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Scene Title Floriculture
Synopsis noun. the cultivation of flowers.
Date March 3, 2020


“Do you know what floriculture is?”

She can’t see his face. He’s too tall, too far away. Everything past hip-height feels so distant as to be blurry.

“It’s a discipline of horticulture, specifically regarding flowers.”


The smell of flowers is sticky-sweet in the humid air of the greenhouse. Red blossoms hang down at eye-level, vibrant and colorful.

“It is a discipline that encompasses the entire life cycle of a flower.”


He smells of flowers too. But his aftershave is familiar as well; woody, with a hint of something like oak. Wet earth, pine needles, fresh grass.

“It’s an overwrought word, when gardener would suffice.”


The gardener looks down, but he has no face.

“Would you like to try a hand?” He asks, offering his shears down.


A child’s hand reaches up, takes the shears firmly in hand.

“Careful, now. Pruning is a delicate task.”


The blades scissor open, slowly closing around the neck of a flower.

“For the best blossoms to flourish, the weak must be trimmed.”


A single blossom falls to the floor.

Expertly done.

Department of Homeland Security Holding Facility
Kansas City

March 3rd
7:01 am

Chess awakens with a slow intake of breath, chest rising and falling as the cobwebs of dreams burn away in the light of consciousness. Fluorescent lights mounted overhead in the concrete ceiling buzz softly, a reminder of her predicament.

It had been four days since Chess turned herself over to the authorities following the incident in Detroit. Four days since she witnessed an unexplainable event. Four days of going over the events with agents from a number of alphabet agencies.

Laying on a small bed inside a concrete-walled cell, Chess wonders if this is how it ends. Wearing drab gray gym clothes stenciled with the words SESA across the chest, sleeping in a drab gray cell in some windowless government building in the Midwest, living in a drab gray void for the rest of her natural life. The smallest comfort is knowing that Alix made it out okay, even if she’s somewhere here, like this.

Day four of the rest of her life is just now beginning.

She sits up, rubbing her eyes to wipe the sleep and remnants of the dream away. Staring down, she notes the only thing of color in the room or on her person — Tiffany-blue toenail polish. It was just a week ago that she and Alix had gone to one of the salons in the Ziggurat. They had taken a long time to choose their colors, changing their minds before finally choosing for the other.

Chess remembers the employees exchanging glances — amused or irritated — for their antics.

Somewhere Alix is in a room like this — or worse. The image of Alix’s toes painted a cheerful yellow in such a place elicits a sudden sob from Chess.

She thought she was all cried out, but the tears rush over her like waves.

“Fuck,” she mutters, finally pushing off the bed to do the morning things — wash up and brush her teeth and change out of gray t-shirt and sweats to another set of gray t-shirt and sweats. She doesn’t once look at the safety mirror. She doesn’t want to see the person reflected there, blurry and faint.

There’s a sound Chess has become accustomed to, a muted buzz somewhere outside of her cell. It’s the security buzzer for the external checkpoint, only chiming when someone is coming into her holding block. Usually it means for her, she’s not aware of anyone else being held here right now. Or if they are, they don’t receive visitors.

Today is no different from any other day, because two minutes after the buzzer Chess can hear people outside of her door. The magnetic locks decouple, a safety bolt slides into the wall, and when the door opens Chess is at first greeted by a security officer in a navy blue uniform, who then steps aside to reveal a tall, dark-skinned man in a trim black suit with purple overtones.

“You have a visitor,” the security officer says, “we’d like to take you to a conference room, if you wouldn’t mind?” At the very least security here was polite.

The man in the suit doesn’t step into the cell, but fixes Chess with a look that is at once expectant and at the same time hopeful.


At the sound of the buzzer, Chess rakes her hair with her fingers and tucks it behind her ears and turns to face the door just as it opens. Her dark eyes move from officer to the unfamiliar man behind.

One corner of her mouth curves upward into a humorless half smile, and she lifts her shoulders in a half shrug.

What’s she going to say, no?

“Sure. Let me just put my shoes on. I feel underdressed as it is,” she murmurs, the instinct to deflect with jokes still alive and kicking, despite her emotional state.

Chess heads to the cot to sit down and pull on the knock-off Toms slip-ons issued to her, then rises again to head slowly to the door.

“I don’t have anything new since yesterday.” Chess doesn’t add ‘or the day before that, or the day before that,’ but she certainly thinks it. “So hopefully you got the Cliff Notes already from the other guys,” she adds, a little apologetically, to the suited stranger, her voice husky from lack of conversation this morning, and too much talking the day before.

“This isn’t about yesterday,” Harris says smoothly, motioning for Chess to walk ahead of him. Once she’s out of the cell and security has closed her door behind her, Harris dismisses the DHS agents and walks apace at Chess’ side.

