Friday, June 14, 2013

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: Who Cons the Con Men?

18 Summer, 1926

Lyta glared at the ceiling. Her head throbbed against the pillow, and the minimal light coming in through the windows hurt her eyes. But no matter how hard she tried to sleep, to shut out the world and everybody in it at least for a few hours, her mind refused to settle, and the ceiling taunted her by its continued presence.

She wanted to punch something. The ceiling seemed to be a canvas for the faces of everyone who’d wronged her recently: Kinross and Geddy and Jimmy and Virgil and all the rest of them. The adrenaline and the anger kept her awake, and her fists clenched and unclenched against the bedsheets. She almost welcomed the anger. If she was angry, she could forget that she was terrified.

She sighed and flung back the covers. Torgath breathed deeply on the other side of the room, and she sat up, letting her head adjust to the movement as she blinked and tried to ignore the pain. She slipped on her shoes, tied the laces, and stepped lightly out of the room. At least one of them should be able to sleep tonight, Lyta thought as she clicked the door shut behind her.

The lights in Hotel Bravo were on dim illumination. Most of the crew was asleep, only a few milling about with books or cups of warm beverages. A few guards patrolled the halls, but none of them stopped her or spoke to her, and she ignored them. She walked aimlessly, the side of her fist thumping against the wall with a muffled thud every few feet. She wanted, desperately, to sleep, but she knew sleep wouldn’t come tonight. Not with Lukas captured.

The light from Khayr ad-Din reflected in the windows, the oasis towers glinting like so many stars nestled in the darkness of the trash heaps. Kinross could be anywhere, and with him Geddy and Lukas. She cursed herself for letting it happen, for letting Lukas take Jimmy’s ‘last job’, for not checking the sewers before go-time, for not running back fast enough when she realized what was happening. Now they were gone, and Lyta didn’t have the faintest idea how to find them again. She squeezed back tears.

She realized her feet were leading her towards the offices of Hotel Bravo – the public ones, not the secret Nexus that was still, she was sure, humming on all cylinders even at this time of night. She realized she knew what she had to do, and she hated herself for it.

As she approached the Badlands Caravan Offices on the second floor of Hotel Bravo, one of the commandos from the recycling plant came into view, emerging from a doorway down the hall. He was still in full tactical gear but his helmet was off, tucked under his arm. He was older, probably about 50 cycles, and he had a graying moustache and a few scars crisscrossed over his face. For a split-second Lyta considered punching him. Even wounded, she was sure she could take him. Looking at the way he moved, the way he scanned her, the fight would probably give her a few seconds’ distraction. Everything about him said professional soldier. On his chest was a name tag: Jarlson. She shrugged off the urge. No point in making new enemies right in the middle of Hotel Bravo, not when she had so many already, not when she still needed to figure out what was going on.

She had no idea what had happened at the recycling plant. She was pretty sure there had been at least one double-cross, but there was probably more than one. At some point, she needed to sit down with Lukas and get him to explain everything. Preferably sometime when her head didn’t hurt quite so much. She blinked and realized Lukas wasn’t here. That was the point.

Jarlson looked casual as he headed towards the lift, but he never lost eye contact. Lyta took a breath and stopped him before he reached the end of the hall. “Is Doctor Chambers awake? Do you know?”

The commando regarded her for long seconds, then pointed down the hallway. A door halfway down had light creeping out from under the frame, and Lyta nodded. “Thanks.”

Jarlson left without a word, leaving Lyta alone in the dim hallway. She closed her eyes, trying to imagine what Lukas would do. He’d negotiate. He’d give the Doc an ultimatum, or at least an offer he couldn’t refuse. He probably wouldn’t have given away the Quicksilver. Lyta shook her head. She wasn’t Lukas. She couldn’t be Lukas. She’d just have to do this her way.

She walked down the hall until she stood in front of the door. There was no nameplate; Lyta assumed someone as important as the Doc just claimed a space, and then everyone knew it was his. She knocked softly.

From inside, she heard a muffled, “Come in.” She opened the door carefully, stepped inside, and let it swing back behind her.

