alix_icon.gif chess3_icon.gif ivy_icon.gif lanhua_icon.gif val_icon.gif vi_icon.gif

Scene Title Individuals
Synopsis Though cut from the same cloth, they are each their own individual thread.
Date January 29, 2020

“It’s going to be fine.”

That sleight reassurance is all that Chess Lang has been given for the last six days. It’s going to be fine. It’s taken months to work up to this moment, and the long transit from the top levels of the Ziggurat to the civilian-accessible marketplace on the ground floor has given her plenty of time to ruminate on that fact. Now, amid the noise of thousands of Praxis Heavy Industries workers, Chess finds the voices of doubt in her head drowned out by that din.

Chess isn’t alone, though. Her sister Alix has been that reassuring voice, by her side for the months they’ve spent here in the Praxis Ziggurat. Today isn’t a day about coming to prepare for the end of the world, or a battle against some ephemeral entity from beyond time and space. Today is a promised day, one that has a singular focus:

Today is about family.

Praxis Ziggurat, Praxia
California Safe Zone
PSW Dead Zone

January 29th
8:02 pm Local Time

The self-contained city-arcology of the Praxis Ziggurat has precisely one social gathering hub that isn’t a restaurant. From the outside, stark neon lines and glowing signage spill Mandarin in vibrant hanzi below which smaller neon script in the English alphabet reads Reflections. The pulse of house music throbs out of the walls and each time the double doors open, the music blasts louder out into the cavernous concourse.

Alix steps in front of Chess, taking her by the hand and looking her square in the eyes. “Vi and Ivy are going to be fine. The past is the past. The Director— Adam— he’s talked to them. I’ve talked to them. They just want to talk to you.” Her brows go up, squeezing Chess’ hand more firmly.

This was the promise, this is what Alix has been saying is going to be fine. A night with all her cloned siblings. To meet, to talk, to set aside old differences and get together as the one thing they might all be able to care about: family.

Family. Chess has said that word herself to the strangers who ask what she’s doing in Praxis — it’s a simple answer. It’s a complicated answer. Family often is. Hers, especially.

And everytime she thinks of her family here — including the ones who tried to murder her — Chess can’t help but think of the family left behind. Her chosen family of friends, in Luther, Eve, Monica. Her genetic identical, in Kimberly. The scales don’t seem to tip in favor of what she’s gained. She’s used to that.

Chess nods again to that reassurance. She hasn’t argued that it won’t be okay, but Alix can feel the tension in Chess’ hand. Like a rabbit poised to run, every muscle is on alert. Unfortunately, a club like Reflections would probably frown on a bag full of hubcaps and random metal objects, so today she’s only got a few tricks up her sleeves — or in her leather jacket’s pockets. Small flat, polished river rocks taken from someone’s zen garden, easily tucked in a palm and unseen.

“You’ve forgiven them?” she asks, dark eyes sliding sidelong to watch her sister’s expression.

“No,” Alix is able to say almost immediately. “I mean— not yet? I don’t know. There’s… it’s not something I think I could work out in just a few months. I don’t forgive them for what they did, for— for a lot of things. But they’re my family, and I think— I think the Director— I think Adam’s changed. I think… I think maybe there’s a chance to make this work.” Alix’s expression tenses and she swallows back a lump in her throat. “And— I’m not gonna’ cry and ruin my eyeliner before I go into a club.”

Trying to laugh off the seriousness of Chess’ question, Alix squeezes Chess’ hand. “It’s gotta start somewhere. They’re… they agreed t’do this, so maybe, right? Maybe after all the shit we went through there’s like, what’d Lynette call it, a path to healing?” Her brows rise, not sure if she got the quote exact. Enough to matter.

“You don’t have to,” says Chess. “And don’t fucking cry.” She grins at that, but if Alix cries, it’s possible to make her cry, and she certainly doesn’t want to enter the lions’ den tearful and seeming weak to the women who tried to kill her in the not-so-distant past.

“Kant calls forgiveness an imperfect duty,” she says, perhaps to help justify her own unforgiving heart a little. “It’s not like duty to justice — a perfect duty, right? It’s imperfect and we’re not obligated to do it, especially if the people who have wronged us are not repentant.”

That’s the big if.

She lifts a shoulder, pushing a strand of blond hair out of her eyes as she faces Alix. “A path toward healing…sure. I mean, if no one tries to stab us, that’s a huge improvement, right? What more could we ask for at a family reunion?”

Chess’ hand slips into her jacket lining to pull out a tiny flask, uncapping it and lifting it in a tiny toast before taking a swig. “Gěi jiěmèimen.” To sisters. She hands Alix the flask to follow suit.

