As We Go Along


chess3_icon.gif lene2_icon.gif

Scene Title As We Go Along
Synopsis More than a year after their first meeting, Chess and Lene are reunited in Praxia.
Date October 30, 2019

Praxis Ziggurat
Praxia, California Safe Zone

October 30th
4:48pm Local Time

Outside, cloudy skies and a fine mist make the gray landscape outside the windows of the Ziggurat appear somehow grayer than usual, if that were possible. At the moment, Chess has a bird’s eye view of the vista consisting of Praxia’s smokestacks, metal, and concrete as she sits on a bench tucked against the windows where two planes of the pyramid come together in a corner.

Her back is pressed into the corner, her feet flat on the bench while she reads from a book. To her right is a notepad where she’s apparently been jotting down notes, beside a half-eaten sandwich from one of the cafes. Her free hand rolls a baseball between her palm and the hard surface of the bench she sits on, and from time to time she looks out at the industrialized land below, as if the view might have changed in the past few moments.

Foot traffic within the ziggurat, especially on the upper floors, is relatively sparse. People’s comings and goings are more closely monitored there, making blending into the background and getting privacy like Chess desires harder. That may be why she’s chosen to forsake the upper levels, to blend in to the noise of office activity and administrative chatter on the middle levels. Here, employees of Praxis Heavy Industries walk the corridors either alone or in small conversational groups. Dialects of Chinese are the primary language spoken here, mixed with some Japanese, Hindi, and English. It’s the latter language that’s the most infrequently heard in these employee spaces, which makes any voice in English stand out.

Jesus Christ.”

Especially when it’s directed at you.

Explosion woman?” The surprised exclamation draws Chess’ eyes up from her book, where she sees a woman in her mid-to-late twenties breaking away from behind a group of slow-walking Praxis employees on their break. At first she’s unrecognizable; short brown hair cut to about chin length, knee-length pleated skirt in a shade of plum and a black turtleneck below a gray denim jacket. She walks with a brisk and effortless pace, which is perhaps what’s causing the momentary inability to recognize a face.

“Oh my God it’s really you!”

It’s her voice that Chess finally pieces together.

The first of the two hubcaps is spun through the air with a flick of Chess’ wrist, charged with explosive power and moving faster than should be possible, whirring as it speeds toward the truck like a metal frisbee. Without waiting for it to strike, Chess throws the second hubcap to chase the other.

Two massive explosions shake the neighborhood, one after the other. The first flips the truck end over end to crash down on its roof. The second blows the gas tank and creates a black smoke-wreathed fireball that rises up over the tops of buildings. The brunette Chess saved claps a hand over her mouth and watches on with stunned surprise.

That was loud, and not even the Military Police would ignore a fireball of that size. Eventually this place will be crawling with MPs, and potentially SESA as well. The brunette, wildly waving one hand, gestures for Chess to come back to her. She recognizes the same thing Chess does. They have to go.

Chess’ brows go up, a little surprised as well, before running back. “I didn’t mean to hit the gas tank,” she says, but she can’t quite hide the smirk that’s twisting the corner of her mouth up. She looks over her shoulder, and then back at the brunette, and makes a face.

“I know we just met and all, but… piggyback ride?” she says, brows lifting to punctuate the question, before turning and squatting so that the other woman can get on her back. She’ll be able to move faster that way — and time is of the essence. She looks over her shoulder. “Probably should introduce myself — you can call me Chess.” The nickname’s probably a good idea — her witness can honestly say she doesn’t know the walking bomb’s full name, in case anyone asks.

“Jesus Christ.” Isn't the brunette’s introduction, but instead is a reaction to the situation and the piggyback ride. After a moment of embarrassment and indignant silence, she draws her arms around Chess’s shoulders.

The Jesus Christ is enough to draw Chess’ attention away from the book, turning to scan the crowd for the source of the exclamation. She looks surprised to see the woman coming her way, and glances over her shoulder to see if it’s someone else that Lene is talking to.

