Friday, February 7, 2014

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VII: Recognition

14 Winter, 1927

Lyta kept to herself, despite the activity going on around her. The time was officially listed on the OIPA’s schedule as “open gym,” so despite the other athletes with their personal trainers and a small game of volleyball that had broken out at the far end of the room, they couldn’t turn her away. Not when she’d paid the exorbitant fee to use the facilities. She’d even come in her training clothes.

It wasn’t that she wanted to be back, it was that there was nowhere else to go. For two weeks, she had been involved almost entirely in stakeouts, and her body yearned to move so much she worried it might fly away from her unbidden. She couldn’t run, she wouldn’t return to the Perfect Form practitioners, and if she was going to go to a gym anyway, she figured she might as well come to the biggest one in the city. So she’d returned to the Oxford Institute for Physical Advancement, training clothes and all, simply to get a chance to work off excess energy.

She was aimlessly tumbling on the mats, improvising new forms as she went, when she realized someone was watching her. Two someones, in fact. A young woman in a bright blue leotard and matching headband and an older woman in comfortable street clothes. She recognized the younger one; it was the same woman who’d run her through the gymnastics evaluation the last time she’d come to the gym. She had no idea who the older woman was.

Lyta pulled up short from her tumble and smoothed her hair as she walked over. “Um… hi?”

The younger woman grinned while the older one reached out a hand. “Ryss Norril?” she asked.

Lyta shook the proffered hand and nodded. “That’s me,” she said hesitantly.

“I’m Paula Renisto, head coach for the gymnastics program. I’ve heard that you do a rather unique form of gymnastics.”

Lyta blinked. “You have?”

The head coach nodded. “A form incorporating architectural features into your routines.”

Lyta’s mouth went dry. Had her cover been blown? No one in the Alliance was supposed to know who she was, but she’d run into at least one of the Doc’s people already; how many more were there around? Or maybe someone she’d known from the Badlands had seen her in Oxford? She felt her heart begin to speed up. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I don’t know what--”

“I’ve watched the surveillance footage,” the head coach said gently. “And I understand your hesitation to acknowledge what some might consider deviant behavior. But please, no one here is looking to get you in trouble.”

Surveillance footage. Lyta nearly smacked her forehead. Of course the OIPA had rooftop cameras. Of course they’d be monitored. She had been so focused on getting away from her frustrations she hadn’t even thought to look for them. She exhaled slowly. “Then… what exactly are you here for?”

Emilee beamed, and even the head coach allowed her smile to broaden slightly. “I was wondering if we might have a demonstration.”

Lyta froze. No one had ever watched her run the cities, not that she was ever aware of. And she wasn’t even sure if she was supposed to be showing anyone anyway. The B’ti was secret, and so training for it must also be secret. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” she said.

Paula’s smile did not waver. “Why not?”

Lyta bit her lower lip. Why not, indeed. What excuses could she give that would make sense without giving anything away? She looked around the gym quickly. “It’s not really the sort of thing you can do inside,” she said. Indeed, the gym was vast and laid out so that athletes would have little contact with each other at their various stations. Even if Lyta had wanted to run from one end to the other, she would have had trouble over the large expanses of bare floor.

Paula nodded. “I understand,” she said. “Let’s go outside.” She placed a hand lightly on Lyta’s shoulder and began leading her toward the door. Emilee followed with a spring in her step, a half-pace behind. Lyta held back a sigh. There was nothing for it now. She would have to show them something. But maybe it wasn’t so bad, she thought to herself. It wasn’t as though her style of running could be traced back to the intricate forms of the B’ti’atta, the jungle-gym structure the Koreshi used to train while out in the desert. Her own form was adapted enough that there probably wasn’t any harm in a demonstration.

They emerged through a side door of the OIPA, and Lyta regarded the building. In contrast to most of the city, the Institute was new, mostly composed of minimalist metal and glass, the sort of building she would normally avoid in her runs. She began plotting trajectories in her head and realized that there was no way to reach the roof, not from the ground. The buildings to either side were older and more intricate, far better suited to running. She turned to face the one to her right and took a few paces towards it.