Brows raised, Alix takes the flask in hand and flashes Chess an anxious smile before bringing it to her lips and tipping it up.

To sisters.

One Hour Later

Reflections Nightclub

“So up until that point we’d all done rotation on this client.”

The noise within Reflections is what one expects from a nightclub. It is loud, electronic, pulsing with bass and dark like something criminal is happening inside. Nearly all of the music is sourced from overseas or more than a decade old American house music. The mix of Korean, Chinese, and English lyrics pound against a backdrop of glossy black walls and curving neon abstractions.

“We’d managed to get two thirds of the safe code and a viable DNA sample for the breath lock, but we needed the last five digits. So here we are, trying to decide who’ll be Mr. Gao’s arm candy for the night…”

One round corner-booth at the far back of Reflections, past the dance floor and the bar, is home to more than half a dozen women sharing vibrantly colored drinks that fluoresce under the blacklights thanks to the amount of gin in them. Passers by don’t notice the similarities in the women at a glance, with their hair done differently, clothing choices, they just look similar. But on a purposeful look, it becomes rapidly apparent that there’s six women and two faces shared among them.

“…and out comes Val from the bathroom, and she’s dyed her hair bubblegum pink.”

A year ago Chess may never have imagined sitting around a table, sharing drinks with one of Alix’s cloned sisters. But Ivy Hollows isn’t the woman Chess thought she was, not is Chess the woman Ivy imagined she might be. While they are opposites in their ability — Ivy absorbing kinetic energy and Chess creating it — their personalities are surprisingly similar. In fact, among all the clones there is a commonality: none of them really like conflict. Which has left something hanging over this reunion of sorts: an explanation, an apology, and closure.

I didn’t want to do it!” Val shouts before breaking out in fitful laughter over the brim of her drink. “He was creepy and I wanted to pop him into the ocean!

Chess’ identical twin in this reunion, Lanhua Chen, hasn’t said much in the intervening hour. Alix and Chess were welcomed into the fold as if they’d always belonged. Ivy paid for drinks and Violet started with some story about Alix getting sick in someone’s hat on an international flight to Budapest. They had avoided the hard topics, avoided the fact that they had been out for Chess’ blood, avoid anything even remotely resembling confrontation. It made it hard to really relax, makes it hard to really grasp what it is this gathering is all about.

Perhaps this is how child soldiers cope: Irish Medicine, Miles had called it once during the war.

Ignoring something until it goes away.

It’s easy enough to laugh at the stories when it’s all on the surface level of things. It’s easy to see herself as similar to Ivy in demeanor. Val reminds her maybe a little of Kimberly. She drinks — enough to participate, to not stand out as different, but not enough to let down her guard.

She wonders what that would feel like, to trust this group of women, this group of sisters, enough to relax, drink, and laugh without wondering what might come of it.

“You didn’t have to do anything with him did you? Just arm candy?” she asks, grimacing a little at the thought, but keeping it light, nonjudgmental. She hopes, anyway. Chess is all too aware that she’s the lucky one in this sextet, the one who got away and lived something like a normal life.

Her gaze alights on Lanhua now and then, to see how her ‘twin’ is dealing with these sisters who grew up with one another, who have story after story of their escapades through the years. When their eyes meet, she nods or offers a wry smile that feels like an apology, though Chess isn’t sure why.

Except that she’s the one who escaped. Who Joy managed to save.

“The Director was different back then,” is Vi’s awkward answer to Chess’ question, her eyes averted to the table, then briefly up at Ivy who grows momentarily tense and silent. “Things changed for all of us last year, our assignments changed, our… understanding changed.”

“We've had to do things we… we aren't proud of,” Val comments, looking down at the table for a moment before slipping an arm around Ivy’s back. Chess can see the faint hint of something more haunted in Val’s eyes, can't help but remember her pink hair in video footage of the Yamagato Bombing. How many people had sweet Val killed?

“We’re all victims,” is Alix’s take on it. “Of circumstance, of conspiracy. The Director was too, I guess.”

Lanhua’s attention is drawn away by a point in the middle distance, her brows pinched together and a pensive look haunting her. When she realizes what her face must look like she forces it back, picking up her glass and taking a quick drink to shake herself out of whatever was going on behind her eyes.