Doc Chambers stood with his back to her, looking out over the vista of Khayr ad-Din. His office had picture windows, and Lyta could see half the city through them. Otherwise, it was a functional office: desk, chairs, a computer, but no personal effects. The lights were set low, even lower than the hallway, so that they didn’t interfere with the view of the city. A red light illuminated the Doc’s face, just for a moment, and then a wisp of smoke curled up toward the ceiling.

Lyta stood next to the door, as caged by her own intentions as she had been by the locks and the zip-ties the night before. She licked her lips. “Doctor Chambers?”

The Doc barely moved, his eyes sweeping toward the door before turning back toward the vista. “Kes,” he said, not looking at her. “How’s your head?”

“Hurts like hell.” She wasn’t sure if there were bloodstains in her hair from where the rifle butt had struck her, but she was almost certain the bruise was turning a rainbow of interesting colors.

The Doc gave a tiny nod. “Concussion will do that,” he said. “You’ll be fine in a few days.”

“Yeah.” She wanted to say more. She wanted to hit herself for being so stupid, for jumping down into an unreconnoitered situation with an unknown number of hostiles, for letting herself be blinded and forcing Torgath and the Doc to come save her. Stupid.

She realized time was ticking past, but the Doc wasn’t saying anything, merely taking in the view as Lyta warred silently with herself. She wondered how long he had been standing there before she came in, how long he was going to continue standing there after she left. She wondered if he’d just stand there all night, smoking and thinking. She wondered if he was happy about how things had turned out.

She drew a breath, held it, and exhaled sharply. It wasn’t going to get any easier by waiting. “I need your help,” she said softly.

For a moment, he didn’t move, and Lyta thought that maybe he hadn’t heard her or was ignoring her. Then he half-turned into the room. She saw a whiskey tumbler in his left hand. “Your brother,” he said matter-of-factly.

Lyta nodded, blinking back tears. “Yeah.”

He turned the rest of the way to face her. "Close the door, Kes."

Lyta realized the door hadn’t shut entirely behind her, and she pushed it all the way closed. She could feel the pressure shift as it sealed, and a green light blinked on above the door-frame. "Will you sit?” asked Chambers, taking his own seat behind the desk. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out a crystal carafe and another tumbler, filled it with two fingers of liquid, and pushed it in her direction.

Lyta hesitated a moment but realized there was no point in having the conversation from the door-frame. She nodded and sat down across from the doctor and took the proffered tumbler.

"I'll help get Lukas back," the Doc said heavily, looking at his guest with a severe gaze.

Lyta stared at him a long moment. He had an angle. He had to have an angle. From everything Lukas had told her, he always had an angle. He hadn’t asked her for money yet, but maybe he wanted them to do a job. Or to keep something secret. Something. It annoyed her that she couldn’t figure out what it was.

The Doc wasn’t looking at her, not quite. A shadow of a thought played across his face and his brow furrowed, staring off at a point somewhere behind her head. Then, as though he was waking from an altered state, he looked at her again like he had just noticed her. His stare softened and he smiled gently. "I'm sorry about what happened. Of course I'll help."

Something about his tone placated her. She let out a long breath hadn’t realized she’d been holding. "Okay. Thanks." She wasn’t sure what to do next. Leave? All she’d wanted was his help. She’d been prepared to beg, plead, bargain, or pay. And he’d just said yes.

The Doc swirled the liquid around in his glass. “Why don't you get some rest? There's nothing more you can do tonight. As soon as I know something I'll come looking for you, Lyta. I promise"

So that was it. A dismissal. Lyta nodded, stood, and put the tumbler down back down on the desk. She turned around and took a step toward the door. Then she stopped and turned back. She wasn’t fooling anyone; she wasn’t going to sleep tonight. At least she might as well have something to think about beyond her own failure. "Look, Doctor Chambers, I really appreciate what you're doing. Really. But do you have any idea what the fuck's going on?"

"Some. Do you?"

Lyta sighed and flopped back down in the guest chair and picked the tumbler back up. "I thought I did. But after tonight... I don't know. Quinn would know, but he's not here."

A hint of a smirk played across the Doc’s face. "This room is soundproof and randomly scanned for electronic surveillance. You can drop the alias.” He took a drag from his cigar then a sip from his whiskey. “And I'm not sure Lukas knows what's going on either. Unless I've seriously under-estimated him."

