One Door Closes


asi_icon.gif chess3_icon.gif

Scene Title One Door Opens
Synopsis Chess and Asi commiserate on being framed and Lanhua problems while Chess prepares for another journey.
Date July 12, 2019

Tokyo Restricted Zone

The front door hadn't even opened when everyone returned, but the sound of a slamming door heralds them home nonetheless.

It draws Asi out of her reverie, the faint neon glow in her eyes persistent as her gaze blindly flicks about, focused more on listening for sounds of movement, voices. She expects to hear conversation and raised voices to accompany something like that, but… nothing. One leg is folded on the bed, used to support her laptop as an impromptu table while the other hangs off the side, toes gracing the wooden floor. The end of the bed, both the mattress-top and the space on the floor, play host to the various items she'd had Miles help her in secreting from her home— the only items she had left to her name. Hours had passed since the rest of the group set out for Kiso Mountain, and she had had ample time to do some kind of organizing with it…

But she's still sitting here on this bed not technically hers.

It belongs, at the moment, to Chess.

The blue in Asi's eyes fade as she comes to her feet, leaving the laptop behind on the bed in favor of crossing to the door and opening it. She can hear movement downstairs, sees no one in the hall. Lips pursing, she fights down the paranoia that tells her she should bring her gun with her, leaving the door ajar as she heads down the stairs. When Chess brushes past tersely to go upstairs, Asi says nothing. Instead, she peers into the living space of the home, sees only Eve fussing with her gear while Kim opens the fridge for a beer.

Kimberly's behavior isn't unusual, but Eve's near-frenzy, muttering to herself, brings Asi away from lifting her voice to talk with them first. Something feels off, and bringing it up feels like it could jeopardize Eve's ever-fragile state.

So back up the stairs Asi goes almost silently, following belatedly in Chess's wake. She runs a hand back through her hair, stiff with day-old hairspray. She's still dressed in pieces of the raver's outfit she'd worn when she set out from her apartment last night, adorned only in a strapless white crop top and paint-spattered black pants. At least— most of the red splashed on the thigh was paint. Willing herself to summon patience, she rubs at the bridge of her nose with the side of her hand and draws a breath in to keep herself centered and calm. Whatever had happened, the last thing anyone needed was a hot head demanding to know what was going on… which meant curbing the snappish attitude she'd developed in the morning before the group had set out.

Pushing the door to the room back open, she can't summon an apologetic look for encroaching on Chess's space both with her material possessions and now her person, but she does show a touch of concern in her expression. "Chess," she intones softly, letting the light door click shut behind her. She keeps her voice low, knowing the walls are just as thin. "What happened out there?"

The woman stands at the window, staring out but her focus is somewhere far, far beyond the view or even the horizon. When she looks over her shoulder at Asi, her expression is one wrought with conflict. She shakes her head slightly.

Too much to tell? Too hard to say?

With Chess, it’s hard to tell. Usually.

But then her face crumples, cracks with a single sob, and she covers her mouth, turning back to the window. It’s a short moment, but she takes a steadying breath, scrubs her hands over her eyes and turns around.

“Adam was there. Tae betrayed us,” Chess says, staccato phrases summing up the evening’s events. “No one was hurt.” Bullet points.

Until Chess's composure cracks, Asi stays by the door. The moment it happens, though, her brow lifts and she's unable to keep surprise from being worn openly. That whatever happened impacted Chess so deeply and emotionally heightens her concern, and brings her to approach the window.

No one was hurt, Chess says as she fights down showing pain.

Asi's gaze dances back and forth quickly while she works over a decision, the moment lasting only til Chess turns back to her. Her hand lowers back to her side from where she had considered making a gesture of comfort. Instead, she accepts the lie that Chess has put herself back together, straightening and nodding. Her chin lifts a touch.

"Did you learn any of what you'd set out to learn?" she asks, care put into selecting that as her baseline question.

“Not really. Maybe” Chess shakes her head at the inadequacy of words and those words in particular, huffing a short laugh that doesn’t reach her eyes or even lift the corners of her mouth into anything resembling a smile, sardonic or otherwise.

She shoves a hand through her hair, but the blond strands just fall back into her eyes. She stares at the ground halfway between herself and Asi, as if trying to find the words to explain what happened, the words that would explain the tension in the house.

She looks up, about to speak, when she tips her head, one brow lifting.

“Why’re you dressed like that?” she asks, and a small hint of amusement creeps into one corner of her mouth.

She flaps a hand, as if to say it doesn’t matter. “He was angry. Scared because the more we know, the more dangerous it is. Apparently I can know, and Alix.”

