Cold Call



Scene Title Cold Call
Synopsis After a conversation with Godfrey, Asi looks deeper into the matter of Brandon Patenaude and finds as many answers as roadblocks.
Date February 7, 2021

The Bastion

When Asi runs her tongue between her lips after sipping from her beer, it's the nicotine she tastes. An ashtray of cigarette butts serve as evidence of her tapping an old habit in the hopes it might provide her some inspiration this evening. That it might help her now.

But she's still grasping at straws after hitting all the points of intrigue she was able to find on her own. That being: Brandon Patenaude was a relatively boring person save for his travel habits.

His presence on social media could be classed as mediocre at best. He didn't appear to have particular hobbies he was passionate about— or at least, none she could surface. He talked up recent popular television, occasionally posted a music link, sometimes had holiday photos with family… the only regular thing he seemed to do was take a trip once a year to another country.

There's nothing from 2020, or even 2019, lining up with the dating of the security breach at Renautas. 2018, though, was a trip to France with photos here and there of major landmarks and the occasional group photo, usually around a meal. 2017 was Egypt, much the same. Spain was the destination in 2016, with more sunshine than you could shake a stick at.

In trying to theorize what had happened to make him suddenly jeopardize and leave his job, leave behind his entire life, she started over at that point. She looked more closely through the photos of the trips in particular. Had he met someone? Old research habits from when she worked for the Mugai-Ryu come to mind. Had he been in any hotspots of terrorist activity?

The photos from Egypt beared the closest looking at, and finding a potential lead had never been so frustrating. A bar photo of Patenaude with several other men looked like nothing at first— until Asi caught sight of a familiar symbol tattooed on the inside of the arm of one of the men.

"Son of a bitch," she had whispered at her screen, leaning closer and zooming in to confirm: an eight-pointed star was inked in a dark color on his forearm. "And who are you?" The photo was untagged, none of the commenters matched with the man provided. Asi grabbed a screencap of the clearly seen face, searching on several platforms for visual hits. Even running the face against the database available to Wolfhound turned up nothing. At least, not yet.

If she had her ability, she could do more. Attack this from multiple angles all at once. Keep at it with so many cross-checks until something finally hit. But she doesn't have it, no matter how many cigarettes she smokes in the hopes of capturing the feeling of what it was like when she did.

The man looked … American, if she had to ascribe stereotypes to a face. Shaven head, a drawn face still somehow smiling without humor toward the camera while he leans against the table. The photo is downloaded, pinned for later, and reluctantly, she's forced to move on. She can see task maj1ko later with helping her look into the mystery man, perhaps. If nothing else, for now she at least had a solid lead in the form of being able to find contact information for Patenaude's family. Specifically, his parents.

Squashing the last of her current cigarette out, she checks the GhostNet connection stability before firing up a VOIP application, sifting through options to pick herself out a phone number from the same area code she was about to call— and to keep it and a voicemail box set up for the next few days, just in case. Asi hits dial on the parents' number, leaning back and taking another sip from her drink before she sets it aside.

A glance to the current time proves it's 6:15 pm locally.

The phone only rings three times before a woman’s voice rises on the other end of the call. “Hello?” There’s a hint of Quebecois French in her accent, though a tremor of uncertainty too.

"Hi, Mrs. Patenaude?" Asi begins, an amicable uncertainty of her own in her voice. "Please don't hang up. My name's Jun. I knew Brandon. I was hoping to talk… do you have a second?"

“You—” There’s an immediate strangled sound of emotion from the other end of the line. “Is he okay? Do—can you have him call us, please?”

Oh, no. This wasn't promising. "I'm sorry. I've not heard from him in almost two years. It's been a long time, I know, but I was hoping to find him, talk to him." Asi glances down for a moment before looking off to the side, listening intently through the headset. "I called you hoping you might know more than I did what happened to him," she explains.

“Oh, I thought—” Mrs. Patenaude cuts herself off. The tone is weird, almost as if it wasn’t just blind hope but a case of mistaken identity.

“I’m sorry I don’t know if I can help you.” She continues. “Jun, was it?”

Asi settles her arms against the side of the desk in a fold, leaning into her answer. "Mrs. Patenaude, the last time we talked, Brandon… didn't sound like himself. It always bothered me. I never knew what happened."

"Please— do you know something?"

“No.” She says in a way that Asi absolutely knows means yes. But it’s a yes strangled to death by fear. “I don’t know anything. I don’t know where my son is. I’m sorry—Jun.”

There's scant few seconds to somehow stop her from hanging up. "What if I told you I could help find him? Help make sure he's safe? Please, ma'am." Asi closes her eyes, hand lifting off the fold of her arms as she asks plainly, "Did what happen to him have anything to do with Mazdak?"

Asi can feel the palpable tension through the phone line, even without her ability. The soft, gasped hesitation in Ms. Patenaude’s voice. That confirmation without words.

The sudden click of a phone call ending


"Fuck." Asi tosses the headset down onto her desk, resisting the urge to want to hit something. Her fingertips find the corners of her eyes and bridge of her nose, pressing hard there as she sinks her face into her hands. A moment is spent that way, gathering her presence of mind again. Then with a sharp breath in, she refocuses her eyes on the machine before her.

Brandon Patenaude, former employee of the Renautas Corporation, was exposed to Mazdak at the latest in 2017. By 2019, he had been radicalized, culminating in the data exfil and disappearance. If she had to guess, he was either abroad and fighting the good fight

Or worse. Perhaps they'd extracted what they wanted from him and simply offed him.

Her hands drop to her keyboard to begin searching, to see if she can find out for herself which of the two is the more likely scenario. She's not been entirely written out of Mazdak's online spaces, for all that she's sworn them off.

Mazdak’s presence feels much like cockroaches in a bathroom exposed to a sudden light. Ever since the hit in Rochester and the collapse of Praxis most of the organization’s English-language sites imploded on themselves. Archives still exist, because the internet is forever, which gives Asi insights into their foreign language counterparts.

Besplatnaya Moshchnost, a Russian-federation arm of Mazdak’s recruitment focusing on border conflicts with Turkey using Georgia and Azerbaijan as battlefields leads Asi to التّاج—altaj—the Crown, the primary online recruitment center for the Arabic-speaking world.

But even here things seem fractious. Where once Asi was able to glean information about a unified front of Expressives seeking a world for their kind, she now sees ideological in-fighting within would-be members of Mazdak. Asi may be quad-lingual, but none of them are Arabic. Her context is filtered through the lens of online resources, stripping the words of some of their more nuanced meaning.

But what she finds adds a distressing layer to the search for Patenaude: Mazdak doesn’t seem to be as unified as it once was. Which means, if it is beginning to fracture along ideological lines, it may be even harder to find a trail leading back to him. But whatever is happening within Mazdak, it seems to be centered around references to internecine conflicts inside of Iraq.

Her eyes are getting tired by the time she makes it that far, her proneness to continued headaches not helping her by any means here. She's at least able to ponder what she has found now, pulling closer an already-opened thermos of long-cooled coffee to sip at it. Asi frowns to herself as she wonders what could be at play there.

Was it Adam, potentially? The Entity itself perhaps making itself manifest and not exactly living up to the expectations, hopes, and dreams of those who worshipped its coming.

What else could be splitting them like this?

Her brow begins to furrow while she ponders it, rubbing her forehead. She needed someone who could read the source material and interpret it better than a machine. Another, stronger gulp of coffee follows the first.

Maybe this was as far as she got this afternoon. She sure as hell wasn't making any further progress alone.

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