Duty and Curiosity


chess3_icon.gif squeaks_icon.gif

Scene Title Duty and Curiosity
Synopsis Acquaintances reunite, this time as sisters of sorts, in Praxia.
Date October 20, 2019

Praxis Ziggurat

There’s a gym somewhere in this place. But when a person has cabin fever, a treadmill won’t do. So Chess has made one of the outside corridors that circles — or triangulates, perhaps — the entire pyramid her personal track.

A solo Airpod sits in her right ear, but her left is kept clear. Paranoia is alive and well in Praxia, so long as Chess is here. She doesn’t trust easily, and even if she’s safer in the Ziggurat than she has been in… well, maybe ever, she isn’t about to keep herself completely deaf to the world around her.

She’s halfway through the loop, the black Brooks she wears echoing on the gray slab floor with every step. Her ponytail, blond, swings. The rhythm clicks in, puts a runner in the zone. It’s almost comforting. Almost enough for her to forget that she’s thousands of miles away from the few friends she still has in the world.

It's maybe almost enough to carry the runner right past a girl with red hair that could be seen a mile off. Maybe not that far, but at least a goodly distance that it could serve as a warning, the way a flashing red light would be a warning. Squeaks’ hair isn't flashing, though, it's fullness and undeniable coppery color stands out against the drab of concrete and steel a lot better than her blue jeans and charcoal colored hoodie.

She's still a ways off from Chess, a bit more than half the length of the corridor when running strides bring the blonde around the corner. From a distance, the girl at first seems unaware. Maybe the slap of rubber on concrete doesn't quite reach that far. But after only a couple of paces, is seems like maybe the slightest of glances is directed over her shoulder.

The glance backwards seems to slow Chess’ pace, and the woman’s brows draw together as she gains ground. Her pace slows with each step until she catches up to Squeaks and falls into step with the teenager, pulling out the lone earbud.

“You’re from New York,” Chess says, not out of breath, but it’s clear she’s been running for longer than just the length of this corridor. “You know Eve, yeah?” It’s not so much of a question.

With her own pace remaining constant, Squeaks keeps her attention on what's ahead and not on who's approaching. Her walk is not a leisurely stroll or a meandering wander, it's purposeful without having a set destination in mind. However by how she's dressed, jeans and a lightweight hoodie pulled over a t-shirt and sneakers, it seems pretty unlikely that she's seeking activity specifically for healthy reasons.

Once Chess is near, she lifts a side-eyed glance up. Her eyebrows raise at the question, and her head turns so she can take a better look at the woman. “Yes and yes.” There's no need to lie, or keep it secret. Squeaks is a puzzle within the Ziggurat, but not everything about her is a mystery. “I've seen you there before.”

“Right. You were at the Cradle once,” says Chess, hands sliding into the pockets lightweight hoodie she wears. She feels a little unarmored without her leather jacket, and a little unarmed without her usual arsenal held within its pockets or the courier bag she’s almost always with. Her hand comes out again, a small polished stone coming out with it — it looks like it might have been plucked from one of the zen gardens. Now it serves as a worry stone, tucked in the palm of her hand while her finger tips run along it’s smooth surface.

It’s not her baseball, but it’ll do.

“She’d be worried about you if she knew you were here,” Chess says, a little bluntly, but her usual terse delivery is a little softer around the edges than it would be with someone older. “You’re doing okay? You’re here of your own free will?”

A glance of simple curiosity darts down to the stone then up again to Chess. “She's probably worried. My mom’s here, too. And my sister.” Squeaks’ head turns slightly, as though to look in the direction of the residential units where she and Gillian and Lene have apartments. She doesn't quite make it that far.

“I'm good. Adam makes sure I have everything I need, and Joy takes care of everything he forgot.” Because that's possibly happened, although the teen doesn't seem bothered by it. “I'm not a prisoner here. And it's nice.” In which nice means different.

Chess is silent for a few strides, letting Squeaks set the pace. She lifts a brow at the mention of the mom and sister but huffs a little laugh at the talk of Joy. “Sounds about right,” she says lightly.

