Monday, October 22, 2012

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: A Rough Day

33 Spring, 1926
13:15, Barnaby Gym

"I'm sorry, love, but we can't help you."

Lyta scowled. "Nothing? Martial arts, boxing, wrestling... nothing?"

"We're a gym, dear, not a dojo." The woman behind the desk gave a perfunctory apologetic smile, as though she had a thousand more important things to do, and at the top of the list was filing her nails.

In fact, Lyta had discovered that there were no dojos on the Strip. The Strip was for tourists, and tourists, for the most part, did not come to Port Arthur for the fighting. So while there were gyms aplenty, Lyta had yet to find anywhere she could punch someone and not get put in lockdown. Which was a shame, because she very, very much wanted to punch someone.

She took a deep breath and tried again. "Really nothing? Nothing at all?"

The woman behind the desk was wearing too much makeup. She pursed her crimson lips and let her nails tap over the schedule. Lyta wondered how she'd managed to find a job at a gym in the first place – she looked like a light breeze could snap her in half.

"Well," she said at last, drawing out the word for a full three seconds, "we do have a self-defense course starting in forty-five minutes. There's still a few slots open." She looked up from her papers, clearly uninterested in whether Lyta chose to sign up or not.

Lyta ground her teeth and pulled out her credit chit. "Fine," she grumbled. "How much?"


34:05, GREL Quarter, Near Minnie's Bar

She saw the gas canisters the same instant Lukas did, clinking to a stop at their feet. They didn't talk. They didn't have to.

Lukas jumped backward as the gas began to hiss, out of the range of the expanding cloud. Lyta jumped up.

The buildings were low here, and the one next to her was only two storeys high. It didn't have balconies per se, but it had large inset windows and deep ledges above and below them. It wouldn't be hard. She jumped, grabbed, and swung as the air took on an unhealthy yellow tinge below her.

She'd made it as far as the second-floor window when the bullets hit the wall barely six inches away from her. They came from the same direction as the canisters, and Lyta pressed herself up against the window as they shaved off bits of concrete. She breathed hard, waiting for a pause so that she could launch herself up to the next ledge. She'd lost sight of Lukas. She hoped he was okay.

A split-second break as someone reloaded. Lyta took the chance and grasped the upper ledge with both hands, kicked off the wall, and flung herself upward.

A bullet grazed past her arm, and she cursed.

"Incoming vehicle behind you," said Todd's voice in her ear.

She rolled onto the ledge, barely two meters below the roofline, and pressed herself into a crouch next to the wall. She could hear the squeal of tires behind her, and another bullet ricocheted just below her.

"Figures," she muttered to no one in particular, "that's just the way today is going."


11:40, Officers Quarter

Lyta sat on Minnie's sofa and cradled her orange juice with both hands. She listened to Lukas and Minnie negotiating. Lukas always did the negotiating. That was his job. Lyta's and Todd's jobs were to shut up and let him do it.

"Just basic information," said Minnie as she settled herself into a leather-covered chair. "Date of birth, hometown, education, military history if any, resources, enemies, objective... that sort of thing."

Lukas nodded. He was still standing next to Minnie's kitchen island, one hand holding his glass and the other resting lightly on the counter. "Doable," said Lukas. "Who's the target?"

Someone important, figured Lyta. Maybe someone in the Polar intelligence community. Or one of Minnie's rivals. Someone who would be worth the price of getting them into a Prophet-forsaken diamond mine to rescue somebody who obviously still wanted to kill them. She had no idea why they were in Port Arthur at all, let alone in Minnie Bartok's house, negotiating payment for a job absolutely none of them wanted to do, but it was definitely going to be expensive. And Minnie didn't want money.

"Ti Corovan," said Minnie smoothly.

It was like she'd been slapped. Lyta snapped her head up, wondering if she'd heard right. Her hand clenched so tight around her glass that she was worried she was going to break it.

Ti. She wanted to know about Ti.

