Saturday, March 26, 2016

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter X: What Hangs in the Balance

Lyta and Ti lingered before the locked door of the conference room. Lyta’s hand was on the doorknob, but just for a moment, she couldn’t bring herself to turn it, to leave and re-enter the company of the others. Ti stood behind her, his right hand on the small of her back, his left hand on her shoulder, apparently having the same thoughts. He leaned in and kissed her neck, trailed his lips upward and bit lightly on her ear. “More later,” he murmured.

Lyta nuzzled against him. “Promise?”


He straightened up and Lyta exhaled slowly, squaring her shoulders and putting on her game face. She turned the handle and Ti dropped the arm on her shoulder as they walked out. Lyta squeezed his wrist, just for a moment, as he walked into the next room where her brothers and Fennec were waiting. Lyta, for her part, caught sight of light glinting off glass from the kitchenette, and glanced over in that direction.

Doc Chambers stood behind the counter and poured two neat measures into waiting tumblers. He caught Lyta’s eye and slid one across the counter towards her.

Lyta spared half a glance towards Ti, already honing in on his next conversation target, and turned away from the living room. She walked into the kitchen, her gaze on the Doc.

The Doc, for his part, raised his glass and examined the liquid within it contemplatively. “I’m glad to see you’ve gotten past wanting to kill me,” he said.

Lyta regarded him, wondering what game he was playing and not entirely caring. Her neck still tingled from where Ti had kissed it. She was in a mood to be patient, to be forgiving, at least for now. “As I recall, you were the one pointing a gun at me,” she retorted.

She heard footsteps behind her and glanced back just in time to see Ti and Lukas stepping into the conference room. She wasn’t sure which of them to feel sorry for. She was only slightly disappointed she hadn’t planted any sort of bug; the conversation had every potential to be explosive, and for once she wasn’t sure who she was rooting for.

She turned her glance back to the Doc. It had barely been a second that her eyes had not been on him. If he’d noticed her backwards gaze -- as no doubt he had -- he opted not to mention it and instead to answer her pointed remark. ”Indeed, not our finest moment.”

Lyta closed her fingers around the offered tumbler without lifting it from the countertop. “So... what happens now?”

The Doc shrugged and placed his glass to his lips, buying himself a moment before responding. “I'm uncertain. I'm willing to forget the incident and go back to the antebellum relationship.”

Lyta pursed her lips. “That's because you weren't the one having their life threatened.”

She caught the mark of acknowledgement on the Doc’s expression. Of course it would be easy for him to forget the ‘unfortunate incident’ had happened -- he had been the one guiding it.

Lyta watched him a moment longer. “Would you have done it? Really?”

The Doc shrugged. “I didn't have to.”

It wasn’t an answer, and they both knew it. Lyta fiddled with her glass, twisting it in her hand, allowing her fingertips to trail along the edges of the cut crystal. “But if you did, would you have?”

The Doc hesitated, watching her. Something about her demeanor must have told him it wasn’t an idle question. "You need to know, don't you?" he asked softly.

Lyta thought back on the moment in Jan Mayen, the shock as she realized the Doc had a gun pointed straight at her head, the sudden, clear knowledge that she might have only seconds to live. Lyta was no psychiatrist, but the Doc had not seemed to be bluffing. Unless, perhaps, he was just better in his lie than she’d given him credit for. Perhaps he had only meant to scare her. But, then again, perhaps not. She glanced up from her glass. “If you were in my situation, wouldn't you?”

“I’ve never been in that situation, but if I were, I’m not sure how I would respond. Probably the same way you did: with a feeling of betrayal?”

Lyta sighed, her fingers running over the edges of the crystal. She should have known better than to expect an easy answer out of Doc Chambers. “Look, you told me why you did it,” she said slowly. “And I understand more now than I did then. But…” She licked her lips, trying to figure out how to approach the issue, and decided to simply be blunt. “But you were going to kill me.”

“I was trying to save you. I know how trite that may sound, even disingenuous. You didn’t just threaten to kill a man, Lyta. You should know how cold a bastard I can be when I need to be. I couldn’t care less about Arturo Nessen. For you, I’d kill him myself without even asking you why. But you threatened the entire planet as far as I’m concerned.” He paused, went for another sip and stopped, putting it down again. “You betrayed me. You broke my heart in that moment. You made me choose between who I am and someone I care deeply for. I had an impossible choice and both outcomes meant me hating myself.”

Lyta stared, biting back the quick answer that came to her lips. Her, betray Doc Chambers? He had known how she felt about GRELs, known her mind more than perhaps anyone on the planet, and yet he’d revealed Neseen’s research and expected her to do nothing? And then he had the audacity to feel betrayed?

She shook her head. There was no point rehashing that now. It would do nothing to help. She let out a long, slow breath. “Okay,” she said after a moment. “I see that now. I didn’t see it then. But are you really telling me that with everything you can do, all the mind-games we both know you can play, that the only answer you saw back then was to kill me?”

“I appreciate your respect for my intellect, but even I can be ruled by emotions. I played the scenario out in my head and, in a moment I will sincerely regret for the rest of my life, I saw no alternative to taking you out. But I don’t think you truly understand. I hope you never have to watch someone you love make a decision so bad that you are left choosing between your entire belief system and relationship with that person on the one hand and on the other killing them, or worse.”

