For tic_tac_woe (Apocalypse Bingo), I wrote this story for the prompt "Dystopia Without End"!
This is a script set in the fictional country of Zwangzug, which I've RPed on the browser game NationStates. As it is now, Zwangzug is a nice place to be--not perfect, but pretty great. So this is an in-universe script written by a Zwangzugian film-maker, imagining what it would be like in an alternate universe where things went wrong shortly after a national tragedy early in Zwangzug's history. A lot of the allusions will only be funny to me (or someone who's read a lot of my factbooks, I guess), but it should still make sense as an original story. (The main characters are very loosely based on some of my main sports characters, and this would be a parallel that might or might not be recognized in-universe; again, you shouldn't have to get any of this to enjoy it as a story.)
It's about 13,000 words long. I "Choose Not To Warn" in the sense that there can and likely will be lots of violence and character death ahead; there's no sexual content.
Some other content you might find in various amounts includes baseball fans, consensual violence, humor (gallows and otherwise), and conlanging!
Inside. An apartment. Nighttime.
A young woman named AZAR is in bed, listening to a staticky radio.
ANNOUNCER: Now batting...the designated hitter...number forty-three...Samuel Martins. Swung on, hit high...that’ll leave the yard! A towering home run for your Spenson Worms, who now lead 2-1. And remember, every Worms home run is brought to you by Velch Firearms. Protect yourself and your family with Velch. Quality munitions since…
The static flares up and she fitfully goes to sleep.
Outside. Next day.
The same woman exits a tall apartment building. We see she is Namirite.
Soon she is walking by a large house that looks as if it could easily house multiple generations of the same family, but doesn’t look as if it’s been touched for years. This isn’t anywhere immediately recognizable; there are lots of fences, a few with barbed wire on the perimeter. From a distance tree stumps litter the outskirts of the city blocks. There are cars parked in some of the driveways of the more-occupied buildings.
A mail truck drives by. The mail carrier—also Namirite—gets out of the truck, sack in tow. She walks up to the mailbox of the abandoned house, clearly suspicious.
MAIL CARRIER: This the Gupta place?
AZAR: I’ll take it.
MAIL CARRIER: Mail fraud’s a crime.
AZAR (shrinking back): My apologies.
The mail carrier, whose job it isn’t to ask questions, retrieves a piece of mail from her sack and places it in the mailbox, then retreats back to her truck. She drives away, leaving a puff of smoke behind in the overcast air.
Azar waits until she is long gone before creaking the box open. The mail is addressed to “Shula Gupta,” who hasn’t lived there in years if at all. She skims the letter quickly, then breaks into a smile.
Next thing, she’s standing at a train station. An enormous rail has been built overland, heedless of anything growing in its way. One sign is labeled starkly TO GUARIDAY, which can only mean that this sparsely-populated town is Sharag.
Azar hops the train in the other direction.
“Herman Memorial Station:” a building perhaps known to others as “Spenson Railport,” signage aside. Crowds are milling around and shuffling to make their transfers, heads down. A Bigtopian man seated on an inverted bucket-slash-impromptu percussion device (it is yet unclear whether the powers that be in this nation care much for improv drumming) recognizes a fellow in the diaspora across the way.
PEDDLER: One tynu for a water bottle?
The bystander, JOAQUIN, awkwardly backs away from the crowd of commuters. Slowly, he ambles towards the restrooms, against the crowd of traffic. And then—
Azar departs off the train and begins pacing intently forwards. Her eyes wander, and if the onslaught of faces overwhelms, she gives no sign.
Outside the bathroom, Joaquin yawns.
Azar makes her way over to him, ever-so-slightly holding the letter she’d received out.
Joaquin’s car, speeding away from the parking lot:
(Is it his car? Azar rides up front. The back seat is basically empty. Either he keeps it very clean, or he barely has any possessions, travelling light and never knowing when he might be called upon to relocate his identity, or it’s not really his at all, just another tool of the cause, or some combination of the above.)
Azar: Thank you?
Joaquin: Don’t mention it.
Azar: For the ride?
Joaquin: If there were enough fighters in Namiri to form a cell of their own, that’d be something to give thanks for.
Azar (looking away): And if we didn’t need to fight, would anybody think to give thanks?
Joaquin: So you’re here out of need?
Azar: Everyone needs to do something.
Joaquin: It must be nice to have options.
Azar: You’d be welcome in Sharag any time. Light a spark. Or fade away like the rest.
Joaquin raises his eyebrows. Azar, sensing she might not have made the best first impression, tenses and keeps silent.
They pull up outside a dingy Han restaurant. Azar makes to get out, and Joaquin initially waves a hand, then shrugs.
Joaquin: You can sit in the back if you want. Scott likes to take shotgun.
Azar: Literally or figuratively?
Azar, slightly unnerved but pushing that aside, moves to the back just in case. Joaquin walks up to the door of the restaurant, and retreats a moment later. A few minutes later, SCOTT follows, and takes the front-right seat. (Zwangzug drove on the right, not that it’s been relevant in reality for a long time.) A Peridune man somewhat older than Azar but younger than Joaquin, he glowers as Joaquin revs up the car again.
Scott: So. A volunteer.
Joaquin: Not everyone can be forced into alternative patriotism by necessity.
Scott: Favorite weapon?
Scott (whistles): What?
Azar: A mouse.
Scott: You’re breeding plague rodents?
Azar: Hacker, actually, but that sounds fun.
Scott (sputtering): What possessed you—
Azar: Ever since I heard about Er—
Scott: Joaquin? You want to let a hacker volunteer with no field experience try to click the regime into distraction while we risk our behinds out—
Azar (quietly): I’m from Sharag.
Scott (turning around, sizing her up): Somehow this doesn’t come as a complete surprise.
Azar: If I wanted to sit at my computer and click buttons while you risked your lives, I could have done it from there. Sharag might not—have much—any more, but we do have things like net access. I’m here because I want to be part of this, whatever it takes.
Scott (shakes his head, looking at Joaquin): Were you ever going to give me a choice?
Joaquin: Did you ever want to decide by consensus?
Scott, annoyed, turns the radio on and starts flickering through various stations. He is quickly disappointed. There are plenty of Zwangzugian rockers who never went into music here.
Finally, Joaquin drives into a fairly rundown suburban neighborhood.
Joaquin: Welcome to the Bigtopian Quarter. Don’t ask what it’s a quarter of, we don’t do math great around here.
He parks a distance away from one of the nicer houses by the district’s standards, and they walk towards it, keeping their assets separate.
Inside the house is DENI, a Picksall Islander woman. She fiddles with a device in her pocket and smiles to see Joaquin and Scott enter, then nods quietly to Azar.
Joaquin: Found the recruit!
Deni: Difyēbo yēgan dam bēkodēd.
Azar opens her mouth awkwardly, closes it. Then suddenly a metallic voice sounds from Azar’s device:
Device: I’m glad that you arrived.
Joaquin: Azar, this is Deni, and that there is Pam. Our translator.
PAM the robot (from now on, unless otherwise indicated) quietly translates everything people say to Deni into South Picksalladed, but surreptitiously enough that it doesn’t get annoying. (Maybe she has an earpiece or something.)
Azar: You named your robot Pam?
Scott: It transliterates well.
Deni: Denmafo fegomēbindi gon.
Pam: I like...choosers?
Deni (nodding to Azar): Dobobo dam Kod būbekako.
Pam: I hope that Scott doesn’t talk.
Azar: It’ll be all right.
Deni: Mefnidēd gefō.
Pam: Thank you.
Pam sings a short song in Hebrew, then goes silent. The translation stops.
Joaquin: Bleepit, it’s Friday.
Azar: ..so it is.
Scott: Some idiot was afraid of religious and cultural institutions being clamped down by the government. So we had to go and double up on preserving Jewish identity as well as Picksalladed.
Deni is waving and heading upstairs.
Azar: Your lingobot. Keeps Sabbath.
Joaquin: You should have seen the Algebraic fundamentalists.
Azar looks dubious.
Joaquin: Anyway, I’d tell you to make yourself at home, but that might be a bit of a stretch.
Upstairs, later. The men share a bunk bed in a room that has a couple desks and spare furniture along the opposite wall. Scott takes the top bunk; a shelf protrudes from the wall, and he fiddles with his own radio:
ANNOUNCER: Alexis wheels and delivers…swung on and missed, and the Tigers get out of a jam! We go to the fifth, still no score.
On the women’s side (outfitted similarly), Deni is already asleep on the top bunk. Azar walks in, hears only muffled static from the other room, smiles, and turns off the light.
A couple days later:
They pack into the car and are driving through the city proper again, this time Deni behind the wheel. In the low-story commercial area, they pass by what appears to be Spenson’s limited “international bazaar,” with narrow storefronts boasting CASARAN CUCKOO CLOCKS AND STUFF, SEPTENTRIONIAN TOAST, and JERUSELEMITE CLOTHING-HALF OFF!
Then they approach an imposing factory-type building. A flagpole is out in front, the Zwangzugian flag raised half-mast.