She couldn't say anything. Not that Ti was dead, even though she'd never seen his body. Not that they'd shot him up at the Nazarene Battlefield before leaving him to the hypno-programmed bitch and her underlings to finish him off. Not that they'd played together as kids, or shared their dreams of competing in the Olympics, or reminisced about it all after the war came and the Olympics were no longer an option. "I love you," he'd said, before he didn't say anything else.

Lukas was still talking. He was always talking. Lyta couldn't take it anymore.

She put her glass down on the table next to the sofa and stood up, right in the middle of Lukas' sentence. "I'll be downstairs with the Croydens," she said, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice. "Come get me when you're done."


14:15, Barnaby Gym

They talked too much, and it irked her. The class consisted of her and another nine women, all of them in street clothes, most of them young. None quite so young as Lyta, but close enough that she fit in.

The man leading the class was in his forties, muscled, with only a hint of an Earth accent. Six men, also large and muscled and in their forties, assisted him. They demonstrated moves and walked around purposefully. But mostly they waited as Alex, the instructor, talked.

She'd already sat through a quarter-hour of explanation of why the first course of action was to hand over whatever the mugger wanted, and failing that, to run away and get the authorities. She clenched and unclenched her hands into fists, flexed her feet inside her shoes. She wondered if Alex would ever stop talking.

Finally he started demonstrating their first move, a disengagement from someone grabbing the shoulder from behind. He showed them a few times with one of his large assistants how to turn, grab the arm, and strike to the neck. The other women in the class observed carefully. Lyta tried not to look bored.

At last they all stood and the assistants fanned out among the students, each taking one or two for practice. Lyta didn't bother to introduce herself to the burly man who stepped in front of her and nodded respectfully. "Ready?" he asked.

Lyta nodded and turned her back to him. She could feel him behind her, just a step away. She felt his breath on her neck. For the first time in hours, she smiled.

She waited until she felt the hand on her shoulder, then spun, grabbed the back of his hand on a pressure point and put the other at the nape of his neck, shot out her leg, and let him drop. She levered his arm as her knee pressed into the soft tissue below his ribcage. He grimaced and tapped the ground with his free hand. Lyta let off the pressure and stood up, making no effort to help her opponent to his feet.

Fifteen pairs of eyes were staring at her.

Lyta rolled her shoulders and shook out her neck. She wasn't even breathing hard. "So," she said, looking at the instructor, "where do you train?"


34:07, GREL Quarter, Near Minnie's Bar

She sprinted along the rooftop. She saw the car before she saw its occupants, running to either side to avoid Lukas' grenade. Katchelli's girls. Fembots. Isabelle and... Gemma? She didn't remember. It didn't matter. It meant they were good. It meant she would need every advantage she could get. And right now, that advantage was surprise.

"Hey, bitch!"

Gemma had just enough time to look up at the roof before Lyta vaulted off it, cannonballing directly on top of her. She landed directly on her back, sending her sprawling as Lyta rolled to her feet.

A bullet hit into her right shoulder-blade, the impact spreading out over her armor. She stumbled and used the momentum to rush forward, placing Gemma between her and whoever was shooting at her. But the shot had distracted her long enough that Gemma was back on her feet, pulling a large revolver and firing at point blank-range, and birdshot dug into the side of Lyta's flak as she ducked away from the main blast.

Lyta pulled out her staff and extended it in one fluid motion, murder in her eyes. She aimed a strike at Gemma's legs as they closed in close-quarters combat. The fembot ducked back and fired, as Lyta danced away and swung again. "You're a bitch," she said as she yet again failed to connect and redoubled her efforts, "and you're going down."


16:30, Oasis Grill

"You don't mind my asking, shouldn't you be taking siesta?" asked the man behind the counter. "Not that I mean to tell you what to do or nothin', but you got the accent of a Badlander and, well, I figure you got more sense 'n to be out in the middle of the day."

Lyta toyed with her glass on the counter. It was fizzy and sweet and citrusy, apparently a specialty of the diner. It was too early for alcohol and too late for caffeine, so she had decided to have a late lunch and see if her head stopping spinning long enough to let her rest.

