Monday, July 8, 2013

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: Heavy Is The Head...

Hotel Bravo

“Thanks for your help,” Doc Chambers said to the tall man sitting in the nondescript office in the underground Nexus of Hotel Bravo which Bill Pearce used.

“What would you do without me?” Kain Delacroix asked rhetorically with a barely perceivable hint of sarcasm.

Chambers smiled as he circled the desk and sat facing his old partner. “I manage to muddle through somehow.”

“My presence would seem to indicate otherwise,” Delacroix said flatly.
“So what did you get out of the lunatic?”

“Precious little,” Chambers answered curtly. He was still rattled from the encounter he had just subjected Lyta Lassander to.

“So this was a complete loss. Kill him and be done with it.” Delacroix said, repeating Lyta’s request from the previous day. Chambers had started to consider it, but his mercantile mentality won out over his disgust for Geddy Jay Gordon.

“He can still serve other purposes; I can use him to pressure Port Arthur.” Chambers answered, though he was repeating it for his own sake as well.

“Always dictated by your profit margin, Doctor. That’s why you bungled this opp.” Delacroix could always be relied upon to criticise, Chambers reminded himself with a half-smile.

“I did not ‘bungle’ this operation. I’m actually quite pleased with it. The threat on Von Breslau gave me the opportunity to speak frankly with him about certain things of import. In the future he may be instrumental in preventing all-out war. I obtained the Borodin Package. And though we didn’t get to question him, there is value in Kinross’ death.” Chambers was quite pleased with the list of achievements this week had produced, but Delacroix still looked unimpressed.

“Besides, Kain, Kinross is one more person you can knock off your list of infiltrators. And now I know more about what he and his cadre were after.”

“But we’re two steps further away from Arens. What about these kids? What’s your plan for them?” Delacroix’s sudden shift caught Chambers off guard. He hadn’t thought Delacroix would care about the Lassanders.

“You know kids these days, they just won’t listen. I’m cutting them loose.” Chambers replied, trying to lighten the mood. Delacroix seemed more and more negative these last cycles. Every time he and Chambers met, there seemed ever less of the camaraderie which the doctor had tried so hard to foster between them in the caravan days.

“You’re getting soft, Doctor. You always have been, but it’s getting worse.”

“They seem to be right in the middle of this. Ti’s people knew that; I’m sure that’s why Markus tasked them with retrieving Katchelli.” Chambers tried not to show any outward signs of discomfort, but Delacroix’s remark had struck a chord within him. The Doctor tried to deflect some of the criticism by pointing out Delacroix’s gains.

“And you’re not coming out of this empty-handed, Kain. We have the Abacus list. There are promising leads there for you to pursue.”

“And have you given me the complete list? I assume you’re going to pick and choose, to see which ones are strategically valuable to you.” Delacroix stood slowly from his chair before continuing. “Then you’ll let some live, like you did with Neeson. Like you let Wallcraft get away, like you’re letting Lukas off the hook. You’re soft, Doctor. And you’re getting sloppy. Letting Kinross take down the Meredine systems was short-sighted and could have been avoided if your weren’t juggling multiple secondary objectives.”

Tom Chambers didn’t like being lectured to, but he tried to keep his calm. He decided he would let Delacroix have the last word as he clasped the door handle to the office. Delacroix was a valuable asset even if he wasn’t a close ally anymore; there was nothing to be gained in antagonising him. But Delacroix wasn’t done. Just before closing the door behind him he turned again. “I want the complete list and I want you to stop calling on me every time you need someone to clean up your messes. I can’t concern myself with your little business deals when I’m trying to fight a war.”

Chambers wasn’t going to let that stand, not even from Kain Delacroix, but it was too late -- he was gone and the door slammed shut behind him. Something weighed Chambers down, preventing him from following Delacroix to carry on the argument. It didn’t take long for his introspection to identify the anchoring sentiment: it was self-doubt. Maybe Delacroix was right.


