Red Poppy


chess3_icon.gif hull2_icon.gif

Scene Title Red Poppy
Synopsis Red poppies symbolize undying love, remembrance, and sacrifice; in the wake of Dumortier's death, sisters reunite.
Date January 31, 2021

At night the Safe Zone looks like a normal city. Looks like what existed before the war. When viewed through glass and from a distance, it’s easy to squint and miss the scars of war and loss that cut deep through the city’s heart.

Inside the posh appointment of a highrise apartment, those scars are even harder to see. Clean furnishings, hardwood floors, central air, even internet. These extravagances were inconceivable even five years ago. But the scars of the Civil War are fading, even though each individual survivor still bears their own in unique configurations. Even for Francesca Lang, those scars are fading little by little, every day.

One step at a time.

Chess’ Apartment
The Clocktower Building
Red Hook

January 31st
8:56 pm

The Awasu sitting on Chess’ coffee table vibrates softly from an incoming call. The notification banner reads FRONT DESK.

Chess is curled up on a couch made up to sleep on, though she’s not ready for sleep herself. With a houseguest in her bedroom, tucked away for the night, the television is pitched low, looked at now and then while Chess works on her laptop. It’s nothing that can’t wait until work hours, but it’s distracting minutiae that keeps her mind off graver matters better than whatever is playing in the background.

Her mouth tips upward into a smile as she reaches for the phone, expecting it to be Basil. Her thumb slides across the glass to accept the call.

“Hey, Apartment 515,” Chess confuses them sometimes no matter how many times she answers with her chosen name, but she’s too stubborn to call herself Francesca.

«Sorry to bother you, Ms. Lang,» the receptionist says, «but there’s a young woman down here who says she knows you, that you’re her sister, but refuses to give a name.»

There’s a pause, followed by the receptionist making a discomforted noise in the back of her throat.

«She seems very distraught.»

Chess’ heart pounds at the word sister. The fact that the receptionist doesn’t add that she looks like she’s Chess’ twin at least let her know it’s not Kimberly (or Lanhua). Jac is a possibility; Alix an unlikely one. Val least likely but also the most dangerous — it could be a trap.

“I’ll be right down.”

She’s in her pajamas — loose yoga pants and a t-shirt she’s stolen from Bazz — so she pauses by the door to slide her feet into a pair of shoes before hurrying out the door and to the elevator. The scenarios of what could be wrong and what could go wrong, flash through her mind, at least two per floor as the lift descends. When it finally settles into its final landing spot at the lobby, the doors take too long to open and Chess mutters under her breath, “C’mon already.” They open, and she steps out, turning toward reception.

The office receptionist is standing by the front desk when the elevator doors open, making expectant eye contact with Chess. She gestures over to the chairs by the entrance where a woman with jet black hair, dressed in a denim jacket and a faded hoodie sits hunched over with hands covering her face, sobbing. She’s…


But after a second, she looks up and moves her hands from her face. That’s when Chess comes face-to-face with a long-lost mystery. She’s the spitting image of the clone that was taken by Cyrus Karr. The one Chess researched with Asi. The one who helped them take down the Ziggurat.

The hacker, Scylla—Clover Hull.

Chess nods to the receptionist to let her know all is well — at least as far as her knowing the stranger in the lobby. She hurries toward Clover, her feet in Ugg boots scuffing the smooth lobby floor.

“Clover, yeah?” she says softly, ignoring the fact the receptionist will find it odd she isn’t sure of her own sister’s identity. The Clocktower has had stranger visitors, of course. As she scans Clover for any sign of injury, her own heart pounds with nervousness and fear, that this is yet another sister who will resent her, or worse…

Another sister who might betray her.

But Chess gives the stranger the benefit of the doubt, and offers Clover a hand. “Are you hurt? Do you need a doctor, or just… we can talk upstairs?”

Hull looks up with wide, frightened eyes when she heard Chess’ voice. She’s startled, as if she hadn’t really parsed who she is. A moment of recognition later, remembering where she is herself, and Hull is up on her feet on her way to Chess’ side.

