Hello? Is It Me You're Looking For?



Scene Title Hello? Is it me you're looking for?
Synopsis I can see it in your eyes…
Date June 11, 2019

The Bastion, Phoenix Heights

The news has been interesting lately. Interesting enough that Nathalie pulls fake book off her shelf, opening it to dig around in a small collection of odd memories and keepsakes. From the bottom, she slides out a business card. She hadn't decided if she was ever going to pursue this particular lead, giving who gave it to her and what was insinuated at the time. But seeing Wu Shengjiao's name after the Praxis hack made her too curious. The opening is just a little too much for her to ignore, which might lead her into some trouble, but at least it will be Wu on the backfoot and not her.

After all, she knows who her father is now. The lure that Zhao laid for her feels a little less fraught.

So she grabs her phone, locks her door, and dials.

The call rings, interrupted by a little static from the poor cellular infrastructure. Two bars is about as good as it gets most days. It rings five times, then clicks and clearly transfers over to a different line with an entirely different ring speed and subtly different tone. There’s another click, followed by an automated message.

«Welcome to Praxis Heavy Industries America.»

Some sort of routing system.

«Please pay attention as our menu options have recently changed.» The synthesized voice on the other end of the line says. «For Media inquiries, Press 1. For Customer Service, Press 2. To receive a copy of our 2019 product catalog, Press 3. To be entered into the habitation lottery for the California Safe Zone, Press 4. If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time.»

There’s no extension on the card, and the number is an international one. It shouldn’t be routing to the American subsidiary of Praxis Heavy Industries.

Nat is silent while she listens to the shift in the ring and through the menu options she's hearing. Not what she expected, but they did just experience a giant hack. Which is occurring to her by the end of the message. "Hey," she says into the silence that follows, "if this is the hacker, can you just let me." It is, of course, more likely that she's just talking to nothing. But instead of hitting any of the actual menu options, she hits 0.

Maybe she'll get an operator she can actually talk to.

There's no response from the verbal cue, but entering 0 seems to trigger a response. Nathalie can hear the auto dialer click over to another branch, and the phone starts ringing again. It only rings five times before someone picks up on the other end.

«Nǐ hǎo. Nǐ yǐjīng dàodá Praxis Heavy Industries, wǒ kěyǐ bāngmáng ma?»

Okay. Mandarin.

Okaaay. That could be seen as progress. And as a step back as well, since— while Nat knows a decent collection of languages, Mandarin is definitely not one of them.

"I'm looking for Director Wu," she says in response, hopeful that the man's name will be enough to get her point across, if this person doesn't happen to be bilingual. "Wu Shengjiao?" She can't help but wonder, in this moment, how long it would take to learn conversational everything.

«Wu Shengjiao?» The voice on the other end of the line asks, and then in a very accented English asks, «Who is calling?»

She pauses at that question. The whole web of connection between Praxis and the Ghost Shadows Triad and Adam Monroe jumps into her head. But she has to remind herself that it's pointless to hide, he already knows how to find her. "Nathalie LeRoux. I was told he wanted to speak to me."

«One moment.» That’s not how Nathalie expected this call to go, but the call is transferred regardless. The line she’s moved to rings for quite a while, then clicks twice as though it were being moved into another line, then another click, and then finally…

Hello, Ms. LeRoux…” it’s an American man’s voice, and one that Nathalie is not familiar with. “I must say, I’m surprised to hear from you. This isn’t Shengjiao, though. But you probably already figured that out. My name’s Claudius. Claudius Kellar, and I’d be happy to take your call.”


“So, how can I help you?”

And just like that, Nathalie finds herself in the back foot. She had an approach for Director Wu, but she isn't even sure who this man is, let alone how to work this conversation in her favor.

The first task is, of course, not to actually sound like she's at a disadvantage.

"Mr. Kellar," she greets with a level of professional distance in her tone. "I heard your people wanted to speak to me. Director Wu, specifically. I don't suppose you know what he wanted," she says, letting curiosity creep in. It isn't hard, since she actually is curious.

“Mr. Wu is indisposed at the moment,” Kellar’s voice is crisp and clear over the line, a practiced voice of a life-long speaker. “Likely indefinitely, but your name sits on a little note next to my desk that says, answer. So, Ms. LeRoux, I’m here to be your window into another world.” She can almost hear the smile in his voice. “Or would you prefer to talk face to face? I could arrange that for you.”

