?
Doing the best he can.
You think he's got what it takes to lead the nation to victory?
If he doesn't, the American people will vote him out in 2004.
2004 might be too late.
A rapid succession of sharp swipes which Miller parries, but has to step back.
In your heart of hearts... Do you honestly believe... that if George W. Bush had been President... the terrorists would have DARED to attack us?
Miller plants her trailing foot and leans back in.
I don't deal in "what ifs," Sir. Only what is.
BROOKS makes an expertly vicious swipe and steps assertively into her perimeter. Until now they've been sparring, but right now it's not entirely clear he's not trying to slice her.
MILLER guards herself for true.
Al Gore's weakness emboldened our enemies. And his weakness will continue to invite further attacks.
We're sworn to obey him, Sir.
BROOKS lunges in, viciously, hooks his blade around hers and disarms her in a single motion. Her sword swooshes across the room and buries itself five inches deep in the parquet.
BROOKS levels his blade at MILLER's throat.
We're sworn to defend America, Lieutenant.
They lock gazes and stare at each other, as if each is trying to read the others' mind.
A VOICE from offscreen asks politely: "General?"
The General's ASSISTANT enters. Young man in Class B greens, rank of Sergeant.
General, sir... CENTCOM meeting at 1300.
BROOKS lowers his blade, steps back, adopts a formal pose of ancient salute, and smiles warmly on MILLER.
Good sparring, Lieutenant. I'd trust you with my back any day.
He hands his blade to the ASSISTANT, motions for him to pick up the other blade.
Thank you Sergeant. Please escort the Lieutenant out.
BROOKS strolls behind a folding screen. The ASSISTANT picks up the other sword, looks after the General, then looks up at Miller, and whispers:
You were fucking AWESOME at Kor Haluba . I'd serve under you in a heartbeat.
Lieutenant, before you go... I've got something I'd like to give you.
GENERAL BROOKS steps back out again, holding something tiny and metallic in his right hand. He flips it with a metallic *ting* across the room to MILLER, who snatches it with one hand and examines it.
In Miller's palm -- an ancient weathered coin, dark brown, showing the profile of a man's head, with a distinctive and famous haircut. The inscriptions are in Latin.
(Looking up, incredulously)
Is this real?
Two thousand years old, Lieutenant.
I can't take this, sir. It must be worth a fortune.
Nah. About a hundred dollars on Ebay. It's old but it's not rare. The Romans minted thousands of these.
BROOKS hoists a green dress uniform on a hanger out of his wardrobe. His ASSISTANT flutters around him, pulling out his shoes and hat.
(Studying the coin more closely)
This guy on the coin... Is that Caesar?
Old Julius himself.
Why are you giving me this, sir?
A penny for your thoughts.
(He winks at her.)
Good day, Lieutenant.
WE CUT BACK TO THE PRESENT.
(LIBERTY ISLAND, SEPTEMBER 12, 2002)
PRESIDENT GORE stands next to MILLER.
An Army Guard with white gloves holds up the MEDAL OF HONOR as the citation is read by GENERAL CONCHIS.
Lieutenant Miller’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon herself, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 13th Airborne Division, and the United States Army.
PRES. GORE takes up the medal, steps behind MILLER, and fastens it around her neck, then steps before and shakes her hand warmly.
Thunderous applause ensues. The entire audience stands up in ovation. MILLER looks over the PRESIDENT's shoulder to seek out GENERAL BROOKS, who (obviously) is not applauding, but is staring back at her with a piercing gaze.
She breaks off her eye contact and looks back again to PRESIDENT GORE, who releases her hand and gives her a weary smile.
Now onto our more dreadful task.
Extremely wide shot, from the audience's point of view. MILLER, the PRESIDENT, GENERAL CONCHIS, GENERAL BROOKS, the guards... tiny against the ominous grey slab of the World Trade Center tower in the background. MILLER and BROOKS exit the stage.
MILLER and BROOKS return to their seats at the front row of the audience. They exchange a brief glance as they seat themselves, but say nothing.
LUCCHESE, seated to MILLER's right, leans over and gives her a playful punch to the arm.
Look alive, girl.
Applause dies, the audience is seated again....
PRESIDENT GORE takes the microphone again, with GENERAL CONCHIS and the new SECRETARY of DEFENSE standing behind him.
A long year has passed since the nightmare which befell our nation on September the 12th, 2001.
