Serendipitous Reunion


chess4_icon.gif seren4_icon.gif

Scene Title Serendipitous Reunion
Synopsis Chess and Seren chance upon each other again, and neither of them want to let the opportunity go to waste, each in their own way.
Date May 20, 2021

Jackson Heights

The Cork Tavern, situated in northern Jackson Heights, is a proper Irish pub, at least by the looks of it — gleaming wood walls highlighted with brass sconce lighting, a long bar with long shelves behind it lined with bottles, and deep-green vinyl booths and barstools. It’s the sort of bar that 1980s sitcoms make legend.

Today, it’s not a bar where everybody knows her name — or anybody for that matter — and that’s why Chess has chosen it. The lack of windows makes it easy to forget about the dark, smoky skies and ash-covered streets outside. The dim lighting reduces the chance someone will recognize her face from news reports of Detroit or the various misdeeds Lanhua had done prior to that day.

The only trouble is it’s trivia night, so some guy with a mic keeps booming out questions and disturbing her many thoughts. She wraps her hand tighter around the glass of whiskey she’s nursing and considers leaving.

"There's a thought experiment around whether an object that's had all its pieces replaced over time fundamentally is still the same thing it started out as. The debate is named after a famous museum piece that had its components gradually replaced in a restoration process. What is the name of that famous object?"

In addition to the guy on the mic, there's also the additional noise of the excited trivia-goers scrambling to answer questions. Some are certainly calmer than others. After a scramble to hit the buzzer on their particular table, one voice clamours out, "What is The Ship of Theseus?"

With a gesture of his non-mic hand, the facilitator chimes, "Correct! A thousand points to—"

Poppers and streamers sound as the trivia-goer stumbles to their feet, hands thrust up into the air in victory. "Yes!" they cry out.

The trivia emcee's eyes widen a little. He didn't do that. "Uh, that's certainly one way to get on the board. And that's the, uh, Shooting Stars, folks."

'Stars' implies a plurality that doesn't appear to be a reality, though, when Seren Evans sheepishly sits back down on their stool, giddy and humbled all at the same time. The colored bits of paper spawned by their excitement disappear as they hit the ground, and their summoner turns to regard the non-human on the stool to their left. A red fox with the broad, wisp-ended ears of a fennec sits beside them, fluffy tail swishing in a curl around itself while it looks up at Seren with a quiet, clicking chitter of excitement.

"We did good! Finally, something we know something about, eh, Klug?" Seren beams down at the fox before turning back to listen for the next round to begin, feet kicking while they wait for a new board full of topics to populate on the hanging screen on a distant wall. They're dressed in a loose black tank, a plaid button-up worn unbuttoned over that. Golden chain loops through their pierced ears, the script tattoo on the side of their neck visible and serving as an identifier if they perhaps weren't recognizable already.

The last time Chess had seen them, Seren had a blank-eyed look on their face and had been flanked by a glowing winged tiger following the horror that took place in Detroit. They seem to be doing better now than they had been then, if their smile is any indication— despite their lack of friends to sit at the table with them for trivia.

Most of the noise has been drowned out, but the sound of poppers finds Chess’ head swiveling in that way that never goes away for veterans of wars or survivors of warzones. The tension in her muscles relaxes only slightly when she sees there’s no threat, but then she sees the familiar face, and that pulls some of the tension back into Chess’ shoulders and forehead.

Still, she remembers Seren as an ally, especially since they were willing to offer their strength to help Richard heal Jac. Chess watches for a moment, then catches the eye of the server attending to the trivia goers’ needs.

“Can you get me two of whatever they’re drinking?” she asks, nodding in Seren’s direction. The least she can do is bring them a refill on her tab.

The bartender lifts his head to peer over at the table, catching sight of the fox properly. His brows lift. "Uh, can you tell them to get the wildlife outside where it belongs?" he asks with a meaningful look her direction. He won't get involved, apparently— won't leave his station— but neither does he approve. He nonetheless reaches behind the bar into one of the coolers to pull forth a large bottle of lambic.

"Here," he indicates once he's poured two glasses off of it, leaving very little left at the bottom, but he stores the larger bottle back in the cooler anyway. With a short nod at Chess, he heads back down the bar to tap in the two new drinks on the computer hooked into the register.