Azar: Do we have to break in here?
Joaquin: It’s a lot easier to walk through the front door.
He climbs out of the car.
Pam: Go stack piles!
Joaquin: That won’t be hard!
Deni: Yopoko aphēbindi nindigbinmak kaēpin.
Pam: He leads many satellite makers.
Azar: That must be useful.
Scott gets dropped off at the same restaurant he was at the other day.
Azar: You work here?
Azar: That’s...great! What exactly do you do?
Scott: Make sure no one gets explosive diarrhea. Or not.
Scott: See you!
Deni drives towards an arcade and nods at a shop behind it, handing Azar a small wallet.
Deni: Bēm bokidē didi dam ifdōdē nen yōdamē amē.
Pam: You can buy stuff that you want in this store.
Deni: Minidi mig komuvdi mig...didi.
Pam: Screens and antennae and...stuff.
Azar (grinning): Thank you. Where are you going?
Pam thinks this is too obvious to translate even though Deni can’t pronounce the L.
Azar: All right. Thanks for the lift.
Montage of all of them on the job, interspersed. Scott rushes between cooking rice and other food in a crowded kitchen, surrounded by various colleagues, mostly Ianix but several others, and sprinting downstairs to monitor the boiler room. Deni tests a small firearm in a shooting range that might, for all we know, be somewhere in Hadiln; it’s not anywhere particularly distinctive. Azar inspects the wares at the electronics store and picks out a few choice goods, paying in the cash tynus, then wanders around, getting acquainted with Spenson.
Joaquin, good to his word, has an overflowing inbox that he makes a limited attempt to deal with, triaging some memos and meeting minutes by shoving them to the back of his already-crowded desk. A few diagrams and calendars with important dates circled on them get stashed in neater folders in his file cabinet. Then it’s down to supervise some underlings. One worker looks disheveled and concerned.
Joaquin: How’s your sister? And the kids…? Maybe you want to take the rest of the day off…?
He gladly scurries out the door. Another co-worker looks officious and self-important.
Co-worker: I didn’t see you at Harold’s retirement gala.
Joaquin: Ah, poor Harold. He never was the same after that billiards unpleasantness, eh? But it’s our patriotic duty not to dwell on the misfortunes of those on their way out. We ought to look ahead, no time to rest!
Co-worker: Of course…
Joaquin: Now, if you’re looking to take some work off of my hands, I hear there might be a promotion in line for someone who figures out how to make widget-wielding accuracy increase by twenty percent.
She hustles off, passing underneath a framed portrait of Darren Coriolis that looms on the wall.
Reconvening at headquarters: Deni passes Azar the new weapon.
Deni: Dēpaēpebe fēndak.
Pam: Shoot well.
Azar: I—if—thank you.
Deni: Mōbūifdōdē dam nūpdoko kō?
Pam: Do you not want her to have it?
Scott: If it comes to that she—we could all use some luck too.
Deni: Mōkūmunō pog efdinō ayukab. Kā paēmkab pimkab.
Pam: We withstand in order to protect the right. The good people are lucky people.
Scott (sarcastically): Yep. I feel real lucky to be here.
Joaquin: I know it’s hard to believe sometimes when our space program is still used to kill people, but for lots of people, this is still a place worth moving to.
Scott: That’s one way to handle things. Mismeasure and our rockets don’t quite make it back from the moon? Great, boost up national pride by having a zillion missiles designed only to make one-way trips.
Azar: You—you’re a refugee from Bigtopia? After what our country has done to you?
Joaquin: Yes. Our country. Because for all the things our tyrants have done and still do, here we have power.
He nods at Azar’s bag of computer goodies.
Joaquin: And a chance to make a difference.
As they’re climbing up the stairs:
Azar: Joaquin? Was that you listening to the ballgame the other night?
Joaquin: Oh? No, Scott sometimes puts on the Tigers. Does it bother you?
Azar: Not at all! I—grew up listening to the Worms. From far away.
Deni: Bēm nūbodē begyadi ond imēko nen doko damdō.
Pam: You can listen to games on the radio in our room.
Azar: If that’s okay.
Azar: Who’s your team?
Deni: Kā kedgowō fopawu. Maēkyēbo wod pōēgabo pōēnandudi pog bindebo Kod.
Pam: Baseball is confusing. I say that I’m a Worms fan to annoy Scott.
Azar: Baseball is confusing. Sure.
A later day.
Joaquin walks by the women’s room. Azar shows off an unobtrusive monitoring device, which she’s installed on the top of her computer.
Joaquin: That’s all?
Azar: If you want to break in most of what I can do is software-dependent. Not going to rely on fancy tools.
Azar: This is mostly to let me know if anyone tries to keep tabs on what we’re doing.
Azar: Now, if you wanted me to try and make another one of those translator things—
Joaquin (unrolling a very early draft): So the news at work is that the next big project is a satellite.
Scott: A satellite? That’s good, right?
Deni: Mē būdōēphak nindigbin wā.
Pam: A satellite can’t kill us.
Joaquin: Yeah, thanks for your optimism. What it can do is intercept our conversations—well, and a lot that aren’t as tightly secured as Azar’s, here—not to mention overlook Bigtopia and keep track of their weapons systems. This isn’t something we want to launch.
Scott: Are you sure it isn’t just, like, strengthening the cell phone network? My calls drop all the time.
Deni: Bekadē fon vok?
Pam: Who do you talk with?
Scott: The pizza place. Gotta make sure we’re all well-fed around here.
Azar: Tell them I don’t care if they’re FTC refugees or what, I hate spinach.
Joaquin: I think my sources on this are reliable.
Scott: Is this not something you’re able to sabotage on your own? I mean, delay, or whatever?
Joaquin: Not without jeopardizing my cover. The best thing to do is to wait until the parts are nearly ready for transportation, then go in and take them out. Of course I’ll be slowing things down, but no more than usual.
Azar: You mean things would actually get done over there without you?
Joaquin: That depends on whether they have a competent replacement, and my espionage hasn’t dug that deep.
Scott: Sounds like you’re not attached to any of your colleagues.
Deni: Būdōēphanō pog kamunō bakyubindi.
Pam: We don’t kill in order to become destroyers.
Scott: They’re that dumb that they still won’t know it was you after we pull this off, huh?
Deni: Mōfenedē wod bakyunōn kō?
Pam: You believe we’ll destroy it?
Scott: We need all the confidence we can get.
The women’s room, that night:
Azar: Can I ask you something?
Azar: Is there actually a leader of this—cell? Group? Thing?
Deni (no translation necessary): Hōukēn.
Azar (nodding): And what is it that you do?
Deni: Baēhābo paēpebedipdi.
Pam: I look for weapons.
Azar: And Scott works in a restaurant.
Azar: You don’t always seem like great friends.
Deni: Yen damfōēdi.
Pam: We’re allies.
They turn off the lights.
Deni: Bekadēf fon Hōukēn pog ōpyadē kā Ēpō vok.
Pam: You should talk with Joaquin to learn who Ipo is.
The sound of overlapping baseball games coming from the adjacent rooms.
The space factory. One of Joaquin’s frazzled-looking employees comes up to explain some things to him.
Employee: I’m sorry, boss, but things aren’t really going well.
Joaquin: Not well?
Employee: You know what they say. The first ninety percent of the project takes ninety percent of the time.
Joaquin: One should hope.
Employee: And the remaining ten percent of the project also takes ninety percent of the time.
Joaquin: I’m afraid I don’t understand.
Employee: Um, it’s a joke, boss.
Joaquin: Oh! Ha-ha.
Employee: Because there are always unexpected bugs at the end of the project and patching them can take an unanticipated amount of time.
Joaquin: That’s approximately equal to the amount of time the original plan took?
Joaquin: Would it not be more accurate to describe each part as taking fifty percent of the time?
Employee: Um, perhaps, but…
Joaquin: Does this effect continue compounding? Do we ever reach the end of the project?
Employee: We always do, boss.
Employee: Only we want to be sure it’s perfectly ready before we launch, you know? Don’t want another Hope 8 on our hands!
Joaquin: Is this satellite expected to re-enter?
Employee: Er, no. But you know what, I should get back to work.
Joaquin: That sounds good.
The employee hurriedly rushes back to a desk, then leans over nervously to chit-chat with another worker.
Employee 2: Change of plans?
Employee: No...just...skip the mathematical analogies around the boss, yeah?
Employee: I told you he’s probably a Bigtopian spy trying to slow us down.
Deni and Joaquin in the car, near sunset, on their way to pick up the others.
Deni: Pokyikod dūmono efdo gon dam kā fūyi ōwēm.
Pam: My mother tried to teach me that the moon was holy.
Deni: Kamukod fāmpo wen kaēgōkab kamukod bepēno Wāngug.
Pam: She came of age the same year Zwangzug became a country.
Deni: Yepē būkdok wen endēkōk naf Kāgo Dobok.
Pam: I hadn’t been born when Hope 8 launched.
