In The Language Of Flowers


chess_icon.gif harris_icon.gif wu_icon.gif

Scene Title In the Language of Flowers
Synopsis Floriography; noun; A means of cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers.
Date May 6, 2021

Not all that long ago, a meeting like this would have been conducted on Liberty Island, but times have changed. For America, for the Safe Zone, and for Chess.

The drive up to Rikers Island Prison is one Chess has done frequently as of late. With her sister incarcerated behind its close walls, visitation has become a regular part of her life. But today she isn’t coming to Rikers Island to visit with Alix, but rather a different face from her past. One that has, up until now, existed only in hypotheticals instead of reality.

Even when Chess was at the Praxis Ziggurat she never met Doctor Wu Shengjiao, a man who was responsible for the maintenance of the Flower Garden long after her exodus from it. As Chess walks the halls of Rikers Island, the list of questions she has for Wu continues to grow in the back of her mind. Questions of her past, her present…

and in many ways her future.

Rikers Island Prison
Rikers Island

May 6th
2:12 pm

An electric buzz rings through the hall as iron-barred gates open for Chess and close behind her. Rikers Island security follows alongside her inside of the facility, right up until she meets a familiar face lingering in the hall outside of the interview rooms. A tall man with dark sunglasses and a darker suit.

“Lang,” Agent Harris says in greeting, leaning away from the wall and uncrossing his arms. “I’ve negotiated for an hour with Doctor Wu.”

“Harris.” Chess’ delivery matches the agent’s, and perhaps is a sign she’s come to see him as an ally rather than someone to fear.

She may have taken a page from his book for her attire as well, dressed in a black blazer atop a plain white t-shirt, black cigarette pants. The black heels are the only nod to femininity aside from the silhouettes of her garments and the light makeup she wears. She doesn’t want to look weak or small. She doesn’t want to look like a victim, but a survivor.

“I appreciate you helping me out with this,” she says, offering Haris her hand to shake . “I’m not sure exactly what I’ll get out of it, but if nothing else, maybe he’ll feel really uncomfortable for the next hour.”

The corner of her lip rises in a small smirk, but she’s still nervous, and Chess has never been good at hiding her emotions. “Got any pointers for me? Interrogation 101?”

“My advice wouldn’t be legal,” Harris says in a hush with a crooked smile as he shakes Chess’ hand. It’s in that moment that she notices he’s missing two fingers on his right hand. She hadn’t noticed that before.

“But, I don’t like leaving a lady wanting so…” Harris adds, shrugging nonchalantly. “Ask questions directly, don’t back down if he says he doesn’t know. Don’t let him give you easy answers. Question him again on any answers he does give you, and see if there’s any discrepancies.”

Harris points over his shoulder to the door to the next room over. “Protocol, I’m going to be watching from the next room over. There’s no big mirror or other obvious sign you’re being observed, but I just wanted you to be clear so nobody’s surprised.”

The hushed confession draws a soft, huffed laugh from Chess, but she listens to the rest of the advice, and nods her understanding. Her dark eyes follow his gesture to the door and she nods again, then offers another small smile.

“I’ll try to keep myself in check, then, and not do anything illegal,” she says, with her own conspiratorial smirk. “Even if I know it wouldn’t be fully unwelcome. I’d rather not find out what it’s like to live here.”

Chess squares her shoulders and faces the door that will bring her face to face with Wu Shengjiao. She is as ready as she’ll ever be to try to get answers from one of the people who’s cultivated her very existence. She takes another breath, then nods.

From there, Harris opens the door and holds it for Chess to step in. She barely registers the sound of it closing at her back for seeing the tired old man hunched behind a table in the small, white-walled interrogation room. Shengjiao Wu looks thin, sunken, and broken. He doesn’t look up at first when Chess enters, and when he finally does the shame in his eyes is palpable.

Yīngsù,” Wu says without hesitation, able to recognize the difference between Chess and her sisters at a glance. “I was wondering when one of you would come for me,” he says in the way a man expecting to die shortly might.

Chess murmurs a soft thanks to Harris before stepping in. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but the shame surprises her, stalls the correction she wants to make when he calls her by that name, leaving the words on her lips.

