Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VI: The Prodigal Daughter Returns

1 Autumn, 1926

Lyta had almost managed to forget how bad Khayr ad-Din smelled. After the lush jungle scents of Junira Loresh, returning to the refuse city was an assault on the senses. At least she wouldn’t need to be there long.

Inside Hotel Bravo, the smell was lessened, and Lyta was grateful for the brief respite. Bill Pearce met her as she entered; she suspected there was a special facial-recognition program somewhere in the Nexus computers keyed specifically for her and her brothers. When they showed up, things started exploding, both figuratively and literally. So it was little surprise that she had barely made it past the lobby when she came face-to-face with Hotel Bravo’s manager.

Lyta gave her most winning smile. “Hi.”

Pearce appraised her. “Hi.”

Lukas wasn’t there; Lyta knew that. She’d picked up his communiqué within hours of leaving the Great White Desert. That said, she had other business that brought her back to the headquarters of the Caravan Guild. “I’m not here long. Can I ask you a question?”

Bill shrugged. “Shoot.”

“What happened to the… prisoner? The one you had detained after the swap we did? Is he still here?”

Pearce shook his head. “Nope. The Doc sent him back to Port Arthur about ten days ago.”

Lyta nodded slowly. She supposed she’d half-expected that the Doc wouldn’t do as she’d asked and kill the bastard when he had the chance. Now she’d have to start looking over her shoulder and sleeping with a gun under her pillow. Well, she reflected, she’d have to continue doing those things. Geddy wasn’t the first person who’d wanted to kill her. Still, she had hoped Chambers might see the light of reason and save her one more boogeyman.

Bill Pearce put a hand on her shoulder. “You may want to talk to the Doc. He’s around here somewhere.” He pulled up his data-glove, tapped a few buttons, and nodded. “He’s at the Meredine construction site, in the southern city by the old clinic.”

Lyta had been there once or twice the last time she was through Khayr ad-Din. “Right. Thanks.” If Bill was sending her to his boss, maybe there would be good news after all. Or maybe he just wanted someone else to break the news that Geddy had escaped again after barely two weeks of detention. Whichever it was, she supposed she would have to find out for herself.


The construction site for the new Meredine Clinic was barely more than a hole in the ground, five or six stories deep. It would be dwarfed by the big towers of Khayr ad-Din’s Core, but here in what passed for the suburbs, it could hold its own.

Lyta saw the Doc and Karin near the edge of the crater, in deep discussion with someone who had the bearing of a foreman. Chambers pointed at various points that Lyta assumed would be of particular importance while Karin took notes and the foreman alternately nodded and argued.

Lyta watched them for a moment. She didn’t really want to talk to the Doc; she didn’t really want to be in Khayr ad-Din at all. But some things took priority over what she wanted.

She stopped walking about a quarter of the way around the edge of the crater, waiting for the conversation to be over. But Chambers saw her first. He said something to Karin, then left her and the foreman to their plans as he walked clockwise around the worksite. “Kes,” he said when he was close enough to be heard over the construction. He smiled broadly. “So nice to see you again.”

Lyta nodded. “Hi.” She wondered how much she should say just standing around in the open. “Bill says that Quinn got discharged?” Bill hadn’t said as much, but he might have, and that was the important thing.

The Doc’s smile didn’t waver, but Lyta could tell he was assessing her, judging her. “How would you like to get out of the sun? We can use the foreman’s office and talk in there. Speak a little more privately.”

Not having his headquarters blown up or his data exploded was good for his mood, Lyta reflected. “Sounds good.”

The Doc placed his arm across her shoulders and led her away from the main dig to a small building on the outskirts of the site. It was utilitarian, with blueprints and artist’s renditions tacked up on the walls and papers strewn over the desk. A half-finished mug of cawfee rested near the foreman’s computer.

The Doc gestured to the guest chair and Lyta sat. For his part, Chambers took out a sweeper and activated it, watching the readout. When he was satisfied with what it told him, he reached into his pocket and set a white noise generator down on the desk. It began blinking softly. Only when all of these preparations were in place did the Doc take the foreman’s chair and lean back. Lyta almost expected him to pull out a cigar. “Yes, Lukas was discharged early. And against my recommendations, I might add.”

For a moment, Lyta froze, wondering if there had been complications that Lukas didn’t tell her. They got shot a lot in their line of work, but that didn’t mean they could be blasé about bullet wounds. “Why was it against your recommendation?”

“I thought he should spend at least two weeks recovering. He spent barely one.”

The time-stamp on Lukas’ letter had been from only a few days ago, when she and Torgath were already out of Junira Loresh. He said he was in the Humanist Alliance. He’d neglected to say how long he had been there. Lyta had assumed that he had just arrived, as Lukas must have known she would. She grimaced. “He knows what he’s doing, I guess.”