Keller laughs at his own words, a bubbled up little chuckle. “Why, it wouldn’t be a problem at all. Barely an inconvenience, even.” Then the line goes silent, save for a subtle sound of breathing.

"I understand." She saw the news. Everyone saw the news. There is a quiet hope that indisposed isn't being used euphemistically, although it is a very small hope.

"Another world?" she asks, cautious but keeping a toe in the water, as it were. She's silent for a long moment at the offer, at how easily it was given, at the joviality from the other end of the line. "I usually prefer face to face," she says, "I also usually like to know who I'm going face to face with."

Kellar’s line goes silent for a moment, but Nathalie picks up on a few soft clicks on the line in that silence. “Let’s make a date then, shall we? How about…” there’s a creak over the line, followed by muffled voices in the distance, “…July 4th. Everyone loves the holidays, Patriotism, saluting the flag.” There’s a few noises on the other end again. “Let’s say… 3 S Mountain Ave, Montclair, New Jersey. There’s not too many people living out there these days, especially not there. It should be private, perfect for a good talk.”

Nathalie,” Kellar says softly into the phone, “I do so want to talk with you. I have good reason to believe that Doctor Wu and the Director would as well. But let’s not rush ahead, shall we? Also, and I only say this because I care…” there’s another long moment of silence on the other end of the line, “…you don’t want to do anything silly, again. Or people might get hurt.”

Nathalie leans over to grab a pen and a half-filled notepad. Not that she feels likely to forget, but just to be safe. She jots down the details, not quite verbally agreeing until she gets it all down. "That shouldn't be a problem," she says, her tone still even.

She changes that when he says her name again. Or rather, with the warning that comes with it. "That was an accident," she says, purposefully tipping her demeanor a little toward desperation. The words come quick, like she feels the need to defend herself. To explain. "I hope the Director will understand that I lost control. But it won't happen again."

“He's very understanding,” Kellar says in such a way that sounds incredulous. “But let's not worry about the Director right now. In fact, he won't be involved in this transaction,” is a weird way to emphasize that word. “I've been very interested to meet with you, Nathalie. You and I? We will talk about larger things.”

But then, Kellar's voice takes on a hushed and conspiratorial tone. “Between you, I, and the heavens…” there's just the sound of his breathing for a moment, “have you dreamt of her yet?” There's a hitched hesitance in Kellar's voice, as though he isn't sure he even wants to say more. “Miss Sibyl Black?” He says in a near sing-song tone.

It is a weird way to say that word. A weird word to choose to describe what they're doing, as well. Nathalie taps the tip of her pen against the paper, leaving a nervous set of dots clustered together there. "What do you mean, transaction?" She doesn't mind letting some of her unease show; she worries, in fact, that not seeming nervous would be suspicious.

She's quiet for a long moment after his question. Larger things could mean anything, but Sibyl brings this whole conversation back to something very specific. "No," she answers with hesitation enough to prove that she's not sure she should be answering at all. "Will she be there, at our meeting?"

“No,” Kellar answers as to Sibyl’s presence, “but one cannot be careful enough when dealing with the affairs of wizards and dragons.” Perhaps transaction wasn’t the weirdest thing he’d say today. “And— Information is a transaction, Ms. LeRoux. You want some, I want some, and perhaps we can find a means to convert our intellectual currencies to make both of our purchases worthwhile.”

This time, though, Nathalie understands the strange word choice. She makes a noise, one of discomfort, before she speaks again. "I wouldn't mind steering clear of dragons," she says, which is the truth, even if she thinks it unlikely that she'll be able to avoid it forever. Once, she would have been more confident, but lately inevitability has been looming over her. "Information I can do," she adds, "I look forward to seeing what you have to offer, Mr. Kellar."

“Likewise, Ms. LeRoux.” Kellar says with a chipper tone. “Until we meet again.” And the line goes dead.

Nathalie ends the call on her side as well and drops her phone onto her bed like it might bite if she holds onto it any longer. She looks at the paper in her hand, frowning at the words written there.

She only has a few weeks to get some research in. Before walking into the enemy's arms.

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