“Where are you going?” came Paula’s voice from behind her.

Lyta stopped and gestured to the large building in front of her. “There,” she said. “I can show you what I do better on that one.”

Emilee gave a short, tinkling laugh, and Paula shook her head, surprised. “That’s not our building,” she said as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. “It would be trespassing for us to enter their grounds.”

Lyta’s heart sank. “Right,” she said, taking a deep breath. “It’s just that… Well, there’s not really anything I can do with this one.” She gestured back at the metal-and-glass edifice of the OIPA. “There’s nothing really to work with. I mean, I can try, but it probably won’t be very interesting.”

The head coach scratched her chin as she thought about this for a moment. Then her eyes brightened. “Our facilities used to be in the buildings that now house the Oxford Institute of Science,” she said. “We could probably get dispensation from them to use their facade for a training demonstration. I suspect it will be much better suited to what you’re looking for. It’s not far.” She busied herself with a datapad for a moment, then nodded. “This way.”

Lyta fell into step with the two coaches wondering what she was getting herself into.

Paula made small talk as they walked. “So, this new gymnastics form, it’s a Badlands technique?”

Lyta nodded. “Yeah,” she said.

“Where did you learn it? Perhaps I can send some of my trainers on exchange.”

Lyta licked her lips. “The school where I used to train doesn’t really exist anymore.” She paused. “The war.” She hoped that was enough explanation for the coach not to pry.

Paula nodded. No doubt the ceremony last night ostensibly in memory of Baja’s destruction in the war was still on her mind. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Where do you train now?”

Lyta tried to keep her face neutral. “Mostly by myself,” she said. “It’s the sort of thing you can do wherever there are buildings.” She caught Paula looking at her. “Mostly wherever there are buildings,” she corrected.

“Isn’t that trespassing?” asked the head coach with a touch of alarm.

Lyta shrugged. “Most places aren’t like the Alliance. Mostly people don’t notice, or don’t care.”

Paula spent a moment trying to internalize this foreign mindset. Lyta lapsed into silence, glad she didn’t need to answer any more questions that might inadvertently let something slip about her history or the Koreshi.

The head coach did not have time to resume her questioning before they reached their destination. The Oxford Institute of Science was barely a five-minute walk along Oxford’s picturesque streets. When they got close enough for Lyta to realize which buildings they were approaching, her breath caught. If she had had to design a structure perfectly suited for running, she would have designed a complex like the OIS. She scanned the facade: columns, arches, flying buttresses, jutting gargoyles… it was as though someone had put it together precisely to her specifications.

She realized they had stopped, and Paula and Emilee were both looking at her. She smiled. “Okay,” she said with a grin. “Pick a target.”

Paula looked momentarily confused. “A target?”

Lyta nodded. “Somewhere for me to get to. I wouldn’t want you to accuse me of cheating.”

“I wouldn’t--”

Emilee cut off her boss and pointed about halfway down the complex. “That spire,” she said. She paused a split-second. “If that’s okay.”

Lyta saw the spire the younger coach had indicated. It was high and thin, jutting up from the third floor of a building that composed the complex’s outer ring. Already her eyes were figuring out her path, tracing her way along that buttress to those columns, up using the top of the arch as a spring… She blinked a few times. “Yeah,” she said distractedly. “That’s good. There and back.”

Paula cleared her throat. “When you’re ready, then.”

Lyta nodded, taking a few more precious seconds to figure out where she was going. She leaned forward, putting her weight on the balls of her feet, and shook out her arms. Then she launched herself forward, grabbed the top of a low wall, and jumped up onto it.

She made her way in a zigzag along the buildings. The old stone gripped her hands and feet like adhesive, the way metal never could. She ran along the tops of buttresses, swung across wrought-iron balconies, and jumped between gargoyles like uneven bars. As she got higher, the wind caught her hair and billowed wisps it around her. Lyta laughed, loud and full, as her hands found purchase and her feet vaulted from one feature to the next. It was the most fun she’d had in weeks.

