Thursday, July 3, 2014

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VII: Remembrance

29 Spring, 1927

Lyta hated Jan Mayen and everything it stood for. If she’d been given the choice, she would have gotten off the caravan the second she was well enough to stagger her way back towards the Alliance and its world-class hospitals. If she’d been given the choice, she never would have stepped foot within a hundred kilometers of the new GREL enclave. But no one had given her the choice, and now there was nothing she could do about it.

Lukas, Radsley, and Dr. Chambers were meeting with Col. Baakov, Todd was in consultation with Isabella Demosa, and Fennec had gone off in search of parts. Lyta barely knew any of the caravanners. She would just need to do what needed to be done by herself. It would just be an hour or two. She squared her shoulders and exhaled slowly. She would be fine.

The streets of the makeshift caravansary outside Jan Mayen were busy. The arrival of Doc Chambers’ caravan had doubled or maybe tripled the number of longrunners outside the city walls, and trade was brisk. The hairs on the back of Lyta’s neck prickled. It wasn’t as bad as getting to Minnie’s in Port Arthur, where she’d had to press through a neighborhood of nothing but GRELs, but there were enough purple-skinned monsters in her path that her hands were fists and she was getting a headache from clenching her jaw so tightly. “It’s fine,” she muttered to herself. “I’m fine.”

Her eyes scanned both the crowd and the longrunners. She knew from long experience that in a caravansary of this size, someone somewhere would be selling alcohol. She could have gotten some on Chambers’ caravan, but she’d heard that the Doc kept all the good stuff for himself, and she didn’t feel like asking him to share. She didn’t want to lay bare her emotions before him, not again, not this time. She would find what she needed by herself, even if it meant wading through GRELs to do it. Some things superseded even her own emotions.

It took her nearly fifteen minutes, walking up and down the open storefronts and dodging the GRELs who barely acknowledged her existence. If her wounds had been slightly more healed, she would have run across the tops of the longrunners to avoid the crowd. But her wounds were not healed, and she didn’t want to draw attention to herself, not here. In the end, she found what she was looking for anyway, and she hadn’t even had to kill anyone to get there.

The back compartment of a longrunner had been propped open, revealing a shelf of empty glasses and a makeshift bartop. Between the two, a scarred man in his 50s sat on a barstool and cleaned his nails with a throwing knife. A series of stools had been placed on the far side of the bartop; about half were occupied. Lyta counted six humans and two GRELs. The counter was covered with glasses, both full and empty. Lyta made her way over to it, eyeing the GRELs warily. They, for their part, ignored her.

The bartender looked up as she approached. “Afternoon,” he said lazily.

Lyta sat down on one of the stools. “Afternoon,” she said. It was getting easier to ignore the pain of her wounds. Doc Chambers had assured her that if she took things easy, she’d be fully operational within a week, maybe even less. She’d just have to tough it out until then.

“What can I get you?”

Lyta scanned the shelf behind him before realizing there was nothing but empty glasses. “What do you have that’s good?”

The bartender cracked the slightest smile. “Got plenty. All depends on what you’re drinkin’.”

Lyta spared a glance down the rest of the bar. A variety of colored liquids greeted her. “Whiskey?” she asked.

The bartender nodded. “Sure thing. Got any preferences?”

“Whatever’s the best you’ve got.”

The bartender regarded her a moment beneath his broad-brimmed hat. “My best ain’t cheap.”

Lyta returned his gaze. “That’s fine.”

He watched her a moment longer, sizing her up, then nodded and rummaged around beneath the bar. When he emerged, he held a dusty bottle that was still mostly full. He took a tumbler from the shelf behind him and poured a measure. It gleamed amber in the late-afternoon light. “Twenty-cycle single-malt from Pickled Cow, out of Raleigh,” he said by way of explanation. “Don’t let the name fool you. Forty dinar.”

Lyta didn’t bother to try to negotiate down the price. Part of her felt it would be disrespectful to the whole reason she’d come in the first place. She nodded and pulled out two bills and placed them on the table. The bartender slid the tumbler across to her.

Lyta stared at it for a moment. She wished she had some sort of token or talisman, something she could use to focus her thoughts. But she didn’t. They had never reached the stage where he’d felt the need to buy her presents. She supposed it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like she could change things now.

She took the tumbler and held it momentarily at eye level, watching the liquid swirl and the light glint off the cut designs in the glass. She nodded to herself, then placed the glass to her lips and sipped. It was strong, but it was smooth, and it went down easily. She placed it on the bar in front of her. “Thanks,” she said.

She realized the bartender was watching her and felt momentarily exposed. “So, who was it?” he asked.

Lyta blinked. “What?”

He gestured to the glass. “Who’re you remembering?”

Lyta shook her head. “Who says I’m remembering anyone?”

The bartender gave her a wry smile. “I’ve seen it enough. You come in, you buy the best I’ve got, don’t even care what it is, don’t care how much it costs, give a silent toast… it ain’t the first time I’ve seen it. Ain’t even the hundredth. Lots of folk lost folk. So, if you don’t mind my askin’, who was it?”

Lyta licked her lips. Part of her just wanted to drink in peace. But part of her, the part that kept catching glimpses of lavender in her peripheral vision and putting her in constant low-grade fight-or-flight, that part wanted to talk. It wanted to think about something other than where she was and who she was with, even if that meant spilling her guts to a random caravanner she’d never met before.

“His name was Ti,” she said softly. “He was… I guess he was never really my boyfriend. A friend, anyway. Maybe if things had gone differently…”

The bartender nodded compassionately. “How long ago was it?”

Lyta sighed. “Last cycle. One cycle and eight days. I would have done this last week, but…” She trailed off again. But she’d been sedated and in convalescence. It was the second time she’d missed one of Ti’s milestones. Last cycle she had missed Ti’s birthday because she was so loopy from nightmares of the CEF mines she could barely remember to eat, let alone remember birthdays. And now… Well, maybe it could be a tradition. Celebrating Ti’s birthdays and remembrance days late because she was deeply wounded or on an op or something. Ti would understand. He was good like that.

The bartender nodded. He took the bottle and poured a half-measure into another tumbler. He raised it. “To Ti,” he said. “Prophet willing, he’s found somewhere better.”

Lyta raised her own glass, nodded, and took another sip. “To Ti,” she echoed. “Maybe one day I’ll join him there.”

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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