Please,” Hull whispers. “Anywhere b’here.” Up close, Chess can see she’s damp from rain, but her clothes reek of smoke. Not the tar of cigarettes or the calm of campfire, but the kind of smoke from burning buildings and ruins. It reminds Chess of the worst days of the war.

“Come on,” Chess says softly, tipping her head in the direction of the elevator. Pressing the button, the doors slide open immediately as it hasn’t left the lobby yet, and she steps inside, holding the door with a splayed hand for Hull to follow.

“We’ll get you into some warm clothes, maybe a shower?” she offers. “I have a houseguest who’s in my room, but my sofa is very big and very comfy.”

Her dark eyes study Hull’s face, looking subconsciously for similarities and differences between herself and this strange sister, and this sister and the others. “You don’t have to tell me anything, but you can if you want,” Chess says, her voice low, like she’s talking to a scared animal.

Hull follows Chess like a traumatized survivor of a car accident, shuffling along beside her ‘sister’ with eyes focused a thousand miles away. When they get into the elevator, when the doors close, Hull slouches against the wall and slides down onto the floor, covering her face with her hands and sobbing.

I’m so sorry,” Hull mumbles into her palms, “I shouldn’t be here, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. Oh my God, I’m such an asshole.” She hangs her head, raking her fingers through her hair, shoulders shaking.

Chess frowns, crouching beside Hull and lightly touching her knee. “Hey. There’s nothing to be sorry about. You needed somewhere to go. You came here. That’s fine. I’m glad you did, all right? I’d say we’re family, that that’s what we do, but that’s not our experience, I know. Not yet anyway.”

She watches Hull’s face, or where Hull’s face would be, if it weren’t covered by her hands. “But it could be, yeah?”

The elevator chimes as it reaches the fifth floor. The doors slide open and Chess stands, stepping back to the panel to push the button that keeps the doors open.

“Unfortunately, some of the others set a really high bar for asshole sister behavior, and you’ll have to do better if you want to meet that standard, I’m afraid,” Chess says lightly, though her eyes are far more solemn as she waits for Hull to join her.

Hull laughs, a gasping and breathless thing, wiping her nose with the back of her hand as she does. She looks up at Chess, eyes reddened and teary, then hiccups another laugh and shakes her head. “Fucking amazing first impression,” she says with a momentary smile, if only out of the sheer terribleness of the situation.

But once she remembers what’s eating at her, Hull covers her mouth with her hand again to stifle a sob. She shakes her head and rubs her fingers over her eyes, then looks back up and slowly pulls herself to her feet. Hull doesn’t make eye contact when she follows Chess out of the elevator, and doesn’t say anything as she follows her down the hall toward her apartment.

When they get to the apartment, Chess opens the door and holds it open for her visitor, following her in. She gestures to the L-shaped sofa that encompasses most of the living room.

“Make yourself comfortable here, or if you want to use the shower and I can get you some clean clothes, the bathroom’s in the hall. Whatever you want.”

Chess knows too many options might be overwhelming, so she doesn’t ask if Hull wants anything else for the moment. Instead she steps into the nearby kitchen to turn on the electric kettle to make tea. From her vantage point behind the counter, she studies Hull to see which way she’s going — giving her the space to talk, or not.

Hull sinks into that sofa like a stone to the sea. But she just sits on the corner of it, hunched forward with her head in her hands, fingers tangled up in her hair that is showing its dark roots against the turquoise dye. She sniffles, loudly, and wipes at her face with one hand.

God,” Hull says after a few minutes of silence. “This isn’t how I wanted us t’meet.” She can’t help but laugh; a rueful, bitter thing. “I’m sorry about this. I… I just don’t—have anywhere else to go.” Her voice tightens at the end there, and she struggles not to cry. She is trying so hard not to break down in front of Chess.

“I just—I can’t stay in his house, everything feels so—I just thought it might be nice and—” Hull’s garbled, emotional words come out in fits and starts of half-formed ideas painted in a thick coat of sloppy regret and hurt.