“I’m not with Homeland,” he says, offering a look to Chess. “But you can call me Agent Harris.”

The two walk only a short distance down a hallway with tall, narrow windows of thick steel-wire reinforced glass showing a vista so bright as to look simply white for all Chess’ eyes had adjusted to the dimmer illumination in her cell. The door Harris brings her to is marked as a conference room, one that he opens and holds for her and gestures into the room with faux wood paneling and a long conference table lined with chairs.

It isn’t the usual interrogation room she’s done her other interviews in.

“After you, Ms. Lang.”

Her eyes narrow at the brightness of the light coming through the windows as Chess steps into the room. It’s a nice change of pace from the gray interrogation room and the seats certainly look more comfortable than the one she’s been sitting in all week.

The perks don’t do much to assuage her worries.

She moves around the table to take a seat that puts her back to the window and lets her see the door, pulling the chair out and lowering herself into it. By habit she folds her hands on the surface of the table where he can see them.

“So you’re not DHS or SESA, but that doesn’t really tell me much. You got a card or something?” Chess asks, eyes still narrowed despite the fact her back is to the sunlit windows.

“Sorry,” Harris says with a feigned click of his tongue and shake of his head, “I left them in my other suit.” He shuts the door behind himself, then walks over to the table and sits a couple of seats down from Chess on the same side of the table, rather than across from her.

Harris crosses one leg over the other, folding his hands in his lap. “Ms. Lang, I’ve gone over your testimony to SESA. You’ve delivered a very consistent story about your involvement in the events of the last few months, and I’m not here to contest your perspective on things, or indemnify you for your association with Adam Monroe or Shedda Dinu.” The latter of which is a name she’s heard tossed around in a few of her interviews, one she had no foreknowledge of.

“I’d like to talk to you at length on a couple of specific topics, related to your experiences,” Harris explains with a wide gesture of both hands. It’s then that Chess notices Harris is missing his pinkie finger on his right hand, all the way down to the last knuckle. “Would you be willing to do that? An exchange of information?”

His quip sounds like something she’d say, and another day, Chess would probably respond with one of her short, breathy laughs.

Today, she looks at him warily, one brow lifting slightly. Somehow this moment reminds her of one ten years ago — when she manifested, when other government officials in suits would have taken her away if it weren’t for the intervention on the part of her creators.

Chess turns slightly toward him, since he’s seated to her side rather than in front of her, and her head cants curiously at his words.

“An exchange implies you’re going to share, too,” she says, carefully. “I guess before I can give you a definitive yes, I’d want to know if I actually have a choice in the matter and who this ‘exchange of information’ is going to benefit, and how.”

Her mouth pulls to the side in a small, sardonic smile. “That sounds cynical, even for me. Trust me, I’m not looking to hide information. I just don’t want the wrong people knowing, well, everything, as usual. And a lack of even an ominous-sounding name is, well. You know.”

She opens her own hands, an unconscious mirroring of his gesture. “Ominous.”

Harris flashes a smile and laughs, relaxing into his seat. “Cynicism is to be expected in a situation like this. You’re sitting on the edge of a wire between a potential indefinite period of detention under the clauses of the Patriot Act’s counterterrorism jurisdiction, but I know the UN and SESA are advocating for terrorism charges to be dropped. I’m not sure in which direction Homeland will decide to go.”

Retrieving a pen from his jacket, Harris double-clicks the button on one end, then twirls it around in his hand idly. “But as far as benefits go, that’s a two-way street Ms. Lang. Obviously there’s some questions my office has regarding the events you were privy to and you have a personal and, I’d say constitutional desire for liberty. If you cooperate here — and I will say it’s entirely voluntary — I might be able to put in a word with Homeland to help alleviate their desire to make an example out of you.”

But Harris doesn’t seem to be alone on his sales pitch. From his jacket, he retrieves a small cell-phone sized folded electronic device, unfolding it one rectangle at a time until it’s the size of a tablet PC. “We can start with a simple question to give you an idea of what we’re looking for.” Harris brings up a PDF with two men’s faces side by side and slides the foldable tablet to Chess.

“Do you recognize either of these men?” Harris asks, one brow raised.

The look Chess gives Harris when he casually drops the threat of indefinite incarceration is a flat one. It lacks fear for herself and contains, if any emotion at all, utter resignation for her fate.

His following words would probably give someone else a thread of hope to cling to, but no hint of hope alights in her eyes or expression. Instead, Chess simply raises her shoulder in a weary shrug. “If I can answer your questions, I will. I doubt I know anything,” she says, leaning to look at the device once Harris has unfolded it and pushes it toward her.