Deni: Būfenebod wod demonōfid kū kumwudi pog mononōd afhim dam mēmid wopefod empēdi.
Pam: I didn’t believe that we should go to worship services to focus on a rock that humans could touch.
Joaquin makes as if to reply, but Pam starts in on her chant again.
Joaquin: So much for thanking God it’s Friday.
That night, or maybe the next day, at HQ. Deni is withdrawn as usual, and Scott too is taking a break, giving Azar a window.
Azar: Do you have a minute?
He follows her into the kitchen.
Azar: Have you ever heard of anybody named “Ipo?”
Joaquin: I’m sorry, I haven’t.
Zoom in on his face; for an agent of rebellion, he looks honest enough.
Joaquin: I can let you know if I run across anything?
Azar: No, that’s okay. Just wondering.
Joaquin: Everything all right on the nets?
Azar: When is it ever. Too much noise is too much of a good thing.
Joaquin: Then you let me know if anything changes too. Yeah?
Azar (nodding): Deal!
Azar: Deni just does her own thing off in Hadiln or wherever?
Joaquin (more furtively, but perhaps even he doesn’t know): More or less.
Azar: She has to speak better English than she lets on. There’s no way…
Joaquin: I trust her.
Azar: Of course. It’s just...well. I trust you too.
Scott’s restaurant, a couple days later. (This scene might actually be in like Chinese or something with subtitles, because Scott does actually speak his coworkers’ language decently well, albeit not natively. On the other hand, maybe some of the guests happen to be various-ethnicity Spensoners in the mood for cheap food. Who knows?)
Manager: We’re running low on floor staff today. Can you spare anyone?
Lead cook: How about Scott?
The manager looks him over skeptically.
Manager: If you say so. You know what to do?
Scott: I’ll be okay.
Scott bustles around waiting on tables brusquely. He brings an order of food to a family, then stomps off while they say a short table blessing. Moments later, as they’re raising the first bite of food to their mouths, he returns.
Kid: Um...it’s fine?
He paces off as a co-worker side-eyes him.
Scott: Like you can trust people who don’t eat our food? It’s a dangerous world out there.
Etc. More scurrying around. Then he gets flagged down by another guest.
Guest: Excuse me?
Guest: I ordered General Worthington’s Pork.
Guest: This is Deputy-Lieutenant Halladay’s Rice.
Scott: Well I mean it’s not as if we’re sure what General Worthington ate, he got himself heroically blown up a decade ago, he probably enjoyed some nice warm rice on occasion—
Another waiter, hearing the chaos in progress, steps in.
Waiter: I am so sorry, we will be happy to fix that on the house.
The guest now looks a little confused, but mollified.
Waiter: Is there anything else you need?
Guest: Ah...another beer would be nice.
Waiter: My pleasure.
He hustles Scott back towards the kitchens and calls the order in.
Waiter: General Worthington was a hero! He didn’t die for our compatriots to have no choice in what food they eat. Understand?
Scott: I think so.
Scott turns to bussing tables; the family he was rushing has already left, leaving behind their fortune cookie—“If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.” He flips it over, annoyed. “Learn Chinese—Trust! Your lucky numbers are: 43 46 10 23 42 3”
Downstairs at HQ, Azar and Deni sitting around.
Azar: So, um, I know your language is incredibly important to you, and it’s great that we have Pam to translate and everything, but if it’s all right with you, could you teach me a few words? Just stuff like “hello,” “goodbye,” “how are you.” You know, friendly things? I’d like to be able to say hi.
Deni: Empēdi nūvonēmak…
Pam: Mainland people…
Azar: Only if you want to. I don’t mean to offend…
Deni: Būpobenyaēdēd! Būbekanō pog yen nēnyovan. Mōfipedē?
Pam: You didn’t offend! We don’t speak in order to be very kind. You see?
She taps at Pam for a moment, silencing the translation, then picks up a piece of paper and starts drawing a cartoonish tree, pointing to it.
Azar: A tree.
Deni nods, and next to it, draws a house not unlike their own headquarters. Two stories, anyway, and nondescript. Taps that.
Deni nods, and now something a bit more complicated; a smaller house, inside the original tree.
Deni: Mipdam benkomak!
Azar: That is a very small tree.
Deni, irritated, points from the tree to the house and then back and forth.
Azar: ...A treehouse?
Deni taps at Pam.
Deni: Mōnamkadēd nen mipdam benkomak?
Pam: Did you live in a treehouse?
Azar just laughs.
Azar: Namiri hasn’t had treehouses in a long time.
Deni looks downcast.
Azar: It’s okay.
Deni taps at Pam again. Reaches for another piece of paper. Draws two trees.
Deni (indicating one, then the second): Benko, benkodi.
Azar: One tree...two trees?
Deni either doesn’t understand her or figures “eh, close enough,” and begins to draw a bunch more trees, getting sloppier as she goes until they turn into dots.
Azar: A whole lot of trees. A forest?
Deni: Pep benkodimak.
Azar: Namiri used to look like this.
Azar gives a confused shrug. Deni taps at Pam. There’s a shadow at the top of the stairs.
Azar: District? Ervimnal Forest?
Deni: Nūfdobod dam Hōukēn efdikod kō, kaēgōdi dipo. Ifdōbod dam danamabod fon kō vāg finaēkdi.
Pam: I learned that Joaquin defended it years ago. I wanted to work with him as rebels.
Azar: Me too.
Deni stares at her.
Deni: Yepēd namkadēd…?
Pam: How old are...?
Azar: I heard about the Ervimnal Holdouts on radio, same way anyone could’ve if they were paying attention. It was the first I’d heard of anyone really trying to make a difference, not just sitting around under the Ministries’ thumbs. So that gave me a goal to grow towards. I couldn’t just leave right away, I had a lot of...skills to learn before I figured anyone would take me on board. But I was able to reach out, once I got old enough, and here I am with Joaquin himself.
Scott comes down from the stairs in a rage.
Scott: You were a child!
Scott: You are a child!
Deni: Bān komuvdi kifdō fēn.
Pam: Her antennae are working well—
Scott: How do you say shut the bleep up?!
Deni: Dēnabda nē buwēpkab?
Scott collapses on the couch, between laughter and sobs. Joaquin walks in moments later.
Joaquin: Bad time?
Azar: I think linguistics class is over for the day.
She makes for the stairs.
Pam: Don’t go.
Joaquin: We’ve waited years and then some for a revolution that’s no sure thing. If there’s something you want to get off your chest, I think I can stand to wait a few more minutes.
Scott doesn’t make eye contact. A few moments later.
Scott: You know my first cell was in Zwischen. The kids who recruited me—never mind them. I don’t know about everyone else, if they were there because they were desperate, had nowhere else to be, or what. But Sípos—our crypter—he was a volunteer, you could tell by the way he talked, he believed…
Joaquin glances over at Deni, who is glaring at Scott. Azar seems unimpressed.
Scott: I tried to warn him, even back then I knew not to get my hopes up, it wouldn’t be easy going up against these guys. He never listened. We got overwhelmed near the breach memorial—before I could do anything—he was gone—
Deni: Mig? Mōbaēhādēn wondi fogodimak wen būnēk?
Pam: And? Will you seek snowprints in the summer?
Scott: What—now she’s broken too.
Azar: I think what she means is, it’s too late to bring him back to life, so you don’t need to feel guilty. Any more than you need to be mad at Deni for being hopeful, or—or me for being a hacker. Or a volunteer.
Scott looks dubious.
Azar: I mean, you can be mad at me if you want to! I can take it! What are Tigers fans for, anyway?
Deni: Nūfdodē wind.
Pam: You learn fast.
Joaquin: Hey, stop looking at me. You’ve been carrying whatever burden for however long—seems to me you’re only shooting yourself in the foot, but I’ve led people who jibbered in Algebraic, got vomit all over my nice satellite pieces, even believed that the Bigtopian government could find this town on a map.
Azar: To be fair, with that many suburbs in the way—
Joaquin: You’re not the orneriest fool I can work with.
Scott: I don’t have time to pick and choose. If you think she’s up to the challenge, I’m with you.
Deni: Dagakod fon dē daduko? Dag fenekod wod pifodēnid fegomēbindi himnakod?
Pam: Was he usually with you before? Or did he believe he would make you ignore choosers?
Joaquin: I think I was always in charge of this cell.
Scott: What more do you want from me?
Deni: Ifdōbo dam yen efbo.
Pam: I want us to be a team.
Scott: We are.
Azar: The bleeping Wildcats got in like eight brawls last year and they still won the division.
Scott, in spite of himself, cracks a smile. Deni and Joaquin exchange a “who even knows” glance.
Azar: Speaking of, I think they’ve got their lefty on the mound tonight, and I’d like to witness an upset. If you don’t mind…
Joaquin: By all means.
She heads for the stairs. Shortly after, Scott follows. Upstairs: Azar turns, seemingly startled by his approach, then takes advantage of the opportunity.
Azar: Can I ask you something?
Scott (wincing): Fine.
