Monday, January 23, 2012

Koreshi Chronicles – Chapter IV: Unrequited Trust, part 1

The armadillo rocked under her, its hooves clattering on the stone ground while the desert stretched out around her on all sides. It was almost like old times, she reflected, except for the choice of company.

It had taken nearly three days to find a caravan headed in their direction with a fully-equipped med bay, and another full day of negotiations to figure out the terms of their travel. Todd would spend the time on the road recuperating, but the less-injured members of the group agreed to take shifts as outriders to offset some of their costs.

The going was slow. The caravan wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere, and they didn’t want to overtire the animals. They were informal enough that they drew lots for outrider shifts, and by the fourth day, the lots had fallen to Lyta and Ti.
Lyta had been brooding for days, trying to work through her feelings enough to talk to her childhood friend and would-be boss. But now, with nine hours ahead of them and no one around for nearly a mile, Lyta had to admit that this was the best chance she was going to get. She only wished she had some idea of how to broach the topic.

The first hour passed in silence.

The sun was well into its ascent when Lyta finally cleared her throat. “Ti?”

“Yes, Lyta?”

“Did you really mean what you said, back at the restaurant, about knowing everything about your team?”

Ti glanced over at her, taking his eyes off the vista before them. “Yeah, I did.”

Lyta avoided his gaze. “And did you mean it when you said you couldn’t trust us?”

Ti sighed. “I want to trust you. I’d like to, but a lot can change in ten cycles, people can change.”

Lyta bit her lower lip. “Yeah, I get that. You don’t know what we’ve been up to, so you don’t know what’s gonna trigger us or make us snap or whatever.”

Ti nodded, turning back to the road ahead of them. “Something like that.”

There was a long pause as Lyta tried to marshal her thoughts. “You remember when we were leaving Baja, and you were working as a tunnel-rat?”

Ti kept his eyes on the road. Lyta wondered whether this conversation would be as hard for him as it was going to be for her. “Yeah,” he said, “I remember.”

“Mom was dead already by then, killed by the keffer who wanted to billet soldiers in our house. When we got out, Father— His jeep was shelled, the one he and Lukas were in. He was dead by the time we reached the field hospital.”

Ti turned to look at her again. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” Lyta snapped, and immediately regretted it. She could see that she’d wounded Ti, and she sighed and turned away. “Just... just let me finish, okay?”

Ti turned back in his saddle. “Okay,” he said quietly.

Lyta swallowed and started again. “He was dead by the time we reached the field hospital. There wasn’t anything they could do for him. They sent us – the three of us – to a refugee camp. We never made it. We hit— I don’t know. Maybe a landmine. When I woke up, it was already night, there were bodies everywhere, and the three of us were the only ones left alive.”

She looked off at the far-distant mountains, trying to center herself before starting again. “Lukas was in a coma. Todd and I were just kids. We couldn’t carry him, not like that. And we had no idea where the camp was anyway. We’d probably have died of thirst or something, lost in the desert.”

She blinked a few times. “There was a passing sand rider band. They took us in.” She remembered the camp and how they’d first met Jonas, her relief when he’d told her that Lukas was still alive. She remembered the first time she’d met Bestha and Amara, her foster-parents. She shook her head. “I guess you could say they adopted us.”

Ti was watching her now, all pretense of surveying the road evaporated, but said nothing.

“When Lukas woke up, he wanted to leave, to go back home. We even tried a couple of times. But... I wanted to stay. Mom and Father were dead, and these people... They treated me like I was family, like I was their daughter. I needed that. I really, really did. So I wanted to stay, and Lukas and Todd... stayed for me.”

The silence stretched as Lyta tried to steel herself to relay the next part of the story. Ti watched her with soft eyes, waiting for her to share what she would, when she could.

Lyta stared down at the reins. “It was just before my nineteenth birthday,” she said softly, so quietly she wondered whether Ti could hear her at all. “We’d been gone for a few days, away from the band. When we came back, everyone was dead. Men, women, the couple who’d adopted me. Even the kids. Just... laser fire and burn marks.

“We followed the trail of the monsters who did it. A GREL contingent. Twenty, maybe thirty of them.” She could see them now in her mind’s eye, the purple-skinned bastards who had taken Jonas and killed Kitesh. The blood rose to her face and her jaw tightened.

