Friday, April 5, 2013

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: Stepping Out of the Wings

15 Summer, 1926

31:00 hours

Lyta watched the big black man across the table from them. He was huge, almost as big as a GREL, and from what Billy Croyden had said, he had enough military experience that he could probably use his fists to maximum effect. He seemed polite enough for now – no threats, no ‘accidental’ revelations of weapons – but in a place like the Hammer, that could change in an instant.

Lyta sized him up while Lukas talked. It would be hard if she had to fight him. He’d be strong, and he’d be mean. Even in a fist-fight, he could probably do some serious damage, even through her flak. The way she saw it, she only had three main advantages over him: First, she’d be faster. Big guys were generally slow, and that would give her a chance to get inside his guard or jump behind him before he could grab her. Second, she had a lower center of gravity. If she could throw him or trip him, she might be able to get in some decent shots to a kneecap or elbow or – if he decided to escalate – to his head. And third, he probably wouldn’t see it coming.

He didn’t know who they were yet, which meant he probably thought Lukas was the big threat. He’d underestimate her. She might not be a shadow like Billy or Torgath, but people had a way of dismissing the little girl in the corner until they were on the ground clutching their vitals.

Lyta realized, abruptly, that she was annoyed at being overlooked. That was the thing about Alain: he saw her. He recognized her for who she was, for what she could do, for how she felt. If anything, her time with him on the train – except for the last few minutes – had been crystal-clear proof of that. And now he was gone, maybe forever, and she’d be back to being the girl that everyone saw but no one noticed.

Sid Teg left the table, off to figure out who they were and what he should recommend to Consuela regarding them. Lyta watched him go, a bitter taste in her mouth.

32:00 hours

“Hey, pretty lady.”

Lukas had gone to find out information on the Death Watch team and where they might have bought their supplies. She watched him, dead ahead at the bar, buying drinks and engaging in earnest conversation. So she was not paying attention when someone approached her booth.

“Not interested,” Lyta said, not taking her eyes off Lukas. She wasn’t looking at guy who had shown up, but she could see him in her periphery. He wasn’t too big, and he was already swaying a bit. It probably wouldn’t be too hard to take him down, but she didn’t want to start anything, not while Lukas was working. Not in the Hammer.

“Aw, come on now, pretty girl. You ain’t even given me a chance yet.”

“Still not interested,” said Lyta, doing her best to ignore him.

“That’s a hell of a thing to say. Not even a hello?”

Lyta watched Lukas from across the bar. She wondered if he ever needed to deal with stuff like this. “I’m here with my brother. Guy named Quinn.”

In Port Arthur or Prince Gable, that would have meant something. Everyone important knew Quinn. But here in Khayr ad-Din, they hadn’t made a name for themselves yet. “Never heard of him.” The guy sat down next to her in the booth. “More to the point, brother ain’t boyfriend, and you ain’t wearin’ a ring, so…”

Lyta sighed and forced herself to look at him. He had a five o’clock shadow and it looked like his nose had been broken once and not set properly. He grinned, the smile missing three teeth. She wanted to punch him.

Instead, she glared. He didn’t catch the hint.

She felt the words welling up in her, the ferocity and the bile. “Look, I’ve had two boyfriends in the last cycle. One ran an international organization. He’s dead. The other’s a Southern assassin. Last night, Solitaire himself personally invited me to watch the duels with his crew and to join him at the after-party. In what possible universe do I care who you are?”

He stared at her for a long moment, letting the words sink in. Then he frowned, stood up, and left. “Fuckin’ ice queen bitch,” Lyta heard him mutter under his breath.

She slumped back onto the bench, and took a long glug of beer, wondering whether to be proud or annoyed at the way she’d handled things.

33:00 hours

Lukas was still buying drinks at the bar, and Lyta was on her third beer. She watched the action in the bar, the people coming and going, their conversations – some loud and boisterous, others hushed and private – and their interactions. She wondered how Lukas managed to make it seem so easy to get people to tell him stuff. Even when they were angry with him, they told him stuff. No one ever told her anything, not anything useful anyway.

