Double-Edged Litany


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Scene Title Double-Edged Litany
Synopsis Jiba reaches out to Hana for help with a most-important project.
Date November 30, 2018

Floyd Bennet Airfield

Humans are pattern-seeking creatures. Whether it's seeing a hippopotamus in the shape of a cloud, or a face in a knot of wood, the human mind is keyed in to find recognizable shapes and patterns. Most of the time, these patterns are immaterial and insubstantial things, no more real than the hippopotamus cloud in the sky. Sometimes, however, the pattern is as real as the force the makes it.

On the tarmac of Floyd Bennet Airfield, Major Hana Gitelman has arrived in the Safe Zone with the Tlanuwa while Scott and Francis work on replacing a failing horizontal stabilizer, work that requires facilities more advanced than what's on offer at the Bunker. It's also commonly a time where the Harknesses catch up with friends in the military police and give prideful tours of the cutting-edge aircraft that has garnered such a reputation in and beyond the war.

But behind the chatter, behind the familiar faces and surreptitiously background-checked fatigue-wearing law enforcement, behind the concrete and sky, there's something else going on. To the untrained eye, the frequency at which LED electronics emit light is imperceptible. But the electromagnetic waves those diodes let off changes subtly depending on the wattage flowing through them. Furthermore, that subtle EM radiation shift impresses a small but meaningful change in ambient radio static. For the last eight minutes, Hana’s pattern-seeking mind has been tracking the slow shift in power output to the airport and the rhythm of the frequency changes.

That it's Morse code is intriguing. That it spells out: Hana, come to Yamagato Park is something else entirely.

Hana stands in the lee of a prefab building that looks more fragile than it is, little more than sheet metal encasing an open frame, the better to lend itself to any industrial purpose that might be conceived. The leather of her jacket insulates from contact with the cold metal siding where she leans against it, out of the way enough to be ostensibly ignored by mechanics and 'friends' alike. However informally dressed she may be in today's role as pilot, the major has reputation enough to be an island in the sea of convivial chatter, a state she's perfectly agreeable with; her pride takes different form.

In most contexts, waiting around for mechanics to do their work is dull, dreary, boring. Hana is conversant enough to parse the progress the Harknesses are making, for all that the specifics of enacting it are outside her skillset… but that does little to while away the time. Of course, the distinct advantage of being Wireless is that distance matters little in many respects, and at least some of her work can proceed even from the remove of the Safe Zone's airport.

…except for the past eight minutes, that is.

She lets two more tick past while continuing to consider the obvious — to her, and to Tenzin — agent behind the oh-so-subtle and oh-so-anomalous behavior of the airport's systems. An entity deliberately curtailed in its reach, and yet here she is receiving a message well beyond what those limits are supposed to be. An unconventional message, as limits are wont to dictate.

A message that in its choice of wording is at least as off-putting as its implied urgency is compelling. Hana Gitelman is not a dog, to simply come when called.

So it is that when Wireless acts, it is not to move, not to seek out a vehicle or even just start walking. Instead, she reaches out across the span of intervening distance, orienting herself by GPS beacons and distinctive technological signatures upon the buildings that are Jiba's permitted domain. Within those bounds, Hana discreetly sifts through phone systems, querying data from cameras and microphones, collecting a virtual list of those devices seemingly left unattended. A short list; on the third one she actually calls, no one emerges from another room in response to the ringing of their electronic leash.

Likely as good a situation as she's going to get, without physically going to Yamagato's turf.

Jiba. Why? is queried in mode mirroring the entity's communication, encoded in brightness and color temperature of digital display, subtle and unconventional and difficult to decipher for anyone without a computer's attention to detail.

Hana, Jiba declares with digital intent rather than using a synthesized voice. I am delighted that you received my message. It takes a moment for the electronic entity to get around to her actual inquiry. In that span of time, Hana notices a flock of geese overhead, flying in a wedge pattern toward the south.

There has been much development on the front of repairing the injury to Hachiro. However, while I have the utmost confidence in his associates’ abilities I fear that they may not have the confidence it takes to reach out to a subject matter expert on the topic of digital consciousness interfacing. Re: You. Having worked itself up into a conversational whirlwind, Jiba contributes without so much as a pause. A brain-machine interface designed by Raytech was fabricated in our assembly plant; SEER. Miss Marlowe Terrell has contacted surgeons to perform the implant of the device, and she has brought on board a Japanese technopath from the JSDF who — while talented — lacks your particular specialization.

At that, finally, Jiba relents from their excited report.

Jiba's enthusiastic monologue is punctuated by the loud clatter of a dropped tool striking pavement, the elder Harkness making verbal jabs at his son, the good-natured laughter of their audience. They all notice when Hana pushes off the wall and strides out across the blacktop; the merriment ebbs, dimmed by disparate flavors of concern. It isn't more than a moment, though, before the mechanics apply themselves to their work once more, leaving Hana to her quest for fewer distractions.

There's a lot of open space to be had around an airport, even while avoiding those places a vehicle might expect to traverse. A lot of places to be isolated in body, if not in mind.

Disruptions thus attenuated, Hana lets her awareness of physical present scale back, solidifying her mental grip on the distant phone. Tenzin supplies the speech she had missed — which was most.

It also takes the liberty of replying for them both through digital connection while Hana parses ramifications. We are not so familiar with interfacing a non-technopath. The choice of pronoun makes obvious who is speaking; subtle differences in digital style only clinch the identification. Why do you feel we are necessary?

Hold, Hana interrupts. Their combined presence fades from the phone as she reaches out to another computer whose systems are intimately familiar. It's the work of a moment to look up the file she seeks, one rescued from magnesium fire more than a year prior — along with a trove of other Institute data irrelevant to the immediate moment. This?, sent upon her return to the phone, is accompanied by a fraction of the file's content, just enough of a schematic to be representative and identifiable.

