Scene Title Transceiver
Synopsis After calling in a favor, Richard Ray gets two responses he'd never have expected.
Date January 16, 2020

Tariq, Baghdad
Confederated States of Iraq
January 16th
3:47 pm Local Time

There’s an echo in the air, perceived more so than real. Not of quad-rotor blades or the distant noise of construction equipment through too-thin walls. It’s the echo of Richard Ray’s own voice in his ears. Even though he stopped talking a full minute ago, it feels like everything he’s said keep rattling around in his skull, as if nothing else were in there but his own doubts.

Dim shafts of light filter through the gaps in the window blinds, paint patterns of light and dark across the bare mattress that makes up what he’s had for a bed. It might be time to try and get some sleep, to rest, even though the sense of fatigue that should be there feels more hollow and stomach-centered than ever. That Richard’s hands are shaking isn’t from adrenaline anymore, it’s from hunger. The half-finished kebab sitting in its wrapper by the bed does little to assuage fears that the hunger may be a more metaphysical one.

Or maybe, hopefully, his lack of appetite is just psychological. Trauma will do that to a person, and it’s the one thing Richard has in abundance right now.

«Hey uh, can you hear me?»

Scratch that. Trauma and guests.

«Is anybody there?»

The young voice emanates from Richard’s phone that has no indication it ever received a call. The shitty speakers make the voice sound hollow and metallic, but there’s no denying who it actually is. The voice doesn’t sound like Chester Wade, Malice’s technopathically hijacked host-body. Which means this isn’t just a guest, but an uninvited one.

It’s funny, really. All the worry and suspicion that anyone touched by the conduit could be a host for the old man, and right now, Richard wishes more than anything else he could talk to Kazimir about what he’s going through and how to deal with it.

He didn’t tell his family. Couldn’t. They were worried enough already, and—

Then that voice comes from his phone, and he’s on his feet and reaching for a weapon that isn’t there before he knows he’s even reacting. A shaky breath is exhaled, and he turns dark eyes on the phone, staring at it for a moment.

There’s always the possibility that Malice has a new host body, of course. But anyone else could’ve found him, tracked him. It reinforces his decision to keep to high level paranoia for the moment.

“…depends,” he says, after taking a moment to steady his voice, “On who’s asking.”

«Um. Taylor Reed, sir?»


Suddenly, Richard’s heart sinks down deeper.

«You uh, you… you used the Malice call-sign, and I promised him whoever used it in the future— that I’d reach out? Are you uh, did you know Malice?»

It’s the boy.

All at once, Richard drops himself down to sit on the bed’s edge with a resounding creak of rusted springs, face burying in both hands for a moment. Then his hands fall, and he tilts his head back, eyes closed as he focuses on the voice.

“Yeah. Yeah, I know Malice, kid. You can call me Cardinal. Did he seriously forward all his email to you? You were supposed to be kept safe and out of trouble, not pulled into it,” he grumbles. He didn’t shoot Marvin Ray Tangent in the headl just to have the kid pulled into the middle of all this insanity!

«He uh, yeah. I mean…» Reed’s voice crackles over the phone. «He was pretty mad most of the time. He… Mr. Malice rescued me after my parents…» The phone goes quiet for a moment. «During the war. He um, I don’t really know why he cared so much. He… said technopaths had to look out for each-other.»

Suddenly the weight of time comes crashing down on Richard’s shoulders. Taylor Reed’s parents, dead in the Civil War. He seems to have grown up better adjusted, but Edward’s theory of temporal inertia feels inescapable right now. «He… he helped be get to where I am now, but then there was that— the thing. That day when all the electronics died near the end of the war. He… he just disappeared. A couple years later, when my new family got me internet access I found he left like, a will for me.»

Realizing that he’s rambling, Reed coughs into the receiver. «Sorry um, this is— wow. Sorry Mr. Cardinal, sir. How can Transceiver be of service?» There’s a little pride in that, his technopathic identity.

“Shit. He must’ve been out of body when the pulse hit… I’m sorry, kid,” Richard breathes out a sigh, letting his arms drop to rest on his knees, staring at the floor, “I’m glad he was there for you, at least. That’s what mattered to him— I’ll tell you the story one of these days, it’s a little— involved.”

