Forged In Fire



Scene Title Forged in Fire
Synopsis Mazdak reaches out to a new recruit…
Date December 10, 2019

Soldiers that came home from Iraq and Afghanistan in the early to mid 2000s often found it difficult to reintegrate into ordinary life. After their tours the presence of roadside improvised explosive devices made driving harrowing, made every loud noise a potential threat to life, and made turning off their fight or flight responses challenging.

But the darker side of that post-traumatic stress involved children.

Going in to these confrontations, most soldiers never suspected a child to be a part of an enemy combatant’s plan. But the stories — whether fabrications or fact — around children being strapped with explosive devices and remotely detonated, resonated with the active duty soldiers. When they came home, an isolated child in an urban environment created the same sense of paranoia and panic that a distant pop mistaken for gunfire might.

Asi Tetsuyama never served in the military, however. While the JSDF Mugai Ryu is close in organizational hierarchy, she’s never seen an active engagement and spent the Second American Civil War far from American shores. It is perhaps this innocence to the larger cruelties of the world that has allowed an agent of Mazdak to slip past her guard and get in close enough to deliver a message in the rainy, dreary streets of Staten Island.

The Rookery

Staten Island, New York

December 10th

9:12 pm

“Asi Tetsuyama,” comes in greeting from an eleven year old boy with dirty blonde hair and too many freckles. Blue eyes stare up at her from under the hood of his winter jacket, a knit scarf with some faded dinosaurs on it wound around his neck. The boy has an old flip phone in one mitten-clad hand, offered out to her like it was a shiny shell he’d found on the beach and wanted to show off to her.

In the alley across the street from the Cantonese diner Nuojin He Jia, Asi can smell the competing scents of laundry and fried food mixing with the smell of alley garbage and freshly fallen rain. The child goes unnoticed against those smells, his little blue winter jacket looking patched up enough to fit in to the impoverished surroundings of Staten Island.

Although the child was able to get close to her without her realizing, the sound of her name spoken eliminates any overlooking of the child she'd done on his wandering close. Asi regards the boy in silence, her blues meeting his. The phone he offers isn't immediately accepted, like the object he held was just as repulsive as a dead animal, or as dangerous as a live grenade.

It might as well be.

She breaks gaze with the child to look back in the direction of the restaurant she was surveilling, eyes narrowing with a flicker of neon flaring in them. She turns down again to the child. "Who sent you?" Asi asks, though she suspects. She just wonders if he knows, or what crumbs he's done this for. She takes another step back from the alley's mouth to better be in its shadows while she considers the boy.

Her dead-drop etiquette could use some work, possibly.

The boy shakes his head, brows furrowed, and pulls at the front of his scarf to cover his mouth. “A man,” is the least helpful description she's ever been given, but a child's eye on things doesn't always catch the details relevant to adults. “He told me t’yell you there's a number to call in the phone, okay?” The boy nods once, and then as if reciting his steps for a school production of a play, begins slowly walking backwards out of the alley.

Asi hasn't seen anyone else around, but on a more suspicious scan of her surroundings it's hard not to see something where there's nothing. A pair of young tattooed men stand around outside the restaurant across the street, talking loud in Mandarin about a shipment of guns. There's a pigeon on a nearby rooftop swiveling its head like a security camera. A young couple are making out in a derelict car with no wheels down a narrow side street. It's Staten Island, everything is dangerous in some way. At the moment, none of that danger is as obvious as the phone.

Abandoning her watch isn't something she wants to do, but she does, heading away from the storefront of the Nuojin He Jia. The phone the boy gave her remains closed and untouched until she's most of the way down the alley, and when she opens it, she handles the dialing of the stored number analog rather than engaging her ability. She continues walking as she lets it ring, lifting it to her ear.

The boy slips out of the alley the moment Asi no longer has her eyes on him. She can hear his footfalls out of synch to the rhythm of ringing in the phone. It only takes four beats before someone picks up on the other end.

"This is ON1," she greets upon connection. They were expecting her, after all.

«Hello there, hello there, yes. Yes. Wonderful.» The man on the other end of the line says, his voice rich and smooth the way someone who works in radio tends to sound. It’s an American accent, which she hadn’t imagined for Mazdak. «We aren’t acquainted, but you can call me Nabu. We have a mutual friend you met in Japan, and I’m here to… talk business.»

"Mutual friend," Asi can't help but echo back with a casual dryness to it. She pauses by the streetside once she clears the alley, checking for traffic by habit before she proceeds with jaywalking across the street anyway. She slides her free hand into her pocket, letting it go flush with her phone while she warms her hand. "Are you talking about the one who framed me for murder or the one that smuggled me out of Japan?"

