Saturday, May 21, 2016

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter X: A Brief Respite

As Helios finished its long arc across the dusty horizon of the Badlands and the rays receded, the warmth of that autumn day was replaced by stretching shadows and a chilling breeze. It would be an overcast night, and by morning there would be a few centimeters of fresh sand to broom off the wrap-around porch that hugged the remote homestead like a comforting blanket.

Minnie watched the bubbling saucepan absent-mindedly. A moment too late she took the boiling milk off the heat and poured it into the waiting mugs, adding a lighter note to the dark drinks. She gave the spiced tea a sniff to make sure she hadn’t ruined them with her inattention but found no indication she had burned the whitener. She added a dash of nutmeg and a cinnamon stick to finish the cocktail and placed the mugs on a waiting tray.

This was her home, or her home away from home. Well, she owned the place. Minnie had never set any roots but she was willing to try anything once or twice. It was quaint and secluded and hers, and that last part in particular made her feel safe. She had bought it to get away from people, to get away from the bar and Port Arthur and everything that reminded her who she was. It was a place to be alone.

But even here she couldn’t quite shake the occupational hazard of waiting on people. She stepped outside onto her porch and took in a deep breath of the night’s fresh air. Around the corner she found Fennec looking over Peter’s jeep and handed her a mug. It was accepted as it was offered, wordlessly. Another corner was turned on the veranda and, after letting her eyes adjust, she found Todd crouched by a water barrel. He was watching her long drive disappear into the darkening desert. Adjusting his rifle, he freed a hand to take the steaming mug. He gave it a look and then put it to his nose. His eyes closed as he took in the aromas and his mouth curled into a smile. He offered her a stammering thanks which, after his expression of delight, was unnecessary.

Completing the circumnavigation of her stonebuilt homestead and entering through the front door into the living room, Minnie set down the tray and picked up the two remaining beverages. Lukas was sprawled out, sleeping. The doc had cleaned him up so one couldn’t even tell he was recovering. He just looked like a man sleeping on her couch. She had mixed feelings about that. He fit in the place. Tall and strongly built with his tussle of blond hair. Dressed in overalls and resting after a hard day’s work, he was the last piece in this picture of domestic tranquility.

“You actually care, don’t you?” Lyta asked from the corner of the room.

Minnie’s gaze lingered a moment longer on Lukas and she suddenly felt something she hated deeply: vulnerability. The image was shattered and she was no longer in her homestead, she was in a ‘safe house’. Even that term nagged at her.

“I just thought you’d like a hot drink,” she said defensively, though it sounded more dismissive when she delivered it. Minnie looked down at the two mugs and handed one to Lyta before sitting in a wooden rocking chair facing the door and away from the couch.

Lyta didn’t have Ti’s gift -- or Minnie’s for the matter -- of reading people, but it wasn’t hard to sympathise. In fact, Lyta was more than a little surprised to realise that Minnie probably felt exactly the same way she did. “I hate it when he’s like this. Even when he’s wounded he can’t stop himself from being… difficult.”

Minnie looked up a Lyta, a flash of surprise crossing her pretty features. “I guess this is situation normal for you. Honestly I don’t know how you endure it… or him.”

Lyta took the mug and raised it to her lips. It was good. Better than she had any right to expect, given that mere hours ago she’d been dodging bullets. For a moment she allowed herself to appreciate the small pleasure of a warm beverage before turning her attention back to the matter at hand. “Sometimes I hate him even when I’m worried about him, even when I love him,” she said, the statement more earnest than she’d intended. She sighed, looking at his sleeping form. There had been a lot of blood. He might have been dead. And somehow he just kept pushing past it, moving forward.

She pulled her gaze away to look at Minnie, and for a brief moment their eyes locked before Lyta looked away first. “It’s been hard lately,” she said quietly. “Especially the last cycle. Before that, I always knew that no matter what happened, when push came to shove, I could trust him. I knew what his ultimate move would be. Now… I’m not sure.”

A bittersweet smile came and went as Minnie softly uttered, “stupid girl”. It was a vicious expression accompanied by a spiteful comment which Lyta might have expected from Minnie but, in this intimate moment, with Lukas grievously injured, she had forgotten the older woman was capable of. It made her angry.

“Wait, what was that?” she pressed, her voice tinged with indignation.

Lyta’s tone demanded Minnie’s attention so she looked Lyta directly in the eyes and bit her lip. She shook her head slowly. “No dear, not you, me. I noticed the change, I just assumed it was directed at me and only me. It was arrogant and… pathetic. Honestly, I don’t even know why I care what he thinks.”

There was a moment’s silence as Lyta turned the statement over in her mind. She had built up an image of the heartless, exploitative vamp nesting in her den of GRELs, but as with so many things, she was being forced to reevaluate what she thought she knew.

