She Isn't Me


ff_asi_icon.gif chess3_icon.gif

Scene Title She Isn't Me
Synopsis Sharing a sake bottle is a constant across worlds, it seems, when one Traveler meets a version of one of her friends from back home. The same can't be said for everything else.
Date June 23, 2021

The Salty B

Like taverns of old, The Salty B is a place where many people go to end their day with a drink and a tale with friends or strangers alike. Most of the customers know one another – whether they like one another is another story. A new face isn’t totally unheard; sometimes regulars from other establishments want a change of pace, and now and then someone travels from one of the other communities, like those who come in on Valentine’s Siren’s Song, hailing from the Palisades Sill. Rarer still, those from the mainland or Delhi.

The stranger in the corner table has traveled from much farther than that.

Chess Lang sits alone but for the bottle of sake she’s ordered. It turns out it’s the last bottle of sake in the bar at present, so it’s come at a cost, which is foolhardy when she has other things she should be bartering her time and energies for. But none of that matters as she pours the first cup full and brings it to her lips. The gentle warmth isn’t as fierce as vodka or whiskey or tequila, so the tears that spring to her eyes isn’t from the burn of the alcohol. She blinks them away before anyone can notice, and turns to look out the window at the choppy sea, gray water churning under a charcoal sky that seems to do nothing but throw more water at the already flooded world.

"Excuse me– moneybags?" comes a voice both familiar and different at Chess' side, standing just outside of periphery at first before stepping into better view. "Bartender told me you walked off with his last bottle. Any chance you'd be willing to barter for a shot?"

The Lowe's-living haymaker known as Asi arches an eyebrow when she sees Chess properly, aside from being just a body with a bottle of nostalgic taste. The tears might be wiped away, but she can judge well enough that something spurs her drinking here. She hesitates for a moment and then offers, "I could even drink it here, if you'd want the company." She slips one hand in the pocket of thick coveralls worn unclasped with its torso hanging down to reveal better a sun-stained white shirt covering her torso.

It isn’t the epithet that draws Chess’ gaze to Asi, but simply the nearby familiar voice (because ‘moneybags’ isn’t a name she expects to be called, here of all places especially). Her eyes widen slightly, and she sets down the cup quickly, and gestures to the other chair.

“You don’t need to barter anything. I’m happy to share,” the traveler answers. That’s a rare thing in this world, probably, and Chess’ dark eyes dart away. She then nods in the direction of the bartender. “Grab a glass from him, if you like.”

When she looks back to Asi, she looks for the things that make her similar to the Asi back home – or the Asis back home, as the one she’s known has been replaced. She can’t tell the difference between those two, but this Asi has her own unique set of memories and experiences.

“I’m not rich by any definition of the word, just a little nostalgic, for the record,” she adds, before offering her hand to the other woman. “I’m Chess.”

The offer to share is swiftly taken up on. Asi doesn't hesitate turning away the moment she's given leave to, returning with a small, slightly warped glass made some time after the world ended. She considers Chess studiously on her return, trying to make heads or tails of her appearance.

Traveler or just traveler?

"You can call me Asi," she says of herself, leaning forward to accept the handshake after setting her glass down. Her touch is coarse, sun and sea staining the softness it might otherwise have. Only then does she sit, sighing as she does and setting her glass more properly in the middle of the table between them.

"Rich in nostalgia, then," Asi belatedly notes. "I can relate, else I'd not be chasing one last drink before we go dry of sake again either for the next year, or for forever." She's cavalier despite that. Her chin lifts slightly in question. "What're we drinking to, Chess?"

It’s perhaps hard to tell if Chess is a lowercase or capital-T Traveler; her clothes are well-worn and a little ill-fitting; the pants are tight and the sweater, bearing a few holes, too large. Her skin might be the biggest clue – she certainly isn’t weathered by sun and salt and rain like most people who’ve lived through the flood. Still, some people manage to live lives sheltered inside, so that’s not a sure tell, either.

“Sorry to make our kanpai a little too literal,” she muses of the Japanese toast; ‘dry cup’ is quite a reality if this is the last bottle of sake in forever.

As for what she’s drinking to, Chess tips her head and stares into the clear liquid of her glass, already poured. “Old friends, new journeys, lost causes,” she says softly, before she reaches for the bottle to pour the precious liquid into the glass that this stranger has brought to the table. She can’t help but think about the last time she and another Asi shared a bottle, back in New York, and that it might have been the last time, ‘for forever.’