Seren meanwhile squints up at the new selection of categories. Categorically, it's once again filled with topics they don't have confidence they'll be able to answer as quickly as the other triviagoers. That's the price to be paid for being a team of two, though. "Well, we got the big one, at least. Maybe some other night they'll have mythology as a section. We might clean sweep that one, won't we?" they murmur to the company of the fox seated next to them. Their drink is diminished, nearly finished. "But hey, if we get lucky, maybe we recognize one of the philosophy questions. Wouldn't that be something?"

Philosophers and Philosophy, Safe Zone Fun Facts, A Flower By Any Other Name, Four Letter Words, History Mysteries, and Name the Automaker are the categories flashing up on the screen now. When the trivia host gestures to Seren to name where they're starting, they wrinkle their noise and calls out, "How about Philosophy for 100?"

The screen changes over to a question, also announced: What Greek philosopher known for his triangle-related "Theorem" had numerically-obsessed followers?

Chess pulls out a couple of bills to cover what she’s had so far and the new drinks, along with a tip, for the bartender, but the look she gives him speaks loudly enough that she won’t be telling anyone what they can or cannot bring into the bar.

She picks up both glasses to head toward Seren’s table, a brow lifting at the hodge podge of topics — two might be in her own wheelhouse, but only one by her own choice. And even that one is an inherited hobby, not something she chose for herself.

“Pythagoras,” Chess supplies to Seren when she appears across from them at the table, sliding the glass across it. Her words are not loud enough to actually answer for Seren, and she tips her head at the little fox Seren shares the table with. “He was a bit of a quack. They don’t teach you that in geometry, usually — at least my teacher didn’t. It might have been more interesting if they had, yeah?”

Seren is immediately reaching for the buzzer on the table, but they're too late. Disheartened, they come back to the moment, then focus properly on Chess. It takes a second for recognition to kick in, and when it does there's an immediate flash of alarm in their eyes. "You're—"

It's gone just as quickly. Everything slots into place.

"—Chess, right?" They look to the fox for confirmation, who looks back at them as if in answer, before they swivel their look back to the other human at the table. "I, um… hi! Wow, I've not seen you since Detroit." Their smile is sheepish and wide, awkward as they're not really sure what to say, but don't want to be rude.

An idea comes to them quickly.

"You're good at this trivia thing, aren't you? Want to join the team? You can take Klug's spot." Seren pops their brows questioningly with the invitation. The fox doesn't appear to be offended at the thought of being replaced. "A coworker was supposed to join us, but I think things on her end fell through."

Chess presses her lips together at the look of alarm, but she breathes out in relief, a smile replacing the nervous look. “Chess, yeah. I don’t think I caught your name?” she wonders, though she glances over at the creature apparently dubbed Klug, then looks back as she’s asked to join the trivia team.

“Oh, no, I’m really not — I know philosophy and Shakespeare, and that’s about it, and not that well at either of those,” she says quickly, shaking her head. “I mean, if you need a partner, but I probably won’t be that much help. I… just wanted to say thank you. For…”

She glances down, frowning as those memories of Detroit light up like fireworks in her mind. She never finishes the thank you, but instead moves on to another sentiment. “And that I’m sorry, too. It was awful.”

Hopefully she’s better at trivia than whatever this is.

"Oh! I'm sorry— I'm Seren. I work with Raytech. That's why I was there, the day everything…"

The clever fox maintains his seat, settling down into it like a loaf. He listens rather than peer, sparing Chess any more looks her way from unfamiliar persons and his summoner any visual judgment for how they too seem to fumble with their words.

Throat clearing, Seren shakes their head once, making a gesture for Chess to join them, accepting the drink into their hand finally. They decide, maybe, this is more important than trivia. In the background, the man at the mic asks, "What year was the Safe Zone Cooperative founded?" and they don't know the answer anyway.

"There's— really nothing to thank me for," they insist under the noise of other tables scrambling to slam their buzzers. "I was just in the wrong place at the right time. And you don't have anything to apologize for, either. What happened that day… it's not like you caused it. You didn't kidnap that girl Claire. It's not your fault that Eve got possessed. You didn't get into that guy's head and tell him it was a great idea to have Praxis attack Detroit."