Azar: You said you were from Zwischen?
Scott: Um, Nalchoy, actually.
Azar: Even better. How does a guy from Nalchoy turn into a Tigers fan?
Scott: Everyone’s a Grey Socks fan out there or maybe Bears if you’re reaching. Tigers fans stand out.
Azar: So you like to stand out.
Scott: That’s not what I said!
Azar: Sounds almost...rebellious.
Scott: Oh—never mind.
Azar: It’s cool. I like rebels.
Scott: I’m sure.
Azar: Anyway. That’s all.
Scott heads to his room looking slightly less paranoid. Azar goes to her computer. Meanwhile downstairs:
Joaquin: You knew anything about this?
Deni: Bekakod Kod. Kāk fopawu. Būepnabod.
Pam: Scott talked. It was confusing. I didn’t know.
Joaquin: Sípos...You really need to try to pronounce sh.
Deni: Nūfdodēf dam kā kabab kefavan.
Pam: You should learn that math is hilarious.
Some time later. Probably Sunday night by the looks of it? Riding over to the satellite facility to hopefully demolish the shipments.
Scott: I’m just saying, you look confident.
Joaquin: Of course I’m confident! I dunno about you guys, but I’m Bigtopian. Nothing ever happens to Bigtopians, at least not right away.
Joaquin: Jane McAdosha? Jonathan Kulodem? Quincy MacReady? Did they get defeated in a little skirmish?
Deni: Yepē būyidmek yokomdi amē.
Pam: I have not read these books.
Scott: To be fair, I think the sample size is a little—
Joaquin: Bigtopian heroes, one and all! I’ll be fine.
Azar: If that’s how it’s gonna be, then how many Picksall Islander heroes get killed in battles blowing up satellites?
Deni: Būepnabo. Būfivanō empēdi pa hepdamdikab yokomdi ond hankin nowo damdō.
Pam: I don’t know. People on the islands aren’t writing books using our native language.
Scott: Come on, it can’t be that hard to give Pam speech-to-text.
Azar: Want me to work on it during all the downtime that I have?
Scott: ...Maybe not. I’m not sure I want to see what Deni writes about.
They park near the factory and slowly approach it.
Azar: So let me guess, we just walk right on in?
Joaquin: Not this time!
Scott: Are we like blowing up a car outside?
Joaquin: If I just use my ID to get in, I think they might figure out it was me. I left a window jammed in the back, we’ll try that way.
Scott: And if some conscientious employee realized they need to close the window?
Joaquin: Then we have to try plan B.
They sneak around the back. The window is propped open, though a little high up. Joaquin reaches for it, but Deni beats him there, indicating the ceiling. She clambers up. Scott follows, extending a hand which Azar ignores. Joaquin takes it, but crouches low behind the others. Inside, Deni glances up at the ceiling as Joaquin closes the window behind him. He points, and they follow his path, even as he lurks behind.
Finally, she sees what she’s been fearing; a security camera. She raises her gun at it.
Scott: Don’t shoot!
Deni indicates Joaquin, questioningly.
Scott: Stay low.
They climb a staircase and split up, the women going down one hallway and the men behind another door. Joaquin starts grabbing papers from a desk.
Scott: Is this what we came for?
Joaquin: Nobody will miss them.
All the doors in the hallway the women patrol seem dark and locked.
Azar: I’d like to see you threaten someone via Pam. Why can’t we use Joaquin’s computer?
Deni: Bamako dam kamukon pekēwā dūfondi vepomak kifdō.
Pam: He’s afraid that his card games will go gray and white.
Azar: And I thought Scott didn’t trust me.
The men have made it down to the floor. Joaquin indicates various large crates. Scott sets some putty at the base of each, then hands a load off to Joaquin so he can begin doing the same.
Joaquin: How much?
Scott: About two bipints.
Joaquin: That’s not a thing.
Scott: I thought you said you didn’t do math!
Joaquin: I know enough to know that’s not a thing.
Scott: You just feel it out.
Joaquin: I’m not entrusting my cover and potentially our lives to feeling it out.
Scott: Like the lackeys here are good for anything—find anyone?
The women have reemerged.
Azar: Nope. They’ll know it was us.
Joaquin pauses for a moment.
Joaquin: Some of them are pretty slow. It’ll take them a while.
Deni: Yepēd afgodēd? Ef?
Pam: You’ve—decided? Yes?
Joaquin: We’ll raise more questions scooping those decigallons back up off the floor. No choice now.
They leave the building and retreat back to the car. Only there does Scott pull out his detonator, which looks basically like a flip phone, unfold and press it.
Azar: Any luck?
Joaquin: I’ll find out tomorrow.
The next day. The factory. A bunch of workers are assembled on the floor, Joaquin among them. The crates are nowhere in sight, nor are many of the assembly lines or machinery. Detritus litters the outskirts of the floor. A senior employee is addressing the crowd, not in a good mood. (These designations aren’t necessarily the same Employee 1 and 2 as the previous scenes; just consistent within a scene.)
Employee 1: Can anyone tell me what the broken window theory is?
Employee 2 (perks up, raises hand): Ooh, I know this one!
Employee 1 (taken aback a little, it had maybe been a rhetorical question): ...yes?
Employee 2: So the broken window theory is like, when you have a broken window, we’re gonna pay some window guy to fix it, and that’s gonna put some tynus into his pocket.
Employee 1: Um.
Employee 2: Or hers, actually, I don’t want to presume it’s a man. Unless you’re using guy in the generic sense.
Employee 1: Well.
Employee 2: And the transactions might be virtual so they could be logged by the government better.
Employee 1: Of course, oversight is always critical…
Employee 2: Women’s clothing really has a severe shortage of pockets.
Employee 1: No doubt.
Employee 2: So this window fixer, who may or may not literally be wearing pockets, now has a surplus of tynus. And he or she can go on to spend them on, like, Worms tickets.
Employee 1: Well, you see…
Employee 2: Or Tigers if he or she is into that kind of thing.
Employee 1: Yes…
Employee 2: And then the baseball owners of whichever team you happen to support, they have extra money to spend on businesses of their choosing.
Employee 1: Right…
Employee 2: As well as the players, of course, collective bargaining being an important cause as well.
Employee 1: Are you implying something about freedom to negotiate?
Employee 2: I would never dare to make an economic statement, I only mean that fans who grow overly attached to individual players and expect loyalty to a team to override those individuals’ capitalistic self-interest are being immature and naive!
Employee 1: Well, that’s better, but all the same…
Employee 2: And thus either via the owners or the players, the economy is therefore stimulated.
Employee 1: If I may interrupt—
Employee 2: Just a minute! I do not mean to imply by this that any of us should be breaking windows for this purpose!
Employee 1: Very good.
Employee 2: Because had said hypothetical window not been broken, we could have spent these tynus on raw materials for our satellites.
Employee 1: ...Hypothetical?
Employee 2: And said suppliers of raw materials could invest said tynus in hiring more laborers.
Employee 1: Correct…
Employee 2: Thus providing an equally viable scenario for economic growth precipitated by our initial funding. Therefore, it is fallacious to attribute long-term prosperity to initial ill-fortune.
Employee 1: Probably true, but that wasn’t quite the theory I had in mind. Does anyone else know what I’m referring to by the broken window theory?
Employee 3 (more timidly): I think I might?
Employee 1 (apprehensive): Fire away.
Employee 3: So like, the broken window theory says, if your window gets broken by some hoodlums, you gotta fix it.
Employee 1: Hoodlums?
Employee 3: Even if it’s not the most important thing, it still is better than letting it sit there and not get fixed.
Employee 1: Well, yes, that would be quite the security risk.
Employee 3: Because then everyone’s just like “oh, that’s that place with the broken window.” But if you fix it, it looks nice! And then everyone’s morale is happy! And you can be all productive again, and hopefully not have crime.
Employee 1: And by crime, you mean…
Employee 3: Um, kids breaking windows and stuff.
Employee 1: Stuff?
Employee 3: Riding their skateboards? Playing their music too loud? Getting tattoos? I don’t know, whatever it is the cool kids do these days.
Employee 1: Let me try this again. Does anyone else have an idea as to what the broken window theory might be?
Employee 1: The broken window theory is a theory that I came up with, that boils down to when the windows are sufficiently broken that I can walk right on through them, and the entire supply of our satellite production has been destroyed, that is incredibly terrible and there will be repercussions. Any questions?
Employee 4 raises a hand.
Employee 1: Yes?
Employee 4: Is skateboarding a crime now? Only I sometimes skateboard on my way back from work because it’s close to the train station, and as a loyal citizen of the nation, I’d really like to know if that’s become illegal.
HQ. Azar working on her computer, eventually comes downstairs.
Azar: Theo Linnet.
She doesn’t glance over at Scott until a moment later, but he’s carefully remained expressionless.
Scott: What about him?
Azar: .314 with 27 homers his rookie year with the Tigers. Virtually unheard of in the minors. The core of pudut_ftw’s fantasy team.
