2309: Natural Born Chaos

Posted: February 15, 2013 by Kelly in fortress, league, stories

2309: Natural Born Chaos

Wait for chaos, wait for welfare
At this point of no return
Bleed for money, bleed for justice
Going straight to hell with a wounded soul

~ Soilwork, “Natural Born Chaos”

It’s been an exhausting day, but closing time finds Saxa in the boxing ring anyway, taking out her frustrations on a punching bag. She’s put loud music over the speakers and the beat is making the floor under her bare feet tremble. She’s fast and furious, imagining that the punching bag is a representation of all of the administration and bullshit that comes with running her dojo. Not for the first time she wonders if she shouldn’t just hire somebody to take care of this stuff, because she hates administration with a fiery passion, but she’s not sure who she would trust to take care of her baby. And so she’s kind of trapped in doing something she hates to take care of something she loves. /Ah well, that’s a first world problem,/ she tells herself. /Remember how you used to be barely able to get food on the table? You’re living the dream, you whiney idiot!/

She takes a step back to wipe the sweat from her face and suddenly tenses when she realises that she isn’t alone. All of her survival instincts are immediately screaming at her that there is someone in her dojo. /Fuck. Haven’t I closed the door?/ That’s a stupid, stupid mistake, in the middle of the bad part of the Dregs. Her assault rifle is locked away in her office, all she has is her fists. She’s not sure that will be enough.

She whirls around and takes a fighting stance anyway, as she takes in the not so deserted dojo anymore. And then immediately drops her hands when she recognises who has joined her.

“Walter,” she says, blinking at him in a mixture of confusion and relief that it isn’t anybody worse. With a snap of her fingers she kills the sound system. Silence falls between them. “How did you get in here?”

“The door was open,” he says. He is leaning on the ropes of the ring, looking tired. He has a sportsbag on his back and is dressed in a sweater and jogging pants, as if he could climb in the ring to have a sparring round with her at any moment. “Still haven’t lost your form,” he says with a slight smile.

Memories flood over her mind. Bootcamp, his blood on her hands, the hospital, drinks in a bar, talks and forgiveness. And later, the footage from the World League…“God, Walter,” she chokes out, taking a step in his direction. “It’s been ages. I haven’t seen you since the-”

“Since the funeral, yeah,” he says. His blue eyes are naked with the pain of remembrance and she hates herself immediately for bringing it up. “And then I didn’t even talk to you that day. Sorry about that.”

Saxa shakes her head slowly. Her dreads feel heavy and wet in her sweaty neck. She wipes them away and comes to sit next to him, on the edge of the ring. “You get a pass on that one. Seriously though, how are you doing?”

Sitting so close to him, she can see the faint lines around his eyes, the paleness of his skin underneath what should be a healthy tan. The fatigue shows in every movement he makes, every line in his face. “I just got out of revalidation. I had my surgery.” He smiles at her, a rueful smile that doesn’t look like anything she’s grown to know from him in the past couple of years.

“You did? Show me.”

He sets his leg against the edge of the ring and pulls up the hem of his pants. There are some angry red scars around his knee, beyond the faded light pink ones from all those years ago – the ones she’d given him. But his kneecap looks whole and right; underneath his skin there are implants and cybernetic parts that take over the workings of his leg.

She looks up at him. “Can I?”

He nods, and she touches him on one of his angry scars. Underneath the skin under her fingertips it feels weird; not like a real leg should feel. Still, it feels like everything is in place, even though it feels subtly different. “And it works completely fine?” she asks.

“Utterly fine,” he says. “I had to learn how to walk all over again. My balance was completely fubared after years of favouring my other leg, and I needed to get used to the new muscles. But it doesn’t ache anymore in the mornings. Not even when it rains. It’s pretty goddamn amazing. I had forgotten what that feels like, to not be in any physical pain.”

“I’m so glad,” she whispers, tracing one of the old pink scars. “This is what she wanted for you, right? This is what she did it for.”

When their gazes lock, there is that thousand yard stare again in his blue eyes. “If only she would have been there to share it with me. It’s useless without her.”