The Doc regarded her across the desk. “In your position, I would like to be more certain of that.”

Lyta set her jaw. “Yeah, so would I.” She sighed. “I’ll have to talk to him when I see him.”

“I should think so.”

The room was quiet for a few minutes, the sound of the not-so-distant construction muffled by the walls of the office. The Doc changed topics. “I’ve uncovered some information which may be of interest to you and Torgath, if not Lukas.”

Lyta couldn’t help herself from leaning forward. “Oh?”

“Can I see your phone?”

Lyta hesitated, not certain she should be giving her phone – with its associated contact lists and text records – to a man who was, essentially, a business rival. Then she shrugged and passed it over anyway.

The Doc took an extension from his data-glove, plugged it into the phone’s jack, and began punching buttons. “I’m deactivating the phone’s outbound and inbound communications,” he said as he worked. “It’s little more than a hard drive now. I’m giving you unencrypted data so you can read it. Please transfer it somewhere safe as soon as you can, and destroy this phone.”

There must be an entire industry somewhere here in Khayr ad-Din, Lyta thought, devoted to scavenging the parts from her discarded phones. She couldn’t even begin to count how many she’d been through in the last few cycles.

She waited as the Doc transferred the data, her fingers running over the rough fabric of the chair’s seat. She missed Junira Loresh, where she could sit for hours and watch a waterfall or feel the wind stirring the leaves of a tree. Here in the city, life was too fast. She always felt she needed to be somewhere.

“There you go,” said the Doc, snapping her out of her reverie. “Look that over with Torgath. If you have any questions, try to reach me securely.”

He passed back the phone, and Lyta glanced down at the display. In large letters across the top of the screen were the words “Borodin Package Analysis Report.” Lyta doubted she’d understand anything in the document, but Torgath probably would. She wondered why the Doc had said that Lukas might not care, but that was something she’d have to figure out later. She slipped the phone into an inner pocket. “Thanks.”

The Doc waited until the phone was secured before speaking again. “Do you have any further business in Khayr ad-Din? I mean, are you here for a while?”

Lyta shook her head. She’d left Lukas alone for too long. “No, we’re just passing through. We’ll be heading out today if we can, tomorrow if not.”

Chambers nodded. “Right. Well, then, there’s something I want to show you.” He stood up and glanced around the office until his eyes lighted on a printer. With a practiced motion, he tapped into his data-glove, and a few seconds later the printer issued forth a report. Chambers pulled it out of the feed and handed it over. “This is for you.”

Lyta tried to make sense of what she was seeing: a series of straight lines like a test sheet on an otherwise unremarkable page. There were words written at the top: “EEG report 30.SU.26 – Subject: Geddy Jay Gordon.” She stared at it for a few seconds. “So… he’s dead?” She wished Torgath or Lukas were here; they would understand right away. Instead, she had to play into Chambers’ ego and need to feel superior as he explained.

“Brain dead,” the Doc corrected. “I lobotomized him. Port Arthur was just interested in having the body back, not the murdering mind. So he’s in a hole somewhere, rotting. A complete vegetable. He’ll never hurt anyone again. He’ll never come after you.”

It wasn’t as good as seeing his cold, dead body, Lyta reflected, but it was the next best thing, and probably as good as she could do. Maybe she’d underestimated the Doc’s sympathy. She nodded. “Thank you.”

Chambers sat down again and leaned forward, speaking earnestly. “Lyta, out of respect for Ti, I want you to know that I will never let any harm come to you if I can prevent it. Whatever you may think of me, whatever your brother may try to do to me.”

It was so corny, the way he said it. Lyta nearly laughed when she realized how serious he was being. Clearly, this meant a lot to him. She nodded. “I understand. Thanks.”

They were quiet a moment as Lyta thought about Ti and his legacy, and the Doc watched her. She realized there was nothing more to talk about. Geddy was as good as dead, and Lukas was no longer here. She stood and smiled. “Thanks again for all your help. I should probably… well, get a new phone, for one thing.”

Chambers stood as well, pocketing the white noise generator. He held out a hand. “Good luck, Kes. May you find happiness, purpose, and peace.”

Lyta took it. “Yeah, same to you. And good luck with your clinic.”

Chambers led her outside into the bright mid-day sun and the stench. “Thanks for the sentiment, but I’m already the luckiest man in the Badlands.”

Looking around at what he’d built, at what he was still building, at the breaks that he’d been given, Lyta was tempted to believe him. “Yeah,” she said with a grin, “I bet you are.”

The Doc nodded and left to rejoin Karin and the foreman, while Lyta turned around to make her way out of Khayr ad-Din.

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