Monday, May 5, 2014

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VII: Dangerous People in Dangerous Places

5 Spring, 1927 – Gardena

The feeling of being completely immersed in water was strangely relaxing, Lyta reflected, at least after she’d gotten over her initial terror of drowning. The training area where Riley Markus had taken her was tiny compared to the vastness of Gardena’s underground water systems, but descending several meters below the surface had still proven a daunting challenge. Even in Junira Loresh, Lyta had rarely waded out deeper than her hips. To completely submerge herself, to feel the water close in over her head, had caused her heart to pound so loud in her chest she was amazed that Riley couldn’t hear it.

He had guided her through breathing exercises, helped her calm down, his presence an anchor to which she could cling in her initial moments of panic.

And then it had passed, leaving only the feeling of weightlessness. Lyta had spent several minutes experimenting with how the water moved over her body, how her movements were slowed or quickened based on how she gestured. It was fascinating, an entire new way of thinking about movement that she had never known existed. Riley had guided her for a half-hour or so, going through the basics of swimming with the SCUBA tank, ensuring she knew how to breathe properly, pointing out some of the wildlife that approached the training enclosure. A fish had darted so close to Lyta’s hand that she would have been able to touch it had her movements not been slowed by the water before the brightly-colored jewel darted away, deeper down than Lyta could follow.

It had been a marvelous half-hour when Riley touched Lyta’s shoulder and pointed upwards. Lyta responded with the hand signal he had taught her, and they ascended together. Lyta had the uncanny sense that as she pushed down on the water, it pushed her up, like a piston in a cylinder. They went slowly. Riley had explained to her that for the practice dive, depth wouldn’t be much of an issue, but if she were ever to dive for real, there could be serious physiological consequences in ascending too fast, and it was best to get into good habits early. Lyta was surprised to find she didn’t want the experience to end.

When they broke the surface of the water, the cool air wisped across her skin as droplets cascaded down her face. She followed Riley out of the tank, feeling the weight of her body return as she rolled onto solid ground. She removed her mask just in time to see Benelice Matoux emerging from a side room, two towels in hand. She handed them over to the divers.

“Did you have a good lesson?” she asked.

Lyta nodded, toweling off her wet hair. “Yeah, it was great,” she enthused.

“The girl’s a natural,” added Riley.

“I am surprised,” said Benelice. “Most Badlanders are not willing to get close to the water, let alone enter it.”

Lyta shrugged. “I guess we’re not most Badlanders.”

Benelice gave her an appraising glance that, just for a moment, made Lyta wonder if she knew more than she was saying. She busied herself with her towel. “No,” said Benelice. “I can see that you are not.”

“One way or another, it went well,” cut in Riley. “Like I said, girl’s a natural.” He maneuvered himself to help Lyta remove the air tank from her back.

“Have you ever seen the MacAllen network?” asked Benelice.

Lyta shook her head. “No. I’m not really crazy about caves.” Ever since the CEF diamond mines, the thought of entering tight underground spaces made Lyta’s hands go clammy. Oh, she’d do it if she had to, but she was grateful that at least for now, Gardena’s tunnels were as different from the semi-finished CEF mines as Oxford was from Khayr ad-Din.

“I imagine you do not spend much time underground in the Badlands,” said Benelice.

“Not really.”

Riley finally managed to get the tank off Lyta’s back and remove the rest of her SCUBA equipment. Lyta rolled her shoulders, relived to have the extra weight removed. Benelice, sensing that the diving conversation was not one Lyta was comfortable pursuing, smoothly shifted tacks. “I could not help but notice that you did not speak very much during our meeting.”

Lyta shrugged. She never spoke much at meetings. “That’s Jax’s job.”

Benelice raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? And if I may be so bold, what is your job?”

Lyta thought about this for a moment. She wasn’t entirely certain why Lukas had taken her on this trip, except to be close-combat support if it came to that. It certainly wasn’t for her negotiation skills. “I’m a bodyguard,” she said after a moment. It was as true as anything else, she figured.

Benelice looked around pointedly. “Oh? Your principal is not here. This strikes me as a grievous lapse in a bodyguard. Unless perhaps he is still under the water?”

Lyta held herself back from rolling her eyes. Benelice knew as well as she did that Lukas had not joined her in the SCUBA lessons. “He’s out,” she said. “We already had our dangerous meeting of the day.”

