Inevitable Comparisons


chess3_icon.gif miles2_icon.gif

Scene Title Inevitable Comparisons
Synopsis There are bound to be some when the people you're comparing are actually the same.
Date April 27, 2019

Some bar — any bar.

One of the best things to learn about quickly whenever you end up in a reasonable facsimile of the place you used to live but isn’t actually the place you used to live and is in fact a lot drier, is where’s the alcohol. Miles has done this, and he’s currently sitting in a bar at the end of a long day which involved an Incident or two at Benchmark.

He has a drink in front of him, and every now and then he takes a sip from it, but he doesn’t seem to be looking around or waiting for anyone. Drinking alone, eh? Well, it’s probably fine.

There’s better bars in Yamagato, but there’s also the feeling of being watched constantly. No doubt CCTV picks up every move that Chess makes in the little city that’s really its own country, and she has no doubt someone is monitoring her. She could be wrong. She could be paranoid. But she’s also in Yamagato for “protection,” so she’s probably not.

While she can’t be sure she’s not being monitored by drones or other means on her way from Yamagato Park to the Safe Zone, she’s reasonably sure that a place like this doesn’t have CCTV for anyone to hack into. So she can feel alone.

In a bar full of people.

Chess slides into one of the seats a couple of people down from Miles. She doesn’t see him, thanks to the couple that take up the two seats between them. She waits for the bartender to turn to her, and orders a dirty martini. As he makes it, she takes one of the paper coasters, turning it in her hands and spinning it against the bartop restlessly.

The good thing about being from that particular reasonable facsimile is that you have no cause to think that anyone might be monitoring you at all in any way whatsoever. Sure, Miles realizes that there’s more technology in this New York, but it hasn’t really sunk in yet. Maybe one day.

He takes a sip of his drink, not seeing Chess, either — he’s staring at mostly nothing for the moment, like one does in a bar when one has come to drink alone, super healthily.

That is, until the couple between them pay their bill. He glances over absently when they stand up and move away from the bar, the way one does after having seen something in the periphery that’s caught the attention, and he catches a glimpse of Chess before he looks away again…only to look back quickly when he recognizes her. It’s hard to forget the girl who you don’t know but seemed to know you and also freaked out and then cried.

He stays very still, as though he feels that if he makes no sudden moves, she won’t notice him.

She’s unaware for a moment, head down as she examines the drink that her bartender’s slid in front of her, dark eyes studying the way the olives sit like she might be trying to divine a fortune in the glass. But olives are not tea, and she is not a diviner.

Something makes her glance his way. Her breath catches, and she too stills, her eyes dropping again. It seems she might let him finish his drink in silence. Awkward, painful silence.

Her own glass comes up, but only makes it halfway before she sets it down again.

“Do you,” she says quietly, not looking at him, but instead staring at the bottles on the shelf behind the bar, “want to know anything about him?”

Clever girl.

Miles sighs inwardly — and, it must be said, a little outwardly as well, though at least not too much so. After that moment, he lifts his glass to her, a wry smile settling on his face. He does not break the silence, though, turning back to drink in peace.

Until she speaks, that is.

“Um.” He looks back over again briefly, as though considering, before he continues, “Should I? Is there going to be a test at some point? I honestly don’t know how this works.”

She huffs a small, breathy laugh at his words, then shakes her head almost imperceptibly. Probably at herself.

“I don’t think there’s a right answer. If you want to know, I can tell you. If you don’t want to know…” she shrugs, to indicate he doesn’t have to.

There’s a glance to the bag she carries, then back at him. “I have some IDs of his. It might help you, if you need…” she lifts her shoulders again. Proof of existence? “A job,” she settles on, instead. He has one — but if he ever wants to work for someone who requires more than his smile and word of honor.

“Okay. Well, if I decide I want to know anything, you’ll be the first one I call.” Miles takes another drink — a bigger one this time. He may need it.

He looks to the bag when she says this, too, and he stares at it for several seconds, much longer than would strictly be necessary to look at a bag or anything else of a similar caliber. The desire to not be beholden in any way — however small — to this girl he doesn’t know wars against his desire to have all of these credentials without any work whatsoever.

Having things wins. “Okay,” he says again as he shrugs one shoulder. “Thanks.” There’s another pause, before he asks, “So, what? Boyfriend? Husband?”

The Sanrio picture wallet is dug out of her bag, which rattles with what sounds like metal odds and ends. Carefully, so he doesn’t see the rest of the items within the clear plastic sheets. If he doesn’t want to know what the other Miles was like, she won’t show him.