“Dr. Wu,” she says, instead, the short syllables terse in her husky voice. She steps forward, heels striking a staccato against the floor, before pulling the chair out for herself and lowering herself into it, all without taking her eyes off of her face.

“There aren’t that many of us left,” she points out; she doesn’t try to make the fact pointed; it’s already shaped like a barb, sharp and jagged.

She folds her hands together, jacket sleeve hiding most, but not all, of the wrist tattoo that helps to distinguish her from her sisters along with her blond hair. “Thank you for meeting with me,” Chess begins, whether he had a choice in that matter or not. “I have some questions. But first, is there anything you’d like to tell me first?”

Wu raises his brows but his stare dips down to his hands, folded in front of him. When he speaks it is with a breath of exasperation and as he spreads his hands Chess notices he is missing his pinkie finger and ring finger on his right hand and his index finger on his left.

“What is there to tell?” Wu asks, blinking his stare back up to her. It is a weighty one, mixed with resentment and disappointment as much as regret. “Here you are, all on your own.” He says with a gesture to her across across the table. “I can’t promise you closure or whatever it is you’ve come here for.”

The exasperation in his tone helps to steel her own resolve, and Chess’ eyes narrow slightly as she looks back at him. His comment is met with a soft puff of air that doesn’t even approximate a laugh. “I don’t expect closure.”

Chess reaches into her blazer’s pocket for a small sheet of notepaper, on which she’s written the questions she wants to ask — knowing she’s likely to forget them once face to face with Wu. Her expression is a little chagrined at this — it hardly suits the cool, calm interrogator impression she’d hope to convey, but this isn’t her day job.

“Are there any facilities — labs or places files were kept — that haven’t been recovered, with information regarding either the cloning or Project Gemini?” she asks, gaze having shifted from notepaper to Wu’s face. “Anything with our DNA samples or genetic sequences, anything that could be used against us, or to make more of us?

“I had very little involvement with Gemini,” is Wu’s non-answer. But when the topic shifts to the Flower Garden, some of his steeliness melts away.

“Without the embryonic samples from your mother and material from your father, no. No more of you or your sisters could be born.” Wu says with a shake of his head. “The program was, in essence, dead by the time I came on board. The people who made you were long gone. To where?” He sighs. “I don’t know.”

“There is more about the Flower Garden that is a mystery to me than clear.” Wu continues, wringing his hands together. “Even the truth behind why Monroe wanted you all seemed to shift from year to year. He was… mercurial.” Though the truth is far more complicated than Wu realizes.

Wu gestures to Chess. “The only person who knows everything about your creation is the man who ordered it. Kaito Nakamura.” Wu leans back in his chair. “And he’s been dead a long time now.”

Chess’ brows draw together and her head tilts slightly. She crosses her arms along the table’s edge. It takes a moment for her to speak.

“You said that ‘the truth behind why Monroe wanted you all,’” she murmurs, carefully repeating the same words Wu used. “But Adam wasn’t there at the beginning, wasn’t aware of our creation, according to him. He was being held by the Company, yeah?”

Her dark eyes narrow as she studies Wu’s face, watching for signs of confusion or subterfuge. “Is that not accurate?” This wasn’t on her list of questions, which she holds tucked between her left palm and her right forearm. “What year did you join the Flower Garden project? Before I left it?”

“After. 2010, specifically.” Wu says quietly, folding his maimed hands as best as he can in front of himself. “And you aren’t wrong about your assessment. Monroe was the one who brought me on to the project. I once worked for… less savory forces, if you can imagine that. The Vanguard, specifically. This is how I knew Doctor Yeh. We served together, under Volken.”

But Wu is quick to spread his hands in a dismissive gesture. “But I did not believe in Volken’s ideals. It was the only place I could go. Then, when the Chinese cell of the Vanguard collapsed, Praxis saved me from the Chinese government. Back then it was a bioweapons program, the girls were training to be killers. You were already long gone, but the company had eyes on you, of course.”

“But before Monroe?” Wu tilts his head to the side. “As I said, the Flower Garden belonged to Kaito Nakamura. Monroe had a vendetta against him that I’ll never understand, trusted few. He didn’t even trust me with everything. He was paranoid, delusional, violent. My job was to ensure your siblings’ health maintained a steady balance as they explored the extremes of their abilities.”

