Saturday, September 5, 2015

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter IX: Amor Vincit

21 Spring 1928 – Jan Mayen

Light streamed through their hotel window as it overlooked the square. Lyta caught glimpses of the early-morning Perfect Form practitioners as they started their routine. The bed was soft beneath her, the first real bed she’d slept in for half a season, but it didn’t stop her stomach or her arms from aching. She closed her eyes and traced the pattern of the bedspread with her fingertips.

She felt Ti stir behind her, felt his breath on her shoulder as it became less regular, less deep. He came out of sleep slowly and kissed the back of her neck. “Good morning,” he murmured.

“Morning,” Lyta replied automatically.

Ti stretched and lay his arm across her waist. “Feels good to be in a bed again. How’d you sleep?”

“Fine,” Lyta lied.

She could feel Ti’s smile even from behind her. “Just fine? In a bed like this? No cold hard ground, no swamp, no dozens of eyes watching…” He let his hand play along her stomach, moving playfully upward.

Lyta kept her eyes closed, facing the window.

After a moment, Ti paused. “Hey,” he asked gently. “You okay?”

Lyta let out a long exhale. “Yeah. Fine.”

Ti lowered his hand. “You sure?”

“It’s 21 Spring,” Lyta said softly, as though speaking the words would make them more true. “It’s your memorial. This was the day we fought at Nazarene.”

“Oh, Lyta…” Strong arms enveloped her, holding her tight. She let herself fall into them, let herself be lulled by the inarguable physicality of the moment.

“I toasted you,” she continued, unable to stop the words once they’d started. “Here in Jan Mayen. Well, in the caravansary, anyway. Last cycle. We were here with Doc Chambers. It was right after the train job. I went out to find somewhere I could raise a glass to your memory. Everyone else was busy. I went on my own, braving the GRELs and everything.”

“That was brave of you,” Ti said, and to his credit he seemed sincere. He knew how she’d felt about GRELs a cycle ago, how she’d felt about them a season ago before they’d left for the ESE. He understood the mindset she must have been in back then. He didn’t make her feel ashamed of it.

“I thought I’d have to do that every year,” Lyta continued. “Raise a glass, toast your memory. Think about what might have happened if things had gone differently.”

Ti stroked her hair. “You don’t need to imagine,” he said.

Lyta let out of snort of exasperation. “I know,” she said. “And I’m happy. I’m happy I got a second chance. That I got… this.” She rolled over to face her boyfriend, eyes finding his. “But what if it happens again, for real? What if you get taken away from me again?”

Ti’s expression was compassionate. “Then you’ll find people to help you move on, like you did the last time.”

Absently, Lyta’s fingertips traced the scars that crisscrossed Ti’s waist. “I don’t want to lose you again,” she whispered.

Ti ran his hand along her chin. “I can’t promise that won’t happen,” he said. “Some things are more important than our lives. There are larger purposes in the world.”

Lyta looked down. “I know,” she said.

Ti placed a kiss on Lyta’s forehead. “But that doesn’t mean I want to die either. Believe me, I’m going to do everything I can to stick around.”

Lyta looked back up at him, his face bathed in sunlight from the window. “Maybe when all this is over, when we’ve dealt with Bearden and the Bear, you can try uniting the Badlands from a cushy desk somewhere.” A hint of a smile touched Lyta’s lips.

Ti matched her expression as he moved in to kiss her. “I’ll certainly take it under advisement.”


37 Spring 1928 – Ruins of Baja

Lyta stood over Benelice’s body, her chest tight. There was a lot of blood. More than there should have been without a stabbing wound. Benelice hadn’t looked pregnant when they’d been observing the caravan, but she wore loose clothes and maybe she hadn’t been showing yet. Maybe, Lyta hoped, it was something unrelated. But her gut told her that her first instinct was probably the right one.

She kept her eyes on the body as her fingers worked to uncrumple the scrap of paper she’d found clenched in Benelice’s hand. She smoothed it out and lowered her eyes to the page. A note for Riley. Of course it was.

Lukas would want her to check it for hidden messages, so she scanned it a few times, taking in the first and last letters of lines, of sentences, of words, reading back to front and down to up. If there was a code, she couldn’t see it. What she could see was pain. She couldn’t help but read the whole thing, the love letter from a dying woman to the man she loved. Lyta felt like she was intruding by just reading it.

She folded the note and placed it carefully into her pocket.

She couldn’t help but imagine the scene: Benelice captured, bleeding, getting weaker. Maybe if she’d gotten medical care, she could have lived, but there were no doctors in the merc camp. Maybe none of them had even realized anything was wrong until too late. She knew she would never see Riley again. She knew he would never know why she’d died, why she’d been taken away from him when they’d just been together the night before. Lyta closed her eyes as she imagined what it must have been like to die alone, knowing that all the potential futures were fading away because of one stupid job, one wrong move.

The image hit too close to home.

She swiped angrily at her eyes. She had to pull herself together before she radioed in to the others. She could not cry, not now.

Taking a deep breath, she turned away from Benelice’s corpse and went to go look for something to cover it.


38 Spring 1928 – Pacifica Range, North of New Baja

Lyta made sure she was out of earshot before setting up the recorder. She hadn’t slept well. But then, she hadn’t expected to.

She set the parameters, ensured the encryption was enabled, and sat down in range of the viewfinder.

“Ti, we’re heading north now, to a pass in the Pacificas where we can cross over and head into the Western Desert. We got a ping from the webble yesterday and it looks like that’s where it was, so that’s where we’re going. I’m sure Fennec’s already filled you in on all the details by now.