Her dark eyes well up again, and she looks away, the choice she’s made feeling like a dagger in her own back. “If we go back with them.”

The attempt to deflect on the seriousness of the conversation back to Asi is glossed over for what it is, not even causing her to look down at herself to check just how put-together her outfit still is. She steps over to the foot of the bed anyway, reaching into a small duffel shoved with clothes. A thin gray shirt with long sleeves is stretched over her head and pulled down her torso, and she pauses when Chess says that last bit.

She turns abruptly over her shoulder, fixing Chess with slightly narrowed eyes as she finishes tugging the shirt down. "I am sorry— you get some magical pass on the topic?" Asi can't help the sarcasm that creeps into her voice. What's been dangled in front of Chess's face— and Alix, too— it reeks of manipulation. "It is fine for you, because you are his?" She has to look away with a sharp sigh out of her nose before she can fix her eyes on Chess again, because she's trying not to direct the harshness in her at her.

"Asking them to stop digging is not something I would put past him. Either to hide his own past or to prevent that thing from growing stronger, anonymity is his sword and shield," she concedes almost dismissively before leaning into: "… but telling you you get a free pass is a cheap move. Why now? Why there? What has changed aside from his fear that perhaps BOOM is getting too close to the truth?" She's a little less quiet than she'd have hoped in saying it, a flicker of apology in her expression as she breathes out again.

Similarly, Asi's not sure when her hand clenched by her side, but she abruptly lets the tension in her fist go. She's madder than she thought on their behalf.

The sarcastic barb stings, probably more than it should, and Chess’ brows furrow. The words don’t do much to assuage the guilt she feels for even considering the offer, a decision she’s all but made.

“I’m not his.” The words are flat but sharp on both sides at the same time. Like the dagger she feels in her chest; like the dagger she assumes Luther feels in his back at what he probably thinks of as betrayal.

She shakes her head. “He doesn’t give a shit about me. But he is scared about whatever that thing is. I’m not sure why Alix and I can go, but he does seem to think it’s safer for the rest of them not to, that he’s keeping them alive by not letting them know more.”

Her shoulders lift, and then her arms wrap around herself. “Kim won’t go. Alix will go if I go. I don’t know if I can do that to her, but…”


“My mother’s there. And … answers, he said.”

Asi's shoulders settle. "That's what you came all this way for." It's not judgment, but neither is it a blessing. The consolation in it nears hollow. "Answers." Her brow begins to needle together. "I understand you don't want to have come all this way for nothing. That…"

Another thin breath streams from her with a shake of her head. Keeping her words from cutting, intentionally or otherwise, is a task. "It's one thing to know he doesn't care about you or your sisters as a person, and another to acknowledge it's only you that were selected by him. Your genetics must have something to do with it. He's not your father, Chess, but you are of him. Whether or not that is something that adds value in his eyes or makes you the perfect cannon fodder remains to be seen."

She might be doing a bad job at that task. "I would be cautious it is the latter, given what he has done to the rest of your sisters; turning them into weapons, abusing their genetics to do so. The files we recovered spoke specifically to only 'descendants' being able to withstand…" Her eyes flit to Chess's, concern present in them, but she stows it temporarily.

Asi shifts her weight without moving her feet, the only sign of her discomfort. "If you have a unique opportunity to get what you came for, it only makes sense you would pursue it," she says with more care to her tone. "Were I in your shoes, I would take what has been offered. But I would also not believe everything they might say. Some of it may be true, and some of it may be merely convenient." Her mouth firms into a line, trying to keep herself from injecting more of her opinion into Chess's personal affairs, but worry sees one more thing added. "If they offer you Gemini, Chess, you must refuse. You did not fight a war and come so far to die from … that."

“Right.” Chess’ response is terse, but not argumentative or sarcastic. She takes a breath, squares her shoulders and shoves that wayward blond strand out of her eyes again.

“When we heard the whispers — that I take it were the Entity’s — it warned me that ‘his apple, when he offers it, is rotten.’”

She huffs a small laugh. “Gotta love allegorical riddles, right? But basically that… that’s what makes me think I should. If that Entity doesn’t want me to go with him, then that is a reason to do so. If we have a hope of defeating it, and if I can help…”

Her shoulder lifts again in a shrug. It’s who she is, or has been since the war. Personal safety is not her main concern. Protecting others is more important than her own life, even if it means throwing herself to the wolf.

She nods once at the talk of descendents. “I really do think, in a weird way, he doesn’t want more people to get hurt. He admits he’s not a good person, but…” she shakes her head. “He could have killed us there. He had the element of surprise, and Lanhua was with him.”