Scott: They keep archives of that? We didn’t even have—
He breaks off.
Azar: If you know where to look.
Scott: What, are you going to blackmail me with something else now?
Azar looks confused.
Azar: I think you’ve already shared what haunts you. This was just for fun.
Scott: Fun. In here.
Azar: It beats Solitaire.
Azar: Ask Joaquin.
The others join them.
Joaquin: Ask me what?
Deni: Demonōn vobo?
Pam: Where are we going?
Joaquin: You are just itching for a fight, aren’t you. As it happens, I came across some information that may be of use to us, although it doesn’t give us a target as accessible nor as clearly useful as the factory.
Deni: Ifdōnō dam nūbonō.
Pam: We want to hear.
Joaquin: Word on the street says the old Hadiln jail—and I’m talking older than the country, even—is getting a not-so-grand reopening soon.
Scott: A jail? That’s...I mean, in the grand scheme of things that governments do, opening jails isn’t that surprising.
Azar: But we’re talking about the Zwangzug government. They kill suspects without anything close to a fair trial. So what’s the catch?
Joaquin: I can think of at least a couple options. Number one: even they recognize it’s overkill, to coin a phrase, to take out people who’re just...I dunno, skateboarding illegally. Don’t ask. So it would be just doing what jails were always doing, back when Hadiln was on its own.
Deni: Mig bumwūm?
Pam: And the second?
Joaquin: That the government wants to ask people questions rather than just killing them outright. That they’re aware they might have enemies, and they want to fight back, instead of punishment.
Deni: Bakyunōn hemyodikab mig mēmin dūnofon damfōēdi damdō.
Pam: We destroy the doors and our comrades can run.
Scott: Do we even know we have any comrades yet? Maybe they saw what went down at the factory and they’re saving that for us. Or whoever they think we are.
Azar: Worst case scenario, we spring a bunch of petty criminals, yeah? Make it harder for the government to do their job?
Scott: Worst case scenario, we spring a bunch of actual murderers.
Azar: But why would the government start locking them up now? What’s the incentive?
Joaquin: I don’t want to order anyone into this. I’m just telling you what I know; we’ll make the call together.
Deni: Efdifon paēpebebindi kō.
Pam: Shooters will protect it.
Azar: That’s why you’re here.
Joaquin: That’s also an argument for striking early. Before it’s too well guarded.
Scott: I thought you said you didn’t want to force anyone into this.
Joaquin: I know. I’m just saying.
Scott looks around at the others.
Scott: I’ll need a couple weeks to bake up some more putty, anyway.
Upstairs in the women’s room. Pam is perched on the computer. Deni enunciates slowly.
Deni: Ifdō...dōvāp...wipdimak... kēwā. Pog... demok. Mefnidēd...gefō.
No translation, but the computer beeps. A moment later, the printer prints something out. Deni grabs it and smirks.
At the restaurant. Scott is back cooking stuff again. Again, this might be in subtitles, and not necessarily the same people as before.
Co-worker: One order of plain rice, to go!
Scott: You got it!
He tosses food around haphazardly and between rushing up and down stairs, eventually concocts a box of rice, that he passes off to his coworker. While catching his breath, he notices Deni out of the corner of his eye, grabbing it and grinning as she makes her way out of the restaurant. Fuming, he sets back to work.
HQ: the box is in the trash as Scott enters.
Scott: What the heck was that about?
Scott: We can’t be seen together, especially now! It’ll blow our cover.
Deni: Fipekod vok wā?
Pam: Who saw us?
Scott: Anyone could have—the point is—what was that stunt all about?
Deni: Bemnobo mefam Yanik.
Pam: I like Ianix food.
A week or so later.
Joaquin: Are we all set?
Azar: Are you all set?
Joaquin: Just a minute.
A minute later. The sound of flushing. They pile into the car.
Azar: Did Jane McAdosha ever forget to use the bathroom before a heroic battle?
Joaquin: She’s a folk hero. These legends get retold over time, you know? I can augment the important details.
Scott: That’s your job for programming the next iteration of Pam; preserving Bigtopian cultural heritage by remembering all the times they went to the bathroom.
Deni: Fivigoko Pam widihēndi amē.
Pam: Pam considers these memories beneath her.
Scott: Is Pam really sentient? Can’t she express her opinions herself?
Pam: She held it in.
Azar: I’m a little weirded out by you speaking about yourself in the third person.
Deni: Feneko Oa wod mē vōmōko minid hempan hankin?
Pam: Does Azar think that a simple screen can archive a language?
Azar: Sure she does, with the right programmer. But she’d hate to supersede a faithful lingobot like yourself.
There are a lot of suburbs to cross through before making it to Hadiln.
The jail is a tall, concrete building, with a few squareish windows up top and drab exterior otherwise. A stout door lines what appears to be the “front,” although it’s not exactly clear from this angle.
Scott: Do we have to park so close?
Joaquin: We might need to make a getaway.
Scott: Now who’s the realist.
Deni draws a large but complex weapon, and takes careful aim at the door. A tightly-compressed glob of putty flies forward, then bounces off, and lands some ways out.
Azar: Should we check for a back door? I’m not sure it’ll work at this distance.
Joaquin: We did a number on the factory.
Scott: Want me to come with you?
Azar scrutinizes him.
Azar: Do I get a choice?
Scott: ...of course. Don’t want to overcommit Deni’s gun here.
Azar (brightening): Sounds good.
They sneak around, and notice another, similarly immense door—propped open and a pair of guards stationed outside. Azar raises her small gun; Scott has his in tow, but the guards notice them first and open fire, and they start sprinting back.
Azar: Found a doooooor…
The guards tear through the jail—we see its insides are equally unaesthetic, though some remain under construction—and begin raising an alert. Another small group flings open the front door. Deni scrambles to grab an actual gun, and fires into the fray. One of the guards shoots back with a compact dart-looking thing, and it strikes Joaquin in the neck. He crumples without a word.
Scott and Azar emerge too late, still panting, and take in the scene.
Scott: Get back!
Azar fuming, Deni grieving, they all retreat some distance, Deni still firing off increasingly-haphazard shots as Scott pushes the detonator he’s been carrying with him. A small explosion rocks the front door, and the fire consumes an unfortunate guard.
Deni: Ifdōbo dam mōkōbo. Būepnadē vakumdi Hadin…
Pam’s translation is barely audible above the roar of chaos. They sprint back to the car and Deni forces herself into the driver’s seat.
Then they’re zooming through the city. Hadiln was built “right-side-up,” from the downtown outwards before the Consolidation, and is smaller than Spenson today, each building casting shadows over a shorter one. Deni cuts corners at breakneck speed, gripping the wheel as she ignores the once-beautiful architecture of Twelfth Avenue.
Deni: Mōnūpdodē kōēp kaēpin?
Pam: Do you have much goop?
Scott (his voice raw): Not much more.
Azar: There’s a plan B. Right?
Scott: I think we’re past plan B. We’re so far past plan B we’re now at the part where Pam draws lines over the vowels to tell them apart.
Finally, the car screeches to a halt, and Deni waves the others out.
Azar: Do I want to know where we are?
Deni (hoisting her gun): Mōfenedēd wod kā wēkya amēkab? Inhekod mig ōpyabod kō?
Pam: Did you think this was a shooting star? It fell and I found it?
Scott: It shoots all right, but it didn’t star for us.
Deni: Danamanō aphēbindi nen doko amē.
Pam: Builders work in this room.
She indicates a small workshop. Peering through the window, they can see an enormous printer takes up half of one table, while smaller ball bearings or very weak bullets fill a jar opposite. An aluminum bat is propped against the far wall. It’s messy, but organized chaos; the sense that anyone who can find their way there knows exactly how to get what we need.
Azar: And they all speak your language, too?
Deni: Epnabo dam ifdōfon mig būdōēphabo nōm.
Pam: I know what they want and I don’t kill them.
Scott (glowering): You’ve met my coworkers. That’s really not saying much.
Azar: So what, we want to sleep here?
Deni shakes her head and leads them onward. It’s the same area where she was taking target practice before, although the ranges were gone.
Azar: And your friends won’t be annoyed if the soldiers follow us here?
Deni: Bindebo nōm daduko.
Pam: I usually annoy them.
Scott: Going to assume she really was talking about herself in the first person there.
Too weary to mutter a retort, Deni lies down, her back to the others.
Deni: Būdēwibi kōēpdi. Mē baēhāko Kod bōē ēfwādak.
Pam: Don’t split up the goop. Scott can look for a catastrophe first.
Azar restlessly tries to sleep as Scott takes first watch.
Later that night. The stars are out. Scott is snoring fitfully. Azar is standing around. Deni stirs, rouses herself, paces over to Azar.
Deni: Mōifdōdē dam yemgōdē?
Pam: Do you want to sleep?
Azar: What time is it?
Pam: I woke up early.
Azar: I’ll finish out my shift.
Deni: Ben okubokok dif kōnog.
Pam: You’re as loyal as a kōnog.
Azar: And what happened to her?
