Monday, April 18, 2016

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter X: Ripples of Regret

Ti found her in the bathroom, a stiff-bristled brush in her right hand, leaning over a basin of cloudy water. Her fingers were already scrubbed pink, as was her face. The only trace of blood that remained from their encounter at the lab was under her fingernails, and she attacked them with the intensity of a battlefield commander.

Ti leaned against the doorframe and watched her. She had been tight-lipped since they’d returned to the hotel and changed out of their blood-stained clothes. She had returned his kisses with only the most perfunctory of pecks. He worried about her.

“Hey,” he said from the doorway.

Lyta glanced up for barely a moment, just long enough to acknowledge his presence, before looking back down at her hands and continuing to scrub. “Hey.”

“You okay?” he asked, keeping his voice neutral.

Lyta exhaled slowly, though the motion of the brush never wavered. “I didn’t mean to kill him,” she said after a moment. “Not like that.”


“Don’t,” she cut in. “Whatever you’re about to say, just don’t.” For a moment, the room was quiet except for the whisper of bristles on skin. Lyta looked up again. “I”m not an idiot. I know if I hadn’t done it to him, he would have done it to me. But I used to be better than that. I used to be able to knock someone out without…” She shook her head. “Without turning their skull into a watermelon.”

Her brief monologue concluded, she turned her attention back to her task, dunking her left hand into the basin and disturbing the sediment in the water. She removed it, examined her nails, shook her head, and kept working.

“Hey, don’t beat yourself up. It was us or them and you went right in there with no fear, no doubt. You did what you had to and trust me when I tell you Fennec, Dr. Neseen, Damosa, and myself, no one’s complaining.”

“Yeah, I know. I just…” She gestured to herself with both hands, sweeping them across her body. She had changed out of her clothes from the lab and sported a clean, functional outfit, but her expression said that removing the stain would require more than a new pair of pants and a shower.

Ti shifted against the doorway. The pieces still weren’t adding up for him. “You sure that’s all it is?” he asked softly. “The stuff with that guy?”

Lyta transferred the brush to her left hand and began scrubbing her right. “Neseen,” she said after a long moment.

“What about him?”

Lyta pursed her lips. “The last time we here, I was gonna kill him.”

Ti’s eyebrows raised. “What happened?”

Lyta did not look up, though the emotions played over her face. Ti waited. He was beginning to learn, as Lukas had long ago, that Lyta would speak in her own time, and once she started, the words would tumble out of her in a torrent. He just needed to be patient enough to let it happen.

She told him everything: how she’d learned about Neseen’s project to solve GREL fertility, how she had felt it would damn the world, how she’d determined that the only solution was to assassinate him before he could finish. She told him about her encounter with the Doc, which had ended with a gun pointed at her head, and her attempt at reconciliation in Lyonesse, which had ended only moderately better. How meeting Neseen at the lab had brought all the old emotions back, and how the revelation of his latest research project had thrown everything into chaos again.

By the end of it, the brush was stationary against her leg and her thumb traced the imperfections of its grain. She stared off at nothing. “If I’d killed him, I would have doomed the Koreshi. Not now, maybe not for hundreds of cycles, but eventually. No one would ever know, but it would still be my fault.” She looked up at him for the first time since she’d started, her eyes searching. “How does that happen? How does one choice have ripples that are so big?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “We’re not magicians, Lyta. We can’t divine the future, and even the smartest guys out there can only hope to anticipate one or two steps ahead what the effects of our choices will be. We just have to make imperfect decisions with the information available to us.”

Ti slid down against the doorframe and settled on the floor. He went to run his hand through his tousled hair, a nervous tick Lyta had learned to read as doubt, but he stopped himself with a wince and looked glumly at his wounded arm.

Lyta looked at the ground. “What if that’s not good enough? What if those ‘imperfect decisions’ end in disaster? How am I supposed to live with that? How is anyone?”

Ti shook his head weakly and shrugged. “That’s all there is.”