As far as nice goes, the older woman shrugs once. “It’s something.” Nice isn’t her word for it, clearly.

“I’m Chess,” she says. “Others might call me Francesca or Yingsu. I don’t normally respond to those,” she says wryly. “Is Joy also your…” she shrugs. “Progenitor?” she lands on, instead of mother. She doesn’t ask about Adam, which suggests she probably knows he is.

“I'm Jac,” the girl returns, “but almost everyone usually calls me Squeaks.” Which is an invitation in its own way to call her by either name. Her eyebrows tick up slightly at the question, but it takes her only a couple of seconds to connect the dots. “No, that's Claudia Zimmerman. Whoever she is.”

She tilts her head back slightly, so she can look up at the sky. “My mom is Gillian Childs, but” just to make it a little more confusing, or maybe she's airing it out because there's no good way to understand, “Cindy Morrison was the surrogate. A long time before I met Gillian.” It could get more confusing, she's sure, but it's left at that.

“Are you here because you want to be?” The teen looks over to Chess again. “Did you come here to get healed?”

“RIght, Jac.” That name clicks into place with something Adam said, and Chess’ brows draw together. She studies her feet as they walk, as if the shoe tops might spell out the right things to say in a situation such as this. The name Gillian also pings on some fragment of a memory, but it’s gone before she can latch on to it.

“I didn’t think Joy was, but genetics are weird. I mean, Alix doesn’t look Asian at all, but she does look like she could be my sister, so who knows,” she says wryly, maybe as much to herself as Squeaks.

“Got it. I don’t know who my surrogate was.” As if discussing being test-tube babies in a lab is at all a normal thing to talk about with someone one’s just met. But it’s a brave new world, and nothing’s normal here.

The first question is harder to answer than the second, so Chess addresses the second first. “Didn’t know that was an option, but I don’t think the shit that’s wrong with me is heal-able, kid,” she says lightly. “I don’t know if I want to be here, but I guess the alternative seems worse. Call it duty and curiosity, I guess.”

“I didn't know at first either. When I got here…” A bunch of things went sideways, but Squeaks only implies that with a quick shrug. “But then… then I started to find how I fit in and I wasn't so homesick anymore. I still miss home, a lot, and I want to go back sometimes, but it isn't so bad here now.”

Her eyebrows pinch causing creases to briefly form along her forehead. “It's safe here. Safer than almost anywhere else.” Surely Chess knows that. “If you aren't here for healing then…” She isn't sure, nearly everyone who hasn't been here for years is here for healing. So she follows with a concerned curiosity, voice going hushed. “What's wrong with you?

“I haven’t had a home in a long time to be sick for,” says Chess with a shrug. She glances upward, and shakes her head. “This place makes me feel claustrophobic, even though it’s huge,” she mutters, though it seems to be more to herself than to Squeaks.

The stone passes from one hand to the other, fingertips worrying the smooth gray surface. “Nothing that’s heal-able. Not everyone gets happy endings. I’m glad you seem to have found one,” she says, and it even sounds sincere. “I guess it’s sort of about family, but also about protecting others. I’ve been told I can help, and fighting’s about the only thing I know how to do.”

Chess rolls her eyes at her own words. “I sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’m really not. Just a little out of my element, I guess. I forget how to act in civilized spaces, sometimes. You’d think living in Yamagato for a few months would’ve helped, but I guess not.” She’s a little like a tiger in a cage, constantly pacing, without purpose.

“I didn't have a home for a long time either.” Squeaks’ response, made a moment after Chess has spoken, sound reminiscent of that time before, but not with the fondness of memories. It's a thing that happened and nothing else. “For a long time I lived in the Underneath, in the old subway tunnels. It took me a while to… learn how to be civilized.” She almost grind around those words.

The girl’s steps slow a little, curiosity of Chess becoming more obvious. It's a polite sort of nosiness, she stares openly and has already shown a willingness to ask probing questions.

