Friday, November 18, 2016

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter X: Fighting for Fun and Profit

33 Autumn 1928

“Keep my number for when the time comes. I may know some people who can help you.” A handshake and a knowing glance as contact information was exchanged. Karrell would be a useful ally. Anyone fighting on the same side as they were was a welcome change of pace; sometimes it seemed like the entire world was lined up on the other side of the board.

They broke contact just as two newcomers approached the still. Lyta could tell at a glance that these were no Wolves. They had the look of Oscar’s half of the guest list: avant-garde beards and fashionable clothes that would fall to pieces in seconds when exposed to the harsh environment of the desert.

They filled their glasses, drank, began raving. Lyta caught that one of them was some sort of chef – he was already considering what dish to pair with the homebrew. Something about “authentic Badlands cuisine”, which she assumed would mean that it would taste nothing like any Badlands dish she’d ever tasted. She hung back by the Wolves, smirking.

Somehow, though, she managed to find herself closest to the two interlopers. “Well, hellooo there!” said the chef, brightly. He extended a hand. “Madison. This is Romeo.”

Lyta shook. “Kes,” she said, trying to exude the ‘I belong here’ vibes that had come so naturally when she was speaking with desert rovers.

“Have you tried this?” Madison gestured to the still. “The hops bring out flavor. I was not even aware hops were cultivated in the Badlands! Stupendous!”

Lyta raised her glass, still mostly full.

“Ah. Good. Yes. Excellent!” He raised his own mug to his mouth and drank. He closed his eyes, savoring the taste of ‘authentic Badlands’ brewing. Lyta held herself back from rolling her eyes.

“And what do you do?” asked Romeo, picking up the slack from his colleague.

Lyta hesitated. “I’m a… freelancer,” she said, with a pause that was barely too long.

Romeo’s lips quirked upwards. “What is it that you freelance?”

Lyta shrugged. What was she supposed to say? I break into secure facilities and steal their data? I kill terrorists who are trying to destroy the planet? I’m trying to stop a second CEF invasion? “Just whatever needs doing.”

“Ah,” Romeo gave her a knowing glance. “One of those.”

Lyta glanced behind her, where the Wolves were still congregated, watching the conversation, looking even more entertained than normal. They made no move to intervene. She sighed and glanced back. “Really, I’m pretty boring. Sorry to disappoint.”

Romeo was having none of it. “You’re toned,” he offered as a segue. “Have you ever tried modeling?”

Lyta’s jaw fell open for a moment before she recovered herself. “I… haven’t.”

“You should,” he insisted. “You’d be excellent for streetwear, I know it. I have a line coming out next season. You could be on the runway. Just say the word.”

Lyta’s expression had gone from skeptical to incredulous as the fashion designer spoke. She took a sip from her mug to cover up her discomfort. “I don’t think so,” she said after a moment. We’re a covert team. It’s not like I can have my face in a magazine.

“You must tell us your training regimen.” Madison this time, having recovered from his bout of nectar-induced euphoria.

Lyta’s hand traced the imperfections on her mug. “I’m a… gymnast,” she said at last. Shrugged. Close enough.

Madison’s eyes widened. “Realllly?” It was the same sort of ‘genuine’ interest she was used to seeing in Oscar. “Marvellous!”

Romeo was regarding her more closely. He placed a hand against his chin. Lyta got the sense he would be stroking his beard if it weren’t gauche. “Tell me, Kes, do you have any fighting experience?”

It took everything she had to hold the smirk off her face. “A little.”

“Don’t you listen to her!” Karrell’s voice from behind her. “She was a right hellion in the ring even as a kid! Prob’ly wipe the floor with you if she thought it was worth her time.”

Lyta gave an annoyed glance at the Desert Wolf. “Not helping,” she muttered, as Karrell simply returned the gaze with a shit-eating grin.

But Romeo was already smiling, the expression of a child who had just been told he would be getting birthday tickets to the royal rumble Gear dueling championship after all. He caught someone’s eye across the yard. “Jared!” he called out.

The ‘someone’ might have been a model himself from the looks of him, all striking angles and cutting-edge clothes. Lyta got the sense he was the sort who never allowed himself to look impressed, lest it ruin his carefully polished image.

Romeo made the introductions. “Jared, Kes here is a gymnast with combat experience. Kes, Jared right now is the casting director for The Way of the Wind.”

He said it like it was supposed to mean something. Todd probably would have heard of it. Lyta gave a slight shrug as she shook the casting director’s hand. A flicker of annoyance crossed his face, which he quickly smoothed over. “Kes, darling!

