Never Expect


asi3_icon.gif richard4_icon.gif

Scene Title Never Expect
Synopsis A check-in with a recently-returned Richard is more informational than expected.
Date February 10, 2020

New York Safe Zone

Mon 2/10/2020 10:11 am
From: Wenjun, Ju (moc.hcetyar|nujnewj#moc.hcetyar|nujnewj)
Subject: SEER project progress stall
To: Ray, Richard (moc.hcetyar|yarr#moc.hcetyar|yarr)
I'd like to confirm the urgency on the SEER update packages. A number of projects are competing for my attention at the moment, so this has fallen to a backburner for me.

If there's a pressing need, inform me. Otherwise, it may be a while before the next time I am able to check code in.

Thanks in advance,

Mon 2/10/2020 10:12 am
From: Ray, Richard (moc.hcetyar|yarr#moc.hcetyar|yarr)
Subject: SEER project progress stall
To: Wenjun, Ju (moc.hcetyar|nujnewj#moc.hcetyar|nujnewj)

There is no immediate pressing need although of course I would appreciate it done when available. I apologize for not being in touch as I was busy being kidnapped by middle eastern terrorists.


Mon 2/10/2020 10:20 am
From: Wenjun, Ju (moc.hcetyar|nujnewj#moc.hcetyar|nujnewj)
Subject: SEER project progress stall
To: Ray, Richard (moc.hcetyar|yarr#moc.hcetyar|yarr)
i'm sorry, what.

There's not really time for that response to even be processed, because it's not a moment later his phone is ringing. It's an unknown number, which might as well scream who it is that's calling.

Asi doesn't wait for a hello, or for him to go first. "I saw the footage of the kidnapping, so I was aware who took you, but you ended up with Mazdak?" There's a driving voice behind the measured calm in her voice, almost certainly accompanied by a concerned furrow of her brow.

"Hey." Richard's voice is tired. He's had to explain this time and time again. "Yeah. Shedda Dinu and Mazdak, it turns out, are a— basically a Venn Diagram. Some of them really work for Monroe, some of them work for Baruti-motherfucking-Naidu. He decided he wanted to stab me a few times and kill my cousin Nathalie, so he had us kidnapped."

Flatly, "Not the best vacation."

"I could have fucking told you that." Asi flippantly snaps regarding the venn diagram, her tone tapering off at the end with the regret of someone who didn't. She closes her eyes and rubs at her forehead as she leans back in her chair. She takes a moment to get her thoughts together. "The diagram is shifting, as well. Monroe has less control over anything than he thinks, but I had not expected that your kidnapping would be one of those things not orchestrated by him…"

Asi opens her eyes, peering ahead at nothing. "Naidu is calculating. He would not go through the trouble simply because he thought it would be entertaining." It's a request without asking, one where she hopes he'll begin to fill in those blanks. She can't help but provide at least a little prompting, though. "Did he mention anything about his god?"

"Yes. Well. You didn't."

Richard grunts slightly, "Monroe's being used as a distraction. Naidu isn't just calculating, he's working off a pattern— everything needs to be very precise. I know. I used to work the same way, but I don't have a pattern to go by anymore. And he didn't give away much— I only found out about Dinu because I briefly pissed him off after he shoved a knife into my lung."

Asi lets out a tone of frustration, pushing back from her chair. There's an audible clatter as the phone she uses is set down and put on speaker, her voice carrying with slightly less of an edge due to its distance. "His faith is based on facts and prophecies both. The thing you people released in New Mexico is the so-called god he worships, an existence he's verified but supposedly not yet seen, whereas the future is a thing he relies on prophets to help him see." Unseen to the other end of the phone, she gives it a rueful glance, pausing in her pace to do so.

"What else did he say about Dinu?" she patiently asks the phone.

"His words suggest he created it, or at least was there since the founding…"

Richard breathes out a snort of breath, "Uluru the Invincible? Awonawilona? I'm sure it has other names as well— it's real, I can tell you that. I can't tell you its nature, but it's definitely real…" A heavy sigh, and she can hear his chair creak slightly, "If I knew what pattern he was working off of, I could try and break it. But I don't. This— I've seen echoes of it going back years. Decades. The scope of the manipulation, it's… incredible. It stretches through multiple timelines."