On that day, our enemy -- a secretive and homicidal gang, bent on the restoration of a long-vanished and despotic empire --
attacked us with a savagery which shocked the world... An attack deliberately designed to maximize civilian casualties.
While he is speaking we see from MILLER'S point of view, drifting past the PRESIDENT's shoulder, looking at GENERAL CONCHIS... Who is looking back at her with his one good eye.
Seldom does evil present itself in a less ambiguous form.
Interior, a high-tech conference room.
The lights are dimmed and the room is illuminated by several wide-screen televisions.
The biggest, central monitor is showing footage of Flight 33 striking the World Trade Center.
Pull back to reveal GENERAL CONCHIS, seated at the conference table, watching the screen intently.
The footage is nearly identical to the events from our universe. The plane swoops in and, at the last possible moment, pitches downward for a final, murderous burst of speed... then plows into the side of the tower, tearing a sickening gash into its straight lines. A moment later, the hideous ball of fire erupts, spewing oily black smoke into blue sky.
Camera swivels around. GENERAL CONCHIS, his ruined face lit up in the orange fire light, continues to stare at the screen. LT. MILLER stands behind him, looking pensive. CONCHIS speaks to her without turning around.
Why would human beings do this to each other? What kind of mind takes joy in this, Lieutenant?
I spent ten years in Psy-Ops studying the roots of human aggression. But ...this...
(The video loops back. Again the plane gashes into the building and explodes.)
This goes beyond any political quarrel. Only persons with a deep and abiding hatred for human life could carry out an act like this.
I don't know why people do evil, sir. All I care about is stopping them.
He changes the channel to CSPAN, which shows live coverage of General Sullivan, Secretary Volkowycz, Undersecretary Romfelt sitting before Congress. Caption reads: SHAKEUP IN THE PENTAGON (SENIOR OFFICIALS TO RESIGN
And what was Plan B, Mr. Secretary?
Plan B was to make Plan A work, Senator.
The old fools... For all their talk about moving the military into the 21st Century, they still think we're living in 1991. In their minds, we're still congratulating ourselves on winning the Cold War and mopping up a few leftover Third World dictators.
They see the Internet as some giant command-and-control grid they've wrapped around the planet. They still don't get what the Internet's all about.
Lieutenant. Your generation grew up with the Internet. You know what it's all about.
People, Lieutenant. It's all about people. If the Internet can allow psychopaths to join forces and tear down cities, it ought to allow good people to come together and defeat them... Don't you think?
I'm infantry, sir. I climb hills and shoot people.
(Gives a crazy laugh, sort of like Mozart from the movie Amadeus.)
Oh Lieutenant... Your fake humility is really going to fucking annoy me soon.
Pizzas arrive. While Conchis is dealing with, Miller sneaks a glance at his Palm Pilot and pushes an icon with a Spider on it.
The screens light up with the image of a wounded U.S. Marine, crawling across an Afghan mountainside in daylight.
There are over a hundred screens, and he's seen from every possible angle.
"I'm bleeding out. Requesting medevac. Give them my coordinates people."
Miller is stunned. Is this for real?
(He pointedly takes his Palm Pilot back out of Miller's hands.)
Would you mind carrying the pizzas for me? (He holds up his ruined right hand) It's hard for me to grip with both hands.
He gets up, motions for Miller to follow him down a hallway. The architecture is classically grim 1960s Cold War / Aerospace Modern, Dr. Strangelove meets NASA.
I hear you're to be named Supreme Commander of the Afghan Theater.
They screwed the pooch and now they're handing me the leash.
They arrive at a door with a logo for YOYODYNE PROPULSION SYSTEMS ("Where the Future Begins Tomorrow.") CONCHIS holds his good hand up to the identity lock.
MILLER looks at the logo and frowns.
A joke, sir?
A long-running one.
The bolts unclick and the door hisses open. They walk through into a huge open space, reminiscent of the Torchwood facility seen in the Doctor Who episode "Army of Ghosts." Various stalls where Strange Projects are being conducted by people in cleansuits. One group of techies are flying a group of hexagonal Flying Array Drones. Another group is monitoring a soldier wearing exoskeleton power armor legs, who is carrying what looks like a thousand-kilogram load on his back.
There is a playful geekiness here that's completely at odds with the "warrior culture" Miller is accustomed to.
CONCHIS bustles past them blithely. MILLER follows with the pizzas. Her attention is pulled this way and that by the weird activities around her but she stays in the conversation with CONCHIS.
You support massive deployment?