“Don’t say that,” she says firmly.

He smirks at her, straightening his shoulders. “I can say whatever the fuck I want. I’m the one who has to live without her. Either way, I’m here because I wanted to ask you a favour.”

“Anything,” she says softly. “You know there is blood between us. I can’t refuse you anything.”

“And I feel like a real asshole to call upon it, but here it is.” He takes his sportsbag from his shoulder and reaches in its depths to show her a handheld. It bears his signature on a very familiar form with a very familiar Corporation logo.

Her heart skips a beat as she skims over the information. “The Southern League?” she asks incredulously. “You mean to join the League?”

He nods. “I’m already in. They let me in, even without the Fortress. Said some stuff about how I’d proven myself already. One last gift from Rune, I suppose. But yeah, I’ll be entering the League in seven months.”

“What would you have of me, then?”

And then he smiles; the first real smile she’s seen of him since he walked in here. It flashes her back to another smile she’s seen years ago, in a bar in the Dregs.

***

Ruhr-area, The Dregs, 2306

The overpowering beat of the music was droning in Saxa’s ears. It was supposed to be enticing, supposed to get the heart beating faster and the blood flowing; and from the look of the other club goers on the dance floor, the music seemed to be doing what it was composed for. Saxa’s friends were all partaking in the fun, dancing and doing shooters on the dance floor, laughing and having the grandest time. All Saxa had was a bloody headache.

She took her last swig from her drink – she didn’t even know what it was, something whiskey based that looked near greenish in the strange lighting in the club – and slammed her glass on the bar. She sucked her breath in between her teeth and had to grin when she felt the headrush. “Damn,” she breathed, closing her eyes against the sudden stinging tears.

“Strong stuff, eh,” somebody said close to her ear.

Saxa swiveled around on her bar stool, her hand clenched around the glass and already half-raised in attack, when she suddenly recognised Walter Lane sitting down on the stool next to her. “Wow, the drink must have hit me harder than I thought – Walter?”

“Hi Saxa.” He smiled apologetically. “Sorry for startling you,” he continued, gesturing at the hefted glass in her hand. “Can I buy you a drink to make it up to you?”

She sheepishly set the glass back upon the bar and checked to see if the bartender had seen their exchange. He seemed to be over at the other side of the bar, busy mixing drinks. Good, she did not want to make any trouble. “That would be nice,” she said. “Sorry, I’m a bit wired, I guess.”

“Big match coming up in three days, right?”

“Right,” Saxa nodded, watching how Walter ushered the bartender over and ordered a round of ‘whatever she was drinking’. “I’ve been living and breathing the Fortress in the past months. Everything is survival these days. It tends to wear on you.”

“I remember,” he said, barely audible over the din of the music. “I nearly strangled Matthew when he came to wake me on that last morning of bootcamp.” Then he smiled, a sudden grin that showed the dimples in his cheeks. “Speaking of which, I like how you skipped out on the boot camp this year.”

“Fuck bootcamp,” Saxa hissed as the bartender set down two glasses before them.

Walter raised his glass. “I’ll drink to that,” he said with a lopsided grin.

“Yeah, I guess you would,” Saxa offered. She took her glass and turned to him, looking him in the eye – /really/ looking – and said: “Walter, I’m so sorry for what happened. If I could take it back, I would. I would do it a thousand times over. I-”

He shook his head; that was all that was needed to cut her off. “Saxa, you pulled the trigger, not knowing your rifle was sabotaged. I do not blame you. I never blamed you.”

It seemed as if all the music around them had been turned down, tuned out. Saxa could only hear the beat of it, pulsing in her ears. Or perhaps it was her own heart beat? “I nearly /murdered/ you. I crippled you for /life/!”

“It wasn’t you,,” he said, and the expression on his face was so oddly gentle, so understanding. “Rune Murray wanted me to die, not you. At least, not at that moment.” He grinned suddenly, the same kind of wry grin they had shared after a day of hard training, when one or the other had been bested and they knew that what was a game for the viewers at home now, would turn to deadly reality in the Fortress. The kind of grin that said: /we are friends now, but there is a shadow of death hanging over us… and I’m not backing out./

“I would have gladly measured my skills against you in the Fortress, Walter. It should have been you in the Euroleague, not Milan.”

