Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Koreshi Chronicles – Chapter VII: Delusions of Normalcy

39 Winter, 1927

“Miranda, come over here for a sec.”

Miranda trotted over to where Emilee stood at the edge of the obstacle course. At the far end, a blue gymnastics ring hung suspended from the ceiling. Beneath it was an enclosed square surrounded by high padded walls – there was no way to reach the ring from the ground. This was deliberate. Lyta’s kuritra courses had become more elaborate and more sprawling in the days since she had returned from Thebes as she and the other trainers had scavenged anything from the storage lockers that wasn’t nailed down. It had gotten to the point where Paula, the head coach, had laid down a demarcation line in tape on the gym floor: this far and no farther. Still, the kuritra area now encompassed nearly an eighth of the total gym, a confusion of padded walls and mats, even and uneven bars, climbing walls, ropes, and other gymnastics equipment. It wasn’t the B’ti, but it was the closest thing Lyta had found outside of Junira Loresh.

“Here’s what I’m thinking,” said Emilee, “if we both go to the top of that wall there, I can boost you to the trapeze, and then you can jump from that to the ring. Do you think you can do that?”

Miranda traced the path with her eyes. It would be a long, far jump, but Miranda had proved early on she was not one to back down from a challenge. “Sure,” she said.

They set themselves up at the base of the course as the others looked on. During the mornings, Lyta taught introductory courses to new students with little or no gymnastics experience, showing them how to perform shoulder rolls, how to climb high walls and vault low ones, how to perform simple tumbling. In the afternoons, she had intermediate students, ones who transferred over from gymnastics or track and field. With them, she demonstrated combination moves and how to trace a path through an obstacle course. But after the OIPA closed for the day, she and a handful of other trainers had the course to themselves to push the new style to its limits.

“Ready…” said Emille, rubbing her hands with chalk, “set… go!”

She and Miranda rushed to the climbing wall and began scaling it. Miranda was young and small for her age, but what she lacked in size she made up for in enthusiasm and raw natural talent. They reached the top at almost the same time.

Emilee tethered herself to the top of the wall with her legs and cupped her hands. Miranda stepped lightly onto them with one foot, a hand on Emilee’s shoulder to steady herself.


Miranda nodded. “Ready.”

“Alee… oop!”

Emilee nearly fell off the wall from the force of the boost, but Miranda went flying forward towards the trapeze. She flung both her arms out in front of her and barely managed to catch hold of the trapeze. She let out a small whoop. She rocked herself back and forth a few times, building up momentum towards the sheer padded wall and the blue ring beyond it.

“You can do it, Miranda!” called out Raydan, one of the two track-and-field trainers who had chosen to join in the kuritra master classes. A few of the others joined in the chorus.

After three or four long swings, Miranda shouted and launched herself off the trapeze. She cleared the padded wall and stretched for the ring, but her hand closed around nothing. She fell with a padded thump into the enclosure beneath it. There was a collective groan amongst the onlookers.

“Are you okay?” Lyta called out.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” came Miranda’s voice from inside the padded square. From a small opening in the side, the girl crawled out on hands and knees. “I was so close!”

Lyta nodded and clapped a hand on her shoulder. “Believe me, we’ve all been there. Next time.”

Miranda sprinted over to the starting line, where Emilee was already waiting. “Again?”

Lyta stepped up. “Actually, I have an idea,” she said.

The first few days she had set up the courses, she had done it with a specific path in mind, just as the B’ti had ideal paths for a runner clever enough to find them and skilled enough to complete them. But after a day or two, she realized it was far more fun to simply set up a course that seemed impossible at first glance and figure out how to solve it. That way, she was as much a participant as anyone else, and she was often surprised at the creative solutions the other gymnasts arrived at. Case in point: tandem running.

Lyta had first been shocked when she’d seen the OIPA gymnasts decide to run the obstacle course two or even three at a time, using throws, lifts, and assists from their routines to help them bypass the obstacles. The idea of running the B’ti with someone else had never even occurred to Lyta – the B’ti was a test of individual skill, and she had never questioned that it might be anything else. But in only a few days, her team of kuritra runners had already figured out dozens of tricks Lyta wouldn’t have thought of on her own. She’d even seen a two-person technique to climb the uneven bars that would work exceptionally well with wide-spaced balconies; she would have to practice with Fennec at some point, but she anticipated she would have the opportunity to try it out for real at some point in the near future.