Black tea is scooped into infusers and placed in cups while the water boils; Chess allows Hull this distance for the moment, but watches her with glances across the living room now and then.

“You don’t have to be sorry,” she says quietly. “There’s no protocol on when and how we’re supposed to meet. I don’t think anyone wrote etiquette books on how to reconnect with your long lost genetically-created sibling-slash-clone after 25 years apart or whatever,” she says, with a small smile.

The blue light of the electric kettle illuminates the boiling water within before it clicks off, and Chess reaches for it, pouring water in both cups. She picks up each to bring to the sofa, gently setting one down in front of Hull, then taking a seat on the diagonal corner so she can see Hull easily.

“Who’s he?” she says softly. “If someone hurt you…”

“No,” Hull croaks, shaking her head. She pulls her knees up to her chest, wraps her arms around her legs and stares at the cup across from her for lack of wanting to look Chess in the eye. “The fire, it—” she chokes back tears, hiding her mouth against the back of her knees.

“I was in Providence,” Hull explains in a tight voice. “Dumortier—we were—he was digging a fire break. He told me he’d be back,” her voice wavers, “but the machines—they—” Hull can’t finish the sentence, wrenching her eyes shut and sobbing into her sleeves as she hugs her knees close.

Chess doesn’t have to hear the rest to figure out what’s happened, if not the specifics — she’s all too familiar with the pain that comes with loss and grief. Reaching for a box of tissues on the side table and sets it in front of Hull for her use.

Her fingers twitch, then she lifts her hand to touch Hull’s shoulder gently. She grapples for what to say — nothing helped when she lost Miles. She said hurtful things to those who offered condolences, pushed away everyone who tried to reach her in her loss.

“I know what it’s like,” she finally says softly, tears springing to her own eyes both in empathy for Hull and memory of her own suffocating grief. “I’m here. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. For some people it helps.” Chess smiles a little wryly — she didn’t talk about losing Miles, and that certainly didn’t help, but she can’t see that talking about it would have either.

In the end, Hull isn’t that much different from Chess. The clock on the wall tracks an hour of silence and stillness from Hull, and the storm outside does little to abate. Rain gently pounds on the windows, turns to snow for a little bit, then back to rain. When Hull finally moves, it’s to unwind one of her legs from her chest and turn reddened eyes up to Chess.

“This isn’t how I wanted us t’meet…” Hull mumbles, then wipes at her eyes with the heel of her palm. She looks over at her tea, sitting on the coffee table, and stretches out to finally pick up the cup. The tea has gone cold, but she doesn’t seem to mind as she takes a sip.

For her part, Chess sits quietly, the mug held by both hand lifted now and then for a sip until it’s emptied, then set on the coffee table — that was thirty minutes before.

When Hull speaks finally, Chess lifts a shoulder, turning to regard the stranger — sister — sitting beside her. “I wasn’t sure you wanted to at all,” she says softly. “But I’m glad you came.” Her dark eyes are sad as she regards Hull’s tearful ones.

“And I’m glad you’re safe.” She doesn’t use the word okay; Chess knows Hull is far from that. “Is there anything else you need? Are you hungry? Do you want me to reheat your tea?” These are things Chess can do — and she knows they’re not enough.

Hull shakes her head, swallowing dryly. “I’m fine,” she says in that small, vulnerable voice that says she absolutely is not that at all. Sighing, Hull nurses the cup of tea in her hands and slouches forward. For a little bit her eyes are unfocused, staring through the table into the reasons that brought her here. Finally, she blinks a look up to Chess and searches her for something. It isn’t clear if Hull finds what she’s looking for or not.

“I um…” Hull says in a quiet voice, “I didn’t know if I wanted to meet you, to be honest. I lived my whole life just… just apart, y’know? I didn’t know a thing about who I was until… until really recently. When the Guardians saved me.” She looks up to Chess.

“I mean, as far as my… my family is concerned,” and that word, family, sits ill-well on Hull’s tongue, “I just disappeared one day and never came back. I’m not—” She grunts and looks away. “I’m not good at this. At adjusting. At letting…” her voice goes tight, “people in.”