Only solution left, sir. Al Qaeda's dispersed and hidden themselves in tough terrain. We gotta toss the entire country, village by village, cave by cave.
You're not worried about inflaming the radical fringe of the Muslim community?
We're damned if we do and damned if we don't, sir. We occupy the country, bin Laden can say that proves we're rampaging crusaders. But if we do nothing, he says that proves we're cowards. We might as well throw our weight into it and finish the bastards off.
How many troops you willing to commit?
A hundred thousand. At least.
And what, to you, is an acceptable casualty rate?
(suddenly pissed, unable to keep an angry edge out of her voice)
You have a better idea, sir? I'd love to hear it.
(Grinning as best as he can with half a face)
You can see it if you like.
They pass through the doorway into an enormous hangar-cum-soundstage. In the center of the room, improbably, is a section of Afghanistan high desert, surrounded by arc lamps and drapes of Chroma-Key green screen.
The wounded MARINE from the conference room screen is here. He appears to be wounded, but, spying GENERAL CONCHIS, spryly leaps to his feet and salutes.
General Conchis, sir!
At ease, Corporal.
The FAKE MARINE looks at MILLER and smiles warmly, salutes smartly.
Lieutenant Miller! It's an honor, ma'am!
MILLER stares at him perhaps a little too coldly.
You a real Marine?
(Awkwardly he lowers his arm. )
Corporal, U.S. Army... ma'am.
He takes the pizzas from her, sets them down on a smooth flat fake rock.
Corporal, would you round up the kids, please?
Right away, sir.
He hustles off the fake Afghanistan set and disappears out a back door.
Lieutenant... If we did it your way... How many boots on the ground?
They walk into the middle of the uncannily real landscape. Gravel and sand crunches under their feet.
MILLER looks around, slightly distracted... She seems to be glimpsing something out of the corner of her eye...
A hundred thousand men and women by December.
What if I told you I could give you a hundred million sets of eyes and ears... tomorrow?
He pulls out his Palm Pilot, presses a button...
Suddenly, out of the sand and rocks, a smattering "pop pop pop pop pop" sound as a hundred what appear to be small rocks burst out of the ground.
The rocks, it seems, have six legs each. They are, in fact, a hundred tiny spider-like robots.
With a galvanic surge, they begin crawling toward the pair.
Kids, come out to soundstage 3. I've got pizza!
The soldier returns with about 20 pre-teen children, all dressed in gaily colored clothes. In this grim, olive-drab bunker complex they are about as incongruous as can be. Whooping, chattering, giggling, they make for the pizza and begin tearing into the boxes.
Everybody? This is Lieutenant Celicia Miller.
The kids make a ragged, perfunctory greeting, and return their attention to the more pressing matter of pizza.
Kids know their priorities.
The FAKE MARINE unstraps his rifle, removes his helmet, and seats himself on the rock next to Miller.
One of the children, a girl of around 9 with glasses and a laptop, timidly approaches.
Hey, you know who this is, don't you?
Are you the lady who rode the horse?
(for once, gracious.)
Yes. That was me. What's your name?
The girl holds up her name tag, which reads, "Olivia."
What do you all do here, Olivia?
Pilot the spiders.
(eyes narrowing.... )
Can you show me how that works, Olivia?
Olivia flips open her laptop. We see a "futuristic" interface of the kind popular in the early 2000s, framed in heavy squiggles of info-noise and oblique wireframe tabs.
The center of the UI is a video screen, showing the "Afghan landscape."
Olivia's fingers fly over the keypad. The view swivels around. They see children's feet, and then...
They see themselves and the FAKE MARINE, sitting on the rock.
Can you bring it closer?
She presses a combination of keys. Nothing complicated -- anybody who's played a computer game understands how this works.
MILLER looks up. She has to search for it -- the robot is well camouflaged -- but eventually she sees a tiny lump stridling toward them with its eerie little camera eye fixed on them.
She looks back at OLIVIA's computer screen --- and gasps.
Approaching behind them are two TALIBAN SOLDIERS.
In a split second, MILLER leaps to her feet and pivots. With one hand she pushes OLIVIA flat against the ground (laptop and pizza go flying) The other hand sweeps out and snatches up the FAKE MARINE's rifle. Flinging herself down into the dirt, she's already in prone position and squeezing off automatic fire at the two approaching "TALIBAN."
The children scream, flee this way and that.
The two "Taliban" stop dead in their tracks.