Lyta regarded the course as she stood next to Emilee. “What if,” she said slowly, thinking out loud, “instead of just throwing the smaller person towards the trapeze, it was a two-person jump? The one who’s tossed catches the other and then flings them toward the ring, and then vice-versa on the way back?”

Emilee thought about this for a moment. “That could work,” she said.

“I can toss you,” said Lyta. “You’ve got more trapeze experience anyway.”

Emilee nodded. “Done. Let’s do it!”

Lyta rubbed some chalk on her hands and took her place beside Emilee at the starting line. “Ready… set… go!”

She took off at a sprint and leapt at the wall, already several feet up when her feet found purchase. She shimmied her way up and was in position when Emilee joined her at the top a few moments later. She adjusted her balance as Emilee placed a foot in her cupped hands. She glanced for just a moment at the trapeze. “Ready?”


Lyta pushed forward with her hands, careful to keep her balance on the wall, and Emilee soared away from her. She caught the trapeze with both hands and expertly maneuvered herself so that she was hanging by her knees and starting to swing. Lyta timed the approaches in her head until Emilee was tracing long arcs. “Next one,” Emilee called out.

Lyta nodded and perched herself at the top of the wall, watching as Emilee swung away from her, reached the apex, and then started swinging back. For the briefest moment, she wondered if it would work, if she could trust Emilee to catch her in mid-jump, and then she pushed the thought away. What was the worst that could happen? A tumble onto a padded mat? It was a risk she was willing to live with.

When Emilee was almost at the near end of her arc, Lyta pushed herself off the wall and sprung forward. She couldn’t have reached the trapeze, but Emilee’s outstretched hands closed around hers, and she found herself tracing a line back across the course, meters above the ground.

She glanced behind her and saw the padded wall approaching, and realized there was no way she would be able to jump past it with enough force if she was facing backward. “I need to flip round,” she told Emilee as they finished the arc and started another.

“Okay,” said the brightly-clad trainer, entirely unfazed, “on three. One… two…”

She let go of Lyta’s hands as they reached the far end of the arc, the one nearest the wall, and for a brief moment Lyta enjoyed the feeling of freefall as she flipped herself over in midair. Then she was back in Emilee’s firm grasp and speeding towards the ring.

She timed it in her head, waiting for her moment, and when she was nearest, she pumped her legs and threw herself upward past the wall, using Emilee’s momentum for extra thrust. She reached out her hand, grabbed the blue ring, and landed precariously on the padded wall on the far side of the enclosure. She caught sight of a dangling rope, used it to steady herself, and caught her breath.

She realized that there were a few cheers from below her. She waved.

“Now all you need to do is get back!” called out Raydan.

Lyta groaned good-naturedly and carefully made her way across the tops of the padded walls. They were not meant for climbing, but anything in the course was fair game. Emilee was still swinging from the trapeze, and she extended her arms. With a shout, Lyta leapt off the top of the wall, caught them, waited for the swing to take her to the far end of the arc, and in one fluid motion disengaged. She landed at the starting line with two or three steps that would have lost her points in a formal gymnastics competition, but she didn’t care. A moment later, Emilee landed a few paces away.

Lyta tossed her the ring. “Done and done,” she said with a grin. “Should I get the ladder to go put it back? I think there might be a way from the other side, where the parallel bars are.”

Emilee shook her head. “I think I’m good for today,” she said.

Raydan took the ring from the gymnastics trainer. “We were thinking of going out for dinner,” he said, “what with the gym being closed tomorrow. Ryss, Miranda, you two wanna come?”

Lyta looked over at Miranda. Her eyes were full of hope. Lyta thought about it a moment – the gym was closed tomorrow, and it wasn’t like she had anything else to do with her evening. Besides, when she was with the rest of the trainers, she usually got to eat for Humanist prices. “Sure,” she said. “We going now?”