Chess pulls her legs up to the sofa and wraps her arms around them. The quiet isn’t an easy quiet, too full of unasked questions and so many assumptions, right or wrong, on Chess’ part, but she keeps them to herself. She smiles a little sadly at the confession from Hull, letting her speak until she’s done.

“I get it,” she says at last. “I sort of had it all thrust on me, which,” she huffs that wry, breathy laugh of hers, “I don’t recommend.”

She’s quiet for another moment, then glances back up at Hull’s face. “I was alone for four years straight, after the war. It took a long time for me to learn to be around other people. I still suck at it, honestly, but I’m trying my best. It’s not always enough.”

Dark eyes seek blue, and Chess offers another tentative smile. “I don’t need to be all the way in. I can just camp out on the front porch, all right? Just…know that I’m here.”

Hull makes a small noise in the back of her throat, threading a lock of hair behind one ear as she does. Her attention shifts over to Chess, looking her up and down. “You don’t look like I imagined,” she says with a nervous laugh. “You know—like me. I—I never really knew what any of the others looked like. I never expected to meet them.”

Hull can’t hold her gaze on Chess for long. It drifts to the windows, to the rain pattering against them. “I fucking hate that my first memory of you’s twisted up in—” her voice hitches in the back of her through.

God, what a fucking shit life.” Hull says with a bitter laugh. “How—how d’you handle when—when you’re alone?” The croaking pronunciation of alone comes with the weight of loss, of having lost someone special. It feels unwelcome in its familiarity. A knife of memory sliding into once-closed wounds.

“Sorry. I zigged when I should’f—”

Chess swallows, lips pressing together as she tries to swallow back that grief she’s known for so long. She manages to smile, focusing on the easier subject first — of not being what the other expected. She reaches for her phone, thumb sliding against the glass until she finds a particular photo — thank god for the Cloud, or it would have been lost forever on the phone she had in Praxia.

It’s a photo taken the one night she remembers where most of her sisters were together, at a nightclub in Praxia, dressed up and a little tipsy. Chess didn’t know then that they would be betrayed. She isn’t sure if Lanhua or Val or Vi themselves knew then that they would be betrayers. That Vi, Ivy, and Lanhua would die.

She doesn’t linger on that one long, flipping instead to one of she and Alix. It’s closer up, taken selfie style, and the features of the two sisters can be seen more easily, to be mentally compared against Hull’s own.

“We thought all of you were gone,” she murmurs, softly. “I would have looked for you if I’d known.” And after, Chess had let Hull have the space to contact her when she was ready.

As for the other question, Chess reaches for Hull’s hand, tentatively — if she doesn’t pull away, her fingers will curl around the other woman’s. “Speaking from personal experience, historically? Not well. I thought it was better to shut people out and be alone. For a real long time. After all, if you don’t let anyone close, then you can’t lose them, right?”

A wry smile tips up one corner of her mouth. “But the thing about that is, you hurt anyway. So you may as well let them in.”

There’s an immediate reaction in Hull’s eyes, in her hand. At first a subtle draw to recoil, but Chess’ presence steadies that fear. Instead she grips that unfamiliar hand tighter. In Hull’s eyes, Chess sees the familiar conflict of fight versus flight. To fight this attempt at consolation, to sink deep into that familiar pit of isolation.

Hull was standing in Chess’ footprints nearly ten years apart. But when Chess lost Miles, she withdrew. But Hull…

“Thank you,” Hull says in a hushed whisper. She swallows audibly, eyes shut as firm as her grip on Chess’ hand. Her words aren’t as powerful as her physical reaction, but they convey so much.

Thank you for caring.

Thank you for trying.

Thank you for being.

Big, messy tears well up in Hull’s eyes. They dribble down her cheeks and drip off of her chin. Strength fades as the floodgates break and the last resilience to vulnerability she has fades in the presence of safety. In the presence of—astoundingly—family.

Hull crumples against Chess, sobbing into her shoulder.

Thank you.

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