Sure, there’s tons of Explosion women just hanging out on the benches.

Eventually that voice clicks into place with the slot that holds that particular memory, and Chess’ brows lift in surprise — to see Lene out of context; to see Lene walking.

She sets down the book she’s reading — Foucault’s Power/Knowledge, just a little light reading. “Holy shit, you’re here, too?” she asks, looking partly pleased and partly confused. Probably a little worried too. “And look at you — is… did… they heal you here?” she says, pulling her feet off the bench to drop to the floor, allowing Lene a place to sit if she wishes.

For a moment Lene forgets what it is Chess is talking about, but it quickly passes. A flash of a smile dances across her lips right before an awkward laugh spills out. “Oh it— no. Not here. But, yeah I… I found a healer. Or, I guess they found me. It’s been a while.” For both that, and since these two ever saw one-another. “I— I’m out here with my… uh— with Gillian. Childs.” Lene’s brows scrunch together, she knows having a famous mother can sometimes be a bit of a social snarl, less so than having to explain their actual relationship.

“So you— look at you!” Lene says with two hands brandished in Chess’ direction. “First of all, blonde looks great on you. Second of all,” her smile widens, “I had no idea you worked for Praxis.” Lene eyes the book, then looks back up to Chess and finishes closing the distance between them. “I— I never really got to thank you for… you know.” Saving her.

Childs. Gillian. It’s almost a visible tic-tac-toe as Chess makes the connection between the familiar name, the other Childs, and Lene. “Jac mentioned having a sister. I didn’t realize it was you,” Chess says, shaking her head at the way the world tends to throw curve balls at every pass.

“Thanks. I guess I felt the sudden need to distinguish myself a little,” Chess says a little wryly, not explaining that it’s in part to having at least two people in the world that are her genetic identicals. She lifts a hand to push a lock of the blond hair out of her eyes, revealing the tattoo on her wrist that also wasn’t there the last time she saw Lene.

“Not as big of a change as you, though. I’m glad you found someone who could help,” she adds, a little more sincerely, before addressing the other comments. “You don’t have to thank me. It’s what any decent person with the ability to blow up shit would’ve done, yeah?”

Her eyes sparkle a little at that, and she shrugs one shoulder to answer the question about Praxis.. “Work for is probably a strong way of putting it. I don’t really have any marketable skills besides blowing shit up.” She nods to Lene. “You work here? Or just here because of Jac’s connection to … things?”

Lene grimaces, “Jac vanished on us, ran off out here. So… my mo— omentary shock wore off and…” she slides her tongue across the inside of her cheek, “e-eventually Gillian decided she was going to track her down. We had a couple of tricks up our sleeves, but we didn’t expect it’d wind up here.” She anxiously threads a lock of hair behind one ear. “We’re just here until Jac’s ready to leave, she’s… there’s a lot going on here.”

Taking a few meandering steps over to Chess, Lene shakes her head and smiles. “I… you know, I just wanted you to know you had a really big effect on me. Rescuing me. It’s— it’s not that you had a power or whatever. It’s that you chose to help me. I’d been depressed for a long time, and I think what happened that day— you coming to my rescue it— it made me see things differently.” Lene bites down on her lower lip, looks to the ground, then back up to Chess. “I never thought I’d get to say thank you to you in person. But,” her eyes wander away again, then nervously flit back, “you’re literally my hero.”

Chess’ brows draw together and she glances down. Her cheeks color a little and she glances down the hallway, as if to see if someone might be coming along to be saved from this embarrassing moment of being called someone’s hero.

No one?

She huffs a small laugh and looks up at Lene again, before standing so they can talk face to face without the odd angle. “Thanks,” she says, and it sounds terse, but she takes a breath to add more, perhaps realizing how rude she might seem. “I was there at the right time and I could do something, so I did. But I’m glad I could be there for you when you needed me. I hadn’t…”

Chess glances down again, pushing a strand of hair behind one ear and swallowing hard. “I hadn’t really had any purpose myself for a while, when that happened. I mean, I wouldn’t say I have much of one now, either, except I’m trying to help, I guess in the same way Jac is.” She’s not sure about that, and it shows.

