Orders are orders.
Chapter Five - Orders
"What the /shit/is this?!" Reno said, staring at the books and papers Tseng had just put in front of him. "You /gotta/be kidding me."
Tseng only smiled. "Indeed, I am not. Your fluency in Wutai could be an incredible asset, especially with ShinRa researching further uses for materia. However, the fact that you can not read Wutai is unacceptable. Northern is not the standard dialect anymore, so you must learn to read to be fully utilized."
Reno just stared in growing horror at the pages upon pages of writing practice sheets and books, one called "Remembering Wutai Characters (with Northern, Western, and Yamatan readings)," one called"Let's Learn Wuzi!" and, most ominously, one called "A Wutai Reader: Graded Lessons From Beginning Northern Vernacular to Advanced Classical(Book One)."
"...Boss, look, I can't even stand to read and write in English, let alone Wutai/, I ain't even held a brush in years! I can write maybe ten characters and the most I can read is a /menu/; you /must be crazy! I can't learn to read Wutai!"
"Consider it an order," Tseng said, his voice oddly cheerful in the face of Reno's growing desperation. "We need people who can read Wutai because of the wealth of information on materia that is only in Wutai. The Turks are and have been, after all, more than simple thugs, and have had more varied duties. You will learn aminimum of ten characters a week. Although it's preferable that you learn to write, reading is more important, and so, /for now/, you can focus on simply recognizing the characters instead of being able to write them."
Reno continued staring in open-mouthed, horror-filled disbelief at the books. "What if I quit?" he finally said.
"Then I have you killed."
"...Ya /do/realize that's lookin' like the better option, yeah?" Reno said, sounding desperate.
"Well, shall I leave you to it, then?" Tseng asked, sounding amused. "Good luck," he said, and left. And once the door was shut, Rude was quite sure he heard the sound of Tseng /laughing/.
Reno seemed oblivious to this, still staring in open-mouthed, horror-filled disbelief at the books, his mouth moving but no sound coming out.
"Well," Rude said after about ten minutes of Reno wordlessly staring at the books with his mouth moving uselessly, "You did say you weren't a dumb thug."
"I take it back," Reno said, still staring at the books with horror, eyes huge. "I'm a dumb, illiterate thug too stupid to hold a pen. OK? No frickin' way, yo."
"I'm sure you will surpass everyone's expectations."
Reno looked up at Rude, eyes huge and pleading. "Can we go back to when me 'surpassing expectations' was me showin' up on time and sober?"
Rude didn't even try to suppress the smile. "Not up to me, partner."
Reno thudded his head against his desk and groaned. "You know what, partner? This sucks. This sucks the big hairy one. This sucks so bad it /blows/, yo," he finished, and banged his head against his desk again.
Rude got to ShinRa headquarters a little early one day, as was fairly normal for him, but was very surprised to find the door to the office he shared with Reno locked. He frowned at the door a bit, then finally knocked on the door.
"Unless yer bringin' booze or a knife for me to kill myself with, GO AWAY!" came a muffled voice from behind the door.
"Sorry, no booze on the clock, partner," Rude said, and went in when the door beeped and opened.
What he saw threw him for a complete loop. Reno surrounded by empty cans of soda, coffee, and papers that had been scribbled all over. And books--all the books on Wutai characters that Tseng had given Reno the month before--open and spread out all over the desk. There were even some empty boxes of Wutai take-out littering the floor, chopsticks sticking out from one box haphazardly.
"Kill me. I'm beggin' you, just KILL ME," Reno moaned, putting down his pencil and rubbing his hand. "Tseng wasn't kidding, yo. He was dead serious. Yesterday, when he called me into his office right before it was supposed to be goin'-home time? Yeah. He gave me a/test/, man, a /test/, to make sure I was learning /wuzi/."
"...Well, are you?"
"/Fuck, no/! I figured he wasn't for real serious, expecting at least ten characters a week. I mean, there's just no way, yeah? Well, I was wrong." He thudded his head against his desk. "After the test, he went over to his computer and pushed some buttons, then printed out my 'revised' pay statement. He docked my pay, man!" Reno moaned. "And said he'd dock it more if I didn't catch up by tomorrow/." He gestured at his desk, looking more like he'd rather light it on fire. "I got /one day to learn this shit."
He groaned again. "I ain't smart enough for this."
"That's not true," Rude said, going to his desk to sit down.