TNTR Oasis Tower

Tom walked barefooted into his flop and gingerly closed the door with one hand while the other held his shoes. His eyes adjusted quickly to the dimly lit entrance and he started towards his bedroom. His combat reflexes sent a jolt down his spine as he noticed the outline of a figure in his living room, but before he could react and pull a weapon his mind eased as it recognized the silhouette of his wife.

“You didn’t have to wait up,” he whispered as he set his shoes down and descended the two steps into the recessed living room.

“You said you’d be home early tonight. You know, to make up for being gone all week. Lita was up until an hour ago to see you.” Julie said, her voice low and cold as the stone under Tom’s feet.

“I’m sorry,” he said and immediately felt the familiar words curdle in his mouth. He grimaced in the half light. “I say that too much, I know.” Half his conversations with Julie started with those words these days.

She patted the sofa next to her and Tom crumpled down on it and immediately adjusted himself to lay his head on her lap. “Well, I’m up. Do you want to talk about it or is it secret?”

“No, nothing like that.” He trusted Julie implicitly, but there were some operational decisions that he didn’t share with her to spare her the burden. “It’s the Lassanders,” he said with a sigh. He felt her muscles tighten under him.

“The other Lyta,” she said with a hint of bitterness.

“Please don’t start. I’ll make it up to you and Lita, our Lita, but I also feel I owe these kids something.” The tension of his day and even his week was starting to subside as Julie stroked his long hair, but she suddenly stopped and scooted out from under him, letting his lulling head drop.

“Do you? I know she cared about Ti and so did you, but I don’t get how you owe them anything.” Her tone was cold again and she looked at him from above, her face upside-down. Tom straightened himself up so he could look to her properly as she continued. “Ti pushed her away and he pushed you away too. So what is this, some self-pity reject club?”

He let out a sigh and brushed the hair out of his face and settled into a seated position on the couch. “You know you can be a real bitch sometimes.”

“And you can be a selfish bastard. But it’s your arrogance, pride and deviousness that save you from being a completely irredeemable person.” She retorted.

Tom was too tired to engage in their usual repartee so he just shut his eyes and said nothing. Julie’s voice spoke his name harshly once, then more playfully and after a minute of silence she said one more with a hint of concern.

“Tom? You know I was just kidding, right?”

Tom opened his heavy eyelids and saw her frowning at him, her lips pouting slightly the way they always did when she was worried.

“Kain was in town,” Tom said out of nowhere and she nodded, expecting this to go somewhere in the general direction of an answer.

“He said I’m too soft. Too focused on my schemes. Ti said pretty much the same thing before he locked me out of most of the intel relating to the Tantalus project.”

Julie inched closer to him and laid a hand on his leg reassuringly.

“At least Ti wasn’t as blunt as Kain,” Tom said with a smirk.

“Who is?” Julie answered, smiling back at him conspiratorially.

“But he also had doubts about me, about my motives,” Tom continued, his expression serious again.

“No, Tom, he didn’t. He was worried about your methods, not your motives.”

“And I take it he isn’t alone?” Tom asked, reading into her tone.

She shrugged. “You do seem very sure that what you’re doing is right. That might put some people off.”

“I only appear that way. Ti knew he was doing the right thing. I think I’m jealous of that kind of faith. I just don’t see things with the same conviction; I guess it’s a character flaw. Or maybe it’s just the consequence of my past indifference.”

“Oh, happy days, I remember them fondly,” Julie said softly with a mischievous smile as she laid her head on his bent knee.

“Kain showed me that the world was under threat. He gave me a mission. I don’t know if I’ve strayed or if he has.”

“Hey, where’s all this self-pity coming from? It’s hard to make fun of you when you’re like this.”

“Ti cut me out of the Jezebel/Tantalus investigation after our falling out. When he died, he took a huge amount of data with him, and I’m trying to catch up the only way I know how. I know the Lelland kids are still pursuing his operation. That’s why Markus went after Katchelli. Though I find it hard to accept he used Lukas, Lyta and Torgath.” Tom was stroking Julie’s long red hair now, pulling gently at the strands with his hands as his mind unknotted his thoughts.

“Can’t you? They got it done. Ti knew they were capable.”