Minnie rocked in her chair, cradling her drink. “I liked him better when his scars were visible on the outside, like a warning label. At least back then you knew who, or what, you were dealing with.”

Lyta nodded slowly, looking not so much at her brother as through him. “A lot of people over the last few cycles have told me you can choose what you feel. That you can choose to be happy, choose not to be angry or afraid.” She paused, her fingertips running over the pattern on the mug. “But I don’t think that’s all true. Some things you can’t choose. You can’t choose not to love someone, not even if you want to. Not even if it’ll make your life easier.” She licked her lips. “At least, if you can, I haven’t figured out how.”

Minnie looked as though she was going to protest but stopped herself and, after a brief moment, casually responded, “Well, I wouldn't know anything about love. But you haven’t got any worries on that front. I’ve seen you and Ti together; you look happy. You’re lucky.” She smiled and although it was tinged with sadness, her expression was sincere.

Lyta gave a wry smile, not looking up. “They’re gonna tear each other apart, Lukas and Ti. Because of me. I’ve been trying for cycles to make it not be true, but…” She shook her head and looked at the older woman. “I wish I could tell you how Lukas felt about you. I wish I could tell you he cared about you the same way you care about him. But I don’t know. I’m not sure I even know how he feels about me anymore. He’s always played his cards close to his chest, but now he’s doing it even from me.”

Minnie rocked slowly in her chair, the cool chill of the night creeping in from the front door. “It’s a cliche, but you don’t get to choose your family. Lukas told me about your parents, about Baja. But you got out of that war with two brothers, and you and Red seem thick as thieves. Just don’t let a sense of obligation ruin your happiness. Ti loves you. Lukas probably does too, but don’t let them tear you apart. Choose the one that makes you happy, not the one you were saddled with at birth. If there's only one thing I can speak about with authority, it’s that you have to make your own decisions and be the person you want to be and not be defined by your family or where you came from.”

Lyta considered this for a moment. “Won’t work,” she said after a moment. “I can’t choose. I love them both. Even if one of ‘em does happen to be an asshole.”

She took a sip of her tea, letting the warmth of it soothe her. “I don’t know most of your story, not really. And it’s okay -- I don’t need to. I know enough to know that we probably see family pretty differently. For you, maybe it was something you were saddled with, something you had to break away from. For me… I guess for me family is what I had when I didn’t have anything else. Even now that I have Ti, I can’t give that up.”

She grinned, an unexpected expression given the seriousness of the topic. “And I didn’t say it was gonna tear me apart, I said it was gonna tear them apart. The way I figure it, men have been fighting over women pretty much forever, right? Sooner or later they’ll figure it out between them. If I’m lucky, it won’t end in a gunshot. But I don’t think this is one of those things Ti is gonna be able to talk his way out of.”

“He’s a piece of work isn’t he, your Ti,” Minnie rejoined, picking up on Lyta’s mood.

Lyta nodded. “Yep. Took me the better part of two cycles to get him to come around to the idea of dating me, to get him to admit that he can care about someone and care about the mission at the same time.” She sighed, her expression momentarily darkening. “I think even now, if it came down to me or the mission… No, I don’t think. I know. I know he’d choose it over me. He might beat himself up over it, but it’s what he’d choose, every time. And the worst part is he’d expect me to choose the same way.”

Minnie’s eyes focused on the liquid in her mug. “From what I’ve read, Ti’s a lot like me. He had to create his own self-image after the war. Build up from the ruins of what the war did to him. He is his mission. So, in a sense, to love him is to love the mission, Lyta. Have you ever considered that he worries that without his goals he’s empty and there’d be nothing there for you to love?”

“Sure,” Lyta said easily. “He’s told me as much to my face. He’s just wrong. One day I’ll make him see that.”

Minnie stretched her mug out to meet Lyta’s. “Godspeed, little one. All of womankind's prayers are with you.”

Lyta tapped her mug with Minnie’s and raised the chai to her lips. Her eyes fell back on her sleeping brother, looking for all the world as though he were merely napping and not sedated from massive blood loss. “Good luck to you too,” she said to Minnie with a sidelong glance. “I’ve got a feeling you’ll need it.”

Minnie smiled warmly, betraying nothing. It had been a nice distraction to engage in the fantasies of love and hope of a younger woman, but Minnie knew better. Sudden as a Bandlands breeze at night, she felt aged and bitter again. Lyta and Ti were doomed to tragedy. Lukas couldn’t be saved and even if he could, it wouldn’t be by someone more damaged than him. All Minnie could do was indulge in a bit of second-hand hope, a moment’s peace from the harsh reality of life. Like this homestead, her intimate exchange with Lyta had been a comforting escape and miles from where she had come, but ultimately empty and alone.

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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