“Though, Monroe did not oversee the day-to-day operations of the Shanghai facility,” Wu adds, folding his hands again. “I know there was an operations director, but I know only that. He answered directly to Monroe and only worked with staff through intermediaries. He may have been someone influential in the Chinese government, someone who would suffer from their identity being too well-known.”

“There are only six of us left,” Chess snaps sharply, her eyes flashing with resentment and anger. “Only eight before last year. Out of 27. So I’d say you didn’t do a very good job of keeping their health in ‘steady balance.’”

“No.” Wu says in a hushed voice, averting his eyes. “No, I suppose I did not.”

Chess looks down again, pressing her lips together, and peers at her list of questions and takes a breath.

“There’s a person I remember — or think I remember. I thought it might be you, but I guess it wasn’t,” she says quietly.

It’s not the most important question she has, but somehow it seems important — maybe because she’s had the dream more than once, like her subconscious is trying to tell her something, but she hasn’t figured out what yet.

“I have a memory of a man cutting flowers. Discussing the study of floriculture. With me, and I’d have to have been a toddler, if it’s actually me in the memory and not just a dream. Do you have any idea of who that would have been? Nakamura, or someone else? Anyone who was interested in flowers, aside from the obvious metaphor?”

The more she talks, the more she questions her mind — it’s a little too symbolic, isn’t it? Cutting flowers in the Flower Garden. Her sisters dying one by one until only a handful are left. Maybe it is just a dream. Chess glances down again, cheeks flushing a little embarrassed now for asking it.

Floriculture?” Wu says with a look of recognition in his eyes. He looks down to the table, a thought creasing his brow.

A momentary silence falls over the interrogation room, enough that Chess can hear how loud the overhead lights are buzzing. But the weight of the silence does not invite interjection. She struck a nerve with Wu, and as that question drives as a deeper splinter into his mind, he starts to slowly rub his palms together.

“The old records, dating back to your birth, were all flower themed.” Wu says with a distant look in his eyes, focused on somewhere far, far away. “Obviously your names, but there was more than that. There was a…” his eyes track from side to side, searching for something. “A procedural theory based on floriculture by which they were grooming all of you. In Nakamura’s day.”

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


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


“Expertly done.”


Wu draws in a slow breath and lifts his gaze up to Chess’. “It could be Mr. Nakamura you’re remembering. Perhaps he spoke to you sometime before his death. Or…” Wu shrugs, helplessly. “Or it’s a different mystery entirely.”

She doesn’t breathe during those moments, watching him, and somehow not leaning forward with anticipation. The answer comes — or maybe not — and Chess studies Wu for a long moment, to try to decide whether or not he’s telling all he knows.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t wear his emotions as obviously as she does. That they were engineered isn’t a surprise — she’s used that word herself to describe her existence.

“That leads to another question of mine,” she finally says, remembering to breathe. “Only a couple more, unless anything we’ve talked about has shaken loose anything you feel is worth sharing.”

She glances down at her little list, then takes a moment to phrase the question from the bullet point phrase written there. “Besides Joy and Adam, do you know whose DNA was used to create us? Me, or any of my siblings? The records suggest a small percent of our genetic code coming from other sources. Three percent, I believe. Do you know who those people were? Were they volunteers, or,” Chess wants to say voluntolds but she isn’t sure Wu will get that joke, “not?”

Wu looks away when Chess asks about the other subjects. His eyes scan the creases on his hands. Then, looking back up to her, his brows furrow. “They were not volunteers, but they also weren’t test subjects either. The additional three percent of your genetic makeup came, according to the records I was given, from people who had donated to the Human Genome Project between its inception in 1990 to roughly 1992. These initial donor genetic samples were collected by the IHGSC, but less than 30% of the samples collected were used, so as to make the data blind on whose samples were being utilized by the project. Yamagato Industries secretly procured unused samples for the Flower Garden.”

Layers upon layers of manipulations, conspiracy, and harm caused across countless people’s lives, all so that Chess and her sisters could be born. Wu’s revelation is one that adds an extra layer of discomfort to the truth of Chess’ origin. All those samples, used in a genetic experiment without the donor’s consent or knowledge.

“As for their identities,” Wu continues, “the project never had that information. The purpose of that DNA was to add variation to each pod, which is why while you’re all clones of one-another, you are not all identical and in some cases express significantl"y different recessive and dominant traits.”