Her expression shifts back into that scowl again. “She’s pretty determined. I told her if she gets in over her head to let me know. She’s just a kid. She shouldn’t have to worry about anything other than, I don’t know, what band to listen to and what color Chucks to buy.”

Lene can’t help but laugh at that, shaking her head and smiling broadly. “That kid’s gonna grow up having way more friends than I ever did,” she says with an awkward bark of laughter, followed by an embarrassed motion of her hand over her mouth and more laughter. But as Lene thinks more on what Chess said, the laughter fades and her expression becomes more serious.

“So… so you know what’s really going on here, then? About— Jac’s training, the— that Entity Adam talked about?” Her brows rise in worry and she moves closer to Chess, so as to lower her voice and not go overheard. “Do you believe all of that? About— some— first of all of us? Do you— is this for real?” Her eyes say she doesn’t want it to be.

“Yeah, me too. I was a bit of a social pariah,” Chess says with a small laugh, though it doesn’t seem she finds it that funny. It sure wasn’t when she was sixteen.

Her expression mirrors Lene’s more sober one, and she nods. “I know a little. I…don’t think I’m supposed to talk a lot about it, because of the way it works and knows things, yeah?” Her brows lift a little. “But you seem to know as much or more than I do. I didn’t know it was the first of us, but I guess someone has to be, yeah? And if people like Adam can be around forever…” she shrugs once.

The other question takes a moment longer to answer, but she nods reluctantly. “I saw someone …possessed I guess?” her voice lilts up, making it a question. Is that the right word? “…by it.”

Nothing about the conversation’s topical shift seems to make Lene comfortable. She threads an errant lock of hair behind one ear, looking past Chess toward the angled windows protected by partly-closed blast shutters. The gray cityscape beyond is dour and lifeless looking interspersed by the black of smoke issuing from factories. Perhaps the city across the bay is prettier, but it’s hard to tell from here. It’s as uncertain in its form as the future is.

“And we’re all here to… fight it, I guess.” Lene doesn’t have much conviction in her voice when she makes that statement. “Or… something. I don’t know. None of this feel right t’me, but everyone’s moving in the same direction so fast. It feels like all of this was just,” she gestures around herself, meaning the whole arcology, “built for this. I don’t know, it… it all makes more sense back home.” She admits, brows scrunched up. “How’d you wind up out here, anyway?”

Nodding in agreement, Chess huffs a soft laugh that isn’t so much born of amusement but confusion. “That’s better than I’ve got. I don’t think anything’s made sense in years. Maybe it never did.”

That feels a bit cynical, even for her, so she shrugs to answer the next question. “We were trying to investigate some stuff out in Japan and Adam and my… whatever… Lanhua… intercepted us,” she says wryly.

The urge to call Lanhua her evil twin is pushed aside. Clone sounds far too scientific, still, no matter how many times she says the word. “Last to join the party but I was never one for being on time, I suppose,” Chess adds, trying to add levity she doesn’t particularly feel.

Snorting loudly, Jolene rakes her hair back with one hand and flashes a sympathetic smile to Chess. “I uh, I hear y’on this whole… being late to the party thing.” She looks around for a moment, then slowly takes a few steps closer to Chess. “I figure it’s — I mean, you saved my damn life — you’d probably find out through somebody here anyway but… hell, maybe you already pieced it together, too.” She awkwardly stumbles around whatever topic she’s trying to bring up. “Gillian, my mom? She’s 33. I’m just about to hit thirty myself…”

Smile turning to a grimace, Lene awkwardly rocks back and forth on her heels. “I dunno how much you know about like, all the weird shit that went down before the war but…” Lene wrings her hands together, brows furrowed, “You’ve totally seen the Terminator, right?” That grimace shifts back into an awkward smile.

