Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter X: Long-Lost

15 Winter 1929, Oxford

They walked along the river, take-out cups of hot chocolate steaming in the winter air. Miranda opened her mouth and, yet again, Lyta silenced her with a glance. The younger woman frowned and sipped her drink. Lyta's eyes darted around their surroundings, gauging camera placements and through-traffic, until she finally let out a long exhale. "Okay, I think we can talk now if we keep our voices down."

The words tumbled out of Miranda Petit as though a dam had been broken. "Ryss? Is it really you? What happened? I thought you were dead or reeducated or something! Why are you back? Are you on a job? Can I help? What are you doing? Do you--"

Lyta grinned and put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. "Whoa, now. One at a time, okay? Yes, it's really me, but keep calling me Audrey today. We're not supposed to be in town. Or in the country."

Miranda shrugged. "Okay. Just don't think you can fool me like you fooled everyone else."

Lyta nodded. In truth, she wasn't certain Miranda had been the only one to pierce her disguise. She had wandered into the Oxford Institute for Physical Advancement an hour and a half earlier, still keyed up from the adrenaline of fighting in Winters' apartment, needing to move and finding few alternatives in the closely-watched streets of the Alliance. She was not entirely certain she had fooled the other kuritra trainers -- hiding her face was easy, but hiding her voice and her movements was something else entirely. Still, they called her by her new alias and didn't ask too many questions, so she hoped they would keep their discretion.

"Tell me about you," Lyta segued. "What happened after the job in Thebes? I didn't see you at the precinct..."

Miranda shrugged again. "The juvenile deviance correction centre is separate from the adult one. I met with half a dozen counsellors and they ultimately decided I'd been traumatized by the death of my guardian and mentor and come under the influence of foreign deviants at a crucial point in my recovery." The entire explanation sounded like she was quoting something. "They said I needed to have reeducation to reintegrate properly."

Lyta regarded her closely. Miranda acted much as she ever had. "And... how did it go?"

"Oh," said the younger woman airily, "I didn't wind up doing it."

Lyta took a sip of her hot chocolate to cover up her confused expression. "So what really happened?"

20 Winter 1929, Cassillis

"So where were you really, Ti?" The bed was small for two people, but it was comfortable and, more importantly, private. And if they needed to nuzzle closer to avoid falling off, well, that was a sacrifice they were only too happy to make. Lyta placed her head against Ti's shoulder, her hand trailing along his chest.

He kissed her and stroked her hair, the movements almost meditative. He let out a long, controlled exhale. "I just spent two hours getting grilled by the rest of the team for something I couldn't defend, and then another three hours playing cat-and-mouse with Radsley and trying to hide that I was doing it. Can we just... not talk about the job for a little while?"

Lyta gave a small smile and draped a leg over his. "Okay," she said after a moment. "But only because I don't like seeing you mopey."

Ti matched her expression and kissed her again. "Besides, it's probably not the best idea to be talking shop in the guest bedroom of an ex-HIRA operative anyway."

15 Winter 1929

It had been HIRA, of course. More specifically, Nightingale. Miranda didn't know the name, but the description fit the woman Lyta had met in the tunnels beneath the Thebes precinct and the story matched what she knew about the intelligence agency. Miranda was smart, agile, adaptable, and eager. She'd make an excellent agent one day. Why throw her back into the sea of normalcy with hypoprogramming? Better to let her be, watch her, and swoop in when the time was right.

Lyta kept her misgivings to herself. If Miranda hadn't pieced it together yet, she would one day.

"So why are you here?" The voice cut into Lyta's musings and brought her back to the present. "Are you working?"

Lyta nodded.

Miranda watched her, exasperation blossoming over her features. "Doing what?" she prompted. "More smuggling?"

Lyta shook her head, running her fingers over the lines of the cup.

Miranda rolled her eyes. "C'mon, Rh-- Audrey! Give me something! Please?" Her voice had taking on a pleading tone.

Lyta paused, considering what she could and couldn't tell her one-time apprentice. She shrugged. "Trying to save the planet."

20 Winter 1929

"I mean, saving the planet is great and all, but does that really mean we can never see each other?" The thought had been pulling at her since he'd walked through the door, polluting what should have been precious, rare time together.

Ti frowned. "You knew what you were getting into when you said yes," he pointed out. "You know what life this is."

Lyta traced the seams on his shirt. "I know. But I just thought... How many nights have we actually had together in the last cycle? Nights where we weren't operational? Four? Five?"

Ti sighed and let his hand run through her hair. "That's the way it happens sometimes. Things are moving fast and we have to be even faster just to keep up. You know I'd rather be with you, but I can't let my personal feelings get in the way of what has to be done."

Lyta closed her eyes. "I just wish it could be like it used to be, before Nazarine. I wish we could work together again. I wish... I wish you could come with us."

15 Winter 1929

"I should come with you!" Far from dissuading Miranda, Lyta's half-answer had galvanized the younger woman to new heights of energy.

"Absolutely not," Lyta retorted.

Miranda stopped, free hand on her hip. "Why not? I helped last time!"

Lyta took her arm and forced her to keep walking, to keep her voice low. "You're too young," she said. "We took you in last time because you didn't have anywhere else to go, but now you do. You've got a new mentor and a new life and we are not pulling you away from that."

Miranda pursed her lips. "I’m not that young. How old were you when you started?”

Lyta cast her eyes downward. It had been almost a decade since the death of the Bathani, since she’d been thrown out of Koreshi society with nothing to cling to but her two brothers. Young, so young. “About your age,” she admitted. “But I didn’t have a choice in it. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, didn’t have anything else to do. I wish I could have had the life you have."