Seren gives a faint but sincere smile. "A hundred things went wrong that day, set into place maybe by just as many people. I don't think you're one of them, though. You…"

The grey of their eyes shifts as they think back to what happened when time stood frozen. "You helped," Seren says, feeling that to be true. "Everything was difficult, but you helped to stop…" Uncertainly, all they do is lift one hand in a vague gesture toward the ceiling.

The sky beyond.

At the words ‘that guy,’ Chess’ mouth tips up a little into a wry smirk that lacks amusement, and she glances down, a small huff of air escaping her lips. “Yeah. He didn’t really share the plan with any of us until it was sort of too late to do anything about it.” Her words pull her mind back to the debates in the plane, really the last words she spoke with Adam, and there’s a pang of something like grief — not quite grief, but a cousin, perhaps.

She lifts a shoulder at the assertion that she helped; if she hadn’t been there, she doesn’t know what would be different, if it would have been better or worse. “I’m still not sure what happened, exactly,” she says, dark eyes tipping upward toward the ceiling, as if she could see that aurora above them. “I only wish we’d done a better job of ending it completely.” If they had, she might not be mentally preparing for a trip to another world to try to save all the worlds.

“Seren,” Chess says suddenly, to cement the name before her mental tangents push it totally to the periphery. She offers her hand to shake. “Chess, but you knew that. Thanks for not calling me Francesca.” She grins.

With a warmer grin than before, Seren accepts the shake with a cool touch and a firm grip. "I didn't even know that was your full name," they tease wryly. "But it's a nice one, for things like job interviews and diplomas, for sure. Very noble." When they pull their hands back, they fold them in their lap rather than diving straight into the drink that's been brought to them. Judging by the warm hue to their fair face, maybe that's for the best. "My friend here's Klug, but I think I already said that. He was kind enough to come along when Baird thought he wasn't gonna be up to the task of trivia night."

But then there's the other topic the two of them are dancing around again, and their grin smallens when they consider it. "I don't know— stopping the sky from opening up any wider and swallowing the entire city seems like a pretty good thing to have stopped. But… yeah, you're right. Stopping the thing that had Eve would have been…" They rub the underside of their nose, murmuring uncertainly, "Better?"

Seren shakes their head when they look back up. "I think for none of us knowing what the hell was going on, for the most part, we made it out as happy as we could. Even Eve came back. Everybody walked away okay, except…" Their brow begins to furrow and they look to Chess for help, expression cautious. "I never knew her name. She was just there when I got there, then she looked really sad, and…" They would leave it there, but that's less a courtesy than finishing the thought. "Then she was gone." Lips pressing together in thought, Seren shifts their posture a little more upright. "Do you know? If she's okay, wherever she ended up after that? The girl who looks like you?"

“Noble,” repeats Chess with an amused huff of laughter, but she doesn’t argue. “It does sound nice enough on paper. I just don’t feel it’s very me.” Only strangers, the press, or the government ever call her by Francesca, and she’s not a fan of any of them.

She dips her head to Klug, clearly unsure of how to address or speak to the illusory fox. “Nice to meet you,” she murmurs a little awkwardly, but her gaze returns to Seren when they return to the topic of Detroit.

Somewhere around ‘everybody walked away,’ she lifts the glass of lambic to her mouth for a long pull, then sets it down, looking into the liquid left when Seren clarifies who they mean.

“No,” is a quiet answer. It seems like Chess might not continue, but eventually she does. “She went back to Praxia. She’s gone now.” She reaches a paper coaster, spinning it against the table to occupy her hands and give herself a place to look rather than Seren’s frank and open face.

“She wasn’t the only one we lost that day. There were others. Three-” she starts to say, but Vi was different. She killed Vi. Her jaw twitches. “Two others in Detroit.”

Gone shifts the look in Seren's expression as well. They settle into their seat, feeling a weight that wasn't there before. "I'm so sorry," they murmur sympathetically. "For your loss. I didn't know. That there wasn't a bigger loss of life doesn't take away that hurt."

They watch the coaster spin for a moment before asking, "Are you from around here, Chess? Or just visiting?"

Explanation for the inquiry comes immediately, a flicker of a small smile accompanying it while the silver of their eyes gleam. "I'm sure Baird would love to see you again."