Her eyes meet Asi’s again. “But that doesn’t mean I’ll trust him entirely. And fuck no, I’m not letting him treat me like a guinea pig. I’m done with letting them play god.”

Chess glances at the door, then back to Asi. “I don’t know if they’ll forgive me. Luther, anyway.” Her lips tip upward into the smallest of smiles. “They, uh, took Tae as collateral. Sorry…”

At first Asi only blinks. "He is lucky to be alive at all," she supposes absently, but it's clear that's not what's on her mind. She's peering at Chess intently, maybe even a bit warily, after something she said. The surprise of what happened on the mountain can't compare with the revelation that the Entity has been whispering to people. People plural.

She lifts a hand to run her fingers back through her hair, purely for the sake of the distracting sensation of dragging her nails through her scalp. What the fuck? "That… message, though. That is unnervingly direct, if this is what it referred to." The symbology of it— the offering of forbidden knowledge— felt clear. On top of everything else, this Entity could see the future? "When did you hear it?"

Chess shrugs, rubbing her eyes tiredly. “Last fall I think? Maybe September?” Almost a year ago. “I didn’t say anything. Thought it was my brain being, I don’t know, paranoid as fuck, what with suddenly having clone sisters trying to kill me. Something Eve told me later made me realize what it was.”

She grimaces, leaning against the wall and crossing her arms. “Obviously I didn’t say anything then, either. I thought it was nonsense, or you know, my own mind making meaning out of nonsense. Like people seeing Jesus’ face in burnt toast or something. Pareidolia.”

Chess reads a lot.

“It didn’t really click into place, despite, you know, the obvious symbology, until he was there offering me something.” Chess lifts her shoulder again. “So yeah. I mean, if it doesn’t want me to go, it makes sense to go. Also, we went there for answers, and we didn’t get any — if we want any, this is our best shot.”

Her dark eyes drop downward, long lashes fanning her cheeks. “And I’d like to see Joy,” she adds in a smaller voice, painfully aware of how selfish that might seem.

Now Asi rests a hand on Chess's shoulder, squeezing.

"Somehow, that sounds like an apology," she notes quietly. "For something you should not apologize for." The technopath is far from being able to smile, so she simply nods her reassurance. "You should not let anyone else's fear keep you from doing what you feel is right or just." Her hand falls as she gestures with a tip of her chin to Chess. "If this is what you feel is right for you… then do it, before the opportunity passes. Something like this won't happen a second time." Only a few days ago, she might have suggested to exercise more caution, but her world has been turned upside down. Uprooted as she now is, she can see the appeal in latching onto any opportunity for forward movement, no matter how far away it could take her.

Turning away, Asi looks over the room briefly. Somehow, Chess's predicament felt easier to analyze than her own. She offers, "Luther may not understand, but he may also see only the risk and not the opportunity. He has already lost too many he cares about, and…" A frown starts to pull at the corner of her mouth. "This will be a form of loss. If you go to Monroe… who knows how long it will be before you find your answers, and the answers Eve is looking for. And even if you find them, the chances of them allowing you to share them… low. It's hard to not see the chances of you returning to be anything but similar."

Her head tips slightly to one side as she notes, "I find it unlikely Tae will serve as effective collateral for your safe return. Monroe and his organizations seem willing to burn anyone to further their goals."

Asi has to shake her head at the bitter emphasis in that, pulling her arms into a fold before her. She glances to Chess out of the corner of her eye. "… When will you and Alix go?"

Talk of loss finds Chess frowning again, her eyes cast down. Despite Asi’s reassurances, it’s easy to see she still feels guilty for considering this — for all but boarding the plane for California, already, if she’s honest. She doesn’t say anything but nods, whether in agreement or to indicate she hears Asi’s words.

A soft huff of breath, her facsimile of a laugh, escapes her lips at the talk of Adam burning anyone to get what he wants.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of,” she mutters, but then looks up again at the question Asi poses.

“Probably soon. Before or when you guys leave for home, anyway,” she says quietly. Her eyes linger on Asi’s face a moment before she adds, a little tentatively, “Thanks for your help with everything. I don’t think I’ve said it. I don’t make friends easily, I know, but you’ve been one. I appreciate it.”

At the mutter, Asi narrows her eyes for a flit of a moment. When Chess looks back to her, her expression eases somewhat in its intensity. But when she moves on to thanking Asi, her look shifts to one of surprise. The tension in the fold of her arms slacks.

For a moment, she doesn't know what to say. It might be she's not good at this either.