"Is so. Ain't Tseng got it figured out? In this partnership, you're the one with the brains and I'm the one who hits things with sticks 'til they bleed. You think, I make shit go boom. Tryin' to make me think, is, like, upsettin' the natural balance or somethin'."
"Which ShinRa happens to be good at," Rude said, quirking up an eyebrow.
Reno moaned. "...Aw, fuck, you got a point."
Rude couldn't help letting out a faint laugh. Reno's ever-expressive face showed that Reno looked ready to cry or beat something--the man had obviously learned how to make the "I am helpless, help me!" face, and it was working. "Anything I can do to help?"
"Yeah. Lose three inches and thirty pounds, get really pale, put on a red wig, and TAKE THE DAMN TEST for me. You can learn this shit in a day, easy," he mumbled, burying his face in his arms on the desk.
"I can't do that, but I can help you study. Did you make flashcards?"
Reno raised his head up enough to peer over his arms up at Rude with big, bright eyes. "Flash/what/? You wanna start speakin' English now, man?"
Rude stared at Reno, slightly nonplussed. "...You've never really ever studied for anything, have you?"
Reno stared at him, and Rude recognized that look--it was his "What the hell planet are you from, dumbass?" look.
Rude let out a faint sigh, seeing his work cut out for him. "OK. First thing you need are study skills," Rude said, then stood up. "I'm going to go get you some blank cards to make flashcards. You were here all night, weren't you?"
Reno nodded, looking pathetic.
"While I'm gone, go get yourself some breakfast. And...perhaps brush your teeth."
Rude was expecting the empty can that came flying at his head and ducked accordingly, but, as he was beginning to suspect was the Way Things Were, it still connected.
"Here, catch," Reno said as soon as Rude came back. Rude instinctively grabbed the small bag that came flying at him, almost dropping the bag he was carrying.
"Figured I owe ya," Reno said, shrugging slightly and giving Rude a lopsided grin. "You know, for offerin' to help me and all," he said, smile now looking a little nervous and uncertain. He ducked his head, the gesture almost a little out of place.
"Thanks," Rude said, giving Reno a faint smile, then glancing at the bag. It was a bag of mini chocolates, and Rude opened the bag as he walked over to Reno's desk, not realizing he was doing so. He stuck a piece of chocolate in his mouth before he even had sat down, and his eyes fluttered closed behind his sunglasses. "Good chocolate," he said, sitting down.
"Glad you approve."
Rude began riffling through the bag he had brought, finally pulling out pens and blank note cards. "These," he said, handing them to Reno, "are going to be your flashcards."
"You still ain't told me what the fuck flashcards are, partner," Reno said, making a face.
"I'm about to," Rude answered, and popped another chocolate into his mouth.
"No, I think you're about to need some 'special time'with that bag of chocolates, man," Reno said, snickering.
"Hmm? I don't understand," Rude said, popping in another chocolate and a tiny smile crossing his face as he did so.
"Nothing, man," Reno said, snickering more. "Nothing. Anyway, flashcards. I'm guessin' I'm not gonna be playing poker with 'em, am I?"
"No," Rude said, raising an eyebrow as he opened another chocolate. "Flashcards are used when you have information you have to memorize. On one side, you write the information that you need to know the meaning of, and on the other, the meaning."
Reno stared at him blankly. "Your mouth is movin', and words are comin' out, but I ain't got the first clue what you're sayin'."
Rude rolled his eyes. "On one side, write the Wutai character, but write what it means on the other side."
"Why didn't you just say that in the first place?" Reno said, rolling his eyes himself. "You can't never just keep it simple, can you?"
Rude ignored him, popping another chocolate and pulling out a pen.
"...You sure you don't want some private time with that chocolate, man?"
Rude stared at Reno, perplexed, and Reno snorted. "Nevermind, man, nevermind. Anyway. Wuzi on one side, meaning on the other, yeah?"
"Right. ...Hmm. Maybe write how to say it in Wutai. That might work better, since you already know what it all means."
For some reason, Reno's face fell when Rude said that. "Uh...yeah. OK."
Rude frowned slightly. "Something wrong, partner?"
Reno waved his hands in the air. "Nothin'. Nothin'."
Rude's frown deepened slightly, and Reno seemed to shrink in his chair. "...Do you know how to write Wutai at all?"