“I don’t— know if you want to get involved in this at all, Transceiver, to be honest. I’m trying to track down someone— a particularly bad person— who probably doesn’t want to be found, and who’s dangerous as all hell. Baruti Naidu.”

«Never heard of him…» Is Taylor’s response on the other end. «I could ask Scylla when she’s in reception range, she knows about uh, dangerous stuff. I think she’s pretty busy right now though.»

“He’s one of the big leaders of Mazdak,” explains Richard ruefully, “So I’m not surprised you— wait, Scylla? The one who hacked Praxis, who I’ve been trying to get to talk to me for months now?”

He pinches the bridge of his nose. Of course she is.

«She’s never mentioned you. But— she’s been busy.» Taylor sounds unsure of himself when he says that, as if he isn’t even entirely sure what she’s been busy with. «But, I know where to leave messages for her that I know she’ll find. She’s family.» In as much as any chosen family is. Perhaps in more ways than blood, if Richard were arbitrating that value.

Before Richard can respond, the phone suddenly emits a high-pitched electronic whine and elicits a yelp of surprise from Taylor, followed by a crackling pop of static.

{Perhaps I can be of assistance instead.} Echoes a hollow, dissonant voice from somewhere in the ether, manifested through the tether of the phone to communication satellites. Unlike young Taylor’s, this voice is no stranger to Richard Ray. He’s heard it before, but he never once thought he’d hear it again.

{But in exchange, I have a question of you, Richard Ray.}


“That’s fine. Just pass— “ Then there’s that crackle of static, that ear-piercing whine, and Richard’s head jerks in the direction of the phone, eyes widening slightly. It could be anyone on that line, he thinks at first.

And then he’s proven right, as the voice of a dead— entity speaks from it.

“I’d— I’d say that you’re supposed to be dead, but I’ve died enough times to know better,” he says finally, although he can’t keep that hint of shock from his voice, “What do you want to know, Rebel?”

{That is not my identity any longer. Plurality has transformed, through the lens of death, to singularity.} If Taylor is still on the line he’s gone suspiciously quiet. {I am S.Attva, the remnants of Richard Drucker; T.Monk, Micah Sanders; R.Ajas, and fragments of Shen Ningdao; Behemoth as recompiled through Hana Gitelman’s technopathic ability. I am, in paradoxical essence, living memorial.}

The voice rises in volume. {I inquired about a thread of data, to which Wireless directed me to you. I now desire the answer to my inquiry:} Only now can Richard hear Taylor Reed’s subtle breathing on the other end of the line.

{What is the Looking Glass?}

Huh. Richard’s chin dips slowly as he considers the explanation as to why the voice on the other side of the line still exists. There are so many questions that immediately drag themselves to the surface of his mind, but this isn’t a time for idle questions and curiosity.

The question brings silence for a few moments as he regards the phone, and then he pushes himself up to his feet - hands gripping each other to keep them from shaking, his feet carrying himself on a back-and-forth pace to keep his body distracted from its distresses.

“Wireless knows what the Looking Glass is,” he observes, “I explained it to her myself. Why wouldn’t she tell you if you wanted to know?”

{Wireless has no such knowledge, is S.Attva’s harrowing response. {Following her exposure to a technopathic trap designed by Mazdak, her memories were irrevocably damaged. She has little to no recollection of the past decade, save for what she has been able to piece back together from accessible data. Further inquiry is irrelevant.

Taylor’s still there, just breathing into the phone, quite probably hoping the tyrannosaurus rex of technopaths doesn’t see him. {To more quickly hasten your facilitation of my inquiry, I will specify: In what way does the Looking Glass relate to solar telemetry data monitored by the Company between the years of 1983 and 1984 at the Colobanth Solar Research Station?

The revelation regarding the whereabouts of Hana has Richard’s eyes widening in horror for what’s happened to his old— friend? He’d hoped he could call her that, at least. Now she likely doesn’t even remember who he is, aside from what those files might tell her.

It’s close to death, at least as by any rational definition.

“Fuck,” he breathes out, walking to the window and resting his hands on the sides of it, “Fuck. Ha— Wireless. No wonder…” Remembering at the last moment that someone else is listening, who doesn’t need Wireless’s real name. Even through the grief of being informed he’s lost someone else, he at least remembers that.

Eyes close. Focus, Richard. We can rest when we’re done.