"Yeah," said Lyta. "Can't sleep."

"That's a shame," said the man behind the counter, who was both chef and waiter. "Got somethin' on your mind?"

Lyta bit her tongue. With her left hand, she traced the edges of the paper in her pocket. Alex had given it to her. On it was an address and a time. 22:00 couldn't come fast enough.

"Yeah," Lyta said tersely, and spun her glass on the counter. It looked sort of like beer, if you squinted.

Minnie's beer was called vat juice. That's what they'd told her. Lyta had wanted slap someone, and even more when she realized they'd all known about it for days and hadn't told her. Because... why? They thought she'd do something about it? Knock out Minnie and force her to change the name? It was ridiculous. The whole thing was ridiculous.

It was disrespectful, sure. And offensive. And brought back memories of the real vat juice from the tanks that had drained out as the just-hatched Mordreds came at them in the mine, and the only reason they'd survived at all was because the GRELs were so new they didn't even have clothes, let alone guns...

She shook her head and realized the man behind the counter was watching her. "Sorry," she said, and drained the last of her drink. "Maybe I should just go." She tossed a few dinar coins down on the table and stood up, strode across the diner and out the door.

'Fuck Minnie,' she thought to herself as she stepped into the hot midday air. She chose a direction at random and started walking. 'And fuck her vat juice.'


22:00, The Strip

There was no sign above the door, nothing to give any indication that it was a gym at all. It looked just like every other building on the block, except for a few Mekong characters beside the door that Lyta couldn't read. She buzzed, and the door clicked open.

She knew as soon as she entered that she was in the right place. Shoes lined one wall, towels and water bottles another. She caught sight of padded flooring, heard the sounds of blows connecting and bodies hitting the floor.

Alex was waiting for her in the antechamber. "I see you found us," he said without smiling.

Lyta took off her shoes and placed them with the rest. "Yeah."

He led her past a large wall that hid the main training area from the street. A dozen people were sparring, training, fighting. They were all bigger than she was, and all older. She recognized a few of Alex's assistants from the afternoon. None of them wore insignia, and she struggled to figure out the hierarchy as the fights gradually slowed and people turned to look at her.

"This is Kess," Alex said, putting a hand on her shoulder. Lyta resisted the urge to shove it off. "She's in town on vacation and found our self-defense class this afternoon a bit too... basic. Wanted some more advanced training. I invited her over. Figured we could help her out with that."

One of the men cracked his knuckles, another his neck. A few nodded slowly, sizing her up.

"Hi." Lyta shifted her weight to the balls of her feet and grinned. "So... who's first?"


34:11, GREL Quarter, Near Minnie's Bar

Three of them, and only one of her. The fembots had all started running when the fight turned south, and Lukas and Todd were too far away to catch them. But Lyta wasn't. Lyta had followed. And now Lyta was surrounded.

Her flak was riddled with shrapnel, and she had a few grazes on her head she hoped weren't serious. She breathed hard, watching them, trying to figure out whether she'd be able to take one or two of them down before they did it to her. They were good, damn good, and they had the drawn guns.

"How convenient," said Barb, stepping in slowly. "You're the one we wanted anyway."

Lyta licked her lips. "Your boss is in jail. You know that, right?"

"You know there's no statute of limitation on loyalty, right?"

Isabelle was limping. Lukas had probably shot her. Or maybe she'd been caught in one of the grenades. She'd go down easier than the other two.

"Sure there is," said Lyta, stepping back towards the wall as they closed in around her. "We have bosses all the time. Loyalty lasts until the job is done. Boss goes to jail, you move on to the next one."

Barb's face twisted in disgust. She left an opening on her left side when she fought, Lyta remembered. She could use that, if she could get in close without getting shot. She felt the concrete press up against her back. Barb gave her a vicious smile. "That's because you're a merc," she sneered. "You have no idea what it's like to—"

Lyta never found out how Barb intended to finish the sentence, because at that moment she grabbed the ledge above her, swung up, and tossed down a flash-bang into the clutch of fembots.