Deni (laughing): Bānē kōnogdi empēdi. Fenefod wod fipefofid kōnon. Ihefod kumwudi kamdō kūmobē dif kumwudi naf dūmono efdo!
Pam: Kōnogs were people who watched the stars. Their worship services were longer than my mother’s!
Azar (shrugs): There aren’t a lot of stories about the stars from Namiri.
Deni: Mōbūnūpdodād hankin nowo yamdō?
Pam: Did you lose your native language?
Azar: I don’t speak Swash. There just wasn’t much to say about the stars with the trees in the way.
Azar: It’ll be a long time before they grow back. Maybe there will be new stories before then.
Scott: I’m just saying, that was a good car.
Azar: Now who’s taking risks? Deni’s right, we need to ditch it.
Scott: So we take the train back to Spenson, fine. How are we going to get back to work?
Azar: Are you sure you don’t want a new headquarters? It’s probably more secure. I can work from anywhere, it’s this place that’s important.
Deni: Mōifdōko yopobin yipdō dam hūmnodē kō?
Pam: Does your boss want you to succeed them?
Scott: I don’t think I’d get to check on the boiler room very often doing that.
Azar: Maybe one of your friends can build us a car.
Deni: Bemnoko kēdodi. Būhimnofoko kēdodi imnedi.
Pam: They like bikes. Bikes don’t wound the planet.
Scott: Great. A getaway bike is what we need to escape from the guards, that’s for sure.
On a train. They slump together, guns awkwardly stowed in Deni’s backpack.
Scott: This cannot possibly have ever been worth leaving Bigtopia for.
Some curious glances from bystanders.
Scott: In Bigtopia, the trains probably run on time.
Azar: In Bigtopia, the trains probably run on steam.
Deni: Kafo wuhafdi nebadodikab pa Bigdōpēu.
Pam: Animals push the trains in Bigtopia.
Deni: Demofo mōkōbindikab kēhem dif dumbumdi. Būāyafon hemdindi kamdō.
Pam: The riders go more slowly than turtles. They can’t miss their cars.
Deni: Bān kekbepdi Bigdōpēen pekēwā.
Pam: Bigtopia’s train lines are gray and white.
Scott: Aaaand that’s why we’re sure to defeat them.
Finally, walking home.
Azar: There’s no way we barely escape with our lives and almost get busted for a lingobot insulting Bigtopian train lines. No way.
Scott: I don’t even know anymore.
Several nights blurring into each other; Deni and Scott rise at increasingly erratic hours to catch buses throughout town, arriving at their workplaces with eyes shot from exhaustion or grief. Azar occasionally works alone at day, or sometimes at night downstairs, it doesn’t really matter. Finally, Friday night arrives, and they light a candle downstairs as Pam sings a chant of mourning. For once Deni does not go upstairs, and remains with the others, united in their memories of their leader.
Some time later. Deni in the kitchen, putting honey on her breakfast.
Pam: Tastes good!
Scott (at the stove, not looking over): I do make the best toast.
Deni: Mōifdōdē kōēp bipidēmak?
Pam: Do you want bug goop?
Scott: Do I—no. Bug spray?
Pam waves the honey at him.
Scott: I—no. Where’s that from?
Deni: Ūmowē. Danama pa dembo Devā.
Pam: A friend. He works at Devā park.
Deni: Domgo. Mogyin. Būepnabo.
Pam: South. West. I don’t know.
Azar: Is this some other hideout?
Deni: Maēkyēkod wod kā ifigom.
Pam: He said that it was public.
Azar: Right, the government’s just gone into the business of opening parks to enjoy the beauty of nature.
Deni: Ifdōfo yūbēpdi bipidēdi pog danafo fon wihimdi.
Pam: Flowers need bugs in order to fly with seeds.
Scott: Oh yeah, the government’s super into beautiful flowers too.
Azar: Why not? I’m sure one of the ‘topias sells drug flowers to support its military, why not us?
Deni: Mēm pikifo bipidēdi.
Pam: Bugs can sting.
Scott: And that is all we have evidence for.
Azar: Hold on…
She climbs up to her room. The others follow, ignoring breakfast. Quickly she begins to search something; Scott scans the screen hurriedly, Deni appears to ignore it.
Azar: Here we go. Jeremiah MacPhail, Generalissimo Second-Class of the Bigtopian Supreme Army. Two sons and a daughter in command ranks.
Scott: Generalissimo Second-Class?
Azar: Almost died in an unknown incident several years ago. Was very hush-hush. But some “accidentally” declassified broadcasts on Northern Maxtopian shortwave suggest that he has a deadly allergy to bee stings.
Scott: You think they’re planning an assassination.
Azar: It’s one idea.
Scott: What a terrible waste of resources!
Azar: Is any dictatorship super efficient?
Deni: Baēhēnōf kō. Bēgin nūfdonōn dam aphēko didi. Dag mēn pōēyakon Kod mogēbdi būnum.
Pam: We should look for it. We could learn that they’re building stuff. Or Scott could hold some morning glories.
Scott: You should figure out from your friend how to get to Devā park, is what you should do.
On a bus. Deni wears her backpack. Scott holds a bundle of papers in his hands. Weapons are hidden, out of sight.
Scott: You know, before you guys met me, before Ervimnal, before I met…
He glances around, uncertain who all is listening.
Scott: Our late friend, I once...visited...Trink. Way out east.
Azar: Is this a story about Sí—
Scott: No. Well, he might have been there too, but that’s not—the point. The point is, I had to—visit—this little old lady, she’d been widowed a long time. She helped me learn how to speak some of the Ianix languages, and of course, it had very little with the stuff I have to do now, for work, but it was a start. I could tell that my accent was dreadful, but it was a start.
Azar: So you do learn other languages, when you have to.
Scott: She believed in peace, that—we—could make peace with Bigtopia, and stuff like that, I didn’t really want to tell her that it didn’t seem likely to happen any time soon, she kept doing her own thing. What I’m saying is is, her house was covered with—junk. With all this artsy stuff lying around, I had to watch my step out of fear I’d trip and ruin some little work in progress. Or completed. Who knows.
Azar: Artists are temperamental like that.
Scott: Right? She’d have all this paper folded up and concocted into shapes, claiming it was one sort of bird or another. It was very abstract to me. I’m not an abstract art kind of guy, but I tried to not let on my skepticism in front of her.
Scott: Art or no art, I couldn’t believe that anything that folded and convoluted could ever be useful for anything. Well, I don’t know if she’s still alive today, but I’m here to say I was wrong.
He pulls out the papers he’s carrying, one for pretty much every suburb.
Scott: These maps are practical, but man.
Azar: I told you we could have done this on the computer.
When they get off, it’s at a sign for “Tevvale Research and Recreational Facility.”
Azar: Research looks promising…
Not much in the way of trees, although a few grasses and fern-type plants are growing around. Eventually some signs point them towards a small zoo-type exhibit. A few zebras are standing around in a cage.
Deni: Moifdōfon dam ōpyafon me dagako kēwā dūb gōunan dag kēwā daf gōunan?
Pam: Do they want to find out if it’s white on black or black on white?
Scott: That’s probably it.
Some chimpanzees are fighting, and a few fish sluggishly swim through a cloudy tank. There appears to be no sign of any bees, or for that matter flowers.
Azar: Maybe we just ask?
Scott: I’m sure that’ll work.
Azar: Your friend brought the honey, yeah? Even these guys can’t go wrong looking for reasons to let us buy stuff.
Scott: That’s not a bad point.
Azar (to a zoo worker): Excuse me, could you point us to the gift shop?
Zoo worker: Of course! Right this way.
The zoo worker indicates a bright, modern-looking building, which is full of knickknacks and even an incongruous “press-your-own-hemidemisemitynu for only one semitynu” (which isn’t getting much attention because not many people carry small coins, but oh well). Sure enough, Deni notices a jar of the same honey as before, which Azar brings to the checkout.
Azar: Is it true that this honey is produced on-site?
Checkout clerk: Yes indeed!
Azar: Wonderful! Could I see a list of ingredients?
Clerk: Uh, I think it should be on the side.
Azar glances it over.
Azar: I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, but I’m, uh, hoping to buy this for my mother, who has some rare allergies, and I’m not sure whether this would fit the bill. Do you happen to know the scientific name of the species that produced it?
Clerk: Allergies? I’m so sorry. But, no, I don’t.
Azar: Oh. Is it on display somewhere? I missed the insect building or whatever you call it.
Clerk: Our insects are kept out of public view at the moment, I’m sorry to say. They need to be hidden from external light to maintain proper stasis for producing the highest yield.
Azar: Hidden from external light? The sunlight must be so burdensome.
Clerk: If it turns out to be not satisfactory, you may of course return the unopened jar for a full refund!
Azar: If it turns out? I don’t want to cause my mother any...difficulty...after opening the jar.
Clerk: I’m sorry I can’t be of further help.
Azar sighs, but checks it out anyway. Then she heads for the exit, with the other two in tow. But as they leave, the security alarm goes off. The guard immediately snaps to attention, blocking them.