The sympathy makes Chess uncomfortable, and she looks down at the coaster in her hands as she murmurs, “Thanks.” She’s learned to stop saying ‘it’s okay’ to condolences — it’s not okay, and that answer diminishes the importance of those who died. “I know you didn’t know. You’re fine.”

The change of topic is easier to navigate. “I was born in China, but grew up near Denver, so… not from around here, but been here for three years or so,” she says, with a nod to Seren. “You?”

But the reasoning draws both of Chess’ brows upward in curiosity — she isn’t clear on who Baird is or was. “Was he one of the other Raytech people? I don’t remember any names, just a few faces. Besides Richard’s. And now I know yours.”

The gentle shake of their head that Seren offers up helps push them away from the more difficult topics and further into the ease of socialization. "No, I'm not from here. I was born up in Halifax— Nova Scotia— and went to school in Vancouver before accepting a job with Raytech. Not as well-traveled as you, I'm sure," they break their cadence with a reappearance of their grin, "but I'm getting there, slowly." Settling back into their seat, they finally reach for the drink that was offered to them. "And Baird— Baird was there with me that day. Him and I are basically inseparable. He was … tall, that day."

They hover their other hand out by their side, trying to remember. "He was small inside, and then he grew once we got outdoors… if I'm remembering right, he turned into a winged white tiger. He helped me when I was trying to convince not-Eve that what she had done was enough and she should stop." It's a quick thing to verge back into the present, though, Seren's shimmering eyes finding Chess'. "He's my best friend, and we've been together since I was a kid. He started out as just a thought, but he became a part of me. He's a ham and super friendly…" Looking to the curled strange fox, they dip their head to him. "He's like Klug, but different, if that makes any sense."

Only then do they take a small pull from their lambic, enjoying the taste. "There at the plaza, there was miss Valerie, and she was with me, mostly— and then miss Devi was there, helping when that girl was being saved. She was the one dressed in dark colors, with tattoos and such."

Chess musters a small smile. “I’m not that well traveled. I don’t remember China, and except for a trip to Japan two years ago, I’ve only been in the states, mostly everything between Colorado and here. And, well. California.” That doesn’t really count as ‘the States’ these days.

As Seren explains who or what Baird was that day in Detroit, a vague look of recognition flashes at the word tiger. “I don’t… things were really weird for me in those moments. I wasn’t entirely there. I don’t just mean metaphorically, but I don’t know if I could explain it,” Chess says, brows pulling together; one hand reaches up to her temple to rub it, like she’s physically pained by thinking about that moment. “At least the real Eve is back with us.”

Her gaze moves to Klug and she nods once. “I’m a little jealous of Klug and Baird,” she says with a sad smile. “Sorry I interrupted your trivia game.” This is directed to Klug, before Chess looks back to Seren.

"No, no, no!" Seren leans across the table, hand slapping the surface of it unintentionally forcefully. "It's better to have company! I'm really glad you stopped by." Face warmed by alcohol, it brightens further when they smile again. "I'm glad, because it means I got the chance to know you. And hey, we might even run into each other again!"

"Weirder things have happened, right?" they posit with that simple grin. The latest trivia question posed is lost to them, mere background noise compared to this conversation. One of the philosophy questions, more of interest to Chess' ear given it asks for a title related to a name she knows.

Chess blinks at the slapping of the table, her shoulders rising and falling in a silent exhalation of breath that serves as a laugh.

“Definitely weirder things have happened,” she agrees, lifting her glass to her lips for a pull of the drink within. “On the scale of weird things in my life, seeing you again would probably be a one. Definitely high on the wholesome scale though. You would probably be the high standard on that one. On a scale of one to Seren…”

She glances down again, fingers tapping lightly against the glass. “So you work at Raytech, you said? What do you do over there? I was thinking of doing something sciency but was still undeclared in college when, well.” Chess lifts a shoulder. “I never went back. Now it feels… I don’t know. I feel like college is for normal people who aren’t… well, me.” She smirks again, lifting the glass for another drink. “But Raytech seems like a neat place to work. Despite the robots.”

"The robots, also, are wholesome, I can assure you," Seren informs with placid seriousness, their hands curling around their drink. "They dance and open doors when your hands are full and deliver takeout. SPOTs are very good robot dogs, even if only SPOTs are good robots."