Brows lift with some surprise but not disbelief as Lene lets Chess in on that particular secret. She seems like she’s about to ask a question before Terminator answers it for her.

“Shit. That’s kinda awesome. I know there’s people who can time travel, but I haven’t met any,” she says quietly. Well, at least that she knows of. “I know there’s parallel universes. Met a couple of people from some bizarro version of this one, but no one from the future.” Her words are artificially neutral, nonchalant, but the way her gaze drifts downward suggests there’s something painful beneath the surface.

“Well, I guess not til now.” Her smile returns, more sincere than the words preceding it. “So you’re from the future?” she asks, voice quieter — most of the people bustling around them don’t pay them much mind, but it’s obviously not something Lene and Gillian want the world to know.

Lene’s eyes widen at mentions of parallel universes and travelers from them. Maybe she hadn't gotten the memo. Maybe most of the world hadn't. Whatever questions she has about Chess’ own experiences with the stranger side of reality are swallowed back when Chess asks her the obvious question. The complicated answer is, miraculously, made simpler by Chess’ own earlier admission.

“A possible future,” Lene says, only having really come to grips with that in the last few years. Chess’ mention of parallel timelines makes it less of a bitter pill to swallow. “Somewhere around 2040,” she says quietly. “The war,” and she doesn't need to specify which one, “happened differently where I'm from. We lost. Our kind were hunted to near extinction and… we found a way back. Some friends and I. We promised to save our future, save our… our friends and family who died along the way. We were the ones who led the Ferrymen against the Institute, and later the government.”

Looking down at her hands, Lene laughs awkwardly to herself. “Most… most of my friends who came back with me either died or went missing. But, we always imagined it would be a one-way trip.” She looks back up to Chess, smiling awkwardly. “And… before you ask, I didn't know you in my time.”

The smile from Chess fades a little, with somber talk about dark futures. Her brows draw together at the mention of losing her friends and she nods once, looking back out to the gray landscape outside. She wears her own loss like the battered leather jacket she’s rarely without. The jacket sometimes is shed. Her grief is not.

Her gaze darts back at Lene’s addendum, and her eyes widen a little, and she shakes her head. “Shit, no. I wouldn’t want to know,” she says, with a startled laugh. “I can’t really imagine things being much worse than they’ve been, but it sounds like they probably would be.”

Of course, despite her words, there’s a pause that suggests she probably is imagining just that. “I probably wouldn’t be alive for you to have known,” she says. Almost matter-of-factly. Something in her voice suggests she cares at least a little.

“So is it better? What we’re doing now?” Chess doesn’t ask if it was worth it.

Lene doesn’t answer right away. Something about Chess’ matter-of-fact acceptance that she might be dead hits her harder than she expected. It’s the kind of mindset she expects people from her time would have. Belatedly, she smile and threads a lock of hair behind one ear and looks up from her feet. “I don’t know,” is said with a bit of uncertainty not befitting her smile. “Probably. A lot of people’re better off, the world’s better off… but winning one war isn’t…” she swallows awkwardly and shakes her head. “There’s no end, really.”

There’s no comfort to be found in Lene’s assessment of history, of the merits of time travel. “You can’t ever really save the future, because the future is always changing and eventually something’s gonna go wrong. I guess… I guess that’s just the nature of the world. The fight’s never over and we’re always living in the aftermath of one crisis or another. It’s just— making a difference for the people in the moment, for the people who aren’t born yet. Y’know?” Lene glances past Chess out the windows, then back to her. “It’s a sliding scale, and… I don’t know if I ever really understood that until just now.”

Chess sighs, looking back out the window as she processes those words. “I wonder what it’s like not to,” she muses. “Live in the aftermath of one crisis that is. I mean, if it’s even possible.”

She looks back to Lene and smiles a little tiredly. “I suppose the best we can hope for is to change the world so the crises are more bearable and potentially less world-ending.”

Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she tips her head. “You know you’re a hero, too, right? If you did that… if you made the world better. Or at least helped put it on a path where it can potentially be better, alter the path it’s on. And no one knows what you did. That’s huge compared to what I’ve done.” Chess smiles. “So thank you, too.”

