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Scene Title Jiātíng
Synopsis 家庭 (Jiātíng); n. Family
Date February 10, 2020

It’s been more than half a year since Chess arrived in Praxia, toting all of her worldly possessions in a duffel bag and jet-lagged from the trip in the cargo plane from Japan. Some of the questions she’d had on that flight have been answered.

The more complex ones, she’s still working on.

Since then, she’s kept mostly to herself, worked to hone her skills, both in terms of her power and her more mundane martial arts, and run up a few hundred bucks on Adam’s account for books on philosophy. But now, with the looming fighting feeling more and more imminent, Chess has chosen to do something she hasn’t, not since that first day.

Reach out.

It’s a hard thing for her to do. She’s been on the defensive for so long. But it’s so tiring.

As she waits, she flips through Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, the pages marked with neon-green Post-It tabs here and there. Her worn courier bag rests against her side, but she’s not holding on to it like she’s afraid it’ll be grabbed. It’s a small sign that she’s acclimated a bit. This is not home but it’s a place she has almost let herself feel safe. For Chess, almost is about as good as it gets.

The knock on the doorway into Chess’ studio apartment is a perfunctory one. Adam Monroe was invited. That he showed himself in is unsurprising, he does own the building. Pale eyes drift to the cover of her book, then back. “I met him once,” is one of the more unbelievable things Adam has ever said aloud. “Jean,” he adds, like they were on a first-name basis. “It was…” his brows pinch together, “1940, I think. Winter, I forget which month.”

Adam walks through the foyer of the apartment, hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks. “Jean was in Trier. Beautiful little town, right on the border of Luxembourg. But ah, Jean was a guest of the Party.” Adam’s expression sags some, tongue sliding against the inside of his cheek. “He didn’t get to see the countryside, not from Stalag.” His eyes dip down to the floor, then flick back up to Chess. “He was one of us, you know.”


“Exceptional hearing,” Adam explains as if it were common knowledge. “He could pick up sounds from almost a mile away. I was… not a guest there. Staff.” He has a hard time admitting it. “Jean and I talked quite a bit, I’d get him books. He liked Heidegger.” Adam meanders over to where Chess is, not quite inviting himself to join her, but perhaps waiting for the invitation. “I let him go in April the next year. Once it warmed up.”

When the knock sounds, Chess straightens a little, setting the book face down, about to rise,but when Adam enters she eases back down into the lush cushion of the sofa. Her dark eyes track him as he approaches, mouth parting a little in a silent what at the revelation he knew Jean-Paul Sartre.

Some people read micro-expressions that give away their feelings; no one needs them with Chess’ utter lack of poker face as she frowns at the mention of ‘the Party’ and ‘Staff.’ Still, she’s intrigued by the story, and gestures for him to sit down. Then what he says registers.

“You helped him escape,” she says after a moment. “He supposedly escaped on a visit to the eye doctors.” She’s almost eager to grasp onto that idea, a hint of some humanity in those dark days. “Crappy eyesight, good hearing. One of those compensation abilities, I guess,” she says, thoughtfully, glancing down at the book, picking it up to close it properly before she slides it onto the coffee table.

“He’s pretty heady reading. It’s like trying to catch water in your hands though… you have it for a second but then it trickles through the cracks of your fingers. Still, I dig a few of the ideas. ‘Existence precedes essence’… we’re who we are because of what we do.” That has special weight for Chess, created as she was, designed for a purpose she had no say in. “And also that Freud’s loopholes regarding the subconscious are some bullshit.”

There’s a quick smile. “Did you meet him too?”

“Not a big fan of Freud,” Adam says with a hint of tongue-in-cheek humor. Adam comes to sit on the arm of the couch, hands folding in his lap. “Jean was easy to make an opening for. He wanted to escape. Just left a gap in security and…” he makes a gesture with one hand. “I’m not much fond of the person I was back then. You can probably imagine.” She can say she does, but she can’t. Few people can. Nick Ruskin may be one of the few who could.

“Anyway,” Adam says with a sigh, sitting forward and resting his forearms on his thighs. “I like that one bit,” he admits. “We are who we are because of what we do.” Adam reiterates her emphasis as well. “Some stupid part of me likes to think that in the long term everything I’m doing will be at least looked back on with a shrug of indifference and understanding. That there’ll be a long-term to reflect on our work from.” Our work. “But maybe we’ll fail, and I’ll always be the monster history wants me to be.” Adam closes his eyes and shakes his head, sighing again. This time, exasperatedly.

