Thursday, December 11, 2014

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VIII: Knowing What You Want

5 Autumn, 1927

She was a sight to behold.

He was a skilled operator himself but sat in quiet admiration as she ducked and weaved her way through the field. She displayed both raw talent and trained skill. He took immeasurable satisfaction in watching her approach a roadblock and, far from being dissuaded or even slowed down, turn that challenge into a means of propelling herself forward and achieving her ultimate goal. She moved back and forth with such grace and beauty that she made it all look effortless.

Doc Chambers started every night this way, watching Miss Julie work the crowd at the Lucky Shot. It took his mind off the day and provided him a brief respite before he had to put his mind to the work to be done on any given night.

That day Lukas had provided him with valuable information regarding Ambassador Hyppolite. So that night the Doc would have to find a way to use it and it usually started here, at his casino. Questions and comments, some innocuous and others leading, would lay the groundwork for a way to turn information into influence. He sipped his whisky and watched as Julie reversed the process, distilling information from influence.

A smile crept onto his face as he observed another attractive but much younger woman make her entrance. She didn’t project Julie’s charisma but there was definitely something there, something which hadn’t been there a cycle and a half ago when he had last seen her in this room. He watched as she approached Julie and the two of them shared a drink at the bar.

Julie gave her a kiss on the cheek, a sign of affection and approval, and left the young woman alone at the bar to fend for herself. There were a few there who looked as though they had been waiting for just such an opportunity. The Doc considered stepping in to save her and realised she didn’t need any saving -- on several levels, at that. But that wasn’t why he hesitated. He realised that as soon as he spoke to her the illusion would vanish and instead of a beautiful and empowered young woman he would be speaking with Lyta Lassander.

“Hello, Lyta, mind if I join you?”

The young woman looked up from her drink, a look of surprise quickly replaced by a more neutral expression. “Oh, hi. I didn't see you. Sure.”

The Doc smoothly took the seat beside her. “Yes, well, I do tend to lurk.”

Lyta smiled. “Lurk, huh?”

“When it’s called for, of course,” he said with a grin and helped himself to a sip of his whisky. “Can I get you another drink?”

Lyta glanced down and found the bottom of the glass staring back at her. “Sure. Thanks.”

The Doc signalled the bartender and, in so doing, took stock of the other patrons circling around. “Unless you would care to be alone until someone else offers you one?” he asked her, testing a theory.

“Someone just did,” she answered with a sly grin. The way in which she answered belied the answer itself as far as he was concerned. It also confirmed a growing suspicion.

“You've changed,” he remarked.

She shrugged, more daintily than normal, he thought. “I'll take your word for it.”

“Do. I notice that sort of thing.” He wondered if she wasn’t even aware of her own confidence and demeanor. Her drink arrived and he raised his glass. She raised hers to match.

“To knowing what you want.”

She looked like she was about to say something but thought better of it. Her glass touched his. “That's not your usual toast, is it?” she said after a sip.

“It’s my usual state of mind if not my usual toast,” the Doc responded.

“Well, I'm still working on figuring out what it is that I want, but I appreciate the sentiment.” Lyta cocked her head and had another sip. “I have to say, I wasn't sure if I'd see you around tonight. I figured you'd be busy with… whatever it is that you do.”

‘This is what I do,’ the Doc thought to himself. At least it was part of the time. His days were spent pushing things to happen overtly while his nights were dedicated to influencing things to happen covertly. “I’m just here for the whisky,” he lied because she knew enough about what he did not to need him to spell it out. “Though I’m interested in what brings you here tonight.”

“You mean, besides this being the most happening place around?” she said ingratiatingly. Then, more earnestly, “Actually, I mostly came to see Miss Julie.”

He’d have to ask Julie about that later. Of course, he could just Lyta, but she wasn’t likely to give him the answer he was interested in. The Doc took a moment to watch Miss Julie again, one of his favorite past-times. He watched how effortlessly she moved from person to person, ostensibly to see that they were are all enjoying themselves when she was really dissecting them to see what they wanted and whether or not she could get it for them. Ultimately, the Doc would decide how to profit from that information.

Even though half this crowd knew what Miss Julie was doing, it offered them little protection from her methods. She was that good.  He’d ask his lover what Lyta had wanted because Julie would most likely know better than Lyta did, though the Doc was developing a theory. He decided he wanted to test it.

“And now that you have spoken to Miss Julie, who are you looking for? Or should I ask, who do you hope is looking for you?”