The reference Chess makes takes a long moment to land. First Asi arches her brow, as if expecting more. Then she mouths the fragments of the word for their separate parts, the letting visualized. Her eyes glow with an inner light, sea-green and ephemeral as she blinks and looks down into her cup. "Yeah," she agrees vaguely, reaching for the glass and lifting it just enough it can be regarded as cheers. "Kanpai indeed."

As feels right for such a toast, she drinks a deep gulp right away, leaving little left. Her nose burns from the fullness of the drink she took, and her throat is tight for a moment as she resists coughing for her folly. But hey, she didn't end up with a nose full of sake, and that's what matters.

The result is she's slightly distracted, shaking her head slightly to clear her eyes. Her empty hand slips into her pocket, her posture slouched back against the back of the chair she sits in. In that alone, along with her general lack of formality, she marks herself as someone who's lead a far different life than the Asi that Chess knows. "That was me, about a year ago," the different Asi shares. "A friend of mine I thought was lost came back to us with a hankering to get right back out there again." She more scoffs than snorts her laugh, unsmiling as she considers the remainder of her glass. "It was a lost cause trying to dissuade him."

"But if it weren't for him, we wouldn't have this sake at all, so…" She lifts her glass once more in honor of that person, and finishes what's in it.

Chess doesn’t have to look far to find the differences between ‘her’ Asi and this one – the different world has etched its mark on her, like waves on glass, changing it into something both familiar and different. She has a guess as to who that ‘lost’ friend might have been – given the time and her own conversations with a certain Traveler.

“That’s a rare gift. Most times, I think, it’s not quite what it seems.” Chess can’t help but think of the Monkey’s Paw story, and along with it, Adam’s and her own allusions to it. “So when it is, it’s something to be grateful for,” she says, before glancing at the bottle of sake. Her brows draw together, and then one rises.

“I figured it was made here. Definitely isn’t from the old times, or we’d be drinking rice vinegar, I think. Where did he get it?” Chess suddenly has an image of Silas being thrown from her world and into Flood by the Entity while hanging onto a bottle of sake – she knows that’s not what happened, but the image makes her chuckle; she tries to hide it behind the glass she lifts to her lips for another sip.

"Overseas," Asi answers dimly, looking back to the bottle itself as she thinks to when they retrieved it. "He was determined to see Japan. To revive some fragment of the world lost…" She catches herself trailing off and adds dryly, "He could have picked somewhere closer, certainly. But he chose there, said he wanted to see it for himself." She blinks back up and the smallest trace of a smile comes to her. "As a result, we now have a trade route. Here, there, Hawai'i, and back again."

"He's made the most of his rare gift of returning," she agrees in nearly a murmur, her head tilting. "Determined to not let it be for nothing."

But something rankles her expression shortly after that, and she sits better upright. Her eyes flit up to Chess in a question that might be silent, but she gives voice to it anyway to make sure she's not misunderstood. "Mind if I have another?"

Japan. It fits with sake, of course, but Chess can’t help but wonder at the other reasons that Silas might have wanted to go to Japan, given his last experiences in her world.

“Is it like here – just building tops?” she wonders, and she can’t help but remember her own visit to Japan with friends, sisters, she’s left behind, possibly forever.

The request for another allows Chess to distract herself with a quick nod, and she reaches for the bottle to pour more into each of their glasses. It’s a generous pour – she’s not being stingy with this rare treasure, like many people might be with a stranger.

“I saw it once. The way it was before. I only wish I’d had more time to actually enjoy it.” She harbors a lot of regret over that trip, and the decision she’d made at the end of it. Her eyes prick with the threat of tears again and she quickly swallows half of the contents of her freshly-refilled cup.

Asi considers that generous pour with a keen eye, and resolves to make this next cup slower. This conversation with this stranger perhaps longer. In the midst of the pour, her eyes flicker with that sea-green light again, one consciously done this time– a pulse of silent senses seeking out electronics on Chess' person as her curiosity with her grows.

"Better than here, in most places– had it not been for the Sentinel," she answers, determined to still take her own glass slower than Chess does. "The mountains did it and Hawai'i both some good in preserving what was there before. The coasts were still affected, of course. Tokyo made into nothing. But… if it makes you feel any better, I spent my whole life in that country and still wish I had had more time to see more sights, appreciate more things." Asi cants her head slightly in consideration before lifting her glass to sip. "I think it's part of being human– wanting more than we were given."