Lyta shrugged. "We weren't ready for tonight, anyway. We didn't... Sewers." She spoke the word bitterly. "I should have...” She sighed and took a drink from her glass, letting the liquid warm her and dull her senses. “Doesn't matter. Too late now."

"Don't blame yourself, Lyta. You were meant to walk into a trap. If it’s any consolation, I don't think anyone was supposed to get hurt. Remember the blanks? Jimmy made sure there would be as little bloodshed as possible, just what was necessary." Lyta remembered, vaguely, hearing something about how the bullets in the sniper rifle and the chain gun had been blanks, and she cursed herself again. They should have checked – but it wouldn’t have mattered. They’d still thought Jimmy was playing their side.

She shook her head and dislodged the thought. "It's the second time in a cycle and a half that someone did this to us."

Doc Chambers took a drag on his cigar. "Heh, I walk into traps a lot more often than that." He smiled.

Lyta bit her lower lip. "Yeah, but when you walk into a trap, you probably don't get tortured. I think." She shook her head again. "Hell, maybe you do. I don't know you." She stared down into her drink.

Doc Chambers swallowed. "Hasn't happened yet, and you don't know what's happening to Lukas either. If Jimmy still has any leverage in this con, I think Lukas is safe."

Lyta looked back up and stared. "Geddy was there. I think... I don't know if Jimmy's in charge." She imagined it, Geddy with Lukas, alone in some room. Geddy would have knives or scalpels, or maybe a pair of scissors. Lukas up against a wall or strapped to a chair while Geddy took little pieces of him. And she’d let him go, let him run into—

"I don't know either,” the Doc’s voice cut into her thoughts and brought her back to the spartan office, “but he's involved and that should give us cause for hope. He hired Jarlson's guys to capture you, with specific instructions not to hurt you. It isn't just luck that saved Torgath from getting chewed to bits by fire when he was up on that smokestack. Jarlson's people are very, very good."

Lyta remembered the man she’d passed in the hallway. He’d certainly seemed capable. On the other hand, he was here, in Hotel Bravo, and not wherever Lukas was. "But they're not there now."

"No. Jarlson's a friend. When he got hired, he told Bill, and we were able to turn the tables. At least a bit. So there's no way Jimmy will call on him again. The subterranean attack came as a surprise to us, too. That was either Kinross or your fellow Geddy."

Lyta was ready to protest, to argue vehemently that Geddy wasn’t ‘her fellow’ and that the sooner he was dead, the better off everyone would be, when Chambers cut in with another question. “Lyta, what do you know about the Quicksilver?"

Lyta blinked and tried to collect her thoughts, startled by the change in topic. "I... not much. It's a DNA sample."

"No, I mean do you know how or when Jimmy came by it?"

Lyta shook her head. "Not really. We got it tonight, from a warehouse, but I don't know how he knew it was there. I think Kinross' guys wanted to take it from the warehouse too. We had to kill some of them." She was unhappy about that too, in retrospect. She’d tossed the grenades into the van because they’d needed to be quick and her way was slower, less lethal but more liable to let the Kolsons call for backup. She remembered the van, splattered with so much hamburger that until recently had been living, breathing bodies. She tried to remember how she'd known they were Kolsons. She wasn’t thinking straight. "...At least, I think it was Kinross' guys. I don't know."

The Doc leaned forward. "You killed some of Kinross' people? Tonight? Where?"

"At the warehouse. I told you."

"Which warehouse?"

Lyta shrugged. "The... I think he said it was Western Expeditions. Near the TNTR."

The Doc's eyes narrowed and he sat back into his chair. He took another drag from his cigar and exhaled slowly, looking up at the smoke as its wisps climbed and dissipated. "Western Expeditions," he whispered to himself.

Lyta might not have been Lukas, but even she could see the interest that had suddenly blossomed on the Doc’s face. "That means something to you, doesn't it?"

The Doc didn't answer immediately. "WestEx, a subsidiary of WestCorp," he said distractedly.

Lyta wanted to punch him. He didn’t even care that she was here, she thought. He just cared about her because she was giving him information he didn’t have already, and it was time for payback. "Yeah, I know that. That's not what I asked."