It was a reasonable deduction. The way she was dressed, the makeup and the hair. She’d learned from Julie and she had probably come to thank her in some way, but she also came to be seen, not just by the Doc but by everyone. A tete-a-tete with Miss Julie raised Lyta’s profile. Was she good enough to know that, he wondered.

She had been considering his question while he had been considering her motivations and they both seemed to come to a conclusion around the same time.

“All right, so... on the topic of what people want, maybe you can help me with something. It's not really the sort of thing I can talk about with Quinn. He'll go all 'older brother' on me.”

She paused. He quietly sipped his drink while she collected her nerve or her thoughts.

“I had a bit of an... I guess you could call it an encounter. This afternoon. You know Solitaire, I guess? Or at least know of him?”

“I dare say I know them both,” he answered enigmatically.

She ignored the ambiguity and continued. “Right. Well, last time I was in town, I guess that would have been Spring of last cycle, he invited me to come watch his match. From the pit, with his crew. I wound up going back to the after-party with him. He tried to kiss me. It... well, it didn't go well. I sorta snubbed him and walked out. I guess I wasn't ready for something like that. And it was so soon after Ti… Well, I wasn't ready.

“Anyway, I ran into him today. I don't think he knew it was me. I was in my Gear. We wound up racing. It was fun. I mean, I had a good time. I gave him the name of my Gear. I said he could look me up if he felt like it.”

She shrugged again. The Doc experienced that rare feeling he got which combined being right and regretting it.

“Look,” Lyta continued, “maybe nothing's gonna happen. I almost slapped him the last time I saw him, and he doesn't seem like the sort of guy who lets a thing like that slide. But... I dunno. Maybe he will. He said he wanted to buy me a drink before he knew who I was. Maybe he'll still want to?”

The Doc didn’t read expressions all that well, but she certainly looked hopeful. It tracked with everything else. A small part of him was touched she would confide in him and seek his advice. A larger part was heartbroken. He knew the man she had loved was still alive and loved her back. Ti was out there, but he had demanded that the Doc lie to Lyta about it and now she was asking him dating advice.

“Solitaire would not, could not accept rejection and will hold a grudge,” the Doc answered dryly.

Lyta’s expectant face fell a bit, maybe without her even realizing it. The Doc hated himself. This was what Ti had asked him to do, to let her move on.

“But I told you I knew both Solitaire and Antoni Mor. One is a persona, the other a person.”

She was listening attentively. “So... how do I talk to the person and not to the persona?”

The Doc analysed everyone that could be useful to him. Solitaire was no exception.
Antoni Mor was constantly seeking approval and intimacy, in contrast with Solitaire who sought women's attention, or indeed anyone’s. The Doc knew things about Antoni Mor’s background and childhood and it had helped him to create a profile. This information was meant to be used to control him someday, should the need arise. A least, that was the plan.

“Solitaire, in my opinion, is a very telling name for Antoni Mor to have chosen,” the Doc said quietly to Lyta. “It isn’t what he wants, it reflects how he feels: alone. Your approach earlier was a game that will only lead you to deal, or duel, with Solitaire. Antoni will respond to you being open and frank and as vulnerable and earnest with him as he wants to be with someone else.”

Lyta looked pensive, then resolute. “Okay. Thanks.”

Using people came easily to the Doc. Maybe because he wasn’t all that empathic. He could sympathise to some degree, but mostly he just analysed people. The worst part of his day was speaking to Julie to learn what she had uncovered. Not because it shattered the illusion and revealed her graceful act of seduction and diplomacy for the prosaic tool it was, but because he took satisfaction in knowing how to use people. Many a time he had privately wondered if that proved he was a bad person. Amazingly, Julie didn’t begrudge him this. She was used to lying and being lied to. Moreover, she knew more than most that doing what had to be done could come at the cost of a piece of your soul.

Lyta deserved to know about Ti, but the Doc wasn’t the one to tell her. His punishment for that lie was the way he felt. Her compensation, marginal as it was, would be to benefit from the Doc’s callousness in some small way to find consolation where she could. ‘Knowing what you want’ is what he had set out to discover at the beginning of this conversation. Lyta had taken it not as his objective, but as a wish for her happiness. ‘So be it,’ the Doc thought.

He signaled for another round, and it arrived promptly. He raised his glass and Lyta looked at him curiously, as if to say, 'Didn't we already do this?' She raised her glass anyway.

“What would you like to drink to? I already got mine.”

Lyta looked surprised at the offer. “Oh. Um…” She thought for a moment, her eyebrows knitting together in thought. “To happiness,” she said. She paused a moment, as though chiding herself for saying something stupid, then dismissed it and drank.

The Doc swilled his whisky without tasting it.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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