The flicker doesn’t bother Chess, though it’s been some time since she’s seen it, and that draws a dull pang for the Asi she’d left behind in her own timeline, one who was bereft of her ability and uncertain of her identity. This Asi is so different, so assuredly herself, even if it’s a different self than the one Chess called friend. The probe comes up empty, of course – there’s nothing, not so much as an OG iPod running on a potato battery, on her.

Chess’ smile is sad, and she lifts a shoulder. “I’d be happy being able to keep what I was given now and then,” she says a bit wryly.

Her curiosity as to Silas and his errand returns, though, and she mulls over the next question for a long moment, staring into the clear liquid of her glass. The Adam of this world was very different from the Adam she had known, when there was more than a fragment of him remaining, horcruxed as he was and now taken over by the Entity. Still, the split occurred far later, from what she’s learned, and so they both shared that past in Feudal Japan.

“Did he find what he was looking for?” she wonders. “Was it a weapon?”

The question takes Asi by surprise, and not a pleasant one. Her brow begins to furrow. "No," she answers plainly, scrutiny growing. "Why would you think that?" Whether or not he found what he was looking for at all are a set of cards she holds flush to her chest with one hand, the other arm metaphorically extended out to establish sudden distance.

Chess takes a larger swallow of the sake, one that isn’t about relishing the taste but more about feeling its subtle burn and maybe getting a bit drunk. It’s not like she’s driving anywhere.

“My friends were on the boat with Silas when he left to come back to you,” she says, lifting her eyes from the glass and meeting Asi’s. “And I know some of the, uh, circumstances leading up to that incident. Who was involved. Stuff going back to Japan. A couple of years ago I went to Japan to find out some answers regarding some of that, but our field trip got interrupted.”

She smiles a little weakly with the euphemism. “I’m not interested in getting whatever it was, I promise. I know you don’t have a reason to believe that – I’m just a stranger. But even if I didn’t suck at lying, I wouldn’t lie to you about anything. There might be things I can’t tell you, but I won’t lie to you.”

Asi's shoulders settle back, the answer to Chess' severity of travel laid bare. She could curse herself for not having come to the conclusion on her own.

But somehow, Chess had seemed like she belonged more to here with the severity of her sorrow, with the way she kept reaching for her glass. Not like the Travelers who were fairly mission-focused, not at all. Her expression settles back from the clearly betrayed expression it had slipped into, and she tips her glass back toward herself without actually lifting it to look at what's left, considering getting up and going, drink and all.

Considering, but not actually moving. Eventually, she looks back up at Chess. "We didn't find whatever he hoped to," Asi answers. "Though the one trip we really took inland was a haul of its own, and as far as direction…" She considers it for a moment, and then her forehead ripples, brows trying and failing to resist knitting together. "If there was some place in particular we should have looked, we likely missed it in fishing blindly in the dark. The trip takes months, too, and the best time of year if you were here to go again would have been…"

She turns, looking in the direction of the nearest window. "Now, truthfully, but these summer squalls are worse than they were last year. Sailing to the Northwest Passages would be a bitch with the Stormfront behaving the way it is. Not to mention– fuel becomes more costly a commodity with each day that passes."

Asi worries her canine over her lip for a moment before she asks without looking back, "How long have we known each other, in your world?"

The look on Asi’s face is met with a contrite one from Chess, but she doesn’t offer any actual words of apology. She didn’t lie, and it was Asi who approached her, after all. She shakes her head at the implication she might be planning to go to Japan, one hand lifting as if to wave off the suggestion.

But before she can explain that’s not why she’s here, Asi asks that blunt question, and she huffs a soft laugh – this Asi, like the one she knows, doesn’t miss a trick, and that familiarity draws another sad smile from the Traveler.

“Two, two and a half years. You – she – went to Japan, too,” Chess says, and then reaches for the bottle to pour more in Asi’s glass, emptying the bottle. “I consider her a close friend. And I don’t have all that many, so.” She lifts a shoulder, and picks up her glass, tipping it slightly in the direction of the other woman. “To old friends, and their other selves.”

She takes a hard swallow of her drink, then adds, “I didn’t stalk you or anything. And I wasn’t going to say anything – some people don’t want to know about themselves. I’ve discovered I don’t exist here, or at least I don’t think I do, and that’s a whole existential crisis in itself, but it’s probably for the better. Anyway, I respect you too much to lie to you. Across worlds.”