“Are you also going to fight the gold eyes?” A bold question that matches her bold scrutiny. “That's part of how come I can't leave too. I'm… Adam asked me to fight. To help save the world from the… bad thing.” Squeaks looks forward after a few more steps and seconds of staring at the woman. “You don't sound sorry for anything. You sound like… you're trying to not talk about some things but you want to.”

Chess’ brow lifts at the mention of the subways, looking somewhat impressed. “Yeah, I had a half a dozen little hiding spots around the Safe Zone when I first got there. A broken down van in Red Hook, the Armory in Park Slope, some others.” She pushes a strand of hair too short to stay in her ponytail back behind her ear.

She lifts a shoulder in answer to the question of fighting ‘Golden Eyes,’ brows drawing together when Squeaks says she’s supposed to help fight it. “I don’t know that I ever want to talk about anything, honestly. I’m not exactly Miss Show and Tell, you know?” she says wryly, before adding, “And I’m not sure what I’m supposed to talk about or not with you.”

The rock moves from one hand to the other, Chess’ deft fingers constantly playing against the surface. “But yeah, I guess that’s why I’m here.”

She glances over at her petite companion. “I guess we’re family, yeah? So. You know. I’m not going to tell you what to do, but if you’re ever asked to do something you don’t think you can, or don’t want to… you know I have your back, yeah? You shouldn’t have to do anything but be a kid if you don’t want to be.”

Chess lifts a hand, as if to stave off arguments. “I don’t mean that you can’t handle it. We can handle a lot more shit than we should ever have to. I know I have. But I’m also pretty fucked up, so not the best example.”

“You can talk to me about anything.” It's an innocent enough statement for Squeaks to make, without the sense of prying that her eyes carry. Maybe it comes naturally, or was prompted by her easy acceptance of being called family. “The gold eyes, or… the mean lady that works at the very top of the Ziggurat? Or what you can do, your powers. Anything.” Anything.

She follows the stone for a bounce, then lifts her full attention back to Chess. “I want to help. To save the world. I don't know if that's why I was made, you know?” The teen’s voice is conversational, even pondering. “To be a weapon? Can… Do you have a power?”

Chess’ brows draw together more as they walk. There’s very little in Squeaks’ demeanor or expressions that remind her of herself, but there’s a genetic tie — well, Adam — no matter how tenuous. “I don’t know much about any of that, honestly. And I understand it even less.”

She looks like she might want to spout more warnings but she shakes her head. “I get wanting to help. I do, too, for what it’s worth. I just have trouble trusting…”

everything is probably the right answer; Adam more specifically.

Instead, she gestures at the building that looms above them. “This.”

After all these people tried to kill her, not so long ago.

“I blow shit up,” is a quick reply to the question of her power. “Kinetic manipulation. Not with my mind. I have to be able to touch it.” She lifts the rock in her hand, but doesn’t perform a demonstration. “Who’s the mean lady who works at the top?”

Trouble trusting is something Squeaks understands, even if she appears far more willing to do so. There are still more people who are treated with suspicion that the easy openness she displays for Chess. But since that seems to be a harder conversation — or at least not a good one for right now — it's dropped.

Instead her eyes widen at the description of the woman’s ability, and she breathes an impressed sounding, “Primal.” Her gaze goes to the rock when it's lifted, almost hoping to see it shatter.

“One of the Director’s people. Yao Sze.” The change in topics is accepted as readily as it's given. She offered to talk about anything after all, including the dragon-lady at the top of the Ziggurat. “She's… moody. And she's afraid of me.” But she shrugs following that, so she likely doesn't know why.

Chess huffs a short laugh out, though it seems genuine, if short-lived. “I’m moody. Maybe we’ll get along. But usually moody people piss off other moody people,” she says, with a shrug of her shoulder.

She walks a few feet before she quips, “Maybe she’s scared of redheads. Back before the war, there was a weird meme about redheads being evil. And you know, they don’t have a lot of them in China.”