She squished her eyes shut and pressed her hands over her ears a second too late. Her vision went white, then blurry, and her ears rung. She looked down over the overhanging ledge, but she could barely make out the three women and whether they'd been hit by the effects also.

She grabbed her staff and planted it on the ground, finding her balance. She heard a gunshot, off to her left, and the women below began running again.

She groaned and watched them for two seconds... three... before finally mastering herself and climbing the rest of the way up the wall to intercept them.


25:20, Hotel Caprice

Her knuckles were bruised, and her legs were sore. But at least she wasn't angry anymore. She was just tired. And resigned.

"Lukas?" she asked from the armchair of their hotel room, overlooking the Strip.

"Mmm?" Lukas was buried in his datapad, busy with something-or-other that Lyta hadn't bothered to investigate.

"Are you going to tell her? About Ti?" She didn't look at him. She watched the late-afternoon foot-traffic on the street below.

Lukas sighed and put down his datapad. "It's her price for getting us in," he said.

Lyta turned back to the room. "Have I mentioned that this is, bar none, the stupidest plan we've ever had? Maybe the stupidest we'll ever have?"

Lukas shrugged. "Don't say that yet. We've still got cycles ahead of us to come up with stupider plans."

"Yeah," said Lyta, pulling her knees up to her chest. "And maybe we can spend them all in a CEF diamond mine."

"I have no intention of living in a diamond mine," said Lukas. "I hear the accommodations are terrible."

Lyta glared at him. She hated when Lukas tried to be funny. "We could walk away," she said quietly. "We already got paid half. We're rebranding as a new team anyway. And Smith's screwed us before; it's not like he doesn't deserve it."

Lukas paused, considering this, then picked up his datapad. "We took the job, we do the job," he said simply. "Lassanders don't renege on their promises."

Lyta clenched her jaw and turned back toward the skyline as Lukas began working again. "Fine," she said at last, "but if we make it through this alive, you owe me the mother of all birthday presents."

"Your birthday's in Autumn," said Lukas without looking up.

"And you didn't get me a present," rejoined Lyta.

Lukas paused, tapped a few buttons on his datapad, and thumbed it off with finality. "Done," he said. "What are your tastes in assault weapons?"


34:15, GREL Quarter, Near Minnie's Bar

Barb lay unmoving on the ground as Lyta's boot pressed up against her neck and her staff pinned Barb's right hand. Lukas trained a gun at her head.

"So here's how we're gonna do this," he said, holding her gaze. "You're gonna get up, and we're gonna tie your hands, and you're gonna come with us quietly. And if I suspect you're calling for help or using a homing beacon or anything else I consider suspicious, I'm gonna blow your brains out. Nod if you understand."

From below her boot, Barb managed to move her head, ever so slightly, up and down.

Lukas gestured, and Lyta let up the pressure of her boot. Barb sat up and, to her credit, avoided massaging her neck, keeping her hands in plain sight on the ground. Lyta knelt down, pulled the hands back, and zip-tied them. "You're gonna be sorry," Barb croaked, just loud enough for Lyta to hear.

"Probably," Lyta agreed, "but not because of this."

Barb scoffed. "You're an idiot," she said.

"Yes, well," cut in Lukas, as Lyta guided Barb to her feet, "at least she's got her friends here, which is more than you've got."

Barb looked like she was about to say something when Todd finally caught up with them. "Uh, guys," he said in Koreshi, "don't mean to trouble you, but the GRELs are starting to wake up and I think they want to know what all the fighting's about and maybe we shouldn't be here when they investigate."

Lukas nodded. "Yeah. Good idea." They led Barb back out of the alley. Lyta could practically feel the purple-skinned bastards looking down at them from their windows. It made her skin crawl, and if she knew one thing for sure, it was that she had no interest in yet another fight today, especially not against GRELs. "Yeah," she echoed, "let's get the fuck out of here."

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