Chambers was drawn from his inner thoughts by the change in her tone. Turning his eyes, which had become predatory, he clenched his jaw once or twice before speaking. "Okay, Lyta, this is important: did you guys share anything with Jimmy about the genetic sample Bradwick had or anything similar?"

Lyta put a hand to her forehead. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that someone else got to ask all the cryptic questions and get their answers while all she had were the questions. Still, Chambers was going to help her. If her answers could bring Lukas back…

She thought, trying to remember the conversations she'd had with Jimmy and with Lukas. Her forehead scrunched up. "Not... not the one that Bradwick had. But I think Lukas showed Jimmy a picture of one of the sample cases, to show him what the Quicksilver looked like. Or what we thought it might look like.” She sighed and let her hand drop. "Why is that important?"

The Doc started nodding and gazed off again. He stood up out of his chair and walked back to the window. "Lyta, how long have you guys known Jimmy was trying to con me?"

Lyta stared at his back. She wondered how long the Doc had known. She wondered what to say. She wasn’t Lukas; she couldn’t bluff her way out of this one, especially not with a concussion. Finally, she slumped down in her chair. "A long time. Pretty much since the start. But he wasn't supposed to actually have the Quicksilver. That was the con part. Everything else he did, he was pretty much on the level. The whole thing with the Borodin Package, that was real. And then when he found the Quicksilver for real...” She breathed out, remembering the fiasco that had ensued when he’d told Lukas he was planning on going forward with the last phase of the con. “I told him not to get it. Hell, we didn't even want to work with him at that point. Too dangerous. I didn't want to go anywhere near it. I don't think Lukas did either. I mean, maybe he was conning us too, at the end. But..." She stared at the floor. "I have no idea what happened at the end. Obviously there were more angles than I knew."

The Doc nodded slowly. "I thought so. And I assume he found the actual Quicksilver after you showed him what the Bradwick sample looked like, right?"

Lyta thought about it, trying to get the timeline straight in her mind. So much had happened recently. "Yeah. He wanted to have something that looked right so that he could show you, and then Lukas figured out that if it was a DNA sample, it probably looked like the one from Yele, so he showed him a picture."

The Doc turned back to face his guest. "He didn't trust you at that point. Something must have changed. I guess you know, but it doesn't really matter right now. The point is he felt he had to start lying to you to finish the con. He thought you guys needed to believe you were actually selling me the Quicksilver or you wouldn't go with it. That's when things starting going wrong for Jimmy."

Lyta took a moment to process this. "So... that wasn’t the Quicksilver?"

The Doc gave a wry smile and took a sip of his drink. "He conned me. He conned me at my own damn con." His expression was almost one of admiration.

Lyta's eyes narrowed. She wasn’t sure if she was hearing things right. "So, lemme get this straight. Everything that happened tonight, the job at the warehouse where we had to kill people, and then at the plant where I got beaten and Lukas got taken and maybe he's even being tortured right now by Geddy, the sadistic little fuck, and it wasn't even the real thing?!" Her voice had taken on a slightly hysterical tinge.

The Doc saw Lyta’s expression and regained his composure. "Lyta, the Quicksilver doesn't exist. I invented it."

She felt like she’d been punched in the stomach. Lukas was gone, maybe into the hands of a psychopathic torturer, for a fiction. She wanted to throw something, break something, beat something up. The chair felt claustrophobic; the room was too small. She found herself on her feet, pacing back and forth like a caged beast. "You... he..." The words stuck in her throat.

Chambers sat down again and refilled his tumbler, ignoring her pacing. "Lyta, listen to me. What I'm about to tell you not even Bill Pearce knows.”

Lyta closed her eyes and forced herself to stop pacing. She took a shuddering breath and stood behind her chair, grasping it with both hands. She glared at him.