She’s quiet for another moment. “You did the Gemini thing, yeah? So are you packing like ten different abilities or something? That might make someone a little nervous.” She looks a little nervous herself, discussing this, and glances over her shoulder, as if maybe to check Adam’s not right behind them.

“We will get along.” Said as fact, as if it were decided whether or not Chess had revealed being a moody person. Squeaks angles a side-eyes look at the woman beside her. “My best friend back home is moody, but we're friends anyway.”

The teen seems to lack the apprehensions toward certain topics that Chess displays. “Just three new ones, and the one I had before.” But that doesn't seem to fit why she would state Yao’s fear of her. “Maybe it is being a redhead.” She doubts it, but, “Maybe she just doesn't like kids. Did you go Gemini?”

Just three,” echoes Chess with a shake of her head. She walks for a moment before answering the last question, stalling maybe by pulling out the elastic band that holds back her hair. It tumbles forward, a thick mane of honey blond hair that helps to distinguish her from the woman who looks just like her. The one who did go Gemini.


The answer is flat, and no follow up offered as to why or why not. Perhaps it sounds too blunt even to Chess, so she cracks a small smile. “I cause plenty of destruction with just one. I would’ve been Level Three’d back in the day, but someone — Praxis, actually, but I didn’t know it at the time — intervened.”

“My first ability, the one I manifested… I don't know when. A long time ago?” Squeaks barely gives it a second’s worth of thought before she shrugs dismissively. “It's echolocation. Like what bats and dolphins do. But also I can… I've started figuring out how to make it affect people too. But then…”

She pauses to turn her head, actually look up at Chess. “Adam said because of who I am I could be more. And that the world needed that.” Again Squeaks pauses, thinking this time. But it isn't reflection in that conversation, it's on something Chess said. Her brows knit slightly, mouth twisting slightly to one side.

“What's… Level Three’d?”

“It couldn’t have been that long ago. What are you, thirteen?” Chess says. It’s not meant unkindly. “That sounds pretty cool though. Useful.”

She nods once to the mention of Squeaks being more, but doesn’t comment on it. Her brows draw together as she walks, clearly bothered a little — perhaps at the mention of more abilities. Perhaps at the mention of Adam. Maybe both.

The question, she can answer. “Before the war, they had levels for SLC-Es. Level 0, not dangerous at all. Something like, I don’t know. People who can see sound or read the minds of mice. Level 3 would be the most dangerous. They got locked up by the Company or later The Institute and basically stuck in jars or something.” Chess lifts a shoulder. “I can make a bomb out of just about anything, so clearly I’m a threat to society.”

Something like that is what Squeaks’ responding shrug implies. “I was little when the war started, I don't remember much before that.”

She's attentive to the explanation though, going quiet and freely interested in the information on an academic level. The idea of classifying someone based on how dangerous their ability could be seems very arbitrary. And dangerous itself. It makes things unbalanced and unfair, especially when it becomes a way to lock other people up.

“My sounds can be used like a weapon,” the teen muses out loud. “Sometimes.” Squeaks looks up at Chess. “But things aren't that way anymore. And we're trying to keep it that way.”

Chess nods in agreement. “Yeah. We lost a lot of people to put a stop to that bullshit,” she says quietly, her gaze cast downward. She includes herself in that ‘we,’ and has that telltale sign of someone who’d seen too much of the war, someone from the front lines.

Some scars can’t be healed.

“So, listen. It was nice to meet you, yeah? I’m gonna finish my run, but…let me know if you need help on anything. If stuff gets too much here or anything. Sometimes a stranger is easier to ask for help than your family,” Chess says awkwardly.

Never mind they are family.

Pulling a phone from the sleeve on her arm, Chess pries the case open to slip out a business card, glancing at it before handing it to the younger girl. There’s not much information on it other than demolitions expert and a phone number.

The earbud she’d pulled out earlier is replaced and Chess begins to run again, leaving Squeaks holding the business card as she disappears around the corner.

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