Questions and Thanks


chess4_icon.gif richard3_icon.gif

Scene Title Questions and Thanks
Synopsis …are brought to Richard when Chess visits him months after the strange events in Detroit.
Date June 30, 2020

Raytech, Richard's Office

No doubt Richard gets many visitors at Raytech on any given day — some scheduled and some not, some welcome, and some not.

“Francesca Lang,” the name given to the receptionist to pass on to him, is sure she falls in the first category but not too certain where she falls in the second.

Chess sits with a red paper bag and a jade-green clutch purse on her lap, looking like she might be there for a job interview, dressed as she is in slim black pants, a blazer, white blouse, and high heels. No bruises, dirt or blood mars her face, unlike the last time Richard saw her. Like a job applicant, she looks a little nervous, one knee jostling up and down as she waits.

She’s not kept waiting for long, maybe ten minutes before Richard comes walking along into the lobby. At least she has the robotic butterflies swirling overhead to watch as a distraction if she needs one.

He walks out in his usual business suit and red tie, a smile curving to his lips as he sees her. “Miss Lang,” he greets affably, approaching and offering a hand out, “Good to see you under— different circumstances.”

Chess rises, her professional outer appearance belied a bit by the way she rakes her lower lip with her teeth a bit nervously when she sees him enter. She stands when he approaches, taking the hand offered in a handshake. It’s much different than the last time, as well.

“Same,” she says a little wryly, before offering him the paper gift bag, rolling her eyes a little at herself. “Just a token of thanks. What do you give to the guy who literally has robots?” Inside is a boxed bottle of Kweichow Moutai Flying Fairy. “I personally don’t like the stuff, but it’s an acquired taste I haven’t tried to acquire.”

Hands free, they find their way to holding the clutch bag in front of her. “So thank you.” This is awkward.

“I’m not sure what I’m being thanked for, honestly,” Richard admits as he accepts the bag, drawing the bottle out of it and looking over the label. Sliding it back into it, he chuckles, “But I appreciate the gesture regardless. I’m still not used to being ‘the guy who literally has robots’, to be honest, even though they’re all around me every day.”

He gestures a bit with one hand to follow him, moving to start back down the hallway, “You know Luther, I understand? When your picture came across my desk at one point, he said to leave the matter to him…”

As he moves away, once his back is turned, Chess glances backward to the door out of the waiting area a little wistfully, but falls in steps with him a moment later. “I know they’re useful robots, but it’d still make me nervous,” she says quietly. She saw too many of them during the war, after all.

Her expression turns a little wry at the mention of Luther. “He’s basically family,” she says. “The only family I had for a while. Before I found out about my biological family. He’s still more my family than most of them.” Her voice is schooled into an objective tone, but it’s an effort. “My going to California wasn’t his choice.”

She pushes a strand of hair behind one ear, looking up at him. “The thank you’s for helping Jac. And the benefit of the doubt you gave me, I guess.”

“My youngest is the same way,” Richard admits regretfully, “She saw too many robots that were… killers. They’re just tools, though, the same as any other tool. I guess a part of me wants to make up for the damage that… the Institute did, using the same kind of tool.”

“I’ve always been a fan of dramatic irony.”

He glances back over his shoulder to her as they walk, and nods slightly before looking back forward, “You were trying to help Jac. That’s all that mattered to me right then… heh. You know what the real irony is, I never considered Praxis my enemy. If that idiot had just been willing to talk to me…”

A sigh, “Stubborn to the end.”

Chess lifts a shoulder. “They’re tools, but tools, historically anyway, are usually used by a person, rather than running around and being able to do things without their owner even nearby. I know they’re programmed but programming can always be altered by the wrong hands. Also, I read Asimov. Terrifying.”

With a small smile of concession, she adds, “I know they have their place. I just… usually like that place to be far away from me.”

The rest, she takes longer to respond to, frowning down at her shoes. “You probably should have. Considered them your enemy. I wasn’t with Praxis, didn’t work for them, for the record. And Adam… I don’t know if he was right or not, but I do believe he believed not talking about it was the best plan.” She scoffs, looking back up at him. “The problem with having a plan no one else knows entirely means there’s no one to tell you when you’re fucking nuts and maybe come up with another plan.”

“I still don’t know what his plan was. He wouldn’t talk to me,” Richard agrees with a grimace, shaking his head a little.

“He was, though. Right, I mean, at least inasmuch that he understood Uluru was a threat,” he admits with a sigh, his head shaking slowly from side to side as he walks, “If he’d reached out— maybe things would’ve gone differently. I don’t know. I should’ve tried harder.”

