Thursday, April 24, 2014

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VII: The Fate of Girls

40 Winter, 1927

It was a beautiful night for fireworks, cool and crisp and clear. Lyta and Miranda lay huddled under their blanket as the sun dipped below the horizon, thermoses in hand. The hot chocolate was every bit as good as they had been led to believe, and they’d bought samples of both the sweet tuber and the cream buns, just for comparison’s sake. They had spent the day wandering the street festivals, buying little trinkets and watching the performers. Miranda had had her face painted and had even prevailed upon Lyta to do the same, a sight which would no doubt cause endless mockery by her brothers if they ever saw her.

There was still some time before it was dark enough for the fireworks to start, and loathe as Lyta was to break the festive mood of the day, she felt that this might be the only occasion she and Miranda might have alone together to discuss the elephant in the room. She rolled herself onto her elbow. “Miranda?”


“Have you given any thought to what you’re going to do when Jax gets back?”

Miranda turned away from admiring the beautiful sky and looked at her companion, confusion plain on her face. “I’m joining you,” she said, as though the matter had already been settled and she wasn’t sure why the topic was being raised again.

Lyta sighed. “I let you stay with us for a few days because you didn’t have anywhere else to go. This isn’t a long-term solution.”

“But I can help you,” Miranda said. “I speak the language, I know my way around, I can get into places without being noticed… I can be super-helpful!”

Lyta could only imagine that, under other circumstances, the girl could be helpful. If nothing else, she was a local and didn’t seem too traumatized by the firefight she’d been in. But the work they were in was not the sort of work Miranda could be part of. Lukas would never agree to it, and Lyta was fairly certain she didn’t support it herself. She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I know you want to help, but you can’t help us with what we’re doing.”

“Why not?” Miranda demanded. “You’re setting up an import-export business, or at least Jax is. I could read through the contracts and let him know if they’re trying to slip anything by him, little nuances he might not get because he wasn’t raised speaking Intralingua. I could help with the negotiations.” For the last few days, Lyta had mostly spent time with Miranda in the context of her kuritra classes, where she was her star pupil. She had forgotten how frighteningly smart the girl was. The image of the massive physics textbook nestled on her lap flashed across Lyta’s mind, just for an instant.

She shook her head again. “Miranda, we… In our line of work, we sometimes get into situations where I couldn’t guarantee your safety. I’m not willing to put you in harm’s way.”

“I’ve been in harm’s way,” Miranda protested. “With you!”

“All the more reason why I don’t want it to happen again.”

For a moment the two young women stared at each other, Lyta with sad resignation and Miranda with determination. Lyta turned away and took a sip from her thermos. “Look, surely you have someone you can stay with. I mean, I know what happened with the scout, and I’m sorry about that, but there must be somebody.”

“There isn’t,” Miranda said firmly.

“Not one person? The Humanist Alliance doesn’t have some system set up to handle people like you who lose their mentors? I find that really hard to believe.”

Miranda turned away and stared back up at the sky as though it had personally done her some harm. “No,” she said, her voice flat.

“Miranda…” Lyta said gently.

The girl spun around. “Look,” she said. “I was raised in the crèche. I didn’t have parents, but Uncle Gérald always looked out for me. I was supposed to be a Preceptor, or at least a Protector. I had the grades. I had the aptitude scores. And then Uncle Gérald died and I graduated out of the crèche and they put me with Krog.” She spoke the deceased guide’s name with bitterness. “And then he died too and now I have no one. I’m too old for the crèche even if I wanted to go back.”

Lyta’s forehead creased as she followed the girl’s narrative. “And there’s no… program for people whose mentors have died? They just expect you to live on the street?” It didn’t sound like the Humanist Alliance she’d been living in for the last half-cycle, though admittedly she had not had many dealings with children.

Miranda turned away, and Lyta caught color on her cheeks. “They put me with a guardian,” she said. “One of Uncle Gérald's colleagues. Her name’s Daniella Morris. She’s supposed to be my surrogate parent or something. But she doesn’t like me at all! She doesn’t care! I think she just wants to get rid of me!” Her voice had reached a fevered intensity and she practically grabbed Lyta by the lapels. “Please don’t make me go back to her! She’s mean and horrible and she hates me!”

Far too many thoughts swirled in Lyta’s head. Daniella Morris was Miranda’s guardian? Lukas would no doubt want Lyta to dig up dirt on her, but now was clearly not the time. Lyta took Miranda’s hands lightly in hers and removed them from her shirt. “Okay,” she said. “You don’t have to go back to your guardian.”

Miranda exhaled in relief.

“But you can’t stay with us.”

Miranda stared at her. “But what else is there?”

Lyta thought about it. “We know people in the Badlands,” she said at last. “I’m sure they could find someone who would take you in for a few cycles, until you’re old enough to strike out on your own. And if you still want to work with us then… well, we can talk about it.” Lukas would never agree to have a pubescent girl on his team. But in a few years, when she was older, she might prove a valuable asset… if she still thought risking life and limb every other week was a desirable career.

Miranda sulked, the expression completely at odds with the brightly-colored butterfly that was painted onto her face. “Everything I know is here,” she said softly. “What would I do in the Badlands?”

For a moment, all Lyta could see was herself, after the Battle of Baja and then again after the deaths of the Bathani Ratir. She had only been a cycle or so older than Miranda when she and her brothers were left alone in the world a second time, when they had begun the path as independent operators. Then again, she’d had Lukas to protect her, and the sorts of jobs they had done seven cycles ago were not the sorts of jobs they were doing now.

Lyta put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Look, Miranda, I know this is hard for you. Really hard. You might not believe me, but I know what it’s like to lose people you care about. You were probably too young to remember most of the war, but a lot of people died, especially in the Badlands. There were a lot of people I loved who aren’t alive anymore. It’s…” She shook her head, trying to figure out the point she was trying to make. “I guess what I’m saying is that I want to help you. I want things to go better for you than it did for us. But the way to do that isn’t taking you on as a ward. I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”

Miranda looked into her eyes, searching for any chinks in Lyta’s demeanor, but found none. “I understand,” she said softly. She lay back on the blanket and stared up at the sky. Lyta got the sense, though, that the way she set her jaw meant that she was not ready to give up the conversation, that there would be a round two sometime in her near future.

She sighed and leaned back as well, looking up at the completely dark sky as the fireworks began exploding overhead. Once, she reminded herself, she had watched fireworks with Ti, and that conversation had gone no better, and she would never have another chance for a round two with him. She tore a bite out of her cream bun, the sweetness of the filling completely at odds with the sourness of her thoughts. She would do better by Miranda, she promised herself. A life as a “problem solver” was no life for a young girl. She only wished she could go back in time and give herself the same advice.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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