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Status Quo - Chapter 4

Written by: Paullell

 Lana takes only seconds to consider the options before making a decision.  She jerks her head at Pix.  “Go on honey, they’re not after you this time.”  Pix nods and scoots back into the air ducts in a flash.  Lana hurries over and fixes the grate back in place before nodding at Daray.  “Lead the way out.  I’ve more pride than to let myself be used and not paid for services rendered unless it will save a life.  Do I have time to grab something less flashy to wear?”  She takes a hesitant step towards the bedroom, concerned that her bright yellow shirt and boots will make them easy targets to follow.

 

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Daray does what she can to help with Pix and the air vent. “Listen Pix, they’re next door here, so you should probably stay in the duct until they clear out. Watch your back. It doesn’t sound like this group is up to any good, and they certainly aren’t acting on orders any longer.” She then moves back to the window to peek out at the street. ‘How’re we doing APRIL?’

 

-They are still next door Daray. My sensor information does not include the interior of the apartment.-

 

Turning back toward Lana, she presses her lips into a hard line. “You’ve got 90 seconds to change and grab anything you can’t live without for a while. I’ve got clothes at my place if you need’em, so pack light.”

 

She then moves into the kitchen and opens the freezer. Moving aside the meager offering of frozen food products, she reaches up behind the ice maker and fiddles with something for a second. A muted click can be heard from somewhere behind the refrigerator unit, at which point, she closes the freezer and stands back as the whole appliance sinks into the floor, revealing a tiny hole in the wall behind it.

 

The hidden shaft is dark, and not much larger than the duct that Pix had just disappeared into. Daray shifts her vision into night vision mode as she sticks her head in the hole to inspect it while she waits for Lana to get ready.

 

‘APRIL, can you help us out with a diversion of some kind? A traffic accident maybe?’

 

-Attempting to enter traffic control sub-systems, they are using a new security algorithm. I am not certain how much of a distraction this might be, but there is an intersection on the corner.-

 

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Lana rushes to her bedroom and exchanges the yellow shirt and boots out for greys.  The boots are a soft mock sued material.  The grey shirt wraps around her and ties at the waist with a matching sash. The wrap design of it does show off a large amount of cleavage but that can’t be helped. The shirt’s material is shot through with silver threads giving it a subtle sheen whenever light catches it but it does still qualify as less eye catching than the bright yellow one.  She grabs a black scarf which she warps around her hair and a picture of her mother that she tucks inside her shirt. The only thing that she cant hide is her bright blue and white tail which is far too thick to fit anywhere inside a pair of pants.

 

She makes it back to the kitchen with five seconds to spare.  When Daray moves Lana gapes at the hole in her wall, shocked that such a thing could go unnoticed for so long..  At an encouraging nod from Daray She quickly gets down on her belly and crawls inside first, assuming that Daray will need to be behind her to close it up.  Her nose wrinkles at the musty air in the tight space but at least this one is big enough to accommodate her shoulders.  She wriggles and fidgets her way deeper, trying to be fast and quiet at the same time.  She keeps going until she reaches a turn in the shaft, then she waits for Daray to catch up, wanting instructions on if she should continue or wait for some kind of distraction to occur.

 

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Daray nods her approval of Lana’s timing as she approaches, then moves aside so the other woman can enter ahead of her. As soon as there is space, she slips into the escape tunnel as well, finding her smaller frame fits the space much more easily than before her reconstruction. 

 

‘Small consolation.’

 

-What?-

 

‘Nothing APRIL. How’s that distraction coming?’ She kicks a foot into a shallow depression on the side of the hole, which causes the refrigerator to rise back up out of the floor, shrouding the women in utter darkness. ‘At least the night vision is a nice upgrade…’

 

-I had just changed the traffic signals in the nearby intersection to all green lights when we entered this structure, which seems to be blocking any signals. I can not be certain of any results, or the locations of our pursuers at this time.-

 

“Nice.” She hissed as she looked up at the waiting form of Lana in the tube ahead of her. “OK Lana. I don’t know if you can see in this darkness, but you want to follow the shaft. There aren’t any branches or anything, but in a few feet it is going to turn sharply down, almost vertical. Mind your head if you loose your grip, it’s about a ten foot drop. I had some cushions there, but its been years since I’ve been down there, so anything could have happened in the meantime.”

 

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Bob sighed heavily as he watched the vehicles collide with one another in the intersection. His hand had been raised, poised to bring down a series of thunderous blows upon the door of the blue-haired woman’s home when all hell had broken loose in the near by intersection. Some malfunction had occurred with the traffic signals and several surface-effect vehicles had proceeded to fuse themselves together in the middle of the street.