A slightly guilty look over, “I let myself be sidelined for most of this business. I won’t make that mistake twice.”

Her brows knit and she shakes her head. “Don’t beat yourself up. I was there and I still don’t understand what his plan was. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, except that he was willing to put a lot of people in danger. The cost of war.”

She shakes her head again, this time not at him, but garish memories. “I killed one of him. Friendly fire. Accident. He said I did what I had to. That was his mindset. I don’t think there’s reasoning with someone who’s willing to risk everything… I’m not gonna lie to myself that I matter to him as a daughter. I don’t think any of us born in China really did, not as more than tools at first. Maybe later as colleagues of a sort, the ones who he knew longer.”

Alix. Val. Ivy. Vi. Chess’ eyes grow damp for a moment thinking of those sisters who either betrayed her or died or are now in prison. “I think maybe Niki and Jac meant more to him, but in the end, he risked their lives too.”

She looks back up at him. “Niki and I knew what we were signing up for, at least. Not the plan, but that it was dangerous. I don’t think either of us was very optimistic about our chances.” Her gaze drops again. “I’ve heard she was your friend, too. I’m sorry. We were still getting to know each other, but I liked her a lot.”

At the mention of Niki, Richard looks back away; his expression more guarded now, but there’s a flash of real pain there if she’s watching to see it. “I… thank you,” he says quietly, “She was a— dear friend.”

He brings his card up to press against the panel beside a door, then lets it snap back to his belt before leading the way into his office, shaking his head, “I still can’t really believe that she’s gone, not after everything we’ve been through, after everything she’s lived through, it… just doesn’t seem real. A part of me keeps expecting her to show up alive, since her body’s missing… naive of me, I know.”

Chess’ brows draw together again and she nods, looking down. “I don’t know if this is any consolation, but at the end, I don’t think she was alone. There were sort of two people there. Not physically.” She looks up at the ceiling as she follows him into the office, willing the tears that well up to dry without falling. It almost works. She catches the rest with the back of her finger, careful not to blur the little bit of makeup she wears.

Dressing like an adult and wearing makeup is a challenge.

“I don’t know that it’s naive,” Chess adds. “Eve came back, after all.” That’s good news, but that Eve was dead at all causes the familiar ache in her chest to pang again, with all the guilt and regret for her part in what happened in Detroit.

“I did want to ask you,” she says, “what happened when you healed Jac. Was that… was that part of your power? The vision?” She sounds doubtful, unsure she saw what she thought she did; unsure if he saw it, too.


Richard nods a little, walking over to his desk and stepping around it, dropping heavily into the chair with a creak of leather and metal. “Niki— suffered from multiple personalities. Jessica was the guardian personality, the protector, the one that came out when things got too hard. She’d mostly integrated the last few year, so if Jessica came back out… she must have known things were bad.”

He draws in a slow breath, then exhales it, and manages a weak smile, “Eve’s good at coming back from being dead, I’ve noticed.”

One hand comes up, scratching under his jawline at the question. “I— “ He hesitates, “Honestly? I’m not sure, I… assume so. It’s a very old ability, and there’s some connection to the Entity— ah, do you know about the Conduits?”

Chess sits when he does, dark-eyed gaze darting around the office, but she nods solemnly when he explains about Jessica.

“That makes sense. I don’t know if you know what happened to Claudia, but it was after that.” If he doesn’t know, it’s clearly something grim, from the expression on her face, the way her jaw tenses.

As for the conduits, she waffles her fingers. “I think Eve’s mentioned them, but… well.” She smiles weakly. “She can be a bit hard to follow, and sometimes you don’t know if she’s being literal or metaphorical.”

“I— “ Richard pauses for a moment, then he grimaces, “As much as I half don’t want to ask, why don’t you tell me what did happen to Claudia before I get into all that? It’s going to be a complicated explanation, and I don’t want to forget about that bit.”

“If she saw whatever it was, it’s— likely that caused the switch. That sort of trauma.”

Her posture grows a little defensive, tenser, arms crossing her middle but Chess nods stiffly. “It was traumatic,” she murmurs. “She and another lady — Alice? — were there in Adam’s office when we were getting ready to roll out. Vi, one of my…”

Chess shakes her head. She can’t say sister. She hates the word clone.

“One of the other set,” she finally lands on, “she came in and basically executed them in front of us all. Niki was there.” She keeps her voice even, but her lower lip trembles and her jaw twitches before she clenches her teeth to close down the memory. “All of them except Alix were working against us. For Mazdak, I guess.”