"I know the basics," Reno said defensively, making a face. "I know all the /bushou/, or least, I used to."
"...The what?" Rude said, blinking slightly. He reached in the bag for another chocolate and frowned, then looked into the bag, wondering where all of them had gone. He picked the bag up and held it upside down, shaking it.
"Ain't no more gonna come out just 'cause you're pouting at the bag, man," Reno said, snickering again. "I think that was a record, how fast you ate those."
"Regardless," Rude said, sighing slightly and throwing the empty bag away. "What's a...what it was you said. Boo-show, or something."
Reno stared at Rude. "Do me a favor, man. Never try to speak Wutai. And it's /bushou/."
"Yes, yes. That," Rude said, rolling his eyes.
"It's...uh...I dunno, I don't think there's a word in English for it. It's the part of a wuzi that makes up a wuzi."
"You are aware that that made no sense, correct?"
Reno tossed a can at Rude's head. "Wuzi are made of different...I dunno, parts. Like letters but not. Little parts. You combine'em to make the wuzi."
"Well, as long as you know what you're talking about, everything is fine," Rude said. "So you can write Wutai."
"...Yeah," Reno said, somewhat hedgingly.
"Good." Rude pulled out a card and held it and apen out to Reno, then opened one of the books. "So write this character on one side," he said, tapping the first one.
Reno nodded, and picked up the pen. Rude's eyebrows went up slightly, seeing how Reno gripped the pen--it was totally different from how apen was normally held, holding it so it was exactly vertical. Reno wrote the simple Wutai character quickly.
"Now, flip the card over, and write out how to say it," Rude said. Reno got that strange look again, but it was gone quickly, and he flipped the card. And immediately changed how he was holding the pen, back to normal, and wrote out the romanized Wutai.
"This good?" Reno asked, looking uncertain.
Rude nodded. "Right, like that. Now, do that for all the Wutai characters you need to learn today."
"Gotcha," Reno said, nodding. But something still seemed off, and Rude couldn't put his finger on exactly /what/. Still, Reno did what Rude said, switching his hold on the pen every time he flipped the card, the tip of his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he worked steadily through the list. Slowly, the pile of cards grew to be fairly respectable.
"How many do you need to know?"
Reno shrugged. "The stupid test had the first hundred in this book on there, since he said I was supposed to learn at least ten per week. He had enough on there for me to learn more. So I figure, I get about forty or fifty, my pay'll be OK."
"OK. Write until you have the first one hundred, though, and we'll see how many you know and pick the easiest ones for you to learn from there."
"...Yeeeeeah, OK," Reno said, getting that strange look on his face. Rude frowned again, wondering just what it was he was missing. But Reno kept writing, even though he got slower and slower the closer he got to finished, slouching more and more in his chair and looking more and more forlorn. Rude watched him, frowning more to himself as he watched Reno. Well, he'd find out soon enough what Reno's problem was.
"Finished," Reno finally said, dropping the pen and rubbing his hand. He closed the book and sighed. "Now what?"
"Relax, partner," Rude said, smiling slightly incredulously at the look on Reno's face. The look on his face was pure dread. "Now we just find out what you know."
Reno slumped more at that. Rude picked up the cards and shuffled them slightly. "I'll hold up a card, and you tell me what it says on the back, all right?"
"Swell," Reno said dryly, scowling. Rude ignored it and held up a card, showing the Wutai character to Reno,
"What's this one?" he asked. He glanced at the Wutai in roman letters on the back, and just hoped whatever Reno said might match the odd string of letters he was looking it. Just how was one supposed to pronounce "jia"? And what did that dialectical mark mean?
"...Dunno," Reno said flatly.
Well, that was promising. "OK. Next one, then," Rude said, putting the card to the side in what would be the "doesn't know yet" pile.
"...Dunno," Reno said, voice just as flat.
"All right. Next."
"...Dunno that one, neither," Reno said, slumping more, shoulders turning in.
They went through about ten cards, Reno slouching more and more in his chair and his "Dunno" getting more and more sullen before, his face lit up.
"Oh, hey, I know that one! It's /yu/! Fish!" he said, brightening.
"Correct," Rude said, deciding that what had just come out of Reno's mouth certainly looked like it could be "yu", as was written on the back of the card. "Good," he said, smiling.
Reno grinned back. "See, I can read a menu. Food, Iknow."