“Sorry,” he says in a whisper. “Sometimes I get melancholic like some wispy Victorian.

This is some common ground she didn’t expect to find. She hazards a small smile at the first joke, studies the book cover studiously as he recounts more serious regrets.

At the last, her brows draw together, and she looks up, almost surprised. And almost sympathetic.

Taking a breath, she rises, moving a small bar on one side of the apartment to pick up a couple of sake cups and pour some sake in each. When in Rome. There’s other liquor as well, but she doesn’t ask his preference, simply comes back and hands him one of the glasses.

“Maybe one day I’ll be old enough to be melancholic,” there’s a little British spin on the word, imitating his speech, “and not just angry as hell,” Chess says as if it’s something to look forward to.

She lifts her glass, making a toast out of that sentiment. “I don’t… really know why I asked you here. I guess just to talk. Is that weird?” She makes a face. She’s not good at talking with people she’s comfortable with already, let alone this strange familial relationship that was designed by a lab.

“I don’t know you as a person, just…“ Chess shrugs, takes a breath, starts again., “I don’t know. Not what the stories say, exactly. Kinda like a figurehead, I guess. And, well. Because I’m worried about being a wanted criminal and all that. If we get out of this-” That if is a very big if.

“I’m sure you made a very fine dandy,” Chess says instead of following that particular thread of a sentence to its end.

“I’ll have you know I did,” Adam says with a lopsided smile, reaching up to take the offered glass and return the toast. He’s quiet for a moment, after taking a sip. There’s a distant look in his eyes, a sense-memory brought on by a familiar taste. He nearly sets the glass, then stops part way and decides not to. Chess notices the falter. “I don’t know if anybody really knows me,” he says in a small voice, smaller than she’s ever heard him use. “Sometimes I…” he looks down at his hands. “I don’t even know myself.”

Adam loses his interest in the sake for the moment, then looks over to Chess. “It’s a long book, for what it’s worth. Even the Cliff’s Notes version might be a bit overwhelming.” He looks down to the glass, reconsidering, and knocking it back in a single shot. “But, fuck it.” He looks back up to her. “There’s a very good chance we may all get stepped on by the incarnation of all my poor life choices, so let’s open the book, mmn?

Adam sets down the glass on a small table beside the couch. “You ask me anything you want to know, I’ll give you a straight answer.”

Chess watches him quietly, brow lifting in some surprise at the fragility Adam seems to possess, beneath all of that immortality. “You weren’t by any chance the inspiration for Dorian Gray, were you?” she says after a moment, that half smile returning.

It’s a joke, except he very well could be.

She walks back to the little bar, picking up the sake bottle and setting it down on the coffee table. This might require a lot of refills.

“As for questions. Shit.” Chess shakes her head slightly, moving back to the couch. This time she pulls her feet up to tuck beneath her rather than sitting like she’s at a job interview. “I don’t know enough to know what to ask. I suppose it goes both ways, though. If you want to know — if there’s anything you don’t already, I don’t know.”

She shakes her head, glancing down into the cup of sake before taking another sip. Chess looks back up at him, dark eyes searching his face for a long moment, before she speaks.

“If you could change only one of them — your bad choices — what would it be? Without,” she waves a hand dismissively, “you know, repercussions and time travel paradoxes and all of that. No chance of stepping on a butterfly.”

Adam awkwardly laughs off the Dorian Gray comment, though there’s a hint of something dark in his eyes when he looks away from Chess and folds his hands in front of his mouth, considering her question. Maybe there wasn’t a painting of him getting older in an attic somewhere, but a reflection of his misdeeds in himself? Closer to home than Chess realizes.

“I’ve thought about what you’ve asked a lot,” Adam admits, resting his chin against his folded hands. “With the idea of time travel. But,” he closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Honestly, if I could go back to the start? God, it’s so long ago…” he laughs to himself, smoothing his hands down his face.

“There was a point in time, back in the late 1690s, before I was like this.” Adam holds out his hands, flexing his palms open and closed. “I was normal and I found an opportunity to become someone — something — extraordinary. It was a monkey’s paw. If I’d just drank myself to death in a pub none of this would be happening right now.” Adam slouches, ducking his head down and running his fingers through his hair. “I would’ve just had a bender to end all benders, and we’d all live happier lives.”

Realizing how much of a wispy Victorian he sounds like, Adam shakes his head and looks up and over to Chess. “All I want to know is… the people who raised you, were— were you happy?”