Sighing through his nose, Wu finally looks up to Chess. “A great deal of time, money, and effort went into making sure you were born. For…” he shrugs. “Reasons I will never know, likely.”

“So we could literally have serial killer DNA,” Chess says flatly, then rolls her eyes. “I mean, besides Adam’s.”

There’s no love lost there, just many, many layers of complicated feelings, much like the layers of manipulation and conspiracy done by the project that brought about her existence. There are no follow ups on this — as bad as she is at reading people at times, the words ring true to Chess’ ears.

“What do you know about the surrogate mothers? Did they know what they were doing, or did they just think they were carrying, I don’t know, some poor infertile couple’s future child?”

Chess hesitates, then asks in a rush, “Who was mine? Is she still alive?”

It’s a question she’s hesitated to ask of anyone who might know — she’s had two sets of “parents” so far in her life and both came with their disappointments that have left scars on her in different ways.

Wu makes a soft noise in the back of his throat, wringing his hands together. “They were not aware of the nature of the experiment. The records indicate that actors played the role of couples seeking surrogates, paid for by Mr. Nakamura, and that they carried you all to term. I don’t recall the list off-hand, but the records did survive and would have been in Praxis’ database.”

The database that Hull and Reed obliterated.

“Failing that, whoever inherited Praxis’ research may have that information. I know some of the surrogate mothers were still alive, but I don’t remember much beyond that.” He admits with a deeply-creased frown. “For that, you have my apologies.”

“Jesus,” Chess murmurs — it’s not disbelief, because it’s completely expected, but she shakes her head, in frustrated anger for the women who were lied to for the Flower Garden to exist.

For her and her sisters to exist.

“I think it’s better that they think they did something good for someone else, instead of the truth, in this case,” she says softly. “I wouldn’t want to take that from them. From her.”

She doesn’t need to know who carried her. Whose body nourished her. Still, there’s a feeling of loss that comes with letting go of that piece of information, and Chess glances down, taking a moment to steady her emotions and show less of them to the man across from her.

“Last question. My handlers.” Her dark eyes lift again to watch his. “Or observers or whatever you called them.” She swallows, hard, before asking, “Who were they?”

“You had several, but they all had the same eyes.” Wu says with a pitch of one brow up as if to say imagine that. “I do not know who he is, truthfully. I only knew him by an alias, Kuang. He was like you, special.” Wu says with a gesture of his fingers out to Chess. “But an ability more of the mind than the body. He was able to control a vast network of spies at his disposal through a form of telepathy or… something of the sort. All of your handlers, in all their incarnations, have been Kuang in some way.”

Kuang. It means, “Situation” in Mandarin. An appropriate title for Chess’ watcher.

“I do not know where he is now, but I know he was alive. He changed hands like a bad penny, from Nakamura, to Petrelli, to Monroe.” Wu says with a slow spread of his hands. “But he isn’t here with me. So now, either he’s dead or… he’s somewhere else. I never met him personally, only through one of his proxies. But I can tell you… you’d know how to recognize them.”

Wu raises his hands, as if to gesture at himself but the restraints anchored to the table prevent him from fully being able to do so. Instead, he points up at his face with two fingers. “His pupils. In the dark, his proxies pupils reflect light like a cat’s. A little shimmer of something. That’s Kuang behind them.”

For the first time during the questioning, Wu puts Chess at ease with his answer. The tension in her face, in her shoulders, as she waited for his response, lifts, and a small breath she’d been holding is exhaled.

It’s not hard to guess that she was worried it was someone she knew — her parents, teachers, neighbors. At least this doesn’t taint any of the few fond memories she has left of her childhood.

“That’s not super creepy or disturbing at all,” she says, despite the look of relief, before sitting up a little straighter and sliding the little cheat sheet of her questions back into her pocket. Her lips twitch upward in an approximation of a polite smile — a perfunctory thing that has no real pleasure or amusement to it.

“Thank you for answering my questions. I’m not sure what I expected to get out of it, but it fills in a few gaps,” she says, studying his eyes for a moment. More words hang unsaid before she speaks again.