Azar: I’m so sorry, I must have forgotten to scan this. Let me just try that again.
She walks back through the door. No further beeping.
Guard: You’re fine. You?
He indicates Scott, who slowly walks back, with no incident.
Guard: And you?
Deni worriedly walks backwards.
Guard: I’m going to need to see what’s in your bag.
Deni (panicking): I no dake! No dake!
Guard: It’s all right, it’s all right, miss, just give it here…
Scott (taken aback): Excuse me, my friend does not speak English very well. If you could just—
Deni: You nod. I nod know!
Azar: It’s okay. We know you didn’t take anything, just stay with the bag, and you can show that.
Deni (pleading): My fone.
Scott: We’ll be right here with you. Just go ahead.
Trembling, Deni takes her backpack off.
Guard: Go and walk through?
She walks through, and no sound results. She rushes back, as the guard yanks it open and starts pulling the first item out; her big putty-wielding gun. Squinting, the guard carries it back and forth through the checkpoint. Fine.
Scott: It’s a free country. A woman’s got a right to defend herself.
The guard nods, setting it down. Next is a normal gun. Same thing.
Next is Pam. It triggers the alarm.
Deni: I no dake! You yuk!
Azar: She’s saying she didn’t take this item from the store. This is her own cell phone. I’m not sure why it would have triggered the alarm.
Guard: That’s okay. It’s probably just a mistake. I’ll take it back to the back room and find out, okay? Then you won’t go setting off any alarms.
The guard starts off towards a back door, which opens into a hallway leading deeper into the complex. Deni, picking up her normal gun, follows behind.
Guard: Excuse me?
Deni: I come too.
Guard: Just hold on, it’ll be just a moment.
At the end of the hallway there is a pair of double doors, with an id machine locking them. The guard is almost there, Deni trouping resolutely behind, Azar racing to prop the first door open with Scott shortly behind.
Deni: You no dake phone.
Guard: Do you know why the alarm went off?
Guard: Then stay put.
The guard opens the door. It starts swinging shut.
She shoots the guard and makes a dive for Pam. Before the door closes, a hail of bullets fire back, catching her in the chest, and she falls outside.
Scott: Shut the door!
Azar: Can we get Pam? At least?
Scott: For what?
Azar is taken aback, and Scott slams the door while they run for it. The clerk blinks.
the inside of the Hadiln jail, which has made progress in its capacity to hold suspected dissidents. We see the INTERROGATOR, a Peridune man perhaps Joaquin’s age. He wears dark glasses and sits across from a prisoner in chains (and a black-and-white striped uniform), who looks haggard but otherwise uninjured. It’s Joaquin!
The Interrogator rattles off something in Bigtopian. His accent is mediocre, but his grammar is flawless.
Joaquin: I’m sorry, I don’t speak Algebraic.
Interrogator: Joaquin. I will keep this simple. You can give us the information we want. If not, we will kill your daughter.
Joaquin (remaining calm): I don’t have a daughter.
Interrogator: After the supposed “liberation” of the Ervimnal woodlands, you engaged in all manner of recruitment and celebratory behavior. Your child was born eleven months later. You can calculate how old she’d be.
Joaquin: I’m not big on math.
Interrogator: Her mother didn’t appear to have any partisan allegiance. We believe her to have died in a train accident along the Bingness line.
Joaquin: You’re bluffing.
Interrogator: People come...and people go. I suggest you think carefully about which category you’d like to belong to.
Joaquin remains impassive.
Interrogator: So be it. We can continue this discussion another time.
One of the jail goons takes this as a cue to drag Joaquin back to his cell.
Back at HQ. Somehow the others have managed to take the bus routes back.
Azar (after a pause): Do you want my top bunk?
Scott: I can’t.
Scott: It’d sound weird with both broadcasts on.
Azar nods. When she goes up to her room, she’s already perched Deni’s drawing of the forest on her desk.
Morning. Scott is making breakfast.
Azar: This is pretty good. Oliverrian toast?
Azar: This is what you make at that restaurant of yours?
Scott: Not exactly.
Azar: Top-secret, huh?
Scott: I could probably teach you.
Azar: The toast or the restaurant stuff?
Azar: Last time I tried to cook something more complicated than boiling water I almost set the kitchen on fire.
Scott: And you didn’t think to mention this before you joined the cell?
Azar: I figured starting fires would be an advantage in your line of work. Creating diversions and all that.
Scott: Diversions. Right.
Azar: If we ever need to evacuate here in a hurry, just tell me to make, I dunno, Errinundrian tofu.
Scott: That’s what the detonator’s for. It has the advantage of working once we’re all out of the house.
Azar: You haven’t seen my tofu. Sharag was really into a vegetarian phase for a while.
Scott: Was that a fad or a shortage?
Scott: You know I’m not in charge, right? We’re—in this together, now.
Dissolve, fade into HQ again. Saturday?
Azar: You know, without Pam around it’s going to get harder to tell the days of the week apart.
Scott: Am I that difficult that to talk to that you forget when I’m not around?
Azar: Do you really want me to answer that?
Scott: Maybe it’s time for you to get a different religion.
Azar: I’ve tried hacking into some of the foreign streams to watch their football, at least that’s on once a week.
Scott: And? You into that stuff?
Azar: Not really. Too darn early.
Scott: I see your commitment only goes so far.
Azar: Mmhmm. I’ve been poking around at the edges of a military sektek. No promises yet, but I think I’ll be able to give them worms.
Scott: ...that sounds both dangerous and unnecessary.
Azar (pauses): A computer worm. Like...a targeted virus, but not. Aimed at one specific network. Crypter stuff.
Azar: There’s a small risk it will be able to be traced back to us. I can minimize that by working from elsewhere, but if they can find that, they can probably find the preliminary defense-testing I’ve been doing already. I think it’ll be able to do significant damage, but I’ll need a few more days to figure out if it’s ready to deploy.
Scott: Still dangerous? Still not necessary?
Azar: So is everything else we’ve done.
Azar: I’d be happy to show you how it works. Explain the code, the weaknesses in the sektek. Like a door that’s not guarded too well.
Scott: I think I’d rather try learning linguistics in Picksalladed.
Azar smiles wistfully.
Scott: Take as long as you need to figure it out. If it fails, it’s no worse off then…
Azar: My tofu.
Scott: If you think it stands a chance, it’s up to you.
Azar: You really think so? I don’t want to push you into it.
Scott: It’s not just me. It never was. What did Deni and Joaquin die for?
Back to the jail. The Interrogator and Goon show up at Joaquin’s cell, which is well-maintained if sparse. Joaquin looks about the same as before.
Interrogator: It’s not too late to change your mind. We would be most accommodating in exchange for any information you can share with us.
Joaquin: A lot of people call me naive, but you can’t possibly expect this to work?
Goon: A lot of people, eh?
The Goon cuffs Joaquin again and leads him back by the interrogation room. They pause.
Interrogator: We have all day.
Joaquin: What time is it?
Interrogator: Time for you to make up your mind.
Goon (unhelpfully): I think he doesn’t want to talk.
Interrogator: Quite. Onward.
Down another hallway, this one to a more modern-looking elevator. They climb in. Upstairs they round another corner and enter a room with what appears to be an electric chair on the opposite side (although the modern Zwangzugian viewer probably would not recognize this).
Joaquin: You are really bad at this, you know.
Joaquin: Trying to threaten me with death? Aren’t you supposed to continue with the whole “kid” spiel first?
Joaquin: You haven’t even fabricated pictures of her...you know there’s nothing you can do to me.
Interrogator: The value of “nothing” has become deflated in Bigtopia, it would seem.
Joaquin raises his eyebrows, indicating his extant restraints; he needs to be let out of those before the goon can strap him into the chair.
Goon: Only fitting, eh? Is it true in Bigtopia they shock their enemies as a tribute to the purple lightning goddess?
Joaquin: Is this the kind of classified information you’re trying to get out of me?
Interrogator (glaring at goon first): Last chance.
Joaquin: This is just ethnic stereotyping at its finest. The nerve of you to assume I happen to know things about Bigtopia…
Goon: I’ll give you nerve all right.
He paces over to the control panel across the room. The Interrogator nods. The Goon switches a dial, and Joaquin immediately goes slack.
Interrogator (witheringly): Purple lightning goddess? Really? Have you ever read a book?
Azar’s room. She clicks a few buttons, Scott watching from the background.
Scott: That’s it?
Azar: Were you expecting better graphics?
Azar: The worm eating apples or some stuff?
Azar: Never mind.
Scott: When I was your age we just played fantasy baseball. And had it monitored by the nets, apparently.
Azar: When you were my age? Slacking off.
Scott: Yeah, right. So now what?
Azar: Keep on working.
Scott: That’s all? And assume they don’t find you?
Azar: It won’t kill you to assume things work for once.
Scott: Right. That won’t kill me.
Azar: You’ve come through a lot.
Scott: You say that like it’s something to be proud of.