She tips her head at his words, eyes narrowing curiously. There’s a question coming together behind them, and something else — sympathy, perhaps.

Maybe understanding.

Instead of asking the next question, she answers his. Her brows draw together, and she glances down at the glass in her hands. A shrug is followed by a slow shake of her head.

“I thought so. My childhood was happy, so I got more than… the others.” That guilt, she wears like shackles weighing her down. “I know they resent me for that.” She swallows, then looks back up at him. “When I manifested, though… they weren’t happy, and not because they were just worried for me. Before then, all of them were definitely anti-Evolved, as they said back then. Not Pure Earth types, exactly, but definitely believed the government was doing the right thing.”

She lifts her cup, swallowing the last of the sake still within. “I haven’t seen them since I left for college that year. 2011.” Her voice is flat, but her eyes grow damp as she looks down and to the side, to blink them away.

“Did you not manifest… like the rest of us? Was the monkey’s paw the choice to be who you are?” she ask, voice a little more husky when she looks back up at him. “Did it have to do with the Dragon?”

He hates that term: Dragon. It’s visible on his face. “In a round-about way,” Adam admits without really admitting anything. But then, he’d promised straight answers. His eyes close with a sigh, and Adam brings a hand up to his forehead. “I was a mercenary. Wandering. I’d left England behind a while back, went to Japan to get as far away from the British Empire as possible.”

It’s clear he feels weird talking about this period in his life. Uncomfortable. “I served the Emperor of Edo for a while, things were tumultuous. Indigenous people warring with colonizers.” His head angles to the side. “Same old song and dance.” The bitterness in Adam’s voice masks a sense of helplessness. “Things were different back then, so much happened that never got written down. The Emperor had someone enslaved to him, a majo — witch.” He grimaces. “One of his court members, an astrologer, had some sort of ability that kept her in check. The witch?” He looks up to Chess. “That was the Dragon.”

Adam shakes his head and sits forward, resting his knees on his elbows and folding his hands. “I’d heard the Emperor used it’s magic for himself. Being a piece of shit, I thought about how I could use it for myself, so… I got some guards drunk and snuck into the tower on Mount Kisou they’d kept her in. Monkey’s paw, Faustian pact, whatever you want to call it. I asked for power and I got power. We conspired together. She gives me what I want, I get her freedom…”

Closing his eyes, Adam rests his forehead against the heels of his palm. “I keep doing the Emperor’s bidding, fighting the locals. Then some…” he shakes his head. “Some stupid shit happens, and I wind up falling in love with the enemy. I have… a child.” He pinches the bridge of his nose. “I don’t follow up with my end of the bargain. It gets free on its own and suddenly it’s very upset.”

Adam exhales a sigh, looking over to Chess. “She wants my daughter. I say no. I offer myself as sacrifice.” Looking away, Adam shakes his head. “Some… things happen. I lose the love of my life. Take her life with my own two hands, to…” he sighs. “I don’t know, because I thought I was being a hero.”

By the end it’s clear he’s glossing over large swaths of details, the more emotionally compromised he becomes by the storytelling. “Maybe this was a bad idea.” He doesn’t clarify what.

Chess listens, her expressions shifting with each rise and fall of the story. At some point, she reaches for the sake bottle and refills his cup, then hers.

She’s quiet for a moment. “That you tried to sacrifice yourself for your daughter… you weren’t a total piece of shit.” That could probably be said in a more convincing manner, but that small wry, almost apologetic smile accompanies it.

“Look. Everyone has regrets. You’ve lived longer, so you have more than your fair share,” she says, and it’s not quite absolution, but it is something like empathy. “I don’t… if someone offered me something like that, I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t want to be extraordinary but there’s things — people — I would do almost anything for.”

She swallows, and looks away, before lifting her cup to her lips again. “Monkey’s paw is the one where the person comes back from the dead, yeah?” she asks. “It’s a tempting idea.”

Her eyes return to his, glassy with unfallen tears. “Was it Joy — who you killed? Or was she later… or the witch? The Dra-” she changes course, having noticed the aversion to the word, “entity? Isn’t tied to one body, yeah?”

An unexpected, bitter laugh escapes Adam. “All of the above,” he says with a slow shake of his head. “Joy died,” he says in a whisper, “I thought she was dead all the way until she… reappeared in 81. I spent a hundred years mourning her. Then I finally moved on, and…” he exhales a breathless laugh and scrubs a hand down his face.