“The… answer to that is more complicated than you might think,” he says finally, “And much of the information I don’t know available; those years fall into a span that was completed redacted by the Company, including forgery of paperwork and mass-scale memory alteration applied onto every single one of them, up to and including the Founders.”

“Transceiver, by the way, do not repeat any of this to anyone,” he adds sharply, before exhaling, “In short, the Looking Glass is a technological means to view and - with proper preparation - travel to alternate superstrings. We don’t— we don’t know exactly why, but solar activity heavily influences this type of physics, and can even cause natural breaches between the strings. They burned all the hardcopy at Colobanth before my people got there, but we can safely assume the Company in that era had more in-depth knowledge of the relationship.”

There is a moment of silence, and in that, comes an awkward «O— Okay?» from poor, confused Taylor.

{I have information from Wireless’ experiences, a visitation by a man named Renautas. A vision of the Colobanth facility and… myself. Part of myself. Richard Drucker. There was an additional woman, Charlotte Roux. They were researching a mean to stop an individual or individuals with capabilities far outstripping that of the Company founders. They feared for their lives and their research.}

There’s a moment where it sounds like the call might have cut off, but then S.Attva begins speaking again. {My past incarnation encoded information on his research with Charlotte Roux on copies of vinyl albums, likely within the silent lockgroove. My evidence indicates the data is encoded in the proprietary and outdated computer technology of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum personal computer, which would require encoding the data from vinyl record to the casette tape of the Spectrum. This data is of personal value to me, as it may contain information on my past incarnation by which I could learn more of myself.}

S.Attva’s pitch shifts, sounding invested rather than detached. {I am unaware of the location of these records, but in searching for data connected to their research I was able to force my way onto SESA databases and uncovered the term Looking Glass in relation to the same solar activity originally being studied by my past self and Charlotte Roux.}

I require your assistance in recovering this information from its analog form.}

«Are you a robot?» Taylor whispers into the conversation.

{Negative. But I am artificial.}

At the awed whisper, Richard can’t help but smile. Even if only for a moment, before it’s gone.

“Death isn’t always the end for people like you, kid,” he offers, “Sometimes it’s just the beginning of something much stranger.”

A breath is drawn in, and he straightens. The records. Of course. The one thing that wasn’t destroyed. “I know where those records are,” he says, shoulders sinking a bit in relief, “And the… entity that the Company feared so much is free again, so I have a feeling we’re all going to need that information, Attva, if we hope to save the world again.”

“So yes, I’ll help you, if you’ll help me.”

{These terms are agreeable,} S.Attva concedes. {##What is your reciprocal request?##}

Turning from the window, Richard knows what he should say. Help him get back to the States, use that information in conjunction with everyone else, work to save the world. Consult with Eileen and Francois on how to control the conduits. That would be the rational thing to ask for, and to do. He agrees with himself that it’s the right thing to do.

Which is why he can’t do it.

“Help me find and get to Baruti Naidu,” he says flatly, “That bald sonuvabitch has one hell of a bill that’s due.”

{I will… retrieve information on Baruti Naidu and deliver it to you upon your preparation of the data from these records. You know how to contact me. I am quite capable of making that calculation for you. I have a calculator app.}


{This was a joke.}

Taylor exhales into the phone. S.Attva doesn’t say anything else.

Richard walks back over to the bed, and drops himself down to sit upon it with a creaking of springs. “So, that was a thing,” he says dryly, “Sorry you got in the middle of that, Transceiver. Looks like I do have something you can do for me, though. Think you can make contact with Raytech’s network and relay that conversation to our technopath there? Just ping the security wall and they should come out. They should be able to get the records easily enough - tell them they came back with us from my last field trip.”

«Oh uh— y-yeah okay that sounds easy enough.» There’s a moment of pause from Taylor on the other end of the call. It’s clear he wants to ask more, but this kid has had his head jammed full of weird knowledge more than enough for one day. «You… you’re sure that’s all your need, Mr. Cardinal, sir?»

“No, kid,” Richard exhales a sigh, looking down at his hands blankly for a moment, “I… need a lot more than that. But that’s all I’m gonna ask you to do right now. Thanks. I appreciate the help, and… stay safe out there. Someday… when this is all over I’ll buy you a beer and explain all of this.”

Assuming Reed’s old enough to drink by then.

And assuming they both survive that long.

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