Benelice stared at her for a split-second, caught Lyta’s meaning, and threw her head back in a full-body laugh. “If Jax thinks that he required a bodyguard at our meeting, he has greatly misinterpreted our relationship!”

Lyta couldn’t help but smile in spite of herself. “I don’t think he needed a bodyguard to meet with you. But you’re not the only person we’re meeting.”

“Oh?” asked Benelice. “And who else are you meeting with, who requires Jax to have a bodyguard?”

Lyta had not been present at most of Lukas’ dealings with Benelice before today, but she had listened to him talk about her, how she was the negotiations specialist for the Matoux organization. Lyta could practically feel her tendrils reaching out for more information. She shrugged again, as nonchalant as she could. “You’d have to talk to Jax about that,” she said.

Benelice gave a wry smile. “I am certain that Mr. Jax and I will be speaking again after your other meetings.”


Benelice extended a hand. “Well, I wish you the best of luck in your bodyguarding duties. Not everyone is as easy-going as I am when dealing with a man like Jax.”

Lyta took the offered hand and shook, a pained expression on her face. “Yeah. Tell me about it.”

7 Spring, 1927 – Concordia, Lake Hawkins

Her lunch lay mostly untouched. It was not the gentle movement of the deck beneath her, though admittedly that was taking some getting used to. Nor was it the scenery, the vast expanse of blue-green water that stretched out as far as she could see in every direction. It certainly had nothing to do with the quality of her salad, which was excellent. It was, rather, that she needed most of her energy to keep from looking nervous.

Lucian Jacobi and Lukas were deep into their negotiations, no doubt full of subtext and nuance that Lyta didn’t begin to understand. She was glad that her part in the conversation had amounted to giving her name and then not saying anything. She got the sense that even asking for more bread might give away valuable trade secrets.

Instead, she tracked Mura out of the corner of her eye. The huge Emerati woman was not seated at the table. While Lyta was ostensibly part of Lukas’ entourage, Mura was a member of Jacobi’s security, and she was not shy about her position. Lyta had caught Mura sizing her up the moment they’d met, and reevaluating her assessment every time they met again. Lyta couldn’t blame her – it was what she was doing in return.

Usually large fighters were slow, and that was to Lyta’s advantage, but she knew at a glance that Mura would not be slow in combat. She moved fluidly, incorporating the roll of the deck into her own walk so that they were perfectly counterbalanced. She was completely poised – no wasted energy, no fidgeting, no tells. She knew the contours of the ship intimately. She was clearly in her own element in a way Lyta was not.

If it came to a fight, things would get interesting.

Lyta thought about how she might use the swaying of the ship to her own advantage, the idea that one side of the room would be ever-so-slightly closer at the end of a leap than at the beginning of it. For a brief moment, she wondered if she could create a kuritra course in which elements of the landscape moved around the runner, both of them flowing in a constantly-changing dynamic. She pushed the thought out of her mind. She had work to do.

Lukas’ voice rose as he began a concerned rant about having to use contingency transportation plans. It sounded good to Lyta; it sounded convincing. Whether it sounded equally convincing to Jacobi, she had no idea. She kept herself carefully poised, no more and no less ready than she had been a moment ago. They could absolutely not afford for Jacobi to know that it was their own team who had taken out the Comptroller’s transportation logistics specialist. She vowed that she would not be the one to give anything away.

Mura moved out of the corner of her eye, and Lyta kept tabs on her. She would be armed, of course. The first order of business would be to get the gun away from her, ideally into Lukas’ waiting hands. Then get her on the ground. She wouldn’t be able to hold her – Mura was almost certainly stronger than Lyta, but maybe if she could get her pinned long enough for Lukas to level the gun and give some threatening speech…

The men stood up, and Lyta stood with them. “It’s very exciting to have fresh blood with your level of enthusiasm,” said Jacobi. “I’ll look over the details and have a quote for you by dinnertime.”

Lukas shook his hand, all smiles. Lyta was not offered a handshake. Perhaps her role was more obvious than she’d intended.

She followed Lukas out of the stateroom. Mura watched them go, her eyes never wavering from her target. Lyta walked smoothly, trying to match the roll of the ship the way the more seasoned woman did. It would take some practice, but she thought she could do it. Hopefully they wouldn’t get into any fights before that time. Jacobi might be a snake, but Mura was a jaguar.