"It's real," Asi agrees, attempting to keep it from sounding dismissive. "Since its return, it at the very least has resurrected one person from the dead, and who knows what else it's done, or what it wants to do. Its nature may very well be unknowable. Whatever it is, Naidu also believes it is the first of the Awak— the Evolved. It might have once been human, but it lost its humanity long ago— it lost its reasons for being human long ago, if I had to guess."

A rush of a sigh later, she segues to, "As for the rest…" A pause elapses, a dead silence carrying across the line. "There were eight founders to Mazdak, most dead. Naidu and one other live, who if I had to guess, is the one who calls himself Nabu." The sound of her pacing is silent as she beats slower tracks near her desk.

"Let me ask you a question—" she ventures, closer to the receiver now. "Do you need to know what the pattern is to break it?" Her voice lifts as she adds, "And are you sure you want to break it?"

"Yes, Monroe agrees, but I think it's… it's more complicated than that. I don't think anyone alive knows the truth, or if they did, they had that knowledge ripped from them. If they'd let me see Pines…" Richard makes a frustrated sound in the back of his throat, "Well, anyway."

There's silence for a moment, then he adds, "No. But it'll be very hard, because they'll have predicted everything I'm likely to do, to numerous degrees of percentile. I'd need to find a mountain to move that they wouldn't expect, then move it in the right place… but yes, I'm sure. And not just because I want revenge. I think I've seen what it wants to do. Or a part of it. In Antarctica."

"What truth is there to find? What the Company did—"

Asi pauses, rubbing her fingertips along the side of her nose and pressing them into the hollows of her eyes again. Lowering them, she decides to press on with, "The single warning I was able to extract from Kam Nisatta was this, Richard: That the Company, that Monroe, that you were all making a mistake in trying make sense of what it wants to do as if it were a person, when it 'is not'. And clearly whatever the Company did before did not work in keeping it down. It saw into people's hearts and spoke to them even from its cage, saw the future and tried to manipulate it in its favor, and it worked. Perhaps Nisatta isn't correct in her assessment because she was too close to it, but at the same time, who else would know better about it than someone who was possessed by it?"

Her energy falls only moments later, sounding weary as she asks, "But… sure, what did you see in Antarctica. What do you think it wants to do?" Just because she's tired of guessing doesn't mean she's tired of building context.

"What? No, of course it's not a person. It's a… a force of nature. I don't doubt that there are personalities tangled up in it, but…" A sigh from Richard, "I don't think it's any more a person than the Ahayu'da are. And I should know, since right now that's me." Whatever the hell he's talking about.

There's silence from the other end of the line for a few moments, and then a number of files are sent in email. Photos. Video. References for a place that can't exist.

This forested valley is a pristine place, there are no signs of buildings, no wreckage of the Company's last exploits, no ruins of civilization of any kind. The air here is fresh in a way that is intoxicating, crisp, carrying the scent of moss and grass and unspoiled nature. Flowers grow all along the escarpment edge, exotic looking orange blossoms with five petals filled with a rich red toward the middle. Long yellow stamens extend up from the middle of the flowers and their pollen smells hopelessly sweet.

Under the shimmering curtain of the aurora this feels like something out of a fairytale, a hidden world tucked away since the dawn of time. Except it is only three months old, thriving within a frozen wasteland on the bottom of the earth and there is no one, no sign, no simple indication of where it came from. It is like god reached out, pressed a thumb into the earth, and said let there be life.

And so there is

From the red-feathered and green-tailed birds

to the chirping insects and neon green butterflies

to every unrecognizable species of plant growing in a land anathemic to life.

That lapse in speech is hard to interpret, and leaves Asi plenty of time to do digging on her end. A tilt of her head in the direction of her computer is all it takes for it to try and dig for context. Ahayuta— Ahayu'da— were twin gods of war, created by Awonawilona, the Sun God to protect the first people from their enemies, using lightning. Her eyes flit futher down the text about the Zuni gods and myths, catching on: Followers of the Zuni religion believe that Ahayu'da are still defending all the peoples of the earth.

She blinks rapidly, putting pieces together to come up with an unsettling conclusion. The phone is slid off of the desk to replace it to her ear, her voice quiet and careful as she speaks into the receiver. "Richard— you've become a host? Not to it, but one of its siblings?"

Then her machine is notifying her of the new emails, bringing open the photos and videos in a concatonating tier. With the other revelation born of her assumption still fresh, she's forgotten entirely what it is she's supposed to be looking at. Her brow arches as she remembers it's supposed to be Antarctica. "It looks like a whole other world…" she remarks, the same caution as before in her.

