The Front Lines Of Language


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Scene Title The Front Lines Of Language
Synopsis Asi strikes up a partnership with the Safe Zone's foremost linguist to in the hopes of establishing a line of communication with Mazdak in their native language.
Date February 9, 2021

The Bastion

The kitchen and sprawling lounge in the Bastion is empty at this midafternoon save for one of its Wolfhound members. Asi Tetsuyama sits in front of a dining table, a half-closed laptop before it while she watches the sky begin to turn gold owing to the descending sun on the horizon. The streams of warmth in the modern-edged space warm the wooden floors, even as she lays her back against the cool brick of the outer wall.

When the older figure of Scott Harkness gestures Asi's guest into the lounge area, she turns away from the window to rise and better greet the woman she's asked to come here. Elaine Darrow isn't an unknown face to her; they lived in close proximity once, even if their paths never directly crossed. When Asi was called to the US to investigate the bombing of the Yamagato Fellowship Center, she received the files of many of the personnel, including their details.

With a small, polite smile in the style of someone who's clearly not used to the practice, Asi extends her hand to Elaine. The black of the shawl-like cardigan she wears sweeps to follow the movement of her arm. "こちらに来てくれてありがとうございました1," she greets quietly, eyes affixed to Elaine's.

Elaine Darrow's smile comes easily, though it comes off less as something practiced and well-used and more from somewhere entirely genuine. Dressed in a pair of dark blue jeans and a pale lavender ruffled blouse, she looks as if she's dressed up her casual dressed down appearance. That or, perhaps, she's not entirely used to many actual off hours. As she takes the offered hand by way of greeting, she nods in Asi's direction.

"«I am more than happy to do so,»" she replies, her Japanese sounding as comfortable and natural as a native's might be. "«Language is my passion, so I enjoy being of use. Having an excuse to get out of the Park once in a while is also something I enjoy.»"

With a shift in her small smile, Asi folds her hands before her. When she speaks again, the transition is effortless, but this time— she speaks in Mandarin. "«How many languages do you speak, exactly? Is your proficiency as strong in all of them?»

The move to another language doesn't phase her, and her reply sounds as authentic as if she'd grown up in China. "«I stopped counting after the first dozen or so. Really, I can learn anything on request if I don't know it already. Couple of days and I'll be able to handle whatever you throw at me. I've had a few opportunities to learn as I encountered languages, as well. If it can be communicated, I'll find a way to understand it.»"

While there's no arrogance or cockiness to the self-assurance of her skill, there's more like a brightness to her eyes, an actual passion for the topic. Her words flow smoothly back into Japanese. "«My ability only stretches to the actual learning and retaining of a language. Sounding like a natural is more of something I've picked up. I've got a good ear for accents and so when I learn a language I try to learn all sorts of nuances about them.»"

If there were any question of Elaine's skill, she's deftly taking care of those concerns. The woman who's invited her here takes in the shifts in tongue without shift in expression, the point that she's working toward ultimately of greater importance.

After a moment of pause, Asi segues to French to ask, "«I understand you had ties to the Ferry back during the Civil War. That was a difficult time, and the years that have come after haven't been any easier.»" With a deadpan expression, she goes on, "«What are your thoughts regarding organizations that fight in the name of a pro-Evolved future…»"

"«Like Mazdak?»"

The switch to French is seamless for Elaine. “«My ties to the Ferry go back even before the Civil War. They helped me on more than one occasion and I did my best to return the favor.»” The friendly smile she has remembering the favorable times soon fades at the mention of Mazdak. The French continues.

“«I’ve seen what radicalism can do to a person up close. It’s not pretty what sort of things people will do when utterly convinced what they are doing is right. I watched lives be torn apart without a care for people and consequences. Anyone who thinks the way to a better future involves murdering innocent people?»” She shakes her head. “«I can’t say I’m a fan.»” Her tone seems to indicate that's a bit of an understatement.

"«I assume that's a trick question, though, and that Mazdak must be what this is about.»"

"I wouldn't call it a trick question…" Asi muses in English, "but I needed to know where your mind lay on the matter."

She opens her hand to gesture that they sit at the table, retaking her own seat as she shifts back to the ease of her native language. "«And this is about Mazdak. I've been trying to comb their networks locally, and uncovered what I believe to be a schism. Unfortunately, most of the details are coded in languages I'm unfamiliar with. Arabic— and tongues like it. Machine translation was no good in this situation.»"

