Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter V: Last Call

2 Spring, 1926

The Lucky Shot Casino, like so many casinos, never truly closed. Oh, there were quiet periods, and morning would find the gambling floors nearly deserted, but there would always be a dealer or a bartender ready to take your money if you wanted to gamble or drink it away. Now that the dueling matches were done for the night, most of the regulars had left, drifted to their homes or their hotel rooms to sleep halfway until siesta, only to get up and do it all again tomorrow. The only ones left were the die-hards and the sorry souls who found comfort in the mock-anonymous privacy of the gambling floor.

Lyta wasn't generally a VIP lounge sort of person. It reminded her uncomfortably of family life before the war, before the CEF, when her parents had taken her to luxury establishments as a matter of course. She had been too young, then, to realize that not everyone dined on fine Polar foods or had private boxes at concerts. She knew better now. But she and her brothers had been given the royal treatment for a night -- Lyta still wasn't sure precisely why -- and it seemed easier to stay sitting at the lounge's raised bar with its panoramic view of the city than to find the lift back to her room.

She couldn't sleep. After the tension of the afternoon's botched mission -- with a grenade exploding meters away from her in a crowded square of civilians and an unnoticed gunman barely missing her head -- she'd hoped that watching the Gear duels would channel her nerves into the rush of the competition, but it hadn't. And while Lukas and Todd had gone to bed, back to their room which would now be devoid of unconscious Kolson goons, Lyta had stuck around. The bartender filled her glass when she asked for it, but otherwise kept his distance, leaving her to look out over the vista and wonder how many people had died today.

Someone cleared his throat behind her, and Lyta turned around. When she saw who it was, she stood, just barely unsteady. "Dr. Chambers," she said, putting her glass down on the polished bar-top. "I thought you'd be asleep by now."

"This seat taken?" he said rhetorically as he joined her at the bar. She noted that a drink had appeared at Chambers' elbow without him ever ordering -- she guessed the bartender knew his preferences already, given that he owned the casino. Or at least, she was pretty sure he owned the casino. She wasn't quite clear on the specifics. She gestured out the window to the panorama of the city below. "It's pretty when you don't have to smell it," she said.

"I find KAD most endearing in the morning, when Helios' rays glint off the heaps. Makes you forget it's rubbish. It serves as a good metaphor for life."

Lyta looked down into her glass -- it was getting low again, and she'd probably need to ask for another soon -- and then back at her newly-arrived companion. "That's a pretty depressing metaphor, if you don't mind my sayin'."

"Is it?" The Doc said reflectively. "Life is full of unpleasantness, but there a moments -- sunrises for example -- where you can choose to see beauty and peace where others only see waste. We get hurt, we fail, and we loose friends and family. But we also make new friends, find new opportunities, and we can, in a certain light, make new family of our choosing. I guess it may just be my indomitable enthusiasm, but I see it as an uplifting metaphor."

Lyta sighed. She wasn’t drunk enough to want to talk philosophy. That was more Lukas and Todd's domain anyway. "Maybe," she conceded, which was about as far as she was willing to go down that path. She leaned forward. "Look, I've got a question for you, and I hope you don't take it the wrong way. Are you really a doctor? I mean, people call you Doc Chambers, but you don't look like…" she trailed off, trying to find a way to end the sentence that wouldn't be too insulting, but failing.

"…like a healer?" He offered. "I was a qualified trauma surgeon though in recent cycles I gravitated more towards psychiatry. But I think most people call me that because they resent me."

Lyta blinked, trying to figure out if he was joking or not. "Yeah?" she asked. "And why's that?"

There was a pause as he considered her question. "I'm not sure why. I’m so charming.” He said with mock confusion. “What I can tell you is that people who like me call me Tom. Those who don't like me call me Doc. I choose to see it as a grudging sign of respect by employees and enemies. My turn to ask a question. Speaking of respect, admiration and such; are you in love with Ti?"

Lyta nearly spat out her drink. She'd been nodding along, not really following the Doctor's rather elaborate reasoning and not really caring, and hadn't been expecting the reversal. "I…" She stammered, took another sip from her glass, realized it was empty, and thunked it down on the bar in exasperation. "I don't see how that's any business of yours," she said at last, though she was afraid the color had already risen to her cheeks.