9 Spring, 1927 – Southern Karaq Wastes

The second she heard his voice, every muscle tensed, poised for immediate action. The last time she had heard it in the flesh, she had been in the tunnels deep beneath Khayr ad-Din. It had cost them tens of thousands of marks just to arrange an interview. He was, in Lyta’s opinion, one of the most dangerous people on the planet. And he was here, in Thamo Matoux’s tent.

Lukas did the talking, or at least most of it. Todd provided a few interjections that no doubt hurt them more than it helped. Gustafson seemed not to care one way or another.

If the arms dealer was here, it was for one of two reasons: to buy back the explosives that Benelice had sent to her father… or to provide more of them. Lyta wasn’t sure which of the two options worried her more. If it came to war with Matoux, the idea that he had Gustafson’s number meant that it would be a far bloodier affair than they’d anticipated.

She scanned the room carefully, acutely aware of all movement in her periphery. She relaxed just a little when it became clear that, even if the rest of Matoux’s clan knew who the stranger in their midst was, none of them seemed to be immediately siding with him. Lukas’ bold threats had not pushed them straight into an ambush. Probably.

“I will be sure to mention to him you are dangerous people,” said Gustafson. “I only collect favors from dangerous people.”

Lyta could only imagine the number of ‘dangerous people’ from whom Gustafson had collected favors. The hard part in treating with the arms dealer wouldn’t be killing him – he couldn’t possibly withstand a fight against all four of Lukas’ team. And Lyta was not terribly averse to killing him. For all of their talk about not being assassins, there were a few people on the planet whom Lyta considered better off dead than alive, and one of them was standing directly in front of her. It wouldn’t take much effort to end his existence: a quick sweep of the leg and a firm jab to the nose or the throat would probably do it. A few seconds, and they could be out before anyone knew what had happened.

And then, of course, they would be on every bounty hunter and assassin’s hit list on the planet. If they made it through a fortnight, it would only be because someone had decided to torture them before putting them out of their misery. The problem with Gustafson wasn’t Gustafson per se, it was all those dangerous people he collected favors from.

Lukas led his little group out of Matoux’s tent. Their truck’s engine revved and they took off into the darkness of the night. It wasn’t until at least ten minutes had passed that Lyta let herself begin to relax. And even so, she wondered if she wasn’t being too hasty.

4 Spring, 1927 – Oxford

“Are you sure I can’t come with you?” Miranda Petit sat cross-legged on their shared bed and watched as Lyta packed her overnight bag.

“Yes,” said Lyta, folding a pair of pants and placing it at the bottom of the bag.

“Yes, you’re sure, or yes, I can come?” asked Miranda mischievously.

Lyta looked up in annoyance. “You can’t come.”

Miranda pouted. “But I could be so helpful,” she said. “I could… carry your luggage. And make hotel reservations and stuff.”

Lyta went back to her packing. “You can’t come,” she repeated.

“Why not?” Miranda asked indignantly.

Lyta put down her clothes and looked directly at the girl sitting on her bed. “First, because I said so. Second, because Jax gave you homework to do here, while we’re away. And third, because I’m not taking you to meetings with the people we need to talk to.”

“What people do you need to talk to?” asked Miranda, clearly unwilling to let the matter drop.

Lyta closed her eyes for a moment, praying for patience. “Dangerous people,” she said.

“Grizz is dangerous,” said Miranda, a hint of pleading in her voice that was not there before. “And you’re leaving me with him. Please, Ryss, don’t leave me with him!”

Lyta sighed and abandoned any pretense that she was still packing. She put a hand lightly on Miranda’s shoulder. “He is, and I am,” she said. “But he won’t do anything to you. I promise. And one of these days, you might appreciate having a dangerous guy like him on your side rather than the other side.”

“Are you sure he’s on my side?”

“Yes,” said Lyta firmly. Though, in truth, left to his own devices, she wasn’t entirely certain what Todd would do. The Humanist Alliance was making his trigger-finger itchy. They’d need to get back to the Badlands sooner or later or the politeness of the Humanists might drive her foster-brother mad.

Miranda looked up, ferocity in her eyes. “One day, I’m going to be a dangerous person,” she said.

Lyta nearly dismissed it as bravado, then decided to give it a moment’s consideration. The girl was fast and smart and agile. She had already witnessed several distinctly non-Humanist engagements and seemed not to be particularly bothered by them. Her uncle had been SRID, and she’d managed to associate herself with not one, but two criminal factions in less than a cycle. Lyta was half-convinced the girl was already a spy.

She nodded, returning to her packing. “One day,” she agreed. “I bet you’ll be even more dangerous than we are.”

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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