Looking off slightly, they posit, "And college?" They hem. "I don't think it's for anybody over the other. Normal is a myth. I'm not normal and I got an entire degree in architecture." One corner of their mouth ticks in a smile. "Yeah, there's like… the stereotypicals, but so many unique people with their own stories and their own places in life who are there. And if you're good at the sciencey stuff, that's all that matters, right?"

Beaming a bit more openly now, Seren insists, "The school part is just a stepping stone to where you want to be. And It's not all bad. You should do it! Then you could come do weird and wholesome science at Raytech with us or something. You dream it," they pause to snatch an engineer's pencil out of midair, one that's purple-tipped for no discernable reason. "I'll draw it."

"Foolproof plan," Seren insists with wry cheek, wagging the pencil.

The pep talk draws a slightly embarrassed chuckle from Chess who clasps her hands together on the table, elbows planting along the edge. “I don’t mean that college isn’t for Expressive people, but architecture is amazing. Congrats on that.”

She studies her clasped hands, inspecting her manicure for a moment — her nails are short but shaped, tonight’s dark polish color a hunter green. “It took me a while to get back to civilization after the war, and then,” one hand’s fingers rise and fall in a little flap, “things happened. And then we went to Japan, and then I went to Praxia, and now I’m going away again, so I don’t know if going back to school is in the cards for me.”

Chess nods to the pencil, with a smile. “Unfortunately I’m pretty good at breaking plans, even fool proof ones. But that’s super sweet of you. I’m sure your coworkers are lucky to have you. I’m over at the Deveaux Society, which sounds much more impressive than it is, trust me. I’m basically a secretary but they’re nice and call me an administrative assistant.”

She juts her chin at Seren again. “What do you draw and plan for them? Anything I’ve seen?”

Chess' seeming embarrassment over the mention of college draws a shake of their head from Seren. "Wh— no, of course not. I just meant… there's no average student. Ability or not, there's just a variety of different people from different backgrounds who are students. Heck, you might even find someone who you can relate to." Their smile strengthens for a moment. "Whenever the cards come up."

Rolling the pencil between their thumb and forefinger, they look down at it. "I came up with this whole energy-efficient building design that probably won't ever see the light of day, because I planned on selling it to Praxia, and nowhere else in the US really probably has the, um, resources to go for that kind of creative engineering for desert living…" Their tone has slowed, care given to the words— but not too much care, whatever that means. Before fully-fledged awkwardness can settle in, they gesture with the pencil. "But I helped with the concept for the Mantises! Gave them their distinctive looking face."

"And if I'm real lucky, in a few months we might break ground on an actual building I helped design. But that's a secret." They place an index finger quickly to their lips to signal the need for hush on the topic. Fingers curling back down, they narrow their eyes thoughtfully. "I fill a lot of my time helping sketch things for other Raytech initiatives, because they don't exactly do a lot of building buildings. The other thing I helped with was the concept designs for the barnacle technology Raytech released earlier this year— but those aren't super visible. Just neat."

Before they can stop themselves, they're possessed by the urge to explain, and so they place a hand on the table, flat, and let it rise up. With the rise of their palm and a swipe of their hand back to themself to make what they've suddenly conjured become bigger, a miniature bridge forms atop the table, silver and gold and looking vaguely like the bridge between Jackson Heights and Roosevelt Island— just slightly off. They blink twice at it, the grey of their eyes shimmering with brilliant silver at their edges, and they lean forward with the tip of that architectural pencil to draw something small on the supports of the bridge.

The dots take shape as white growths looking as much like tubular mud dauber nests as circular pods of actual barnacles. "They go on ships or on buildings, and they get rid of pollutants from water… they're really cool, even if I only understand like ten percent of how they actually work." Their grin returns, sheepish but earnest as they look back up. "There's, um, a version of them that work on buildings, too, purifying air. They look weird, but they're…" Normally, they'd have better words for this, but all Seren can do is spread their hands helplessly, breathlessly saying, "They're really awesome."

Chess’ fingers flap open and closed again as if to wave away Seren’s need to clarify, but then she smiles as they dive into an explanation of their work, with illustrations even. She seems more comfortable the more Seren talks, probably because it means she doesn’t have to for those few minutes.