Vi nods in agreement to Alix’s sentiment, taking a swig of her drink and looking over to Chess. “You're lucky. You got to… have a life. You got to see what the world had to offer outside of… of the way we lived. We’ve been fighting all our lives in one way or another. Now we just— we’re expected to change our enemies. Just like that.” Vi snaps her fingers and the empty glass in front of her disintegrates into a pile of fine, powdery glass shards like a crumbling sand castle.

“Okay, easy on the glassware,” Alix says with a hand waved at Vi.

“Jesus,” murmurs Chess, looking away, brows drawn, down into her glass before taking a swig that drains the rest of it.

She jumps when VI’s explodes, and looks back up at her, then to Val. “I’m not judging. It’s not your fault,” she says, before looking back to Vi.

Let it go her mind tells her. But she’s never been good at pushing back her emotions. She has that in common with her sisters.

“Lucky for a while,” Chess says quietly. “Luckier than you, yeah. But the world didn’t have a lot to offer me either. Intolerance. War. It took away…” But she can’t voice those words and feels her tears welling up. Don’t fucking cry, she had told Alix earlier and she closes her eyes to stem the flow and shakes her head.

“We’re all fucked up because of this,” she says. “Just in different ways.”

“Yeah,” Ivy says, fiddling with the corner of a paper napkin that she’s shredded beyond recognition. “I never— got to apologize. To you.” She doesn’t look up to Chess, but she’s obviously talking to her. “That night I… when Alix…” she shakes her head and flicks a torn up piece of the napkin away. “I was going to kill you,” feels like the truth, from Chess’ perspective of their first encounter. “I was… I was so fucking mad that Alix— that you’d— ”

Ivy cuts herself off when Val puts a hand on her shoulder. Looking over to her sister, Ivy smiles ruefully and scrubs at one eye with the heel of her palm. “Fuck, you put one drink in me and I’m fucking sobbing like a goddamn baby.”

“You are not,” Alix says, reaching across the table to take Ivy’s hand. “A baby. You’re a fully-grown adult who is crying.” She cracks a good-natured smile, squeezing Ivy’s hand. “A lot of shit has changed in the last two years. I’ve… learned a lot with Chess, and Lynette, and Luther and— and fuck, even Eve. You all haven’t even gotten to meet Kimberly. She’s a total drunk, it’s great.” Alix says before bursting out into laughter.

“I’ll be right back,” Lanhua says barely loud enough to go over the music, setting her empty glass aside and sliding out of the booth. Her departure is met with a quick look by Alix, but she doesn’t press the issue as Lanhua excuses herself and heads in the direction of the bathroom.

“You don’t have to.” Chess’ voice is husky as she swallows back the tears, one hand reaching up to rub her own eyes in a mirror of Ivy’s gesture.

She nods at Alix’s words. “It’s in the past. We need to trust one another, yeah?” Her eyes dart from one sister to the next, and finally to her own ‘twin’ of sorts. “It’s none of our faults we had the lives we’ve had to this point.”

It isn’t their fault. It isn’t her fault. But she still apologizes in her next breath. “I’m sorry you all had to deal with things Kim and I didn’t have to. It isn’t fair. I know that. But we didn’t have anyone else either, didn’t know we had sisters all that time. I don’t envy you what you’ve had to do, but I envy you that, a little.”

It’s a long speech for someone as laconic as Chess, and she glances down into her glass, cheeks flushing a little. “Anyway. Whatever. The past is past, yeah?”

While Chess’ sympathy has won over Ivy, Violet still seems to hold a kernel of resentment, even if it isn’t voiced anymore. It shows in tension at her neck and shoulders, in the way she holds her hands, in the way a distant point in space holds her attention. A passing server catches Vi’s attention, elicits a raise of her hand and a circular motion to the table. The server nods and makes a circuit to the bar, and Violet turns her focus briefly to Alix, then Chess.

“I spent seventeen years of my life in a lab,” Vi says with a hitch in her voice. “Seventeen years living isolated, like a child. Then, suddenly, the Director comes and changes everything. Doctor Yeh comes and tries to raise us. Suddenly we have to be adults.” Vi briefly looks at Val, who is staring down into her half-finished drink, then back to Chess again, “and not all of us survived that. None of us in one piece.”

Alix frowns, looking down to the table. Val instead leans forward and takes a sip of her margarita, seemingly ignoring the entire conversation going on next to her. Vi notices, swallows down a lump in her throat, and looks back to Chess. “Yeah,” she suddenly says, “past is past.” As if on cue, the server returns with a tray of tequila shots, setting them out in a semicircle on the edge of the table before being drawn away by the call of another patron.

Vi grabs one of the shots, then motions for everyone else to. “For Inga, Ilse, Ilia, Victoria, and Viliana. For all the sisters we never met.” She looks to Chess, waiting to see if she’ll join in this memorial.