She studies the picture, reaching forward to touch the surface, zooming in to enlarge their faces. When she’s sure, Chess shakes her head, looking back up. “Sorry, no. Do you have a reason to think I would?”

Her mouth twists into a somewhat apologetic grimace. “You might be confusing me for Lanhua Chen. I get that a lot.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Chen is unavailable to take questions.” Harris explains, but then he realizes something and looks at Chess, pointedly, but doesn’t follow up on it. Instead he turns his attention back to the tablet.

“This is Airman First Class Terry Wahl, and Airman First Class Eric Henderson.” Harris explains, pointing to each photograph. “These two pilots engaged with a Praxis Heavy Industries aircraft that you were aboard en-route to Detroit over Carbon County, Montana at approximately 6:20 pm Local Time on February 27th.”

Harris sits back in his chair, looking from the tablet to Chess. “Both airmen were forcibly ejected from their jets at high speeds. Wahl suffered a spinal injury on landing that has left him paralyzed from the neck down, Henderson chute was caught by high winds and he was blown into a cliff face and died of his injuries before rescue arrived.”

Harris looks back to the tablet, turning it so the two men face Chess. “Do you know who was responsible for deplaning those two pilots?”

As soon as she hears their names and titles, Chess knows. Her brows draw together and she looks away, lips pressing together as she considers the question.

She could lie — but there’s the possibility they already know the answer, and this is a test. She could tell the truth — a complicated, messy thing that she herself doesn’t fully know or understand.

Chess takes a shaky breath.

“The short answer is Monroe,” she says, lifting her eyes up to meet Harris’. “We weren’t told of the plan because he felt it was safer we didn’t all know it, due to the nature of the Entity. If I’d known-”

Her head shakes and she huffs a laugh that’s almost a sob. “If I’d known any of that plan, I wouldn’t have been there.”

That’s not the answer he wants, and she knows it. Still — the choices they made in the fight are ones with real, lasting consequences. Chess wears hers like a mantle of guilt already, so why not add more?

“The teenager, Jac, went out to deal with the planes while we were arguing about how to handle it,” Chess says, attempting to keep her voice flat. Neutral. But tears well up in her eyes, remembering her begging them to find a way not to harm the pilots. “Joy followed. I didn’t see what happened.”

She looks to the two men on the tablet, and then away again. “I’m sorry I couldn’t stop them.”

“That wasn’t your responsibility, Ms. Lang.” Harris says as he looks down to his lap, then back up to Chess. “The young Ms. Childs is the one materially responsible for their deaths, and even though she’s a minor the severity of her actions has left the state with no choice but to charge her as an adult.”

Harris suddenly switches gears, hands folding in his lap again. “I’d like to back up a step, though. What can you tell me about the being you mentioned,” his brows rise a kick, “the Entity?

“She wasn’t alone, and she was acting on Monroe’s direction,” Chess says sharply in Jac’s defense, words punctuated by an angry shake of her head. “He made her believe she was the savior or something, and that we had no other choice. That it was a war and that we were going to have necessary casualties we couldn’t avoid.”

Her eyes fill with tears and she looks away, her expression guilty — for her own part in those casualties, for giving up the truth so easily, it’s hard to say. “He is her father. She believed him.”

So did Chess, to an extent.

Her gaze returns to Harris and she huffs out a short breath at the question, brushing her hand over her face to rid it of the tears.

“What I know is long and complicated and I’m not sure how much of it is lies, how much of it is legend, and how much of it’s just me being confused,” she admits after a moment. “I was told that it has a memetic quality, which was why no one could know the whole plan. That fit with what I’d seen and heard already, so I believed it, but now…”

She shrugs, leaning back in her chair. “I don’t know what I know or believe. But I believed him in that, at least, that we couldn’t know the plan until it was in action, which is why I didn’t have a chance to argue with him until we were in the midst of it. And I believed him that those of us with his DNA were protected more than others, which is why I thought I should help fight it.”

Looking down at her hands, she scrapes the last chip of nail polish off of her thumb. “Adam said it was locked up hundreds of years ago and he made a bargain with it — his power comes from it. But it wanted too much from him in return, made him kill the person he loved. He called it the Monkey’s Paw. I’m shaky on the details, but,” Chess lifts a shoulder again, “it felt true. And it tried to make a similar bargain with me.”

Her tearful gaze alights on his face again. “I said no.”

And then I blew it up goes unsaid.

Harris is as still as a statue as Chess describes her knowledge of the Entity. A couple of times he parted his lips, as if to ask a question, but there was only more revelations behind Chess’ eyes yet to be said. By the time she’d finished her peace, all he could do is sit in silence and consider how best to respond.