Raydan tossed the ring far above her head, and it landed inside the walled enclosure. “Right now,” he said with a smile.


The Gold Dragon was as close as the Humanist Alliance came to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It had only eight tables and limited décor – a small gold dragon statue on a pedestal just inside the door, a few knock-off tapestries, and some hanging curtains that divided the guests from the kitchen. The music tended to feature soundtracks from popular trideos twenty or thirty years old. It served cheap, tasty, and authentic Mekongese dishes. The chef, owner, and two waiters were naturalized immigrants who spoke Intralingua with an accent, which most of the OIPA staff found exotic. It was a favorite among the trainers, who tended to patronize the tiny restaurant at least once a week.

Lyta and the other kuritra gymnasts took up two of the eight tables and sat slurping bowls of noodle soup.

“You going to any of the celebrations tomorrow?” asked Raydan between mouthfuls.

Miranda gave her another hopeful look. “Probably,” Lyta said. “Know any good ones?”

“There’s a street fair near the university,” piped up Emilee. “It’s really fun. They have games and food stalls and wandering performers.”

“And at night, there are fireworks,” said Katya. “The best place to watch is from the river. Bring a blanket, though. It still gets pretty cold at night.”

“And a thermos,” said Jarrid. “There’s this great place on Reunion Street that sells hot chocolate. It’s divine.”

“Ooh!” Emilee cut in. “If you’re on Reunion Street, you need to go to Sally’s! She sells the best stuffed buns. You need to get the ones with the sweet tuber filling. I could eat all of them!”

Katya shook her head as though this were blasphemy. “Sweet tuber?! No, Ryss, don’t listen to her! If you’re going to Sally’s, you can’t get anything but cream filling. You absolutely can’t! Promise me!”

Lyta’s eyes went wide as the suggestions kept pouring in. She looked over at Miranda. “You’d better keep track of all this if you want to do it tomorrow,” she whispered. “Because there’s no way I’m going to remember it all.”

Miranda smiled. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ve got you covered.”


It was late by the time they got back to the apartment, but Torgath and Fennec were still out. Lyta vaguely remembered Torgath saying something about a closing lecture, dinner, and dancing. She wasn’t sure she could envision Torgath dancing, but maybe Fennec had talked him into staying. Or maybe they were out doing something else. Lyta tried not to think about it too hard.

The bed in Lyta’s room was big enough to fit two small women, and Miranda crawled under the covers on the far side. The first night, Lyta had set up a cot for her in the living room, but Miranda had snuck into her room in the middle of the night and curled up on the floor. In the morning, she’d claimed that even though she hadn’t seen anything, she was sure Torgath was spying on her. Since Lyta couldn’t categorically deny that he wasn’t, she’d let the girl sleep in her room instead.

Miranda’s breathing grew deep and even in moments as Lyta lay on her side of the bed and thought about the various Gropius Day suggestions her colleagues had given her. She had all sorts of plans, and no doubt Miranda would have more. Her day off was shaping up to be even busier than a workday. Still, it would be the fun sort of busy, and it would be nice to have someone to share it with.

Her phone vibrated next to her, and Lyta picked it up. A ciphered text from Radsley asking her to confirm some tracking numbers DEFTA had given them in their business setup. Normally he would have sent the query to Lukas, but with Lukas in Khayr ad-Din…

Lyta sighed and found the information on her datapad, confirmed the numbers, and replied. Then she put her phone away, lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Her hands traced the stitches on the bed’s comforter. She felt a knot starting to form in her stomach. Sooner or later, Lukas would come back, and then they’d have the big job Radsley was preparing. She would have to come up with some excuse to take time off of work at the OIPA. She would have to figure out something to do with Miranda.

It was all too much to think about. Better to stay excited about the Gropius Day celebrations, the new techniques she was working on at the B’ti-like obstacle course she’d designed, about the little chocolate shop she’d discovered on their walk back to the apartment. There would be time to think about ops and logistics later, she told herself firmly. Plenty of time to put herself in harm’s way yet again, to risk her life and her brothers’ lives for yet another few thousand dinar.

She closed her eyes, her finger still tracing out patterns. Plenty of time for that later, she told herself. If only she could believe it.

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