Rude chuckled. "So we'll have to make Tseng test you by taking you out for Wutai," he said as he put the card into new pile. "So what's this one?"
Reno shrank again. "...Dunno."
By the time they got through the cards, Rude's head was hurting and Reno was slouched down so far in his chair that Rude was amazed he could see over the desk. The pile of Wutai characters that Reno did know was depressingly small, only a few cards.
Rude sighed. "OK. Let's make this manageable. I want you to pick five cards out of this pile that you think you almost know, and we'll get these down."
Reno looked at the pile like they were going to bite him, but reached over and picked them up. He started flipping through them, looking more and more angry and upset, and finally he threw them on the desk in a fit and slumped back down. "Fuck this shit, man, I can't do this! I don't understand any of this shit! I don't know any of these! I can NOT do this!"
Rude stared at Reno in surprise. "Now, wait a minute. You knew these," he said, gesturing at the small pile that Reno knew. "If you could learn these, you can learn others. I know all of them at once may seem unmanageable, but that's why we're going to break it down."
Rude gathered the flashcards and picked one at random. "Let's begin with this one. What do you think it means?"
"...Dunno," Reno said sullenly.
Rude resisted the urge to clinch his fist and crumple the card in his hands. "So, let's study this one." He looked at the romanized Wutai on the back and didn't even try to pronounce it. He instead flipped it and showed it to Reno. "Now, what does this say? Say it aloud."
Reno's face got that strange overwhelmed look to it, but this time, he looked trapped. He swallowed a few times and blinked. "It's...it's...." he began, then clinched his jaw tight and hunched his shoulders. "I dunno."
Rude blinked. "Excuse me?"
"I dunno," Reno said again, voice getting quieter, barely a whisper.
"What do you mean, you don't know?" Rude said, not able to believe what he was hearing. Reno was looking at the word written out in letters; surely he had to know what it was this way!
"I said I don't know!" Reno snapped angrily, looking all the world like he was on the verge of tears.
"But you're looking at the word. How do you say it?"
Reno shrank more and refused to look at Rude; his words almost impossible to hear. "I can't make sense of how it's written like that," he finally said. "All these damn books, they think you know what 'X-U-E' is supposed to sound like, an' I don't. 'Ksuey? Kyuu? Kshoe? What the shit, that ain't Wutai," he said, voice getting angry, face showing his frustration. He pounded his hand on the desk in frustration. "Don't none of this make any sense!"
Rude stared at him as he parsed everything Reno had just said so vehemently. "Wait. Are you saying that you can't read the romanization?" he finally said.
"I can /read/," Reno said defensively. /"/But no, I can't read /this/. So Idon't know what all anything is supposed to be. I can't read the /wuzi/, I can't read the /words/, this is /pointless/!" he finally exploded with. "I spent all night tryin' to put it all together, and I can figure out some, readin' the English meaning and rememberin' the Wutai, and from when I can remember the wuzi I learned when I was a kid, but shit man, that was a long time ago, an' I even forgot a lot of Wutai in all them years, other than how to insult somebody, and don't neither way make sense, man, and I can't do this," he finally ended, shoulders slumping, looking completely lost and defeated.
"How did you learn to read Wutai characters before?" Rude asked, trying to figure out in his head how Reno had learned any Wutai characters without any kind of romanization. He knew it had to be possible, since Wutai people did, but he'd never thought about the ins and outs of it until now.
Reno shrugged, not meeting Rude's eyes. "Some of it, someone told me the word an' I just memorized the wuzi saying the word over and over again. Other times, I read the /bopomofo/."
Rude blinked. "...the /what/?"
Reno shrugged again, the movement lithe and dismissive. "It's kinda like an alphabet or something. Little kids learn to read bopomofo first, then wuzi. So some of the wuzi when I was first learning had the bopomofo. I was lookin' all over, but I didn't see none in any of these," he said, gesturing at the books. "Just letters thrown together that don't make no sense. I don't remember all the bopomofo, Idon't think, but if I had some at least I could kinda figure some of this crap out," he said, looking frustrated.
And suddenly, it all made sense. For all Reno was /lazy/, he /also/did his job and obeyed orders. Tseng had given him an order, and if Reno could do it, he would, even though he'd bitch like a bitch about having to. Even dragging his feet because he didn't want to do it for whatever reason, he'd have still /done /it. But this made sense; it wasn't that he /wasn't/doing it, it was that he /couldn't/, he had been given the wrong tools entirely, and wrong in such a way as to be frustrating and make the man feel stupider and stupider the longer the tried and failed. And Reno had his pride; he couldn't just waltz up to his boss and say, "I can't to this because I can't read any of this either way." So he'd covered it with being prickly and cocky and bitching his head off, hoping that Tseng and everyone else would give up.