She saw the spire getting ever closer and she leapt towards it. It was slender enough that she could wrap her arms around it, and she shimmied up until she could grasp the top with one hand. With the other, she waved at the two women far below her, and then, before she could focus on their expressions, she jumped off, landed on the roof in a shoulder-roll, and began to find her way back down.

Going down, she reflected, was even more fun than going up. She could take advantage of the energy from her height and jump, run, and roll, almost as though she were flying. She had to hold herself back from spreading her wings like a bird.

She landed next to the two trainers after far too short a time. Her breath came in gasps, but she smiled from ear to ear. She looked up, eyes twinkling. “So?” she asked.

Paula actually applauded. “Marvelous,” she said. “Even more impressive in person. You must come and teach it for us.”

Lyta grinned. “Thanks! I-- What?”

Paula smiled broadly. “You must teach for us,” she repeated. “What a wonderful new program it could be! We’ll call it… hmm… structural gymnastics? No, that sounds too formal. Architectural gymnastics? No, I don’t like that either. Well, I’ll think of something. We’ll need to set up a circuit, of course, and prepare the pamphlets…”

Lyta listened to the head coach’s ramblings with mounting alarm. “Whoa,” she said, raising her hands. “Hold on. I can’t even… I can’t teach for you. I’m not a Humanist. I’m a Badlander.”

Paula dismissed her objection with a wave of her hand. “You’ll find the Immigration Authority can be remarkably efficient when given a reason to be. We have a certain amount of sway, and you’ve clearly already taken steps to integrate yourself: your Intralingua is quite passable for someone who’s only been here a few seasons, you’ve adopted our clothing, you clearly understand the restrictions on deviance… it won’t be a problem. I could get the paperwork started as soon as I get back to my office.”

Lyta eyes widened in alarm. “Look, I don’t want to be a Humanist.”

The head coach’s forehead creased, as though someone had just told her that the sky was actually pink and she’d simply never noticed it. “You don’t?”

Lyta shook her head. “No.”

“Whyever not?”

Lyta spread her hands helplessly. How to explain that the entire Humanist system was an enterprise in self-denial? That, even if she wanted to, she could certainly never get Lukas and Todd to stay with her? That the thought of staying in the Humanist Alliance for cycles on end made her want to scream? “I like being a Badlander,” she said lamely.

Paula sighed. When she spoke, her tone was placating. “All right,” she said in an attempt to be agreeable, “in that case, I’m sure we can work out some sort of exchange program. We can arrange to have your visa extended, and until such a time as you change your mind, you could coach for us on a temporary work contract.” She nodded to herself, as though this solved the problem. “So, we’ll need some sort of indoor circuit -- it wouldn’t do to have beginners training on live obstacles, to say nothing of the spectacle! -- and we’ll need to find a slot in the scheduling that would be appropriate, perhaps the late morning...”

“I don’t know if I can teach,” Lyta cut in. “I’ve never taught anybody before.”

The head coach shrugged. “Then you’ll demonstrate to our staff, and they can teach what you’ve shown them. Or perhaps you can try teaching a few classes yourself and see what you think. You’ve never tried. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it.”

Lyta thought about this. On the one hand, she had no real interest in teaching anyone. On the other, it would give her an excuse to run, really run, in a way that wouldn’t get her in trouble. Moreover, it might get her out of Lukas’ idea that she should take classes at one of the universities. The idea of sitting at a desk all day made her want to scream.

She breathed out a long, slow exhale. “Okay,” she said after a moment. “Maybe I could try for a semester or something? And we’ll see after that?”

Paula nodded enthusiastically. “Wonderful!” she said. “You’ll have to sign a few--”

“On one condition,” Lyta interrupted.

The head coach raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

Lyta gestured at the Oxford Institute of Science, laid out behind her. “I want to train here. I know I can’t teach here, but I want to use it for myself.”

Paula considered this, bobbing her head from side to side, then smiled. “I’m sure we can work something out,” she said.

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