“Or you,” he retorted, sipping from his drink. He shrugged. “But hey, Le Blanc would have probably killed either of us anyway, just like he disposed of Milan. It doesn’t matter anymore either way. Le Blanc has transferred to the Northern League, and the Euro Fortress is yours.”

Saxa swallowed her drink and found that her throat was swollen and dry. “Why are you here, Walter?” she asked suddenly.

He smiled his dimple smile, brightly lit by the purple-and-pink lights that swept over his face. “To wish you luck for your upcoming games, of course. What else?”

She smiled back at him. “Thanks. I’m going to need it.”

“Not really. I’ve seen the stats from your competitors in boot camp. You can have them for dinner and not even break a sweat, Saxa. You’ll be fine there. It’s the Arena you’ve got to worry about. That’s going to be tougher, even without Le Blanc.”

She knew what he meant. She might have bailed on participating bootcamp, but she’d kept an eye on them nonetheless. “You’re referring to Merle Jourin from the Southwest Fortress, aren’t you?”

“Amongst others,” he nodded. “I got a bit of money riding on you though, so you better not lose.”

Saxa laughed and noticed that, strangely enough, she felt better. Her headache was gone, replaced by the familiar slight wooziness of impending intoxication. “Look at us, talking strategy. Like the old days. Only this time it won’t end up with you shot and me feeling like a total asshole for ruining your life.”

He remained quiet for a couple of moments. “Lannie told me to go talk to you,” Walter mused, toying with his half-empty glass. “She said, in what way of hers, that she would feel like crap if she were you. And that, if she might die in a couple of days, that something like my forgiveness would help. Does it?”

She took his hand and squeezed it. “Yes. It really does.”

“I thought you knew that I didn’t have any hard feelings,” he said, watching as she untangled her fingers from his.

“I hoped it. Despite that, It is unbelievably good to hear it from you.” Saxa finished her drink and set her glass back on the bar, where it was illuminated by bright neon green lights. She looked up to him. “There will always be blood between us, though. If there is ever anything I can do for you, just let me know, okay?”

“For now, just win the game. I would like to see you as Euroleague champion so at least one of Rune’s victims can cast off her shadow, eh?”

“I’ll drink to that,” Saxa said, and ordered another round.

***

“I want you to train me, Saxa,” Walter says, with his dark head as close to hers as it was in that club all those years ago. But now he’s leaning on ropes and the overhead lights are just white, not flickering in all of the colours of the rainbow. There are years between them and there is still blood, despite everything. And he’s come to collect.

Saxa blinks her green eyes slowly at him. “I am not a trainer like Matthew,” she blurts out reflexively, even though she’s done nothing else for the past two years in her dojo. That’s different, though – she’s been teaching martial arts, not how to survive a frigging League Game. “Wait, what, you really want me to train you for the Southern League? What would you possibly want there?”

He shrugs. “What does anyone want in the League? What did you want?”

“Glory and competition, you know that.” She leans back and crosses her arms. “But you were in it for the money, and you have it. Fuck, Lannie’s inheritance must have been running in the millions. You’re set for life. So what is it?”

He smiles that sad smile again and doesn’t say anything, just busies himself putting his handheld back in his sports bag.

Her breath catches in her throat. “You’re not committing suicide by League, are you?”

“Not quite. I just want to fuck some shit up. Will you help me get ready?”

She studies his face for a moment and doesn’t say anything, thinking of the smiling young man she met all those years ago. How he had laughed the first time she had nicked him in mock battle and his sensors had glowed red. She’d been the only one in boot camp who could even touch him.

“If it’s your dojo, I have money enough, I would pay you to close the place for a while and never have any issues-”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll train you. I promised to help you if you would ever ask for anything.” Saxa stands up from her sitting position and extends him her hand to pull him into the ring. “Let’s see what you’ve got, then. I need to know what I have to work with.”

——

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