“Benelice doesn’t have the dog anymore. Benelice is… She’s dead. Some Northern mercs got her after she made the handoff. I think they were a cleanup crew or something. They locked her up, bound her hands. I don’t think they meant to kill her. I think they just meant to rough her up. But…”

Lyta closed her eyes, centered herself, opened them again.

“She was pregnant with Riley’s baby. The doctor said she was a season along, maybe a season and a half. Some of the mercs kicked her in the stomach and… She lost the baby. She lost too much blood when she miscarried. No one was there for her. She was already dead for a day when we found her.

“I realized something when I saw her, and I can’t believe I didn’t realize it before. I’m such an idiot. All those times I was worried about losing you, I never thought about what would happen if you lost me. About what that would be like for you. I’ve been so selfish.”

She shook her head. Tears fell freely from her eyes and she made no attempt to stop them.

“I’m so sorry, Ti. All these times I’ve been running off with my brothers, it’s been just as dangerous as the stuff you’ve been doing. And I never even thought… I’m a horrible girlfriend. I hope you can forgive me. I’ve only been thinking about myself, like I always do.”

Lyta sniffled, forcing herself to continue. “I think Lenny’s gonna tell Riley that Benelice was pregnant. And then he’s gonna know that he lost the woman he loved and his baby too. I can’t even imagine…”

Lyta dug the heels of her hands into her eyes and shook her head. She looked back at the camera and made herself smile even as the tears threatened to brim over again. “Maybe when you have that cushy desk job, I’ll go teach kuritra or something. And then at night we can eat bad Mekong take-out and watch trideos like boring old people. Or maybe I’ll find another corset and we can go to galas and outshine the Doc and Miss Julie.”

She took a few deep, focusing breaths.

“Just stay safe, okay? And I’ll try to do the same. I know it hasn’t even been a week yet, but I miss you. I love you. See you soon.”

She kissed her hand and placed it against the recorder, then shut it off. Slowly, she went through the process of putting it away before she rejoined the rest of the group.


1 Summer 1928 – Prince Gable

Lyta was alone in her hotel room as she powered up the recorder again, taking even more precautions than she had with Ti. While no doubt the Doc had some inkling of what she and her team were doing, she wasn’t sure how much Lukas and Ti wanted Chambers to know, so she took extra precautions to hide any sign of her location.

Still, it had to be done. Her conversation with Ellen earlier in the evening had reminded her that she had unfinished business with Doc Chambers, and that it was time for her to address some of them, particularly before they continued on to Bearden’s Northern facility.

Lyta settled herself into a chair and regarded the ‘recording’ light above the lens. She wanted to be calm for this. No doubt Chambers would see as much in the words she didn’t say and in her tiny subconscious movements, as in her words themselves. She didn’t want to give him more to work with than she had to.

“Hi, Dr. Chambers. I’m sending this to you because I owe you an apology. The last time we met, I was in a bad way. I guess you know that already.

“I was wrong. There, I said it. I was wrong about GRELs and I was wrong about Neseen.”

She shook her head slowly, thinking. “I guess you know by now about what we did in the ESE. There were GRELs that came with us, maybe twenty or thirty of them. No one ordered them to come. It was a volunteer mission. But they came anyway. They chose to put their lives in danger to rescue slaves, just like we did. That was decent of them. Noble, maybe. And I can’t believe I’m saying that about GRELs, but there you have it. I am. At least those GRELs.

“We were with them for maybe half a season. Close quarters, thirty-six hours a day. I listened to them talk. There was really no way to avoid it. And some of them really do have people they care about. People back in Jan Mayen. People they left to go on the mission, people they wanted to go back to and live with.

“And as for Neseen’s research… I don’t know. Part of me still wishes that we could just wait things out and let nature take its course. But if he succeeds… well, I’m not gonna say too much in a message that could be intercepted, even one that’s as encrypted as I can make it, but I’ll just say that I’ll adapt. Hell, maybe it would even work out the way you plan. Maybe if they have something to fight for, they’ll fight on our side.

“Look, I’m not saying I want to take a stroll into the GREL Quarter in Port Arthur and sing folk songs with them. I’m not gonna pretend that’s true, and you’d know I was lying if I did. I’m not saying I think they deserve universal amnesty. Some of them are still monsters who want nothing more than to kill everyone on the planet. …But some of them aren’t. Some of them are willing to put their lives on the line to save innocent people. Some of them just want to live their lives quietly with the people they care for.

“I think I’m okay with that.”

She sighed and faced the camera. “I know it might not be the revelation you hoped for. And I still haven’t forgiven you for aiming a gun at my head. You weren’t blameless in that conversation, no matter how much you might try to claim the moral high ground. You and I still aren’t straight yet.

“But I’m doing my part. I’m sending this message to you so that you’ll know I’m acting in good faith. That I can change. That I can forgive. That I’m willing to work through things, if you think that’s worthwhile. If you do, maybe next time I’m in town we can have a drink and talk.”

The corners of her lips cocked upwards. “But if you point a gun at me again, I will reciprocate. You only get one freebie. I’m not Ti; I don’t forgive forever. I will break all your fingers and put enough scars on your face that you’ll never do a press appearance again. And maybe you’ll kill me in the process, and maybe you won’t, but you’re not coming out of it unscarred. Just so we’re clear between us.

“Goodbye, Dr. Chambers.”

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