"Well, then, first things first," Rude said, putting the cards down. "Let's figure out how this is supposed to be romanized."
Reno gave Rude an odd look, oddly grateful and vulnerable. He didn't say anything, but his eyes were large and he nodded. "Yeah, OK. If you can make sense of it," he said, looking down at his hands. "I can barely figure out where to begin. I figured out some from the few wuzi Iremember from when I was a kid, but I don't remember enough. I ain't totally dumb, y'know? I figured out some of it. But some...man, it just didn't make sense. Like, I got D-A was da and M-I was /mi/, but shit like J-I-U? X-U-E? What the fuck, partner. I feel like I've been beatin' my head against a brick wall or something."
"I can certainly see why. This had to be frustrating," Rude said, nodding.
The look Reno gave him was relieved and grateful. "You don't think I'm stupid or nothin'?"
Rude shook his head. "You had no way of knowing this," he said, mentally cursing Tseng. Tossing a bunch of books at Reno of all people was the absolutely worst way that Tseng could have possibly gone about this. Reno had no idea how to study and had been given the absolute wrong tools. "Anyone would have been overwhelmed." Rude picked up the book and flipped to the beginning, looking at how it explained the romanization, and wrote it off as useless. Same with the next book. And the third. All of them assumed a familiarity with the romanization system springing from learning it in a classroom or from someone. There seemed no sign of the"bopomofo" that Reno /did/know, and Rude closed the books with a sigh, and without a word, Rude picked up the phone and dialed Tseng's extension.
"Yes?" Tseng answered smoothly.
"Tseng. This is Rude."
"Is something wrong?"
"Yes. It's about Reno."
Tseng's voice went cold. "I can assume this is about his learning to read Wutai."
"That is correct."
"His laziness is no one's problem but his own."
"I believe that there is a misunderstanding as to the roots of the problem," Rude said neutrally. Reno was watching him with wide eyes, listening carefully.
"Well, then, what do you think the 'roots of the problem' are, then?" Tseng said, voice growing colder.
"Is there a beginning Wutai reader available that uses...ahh, what was it, Reno?" he said, looking over.
"What was what?"
"The Wutai alphabet."
Reno blinked, then his eyes went wide. "/Bopomofo/?"
"Yes, that," he said, nodding. "Bo...bo...bopo...mofo," he said to Tseng, ignoring Reno's snicker. "That, instead of romanization."
There was a long pause.
"...You're telling me that Reno can't read romanized Wutai."
"That is correct, sir."
There was another long pause.
"Meaning that he could look at the words and they wouldn't make any sense at all."
"That is correct, sir."
"Meaning neither the Wutai characters nor the words would have any meaning at all."
"That is correct, sir."
There was another long pause before Tseng let out a muffled curse. "I see."
There was another long silence before Tseng spoke again. "I will have proper materials sent to your office within the hour."
"Thank you, sir."
There was another long silence, and Tseng sighed again. "I will restore his pay and give him until next week to learn the characters without penalty. But he will still be required to take the assessment test tomorrow."
"Thank you," Rude said again.
"You know, he /could/have told me," Tseng said, sounding slightly irritated. "Or researched how to convert bopomofo to romanization himself."
Rude said nothing for a long while, before finally settling on, "Yes, I suppose that is theoretically true."
Tseng let out another sigh. "Within the hour," he said, and hung up.
Rude hung up the phone. "Tseng will be sending appropriate materials in bopomofo within the hour," Rude said, pushing up his sunglasses. "Also, your pay will be returned to normal."
"Thanks, man," Reno said, slumping again, this time in relief, giving Rude a look of complete gratitude.
Rude smiled faintly. "But you still have to take the test tomorrow. "
The smile fell off Reno's face.
"And next week, if you want to keep your pay."
"...Oh, Ifrit in a rainstorm," Reno swore, and thudded his head against the desk. "You got a gun, yeah? Just put abullet in my brain; it'll be quicker. Kill me. I'm beggin' ya, here."
Rude didn't even try not to laugh.