Went to Japan like that wasn't her natural place of being still surprises Asi, enough she sets the glass down and receives the last of that bottle poured, her own glass very full once it's done. She sits there for a moment with the weight of those revelations, not lifting her glass in cheers in return. What brings her back to the moment is Chess' insistence she didn't stalk her. She starts to let out a laugh and cuts it off, prepared to answer, but wanting to let the younger woman finish.

By the end, it takes her a moment to get her words back again. Each new aspect about her other self she learns about is a new stroke that seems to so rarely overlap the others. And Chess– Chess doesn't seem so bad, does she, compared to the others.

"How the fuck did a nice girl like you end up slingshotted across the universe to a place like this?" Asi asks with a slight tip of her head forward, peering at the younger woman with the sudden affect of an older sister staring down a younger for answers. "Did someone sell you upriver in a terrorism-related situation? And one thing lead to another?"

The ‘nice girl like you’ makes Chess snort just a little, and then at that question, she outright laughs in surprise.

“Basically, yeah,” she says, which is sort of a truth, but not quite enough of one to fulfill the promise she had just made.

“Kind of. Yes and no, It’s complicated and I probably need a therapist to really be able to understand myself enough to articulate an answer,” she says, mouth tipping to the side in a smirk while her eyes roll a little at herself. “Let’s just say I have some guilt wrapped up with an unhealthy dose of altruism that’s definitely going to get me killed one of these days.”

She juts her chin at Asi. “How did you end up over here instead of being in Japan still?” she wonders, knowing that her story must differ from the Asi back home.
Asi lets out a terrible laugh in reply when Chess admits 'basically'. Her elaboration sees to the understanding that it's more complex than just that, but the wild guess based on what little she knows of the other Asi pinging at least somewhat true is…

Well, it's something.

"Make sure the altruism doesn't become a fully-fledged martyr complex," she advises dryly as she lifts her drink up again. "Would be a shame to come so far just to fall flat." The slow and steady sip she takes after gives her time to mull the honesty in her answer to the question posed right back at her, and she eventually shakes her head.

"Didn't happen because of any terrorism, but it is… complicated in how simple it was. Someone I trusted, a friend– warned me the world would end and that I'd find purpose here after it did." Her mouth flattens in a near-grimace. "Was he wrong?" It's a rhetorical, but she answers herself anyway. "No. Do I feel a bit used because of the way it's all shaken out? Yes." She tsks at it, bristling and then shaking her head to get rid of it. "Let's just say I have some guilt wrapped up with an unhealthy dose of altruism which was played by someone who knew exactly what to do and what to say."

Asi lifts her drink in a toast to Kaito Nakamura anyway. "The Library at the End of the World would be without its technopath were I not here; Lowe's without one of her runners; and Silas without the friend who could ferry him safely back to Japan, though. So I'll chalk it all up to the best of intentions during an extremely shitty situation all around."

The laugh draws a surprised laugh from Chess, but then she listens, and shakes her head a little ruefully. “I hate to admit it but it’s probably pretty easy to manipulate my altruistic tendencies,” the younger of the two women admits, with a light shrug. “For this, though… it was something that I felt mattered, and something that I couldn’t expect someone else to do on my behalf if I wasn’t willing to do it for theirs, you know?”

She lifts her glass to her lips, finishing the rest of the remaining sake. Her cheeks are a little ruddier than they were when Asi sat down, the alcohol now finding its way to warm her skin.

“I’m glad Silas found you again,” Chess says, returning to that item in the litany of benefits Asi lists. “I have friends back home,” her eyes tighten a little at that word, as if it’s sprung a physical pang somewhere in her, “that will be very glad to know that.”

She gestures to Asi. “I’m doing some work for Lowe, too. Doing some salvage runs with Nathalie. Need to make enough for a bow and arrows.” Her smile turns crooked as she realizes how ridiculous that probably sounds.

Chess' glass is drained, and Asi only has a quarter left of her own now. She means to savor it. To find the right moment to seal the last of the drink away, possibly the last taste of it she'll ever have before the world apparently comes to an end. Her brow knits while she listens, nothing about Chess' situation or her own currently bringing her any peace.

A small, rugged smile comes to her anyway. "Bow and arrow? That's probably a mint. Smaller market; more valuable all the same. You sure you're going to make enough for that this year?"

The traveler chuckles, holding the glass between two hands, though it’s now emptied – it’s a little like her worry stone, something to fiddle with and keep her hands occupied. “Probably not, but I think she’s taking pity on me and letting me have it anyway, by the time we need to leave for the mainland,” Chess says, an instinctual flick of her eyes toward the west – it’s too gray and cloudy out to see the hint of darkening orange horizon that might still be visible on a clear night, but the west is out there all the same.

