Monday, December 31, 2012

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: Prison Broken

The longrunner thrummed as the road moved under it. The climate conditioning took the sting out of the mid-day Summer air, but bright light streamed through the windows signalling that soon it would be Siesta. The caravan did not stop for Siesta, just as it did not stop at night; only towns and cities brought it to a halt, and even then, not for long.

Lyta walked down the corridor, feeling the vibrations of the road through the soles of her feet. She walked automatically; she'd noted all the doors and compartments within hours of joining the caravan. So she nearly tripped over Ennik where he sat at the opening to the main cargo hold, oblivious.

She followed the trip into a shoulder-roll and pulled up on the other side of him. "Sorry," she muttered.

Ennik didn't react, he was staring into empty space. His expression was enough to draw Lyta from her daze: he wasn't surprised that she'd nearly toppled into him or that she'd caught herself with a gymnastics manoeuvre; he hadn't even cracked a smile.

"You okay?" Lyta asked tentatively. She was still angry with him, angry at what he'd done and what he'd said in the mines, but he looked so despondent that she couldn't help but reach out to him. There was a sickening pile of butted cigarettes by his side.

He stared off into space. "Yeah. I just didn't think I would be that affected by the gulag." He pulled another drag on a cigarette.

Lyta hesitated, torn between sympathy and anger. She licked her lips. "Did it... Was it like before?"

Ennick finally looked at her, his eyes focusing for a moment on the smaller, younger woman. He looked as tired as she felt. "That wasn't anything like Camp 9a. But I can imagine it was a little like the place they took my sisters." Lyta cringed. The thought of Todd or Lukas being trapped down there... She didn't want to think about it.

Ennik was still talking. "I can't stop thinking about what it must have been like for them, to be buried underground and tested on." He hung his head again and took another drag on his cigarette, then stared straight ahead again.

Lyta looked down at the back of his head, trying to find something she could latch onto, and finding nothing. "Oh," she said at last, helplessly. "I... I'm sorry." It was a lame answer, but she couldn't think of anything else. She wished she were more like Lukas; he would know what to say. Well, after he'd finished yelling.

Ennik spoke without moving, without looking at her. "Lyta, I finally figured out why you pulled Katchelli. So I know why you wouldn't tell me. You don't know, do you? Its just a job. You can give me as much shit as you want about betraying you, but fuck it. I'm done working with you, Lyta, done with Lukas. I won't risk my life and watch you risk yours just for money anymore. I can't fight with people who see loyalty and a contract as the same damned thing. After we get to KAD, that's it."

Lyta knew it already. There wasn't any other way it could go. When he tried to convince Jimmy to leave without acquiring Katchelli, well, Lukas would never trust him again. Maybe it was best that Ennik decided to quit before Lukas fired him, she thought. She stared down at the back of his head. "Yeah," she said.

She waited to see if Ennik would say anything else, but he didn't. He went back to starring in front of him. She finally realized he wasn't staring into space; a meter and a half in front of him was a crate like all the others except for the label, the green-and-brown label of Wounded Knee whiskey.

She shook her head and moved forward, leaving Ennik behind her with his demons. She made her way up the longrunner, out of the cargo hold and into medbay.

Bakov lay in the bay's one bed, sleeping. His eyes darted back and forth beneath his eyelids, but otherwise he was still. The cool light of the bay illuminated his bloody bandages.  In the half hour he had been at the tender mercies of Geddy, he had suffered enormously. His wounds were deep, long, and jagged, and they still soaked the bandages. Lyta shared the duty of changing them with Ennik and Todd, at least in theory.

Lyta watched him for a long time, unwilling to wake him in the middle of his dream. She stood in the doorway and let her mind drift. She remembered him as she'd seen him in the Baddies' schoolroom, lecturing as though he were up on the surface issuing orders to his soldiers. Then there was a scraping sound, and she saw Geddy step through the rock opening, running his machete along the wall, the metal sending up sparks in the torch-lit room, and when she looked back Bakov was strung up with his muscles exposed and the bright blood pooling down in rivulets along his legs--

The caravan bumped, and Lyta shook herself. She blinked a few times, reoriented herself, and sighed. She got the bandages from their cabinet. Thankfully, there were still plenty left.

She made her way to the side of his bed and looked down on him. Then, as gently and lightly as she could, she began to pull away the first of the stained bandages.

Bakov winced and woke with a start. There was panic in his eyes, panic and confusion. Lyta pulled back her hands and let go of the bandages, putting her weight in the balls of her feet. Bakov's eyes searched the room, searching desperately. After a moment, the panic abated and he let his body relax.

