lanhua_icon.gif vi_icon.gif

Scene Title Maneuver
Synopsis məˈno͞ovər — verb. carefully guide or manipulate (someone or something) in order to achieve an end.
Date February 26, 2020

The Praxis Ziggurat
Praxia, California Safe Zone

February 26th
2:18 pm Local Time

A steady rhythm of canvas beats echoes off of the high ceiling and concrete walls of a mostly-empty training gym. Cloth-wrapped hands pound a staccato beat against a sandbag, accompanied by melodic hints of jingling chain as the bag sways from side to side with each hit. Huff os breathing, grunts of exertion, and small vocalizations of frustration accompany each strike.

When the percussive performance ends, Violet Sharp’s gasping breaths become a song in its own right. Like any music, there is an intrinsic emotion and heart behind it, a subliminal intention from the creator to the listener. Save that Violet doesn’t realize she has an audience. She hunches over, hands on her knees, bangs plastered to her face by sweat, even the length of her hair tied back into a ponytail clings to the space between her shoulder blades. Sweat drops off the tip of her nose, rolls down her cheeks to her chin. Violet swallows audibly, gasping on either side of the motion, though there’s a shuddering quality to the latter.

When Vi finally stands up straight, she wipes down one of her cheeks with the back of her hand, then scrubs her fingers at her eyes. On blinking them open, she finally notices the other woman in the room and jolts with a startle. “Fuck!” She exclaims, breathlessly. Across the room, partly occluded by the corner of the boxing ring, is Lanhua Chen. Neither woman says anything for a few moments, which causes the hair on the back of Vi’s neck to rise in anticipation. Eventually, Lanhua takes a few meandering steps forward, turning her attention to the corner post of the boxing ring, gloved fingers tracing along the metal, drawing her attention away from Vi.

“You creep around like this with everyone?” Vi asks, defensively. Most people could mistake Chen for Chess, but Vi can tell the difference in just the angle of Chen’s brows. Lanhua blinks her attention back to the other clone, letting her hand slowly fall away from the post. Having Lanhua’s dark eyes back on her causes Violet’s shoulders to unconsciously square.

Lanhua shakes her head. “Just visiting,” she says. “I realize we’ve… never had much time to talk together. Also I… might have heard you cursing at the bag.” Her eyes drift over to the punching bag, then back to Vi, “before you started kicking the shit out of it.”

“I have a lot of frustration to work out.” Vi says, walking over to a nearby bench to retrieve her towel. “We could’ve talked plenty of times, but the Director’s— Adam’s— got you running errands all the time.” Vi recognizes the bitterness in that rebuke right after she says it. Rather than correct herself, she hides her face in the towel, drying the sweat off of it.

Lanhua comes to stop nearby, crossing her arms over her chest as she looks out across the gym floor, away from Violet. “I was standing right where you are a few months ago, when he brought Yingsu back with him.” Mention of Chess’ birth name has Vi’s attention. She drags the towel down her face, eyes knowingly fixed on Lanhua. “But you and Yingsu get along now, don’t you?”

Vi slides her tongue across the back of her teeth. It doesn’t relieve the bitter taste in her mouth. “The fuck do you want, Chen?”

“Nothing.” Lanhua says with an angle of her head to the side, threading a loose lock of dark hair behind one ear at the same time. “I just wanted to commiserate.” Lanhua approaches again, coming to sit down on the bench near Vi, angling a look up at her. “I don’t blame you for being upset,” she says quietly, “what with everything the Director had you do. The way he treated you and your sisters…” her dark eyes flick down to the floor. “All the while I was living in the Shanghai arcology, traveling the world, being groomed to be his protege.

Vi’s fingers curl tightly into her towel, which she angrily thrusts into a nylon bag at her feet a moment later. “Awesome,” is her bitter response. Lanhua makes a soft noise, reaching out and making an uncharacteristic show of sympathy as she gently grabs Vi by the arm before she can walk away. Vi fixes a look down at the hand on her arm, then balefully levels it up at Lanhua.

“I didn’t want that,” Lanhua says in apology. “It’s just… “ slowly, those gloved fingers release, “it kills me to know that even after he retrieved the penny with his memories on it from the Nakamura vault, even after he remembered aloof the injustice, he still had you and your sisters being playdates for Mr. Huang.” Lanhua’s expression is a sad, sympathetic smile, but there is something stomach-turning about it to Violet. She recoils from the hand at her arm, breathing hastening and hands trembling.

Fuck you,” Vi whispers sharply, dropping her gym back and taking a few steps away from Lanhua. Feigning innocence, Lanhua slowly rises to her feet and lifts her palms in a show of non-hostility. “No, fuck you, he— he stopped when he got his memories back. He was better to us.”

Lanhua’s expression twists, a smile trying to hide a frown. Acted. “I’m sorry I thought you knew,” she says in a purposefully small voice. “He got his memories back in the middle of your assignment, and didn’t want to risk you all abandoning it. So… he left you there. I thought that was in the debrief— ”

You’re fucking lying,” Vi says as she thrusts herself forward toward Lanhua, hands clenched into fists at her side. “You’re wrong. You’re wrong.”

Lanhua doesn’t back down, just keeps her hands up and puts on a sympathetic face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to start anything,” she says with an apologetic rise of her shoulders. “I’m so sorry. I should go and—”

Violet closes the distance between them, snatching Lanhua by the wrist as she starts to turn. Lanhua freezes, breath hitching in the back of her throat as she looks down to the hand and then snaps her attention over to Violet. The fear in her eyes is extremely real. Even in her anger, Vi sees it. She releases Lanhua’s wrist, the relief in her eyes is palpable when she does.

“I wouldn’t lie to you,” is a lie, but when Lanhua says it to Vi there is a fine veneer of truth. “Call Claudius if you don’t believe me,” she says, wringing a hand around the wrist Vi had grabbed. “He was the mission lead. You know Claudius doesn’t give a fuck about anything. He’ll give you a straight answer.”

Vi’s hands are shaking, she can barely keep her breathing steady. She swallows down a lump in her throat, bile rising up in the back. “If you’re lying to me I’ll fucking kill you.” All of that anger of the last several years comes boiling to the surface, all of the rage she had been pushing down, all of the jealousy and resentment, all of the bitterness and hate. Lanhua says nothing in response, just keeps her stare firmly locked on Vi.

After a long silence between the two, Lanhua softly says, “I’m telling the truth.” The bile comes back up in Vi’s throat. “What’re you…” she looks down to Vi’s hands, then back up, “…going to do?”

Violet turns away from Lanhua and runs her hands through her hair, exhaling a scream that comes with a crack of her voice. She winds up and kicks a folding chair out of the way, it bounces across the ground and comes to a stop on its side nearby. “Fuck!” She screams, grabbing at her hair with curled fingers. “Fuck!

Lanhua watches Violet marching toward the exit, now fully consumed in a panic attack fueled by blind rage. The corners of her mouth flutter up into the ghost of a smile, but she forces herself to suppress it.

There’ll be time to gloat later.

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