The Doc took a drag on his cigar. "After you got me the Bradwick sample, I started researching it. It is quite impressive actually. There are very few outfits on Terra Nova than could be doing this sort of research. I needed a way to draw out more information to know what was being shared and by whom. So I invented what I assumed was the ultimate ends of the research; I called it Quicksilver and put out just enough information to keep it too vague for most but specific enough to draw in those who knew something. Then I put a huge price tag on it to get everyone's attention. And it worked. The Borodin Package is legitimate. The Quicksilver acted as a lure for similar or related materials, and now I have more to go on. Jimmy had to have a 'hook' to con me, something real that would entice me into buying his fake Quicksilver. They sold the whole thing very well. Even letting some of Kinross' people die trying to steal it from you tonight at WestEx. Just to sell it to you and Lukas so you would sell it to me.” He paused and took a sip of his drink. "Kinross worked with Wallcraft. Did you know that?"

Lyta listened to what he said and felt herself seething with rage. Her body shook. Her knuckles were white against the chair’s frame. She didn’t trust herself to speak. They’d been conned. Jimmy had taken them in too, and now Lukas was paying the price for that. She felt sick.

When Chambers saw that Lyta wasn’t going to answer, he continued as though she had. "Well, Bradwick worked for Wallcraft. The last thing he did before you caught Bradwick was to kill off the last members of the board of WestCorp. WestCorp owned WestEx. So WestEx belong to Kinross, via WestCorp, Bradwick, and Wallcraft. It’s all connected. If the Quicksilver was at WestEx tonight, Kinross didn't need to send in a team to steal it; he owns the company. He controlled its movement at every stage. It was all just a show for you."

Lyta finally mastered herself enough to speak, the words coming out trembling with anger. "They have my brother. How much more of a 'show' are they going to put on for him? Geddy's working with them. You know what he does. You've seen what does." She shuddered. "You saw Baakov and Katchelli. He tortures people for fun. And he has my brother."

The Doc regarded her along the line of his cigar. "Lyta, please calm down. Geddy isn't in charge. We know who is behind this and why. Which means Lukas is safe. Think about it, Lyta. Jimmy wasn't behind any of this; he was being used by Kinross. Kinross orchestrated this to get something. Since I've been aware of the con from the beginning, he hasn't got what he wanted just yet, which means we have a bargaining tool for Lukas' life. They can't afford to lose him until they get what they want."

Lyta pressed her lips together for a moment to stop them from quivering. "And what do they want?"

The Doc leaned back. "I'm not sure. Not yet. But Billy will be awake in a few hours we can ask him. Also, there's that NGIS agent who was in town this week. She seemed to have some information. Unfortunately she escaped before we could get anything out of her, but we can try to get in contact with her. We'll work this out. I'll work this out. I set this in motion and I'll do what I can to make sure Lukas stays safe."

Lyta paused, stock-still, considering. She wondered if she could trust him or whether this was just someone taking advantage of her again. She wanted to trust him. She wanted to believe him when he said he would help her get Lukas back. And, in the end, she realized she didn’t have much of a choice. Even if he was taking advantage of her, there wasn’t anything she could do about it now. She breathed out a long, slow exhale and unwrapped her fingers from the back of the chair. "Okay."

She picked up the tumbler from the table and drained whatever liquid remained, felt the hot sharpness of it as it slipped down into her stomach. She put the glass down, carefully, on the table.

She walked towards the door and put a hand on the handle, and then turned back to face the room. She wanted to open up to him, to tell him about how she couldn’t just let Lukas go, not so soon after Ti. How she couldn’t afford to lose somebody else, not now, not ever.

She shook her head. The Doc wouldn’t care. Or if he did care, he’d just use it against her as a psychological bargaining chip. She waited a moment, hand on the handle, waiting to see whether there would be any other last-minute revelations.

Doc Chambers watched her hesitate. He knew what she was going through clinically as a psychiatrist: how she was angry and scared and vulnerable. This would have been the right time to say something comforting, to lie. But there wasn’t any angle in that. He stood from his chair and went to window again.

Lyta nodded. No more earth-shattering speeches, then. “Right,” she muttered to herself. She pressed the handle and felt as the air shifted, ever so slightly, and saw the green light above her blink off. She stepped out of the room and closed the door behind her, feeling more tired that she had been when she walked in.

Behind her, Chambers heard the door unlock and Lyta leave. He lit another cigar and stared out into the early dawn sun creeping over the horizon, the smoke curling up toward the ceiling.

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