What They Deserve


chess3_icon.gif niki_icon.gif

Scene Title What They Deserve
Synopsis Two women connected by blood and loss muse on how rarely people get it.
Date December 4, 2019


With gleaming mahogany tables with brass accents, the bar in this upscale restaurant feels like it could be in the nicest neighborhood of any city before the second Civil War. Chess is aware of this thought as she slides onto one of the stools at the glossy bar.

She’s also aware she wasn’t legally able to drink back then.

Behind the bartender, the wall is full of bottles of vodkas, whiskeys, gins and more, all in a motley of shapes and sizes. When the bartender gives her his attention. “Double whiskey, neat,” is her terse order. If she has a preferred brand, it doesn’t seem to matter.

She sets down a yellowed, battered, and dog-eared copy of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. She doesn’t open it, but simply keeps one hand on it, as if to hold it together while it threatens to fall apart.

Niki strides up to the bar with more confidence that she feels. Inside, her skin is crawling and her brain is on fire, but she settles into a stool next to Chess without any indication that anything is amiss. “Same for me,” she requests before the bartender can walk away. May as well make it simple enough.

“You Francesca?” Niki asks the woman on her right with lifted brows, quickly introducing herself. “I’m Niki Zimmerman.” It’s only polite after all. This is one of the places in the Ziggurat where she manages to feel the most normal. She didn’t come here specifically seeking an introduction, but since the opportunity has presented itself… Why not?

“Only the government and questionable organizations call me that, but yeah,” says Chess, not looking over just yet. When the bartender slides her drink in front of her, she takes a couple of swallows to empty it, then slides it back at him, adding a two-fingered little tap against the rim as if it were a pair of cards at a blackjack table.

She turns to look at Niki, head tilting slightly and eyes narrowing. It’s a look of recognition, of not being able to place where she knows Niki from.

“Chess,” she says. “I mean, that’s my name. Not asking for a game or anything.”

“Chess,” Niki repeats with a nod. Then, she tilts her head to indicate their surroundings. “This place probably falls under the questionable organizations category.” Delivered with a wry smile. There’s a thank-you murmured when her own drink is set in front of her. It’s drained in short order, and an even shorter nod indicates she’d like another, pronto.

“You’re from the Safe Zone, aren’t you?” The corner of Niki’s mouth pulls up briefly as she corrects, “The one in New York, I mean. I’m on the council.” Or she was. Who knows if she’ll ever get back to that now. To listen to Monroe talk, there may be no life to go back to if whatever he suspects is in the works comes to pass.

Niki’s words draw a dry laugh from Chess and she nods.”Yeah, Praxis, Yamagato, the US government circa 2010, pick your poison.” Her hand opens to gesture around the bar. “I’m pretending I’m not in Praxia at the moment.”

The mention of the Safe Zone draws a short nod and another glance at Niki’s face. “You looked familiar. Not that I know who’s on the council. I was always a bit on the outskirts. You know, when I wasn’t in hiding.” She doesn’t add from who — her sisters, her father, Praxis in general. “Red Hook market, maybe,” she adds, as a place she might have seen Niki. “A while ago. Maybe a couple years now.”

“That’s probably right,” Niki says regarding Red Hook. “My partner and I helped set the market up years ago. I sort of haunt the place.” But this isn’t about where their paths may have intersected before. It’s about why they’re here now.

“This place kind of feels like the old days,” the blonde admits, glancing around the bar. “Before the country bombed so much of itself off the face of the planet.” That’s a grim thought. Niki regrets bringing it up instantly. She sighs heavily and shakes her head. “Are you here for Gemini too?”

“I vaguely remember,” says Chess, though she gestures to the bar. “Not that I was old enough to drink at the time. The war has given me plenty to drink about, though,” she says, tipping back her drink to punctuate the sentiment.

“I don’t think we had anywhere this nice where I lived, though. More like… Cheesecake Factory,” she says wryly. “Not that I wouldn’t mind a Cheesecake Factory now.” This place is a notch or three higher than that, but a full menu page of specialty gourmet cheesecakes is hard to beat.

The last question, Chess takes a moment to answer. “‘Here for’ is probably a strong phrase. But something like that.”