The FAKE MARINE flings himself on top of Miller, closes his grip on the rifle.
The firing stops. (MILLER has emptied out the entire clip.)
He pulls himself off of her, slooooowly, carefully, although making sure he slips the rifle out of her hands, which are at this time trembling.
The two FAKE TALIBAN pull off their turbans and beards. They are a pair of Caucasian American soldiers with buzz cuts. They look appropriately freaked out.
MILLER does not move from the spot. Her eyes are wide.... She can't seem to breathe. She is trembling all over.
FAKE MARINE moves to OLIVIA, picks her up, carries her a few paces away.
GENERAL CONCHIS comes rushing up to Miller..
Lieutenant... I am so sorry. I should have realized...
MILLER manages to exhale, explosively. It is a horrible sound, not quite a gasp or a sob. She forces herself to take another breath. Then another. She sits up, looks around.
The children are all staring at her, wide-eyed. Their Sponge Bob shirts and Hello Kitty sneakers vivid and unreal against the pale grey of the Afghan desert.
The hundreds of robot spiders are all staring at her with their unblinking eyes.
The two FAKE TALIBAN and the FAKE MARINE exchange nervous glances.
FAKE TALIBAN 1:
(straining to lighten the situation)
Good shootin' Lieutenant. If those were live rounds we'd be dead!
Shut the fuck up, man.
OLIVIA, in his arms, starts crying.
MILLER stands shakily to her feet.
Excuse me General. I... have to leave.
Lieutenant.... You dropped your phone.
She turns. GENERAL CONCHIS is holding out her cell phone with his ruined left hand.
MILLER takes it from him, pockets it.
I don't know what you're doing here, General. But this does NOT feel right at all.
Real war never does.
She strides out. The children, the Fake Marine and Taliban staring after her.
Lieutenant... There is no more "front line." The whole world is the battlefield now.
Miller pauses for a moment, shivers, then pushes through the door.
CUT BACK TO: PRESENT DAY (SEPTEMBER 12, 2002)
PRESIDENT GORE is wrapping up his speech on Liberty Island.
... Let us draw upon the spirit of unity that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. God bless you all, and may God continue to bless the United States America.
He steps down from the podium. The audience is silent.
(Whispering to CONCHIS)
Let’s fucking get this overwith.
In the distance, civil defense sirens begin wailing. The sound drifting across the deserted city, is profoundly eerie.
This is it.
I can't believe we've gotta watch this a second time.
Parents gather up their children and comfort them as best as they can. People can be seen inserting earplugs.
All eyes are on the Tower.
A succession of explosions rip through the lower floors of the tower, then move upward, like flashbulbs, followed by a series of booms which echo across the harbor like giant cannons firing.
Somewhere an infant cries.
The foundation of WTC North Tower implodes. Grey dust pours out, and keeps coming... The whole tower shivers, its straight lines slackening and melting...
The entire tower sinks slowly into the earth, concrete bursting, floor by floor, into a roaring Niagra of grey powdery grit.
The rumbling grows louder, then deafening, then grows even louder still, loud beyond all sanity.
LT. MILLER gasps.
(Whispering to her)
I know what you're thinking, Lieutenant. You're praying that the United States will never again have to endure a day as humiliating as this.
Actually, General.... I was imagining what it must have been like for the people trapped in the other tower. They... didn't die instantly.
The tower continues to fall. There's just so much of it.
This can't happen again. Ever.
Don't worry, Lieutenant. I promise you... The next building to come down will have no Americans in it.
MILLER just stares at him, incredulously, for a long moment.
Excuse me, Sir.
She gets up and walks off, by herself, to the edge of the island. For the first time in the story, she looks as if she's close to tears. Alone, at the edge of the island, she pulls the Roman coin out of her pocket, looks at it for a moment, then flips it into the harbor. She then pulls out her cellphone.
Extreme closeup of her thumb on the keypad as she texts the message:
Subject: I'm in.
Wide shot. She looks up as the ominous grey dust cloud envelopes lower Manhattan.
Camera tracks over Miller's shoulder and into the cloud.
Closeup shot of a tiny flying robot camera, like the one we saw on the battlefield in Chapter 2. It is only a few hundred meters from the collapsing tower. It bobs and weaves on the shockwave.
The rumbling, which we thought couldn't get any louder, grows louder still.
We see a video screen. The flying robot's point of view. The cloud of dust sweeps in and fills the entire screen with grey.
END OF CHAPTER 3.
September 11, 2011