“Did you kill them?” asked Ti.

Lyta shook her head. “I wanted to. God, I wanted to. But there were three of us and twenty of them, and they were the ones with the guns. It would have been suicide.”

He nodded sympathetically. “So what did you do?”

Lyta sighed. “We left. We tried to join another band, but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t want to stay anymore, and God knows Lukas didn’t want to stay, so we left. Drifted for a while, started taking odd jobs for whoever would pay. We had a disaster of a season where we tried to join the Desert Wolves.”

“The Desert Wolves?” Ti asked, and Lyta couldn’t tell whether it was curiosity or incredulity in his voice.

“Yeah.” A smile touched her lips for the first time in the conversation. “It didn’t work out. I still have one of their necklaces.”

It was clear Ti had no idea why the necklace amused her, though Lyta realized in retrospect there was no reason he should have gotten the inside joke. He hazarded a question. “How’d you get that?”

“Won it in a fight trying to get us in. Got my ass whooped for the next week from everyone trying to convince me that I didn’t deserve it.”

Ti shook his head, unbelieving. “Ever thought of just giving it back?”

“They’re not really that sort of people. Anyway... that didn’t work out. That was— I guess it was about three cycles ago now. Since then we just worked for ourselves.”

“Thank you,” said Ti after a pause. “Thank you for sharing with me.”

Lyta shook her head. She hadn’t even reached the hard part. “Don’t thank me yet.” There was another long pause. Lyta looked away, looked back, and finally settled on staring down at her hands. When she spoke, it was slowly, each word an effort. “Look, Ti, when we found the band dead, I promised myself I’d never let that happen to me again. I’d never let anyone get that close. I have Lukas and Todd, and that’s enough to worry about. So that’s why I can’t... I can’t do your family thing. It sounds really great, but I can’t. I just... I won’t do it again. I’m sorry.”

Ti’s face softened. “Lyta, I—”

“I don’t want your pity!” she lashed out.

“Pity wasn’t what I was going for,” said Ti softly. “More like compassion.”

“I don’t want that either,” she said bitterly. “I don’t want anything from you, or from anyone.”

Ti watched her as the armadillos plodded their way along the desert, following the trail without guidance. “I don’t believe that and neither do you, or this wouldn’t be so difficult for you,” said Ti.

Lyta swiped the tears that had begun to form at the corners of her eyes, unable to speak.

“That promise you made yourself,” pressed Ti, “have you kept it?”

Lyta looked up at him with red eyes. “If you’d asked me three weeks ago, I would have said yes.”

Ti gazed out at the far-off mountains, thinking. Finally, he turned back. “Lyta, I care about you, about all three of you. I know about loss. We all do. You’re right, I don’t trust you. But it isn’t what you think, at least, not entirely. I’ve been through something special with each of my kin. Until I found you again, I didn’t think I could form that kind of bond outside the confines of my usual method. I’m sorry if I’m a bit vague about that, but...”

“But you don’t trust me.” Lyta said, anticipating the end of Ti’s sentence. It stung. Even having just confessed to trying to keep him separate and distant, it hurt. She realized, angrily, that she wanted him to trust her like he trusted his kin, even as she did everything she could to keep him herself from getting too close, and utterly failed in the attempt.

“I want to, Lyta. I want to very much.”

Lyta scowled, angry at herself for letting her emotions get the better of her. “Damn it, Ti, I killed two people back there! I slit someone’s throat and I bashed a guy’s brains in! And I wasn’t sorry. I know you and Lukas... you do this more than me. But I swear I would have torn down every last wall, put bullets into every last mook in that place if I had to. They had Todd! They— When I saw Summers, I nearly killed him myself. For what he’d done. For taking Todd.”

She bit down on her lip, hard, forcing herself not to cry. “I won’t lose them. I won’t. When that GREL shot Todd back at the warehouse, I—” She shook her head. “I won’t.”

She took a shuddering breath. “I thought, when it was just the two of them, that I could handle it. They’re the only two I had left. I can protect two. But then we found you, and you rescued Lukas and Todd and I think even me and…”

She turned away, the tears falling freely even as she tried to wipe them away so Ti wouldn’t see. “And damn it, now I won’t lose you either,” she whispered.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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