Drawing in a slow breath, Harris nods. It’s the closest thing to acknowledgement or confirmation Chess gets, but what she sees in his expression — in a moment of unguarded emotion — is both recognition and fear. As if what Chess is saying might be more real than she believes.

“What was it?” Harris finally asks, and his voice sounds so foreign after such a prolonged silence. “What bargain did it offer?”

Her eyes study his face, for the first time seeing him as more than just another agent or detective in a suit. The fear in his face makes her take a breath and after that long moment of awkward silence, she parts her lips to ask a question. His comes out first.

“A Monkey’s Paw,” Chess murmurs. “To bring someone I lost in the war back to life.”

She shakes her head, releasing a short, ironic huff. “I made things worse by trying to fight it. Maybe I should have said yes.”

She’s kidding. Mostly. The tears in her eyes ruin the joke a bit.

“Do you know where it is now?” she finally asks. “It’s obviously not gone.” He wouldn’t look so afraid if it was.

“I was hoping you might be able to tell us that,” Harris says thoughtfully, folding his hands and steeping his fingers in front of his mouth, “but I’m getting the impression that you and I know about the same amount of information regarding that being’s current whereabouts. For your peace of mind, such as it is, we can’t confirm whether it was destroyed in the Detroit incident or not.”

Harris looks down to his lap for a moment, sighing through his nose, then looks back up to Chess. “Do you believe that it would be capable of fulfilling that…” he doesn’t want to use her term and hesitates on reiterating it, “monkey’s paw wish? Do you believe the Entity could bring back someone that long dead?”

Her expression grows thoughtful, and she stares through him, as if the answer might be written on the wall behind him. Finally, she shrugs in uncertainty.

“I believed it at the time. I absolutely thought sh — it could. And it broke my heart to say no,” she murmurs. “How many powers does it have? I don’t know. Resurrection might be one of them, but I felt more like… like it had to do with time. What happened in Detroit… I don’t know what everyone else saw or experienced.”

Chess sucks in another shaky breath, and stands, running her hands over her face and down the back of her head. “Sorry, just antsy. I’m not used to standing or sitting still this much,” she murmurs, leaning back against the table rather than taking the chair again. Her arms cross against her core and she stares down at her feet for a moment before she speaks again.

“Something happened — there was a shockwave and spirals of light, but then I wasn’t in Detroit anymore. I mean, I guess I was, like, still there, but I was also back at Raven Rock, watching him die again.” She’s trying her hardest to be clinical about it — she’s explained it already to the various agents this week. It doesn’t make it easier. Her voice still cracks. The tears still rise.

Chess lifts her eyes back up to Harris’. “I can’t really explain it, but I felt like I was there. Not just a memory. I’ve relived that moment a thousand times — more — and it wasn’t like that. I was able to move and act.”

She takes a breath, lifts her shoulders. “So I don’t know. I don’t think she can snap her fingers and raise the dead but maybe she can go back to whatever time she wants. Or bring those moments to the present, somehow. Or… it was just a lie. I don’t know.”

Her eyes narrow on his face. “If you’re fighting it still, I have friends and family to avenge.” None of them were killed directly by the Entity but were collateral damage in the battle — and some by her own hand, which makes her all the more earnest in the offer.

Harris nods slowly, lowering his hands and smoothing his palms over his knees. “We’re still in a fact-finding phase,” he explains, slowly standing up. “I may have some follow-up questions for you, Ms. Lang, so I ask that you make certain that SESA has a number that you can be reached at, and don’t leave the country for the foreseeable future.”

The implication in that last comment doesn’t have time to sink in before Harris buttons his jacket closed and says. “I’m going to put a strongly worded reference in for your release with the Justice Department. While it isn’t my decision to make, and these things can take time, I see no reason why you should be held here. SESA and DHS will likely have their own questions for you, and provided that you’re forthright…” he shrugs.

“You should be out of here before the end of summer.” Harris says with a neutral expression, as though discussing tomorrow’s weather.

‘The end of summer’ might draw an argument or at least a cringe from most, but Chess seems to accept it. She finds herself guilty of plenty to keep her here for at least that long, it’s obvious.

“Thanks for the recommendation,” she replies, her voice neutral as well. “I don’t really expect much, but it’s nice to know someone thinks I deserve to be out in the world.”

Even if it’s not herself.

“Good luck with your case.” A little awkwardly, she adds, “Be careful, yeah?” before offering him her hand to shake.

“You have to be,” Harris says with a rise of one brow, “in my line of work.” He walks over to the door to the conference room and rests his hand on the door handle, waiting a moment and looking back to Chess. He glances down to his shoulder, as if checking for something, then looks back up to her.

“You never know what’s going to be behind the next door.”

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