Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter V: Girl Talk

12 Autumn, 1925

The Red Roaster's decor was just as tacky as Lyta remembered. The gold lamé seemed positively overpowering in the early morning sunlight, and glittering Mekongese symbols glinted off the rim of her mug. While it wasn't as busy as Lyta would have expected from the morning rush, it was busy enough, with nearly half the tables full and a steady stream of take-away customers grabbing their daily pick-me-up before a long stint at the office.

The cawfee was just as bad as Lyta remembered, and thankfully just as strong.

She'd tried to sleep after the night's mission, and had even managed a few hours before adrenaline and nerves woke her and she sought the comfort of the quiet morning streets. Something had drawn her to the café where she'd passed a few hours the last time they'd been in Prince Gable, back when Lukas and Ennik had been at each other's throats. After a few minutes, she realized that "something" was guilt.

She'd been nursing her drink for half an hour when she caught sight of a familiar profile. And while she'd come -- or at least stayed -- to speak with Ellen Cranby, now that she was actually present, Lyta wondered if it would be uncouth to crawl under the table and wait until the older woman left.

Ellen scanned the tables idly as the girl behind the counter brought out her drink. She was halfway to the door when her eye fell on Lyta. She didn't miss a step, but she did slow, and changed her course so that she was no longer headed towards the door.

Lyta stood as Ellen approached her table. "Hi," she said.

"Hi," replied Ellen, cautiously. "I didn't expect to see you here."

Lyta bit her lower lip. "I was kind of hoping you'd show up," she said. "I was… Things were a little weird yesterday, and I wanted to let you know I wasn't trying to pull a fast one on you or anything."

After a pause, Ellen pulled out the chair across from Lyta, and the two women sat down. "I didn't think you were," she replied, blowing across the top of her mug.

"Ti didn't tell me who we were going to see," Lyta elaborated. "And I don't think I knew your last name anyway."

Ellen nodded and took a sip of her cawfee, letting out a small murmur of appreciation. "Ti didn't tell me he was bringing anyone," she said. "Are you one of his kin?"

Lyta shook her head. "Friends. From back before the war when we were kids. We ran into him again in the Spring. It looked like we were working for the same objective, so we joined up, and it worked pretty well, so we kept at it." She paused and took a sip from her own mug, trying to remember what Ti had told her about his kin and his other associates. "Really, I don't think we're any of Ti's categories."

"That must be difficult," said Ellen.

Lyta shrugged. "More for him than us. What about you? How do you know Ti?"

Ellen thought a moment. "We've been working together for a few cycles. We met through a mutual friend, and now he stops by when he's in town and I do what I can to help him."

The music from the café speakers was loud, but Lyta dropped her voice anyway. "Is there… anything between you and Ti? Because it's cool if there is. I'm just curious."

Ellen smiled. "No. Too young for me. And not my type anyway." There was a pause as a customer from the next table gathered his briefcase and made his way past them. "I could ask you the same thing," said Ellen after he'd gone.

"No," Lyta answered, just a touch too fast. She shook her head. "He can't.… I mean, we can't."

Ellen arched an eyebrow and waited.

Lyta sighed. "It's too dangerous. I mean, I'd like to. I think I'd like there to be something. But Ti said that if he lets himself give into his emotions like that, people could die. His people, or maybe even us. And… I think he just is all about the mission right now. He won't let anything interfere with that. So…" She shook her head again, in resignation, and sipped her cawfee without finishing her sentence.

A dark look passed across Ellen's face, but it was gone before Lyta noticed. "Speaking of the mission," said Ellen, changing the subject, "how did it go last night?"

"Good. Everyone's okay, and we got what we needed." Lyta unconsciously rubbed her shoulder, still sore from the pressure of operating the laser-cutter.

"Glad to hear it," said Ellen. "What's next?"

Lyta shook her head. "Not my place to say. It's Ti's plan. But if everything goes right, we're going to be doing more stuff that's going to be tricky and dangerous." She shrugged. "It's a stupid plan, but it's the one we've got."

Ellen nodded. "Better than no plan at all." She stood, her mug already empty.

"Ellen," Lyta said softly as the older woman turned to go. Ellen turned back, waiting. "I… didn't exactly tell anyone I was coming to meet you." Lyta looked up, hoping that Ellen would understand what she meant.

Ellen paused a moment, then reached into her purse and pulled out a small piece of paper, scribbled something on it, and passed it over. "That's my number," she said. "Call any time."

Lyta nodded and tucked the scrap away. "Thanks," she said, and she meant it.

"Be careful," said Ellen, touching the younger woman briefly on the shoulder, and then she was gone. A hot puff of air wafted into the Red Roaster as the door opened and shut, leaving Lyta with the dregs of her cawfee and Ellen's empty cup. She breathed slowly and deeply, readying herself to go back to Ti and her brothers and begin the day's practice for their next insane mission. She stared out the window as Ellen's form disappeared into the morning foot-traffic. "I always am," she said softly, as she stood and left the table behind.

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