“Christ,” Richard breathes out, leaning back further in the chair, hands clasping over his chest, “I guess that explains what happened to the other wit— the heads of the Society. I’ll let Monica know they’re confirmed dead, that’ll save her some headaches…”

He watches her for a moment, then says quietly, “I’m sorry. That couldn’t have been an easy betrayal to handle. I— ran into one of them myself, I think. The one with pink hair? She kidnapped me after one of their agents drugged me.”

Her somber expression turns to a small smile. “Monica knows. I’m actually working with her at the Society now, actually. Trying to be a useful member of society these days. Not sure how well it’s going, though.”

The smile, short lived, turns to something more wry. “Val. I’m sorry. We didn’t know. Adam didn’t know, either, but their allegiance to him… let’s just say he hadn’t really earned it. Or he couldn’t make up for the past, I guess. Lanhua I knew not to trust, and Vi… we were getting to be okay, even though she tried to kill me and Alix. Val was a surprise. If she was with us, maybe Niki-”

She shakes her head, turning away to study his very fine walls, willing the tears to subside.

“Fuck. I swear I didn’t come here to cry at you.”

“Hey— “

Richard leans forward again, pulling the chair in towards the desk and reaching out a bit towards her, his expression sympathetic, “It’s a lot to go through. I’m not gonna judge you for crying, Christ, if nothing else it proves you’re still human after everything you’ve gone through.”

He swallows once, “God knows I’ve had my own tears over this.”
His words earn a short huff of breath and a small smile from her. “Sometimes I’m not sure. They thought of us as property, the clones.” The word is said with distaste, her nose wrinkling a little.

“Lab rats,” Chess says angrily, looking away again, and taking a breath. “Seventeen of twenty-seven died in their care. Lanhua was going to die, too, soon, if-” she cuts off that thought. Her feelings for her identical are complicated, but she knows the monster Lanhua became was because of how she was treated as a weapon instead of a child.

“I’d forgive Adam for some of that — due to what was done to him, his memories. But he didn’t learn from the past, and still treated the others like tools. He didn’t know for sure if giving Jac would be safe or not but he still used her as a guinea pig.” The tears are gone, replaced by anger, and she shakes her head as if to break the spell of rage that’s come over her.

“Sorry,” she says softly. “The conduits are related to the entity, you said? Adam told me she — it — gave him his powers. It offered me power, too, but…” she shakes her head. “I didn’t know what would happen. I didn’t mean for Jac to get hurt. And I’m pretty sure it’s not gone.

“I’m making sure to get regular blood and tissue samples from Jac to make sure her condition doesn’t degrade, but so far she seems… stable,” says Richard sympathetically, “I’m not sure how— I can only assume it’s due to the experiments done on her in utero, but we still don’t have good records on those— but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

He leans back again, sighing heavily, “I’m trying to monitor any Gemini recipients as well, we don’t know what the long term effects of the grafts might be. Trust Adam Monroe to decide to save the world and figure out the douchiest way possible.”

Silent a moment, he nods then, “It’s absolutely not gone. If killing the host - even with that sword - would have destroyed it, it would’ve been killed centuries ago.” A breath’s drawn in, “So. The conduits are extremely old abilities that we assume are in some way related to the Entity; they can be passed from user to user under specific conditions. We know of two, and a possible third— we think that maybe she was trying to revive that one fully from within Claire out there in the plaza, but one of our people interfered and stopped her.”

“The ‘White’ and ‘Black’ conduits both have to do with life force manipulation. They’re what I used out there, drawing a little bit of life energy from all of you to heal Jac,” he grimaces, “I’m not very good at using it, unfortunately, so the efficiency is awful. I’m not sure where that vision came from, but it was clearly related.”

At the words experiment and in utero, Chess’ eyes narrow, and she shakes her head slightly, but doesn’t voice whatever she’s thinking, staying quiet to listen to his explanation.

“Yeah, I didn’t quite understand why the sword and her invulnerability were going to be enough. But like I said, he didn’t tell us most of the plan. I missed the fact that he had done experiments to Jac in utero, but that answers why he thought she was going to be able to withstand both Gemini and the entity,” she says, before gesturing to herself. “All of us apparently are a little less susceptible to its mind fuckery than most people, I guess. Maybe that’s why it asked me to help it. That and it thought it could buy me.”

The cost of that decision still feels like a loss, a fresh casualty in some ways.