The search on her phone pulls back a name steeped in history— Mesopotamian history— which feels like an answer of itself. But she feels better having made her point verbally.

"What sort of business do you have in mind?"

«Your speciality.» Is the caller’s glib but unhelpful reply. «If Japan was a test you passed with flying colors. Let's take it like that. You did a good thing, liberating that prison. But there's a lot more places around the world just like it, places where the rule of law outweighs the value of a human life. Sure, people die in the pursuit of lofty ideals, but that's history baby.»

There's a crackle and a pop on the phone, like someone on the other end shifting to hold it between chin and shoulder and making a mess of it at the same time. «Here's the deal. There is an installation in the United States, a former bioweapons research facility that flew under the radar as a branch of the CDC. There's a handful of our kind there, held prisoner, forced to work for the government.»

The caller pauses and Asi can hear the sound of a car door close. «What you do there is up to you. Liberate the prisoners? Certainly, we'd love that. We could even provide an escape route for you and the prisoners. Bare minimum? We need all the data that's contained on their research systems. You see, they have a genocidal maniac working there — Mohinder Suresh — the man who tried to wipe us out. Now, we’re figuring dollars to donuts, that the government is looking for a failsafe to use against our kind if we get too uppity. We want all the data from their secure servers, and if you can rescue our kind? All the better.»

Then, almost distractedly, he adds «And if you put a bullet in Suresh’s head? I'll find something //nice to give you in return. You do this? Our blue-eyed friend will meet with you personally, to talk about the future.//»

Do a thing well once and you spend the rest of your life doing it.

Drones. Prison breaks. Miracles on a shoestring budget.

“Fuchuu was a fluke made possible by a windfall. If you want a second miracle, you’re going to have to work with me on this one. I will need resources to complete this.” Asi looks again up the street, ears straining for the sound of a car door closing nearby. Was it possible the American could be that sloppy? “I was able to leverage previous experience to my advantage in Japan. America?”

She tsks, waiting for her phone to pull back results on her latest queries. “Not likely.”

“What proof do you have that’s what their research is focused on?” Her pace slows once she hits sidewalk again. “Your civil war, which you won, has barely been put to bed. I would not jump to that conclusion without considerable evidence for it.” Evidence hopefully this god of rational arts and wisdom would be willing to impart on her.

«I'm not a judge and this isn't a trial, I don't need evidence. Suresh is there, that's enough. The fact that he dodged the gallows once is insult enough. But if you need other names, look no further than the headlines about Odessa Price. A former prisoner of the Company abused by her captors and held accountable for their failures. The same could be said for Donna Dunlap. I'm sure you can Google her or whatever.» There's some traffic noises in the other side of the call, coming in and out of the audible range from the white noise filters on whatever phone is calling Asi.

«You need muscle, we can supply that. You need an exit, we've got that too. What we really need you for is the data extraction. We want to know what they're making these prisoners work on. If not a biological weapon then… why the secrecy? Why those people? You want to climb the ladder? This is what it will take. We ask of people what they're capable of.»

A moment of silence passes, then, «Or should I hang up?»

A silent war of reactions plays out behind the receiver, behind Asi's eyes. A beat passes.

"I'll call you back when I have a list of what I'll need. If you already have schematics stolen, forward them. That will make this faster."

If this were at all personal, she might suspect they were having her burn the ground she stood on as a way to more tightly lash her to their cause. Give her nothing else but them. More pragmatically, perhaps just because she was here, she was the easiest string to pluck and make this work for them. Either way, she supposes she'll have to choose who she stands next to more carefully in the coming months, lest anyone else get caught up in the flames Mazdak continued to douse her in.

Asi herself would either temper or break. There was no choice.

"Until then, Nabu."


“Until then.”

Once those words are spoken, a corded phone is set down halfway across the world in a bulky receiver cradle bristling with cables. Slouching back into his chair, the caller looks past the phone mounted on a desk across an industrial office space to a pair of technicians sitting in the glow of suspended computer monitors running some sort of waveform analysis program.

“Well?” The caller asks them, and each technician shakes his head.

“Negative, sir.” One replies. “The trap is empty.”

The caller snorts out a laugh and folds his hands begging his head. “I told them she's savvy. We were lucky when we caught Gitelman. Whatever, this is win-win. Maybe she's got what we’re looking for after all.”

Smiling a wide, toothy smile, the caller slowly rises from his seat, looking down at the rugged handheld device connected to the phone, yellow eyes staring with catlike fascination. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”


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