Other than the images and addresses on the IDs she wriggles free of the snug-fitting plastic that’s adhered to the cards themselves. Some of the wording of the cheaper school ID sticks to the plastic, leaving the student ID number a little difficult to read.

She holds them in her hand a long moment, studying each tiny rectangle holding a tiny photograph of her Miles’ face. There are others. But not quite like these.

Wordlessly, she slides them to him on the bartop. She doesn’t speak for a moment.

“You can probably claim yourself alive, if you want to. Record keeping for our side wasn’t that official, after all,” Chess manages to say, her voice strained, clamped down on by her will.

Miles doesn’t really watch her do it — he isn’t trying to pry into her private life, and this feels very, very private. Intimate, even, as though he should really not be here at all. The discomfort over and above his original discomfort shows in how he shifts a little in his chair, the way he clears his throat softly — not to mention the drink he takes yet again, making his way through his current glass in no time at all.

“Thanks,” he says, reaching across the table for them and pulling them to him. He looks through them briefly, before he gathers them up and sticks them into his pocket. Not too long of looks at those, at least not right now.

Instead, he waits for the answer to his question…which doesn’t come. One eyebrow raises, before he shrugs and turns back. “So was it either or? IDs, or information? I’m not sure I made the right choice.”

Chess can’t help but peek through the corner of her eyes as he looks at the IDs, and when he speaks, there’s something about it, something about the way he lifts the brow and shrugs, that makes her breath catch again in her throat.

She gestures to the bartender to give them each a second round. He looks like he needs it.

She knows she does.

“Partners.” The word seems a stronger one than boyfriend. “Romantic and otherwise. You-” she cuts off, wincing, and shakes her head. “Sorry.”

The glass is lifted, a swallow taken.

“Not married. He wasn’t even 21 yet. I think you’re a little taller than he was.”

Yes, Miles will not turn down another drink. No ma’am. He rests his forearms on the bar, clasping and unclasping his hands as though he just wants something to do with them. When she does answer, though, he looks over at her, and though he’s making a show of being uninterested, he probably wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t care about the answer on some level.

“Oh,” he says when she’s through, and he reaches for the fresh glass when it’s set in front of him. “Well, that’s unfortunate.” He doesn’t clarify what he means, but maybe just…everything.

“When I came through, I didn’t really think about what would happen with another me,” he continues after a moment. “There wasn’t a whole lot of time, and anyway I didn’t really get it. So…I’m sorry.” Though it isn’t as though he would have stayed to die, even if he’d known.

The apology and condolences, such as they are, are met with a small nod; her first glass is down to the olives, which she pulls out to eat, the briny pungent flavor a pretty apt metaphor for life at the moment.

“Who does? I mean… I never did. I haven’t asked if there was another me anyone came into contact there. Obviously you didn’t.” She offers a small, unhappy smile. “Not like Lynette and Mateo who obviously are meant to be and keep colliding across all universes.”

Does that mean she and her Miles weren’t ‘meant to be?’ She doesn’t follow that train of thought.

“What was it like — where you came from?” The question is a hesitant one. It’s easier to talk to him side by side without having to look at his face, it seems, her own dark gaze down into the new glass that also stubbornly refuses to tell her any sort of future — except maybe a hangover is coming.

“Eh. Who knows? Maybe they’re just clumsy.” There’s a little flash of humor there — not huge, but it’s something. Miles takes a sip from his new drink, and when he sets it down he doesn’t let go. It’s something else to do with his hands, which is good.

As for what it was like in the other New York…well.

“Like Apocalypse: Now Underwater!” The last two words of that are accompanied by jazz hands and an uplift of his tone as though it’s a quirky musical that just happens to be set in a dystopia. The faux-upbeatness doesn’t last long, though. “We were probably just a few years away from devolving back into fish-people.”

“Jesus.” She takes a sip of her drink. “That sounds pretty dire. And I thought we had it rough.”

Her eyes flit over to him again, widening just a little, like each time she looks at him, she’s surprised he’s here… so much like the Miles she knew in tone and wit, but also not like him. An entirely different human being with his own set of memories.

“So this must be pretty weird to you. All this… land.” Her eyes roll at her lack of eloquence. “You’d make a pretty good merman, I think, for what it’s worth. I can see you rocking a trident.”

“Yeah. But on the plus side, no need for a gym. We just swam everywhere. Only had to watch out for the genetically enhanced sharks. Does no one even watch movies? It never works out well.” Though it seems like it’s probably a joke — of course, who knows?

He looks over at her again, his expression still a little bit uncomfortable. Unlike her, of course, he has no memories of anything to do with her. It’s just knowing that she’s got these of him. He has to snort at her last words, though. “Poseidon chic,” he says, testing out the idea. “I like it.” He takes another drink, before he continues, “It’s strange, yeah. Different. Seeing people I knew there, but they aren’t the same. So I guess I know how you feel.” Kind of.