“We didn’t kill the Entity,” Adam says. “We just imprisoned it. But no prison is perfect. Hell, I’m proof enough of that,” he adds with a snort. “Prisons don’t work and you can’t just cut her head off.” That piece sounds remarkably like first-hand experience. “You have to think outside the box, be willing to make sacrifices, burn bridges, destroy things so that there’s something left to save.”

Adam stops himself, realizing he’s ranted deep into territory he never shares. Chess can see the shift in him, a tension and an uncertainty in his eyes. “I’m glad you had happiness,” is how he deflects, “for as long as you could find it.” Then, with a crease of his brows he considers something and looks up to her. “Is there someone on the outside?” He asks, opaquely at first. “Someone special… you’re going to return to?”

Jesus. Chess doesn’t give voice to the silent mouthing of the word. Her frown returns at the words sacrifices, burn, destroy as they raise the question — what is he…what are they all willing to destroy as they go into this battle?

The question he asks elicits a small huff of a bitter laugh.

“I wished on a monkey’s paw for five years, but he came back wrong.”

She breathes out another short laugh without humor. “That’s not fair to him. He’s not wrong, he’s just not the right one. And not in love with me. But a good guy. Just not the right version of him.”

Her hand reaches up to swipe away a tear before it has the chance to fall.

“Was Joy possessed by the Entity when you met her, or just later when you had to- “ Chess doesn’t finish that sentence, as he’s already upset. And she’s already upset. “I’m sorry you had to do that. I can’t even imagine. Are you…” she’s not sure what Joy and Adam are now, only that they seem to be a united front. “Are you together now?”

“She was just an ordinary woman when I met her,” Adam starts to say, but then corrects himself. “Well, not ordinary. But she wasn’t like what we’ve become. She… went by Yaeko then. It was a long time ago. We’ve… we changed.” Closing his eyes, Adam shakes his head and exhales a slow sigh.

“We aren’t together, not really. We were, all those years ago, but when we found her in 81… I had— I’d moved on.” He smiles, wearily. “Claudia. Niki’s mother and I, we— it was good. Simple. I was good.” There’s a twist in his voice there, a personal pain and regret. “Joy’s return changed everything. Claudia became… concerned, worried I’d stop loving her now that someone from my past had come back, and I— I hadn’t even told her the whole truth.”

Adam closes his eyes and hangs his head. “Joy was hurt that I had a family. She understood, but that’s what was so painful. She wouldn’t undo that. Couldn’t.” Adam’s eyes partly open, and he stares at the floor for a few moments in thought. “Even now, it’s never changed. The distance between us never mended. We care about each other, deeply, but…” he slowly looks up to Chess. “Neither of us are the people we once were,” Adam decides is the best explanation. “I suppose, in that, I sympathize.”

Chess nods, reaching up to scrub a hand over her eyes and clear the rest of the tears that linger on her lashes. “So it takes…how many centuries to get over losing someone?” she asks, one corner of her mouth tipping upward in a very sad smile. “Asking for a friend.”

She flaps a hand again to indicate he doesn’t have to respond.

“I’m glad you found happiness again, for what it’s worth,” she adds quietly, Chess reaches for the sake, splashes more in her cup, more in his if he doesn’t pull it away.

“Do you think we have an actual shot, all of us working together? I know some of the others don’t trust me, and I don’t… I don’t agree with some things that’ve happened. Squeaks being here, the experiments, Lanhua, Gemini. But If we really have a chance, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t try to help.” It’s who she is. And her downfall. “And will I even be able to go home, if we win — after what Lanhua’s done. Kimberly must be laying low too.”

“I don’t know,” is Adam’s discomforting answer to all of Chess’ questions. He offers her an apologetic smile, hands folded and head bowed like a man nearly in prayer. But not quite. He eases off of the arm of the couch and starts to pace, nervously, hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks. “I can work on trying to clear your name after this is all said and done. Lanhua wasn’t supposed to…” he makes a noise in the back of his throat, lifting a hand up to scratch at the back of his neck.

“Things are complicated with your sister,” Adam decides to say. “Lanhua’s service is split duties between working for me and working for… allies overseas.” It’s the first time he’s been cagey with Chess since she arrived. “The hit on the Celerity CEO, the attack at Liberty Island, it’s…” he struggles to explain. To justify. “I entangled myself with powerful, dangerous people to set us up for this victory. Giving them Lanhua after they helped me develop the science behind Gemini was a part of the deal. Unfortunately, it’s paid uneven dividends.”