There's a dry 'heh' of breath that comes across the line. "Both of them. Naidu made sure of that by making sure their host died saving me…"

Richard's fingers drum loosely over the table as she looks a tthem, and then he says quietly, "Absolutely it does. There's a permanent aurora above the area, so it's almost undoubtedly related. The plants, the animals - they match no known genetic patterns. They can't even live in this dimension. It's all dying, fairly swiftly, because our laws of physics don't let it exist here."

Both of them bring a hush from Asi's side of things, silence pervading while she looks at the images, considers what's become of Richard. It would be a lot to process separately, much less together. A longer lapse than she would ideally let happen unfolds before she speaks just as softly as before. "My condolences for your loss. I cannot imagine."

Of all the things Asi wishes she would have done differently until now, at least she had expressed to Baruti directly that she would never forgive him for what he had done. And that was just to her. This— this lived in a class all its own. Her gaze hardens, even though her voice remains level.

"Auroras like that would seem to be its calling card. Aside from the impossible nature of this, I also would have suspected its involvement on that alone." She skims through to the image of the flower, considering it. "I suppose the question is did it see Antarctica merely as a test run or a lesson learned about the limits of its ability." A thin exhale passes from her before she asks, "I don't suppose you have insight into whether other sites like this have popped up outside of Antarctica?"

"If there are any, we haven't found them, but… they'd be harder to locate outside of a wasteland like that," Richard draws in a slow breath, then exhales, "What worries me the most is that if the plants and animals can't survive with our laws of physics intact— we couldn't survive with theirs. So if the entity is attempting to change our world into something more comfortable to it…"

"What was the message it gave to those who dreamed— that the world is not meant for mankind?" Asi looks off to the side as she tries to recall the words. Maybe they'd be easier to remember if it hadn't been so long since she'd spoken with Eve. She turns away from the computer entirely, leaning back against the desk. "I think while it might favor our kind better than the rest of humanity, it may not feel that much more strongly about us."

With a flatness, she allows, "But that's just me assuming again."

Glancing down, Asi gives the slightest shake of her head. "Fuck," she breathes out, uncertain and uncaring if it actually carries across the line. "Let's go back here for just a moment. Aside from revenge, what makes you certain Naidu should be stopped? Unless this thing spoke to him directly and asked him to help it, Mazdak's general goals are fairly well-known— make a better world for the Evolved by fighting tooth and nail for it." That might have a rose-colored tint to it, but she doesn't bother to address that. "And to my knowledge, he has as little idea what its aims are as you and I do."

Though he could have been lying through his teeth, Asi thinks to herself after, gritting her own at the bitter taste that musing leaves her with.

"I don't think that he does know its aims. I don't think that he cares about its aims," Richard nearly growls, "I think he's just trying to make sure it succeeds in whatever they are."

A slow breath, and then he exhales it, "I believe that he… is being guided, somehow. A seer, a— someone like Edward— I don't know. But I can tell you that what he's doing are for a greater design."

"He sure as hell didn't make sure the conduits were moved into me and then let me go just for the fuck of it."

Asi pauses only briefly before she speaks up, delicately eliminating a certain care she'd put into her previous phrasing. "Like I said, he mentioned 'prophets', at one point, which seemed… well, like something the leader of an organization who preaches the Evolved are born to rule would say." Her lips purse together, gaze falling. She bends a knee, taps the tip of her toe against the ground while she thinks.

"Be careful, Richard," she advises with no lack of caution. "If you think they know you as well as you believe, maybe anything that makes sense to you is the thing you should not be doing, if you want to alter fate's design, so to speak." Her voice drops as she admits, "I am sure you do not need to hear that to know it, but sometimes hearing it helps all the same."

There's silence on the other side of the line for long moments. "Be careful," Richard finally says carefully, "They have the technology to trap you out of your body. They used it on Wireless. That's why she's— gone offline. Do not enter any of their systems."

"And I know. But they must know that I know, which— it's circular. It's a trap, I…" He sighs, "I'll figure something out. I have to."

It's impossible to see the somber look that passes over Asi at the mention of Wireless, but perhaps it carries in her voice. "She went digging into their affairs unwelcomed, and fell into a trap." After a brief pause, she reassures, "That won't happen with me."