After that notable pause, she ventures quietly, "I wish you had been dealt an easier hand, that you had not been caught up in this at all. The kind of answers you seek shouldn't have to be found in people like Adam Monroe. You deserve something cleaner, something… more honest." Her shoulders curve upward ever so slightly in a shrug-like gesture. "The kinds of answers Eve seeks were always bound to be complicated, at least. On some level, she knew what she was getting into." Asi forces a smile, but it's an empty, short-lived thing. "Not quite the same with you."

She looks off as she thinks back to her sudden inclusion in the you guys, gaze wandering to the collection of technical odds and ends that now comprise all of her physical holdings. It dawns on her abruptly that she might leave Japan, too. Her lips part to pass some comment, but none comes to the rescue and instead she stands there with unmasked uncertainty.

Maybe being on the run maybe wasn't a short term thing. Maybe she wouldn't be able to clear her name. Maybe she wouldn't be able to go back home after all.

Who would look after her neighbor's cat until he came back from his sabbatical?

"On my end," Asi suddenly remarks with an open smile, the source of which she can't place. All she knows is it's not a happy one. "I never thought I would end up back in New York again. Plenty now is working out how we never planned it would."

“Thanks,” is a quiet and terse reply to those condolences for whatever it was Chess thought she’d get — or what she deserves. But her brows lift at that final revelation, and she looks unsure of what to say back. Eventually she pushes off from where she’s been leaning, moving to the bed and folding herself down to sit — tension still rides the blades of her shoulders. She looks ready to spring back into action at the slightest of motions, much like a cat. But she always seems that way indoors, in so-called civilized places.

“Do you want to?” she asks. “Miles can get you wherever you need him to… well, not quite, but a lot of places. I’m not sure how many places this Miles can picture. But you can pop over to anyone he’s met, so there are people in New York, at least. Or hey, wait a few days and maybe you can get him to bring you to Praxia.”

It’s only after a second’s pause that Chess smirks. That was a joke. “Don’t do that. I can’t vouch for anyone’s safety if you do that,” she adds, just in case Asi thought it was an invitation.

“Paperwork… I mean with what you can do, I’d imagine it’d be pretty easy to get yourself a fake ID, be whoever, whatever you want. I hear Canada’s nice if you don’t like New York.” She tips her head. “What do you want?”

This Miles, Chess says, and Asi recalls abruptly that he's not of this world. It's a small detail for her, where it's a glaring one for Chess. But… for purposes of teleportation, maybe it did matter. Before Chess smirks at her own joke, Asi's already smiling though. "You sure?" she jokes with the first touch of levity she's had all day. "I've got my bags packed and everything…"

It makes it a little easier to segue into thinking about Chess's question, to not let what's burning her up inside make its way out. They're ugly things, formless desires for revenge.

"I had money I have been saving up for years, waiting for a so-called 'rainy day' like this one," Asi admits, thumbing the cuff of her sleeve while it rests against the opposite forearm. "But my goal even then was never to hide away. It was always to strike back. I just … did not envision the enemy I would need to fight would be this difficult to see."

Her head shakes once. "My commander, Komura, he… was set up. His family is being held hostage, and he was directed to put me in the situation I was, where I would be framed and accused of being a member of Mazdak. And yet—" Asi's simmering anger surfaces momentarily as her expression twinges. "While Mazdak did this to me, they were not wrong in the accusations they laid. My government was working in secret to research a 'cure' for Expression." It's hard not to hear an undertone of mourning as she goes on, "For so long we fought and advocated for better, to serve and prove our use to our country even under duress, and still they would have stamped us out. Like a disease."

The world is sick, Baruti had preached to the steelworks crowd. We are the cure.

Asi lets out a huff of a breath. "I don't know, though. It is hard to sympathize with Mazdak when they have used my past and my present so effectively against me. It is hard to feel like they have freed me when everything I have worked for the last ten years lays in tatters at my feet."

"But if I do not take revenge on them, then who?" The question is posed as if it's an innocent one, looking back at Chess like she might have the answer. "And even if I do, what then? Sentiment against our kind will only grow worse from here. Is there something that can be done to salvage it? Should we, or should we…"

The end of that thought isn't one she's prepared yet to face.

The mention of a cure pulls Chess’ brows together into a crease, and there’s a flash of anger there, stronger and hotter than the duller sense of worry and guilt she’s been wearing since they came home. Well, on top of the older, dirtier layers of worry and guilt she always wears.

“We’re not a disease. Fuck that,” she says sharply, shaking her head, angry for herself, selfilshly for a moment, before the words register — what they mean for Asi takes a moment to sink in.

“So we have that in common — being blamed for shit we didn’t do,” Chess says wryly. The questions, though, are difficult ones. The last, the question of their time, really, the one they’ve been dealing with for so long and always coming up short with the solutions.