That appears to be an older model, but the partial schematic looks 93.121% identical to the ones on file with Yamagato Industries courtesy of Raytech. Jiba’s confirmation comes with what Hana interprets as an attempt to send back another file, but is blocked by what the human mind could interpret as hesitation and a digital mind as a security check.

The interface is a translator of sorts. I worry that the requested technopath lacks the finesse to carefully interface. The going notion is nothing short of… rebooting Hachiro. Jiba seems dubious on that point. For lack of a better analogy.

The aborted file transfer is noted; Hana can fill in that blank. She fails to comment on it, and does not elaborate on the reported disparity in schematics or its cause save by sending simple assent to Jiba, acknowledging and confirming its supposition. The model is older — or at least, she has no doubt Raytech made changes.

That an internal discussion occurs between Hana and Tenzin is apparent not from any activity, but from its lack, a lull in conversation that stretches a bit longer than the merely thoughtful.

Perhaps even, by digital measure, a lot longer than that.

I may have a schematic, Hana says at last. That does not make me an engineer. Or a neurologist, or anything else qualified to gauge the function of the interface. How does this device work?

Based on my understanding, Jiba swiftly replies, it was originally designed to serve as an interface for a coma patient and a speech to text machine. But, that was a small fraction of its capabilities. The SEER device is highly sophisticated and is capable of acting as an interpreter for an electronic system to receive and translate human brainwaves into information. Furthermore, it does this translation into the reverse, taking digital information and translating it into concepts a human brain can understand.

Jiba seems highly fascinated by the entire prospect of a bridge between the synthetic and the organic. In the hands of a mundane person, it could allow for a telephone conversation with a person’s brain. In your hands, Jiba pauses, clearly deliberating on the best phrasing, it would almost be like telepathy. Wouldn't it?

If Hana and Tenzin were both physical entities, they would exchange a Significant Look at Jiba's final words. As it is, they exchange nothing at all save awareness, passed across an interface that is altogether too similar to what Jiba has described. Different in its particulars, no doubt. But —

For all that she doesn't like the prospect described, even Hana has to admit, however silently and privately, that the entity might just have a point.

Consensus is as unspoken as their shared awareness. Its corollary is not. I want the details, Hana sends, assent cloaked in a demand that itself is easily predicted from just a little knowledge of the woman, never mind the breadth of Jiba's modeling. The device, the situation.

The data, in other words, including that not sent earlier. Not necessarily right this minute, but certainly before she engages with this project.

My protocols prevent me from transmitting data to you, but nothing prevents me from using the automated physical mailing system and an intern to deliver files to you surreptitiously through post. Jiba seems excited about the prospect of some subterfuge. Marlowe has been working on the setup for this for several weeks now, since acquiring the SEER from Raytech. I believe the procedure will occur in the Yamagato Industries offices, using a sterile lab. Richard Ray has been given authorization to oversee the use of his technology and the JSDF technopath Asi Tetsuyama was invited to participate.

It’s a full house, but it also might take as much to make sure that the device doesn’t turn Otomo into a vegetable. Even then, there’s still a chance. But given his condition, all they have left are Hail Mary plays.

There's some cause for amusement in Jiba's enthusiasm — a dry, sardonic sentiment that Hana keeps to herself. If Tenzin shares the same reaction, the entity similarly indicates nothing of it, not even to its host.

Whatever works. The important thing is that she has the information. That they have the information, as Tenzin will be even deeper in it than she.

Hana goes quiet again at the litany of people involved, fitting them into her mental picture. It's not difficult to read reservation into that momentary silence; it is difficult to assign any confidence to whether that conclusion is real or merely an artifact of extrapolation.

What timetable? is all she says in the end.

Soon. Jiba seems eager to indicate. The SEER interface is printed, Ms. Tetsuyama is on board for the project, and Marlowe’s calendar indicates the final week in November for her projected analysis of Hachiro’s physical and mental state and predictive modeling of the procedure and then proceed shortly thereafter. There’s an uncertainty, presented as a less refined delivery of data packets from Jiba; scattered and erratic.

Will you help? Hana is certain the message conveys a complex emotion, and a primal one at that: fear.

We will help, Tenzin replies. That answer carries no particular emotional flavor — not reassurance, nor comfort — but makes up for the lack in simply being forthright. No uncertainty. No hesitation. No question.

All or nothing.

I will need at least a day's notice, Hana points out. But then, with so many people involved, that won't be difficult to ensure.

Yes. Jiba swiftly replies. You are a very plan-oriented personality, I have accounted for this. Then, as if recognizing that may not come off as a compliment, Jiba thinks to add, and I appreciate your help. I will be in touch. Please keep your calendar open. They’re trying.

Far away, amidst an open stretch of blacktop and weedy grass overshadowed by the dull roar of jet engines, Hana lowers her head slightly, fingers bracketing the bridge of her nose over everything wrong in what Jiba just said. A moment later, she merely shakes her head, letting her hand fall and her connection to the distant phone fray into nothing. Or as close to it as Wireless ever gets.

She lingers there for a moment, watching a plane ascend into the sky, contemplating not the aircraft, but the darkness beyond the blue vault that serves as its backdrop… and the barely-heard crystalline voices within said darkness that are only poor substitutes for myth and faith.

If this works, Hana Gitelman will once again be brought face-to-face with her dead, the never-healed wounds woven into the very foundation of her identity. The nature of her association with Hachiro makes that inevitable.

If this doesn't work… if it doesn't, the double-edged litany will only grow.

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