Lyta relaxed as well, letting her breathing even out. She picked up the bandages again but found she didn't have the strength to keep unwinding them. She looked down at the jagged wound partially revealed beneath. "Major," she said. Then she stopped, blinking fiercely.

She shook her head and turned aside, only to find Bakov looking at her intently. "What is it, Kes?"

She struggled to get the words out. "I need to know... When you sleep, when you dream..." She shook her head again. The words didn't come, not even when she wanted them to.

Bakov closed his eyes. "Yes, I'm still there. Just now, I didn't know who you were or where I was. I assume it will be some time before I... adjust."

Lyta started unwrapping the bandages again, her hands moving automatically. "How do you know?" she asked hesitantly. "I mean, how do you know that you ever will?"

Bakov tried to shrug and his face contorted with the effort. "Humans are adaptable," he said. "It is what we are made for. We adjust to the circumstances before us as we adjust to those we have faced in the past."

Lyta wondered whether she'd ever adjusted to the circumstances of her past, and chose not to answer. She finished unwrapping the bandages, leaving Bakov's wounds exposed. They didn't look good. Lyta wondered how long it would take them to heal, if they ever would. She wasn't a doctor, but she was pretty sure Geddy had severed some of the tendons in his shoulders.

She started wrapping the clean bandages, hiding the wounds beneath them as Bakov hid his wincing behind a stoic face and closed eyes. When she had finished, she threw out the used bandages and dimmed the lights. "I'll be back later," she said softly. "You can go back to sleep."

She looked over to realize he was staring up at the ceiling. "I believe," he said, "that I shall stay awake."

Lyta nodded and turned the lights back up. "Yeah," she said, and then she left.

Back in the main corridor, she let out a breath and made her way further forward. She stopped in the galley and put together a tray of food. One charge down, another to go. The vibrations under her feet comforted her, a reminder that they were moving away, always away.

She stopped for several minutes outside Katchelli's room. She'd wanted to keep the former gang leader sedated the entire trip; Jimmy was sneaky, but he was practical. There was no point in letting her run off or fight her way out now that she'd escaped. But Todd's medkit didn't have enough stock for ten full days of sedation, not when they needed some for Bakov also, and they hadn't had a chance to restock.

Lyta found she didn't want to enter the room. She let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Forward," she muttered to herself, and touched the handle. The door slid open, and Lyta carefully placed the food tray just beyond the opening, like a lion-tamer might set down meat for his beasts. The tray was well out of Katchelil's range, and Lyta knew she could take the older woman in a fight, but she hoped to avoid that. She deployed her staff with a swift click, a sound she found very comforting.

At the soft noise, Katchelli shrieked. Lyta stepped back as Katchelli tore at her manacles and kicked the plate of food. Her shrieks gave way to panting and then violent sobs. Eventually, she exhausted herself and, utterly spent, rolled onto her back, panting and laughing, the laughter rolling on and on as tears still streaked down her cheeks.

Lyta watched in morbid fascination until Katchelli's laugh sputtered and died out. The middle-aged former Forzi, her former rival, the recent queen of the underworld, turned her head towards Lyta and smiled. "You know, I was with the UMF 10th battalion, fourth mechanized. I held my troops when our captain died, and I held the line when the colonel came on the com and told me the keff wouldn't walk out of the Marathon basin. I stood and watched as my own command dropped chemical warheads on us. Twelve thousand dead, but I was still left standing." Her face turned into a grimace as new tears welled up and she began to sob again.

The food was splattered on the floor, but Lyta knew Katchelli would eat it anyway, when she came out of her madness long enough to realize she was hungry. Katchelli grabbed the bed frame with both hands and pulled at it, trying to rip it free from the wall. They'd taken away the blankets and the sheets, but the frame itself was welded solid. Katchelli screamed, a primal, bestial howl that echoed down the hallway.

Lyta took a step back, out of the room, and closed the door. The screaming continued, muffled. She watched the door, and eventually heard a clatter as Katchelli threw something at the other side. She realized she was still holding the extended staff, her knuckles white. She loosened her grip, slowly, enough to collapse it and put it back in its holster.

She stood against the far wall, spent. She had no idea what Geddy had done to his queen, and she was certain she never wanted to know.

With an effort of will, she made her way down the hallway. The door to the Croydens' room was open. She didn't want to look, but she caught sight of Jimmy sitting in front of a small wooden box, the lid open so that only he could make out the contents. She half-remembered him taking something the same size from Geddy's lair. She hoped he took his diamonds and choked on them.

"Lyta, pet," Jimmy called out as she moved past his room. Reluctantly, she stopped and moved back. She stood in the doorway, steadying herself on the frame. "How's yer prisoner? Eating yet?" He asked, cocking an eyebrow.

Lyta shook her head.