Her hand reaches to nudge her laptop properly open. "«I'm on the lookout for a missing man who almost certainly became an agent for Mazdak. But this information about Mazdak's internal struggle… I can't help but have a personal interest in that, too.»" Asi settles an impassive look on Elaine. "«So long as you understand that this is purely academic— and could save lives besides— I'd like to show you some of the information I'm privy to.»"

The redhead takes a seat, glancing towards the computer. "«I've had plenty of opportunities to translate things that are a touch on the sensitive side.»" Elaine takes a moment to think. "«Usually machine translation lacks the nuances of truly understanding a language. There's a vast difference between a literal translation and one being implied. I've found that a good knowledge of history helps in this case. One of my other passions.»"

She offers a nod towards the computer. "«I'm more than happy to help. Especially if it saves lives.»"

As she turns the computer out, Asi asks half-jokingly, "How's your Sumerian and Mesopotamian history?"

The question gets an amused look from Elaine. "Better than I'd like. I've got some experience," she points out, turning her attention towards the computer.

And what she sees there hints around the edges of something dire.

It takes hours to comb through all of the resources Asi has on hand, page after page of forum links, vague social media posts, and official Mazdak recruitment documentation—they actually put out printed books advocating for young Expressives to join—all to collate their findings into something comprehensible.

What it ultimately reveals is that Mazdak is of two minds. On the one hand, Mazdak is a civic-minded organization that takes a militant stance on social representation of Expressives, but also is determined to make the nations of Iraq and Syria—the two nations aligned with the Mazdak Caliphate—independent of western political influence. In this respect, Mazdak’s goal is to return Iraq to the socially and culturally liberal state it was prior to the Iran Contra scandal and the United States backing of Iran’s war with Iraq that allowed totalitarian dictators to take control of the nation.

Mazdak wages war with neighboring nations, steals their wealth, and returns it to their homeland to rebuild. Their focus is on expanding the nation’s access to education, trade, and international commerce in spite of crushing sanctions in place by the United Nations. They’re succeeding at this by way of Mazdak controlling bleeding edge medical breakthroughs harvested from Pinehearst corporate operations in Iraq that Mazdak claimed following the company’s collapse in 2009. Much of this is news to even Asi.

As they continue to research, Asi and Elaine discover that Mazdak has produced a number of successful vaccine trials for common illnesses and has an SLC-Expressive medical research organization working on cures for cancer and alzheimers that have been met with remarkable success, mitigated by foreign international pressure that is hampering their research. Foreign sanctions on Iraq are hamstringing what could be some of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the century.

Which brings it to the other face of Mazdak: Supremacists.

The other side of Mazdak is a deeply Expressive-Supremacist cult that is aggressively pushing both Iraq and Syria into war with Turkey and any other neighboring nation with an Expressive Registry. They are stockpiling weapons, recruiting soldiers, and have a hard-line belief that the only way for Iraq to remain independent and powerful is by the destruction of opposing nations and an overwhelming show of force. Mazdak’s central leadership—who are a mystery even among the loyalists who discuss the organization online—are among the most devout followers of this mystery cult. But every military advance this arm of Mazdak makes creates a situation that makes it harder and harder for the civic-minded among the organization to make effective change.

The schism is forming within those of Mazdak who want to defend their homeland from foreign aggression and colonization, and those who see Expressives as the rightful rulers of the world and push for Expressive-Supremacist goals.

Despite encroaching twilight and eventual darkness, Asi keeps coffee close at hand throughout the entire process. Caffeine works to keep her mind active as much as it works in conjunction with the ibuprofen she pauses to take to keep her head clear from pain. She pauses only to retrieve another device to start copying down what Elaine is helping to translate, to keep notes of her own on what this all means.

A hollowness enters her the more they uncover. The schism is one she feels in herself, resonates with both sides on. After a time reflecting on the nature of the conflict, all that's left to do is marvel over how lost all of this is to the outside world.

How many people believe that the Mazdak-controlled states are so much less than they stand to be? How many people stand in the way of their potential being known? How is this not a part of the global conversation anywhere. It's more than idle wishing and what ifs— it's the future, right at the world's doorsteps…

Being denied.

Was it because it was produced by an Evolved state? Would the actions of Mazdak's militant arms even matter, because of that truth? Was denying peer review of some of those studies done out of some sense of nobility or justice, as an act to demand a cessation of hostilities— we won't treat you seriously and civilized until you act like it— or was the denial rooted in something more sinister?

She has her suspicions.

"I had no idea it would take this long," she murmurs after checking the watch on her wrist. "If you let me know what you like, I'll order something for dinner…" Asi looks up to glance across the empty space, most of the Hounds having given them privacy save for a few passing through. "But there's one thing of importance to me I still need to solve."