“I suppose you wouldn’t have been.” The older of the two women inclines her head, acknowledging the difference in their age. “Cheesecake Factory would be nice,” Niki agrees, even if she does like a higher caliber establishment as this one.

She huffs a breath of laughter through her nose. “It seems to be the hot menu item.” Gemini. “How’d a kid like you get messed up in shit like this?”

Chess studies the bottom of her glass before finishing off the amber fluid that separates her from it. She doesn’t ask for another, though, letting that one burn its way down her throat to her gut as she considers Niki’s next question.

“Probably the same way you did,” she says, turning to look at the taller woman, dark eyes studying the other’s face. Perhaps to see if there are shared traits in the features that make up Niki’s classically-beautiful face. “In a lab before I was born, I guess.”

She lifts a shoulder, brows drawing together as she looks back in the glass. “Is that little redheaded kid your sister? Jac?” Sister by name as well as by genetics, she means.

“We share the same father,” Niki confirms. It’s still strange to her. “We were acquainted together before all this. Would never have guessed…” She lifts her drink for a sip, swirling the liquid in the glass rather than setting it back down onto the bar.

“Like you, huh?” Before coming here, she’d thought she was cooked up in a lab as well. The truth is almost stranger. It’s definitely more tragic. “I always wanted a big family,” Niki jokes with a mirthless chuckle. “Guess I should’ve been careful what I wished for.” She tips her head in Chess’ direction, granting, “Not that it’s at all bad.”

Chess huffs a short, breathy laugh at the quip. “Yeah, same paternal DNA.” Calling Adam a father seems a bit of a stretch. She lets go of the glass, folding her arms to lean on the bar.

“I had two brothers I grew up with, but they were firmly Team Anti-Evo back in the day. I’m used to not having a family at all, so it’s a bit odd to find out I had at least a couple of dozen siblings. In this generation, I mean.” No telling how many siblings of sorts Adam has produced over the hundreds of years of his life. Or Joy, for that matter.

She lifts a shoulder. “At least the odds go up for a match if we need a kidney someday, yeah?”

Niki can’t help but laugh at that. Gallows humor is definitely one of her defense mechanisms. “I don’t remember my birth parents,” all the same, she’s willing to refer to Adam as her father. He apparently was at one time, even if he never will be now. “My adoptive parents… Yeah, no prizes there. You have my sympathies.”

Shaking her head slowly, Niki proclaims, “It’s fucked. All of it. So… So fucked. You’re human fucking beings,” she says of Chess and her sisters. “Not… whatever it is they were attempting to make of you.” Admittedly, she isn’t entirely sure what that is, but she can draw conclusions on her own.

The sudden outpouring of sympathy makes Chess glance down and away, one hand moving to rub her wrist where a tattoo helps to distinguish her from her two identical sisters, along with her honey-hued hair.

“Thanks,” she answers, the short syllable made all the shorter by her terse tendencies, but there’s a small smile as she glances back to Niki, almost apologetically. “An army of clones or something, I guess. It’s all very Star Wars-esque,” she says wryly. “I’m not as likely to fall in line as they’d probably hoped.”

She turns the empty glass around on its base, clearly incapable of sitting too long without fidgeting a bit. “Joy knew it was fucked up and tried to get us out when we were little. Two of us made it out. Kim… she didn’t want to come with me and Alix.” She huffs a short laugh. “I don’t blame her, really. I can’t say I really wanted to come, but I wanted…”

Chess is quiet for a moment. What she wanted, what she wants, is hard to articulate.

“To help, I guess.”

“I get that.”

That’s always been one of Niki’s biggest vices dressed up like a virtue. “You know, I have two identical sisters that I didn’t know about growing up, myself.” It’s funny, the unlikeliest of commonalities between them. “Some stories say we were conceived in a lab. But maybe we were just an honest-to-goodness fluke of nature. Who the hell knows?”

Nothing makes any fucking sense anymore in Niki’s world, it seems.

“I hope we’ve both done the right thing here. I don’t know how well you know Adam, but… He’s a bit on the intense side when it comes to ideologies.” That’s putting it mildly from where Niki’s sitting, but she’s also being diplomatic, being as how this is essentially his house. “But I knew him years ago, and something about what he said to me, and how he said it, makes me believe there’s some good to be done here.”