The opening pleasantries done, Romeo’s glance shifted from Lyta to Jared, his expression saying nothing so much as, There, you see?

Jared gave her an appraising gaze. Lyta had been looked at like that before, but usually the perpetrator wound up with a black eye and, depending on her mood, a broken arm. She wondered how Ennik would feel about a fight breaking out at his party. Jared, meanwhile, gave the fashion designer a grudging nod of respect.

Romeo took a drink, a self-satisfied expression on his face.

Lyta could take it no longer. “Someone wanna clue me in?”

Jared waved a hand as though it were obvious. “I’m casting for stuntpeople this week. You should come.”

Lyta shook her head, already frowning. “Sorry. That’s not really my—”

“You’ve never tried,” Jared pointed out astutely. “You have absolutely no way of knowing.”

Lyta took a breath and tried again. “I’m only in town for a few days. And I’m… busy.” VIP penthouse apartments don’t rob themselves. Vaults don’t just fall out of walls.

“One morning,” Jared insisted, passing over his card. “Just to get you on-screen. Most of my actresses don’t have real-world experience, only studio time. You must come.”

Lyta took the card despite her better judgment. “I’ll think about it,” she conceded. She could still feel Karrell’s grin boring into her back. I’m never going, she insisted to herself. I’m just taking this to make him go away.

Jared did not beam. She got the sense it would take a miracle of Prophetic proportions to even make him smile. But as he raised his glass to his lips, Lyta could feel the waves of satisfaction radiating off him, like a trophy-hunter catching its prize.


37 Autumn 1928

A barroom brawl, the heroine ambushed by six women who bore a striking resemblance to Katchelli’s one-time fembots. They’d run her through the choreography in barely ten minutes. The aggressors’ roles were not involved: punch, punch, kick, grab the wrist, allow yourself to be thrown, fall down. Lyta landed on a padded, cleared patch of ground and tried not to roll her eyes.


She picked herself off the floor as the other would-be stunt-women went to get bottles of water. Lyta brushed the dust off her knees. This was a mistake, she reminded herself. What the fuck were you thinking? Lukas leaves for one night and you start moonlighting as an actress?

Jared had come up beside her as she tamped down on the errant thoughts. “Kes, darling, you’re not taking this seriously.”

Lyta shrugged. “This is the stupidest fight I’ve ever seen.”

Jared looked pained, and glanced over to the choreographer as though to ensure he was out of earshot. “It’s for film, darling.” He explained it like she was a child.

This time Lyta did roll her eyes. “It’s still stupid. The hero’s waiting for everyone to attack her one by one, not using any of her surroundings, and just doing the same three moves over and over in different combos.”

Jared gave her an appraising look. “And you think you can do better?”

This time it was Lyta’s turn to give him a you’re an idiot look, one that she used to reserve exclusively for Lukas. “Well, yeah.”

Jared pursed his lips. “This isn’t a street fight. It has to look good on screen.”

“Yeah, I know.” Lyta rolled her shoulders. “You want flashy, right? Big kicks, fancy flips, stuff like that?”

A nod, his lips still pursed.

Lyta shrugged. “Okay.”

A look of genuine confusion. “What do you mean, ‘okay’?”

“Put me in the middle and let me do it.”

Jared put a hand on her arm. Poor little girl doesn’t understand how any of this works. “You can’t just start fighting, Kes. The other actresses need to learn the choreography. It takes—”

“You want a flashy fight or don’t you?” Lyta cut in. “Tell ‘em to attack however they want and fall down when it makes sense.” She caught the look Jared was giving her. “I promise I won’t hurt them,” she added.

Subtle emotions flickered across the casting director’s face. “Let me see what I can do,” he suggested, though his voice was hesitant.

He walked back to the fight choreographer. Lyta couldn’t make out any of the words, but she caught gestures in her direction, mounting in urgency and anger. If Jared had been skeptical, the choreographer was practically livid. She leaned against the bar, waiting.

Jared returned a few minutes later, jaw tight. “All right, darling, we’ll do it your way. I’m taking you on your word you have the control not to injure anyone. If any of them is so much as bruised…”

Lyta looked him in the eye. “Promise.”

He gathered the rest of the stuntwomen, running them through the unorthodox approach. Lyta caught looks of concern. A few frowns. Angry glances in her direction. But, finally, grudging nods.

She sauntered over to the heroine’s starting mark as the rest of them took up position around her. A tiny smile played over her features.

“And action!”