 

Briefly, he considered just letting the peons wallow in their own stupidity, after all, it served them right for not being able to see that there was some sort of malfunction. And he’d really been getting himself worked into a frenzy thinking about what he was going to do to that fine piece of ass. Finally he opened up his comm and spoke to his squad.

 

“Unit two, go take care of those jackasses in the intersection. Shoot’em if you have to, I don’t care, I’m gonna be in here gett’n my dick wet.”

 

He then returned his attention to the door, banging his armor-clad fist against it with all his strength. It was best to make a good first impression, and the impression he was going for here, as anywhere else, was the one that made sure people knew he was in charge.

 

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Even through the door, and the trick refrigerator, the escaping women could hear the sound of several heavy, armor-on-metal thuds as the Conglomerate thugs announced their presence and intentions in one simple gesture.

 

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The darkness around her is oppressive; Lana doesn’t have night vision so it adds to her nervousness.  She sneezes as she gets a nose full of dust that she had disturbed with her hands.  After the sneeze she wipes her nose with the back of her hand and whispers back at Daray to confirm that she understood the instructions.  “Got it”  

 

She starts to crawl forward just as the banging reverberates through the tunnel.  She jumps and lets out a yip of surprise but quickly contains herself and lapses back into silence.  She navigates the turn with only one or two scraps, her hips giving her the most trouble in the narrow space.  “Thank god I’m not claustrophobic” She mutters under her breath.  She quickly reaches the nearly vertical drop.  Her arms won’t brace well against the sides so instead she does her best to use her ands and knees to press her back against the tunnel and keep her from falling too fast.  It works most of the way down with only one or two spots where she slides.  Then, in the last four feet, her knees lose their traction and she plummets to the bottom, landing on the promised musty cushions with only a moderate knock to the head.  She rolls out of the way to make room for Daray ins case she needs it.

 

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Daray winces at the sound of the banging. Knowing they will force the door if there isn’t an answer. If they are still making noise in the escape tunnel when the soldiers enter the apartment, it could give them away pretty easily.

 

‘Still no visibility?’

 

-I apologize Daray, I still have no connectivity to outside systems.-

 

‘Alright. Let me know the instant you get a signal.’

 

-Of course Daray.-

 

She watched Lana’s form disappear down the drop in the shaft, then peeked down after her in time to watch her less than graceful landing with a smirk.

 

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Bob’s first knock had gone unanswered for far too long. He’d been polite and waited at least ten seconds before he started shouting at the closed portal. “This is Sergeant Killgore of the Conglomerate army. By general order 18 you are hereby ordered to open your premises to us to be searched for a known fugitive!”

 

He waited another ten seconds, mostly because he didn’t want the woman in total hysterics before he had a chance to directly intimidate her. Finally he turned to one of his men and nodded his helmeted head. “Open it up Lieutenant.”

 

The other soldier nodded. “Yes sir!” Removing a small gun-like device from a pouch in his combat webbing he proceeded to dispense a thick, semi-transparent gel from its tip. He ran a bead of the gel around the perimeter of the door panel, then stuck the gun to the wall next to the door frame, making sure the bead of gel was still touching the barrel of the tool, and pressed a sequence of small buttons on its surface.

 

Within seconds, the gel began to smoke, then the metal door panel beneath it began to quickly erode away, and in under thirty seconds, the door panel dropped to the floor in the apartment with a loud, metallic bang.

 

Seconds later, the three armed men filled the tiny space, guns drawn and intimidating demeanors set to full.

 

“This is an authorized Conglomerate entry! Stand down immediately!” Bob shouted in his best angry voice.

 

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Daray could hear the shouting from behind them, although she couldn’t quite make out what was being said. She was fairly certain she had a good idea of the message’s content though, and proceeded to tip herself head first down the vertical shaft, the tiny claws in her fingers and toes popping out almost unbidden, some kind of newly ingrained instinct, she surmised.

 

She scrambled down the shaft as if it were the simplest action in the world, planting her hands on the ceiling of the barely-lit room below, and gracefully flipping herself over, twisting around mid-air and dropping lightly to the floor next to Lana.

 

The tiny room they found themselves in was lit by some kind of tiny chemical light that cast just enough light for them to see the exit door. THe corners of the room were filled with masses of pipes in various colors, some of them sweating water and other liquids, many of which were mixing together in acrid pools around where the pipes disappeared through the metal deck plates of the floor. There was a tiny cot against one of the longer walls, and a small metal trunk against another, on top of which rested the little chemical light. Between the cot and the trunk, and underneath a maze of multi-colored, overhead pipes was a small, metal door with a manual crank on it that looked to be the only mechanism by which it might be opened.