“That’s really cool,” she agrees, studying the bridge and the additions drawn on by Seren’s pencil. “I always thought designing and creating something new, something helpful was what I might want to do. Something that helps the world.” Her smile turns a little wistful, and she reaches for her glass, finishing what drink is left within it — it gives her a moment to push back the reminiscence before it swells into something more maudlin.

“I just blow shit up, but I’ll try not to blow up anything of yours,” Chess promises with a small smile.

"None of us are old dogs, we can always learn new tricks." Seren accepts Chess' promise with a wry smile nonetheless, likely looking far less knowing than they think it is. "I believe in you, Chess. I hope you find what it is you want to do."

The quiet fox's ears prick at the next question posed to the trivia group, and it scrambles up from its seat, one paw to tabletop as it reaches for the buzzer with its other. All too late, though— another group's name has already flashed up onto the screen over the question.

Turning back to Chess after glancing to the commotion, Seren wonders, "You sure you're not up for trivia?" There's no hedging, no hint of whining, just earnest invitation.

The refuted adage makes Chess chuckle, and she glances down at her glass. “That’s true. Maybe when I get back from my trip I’ll look into a class or something,” she says. Unfortunately, that attempt at optimism falls flat in tone and expression — there’s a very real possibility that she may not return, and she’s pretty sure there’s no college in the flooded world she’s visiting soon.

Chess takes a breath, forcing a smile at the new question about the trivia game. With a glance at the screen, she lifts her shoulder, and looks back over at Seren.

“I can give it a go, sure,” she says. “I’m sorry I made you miss most of the round, though. My timing is pretty historically terrible. But maybe we can catch up.”

"Yes!" By their enthusiasm, one might think Seren's already won. They have, in their own way. Maybe Chess will be a little less solemn when she does go. They reach for their drink to take another large gulp and focus back on the task at hand with gusto. "All right, let's see…"

The blended-breed fox with its paws set on the table eyes the screen just as studiously. Its broad, bright ears twitch while it listens.

"We got this, we got this," Seren is certain. The next question is queuing up. 800 points.

The Safe Zone Initiative spans more cities than just New York. What major west coast city is currently under reconstruction thanks to it?

One of the other groups quickly and confidently slam their buzzer immediately. "San Francisco?" a man guesses. The trivia conductor shakes his head and deducts that many points from that team's score.

Chess huffs a short laugh as the question seems purposely designed to draw her past up to the surface, to reawaken the dulled feelings of guilt and betrayal from her time in Praxia.

“Oakland, I’m pretty sure,” she says, quietly, looking from Seren to the fox with his paws near the buzzer. She doesn’t reach for it, nor yell out the answer.

“This is like when the history teachers in high school would make Jeopardy games to try to make the War of 1812 exciting or something,” she asides to Klug, like the creature could possibly have that shared experience. She leaves it to Seren to answer for the team.

The clever fox lets out an animalistic rumble by way of reply. Is it the noise a fox is supposed to make? It's a mystery, but it's passing close for an agreeable-sounding chuff, anyway. It stays where it is as Seren reaches forward to slap the buzzer.

"Shooting Stars?" the man with the electronic cue cards inquires.

"How about Oakland?" Seren asks, as blasé as though it were their own thought. They blink and quickly correct themself, some excitement in that, "I mean— What is Oakland?"

The man at the computer squints and tilts his head, considering the answer. "Okay, the hint I've got is it's not Praxia— not the California Safe Zone. That's not what the question is asking for, and that place turned into a sinkhole anyway." He's oblivious to how Seren screws up their nose and peers at him disdainfully when he subtracts points from them, too.

"You were right; his cards are just dumb," they conspire with Chess quietly.

"… The answer was 'what is Seattle', for the SEA-TAC Safe Zone. That's set to open for residency within the next year, developed by Yamagato similar to how they worked on Roosevelt Island." Summoner and fox companion aren't the only ones balking at this news, at least, and the man at the stand clears his throat before announcing, "Okay, next question!"

Seren shrugs and leans back in their seat, backless as it is. They find themself smiling anyway. "Nothing like being right and learning something new, I guess." When the last team gets to pick another topic yet again, their eyes light up on seeing the question flashed on the screen.

This particular History Mystery is one they think they're familiar with, and they lean for the buzzer again excitedly to let everyone else know too. "Ooh, ooh, I've got this one! I got—!"

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