“I think no one else wanted them in all this time – I don’t think too many people are into bowfishing around these parts,” she adds with a small smirk. “It’ll be useful on the mainland. Better than a gun for me, in case of trouble.”

There’s an unspoken question that lingers there for a moment, but then Chess looks down again, examining the bottom of her empty glass.

Asi's smile becomes pressed when Chess mentions the leave the travelers mean to make for the mainland. Good riddance, right? Get them out of their hair.

Except she knows what she knows now. What Silas was able to suss– what Richard shared, besides that.

Her eyes fall to her drink and stay there for a while unintentionally just like Chess does, like what remains of the sake might provide her answers of her own. Or at the very least, something to say that's not derisive. Something to say that addresses the truth of the situation without facing the terrible weight of it. Her eyes half-lid. "Yeah… quieter is better for mainland excursions." That's as far as she gets for the moment, a beat, and then another passing before she lifts her head.

The words come almost without meaning to, without thinking before saying them, but the question flows effortlessly. "Do you believe in the trip you're making? Do you really think it will make a difference?" Her brows tick a degree higher as she asks, "There?" before following it up with another one-word question she's been too afraid to hope for, too cynical to believe it might be possible.


There’s a slight smile at the word quieter – it’s still a benefit, but not the only reason Chess prefers the arrows to bullets. Her charged arrows are still quieter than guns – at least before they hit.

But any amusement is drained from her face at the questions that Asi asks, and Chess looks to the window again, to the gray horizon, where a dark sky simply melts into the dark ocean with no hint or promise of light beyond. A deep breath taken and held, its release is a shaky and shuddery thing. But when Chess turns her dark eyes back on Asi, there are no tears in them.

Only resolve.

“I know that doing nothing won’t.”

Chess’ words are quiet but solid, heavy in their certainty of that one fact. “I don’t know that we’ll succeed. There are a lot of things that have to go right, and not all that many are in our control. But we have to try.” She lifts her chin, jutting it in the other woman’s direction. “ And I know that if your other you could be here, she would be here trying along with me, Asi.”

"Fair enough," Asi says first to the fact that they won't know unless they try. But then Chess goes on, and she lets out a scoff, offended and foul, and reaches for her glass. "Yeah, well…" She tosses the drink back and swallows it hard, but wrong– a follow-up comment trying to rise up unbidden before its time leaving her with her nose burning. She lets out a chuckle for only a touch of a moment before she looks up to Chess again.

"She isn't me," she finally points out. "And I'm not her." She draws in a breath before acknowledging, "She did all right by Silas when he was in your world, but it's not– that wasn't a favor to me, and it's not one needing returned. It…" Disgruntled, Asi comes to her feet. Chess has asked her nothing, but the weight of the comparison has done her in all the same. "I'm– I don't owe any of you anything just because if she were here, she'd do it."

She comes off more frazzled than cold or distant in drawing that line.

Chess looks up when Asi rises, her eyes widening slightly. She shakes her head and lifts her hands in a quick declaration of truce.

“I didn’t mean – you’re right,” she hurries to say, before taking a breath to continue. “You don’t owe us anything. No one expects you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Part of her wonders if Silas or Elliot or Richard might have said something to make Asi feel pressured to help, or if it stems from some need deeper within to prove herself useful, selfless.

“I know you’re not her. I don’t even exist in this world, but I wouldn’t expect my other self to help if I did,” Chess says, then adds, “反省する.”

The verbal calling of a truce, the announcement Chess would think about the way she phrased that, serve to defuse Asi's defenses. She lets out a long breath, feeling the warmth in her cheeks more fully.

The alcohol. Must be the alcohol. And only that.

"I hope the best for you," Asi says in her own way of apology. "I really do." She isn't sure enough about anything else, though.

The tension in Chess’ form, the coiled energy ready to spring into action, also relaxes, and she leans back against her seat’s back. She seems suddenly weary, but a small smile returns, a little wobbly as it tries to stand on its own.

“Same,” she says softly. “I’m sorry for making shit weird.” The people from her world, who have once again arrived bearing trouble and disturbing the only world this Asi knows. “We’re really good at that, I know.”

Her smile slips, but she adds, “It was actually amazing to meet you,” before rising and grabbing her coat, pulling it on as she heads for the exit in a hurry.

Outside, the rain will camouflage the tears that come with the wave of homesickness that swells up suddenly within her.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License