Asi's cautious as she looks back to Elaine. "There was a man who went missing in 2019, who I believe is caught up in Mazdak's networks. His name is Brandon Patenaude— an IT person from Canada who stole 'a treasure trove' of info from the company he worked for before fleeing the country. He vacationed to Egypt, met with a man who bore one of Mazdak's symbols on his arm." She pulls up the image of the shaved-headed white man drinking at a bar with Brandon and several others, an eight-pointed star tattooed fresh onto his forearm.

"He's one man in the midst of all this," she says with a gesture toward the research they've done so far. "But what he stole is of personal interest to me. And what Mazdak does with it? Even more so."

"That's not too much of a worry, I'm used to spending long amounts of time translating things," Elaine notes. "And I'm glad to be of assistance. I wouldn't mind something to eat, but I'm not picky. Cooking tends to be my way of coping with stress so I've got a taste for most cuisines these days. Especially if they don't involve me cooking because it usually means I'm not stressed… or too busy to be stressed."

The redhead's attention turns back to Asi, noting the mention of personal interest. "Just how caught up with all of this are you?" The question isn't probing, sounding more about something she's idly curious about—just as likely to be fine with no answer as she is with one. "I've found that things like this rarely work in black and white. They're muddy shades of grey that make people question their beliefs. That in and of itself is dangerous."

The question brings Asi's head back around from her coffee. Her deadpan severity in her expression becomes tempered by a furrow of her brow as she wonders how to answer that question. Her mug is set aside to pull closer the computer again, to recall up an article published in English by the BBC.

Japanese Minister of Justice Murdered

A moment is left for Elaine to capture the first few lines beyond that before Asi lifts her head. "I didn't do it. It wasn't us. But Mazdak sure as hell did not mind the world believing we did… in naming us their agents." The matter of her betrayal at the hands of her superiors comes as third-nature to cover over by now. "I was on a case to investigate them before that. I was there that night, I saw Seko die… but I was undercover."

"It was… muddy, like you said. Shades of gray kind of situation." Asi's eyes unfocus as she remembers back. "With one hand, they revealed that the government had been working behind our backs on a 'cure' for the 進化人 problem. And in the other, instead of publicly shaming the minister responsible… they killed him on the spot, then fled by teleporter. They allowed everyone else to be arrested."

Sitting up in her seat, she nods back to the screen. "But that's irrelevant to this. This man, Patenaude? I believe the information he stole to hold a clue, if not the key to understanding what happened to Kimiko and I last year. And right now, it's a race against the clock to make sure no one else dies how she did."

The mention of Kimiko gives Elaine pause, and she takes a moment to breathe in deeply. "If I can help you in any other way, I'm more than happy to. Kimiko was important to me… and if this has any sort of tie to what happened to her, you can consider me entirely on board. While I can't say I can offer much in the way of anything other than translation, I can keep an eye out on some of the sources of information we've looked into, keep an eye out for things that might vaguely tie into this."

She offers Asi a small smile, though it's tinged with sadness. "I wish there was more I could do to help."

Asi can't bring herself to smile in return, but she does offer a tight nod. "«With this being an international affair, the help of a good translator will be invaluable. The day before Kimiko died, the flight wreckage was examined. My understanding was they didn't have someone on site to help them understand the foreign languages psychometers were able to pick up. Multiple foreign languages.»" The switch back to Japanese is a subconscious thing, nearly. Done to make brokering a difficult topic slightly more easy.

It used to be she reached for English in situations like these— where she needed to abstract herself from the situation while still addressing it. Funny how those behaviors change with the environments one finds themself in.

"«Digging into this more— finding out more about Patenaude, trying to communicate with Mazdak— it could be dangerous.»" Asi glances to Elaine, explaining, "«If we started from scratch and had you pose as someone who knew him and wanted to follow in his footsteps… that's an option, potentially, to finding him. If you helped me write messages coming from my identity, that's another path we could take. In either case, we will want to go to great lengths to protect your identity. Not just from Mazdak, but from keeping the US government, or Yamagato, from believing you might truly be…»"

She dithers, wondering how to phrase one's fall into extremism.

The change to Japanese flows just as smoothly as before, Elaine seeming comfortable even if there's concern in her eyes about the topic. "«I hate the idea of what happened to Kimiko happening to anyone else. I'm no stranger putting myself into difficult situations to get a message across where it needs to be. You're the one who knows more about this than I do—whatever route you think is the most beneficial, we'll go that way.»"