"I’ll take that as a yes," he said, and Lyta grew redder still, the blood rising in ire, not embarrassment. "People follow me because I give them what they want, I repay loyalty. The kin follow Ti because they trust him and love him. But you and your brothers are not kin. I thought it was a bad idea for him to trust you; I thought it was reckless. He trusts you because he loves you, all of you -- though perhaps in different ways. I'm comforted that you love him too. I hope that means you will repay his trust."

Lyta was halfway to storming off, ready to leave the doctor and his monologues, except that the bartender chose that moment to place another glass next to her and remove the empty one. She took a long swallow, the liquid almost as bitter as her mood. "I still don't see how it's any of your business," she muttered, trying to compose herself.

"I rely on Ti," he answered. "A lot relies on Ti. I want to be sure you won't be his downfall."

"Yeah?" said Lyta, the supposedly-comforting words of a moment before forgotten. "And how, precisely, would you do that? Stop him from seeing us? He's a big boy, and last I checked, you were his boss, not his mom."

'The simplest way in the world,' Doc Chambers thought to himself, but he wan’t interested in antagonising her. “Firstly, I'm not his boss. I'm a lot of people's boss, but not Ti's. If anything, I'm closer to his mom, though I'd rather see myself as the cool uncle. Secondly, that came out wrong and I’m sorry. What I meant was that Titan has rebuilt his family: brothers and sisters and me, wherever I fit it. Now there's you and your brothers. Ti is very conflicted emotionally when it comes to you. That compromises him. If he could just admit how he feels about you and you show him how you felt about him, then he could move on and learn to deal with a new paradigm in his family."

Lyta looked at him blankly. She hadn’t drunk enough yet to discuss philosophy, and she certainly hadn't drunk enough for this psychoanalysis.

Doc Chambers sighed. "Let me put it this way: I wish he would pull his head out of his ass and just kiss you and move on from there."

'That makes two of us,' Lyta might have said, but she held herself back. She took a long drink and stared at the man sitting next to her. While she had been willing to bare her soul to Ellen Cranby, Dr. Chambers was another matter entirely.

She shook her head. "Yeah, well…" She trailed off. She took another drink. "I guess that's up to him," she finished lamely, and wished she had Lukas' way with words.

"Is it? I wouldn't be so sure, Lyta. People like Ti are driven by a singular devotion, to revenge or to duty. But that is not sustainable; trust me, I know. Nothing is worth fighting for without the promise of a home and a family." As if on cue, Miss Julie strolled by the bar and gave the Doc a tender kiss on his right temple before continuing her rounds as manager of the Casino. He basked in it for a moment even after she was gone, his eyes closed, a smile lingering on his lips.

Lyta watched the kiss, half-jealous and half-embarrassed, and turned away to her drink until the casino manager had walked off.

"What do want, Lyta, and what does Ti deserve? If they coincide then you owe it to yourself and to him to do something about it. Before it's too late."

Lyta shook her head again, exasperated at the older man who thought he knew everything. If only she could explain, tell him about the conversations she and Ti had had out in the open desert or above the Prince Gable Trench, where he'd explained everything and reinforced the idea that they absolutely, positively could not act on any feelings they might have. People would die, he'd said. There was only the mission, and nothing left of the boy she'd grown up with, he'd said. She deserved to know, he'd said.

She grimaced and played with the cocktail onion in her drink. "It's not that simple," she said at last.

Dr. Chambers drained his glass, got up, and gave Lyta a look of disappointment. “Maybe not; it certainly isn’t as simple as giving up. I’d stay for the sunrise, but I think I’ll go find company who will choose to enjoy it. Good day.”

Lyta glared at his back as he walked off, angry at herself and frustrated that Chambers had gotten in the last word before leaving. There was no point in calling him back. It was too late, she decided. Too late to argue with a man who was clearly better at it than she was, too late to still be drinking, and definitely too late to start second-guessing what to do about Ti. She sighed and lifted her glass to drain it before realizing it was already empty.

She stood up and glanced out the window. The very first rays of Helios were just touching the trash piles; they glinted yellow and silver. She blinked. It was pretty, she admitted. Even if it was a pile of garbage.

She looked back into the lounge, but Chambers had already gone, and the casino manager as well. Lyta closed her eyes a moment, shook her head, and made her way back down to her room. It was going to be a long day.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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