Lanhua's return to the table is unceremonious. She quietly apologizes, too low to be heard over the music, and insinuates herself back at her seat in the booth as though it were a requirement. Folding her hands in her lap, she grows quiet again, though her attention seems focused on just listening to the others talk over the music.

Chess’ dark gaze drops, brows creasing as Vi speaks of her life in the lab. She shakes her head slightly — not to argue, but to indicate she can’t really imagine. “I’m sorry,” she says softly, but it’s perhaps lost in the noise of the club. There’s only so many times she can say it.

Her eyes move to Val, then Alix, and Ivy. She can’t know their pain, not exactly. They can’t know hers — trying to live an ordinary life when she was anything but ordinary, and the pain that being severed from that life caused, scars she still carries. The war and its tolls. The cost of the life she held dearer than her own, and the shadow life she’s lived in a way since. She can’t put it into words, knows that they can’t understand — pain she doesn’t want them to share as they do their own.

Chess nods, picking up one of the glasses, lifting it, murmuring the names. Her voice trembles, but she chases down rising tears with tequila.

“Do we…” she pauses, glancing around the circle, Lanhua included in that look.

Sometime during the shots, the song playing in the club changed. It still has a synthetic beat like a steadily pumping heart, but there’s a nostalgic and upbeat tempo to it.

Got up early found something's missing

My only name

“Do we know the names of he other…” Chess does quick math in the short pause. “Fifteen?” The others of her and Lanhua’s pod, and the pod of sisters no face here represents. “Fuck. Twenty-seven of us, and there’s… seven of us left?”

No one else sees but I got stuck

And soon forever came

The sisters all long among one-another, a sea of uncertainty and shaking heads. They knew their kin, but the names of their other lost sisters drowned in the sea of time.

Stopped pushing on for just a second

Then nothing's changed

“I don’t know if anybody does,” Alix says with a sad attempt at smiling away the heavy topic, “not even the Director. I think…” she looks around the table at her sisters; survivors.

Who am I this time where's my name?

Guess it crept away

“To the twenty we left behind,” Vi amends her toast before knocking back her shot.

No one's calling for me at the door

An unpredictable won't bother anymore

And silently gets harder to ignore

Gěi jiěmèimen,” Chess says, repeating the toast she’d shared with Alix hours earlier.

I forgot that I might see

So many beautiful things

Val slouches down in her seat, shoulders hunched forward and shot untouched.

I forgot that I might need

To find out what life could bring

Ivy notices but doesn’t seem surprised that Val didn’t touch the tequila and takes the shot for herself and swiftly downs it.

Take this happy ending away

It's all the same

Alix catches herself bobbing her head to the beat, then looks like something suddenly dawns on her.

God won't waste this simplicity

On possibility

She quickly takes her shot, then shouts “Come on!” With a quick snag, she grabs Chess’ arm and slides out of the booth, trying to lead her toward the mostly empty dance floor.

Get me up wake me up

Dreams are filling this trace of blame

“Come on!” Alix says again, urgently, this time looking to the others. Lanhua watches the others moving to the floor, seeming for all her worth like she wants to sink into the floor and be forgotten. But in spite of herself, she pushes up from the table without and word, but doesn't quite move away from the booth.

No one's calling for me at the door

An unpredictable won't bother anymore

And silently gets harder to ignore

“Fuck this— fuck the sadness. We have each other. We’re reunited. We’re free.” Ivy and Violet look at one another, reluctantly, but Val seems to understand what’s going on.

Look straight ahead

There's nothing left to see

Val grabs Ivy and Vi by the arms and vanishes in a luminous flash of rainbow light and rematerializes on the dance floor with the two sisters standing at her side. Lanhua, seeing this, makes a noise in the back of her throat inaudible over the music and begrudgingly moves to join her "sisters" on the dance floor, hands clenched into fists and shoulders square; she is like a circus lion being goaded to dance.

What's done is done

This life has got its hold on me

“I get it.” Val says with a slowly dawning smile, slowly looking to Alix and Chess.

Just let it go

What now can never be

When Alix demands a moratorium on sadness and for them to dance, Chess shoves a hand across her eyes and laughs, shaking her head like a dog to clear the burn of tequila — or maybe the melancholy draping itself around all of them.

Now what do I do?

Can I change my mind?

When Val joins them, with the others in tow, she returns that smile, not quite like a mirror, but almost.

Did I think things through?

Like a sister.

It was once my life

It was my life at one time

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License