“For what it’s worth, I do believe people can and do change, to do things that are meaningful rather than destructive, no matter their past. You might be surprised to know I count Dr. Yeh among my closest friends now. You may be here,” she nods to their surroundings, “but the fact you’re cooperating is a meaningful choice you’ve made. Build on that. You are not your past.”

Chess rises, cheeks a little flushed from the unplanned speech, nodding a goodbye to Wu and then turning to the door.

Wu’s eyes avert to his missing fingers. His brows furrow together, lips crook into a frown. “No,” he says thoughtfully, “I suppose we are not.” It’s the last thing Chess hears from him before she escapes into the hall. The door to her right is opening at the same time, and Agent Harris is quick to catch up with her.

Lang,” Harris says with a glance over his shoulder to Wu’s cell, then back to Chess. “We need to talk.” He edges a little in front of her, as if afraid she was going to bolt after how difficult the conversation with Wu was.

Once in the hall, Chess takes a deep breath that comes out in a shaky sigh. When Harris steps in front of her, she looks up at him, an uncharacteristic weariness in her face and eyes. The nervousness from earlier has faded, taking with it all of the coiled energy that comes with anticipation and anxiety. Now, she simply looks tired.

“I wasn’t hard enough on him. I know,” she says, assuming maybe that her polite demeanor is the problem in Harris’ eyes. “Sorry I didn’t get anything actionable.”

They hadn’t sent her in to do that — it had been her request to talk to Wu, after all — but clearly she feels she failed in that regard.

Harris looks at Chess like she said something in a foreign language. He glances at the door over her shoulder, then shakes his head. “Lang, you just connected your handler to Weiss Nanotechnology.” He says with a squint, as if she didn’t realize what she herself found.

“That ability? I’ve heard it described before. Only one person: Lucien Crane, the CTO of Renautas in Toronto. But we’ve had an eye on him for months before he just evaporated into thin fucking air in February when the Renautas building was attacked.” He searches Chess’ eyes for a moment.

In that moment it feels like he’s figured her out. That she was there. That she must know more. But then—

“I don’t know if you realize how big that admission from Wu is.” Harris says with an actual smile. “This is huge, this could tie Weiss back to Mazdak, it could give us reason to pursue Crane, to dig deeper into Yamagato. You might’ve just given us a lead we didn’t know we were looking for.”
Her brows lift at his evident excitement, but her eyes drop at the mention of the attack on the Renautas building, suddenly finding the floor beneath her feet very interesting.

But when it’s clear it’s a good thing, she looks back in time to see the smile, which is new and a little confusing, but she huffs a short and breathy laugh, some of that weariness dissipating again.

“I was just glad to know that it wasn’t my adopted parents or something like that, but I’m glad it’s useful,” Chess admits, then shakes her head. “Everything always seems to tie together somehow. Everything seems to go back to Yamagato or Monroe in the end.”

Her dark eyes study his, before she suggests. “My sister might be able to help you find him. Fight fire with fire, right, but in this case the fire’s a clairvoyant.”

Harris is quiet for a moment, but Chess can tell he’s processing a piece of information he hadn’t considered. “You might be onto something there. Alix’s range is limited, but she is one of the only clairvoyants we have unrestricted access to without dipping into the civilian sector.”

With a thoughtful nod, Harris puts a hand on Chess’ shoulder. “I know confronting Wu wasn’t easy for you. But if you ever think of something else, even if you don’t think it will help us, and you want time with him again?” Harris glances at the door, then back to Chess. “We’ll make time.”

“In case I accidentally connect your dots for you again?” Chess says, the corners into a small smile at last. “Not sure that particular lightning will strike twice.”

She shifts from one foot to the other, the small purse transferring hands as well. “I appreciate that, and for letting me try today. I can’t say I feel any sense of closure, but I’m glad that something here was useful. I’ve felt pretty un-useful for a long time.” Or worse isn’t said, but her smile turns crooked and she lifts a shoulder as if to shrug off all that weight that comes with being associated with Praxis and Monroe in Detroit.

“See you soon, I imagine. Congrats I guess?” Chess adds, offering him a closed fist to bump before turning to head for the exit.

Harris returns the gesture, and Chess can feel the difference his missing finger gives the contact. The same hand that Wu is missing fingers on.

“I dunno about see you soon,” Harris says with a hint of anxiety in his voice, knowing where she’s bound for, “but how about this?”

Good luck.

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