“No, Ti saw something else in them. Ti believed in them as people, not as operatives or assets. I think I see some of that now. Maybe Markus does too?”

Julie sat up straight and turned to look at Tom incredulously. “Seriously? Maybe Kain’s right, maybe you are getting soft.” She shifted to face him directly. “Listen, Tom, from what you’ve told me they agreed to swindle you, put your operation at risk, killed people, conspired, and all for nothing more than a cut of the profit. They’re mercs. You told me that Ti’s death was because he made the mistake of trusting them. Don’t tell me you’re falling under whatever spell Lyta put on Ti.” He eyes narrowed as she concluded, “You already have a daughter by that name I might add.”

Tom put his hand out and beckoned her back to his side with a pitifully tired expression. “Please don’t make this any more confusing that it already is.” She rolled her eyes momentarily and draped herself on him again, placing her head on his chest and he resumed playing with her hair.

“Lyta is a good person, Lyta Lassander; she’s just been led astray by a lot of loss and anger.”

“Who gave you that crazy insight?” Julie’s slightly muffled voice resonated in his chest and Tom swallowed hard as he remembered fragments of Geddy’s rant.

“Don’t ask. As for Lukas, he reminds me of me, before Kain. Lots of potential and nothing to focus it on.”

“He’s nothing like you,” she said emphatically. “You were far more selfish.” Tom could hear the smile in her voice as she hugged him a little more tightly.

“I have been selfish. Selfish and greedy.”

“Ah, yes, the greedy and selfish Dr. Tom Chambers. Living the high life, the entrepreneur, the mogul, the hero and political impresario. Indulging in wealth, power and fame. Hmph!” She snickered.

“My greed gave Kinross the opportunity to hurt me. I got greedy and sloppy just like Kain said and I overextended myself and Calisteria Feng paid the price.” Tom retorted bitterly. After an uncomfortable moment of silence he craned his neck and looked down at Julie. “What, no consolation?”

“No,” she said sternly. “You did that. And I know how it's eating you up inside even if no else can see it. I know because you’re a good man. You wouldn’t even kill that murderous piece of shit you have in detention. I know that you’re weighing short term gains versus long term ones.”

“So Kain was wrong. I’m not soft, I’m quite the opposite. I’ve become callous and calculating. Lukas sat in my office today and judged me. He put Callistaria’s death on me. And he wasn’t wrong; I put the pieces in play and she died because of my game.”

“Okay, first off, Lukas Lassander is a selfish, insolent and hypocritical piece of shit, so who cares what he says? As for Kain calling you soft, he knows that’s barnaby dung. You only listen to him ‘cause you idolize him. You’ve made harder decisions than he was ever willing to make. It’s easy to live life as a vendetta, to avenge the dead and judge the living. You made the hard choice to fight for life. That kind of responsibility demands impossible choices and tragic consequences, and that’s the toughest thing anyone could do. You make decision that no one should have to but that someone has to. And then, in spite of that burden, you grieve for a single girl.”

Julie made her rant without ever moving from her spot on Tom’s chest but her body did tense up until she pushed herself away from his side so she could look Tom in the eyes.

“The day you become as callous as Kain, then I’ll call you a coward. But when I see you struggle with what’s right and wrong, you seem like the most courageous man I’ve ever met. And I love you for it.” She concluded adoringly, her green eyes sparkling. Tom hugged her close again. For a minute they just held each other in silence.

“I don’t idolize Kain, I just recognise what I owe him. He saved me from a profit-driven life. The kind of life Lukas has. But I owe Father Lelland, Ti and the caravaners too. And above all, I owe you and Lita. You made me realize I needed more, that I wanted more than just to fight.”

“I’m always here for you, Tom. So you can be sure and strong for everyone else out there. Confident and arrogant and an ass. Because that’s what you need to do and I’ve got to be here for you.  Always have been, always will be.”

“I love you, Julie,” Tom professed. Then a second later, “That, I don’t say that enough.”

“Damn straight! Now if you're done chatting my ear off, what say you take me to bed?”

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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