"I hope that doesn't affect your payment, damaged goods an' all." Lyta looked at him impatiently. She had no idea what he was driving at, and she didn't care. She wanted nothing more to do with his fancy talk, not for a long time. Sadly, they still had days more together on the caravan, oh yeah, then the stupid job Lukas had agreed to as payment. "All I'm saying is I was hired to get ye all out and I've done my bit. Yer brother had best do what he promised by me. Sleep well." He punctuated the sentence by snapping shut the lid of his box.

Lyta gave him a disgusted look. Still thinking about money, even after his ill-gotten spoils. She knew he was a shark, but she'd hoped that after all they'd been through together, he might have developed a heart, even a tiny one.

She turned out of the room, took one step, and nearly ran into Billy. She jumped back, her hands in a guard stance, and forced herself to drop them. "You know," she said, trying to cover her surprise, "your brother can be a real prick."

Billy looked at her. "If anything had happened to my brother in there, I'd 'ave strung yer two brothers by the toes and made you watch while I carved them into to dawg food." His voice was steady, his eyes probing.

Lyta may have been surprised and annoyed, but she wasn`t too flustered to take the threat lying down. Not against her brothers, not after everything she'd been through. "I'd have killed you long before you had the chance. It's a good thing you're quiet, Billy, 'cause you're an asshole."

Billy's jaw clenched, and Lyta's hand moved to the small of her back, curling around the collapsed staff. "My greedy little fuck of a brother went into that place for money: not the shite you're paying him, but a cold dream he's held on to for five cycles. Little crystal cold hearts that 'ave eaten away at his soul. All he came out with was new nightmares of drowning and a box of canines."

Lyta's brow furrowed. She had never heard Billy string so many words together in a row, and she still had no idea what he was talking about. "Canines?"

Billy held his glare another few moments, then he shook his head in resignation. "Teeth. The box had exactly 248 teeth in it. That's what Geddy Jay Gordon collected from his victims before they put him away. I guess ev’ry man has his own prize." With that, he pushed past her and entered his and his brother's room, sliding the door shut behind him.

Lyta stared at the closed door, then shook her head. "Sick fuck," she whispered to herself, and she wasn't entirely certain who she was talking about.

Her own room, hers and Todd's, was a few steps down and across the hall from the Croydens'. She pushed open the door and collapsed onto her bed. Todd was sitting on his, reading. He looked up when she entered. "Umm, we passed into Hermes range on the morning shift when we went past Irving. There's a message from Lukas."

Lyta didn't want to move, but she lifted her head anyway and propped herself up on her elbow. They hadn't heard from Lukas since they left the mine, and she'd been starting to worry. "Yeah?" she asked, doing her best to keep the apprehension out of her voice.

He turned his computer pad so the screen faced Lyta.

Lukas' frozen face came to life as Todd played the message. "Good job, team. I never doubted you." Lukas' tone was his usual patronizing praise. "I'll meet you as planned in Lance Point at the Farragut Hotel." He leaned forward and the camera panned, revealing that he wasn't alone. The side of Minnie's head come into the shot, smiling. She put her arm around Lukas' neck, squeezing her face into the frame. "Hi Lyta, hi Todd. I'm taking very good care of your brother, mostly because he hasn't got the will to resist me. Ciao." She beamed, and their hands both went for the screen.

"Minnie, I'm not done," Lukas protested, but it was half-hearted and cheery.

"Back to bed with you," came Minnie's voice, and then her hand reached the screen edge and the recording stopped.

Todd turned his computer back to face him and looked at Lyta with worry. Lyta clenched her jaw. Her hands were fists, and her fingernails dug into her palms. "Well," she said at last, "I'm glad one of us is enjoying himself."

Todd nodded, glad that there hadn't been any more of an outburst, and immersed himself again his in computer. Lyta wanted to sleep, wanted desperately to be away from the caravan and the fuckers it held, wanted the deep oblivion of a dreamless, dead sleep. But she knew it wouldn't come. All the sedatives they had, they'd used for Katchelli and Bakov. Sleep would just bring back the nightmares, and she wanted those even less than she wanted to be awake.

She took out her own PDA and keyed up the book that Todd had given her, something about a jailbreak by some super-spy. She'd read the first page and a half at least twenty times, and still had no idea what it said. She flipped back to the beginning and tried again, letting the vibrations of longrunner soothe her nerves.

"Hey, Todd," she said, staring at the book but not taking in any of the words.

"Yeah?" asked her foster-brother, still deeply absorbed in his own reading.

"Let's never do that again, okay?"

Todd looked up just for a second, taking a moment away from the page and the worlds they contained, scenes well away from the caravan and everything they'd been through. He nodded. "Okay," he said, and then he turned back to his book and shut out the world.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.