Giving them Lanhua. Chess’ features sharpen, back into the guarded, sullen skepticism she’s worn most of the time in his presence since arriving in Praxia.

“Did she have the third…” she doesn’t know what to call it, so she gestures vaguely, settling on a euphemism, “‘treatment’ in September? Was that for them or for you? Did she have a choice in that?” Part of her feels that Lanhua would choose it if given the opportunity. “Does she know what happened to everyone else they tested it on? Do the others?”

She finishes the rest of her cup, but this time sets the cup down instead of pouring more. “After this is over, if we win, can we maybe shut down the crazy human experimentation labs, stop all this Übermensch bullshit? Nietzsche was eighty percent bullshit, too.”

“Probably more,” Adam says with a rise of his brows to the comment about Nietzsche. “Lanhua’s undergone three treatments,” he admits quietly. “First to test and see if she could receive proper treatment, that was telekinesis. Then she was given superhuman agility, and most recently a form of teleportation.” Adam’s eyes track the floor, then reluctantly find Chess. “She wanted all of it. She’s… ambitious. She thought because she was cloned from my DNA and Joy’s that she wouldn’t suffer the same side effects as the others.”

Adam exhales a sigh and shakes his head. “She was half right. It’s taking much longer to affect her. She’s been receiving treatments to stop the cell damage. We… we had a solution, but it…” Adam shakes his head and scrubs his palm over his mouth. “Before I recovered my memories, my goals weren’t… aligned the way they are now. Somewhere out there is a young woman with a unique mutation that makes her cells perfect for stabilizing Gemini. But when Wolfhound disrupted our partners’ development systems… we lost her.”

Walking back to Chess, Adam can’t quite look her in the eye. “I don’t know what will happen after all of this, Chess.” It’s his way of not promising to end his programs. It’s his substitute for it’s complicated. The justification every leader gives to barbaric acts. What Chess knows about Gemini could fit in a thimble, and even that small amount of information seems bleak.

“Well, that explains her jet setting and destroying my reputation,” Chess says flatly, arms crossing as she watches him. She’s quiet as she listens, mostly, but there’s a small uttering of the word “good” when he says they lost their target.

His lack of commitment to helping end the program draws a long sigh from her. “Was Gemini intended only to defeat the Entity? If so, fine. A means to an end, I guess, and like it or not, that’s how our world works. Wars are built on the concept that the ends justify the means. I was in one so I guess I’m complicit in that attitude.” She shakes her head, not particularly happy about that fact. “But if it was, if we defeat it… then we should destroy Gemini after. Humans are not meant to be weapons, and I know you know that. That you believe we’re more than that. Because if not…”

She breaks off, looking away. Her fingers wrap around her wrist, that tattoo she got in a fit of rebellion against learning she was “designed.”

“If that wasn’t the real goal of Gemini to begin with,” she says instead, “I guess that’s a different matter. But maybe if we get through this, we,” her gaze returns to his face, “your daughters, all of us that are living, and you can maybe change shit for the better. Not just fight to survive.”

Her brows lift. “Do your Y chromosomes just not survive or what?” There’s a lot of estrogen in the Monroe family line.

Adam laughs, shaking his head. It’s the first genuine laugh he’s had this entire time. It draws his attention back to Chess, his eyes lightening some. “I wasn’t an only child, you know,” comes as a surprise. “Seven sisters,” he admits with another, smaller laugh. “If you can believe it. I was the baby of the family, my eldest sister lived in France, I never met her.” Adam’s voice takes on a distant, wistful quality. “My family died when I was relatively young. I was… ten or eleven when our village was burned to the ground. We lived in a refugee settlement outside of Worcester for a time. My parents both got sick, it spread through my siblings and I fast… in the end I was the only one who survived.” Shaking his head, Adam looks down at the floor again. “Whatever you read about the Battle of Worcester in a history book, it was worse.”

Not knowing what to do with himself, Adam walks back to the sofa after a while of pacing and sits down on the arm again. “I don’t know what happened to my eldest sister, she may’ve lived a full life for all I know.” Shrugging, Adam looks over to Chess, for a moment a little lost. “But ah, that’s… not really a question you asked. Sorry, luv. Sometimes I get distracted by the past.”

Wringing his hands together, Adam’s blue eyes search the floor again, following tile seams. “Gemini wasn’t my invention,” he finally starts to explain. “After Pinehearst collapsed, a group in the Middle East — Mazdak — raided Pinehearst’s holdings. They’d already had interests in synthetically-augmented soldiers, but when they found early attempts at a successful means of developing abilities like ours, they put the best scientists they had on it. Eventually I ran into them, realized what their schtick was, and fed into it.”