Chess’ brows lift at the mention of two more identicals. Her ‘family’ keeps getting bigger. “It’s weird, yeah?” is all she has to say about finding out you have twins/triplets/clones you didn’t know you had.

Understatement of the year.

She nods at the sentiments that Niki expresses. “He was sounding a bit like a fascist for a bit there, back on the radio and shit,” she mentions. She doesn’t use the word nazi this time, at least. “But he seems to be sorry and I guess he was brainwashed?” Her brows lift again, voice lilting up to make the statement into a question. “But he hasn’t tried to kill me since I got here, so that’s an improvement. I’m willing to give him a chance.”

Her dark eyes find Niki’s blue ones — it’s easier to see how the older woman might be Adam’s offspring, aside from her age. “What did he say?” she asks, clearly curious.

“He talked about family.” Niki has a sort of far off look as she recalls the conversation shared between her and her biological father. “He’s never done that before. It’s always been about us as a species. This was… different. He cared about individual people. Someone like him, who’s lived as long as he has, sees the lives of human people in dog years, doesn’t show that kind of empathy. This was different. He was different.”

Niki doesn’t know any other way to explain it. “Somewhere along the line, he had an ideological shift. If he crosses me, I’ll find a way to bring him down, but… I don’t think he’s lying. I think he truly believes what we’re doing here, whatever he has planned for us, that it will save the world.”

Fingers around the empty glass, Chess listens, noting that far-off stare. “I didn’t know him before. Just from other people’s assessments, but they were people I trust,” she says quietly. Her free hand opens, palm up for a moment, a shrug in miniature. “He does seem different, but I don’t have a lot to compare it to. And I don’t know if he sees me as … well. More than an instrument, really. Or maybe a soldier. At least that’s a person.”

Chess smiles wryly, and adds. “I trust Joy… even though I don’t know her for shit either.” She glances away, then back to Niki’s blue eyes. “I have a memory of her saving me when I was a baby, so I guess that’s why. But that’s sort of stupid, yeah? Because people change. If he could change for the better, she could’ve changed for the worse.”

Family’s complicated.

She gestures to the bartender for another refill, then waits for him to move away from their corner of the bar again. “I feel like I trust you, too,” Chess says, but it’s clear it’s not quite cemented. “For whatever that’s worth. So you know.”

She shrugs one shoulder, lifting her glass and tipping it in Niki’s direction. “If you think he’s off the reservation, or maybe that he wasn’t ever on it in the first place, let me know, yeah?”

Niki cants her head to one side, ordering a fresh drink while granting credence to Chess’ notion that Joy could have changed for the worse in the face of Adam’s improvement. To the rest, she frowns. “We have our roles to play. He might be leaning too heavily on that,” she admits, regarding Monroe’s apparent propensity to treat Chess more as a tool than a person. “I don’t know what goes on in his head. But… Yeah. If I think he’s losing his grip…”

You’ll be on my shortlist.

“And you’ll do the same.” That’s not a question. If they’re going to engage in some hypothetical trust falls here, then that’s going to go both ways, or it isn’t going to work at all. “I know you don’t really know me from Adam,” Niki cracks a grin at her own terrible mom joke, “but I’m going to do what I can to protect you. Your sisters, too. None of us asked for this bullshit.” She lets hang how that statement might have been completed.

Chess lowers both lashes and chin in a small nod at the assumption of reciprocity. She clinks her glass against Niki’s then brings it up to her lips for a hard swallow. There’s a small huff of a laugh at the mom joke. It’s just too easy sometimes.

“Most people don’t get what they deserve — whether it’s good or bad,” she says with a shrug. It’s a cynical statement but spoken matter-of-factly. “But yeah. If there was a chance I could do some good, protect other people, and I didn’t take it — and it might’ve made the difference? I wouldn’t deserve much that’s good after that,” she says lightly.

Setting the glass down, Chess turns to look at Niki a little more fully, and her voice drops in volume. “You said you’re here for Gemini. You know that’s not stable, right? That people have died testing it? Have you let them experiment on you?” she asks, brows drawing together in something akin to worry. “That isn’t why I’m here.”

The smile that had started to creep across Niki’s face fades in the wake of that revelation. “No, I hadn’t heard that.” Her mouth presses into a hard line that’s only broken up so she can bring her own glass to her lips and take a sip. “Adam says whatever happened to me a few months back made it so I won’t be a candidate. He brought me here for it, but… No, he says they won’t be experimenting with me.”