Miranda wasn't buying it. "Please, Audrey. I can help you! If the planet is really at stake--"

Lyta looked at her with hard eyes. "No. I don't care how many times you ask, the answer is still gonna be no. We got you arrested once, and I'm not letting that happen again."

20 Winter 1929

Lyta stared at nothing in particular, the feeling of Ti's fingers in her hair not as comforting as she would have liked. "The last time we were in Thebes, we were arrested. Hell, the last time we were in White Rock, we were arrested. Twice."

She could feel Ti's eyes on the top of her head. "So what would you have us do? Stop? Pull back?"

Lyta frowned and angled herself so she was looking up at her boyfriend. "No, you know that's not it. It's just that... the Alliance is dangerous. You know it, but maybe you don't know how much."

Ti gave a lopsided smile. "It can't be as dangerous as facing two dozen Zelanis agents in the close quarters of a subway access tunnel," he pointed out. "They don't even use live fire here most of the time."

Lyta looked down. He still wasn’t getting it. "When Gorash had us the last time, if we hadn't been broken out... I'm pretty sure they would have sent us to Tatant. Even if we're Badlanders. They wouldn't have extradited us, they would have reprogrammed us. I may not even have known you when I came out. Or known my brothers. If we get caught again..."

"We'll get you out," Ti said with assurance. "I won't let that happen to you."

"You can't make that promise!" Lyta's voice rose. "You can't know how it’ll go down!”

“We can never know how things will go down,” Ti said softly.

Lyta deflated, the fight suddenly gone from her, and she hugged him tightly. “I just don’t want to lose you again.”

15 Winter 1929

"Look, Miranda, this life isn't easy. You get hurt. The people you love get hurt. Sometimes they die. You've had enough of that for now without searching for more of it."

She could tell the younger woman was not mollified. She looked on the verge of reigniting her objections.

Lyta raised a hand. "You couldn't come now anyway, not unless you run away from your training. And if you do, they'll find you and bring you back. That means you'd be a liability, not an asset."

Miranda opened her mouth, but Lyta wasn't done. "I'll tell you what -- when you finish your apprenticeship, when you can travel without supervision and leave the country alone without raising flags... If you're still interested in this life, meet me in the Badlands and I'll tell you everything. You can join the team, or at least one like it, and do all the stuff we're doing now."

Miranda chewed her lower lip. "My apprenticeship is another two cycles. How do I know there's still gonna be stuff for me to do?"

Lyta smirked. "Believe me. There's always gonna be a need for more people like us."

20 Winter 1929

Lyta let her head drop against Ti's chest. "This does stop sooner or later, right? We're not gonna do this forever?"

Ti rested his hand against her shoulder, massaging it lightly. "'This' what?" he asked.

Lyta waved a hand in a vague gesture. "All this. The missions and ops and running into gunfire and never having anywhere to go back to, not seeing you..."

Ti shrugged. "There's a lot more that needs to be done."

"But sooner or later, that stuff can be done from a desk somewhere, right? Once we deal with..." She hesitated to say the Bear's name, not in Radsley's home. "...with our immediate enemies, all that 'uniting the Badlands' stuff you want to do doesn't need to have us in the field, right? Not all the time?"

Ti's hand on her shoulder was comforting, a solid presence against the tidal wave of her thoughts. "What did you have in mind?"

Lyta sighed. For all the time they had been operational, she had barely thought about what life would be like afterwards. "A house somewhere," she said at last. "Or an apartment. Someplace that's actually home. Someplace we can come back to at night and you can tell me about stupid bureaucrats and I can tell you about my day training the next generation of kuritra athletes." She looked up at him hopefully.

"I'll see what I can do," he said. "But for now, we've gotta keep our eyes on the target. We've gotta keep going on what we set out to do."

Lyta gave an exasperated sigh. "Of course we're gonna keep going. We have to."

15 Winter 1929

The two women were silent for a few moments, focused on their thoughts and their drinks. The idea that Nightingale was passively grooming Miranda for HIRA operations did not sit well with Lyta. She stopped them, turned to face her younger, would-be counterpart. “I want to tell you something, and it might not make sense now, but just listen, okay? You don’t have to do anything. Not just because someone tells you to.”

Miranda wrinkled her brow. “I know that.”

Lyta shook her head. “No, I don’t think you do. Not yet. No one’s tested you on it yet. But one day, you might find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between your instructions and your heart, and...”

Miranda rolled her eyes, looking more like a teenager than Lyta remembered the last time they’d met. “I’ll be fine.”

Lyta’s lips twitched. Somehow, she felt like she’d had this conversation before, and she had been on Miranda’s side. She hadn’t listened then, and she doubted Miranda was listening now. Still, it had to be said. “You won’t know that until you’re in it. And when you are, just remember that you’ll have to live with whatever you decide. You’ll need to carry it with you the rest of your life. You don’t get to skip out on the blame just because someone gave you an order.”

Miranda stared at her like she was an idiot.

Lyta sighed and started walking again, allowing herself to smile. “Sorry. I’m not usually a ‘giving worldly advice’ sorta person. You’ll be fine.” It would be cycles away anyway. They’d have more chances to talk. She could try again.

21 Winter 1929

They stood at the front door, Ti's hand on her waist and hers on his shoulder. She traced her fingers down his jawline. "Be safe, okay? I want to see you again on the other side."

Ti kissed her. "I will. You too. I'll try not to make it so long before the next time."

She could feel his pulse beneath her fingers, feel his breath against her cheek. She wanted to make the moment last forever. She pulled away.

"I love you," she said softly. "Don't die."

He kissed her forehead and straightened. "I love you too. I'll do my best."

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


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