There’s a rueful laugh that slips from Adam. “I wanted Gemini for my own reasons. I… there was a part of me, back then, that thought people like you and I had every bloody right to rule the world. The pendulum of my extremism just kept swinging from one side to the other. Charles wrote a charming caricature of a villain for my personality.” As tantalizing a notion as that is, Adam doesn’t explain that any further, and instead shifts thoughts.

“That’s how Mazdak and I came to be in this arrangement. After I bought out Praxis Heavy, Mazdak supplied black-market muscle, Gemini became a shared venture of ours. I became a partner in their desire to liberate Iraq from the US and…” he shakes his head, “I may’ve helped topple an entire nation.” Said the same way someone might admit to spilling a cup of tea.

Chess rolls her eyes a little as the one joke is what he latches onto at first, and not her plea, her call to action. Still she listens, those expressive features of hers shifting in reaction to the stories he tells.

She latches onto one piece of information, herself.

“The allies sharing Lanhua — it’s Mazdak then?” she asks. “So all the evil corporations ever, basically, have a piece in this mad science. Cool, cool.”

She is a millennial.

“Have you ever considered,” Chess asks, looking up at him, her eyes a little glazed from all that sake, “the fact that the caricature villain thought that Gemini was a great idea is a reason new-and-improved-formula Adam Monroe should nope the fuck out?”

Adam doesn’t answer at first. His glib humor is gone. “It’s too late,” is how he finally chooses to answer. “Maybe after all of this is done, if any of us are alive to make those kinds of decisions. But this isn’t something you and I can just…” he waves a hand in the air, “make go away. The genie is out of the bottle, Chess. It’s not as simple as saying no and stopping it. Nothing… ever is.” There’s a frustration growing beneath Adam’s tone. He slides off the arm of the couch, but this time it isn’t to pace the floor.

“Sometimes the world isn’t clean,” Adam says with a shake of his head and a tightness in his voice. When he looks up to Chess, there is a hint of shame in his eyes. “Sometimes, even when we win a war, we still lose.” He looks away, down to the floor, shoulders hunched and hands in his pockets.

“I…” Adam falters, then looks to the door. “I have a meeting in about a half an hour and there’s no other me’s here to go to it.”

For a moment, Chess looks like she might be ready to fight some more. There’s a part of her that’s always ready, always angry, no matter her good intentions and all of her humanistic philosophies.

But then those words — even when we win a war, we still lose — resonate with that larger part of her — the part that’s perpetually mourning.

“Just, uh.” She swallows back the emotion that wells up inside her, and looks up, tossing her long blond hair out of her face. “Pencil me in for the day after we win, all right? We can discuss it then.”

Optimism sounds strange coming from her, and she knows she can’t really sell it.

His final words catch up to her. “More yous?” If it’s a well-known fact that there are multiple Adams running around Praxia, no one told her. “Jesus, I’m in a Star Wars movie or something.”

Adam cracks a faint smile at that. “Like one of me wasn’t bad enough,” is the best explanation he has as he opens the door to Chess’ apartment, but then


Adam makes a sound in the back of his throat, turning to look at Chess. “I’m… really glad I got to meet you. That I had a chance to… to make a connection with one of you that wasn’t poisoned by the man history needed me to be.” His smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“All the cool kids have clones,” Chess quips, a small smile pulling her mouth upward at the corner again.

At his next words, she glances down, her brows knitting together before she looks up again, that inquisitive, appraising look in her eyes, like she might be trying to read the truth of him, not the myth or legend or false personas.

Like most myths, it’s impossible to unravel the full truth from the fabric of imagination, revision, revisionism.

“Me too,” Chess says, and there’s no guile in her expression or hidden in her tone.

There’s a pause, and it seems that might be all she has to say, but just before he turns to go again, Chess adds quickly, “For what it’s worth, I don’t know if anyone else could have gone through what you have and come out without some character flaws. I’m only 26 and fucked up enough.” Her smile is wry, sad, tired — but not insincere.

“The world does terrible things to us all,” Adam agrees with a dip of his head, shoulders sagging as though remembering a weight on them. “Perhaps once it’s been healed…” he says quietly, then pauses and furrows his brow, only to turn for the door. “Get some rest, Chess,” Adam adds, quietly. Followed by one last sentiment, mostly to himself:

“While we still can.”

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