They started by coming at her one at a time, still using their old routines. Punch, punch. Lyta dodged, grabbed a wrist, sent her sprawling into one of her companions. A roundhouse back-kick as she moved past, stopping just before it made contact. Kick. Lyta jumped up onto a table, dodging the attack, and did a tight tuck off to land behind her. Grab the wrist. Reverse the grab, turn, send her flying to land with a muffled thud against the padded floor. At least she knew how to break-fall.

They seemed to get the sense that one-at-a-time wasn’t working anymore and started to pair up. Double-punch, move in for a hold. Lyta dropped to the ground, swept her leg in an exaggerated circle, catching three of them. Grabbed a chair to kip-up, flashing out with a face-kick that came centimeters away from connecting. Head shot, knee strike. She somersaulted away, grabbed the bar with both hands, and landed atop it. Grab for the leg, spinning back-fist. Lyta danced between the arms, a few extra flips for good measure, before springing off and into the middle of them.

Grabs, holds, move in for the take-down. It seemed like a good moment to start knocking them out. Her limbs flashed out in furious, exaggerated motion, stopping just before they connected with face and torso. She threw one into the other until they were nothing so much as a tangle of bodies on the floor, landing neatly on the padded sections. They stayed down.

Lyta straightened her legs, glanced down at them. They were all doing an admirable job of groaning. She hoped she hadn’t really hurt them.


The groaning stopped almost immediately. Or, rather, became more muffled. They got up from the floor slowly. None seemed to have taken any real damage. Lyta nodded to herself. It had been a bigger challenge than she’d anticipated to stop herself from connecting. A fun challenge, but one that could have gone wrong quickly if one of them had decided to do something unexpected and stupid. Thankfully they’d been courteous enough to telegraph their movements. Unlike her.

She looked over to Jared and the choreographer and saw matching dumbfounded expressions. They exchanged a glance. Jared wrote something on a clipboard before putting it aside.

He walked over to her. Lyta raised an eyebrow.

“You must sign. Stunt double for the lead. You can choreograph your own fights.”

Lyta spread her arms. “I told you – I’m only in town a few days. I can’t do a movie. I only came because you wouldn’t let me get out of it.”

Jared placed an arm on her shoulder and led her off the set. “Alpinewood pays well. Very well. If it’s about the money…”

“It’s not about the money.”


The choreographer had come up by this point. “She’s trying to say no,” an observation rather than a question. “You can’t let her.”

Jared kept his hand on Lyta’s shoulder. “If it’s not about the money, what is it about, darling?”

Lyta licked her lips. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she’d come at all. She’d had the morning free, and it had seemed like an interesting experiment at the time. One she was increasingly coming to regret. “I’m not in town for long,” she insisted. “I may be leaving in a few days.”

“Impossible.” Jared waved his free hand, dismissing this line of reasoning. “Romeo said you were a freelancer. I guarantee you there is nothing you are doing right now that is as important as you accepting this role.” He guided her over to the production table and picked up his clipboard.

The Jezebels are almost ready. The Bear’s network is as strong as it ever was. He’s trying to bring in a new CEF invasion. It’s been less than two weeks since I stopped a terrorist from blowing up the entire Hermes network. She frowned. “I doubt it.”

The clipboard contained a contract with her alias written across the top. “Kes, darling, sweetheart, I’m not taking no for an answer. Whatever it is you’re doing, you’re wasting your talents. You move like I’ve never seen anyone move before. Another time, another life, you could have been an Olympian. Now you’ll have to settle for international fame and fortune on the silver screen instead of the arena.”

Lyta frowned. Her feet had stopped moving of their own accord.

Jared held the clipboard out to her, his expression intense. “Say yes.”

Lyta regarded the clipboard and let out a long breath. “I… need to use the washroom.”

Jared clapped her on the shoulder. “I know it’s a lot to take in, darling. Take a minute, freshen up, come back out, and we’ll go over terms. I promise I will make you very happy.”

Lyta nodded and left the set. Found the washroom. Leaned against a wall and closed her eyes, the adrenaline from the fight still coursing through her. She hadn’t had a chance to use her gymnastics, not like that, in a long time. Maybe since the Humanist Alliance. She’d forgotten how much she missed it.

She took a few steps and stood in front of the mirror, staring into her own eyes. Another time, another life… Dreams of Olympic medals bubbled up in her mind’s eye, just for a moment.

She let out a slow exhale. The washroom was on the third floor of Alpinewood’s studio warehouse. The windows were locked for security. Jared would no doubt be waiting for her to return any moment to ‘go over terms’. Her lips turned up in a small, sad smile. “Not this life,” she murmured and turned away from the mirror to face the window.

Jared was gonna find himself waiting a long, long time...

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.