Lyta couldn’t help herself as her eyes flicked back to the conference room door, and she gripped the tumbler tighter. What had Lukas already done, she wondered. What would he yet do? He claimed everything he had done was in service to his family -- how much worse was it, even than the Doc’s scenario, to watch someone you loved to something so horrible, all the while claiming they were doing it for you?

She forced her eyes away from the door, back to the Doc. For all that Ti was mere footsteps away, there was new pain in her expression. “Yeah,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper. “Me either.”

“Lyta, there are certain acts that change more than events, they change who we are. I’ve had a few, but I struggled with them. I have anguished over those decisions. It's when those decisions become easy, reflexive, and without inner struggle that you risk losing yourself entirely. When I pulled my gun on you I wasn't trying to teach you a lesson, I was just trying to stop you by any means necessary. In my mind I've already killed you and the guilt of that act has been with me since. It was a mistake, one I cannot unmake.

“It was wrong of me and although I ultimately found a better way, it doesn’t excuse what I did. My only consolation, my only one, is that what I’ve done to you, what I’ve done to our relationship, was a price worth paying if you remain the same person. Can you understand that? Can you understand betraying someone while still caring deeply for them, maybe even because you do? I’m not making any sense anymore. I’m sorry.”

The Doc was stammering, an unprecedented event, and Lyta even had to wonder if it was an act. But everything in his demeanor, in the way he gulped his drink instead of savouring it and even the slight tremble in his hand said he was being honest, even vulnerable.

Lyta sat completely still as she watched him, watched the uncharacteristic collapse of the Doc’s composure. She wasn’t sure what to do. If she were Lukas, she would have been able to exploit the situation for some gain. If she were Ti, she would have been able to help him, reforge the bond they once had. If she were Jonas, she would have some wise words that would make everything better, the way he always seemed to. But even though all three were nearby, she was none of them, and she had none of their skills.

She cast her eyes down into her glass, the liquid within it still untouched, and considered the Doc’s words. Could she envision betraying someone because she loved them? Would she ever be able to put a bullet into Lukas because he had done something -- or was planning to do something -- so horrible that she felt she’d have no choice? Or Ti? Or Todd? She licked her lips. She would never be able to do it. But how would it feel to be forced to make that choice? To choose between the good of the world on the one hand, and the people she loved and had fought to protect on the other?

The door to the conference clicked open and Lyta turned to see Lukas stepping out. He glanced briefly in Lyta’s direction, then strode out of the room, his expression giving nothing away. Well, why would it? The time had long past that Lyta was able to read her brother’s motives.

Ti stepped into the doorway, looking rattled. Whatever he and Lukas had discussed, it had more of an outward effect on him than it had had on her brother. “Fennec, could you come in here?”

“Sure, boss.”

In a moment, the door closed again.

The Doc waited until the door had shut before speaking again, his eyes on Lukas’ retreating steps. Lyta’s eyes were in the same direction. She would have to talk to Lukas later. It was a conversation she was not looking forward to.

“Maybe you do.” The Doc appeared to have regained some measure of poise. “Look, Lyta. You want to know if I will put another gun in your face? Ask yourself if you will makes choices that force me to. For my part, I don’t think you will.”

He glanced again at the foyer and watched as Lukas left the suite.

Lyta only turned her gaze back to the Doc as the door closed behind her brother. Her brow creased. “That’s only half an answer,” she said.

The Doc gave her one of his bittersweet smiles. “You’re right, and I don’t like making promises I can’t keep. The only thing I can tell you is that when faced with a difficult decision, I still struggle with it, and when I hurt people I care about it's because they’ve left me no other choice.”

Lyta fidgeted with her glass. Her voice was soft, with a slight quaver to it. “If something happens between you and Lukas, if you have another one of those hard choices to make because of him, we might find ourselves facing off again.” She met the Doc’s gaze, her expression firm. “He’s my brother.”

“You haven't been listening, have you? If Lukas needs to be stopped, I’ll do it so you don’t have to. And I’ll accept the consequences of that choice.”

Lyta’s expression soured and she let go of the glass. She shook her head slowly, almost in disbelief. “All my life, people have been taking choices away from me because they didn’t think I could make them myself. Lukas, Ti… hell, even Alain did it to me. Poor little Lyta. We know what’s best for her. We’ll make sure she’s all right. She’ll be happier if she doesn’t have to choose.” Her expression hardened. “Don’t play the hero, Dr. Chambers. And if you do, don’t say you’re doing it for me. I didn’t ask for you to do it, and I don’t want you to do it.”

“That’s the nature of being protective of someone, they don’t need to ask you to be, you just are. And that doesn’t make me a hero, Lyta, it just makes me a par… a person who cares.”

Lyta blinked. “Is that what you think is going on here?” she asked quietly. Then, louder, “No, Dr. Chambers, let’s get one thing clear. I’ve had two fathers, three if you count Jonas. I don’t need another one. Don’t get me wrong -- for all that Lukas would call me naive, I’m glad for our friendship. You’ve given me good advice, you’ve helped me through some really hard times, and you’ve looked out for rme. When you’re not focused pushing people’s buttons to see how they’ll react, you can be downright sociable. And I do hope that one day we can build back the trust we had before Jan Mayen.”

She stood. “But you’re not my father, and I’m not your daughter. And I’ll thank you kindly not to think of me that way.”

With a final glance, she turned from the table and left the kitchenette.

The Doc raised his glass with a pointed looked at Lyta’s abandoned drink. She had never even raised it to her lips. "To doubt and hesitation, the soul's last safeguards." He toasted himself and drank alone.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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