His jokes earn small huffs of laughter from her, before she presses her lips together in one of those moments where his Milesness is almost painful, eyes darting away to examine the bottles on the shelves behind the bartender. They haven’t changed since the last time she looked, though.

“I’m sure it’s weird for you. I’ll stop acting like I’m a special snowflake that’s unique in my special brand of misery. Soon. Maybe not today.” There’s a flash of a self-deprecating smile. “The universe really seems to want to tell me I’m not unique recently.”

It’s a strange thing to say, but it’s a very strange situation.

“Do you like Shakespeare?” is maybe a stranger thing to ask.

Miles shrugs, replying, “We’re all unique and special, right? Just like everyone else.” He leans back a little bit, though not so far that he’ll fall off his stool. At least, hopefully not. Though maybe it would actually make things less awkward. Couldn’t hurt.

He looks over at her at the relatively strange question, and again, his eyebrow raises with vague surprise. “To quote Hamlet, act three,” he says, “‘no.’” However, he smiles then, not very wide and a little lopsided, but probably painfully familiar again. “I’ve ready some, yeah,” he continues a little bit more seriously. “It was kind of hard to do it over there. The first time I read King Lear I thought it was hilarious until I realized what I thought was the second act was really the second half of As You Like It because some of the pages had disintegrated.”

After a quick smirk at the No joke, the rest of his words evoke in her that same wide-eyed look before she schools her features back into a more neutral expression.

“During the war,” she says, voice measured, careful, “we used to read him. We had this giant volume of all the plays, on that really thin paper like they use on bibles.”

She drains her second glass, then lifts the little spear of olives out carefully. “Some people say that Shakespeare had a quote for every occasion, but I’m pretty sure alternate universes and clones and robots weren’t covered in any of his plays.” She lifts a brow.

“Maybe one of the tragicomedies. We didn’t get through all of those,” she quips.

“Oh, yeah? I guess it’s nice to know that I’m consistent across dimensions.” Miles taps his glass with a finger, “Also kind of weird, but this whole thing is kind of weird.” The understatement of the century, here.

He has to laugh himself, though, at her last words. “Yeah, I don’t remember anything like that. Though a retelling of Comedy of Errors using clones instead of twins might be kind of cool. I should pitch that. Are they still making movies here? They really weren’t where I came from. Having literally the worst Kevin Costner movie ever come to life kind of kills creativity.”

“He introduced me to it, so maybe Shakespeare appreciation is in your DNA,” Chess says lightly — but it’s light with an effort. “He also liked philosophy. We only got to go to university for a half a semester but he was thinking of changing his major to philosophy at the time.”

She fiddles with the little bamboo spear, before dropping it into the glass and letting it combust into ashes, too small to really do any damage to the glass.

“Hollywood’s in the deadzone, so there’s some indie stuff here and there being made, and stuff in Europe,” she says. “Bollywood’s probably still a thing.” She’s not sure what’s up in India, clearly. “Why was it Waterworld? Did we fuck up the ice caps quicker or something?” she aks, glancing back at him.

“Could be. Maybe I should start writing plays. I have a ton of life experiences to draw from, so they ought to be good.” Miles’ tone is light, too — whether forced or not, it sounds like at least it’s not too difficult for him.

That is, until she asks what happened.

“A nuclear bomb was detonated underground in Antarctica.” It’s stated matter-of-factly, though maybe it’s slightly harder for him to keep that tone. Perhaps. He finishes the drink, then slides off the stool as he reaches into his pocket, grabbing some cash and plunking it down on the bar. “Thanks for the stuff,” he says. “I appreciate it.” He’s definitely on his way out.

“You’re smart enough,” she says, with a small shrug of her shoulders as if to say why not. Of course, he’s not her Miles, but the difference between nature and nurture probably didn’t do too much to his inherent intellect, no matter what Carol Dweck believes about open mindset.

When he pays for his drink and gets up, she watches the motions out of the corner of her eye, brows drawing together a little. It’s not like she has abandonment issues.

Except she does. And seeing him leave and not knowing when she’ll see him again — even if it’s the wrong version of him — is difficult, a feeling she’s never experienced before.

Zhù nǐ shùn lì,” she says with a wave. Maybe it’s easier to say it in another language, when it’s a substitute for goodbye.

It’s unlikely that Miles knows what that means at all — however, accompanied with the wave, he can guess it’s a goodbye. So, he replies with his own brief wave, and a, “Sure. See you.” Then he turns, starting out of the bar more quickly than is probably necessary.

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