Her lips press into a thin line. "«I certainly would appreciate it not reflecting unfavorably on me. Danger I can deal with, there was plenty of that during the war. But, as you clearly know, it's certainly easy to label someone as being part of a group they aren't.»" She gives a slight nod towards the laptop where the article is up.

Asi glances back to Elaine when she defers back to her on what course is best. It takes her a moment to decide, during which she looks back to the laptop. "そうだよね2," she agrees quietly. "«I think it will be more safe and more effective should we use my identity. If any US intelligence is flagged, I can worry about handling it from there. Your name will never come from me.»"

Tilting her head to the side, she sighs and resigns herself to sticking her foot back in that pool once more. The laptop is tugged her way, two boards open at once: one for Iraq, and one for Egypt. "«I want to leave a message that I'm looking for Patenaude. That a contact Stateside said he previously traded in data that would be of interest to me.»"

It's not exactly a lie now, either, is it?

Asi sits back to fuss with her phone and place a to-go order for a nearby Chinese takeout. "«I might need to call on you quickly should they respond and not speak any of my languages.»"

"«You've got the message, I'm happy to play messenger. In this case, it's a literal case of making sure nothing gets lost in translation.»" Elaine glances at the computer before preparing to compose the messages. "«I'll be available. There's rarely a time when an urgent message can't reach me. In most cases I should be able to translate immediately, regardless of what language it's in.»"

The redhead's lips quirk in a slight grin. "«Unlike understanding cryptic messages on stone tablets, internet forums tend to be a touch easier to discern the meaning of.»"

Asi manages to crack a small smile in return, a ghost of one that lives more in her eyes than the rest of her expression, the line of her mouth hardly moving. "«I'll be relying on you, so… thanks in advance.»" Her head actually dips respectfully before she sets her phone aside, palms swiping one over the other in thought.

"«Food'll be here in ten. Like I said, I can't thank you enough. Are you sure there's nothing I can't do for you in return for all this?»" Asi glances to Elaine while she types.

Elaine's focus is on the laptop and the message she's working on, though Asi's words and presence are still a priority. Multitasking, when it comes to language, is something she's good at. "«I'm sure I could figure out something at some point, but I'm doing well enough. Like I said, I'm more than happy to help. This sort of thing is something I'm passionate about and you're giving me a chance to escape the Park for a while. An excuse to be a workaholic in another sense.»"

She takes a moment to glance back in Asi's direction before her eyes flit back to the laptop's screen. "«I like being useful. History, language… they've been my passion since long before I even knew what my ability was. I lucked out in that department. But I've seen a lot of stuff over the years and there are times I wish I could be more useful. So you're really doing me a favor here in a way.»"

The corner of the technopath's eyes soften. "«It's not often there's a chance to go fighting on the front lines of language, so to speak. I'm glad, in that sense, I remembered you… that I took the chance to speak to someone outside my usual circle.»"

"«Your record spoke for itself,»" Asi chuckles. "«But it still involved a leap of faith on my part.»"

There's a wry smile offered in Asi's direction as Elaine looks away from the keyboard. "«This is exactly the sort of thing I'm good at, so this is a fight I'm perfectly suited to fight… and win. If winning is possible in this sort of circumstance.»" She watches Asi for another moment before her attention returns to the messaging. "«Leaps of faith aren't always so bad, and I think you had a lot more to gain than lose in this situation. Besides, meeting new people isn't awful.»"

She takes a moment to review the message, scanning it over to make sure it gets all the details across. "«I get staying in your usual circle, though. I do that way too often these days. This message should hit everything without sounding like you're using some kind of automatic translator. I phrased it to use a little bit of colloquialism so it's going to sound a lot more authentic. I'll do the same thing for the board.»"

If winning is possible, Elaine says and Asi admires her wisdom in that. They're dealing in a technicolor of gray in the work they're performing, one where winning is as likely to invite danger as it is to provide answers.

She lifts her eyes again when it's announced the message is done, brow lifting shortly after. That's that, then.

It feels like hope, a little, foreign as that may be. Something in motion, now, where it's been difficult to find that purchase previously.

"This might just be one more rock in a garden full of them… but at least it, too, will have been turned," Asi muses to herself. She pushes up to her feet after that, setting aside her coffee in favor of moving to the cabinets in the open kitchen. "I don't know if you're the drinking type, Elaine Darrow, but I think we could use one for luck."

She looks over her shoulder in a silent extension of the question if she'll have company in that drink.

There's a laugh as Elaine looks over towards Asi and the cabinets. "Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered." She turns away from the laptop with a bit of a smile. "Shakespeare," she explains before continuing. "I'll drink to that luck… and hope the unsteered ships are the ones that we're looking for."

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