There’s no sense of relief that she may have dodged a bullet. No diminishing of the jealousy she felt about being denied something. What there is, is a sudden spark of anger. “What do you mean it’s not stable?

Shit. Chess reaches for the glass, taking a hard swallow and finishing the rest of the whiskey in it. She shakes her head as she stares into the bottom of the empty glass for a moment.

“At least until this past year or so, the people they gave it to ‘broke down.’ And I don’t mean like nervously. Maybe nervous system…ly.” She grimaces. “Died.”

The glass beneath her fingers begins to chime a little, the way children make it do by rubbing a thumb along its rim. She lifts her hand, finds her pocket, wrapping her fingers around little stone within she’s taken to carrying. “Lanhua has undergone it twice already, and was scheduled for a third. I don’t know what refinements they’ve made, or maybe if it’s because of who she is, who her parents are, that maybe make her able to withstand it better than the average person. I don’t know.”

She shakes her head again, offering an apologetic look to Niki. “You’re better off without it. What happened that makes you not a candidate?” she asks curiously.

The color drains from Niki’s face. It isn’t her own safety she’s worried about. She’s capable of making her own informed decisions. Jacelyn Childs, however… She’s just a kid. How could she make an informed decision about something like that? Of course she’s going to jump at the chance to be granted the power to save the world.

She doesn’t bring any of that up, however. Surely Chess has given that more thought than she’s had the time to give the situation just now. “There was a confrontation,” Niki says instead. “I came in contact with something that stripped my ability from me. It might be this Entity Adam’s trying to stop.”

Almost certainly was, but Niki doesn’t know enough to speak confidently on the subject. “Adam seemed to think it meant I couldn’t undergo the process.”

Chess finds a bill to slide next to her glass, though she looks at the empty vessel for a moment, as if contemplating another. But she doesn’t trust this place enough to be drunk — at least in public. There’s alcohol in her apartment that will do the trick away from the eyes of the Praxia strangers.

“It’s one of the reasons I came,” she says. “To maybe help Lanhua.” She hasn’t seen her identical sister since arriving, at least not from more than a distance. “Or, you know, kick her ass.”

She lifts a shoulder. “Probably not likely. I only have the one.” Ability, that is.

As far Niki’s being stripped, Chess grimaces in something like sympathy. “I’m sorry. Not that you can’t go through Gemini, though,” she says. “I don’t believe in blessings, in disguise or otherwise, but maybe you lucked out there. Hopefully anyone who’s already undergone it — maybe it’s stabilized, but it’s not like the FDA or anyone’s watching over their clinical trials, right?”

But there’s the other side of the coin, and Chess continues. “Except do we really want them to have the ability to give people multiple abilities? It’s great if it’s someone we can trust, but what about when it’s not? And who decides? Like any other drug, it’ll be in the hands of the people with money and power. It’s not good.”

Realizing she’s waxing a bit philosophical and on the verge of a soapbox, Chess huffs a soft, humorless laugh. “Sorry. I don’t usually talk this much. It’s good whiskey, I guess,” she says wryly.

Niki laughs quietly. “You’re okay,” she tells the younger woman. “It is good whiskey,” she agrees, adding, “and you’re very sharp.” Which is to say she agrees entirely. She reaches into her pocket to fish out her own cash. She tips well, because she remembers living on tips, even if she might stop to consider that the people who work in this place don’t have to scrape by that way.

“My son would have been almost your age,” Niki muses bittersweetly. “I never knew how he got to be so smart. But…” She presses her hands against the bar as she pushes up to stand. “Maybe it’s genetic.” She huffs a sound like laughter and tips her head in Chess’ direction, gives her a look like she might have wanted to wink “I’ll see you around. Sis.”

Chess frowns a little at the ‘would have been,’ murmuring a soft “I’m so sorry.” For as intimately acquainted with loss as she is, that isn’t one she can even fathom.

“If it’s genetic, it’s probably a maternal trait,” she says with a small smile. A slight jab at Adam is a compliment for Niki.

The word sis draws that huff of a laugh from Chess. “Nice to meet you, Niki. Always good to have a sister who hasn’ tried to kill me.”

It’s about an even draw at this point.

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