Azar: Beats the alternatives.
Time lapse of several different nights of announcer broadcasts, rattling off the scores of several different Tigers and Worms games as Azar and Scott sleep.
Finally, another arbitrary afternoon; Scott is at work, Azar is clicking away at her computer. The sound of noise downstairs.
Azar squints, shivers. Reaches behind the monitor, taps at something. Pulls out the gun Deni gave her.
Walks downstairs. Slowly.
A soldier is there. They’re both taken aback.
Soldier 1: Have you been accessing the miltek?
Azar shoots Soldier 1. Several more soldiers rush in. Azar presses (another?) detonator, triggering the computer upstairs to explode. We see one of the soldiers raise a dart weapon.
Cut to outside. Scott walking back from the bus stop. He looks at the house and sees a broken window.
Back to the interrogation room. The Interrogator says something in Jojie. Azar remains quiet.
Interrogator: You’re the one who sent the worm into the sektek?
Azar: The worm?
She squints, going out of focus, and begins to mumble.
Azar: Worms...batting with a tied score...and Martins will lay one down here with one away. And the sizbermetricians are going to hate that!
Interrogator: Is this a code? Start taping her.
Outside (some one-way glass), the Goon presses at some buttons.
Azar: And that’ll bring up the pinch-hitter. As the Gray Sox...that’s G-R-A-Y-S-O-X—look to call upon a southpaw here in the eighth…
The Interrogator is focused intently.
Azar: Foul. Oh and one. Short lead from third now.
The Interrogator walks outside.
Goon: This is just gibberish.
Interrogator: There might be something there. I can translate it.
Goon: Have you ever watched TV?
Interrogator: Rice and grids are enough for the masses. I doubt a simple baseball fan broke into the sektek.
Goon: Some of my best friends are baseball fans.
Interrogator: It’s such a...slow game.
Goon: Keep her in here and she’ll just keep rambling. She needs—persuasion—if you want to get information out of her.
The Interrogator squints.
Interrogator: Don’t break her. We need that information.
Goon: I think she’s pretty broken already.
They walk back into the room.
Azar: And we go to the ninth, it remains, Spenson 4, 102d 4…
Montage of Azar going and coming from a bleak cell like Joaquin’s with her babbling voiceover of made-up Worms games on top. Occasionally she returns with an increasing number of bruises. In the meantime, Scott is trying to make his way on the outside; surrendering? Defecting? It’s not clear. But day by day, week by week (the timescale is unclear), he grows closer to the establishment, a hat here, a pair of shoes there, in bits and pieces acquiring the uniform of a guard, keeping his possessions mostly in a backpack or two. Sometimes he goes home with a coworker from the restaurant, sometimes he stays there all night. Sometimes a stranger from the government points him to a place in The Flats, which look more barrack-like than ever.
Finally, the evening comes when he stops by the CASARAN CUCKOO CLOCKS AND STUFF store, quickly walking in and out, and gets on another bus.
Azar’s cell, later at night. A close glance reveals that the stone floor is marked in an 8x8 pattern, though it’s not very obtrusive.
Scott enters, in his military getup. Closes the door behind him.
Scott: Azar? Are you…
Azar (stirring, blearily): Scott? What the heck did they get you for?
Scott: They didn’t get me, I came…
Azar: Don’t tell me you turned.
Scott: Of course not! It was all I could to sneak in here, there’s no way to escape, they want to kill you, it’s too late, I’m sorry, I couldn’t—
Azar: Scott. Dēnabda nē buwēpkab.
Scott crosses the room, shaking his head and eventually smiling.
Scott: How are you?
Azar: I’ve seen better. Don’t think I’ve told them anything useful though.
Scott: Isn’t like you’d even know where to find me these days.
Azar: Sometimes when I’m really out of it I blurt out something like Theo Linnet is DHing for the Tigers, but I think that’s only happened a couple of times.
Scott: Theo...what are they doing to you?
Azar:Nothing I can’t handle.
Scott: Technically you’re probably right.
Azar: And that’s a disappointment?
Scott: It sounds as if they’ve—realized you’re not going to tell them anything useful.
Azar: Took them long enough.
Scott: But they do want to make an example of you.
Azar: I’ve never been an example before!
Azar: Where did you even hear that?
Scott: Around the time I got the socks, actually, people weren’t thrilled about the miltek break-in.
Azar (smiles thinly): Good. Socks?
Scott: That’s not the point…
Azar: Huh. Grey socks, all right. With an e?
Scott: Azar, they want to kill you. Very soon.
Azar: That was what you risked your cover to tell me?
Scott: They talked to me like I already knew, but I got the impression it was not a quick or painless death, either.
Azar: More time to look for a way out.
Scott: For all their information security, I’m not sure these people are big on ways out.
Azar: And yet here you are.
Scott: Or background checks.
Azar: Look, you’re a smart guy. So I hope you’ve figured out that I’m not going to spend whatever time I have apologizing to you for getting myself killed and leaving you one crypter short of a cell. At least I made people talk—if that’s why you’re here, you’re just wasting your time.
Scott: We didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to Joaquin or Deni, did we? What’s the matter with talking?
Azar: Hmm. Talking, I’ll allow.
Azar: If people are complaining here, then somewhere else there will be confused hackers who realize that something happened. Maybe not many, maybe not ready to join you yet. But some other cell will carry a charge, someday.
Scott: It’s still not fair some idiots who can’t even keep their socks on are trying to take your life.
Azar: Oh, I find it very unfeasible that they’ll be able to take my life.
Scott (exhausted): Azar, this is a bit idealistic even for you…
Azar: Kill me, yes. Decide the circumstances of my death, as painful as those may be, which I’m not really looking forward to.
Scott looks calculating, thoughtful.
Azar: But that doesn’t mean they can take my life. I’ve already lived; made good friends, loved the Worms, studied crypting...better than I’ve studied language, found a way to fight back, kept up hope from Ervimnal to now. No matter how long I live, nobody can ever take that away from me.
Scott: You don’t have to let them kill you, either.
Azar: That’s a bit idealistic for you. Okay, more than a bit.
Scott: Not really. Sorry.
Azar: And don’t apologize.
Scott pulls out a Casaran army knife. Azar looks it over, hesitantly.
Azar: I wouldn’t feel right. I’m in no rush to become an example, either, but I think I’ll take my chances.
Scott: That’s fair. I’d be—not happy, but willing—to use it myself, if it makes a difference.
Azar: I can’t ask that of you.
Scott: I’ve done many worse things in this fight. Hopefully I live long enough to do more.
Azar: Hopefully you live long enough to see the day when you won’t have to.
Scott: I’ll hardly know what to do with myself.
Azar: You’re a smart guy. You’ll figure it out.
Scott: Thanks for the vote of confidence.
Azar: I still can’t ask that of you. But if you think it better than their alternative—I wouldn’t stop you.
Scott nods, raises the knife behind her neck.
Azar: Thank you. For everything.
Scott: You too.
Azar: Can I ask you something?
Scott: I’ll try. No promises.
Azar: I don’t need or want to know how long I’ve been in here, but what are the West Division standings?
Scott: You’re not going to like it.
Azar: How much bad news can you bring?
Scott: The Millers are two games up.
Azar: The Millers?
Scott: And they say change is impossible.
Azar: Listen. We’re spiting them, right? Denying them one small victory. Don’t forget that.
Scott: Looks a heck of a lot like a defeat to me.
Azar: But we’ll know.
Scott: So help me, I do trust you.
Azar: Not bad for a volunteer, huh?
She gives a nod, and Scott lowers the knife.
Cut to outside “Herman Memorial Station,” Scott still in his military getup, backpack in tow. Above, the moon shines bright.
The Interrogator is sitting at a computer in an office. He’s not wearing the glasses. He taps at the computer, it plays a midi-esque version of some German hymn for a few measures and then stops.
There’s a knock at the door.
Interrogator: Come in.
The Goon enters, looking somewhat nervous.
Goon: It’s true.
Goon: The prisoner. She was found dead.
Interrogator: That was the intended plan, was it not?
Goon: Um, yes.
Interrogator: Then unless you had some unusually clever method of extracting information out of her in mind, it seems we’ve merely expedited the inevitable.
Goon: Yes, sir. But...we were going to show the public, what happens when you oppose the government…
Interrogator: Do you think us tyrants?
Goon: Um...no, sir?
Interrogator: There is no need to be cruel for cruelty’s sake. She had ample chance to speak, she was recalcitrant, she serves no further purpose here.
Goon: Of course. Only, I’m very sorry that my security forces have failed you, we were to maintain proper order in this facility and we have not been up to par in vetting our recruits…
The interrogator rotates in a swivel chair or something, arms crossed, to face the Goon full-on.
Interrogator: Do you want to be disciplined?
Goon: Of course not, sir! I would just understand if you think it warranted.
Interrogator: You worry too much. Consider yourself fortunate it didn’t happen on a more important case, and do better next time.
Goon (scurrying out of the room): Yes! Most certainly. Thank you, Sípos.