“I dunno about that,” Lene dismisses with a humble smile, eyes downcast to the floor and mirroring Chess’ motion to tuck hair behind her ear. She blinks a look back up to Chess, awkwardly smiling. “Hero’s a heavy word, especially where my parents are involved and…” she turns her attention back to the window, to the view of slate gray in the industrial park and then verdant green beyond San Francisco bay where the new city sprawls on rolling hills. “And I guess I don’t know. I guess… I guess you can’t call yourself a hero. Only other people can.” Swallowing awkwardly, Lene looks up to Chess with a small half-smile tentatively spread across her lips. “Or maybe it’s just a case of takes one t’know one.”

An influx of foot traffic moves through the hall, workers leaving their offices for the day. A commotion of subdued conversation in a smattering of languages creates an ambient white noise where there was none a moment ago. In the obfuscation of the silence, Lene draws her teeth across her bottom lip and watches Chess for a moment in silence, then moves to sit down in the corner where the two windows meet, just to the side of where Chess had been sitting earlier. She draws her knees up to her chest, loops her arms around her legs and rests her chin on the back of her knees, looking up at Chess all the while.

“What’re you gonna do when all this is done?” Lene asks, as if there will be an after. “I… I never planned for that. The after, I mean. Not when I left, not when I arrived, not even when we completed what we came back for and… were still here.” She furrows her brows and looks down to the floor. “No vanishing into history when it was all said and done, just living with our choices.”

“See, most of my family has been pretty awful, so I guess it’s less complicated for me,” Chess quips. It’s a joke, but the fact she’s aligned herself with the people most would see as villains is still a point of tension for her, and it’s evident when the half smirk fades quickly, and she glances down again.

When Lene settles in and asks her the next question, Chess’ brows draw together and she shakes her head slightly, eyes down for a long time as she thinks.

When she looks back up, she looks less jaded and suspicious and more lost, vulnerable in a way she’d hate to see and have to admit to herself. Luckily Lene is not a mirror, at least not a literal one.

“I don’t know,” Chess says quietly, the three syllables slow and heavy. “I never figured it out after the war. Just… existing after one crisis or the next.” The corner of her mouth tips into a sad, uneasy smile. “Vanishing into history’s not an option?”

“Back to the Future lied to a whole generation,” Lene quips softly, though her smile is more earnest. She sits forward, drawing her knees up to her chest and watches Chess in a moment of silence. “If we make it through this,” she finally says, finding her voice among the stray thoughts. “Maybe we can… help each other find a way. I’ve always been shit at figuring a plan out for myself, and…” she pushes to her feet, slowly standing and in the same motion moving to step closer to Chess, “and everybody deserves a friend at their back.”

Lene offers her hand out to Chess, brows raised, “I watch your back, you watch mine?”

Dark eyes study Lene’s brighter ones, before Chess’ smile mirrors the other woman’s. She takes the proffered hand, using the leverage to help herself stand as well, a click or two coming from protesting joints that have been too long in the same position on cold stone.

“I definitely could use more friends at my back. I think the few I had probably think I’m insane about now,” she says lightly. “And I’m happy to be a kick in the pants if you need,” she adds with a laugh.

It takes a moment, after the easy smile and acceptance of friendship offered, before the less cheerful sentiment clicks into place, like the joints settling back into place. “If we make it through,” she echoes, brow lifting. “I guess we have to do the best we can. Anything from the future giving us an advantage there? No playbook on how to beat an omniscient ancient asshole?”

Lene smiles, awkwardly. “I’m genetically predisposed to needing a kick in the ass every so often,” she admits with a wry smile. “As for… a playbook?” She shakes her head and looks out the wide windows to the industrial landscape sprawling out before them. “I suppose we could fall back on what worked out for us in the past…” She stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Chess, watching the gray skies with as much uncertainty as she has toward the future.

“…we make it up as we go along.”

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