Lyta walked over to him and crouched down, letting her fingers plow through his mane. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Not really. Bakov just handed in his resignation. He’s no longer head of civil defense for Jan Mayen. In fact he’s given up on any position of authority at all. Actually, it’s a bit poetic. It’s what leaders do here in Jan Mayen.”

“I don’t understand. Why did he resign?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said dejectedly, then suddenly he added, “Say, now that you know what Neseen and Damosa are up to, not just for the GRELs but for the Sand Ryders too, does that knowledge change the way you think we should have acted today? I mean, knowing that we were considering leaving all that data to be lost and maybe condemning two peoples to extinction?”

Lyta sighed, letting her hand slip down from Ti’s hair to his shoulder. She stared off in the direction of the water basin, but her eyes looked further, unfocused as she remembered the tense moments in the underground lab. “I don’t think so,” she said at last. “I mean… if the Death Watch people were planning on blowing up the building, we couldn’t have got the data out. Not in the time we had. But we had to get Neseen and Damosa out. They could recreate the data eventually -- run the experiments again or something, I guess. But if they died, then it wouldn’t matter if we still had the data because we wouldn’t have anyone who could do anything with it.”

She shook her head, her fingertips tracing absently along Ti’s scars. “It was a shitstorm. I don’t think there were any good answers. I think the way things went down was probably the best we could have hoped for.” She paused and looked at Ti’s wounded arm. “Well, almost. Why? Do you think we should have played it another way?”

“I think you’re right. I think it went as well as could be, except it took too long to come to that conclusion and it happened incidentally. We were on Bakov’s home turf; I was deferring to him for command but he hesitated. Damosa’s decision to stay, her idea that the data was worth dying for, correct or not, practical or not, left him reeling.”

“Is that why he resigned?”

“It was, or it was the clincher. He’s a warrior, used to leading GRELs. He just doesn’t feel it's his place to give them orders anymore. They have their own priorities and aspirations. I think he’ll continue to help and support in any way he can. He just can’t make decision for them anymore.”

“It’s hard making decision for other people.”

“Tell me about it. It’s hard making decisions that will have huge outcomes, create ripples, like you said earlier. It’s easier to just consider the short term. Lukas had a sound plan, he didn’t hesitate, he was ready to put it in action, and in a situation like that one, the last thing you want to do is start a roundtable discussion.”

Lyta’s brow furrowed and her fingertips moved slowly along the floor tiles. “So why didn’t we just follow Lukas? I mean, if Bakov was hesitating…”

“Lukas’ clinical analysis of the situation was spot on, but calculating dispassionately comes down to counting costs and cutting loses. Damosa and Neseen were too valuable, but so was the data. We couldn’t afford to lose both; the only expendable asset in that situation was us. We should have gone after the remaining Death Watch immediately and eliminated them without hesitation. But choosing to put your own life on the line before others isn’t exactly sound tactical thinking.”

Lyta considered this quietly for a few moments, leaning against the other side of the doorframe from Ti. Eventually, she shook her head. “Even knowing that we were the expendable ones, knowing that if we lost the data or the doctors we’d probably be dooming thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands… I still don’t know if I could have done it. If I could have told Lukas and Todd and you to launch yourselves against… against however many Death Watch there were. We were lucky there were only four. It could have been forty.” She shook her head. “Every time I wish Lukas wasn’t in charge, or at least that he’d talk to us more about what’s going on, something like this happens and all I can think is, ‘I’m glad I’m not the one who has to send people to die.’”

Ti sat quietly for a moment. “It should be getting easier, you know? Making these decisions. But it isn’t, it’s getting harder. The more I know, the more these ripples from our missions or the current objectives or whatever swell into enormous tsunamis down the line... It just gets to be overwhelming considering all the lives we affect. I’m not sure I’m the one to make those decisions, Lyta. I’m not smart or wise or enlightened enough.” He shook his head, looking more discouraged than Lyta had ever seen him.

Lyta rested her head against Ti’s shoulder and stared past the basin of water at the wall beyond. “Maybe,” she said at last. “But I think maybe we’ve all had enough world-shattering decisions today. You think the universe will let us hold off on making another one until at least tomorrow?”

Ti wrapped his good arm around her. “I certainly hope so.”

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