She lets out a faint, humorless laugh as she suggests, "I would suggest finding the most erratic trustworthy person you know, and trust in them, if you cannot trust even yourself." A smile even plays at her lips for a ghost of a moment. It fades as her thoughts bring her back to the beginning of their conversation.

"I was serious about putting the SEER work on hold for a while, by the way," the technoapth segues lightly. "If there's no rush, no deadlines, no work packages you've promised to someone else, then…" Asi takes in a deep breath, glancing over her shoulder back down to her laptop. "I have quite a bit on my plate right now."

"I wouldn't trust them that much, but it's your mind on the line."

Richard draws in a slow breath, "I'm going to need it in the future, but right now— well. It can wait for a bit. I wouldn't throw yourself entirely behind Naidu, though. Because I don't intend to leave any of his people alive when the time comes."

A moment's silence, before he adds, "Fair warning."

Asi emits a quiet tone to acknowledge that. Fair enough.

She reflects back on the earnestness she'd worn truly, the readiness she had to put the past behind her when she and Baruti had faced each other atop the ziggurat, bathed in moonlight. She'd offered him her hand and asked him what came next,

and he sent her 'home' instead.

Her voice is featherlight as she relates: "Remember he destroyed the life I had built for myself. The trust, the connections, the money, the prestige. Over ten years of sacrifice." Her tone settles as she admits, "Perhaps it was based on a lie, but it was still my life. And I, like you, have a propensity to not enjoy having my free will being fucked with."

"I can't stop you, and I won't try. All I'll tell you is good luck."

"Remember," Richard says dryly, "Everything I said goes for you, too. You're part of his pattern. You're as tangled up in the web as all of us."

"So do something… unexpected."

A little less than enthused, Asi asides, "Working on it. You know how it is." She looks away from the screen, adjusting the phone against her face. "In the meantime, if you need something, you know how to get in touch with me. I…"

Her mouth hardens into a line before she finds the words she's looking for. "I will not assume you know certain things going forward. If I find something of interest, I will be in touch myself."

"I appreciate that. And…"

Richard pauses a moment, then makes a 'why not' sound in the back of his throat, "…if you're looking for a player that's been kept very quiet on the board, that works in your particular— area? I suggest looking for S.Attva. If you haven't already made their acquaintance."

"S.attva," Asi repeats back thoughtfully, in such a way that advertises the name is being filed away for later use. "No, I have not had the pleasure. But I will keep this in mind." Though the unfamiliar name brings up another thought on her end, the likes of which sees her emitting a similar note that Richard had only moments before. Maybe there was one last topic after all. "Social butterfly that you are, I don't suppose the name Transceiver means anything to you?"

"Transceiver?" Richard clearly recognizes the name, his tone bemused, "I know the kid, yeah. Why? Shit, he's not mixed into this Mazdak shit, is he?"

He actually sounds worried about them.

With a soft hm that doesn't sound entirely dismissive, Asi voices, "No, but…" With a darkening expression her eyelids flicker and she reaches for a drink behind her. "You remember the venn diagrams. He's involved with a group likely to attack the third, corporate circle." Swallowing a drink of whatever it is in her glass, she goes on, "Scylla described him as an egg. I was trying to determine if he's entirely untrained, or if he would give maj1ko a run for his money."

"I was also trying to figure out why the fuck he's using an email attributed to Malice. Trying to figure out if this kid is a kid at all, to be blunt."

"I don't think he's going to be involved in the attack itself… he'd better not be," Richard mutters, and then he falls silent for a few moments.

"Malice was— his mentor, and his protector. He kept an eye on the kid, kept him safe during the Civil War. Then…" The slightest of sighs stirs against the phone, regret for a loss already mourned, "Malice got wiped in the EMP that hit Washington."

Asi lets out a hum of acknowledgement that doesn't sound particularly displeased. She almost sounds skeptical, even. Mentor, protector? She supposes everyone has their moments … so with a shake of her head she lets it go. "That's that, then." Which might be all she's willing to say on the matter.

Her gaze drops to the drink in her hand and she asides, "This has been informative, but I'm going to let you go to finish tending to my hangover. Be well, Richard."

"Be gentle with the kid if you run into him. He really is a kid. And I've already went well out of my way to try and keep him alive," Richard admits, "So I'd appreciate it."

"You too. Remember. Do something you'd never expect yourself to do."

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