“I wasn’t sure if it was because of you or something else, and, well, I didn’t really know anyone else there to ask about it. I thought it was just one more thing I saw that no one else did,” she says softly. “Thanks for explaining. And for being there.”

She tips her head, questioningly. “The other woman, the one Baruti had brought — Claire, I think? She’s okay?”

“To be fair,” Richard holds up a hand, “Adam didn’t do those experiments on Jac, even though they were using his cells as the base. The Company did, that was— that was all Arthur’s fault.” A rough snort, “Never trust a Petrelli.”

The last question, though, has him looking away for a silent moment. “She’s okay,” he says finally, quietly, “I recognized the ability that was used to bring her back, though, from the description of it, I… it took a lot off her life. She’s got— about ten years before the rewind catches up to her.” There’s pain there, although he tries to mask it.

She nods to the correction. “He wasn’t aware of us being made either, to be fair.” She tries to be fair. “But,” Chess adds, “he did continue to experiment with Gemini on Lanhua and Jac without knowing it’d be okay. And it wasn’t for Lanhua. She…” Her dark eyes turn glassy again, and she looks away. “I don’t think I blame her for turning against Praxis. She wasn’t acting out of hate, from what I saw, but fear.”

The news about Claire is confusing to her, and her expression shows it. But she doesn’t press for answers, seeing how affected he is by the explanation. “I’m sorry,” is a quiet offering of sympathy.

After another moment of silence that stretches into another, she looks back up at him. “I didn’t really ever recover from what I lost in the war,” she begins. “I didn’t try to, you know, be a useful member of society. And now I’ve lost even more.” Chess swallows hard, looking up at the ceiling to blink away the tears that hover at her lashline.

With a wave of her hand, she gestures to the office around him, to indicate more than that — the building, the company, his life. “How do you do it?”

At that question, Richard drops silent for a long moment as he considers how to answer it. The chair creaks a bit beneath him as he shifts, head tilting back to look at the ceiling, to glance out the window over the construction zone that’ll become the Raytech Campus.

Then he looks back at her, and he smiles faintly. “It’s not about me,” he says quietly, earnestly, “I’ve lived through… a lot of bullshit. A lot of pain, a lot of loss. We all have, my family, most of the executives, the directors. It’s not about me, it’s not about us, it’s about - building a better world for the next generation. Making sure nobody else has to live through that again, if we can possibly help it.”

“It’s about the future. We can rest when we’re done - when there’s a better, safer future for those who’ll come after.”

Her gaze follows his, and another stray tear finds its way out of the corner of her eye, tracing its way along the curve of her cheek and jaw.

“I don’t know how to build things. I was literally engineered to destroy things,” she says quietly. “But it’s a nice idea.”

Chess takes a breath, and forces a smile back on her face. “I’m trying. We’ll see how it goes. My only real skill is blowing shit up, but I’m trying to learn others, do some good, maybe, with Deveaux. Or at least try not to break things. The copy machine is nicer than most people’s cars.”

“You aren’t what you were made. You’re who you choose to be,” says Richard gently, “I’ve known too many people who were shaped into something against their will. You might not know how, but you can still learn.”

A smile tugs to his lips, then, “Monica’s a good woman to work for. The previous bunch lost my trust, but I’d trust Monica with my life. I have, in fact. And she knows something about the subject.”

His words make her chuckle softly, and Chess turns her hand so he can see the tattoo on her inner wrist — a lotus flower mandala cuff and the words i belong deeply to myself in script. “Funny enough, I told my sisters,” there’s a flash of grief across her face before she continues, “much the same. I suppose I should listen to my own advice.”

She nods, in agreement about the ‘previous bunch’ and also about Monica. “So have I,” she says with a smile. “I hesitate to call her a sister, given my track record with those, but she is family. And not many people would probably give me an office job — I have literally no experience at anything besides blowing shit up, since I traded in my college years for being a soldier.”

She says it like it was a choice. Fighting was a choice. Not finishing college was forced on her by the US government.

“Nepotism’s great,” she quips, to lighten the mood, before she shifts, about to rise. “It was nice to properly meet you. Thanks for clarifying what happened out there.”

“If there’s one thing that I always have…” Richard’s lips twist in a rueful smile as he pushes himself up to his feet as well, “…it’s information. Don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s something going on that you need to know about. I have a feeling things aren’t going to get any simpler just because Monroe’s operation crashed and burned.”

He steps around the desk with a shake of his head, “A man once told me ‘We can rest when we’re done’. Seems like we’re never done, so I guess we’ll just have to keep going.”

He flashes her a smile, “But nothing says we need to be alone when we do it.”

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