Her eyes were drawn to a game of pool halfway across the bar. Three men, one woman. She was clearly a merc, just like they were. She had the walk, the hardness in her eye. She was cleaning up.

It wasn’t that she was the best pool player, Lyta thought. She was okay, but she wasn’t going after any of the hard shots. Yet somehow, whenever it came time for someone else to play, they always seemed to get distracted at critical moments, usually by her. It wasn’t anything obvious, but sometimes she’d brush the hair away from her neck, or sometimes she’d turn her hips, just a little, or lean forward against the pool table to get a better look. And then the shot would go wide and bounce away from the pocket, and it would be her turn again.

She took a sip of her whiskey and laughed at something one of the men said. She said something back, laughing, and the man blushed. She picked up her cue, leaned far over the table, lifted one leg off the ground to reach, and sank the last ball.

She pulled herself back, slowly, and smiled. She held out her hand, and the guy counted out dinar bills into it. She smiled a self-satisfied smile and slammed the button to reset the table.

34:00 hours

It was cold outside the bar, but it was too noisy to hear anything inside. Lyta leaned against the wall, feeling the roughness of the concrete with her free hand, and listened to the rings. One… two… three… four…

She was on the verge of hanging up and going back inside, giving the whole thing up as stupid, when the call connected. “Cranby,” said the voice at the other end.

“Hi, Ellen,” Lyta said.

“Lyta, honey,” came the reply. “It’s late. You okay? Everything all right?”

Lyta suddenly realized it was nearly midnight. “Yeah. Yeah, everything’s fine. Sorry if I woke you up.”

Ellen’s voice relaxed. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. What’s up?”

Lyta licked her lips, a gesture that went unnoticed over the phone, though her hesitation probably didn’t. “Can I ask you a favor?”

“Didn’t you already ask me a favor today?”

“I… Yeah, I did.”

“This one gonna involve goin’ out of town again? Tomorrow’s a busy day. You know that.”

Lyta sighed. “Yeah, I know. And if you’re busy, I understand.”

“Where you gotta go?”

Lyta shook her head. “Nowhere. Sorry. I’m not… I may have had a few too many beers.”

She could hear Ellen trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice. “Lyta, you gonna tell me what you want, or am I gonna have to get the Doc to open up your brain and pull it out?”

Lyta took a deep breath. “I need you to help me look pretty.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line. “Beg pardon?”

Lyta closed her eyes. She’d started this. Now she was committed. “Tomorrow. For the ball. I want to look pretty. I mean… sexy. I want to look sexy. I have the name of a hairdresser from Miss Julie, but I don’t have any clothes and I don’t really know how to do makeup, and…” She trailed off. Ellen was quiet. “Look, can you help me or not?”

Ellen let out a laugh, deep and throaty. “Oh, honey, I’m not sure I’m the person you wanna be talkin’ to about this one!”

Lyta squeezed her eyes shut. “Please, Ellen! I don’t know who else to ask.”

The laughter died down, and Ellen’s voice took on a more serious tone. “All right, all right. I’ll see what I can do. But you call me again before morning and it better be because someone’s dead or in the hospital or somethin’ burned down. You get me?”

Lyta smiled. “Yeah, Ellen, I get you.”

“Okay, now let me get some sleep. G’night, Lyta.”

“G’night, Ellen. And thanks.”

The call disconnected and Lyta put her phone away. She could still hear the chatter from inside the bar, the loud music and the drunken conversations. Lukas stepped outside, rubbing his hands together in the sudden cold. “You ready to go?” he asked.

Lyta nodded and fell into step with him. “Yeah,” she said.

“Good. Tomorrow’s gonna be busy. Might as well try to get some sleep tonight while we can.”

“Yeah,” said Lyta. “Tell me about it.”

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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