The pause stretches, before she answers — the first of the questions.

“I don’t know. I’ll help you if you want, when… when all this is done.” This meaning going to Praxia, the fight with the Entity. There’s a lot of ifs, and Chess sighs a little at that. “As for salvaging it — I don’t know if we can. Even if we save the world, there are those who’ll still say we’re too dangerous to be free. It’s just another kind of ‘other’ and history tells us things can get better… but only some.”

She pulls her ever-present baseball out of her pocket, rolling it against her knee. “I guess some is worth fighting for.”

When all this is done, Chess says, but Asi wonders if that's not another if hiding in plain sight. Would this ever be done for her, for them? While forces might be perpetually gathering strength in the shadows, they were dealing with beings whom time is no object to. It could be decades before the fight spilled into the light.

Her thoughts are pulled away from that mulling when Chess pulls out her worry stone. "On the other hand," she voices lighty. "There are worse minorities we could put in power than ourselves, if it came down to it."

Even Asi finds that joke to be in poor taste, though, shaking her head at it.

"I would tell you I could not bring myself to ask for your help with revenge, but then I remembered this is just as personal for you." Though… Chess had been out today, so it might be she didn't know yet. Asi can't even attempt a smile, only strain entering her expression. "Lanhua was there last night, too," she explains carefully. "The ongoing manhunt for escapees from the Mugai-Ryu sting includes…"

Certainly not Lanhua, that's who.

Bringing a hand up to rub the bridge of her nose, she sighs. "You know, if it had not been a set-up, it would have made for a spectacular sting. The leader of Mazdak, the leader of the Ghost Shadow Triads, your doppelganger, and a crooked minister siphoning government funds for illicit research all in one go. Too bad they all knew when exactly the Mugai-Ryu were coming to bust their party, isn't it?"

Hand dropping back down to her folded arms, she realizes she's sulking. Asi's voice lifts as she asks, "Is there anything I can do for you, though? Before you head into all of this?" Her brow lifts as she adds the possibility of, "After?"

That revelation makes Chess’ eyes narrow, and she shakes her head, looking skyward for a moment. Well, ceilingward. She huffs a short laugh before sharing the stupid joke with Asi.

“My brothers and me, if we ever did anything we knew was wrong, we would jokingly blame it on our ‘evil twins,’” she explains. She rarely talks about the adoptive family she hasn’t seen since 2011. “We all had names for them.” She rolls her eyes to add, “Mine was Checkers.”

She looks back to Asi and her expression grows wry. “I didn’t expect to actually fucking have one.” Let alone another twin, or the six that didn’t make it this far in life.

“For what it’s worth, I apologize, on behalf of the family,” Chess adds a little formally, knowing full well she doesn’t speak for Lanhua.

Moving to the closet, she pulls out the duffel bag she used for luggage, an Army-Navy surplus store type without any governmental labeling — if there had been some, it was ripped off and thrown out deliberately long ago.

“I don’t know,” is her answer to the offer posed. “I guess just look out for them for me?” she nods to the door. “And if anything happens to me… try to not let it be in vain?”

Asi shakes her head at first, though with Chess turned away and without aired context, it could be at nothing at all. It takes her a moment to respond, trying to find a set of words that carry enough meaning to impart confidence or peace leading into a final farewell.

Instead, she chuckles. "Checkers," she chuffs in amusement. "I get it."

Looking back to Chess, all the technopath can do is nod with what she hopes is reassurance. She doesn't have to turn her head to feel the imprint some of the others in the house leave. Kimberly with her music player, Eve with her fog, Luther with his phone. It used to be she could tell whenever Monica had come over to visit before she even checked the cameras, owing to her unique arm, but she didn't have such a way of feeling her out anymore.

Asi would find a way to keep looking after all of them anyway. To stay close, since Chess wouldn't be able to.

"If harm comes to you, I think I'll be more occupied with making sure their retaliation efforts aren't in vain. They'd set all of Praxis on fire themselves, no matter what it would cost them." At the very least, Luther would. Asi tries to smile it off. "I'll do my best to uphold both asks. But I will look forward to seeing you after."

Chess begins tossing things into the bag. It doesn’t take much — she only brought a few changes of clothes, a couple of books… not much more than fits already in her day-to-day courier bag that’s always on her shoulder.

She looks up and offers a smile of tacit gratitude, then chuckles at the thought of what retribution might look like.

“Hell hath no fury like a Luther pissed off,” she manages, tossing the bag back onto the ground between bed and wall where it’s not so obvious to anyone walking in. No need to rub salt in fresh sounds.

“To after,” she agrees. “We can crack into some of the good sake.”

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