 

The room was claustrophobic, filthy, and smelled of a combination of hot water, turbine grease, and sewage.

 

Daray offered a helping hand to Lana as she surveyed the room, holding a finger to her lips to indicate that they should make as little noise as possible.

 

Once lana was on her feet again, she padded over to the trunk, moved the lamp to the floor, and keyed in a combination on a tumbler lock. The lid popped open with a click that sounded like a gunshot in the silence of the room. Wincing, she slowly opened the trunk to reveal a small pack, a set of baston (not much more than two alloy shafts about ¾ of an inch in diameter and 30 inches long), in a rugged holster designed to be slung across the back, and a tiny pistol that couldn’t have held more than four or five bullets.

 

She picked up the pack, cinching it to her back, then pointed to the other objects and turned a questioning eye toward Lana. She already had a set of baston with her, and certainly didn’t need the gun any longer.

 

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Lana watches curiously as Daray moves about the room and accesses the hidden stash of weapons.  She is stumped at first by what Daray is asking when she points at the weapons, then her baffled look gives way to dismay.  Lana has never even held a weapon, let alone wielded one.  Her ears droop a bit and she points reluctantly to the small gun, figuring it takes less skill to point and pull a trigger then it does to wield the martial weapons.  The pistol feels cold and clunky in her hands when Daray hands it over. She turns it over in her hands softly, handling it as one might hold a poisonous insect, with a good deal of respect and dread...  She then watches Daray again, waiting for her instructions on what to do next.

 

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Handing over the weapon, Daray grimaces a bit at the way Lana handles it, knowing immediately that they could be in trouble if she has to bring it to bear. She pantomimes the action of sticking the weapon in her belt, hoping Lana will figure out her meaning. She’d rather not have some sudden noise or scare make her companion fire the gun unintentionally.

 

She then moves to the door and gently wraps her hands around the manual door crank, applying a little pressure to the thing to see how much force it was going to take in order to get it open.

 

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Bob was not happy. The apartment was empty, and from the looks of things, hot pans in the kitchen, clothes tossed aside in the bedroom, handful of spent bullets on the counter, there was more going on here than a potentially good lay. Also, his men had been on the street outside the only windows that weren’t on the front wall o the crappy little hole in the wall, and they hadn’t seen anyone coming out, which meant there was some other means of egress.

 

He sighed angrily as his men tore the furniture away from the walls and overturned everything they could get their hands on. The woman’s belongings would certainly be all damaged, or stolen by that evening after they left, but that’s what the bitch got for running from the law, and potentially harboring fugitives if those bullets were any indication.

 

When the loud groaning sound of metal scraping against metal wafted up from somewhere behind the kitchen, he pounced on the opportunity to damage something, bringing the strength of his cybernetic left arm to bear in the destruction of the little bitch’s appliances.

 

It didn’t take long for him to find the escape shaft, although there was no way he, or any of his men, would be squeezing into that hole, he did know how to insure he could find the place once they made their way down there via some other path. He stripped a spider grenade from his belt, pressing the activate button and setting the selector switch to ‘Organic Life Form of Human Dimensions’ (he grunted his approval of the R&D geek’s thoughtfulness for such a setting), and lobbed the tiny, legged explosive device down the shaft into the darkness.

 

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Daray tried not to panic as the crank groaned loudly under her application of what she’d thought to have been gentle force. Apparently she didn’t know her own strength.

 

She stopped immediately once the noise started, but she didn’t see any way it couldn’t have been heard in the apartment above them, and the sound of destruction above them confirmed this or her.

 

“Shit!”

 

She quickly returned to the task of turning the crank, no longer caring about any noise it might make (which was significantly less now for some unknown reason), which prevented her from hearing the sound of the tiny, metal legs moving down the shaft above them.

 

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Lana grimaces at the sounds coming from her apartment, chances were good that anything of value would be destroyed by the time she came back.  She sighed heavily, her only true regret being her beautiful cloths that she had acquired over the years in her job, like the blue imitation harem outfit that was mostly gauzy scarves that match her hair and tail.  She mourned them briefly as Daray redoubled her efforts to open the hatch. It is only by pure luck that her position has her standing close enough to the shaft that she hears the noise of metal legs skittering down the vent.  “That’s an odd noise, what could be making it?”  She tries to look up the shaft that they had come from.  Her voice so soft that it barley carries for Daray to hear it.

 

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Daray finished cranking the handle, then gives the door a solid kick, creating a shower of rust and corroded metal as the portal pops open and grinds back on its hinges.

 

She turns at the sound of Lana’s voice, focusing her hearing as best she can over the sounds the door is making.

 

‘APRIL?’

 

-I am not detecting any signals, it is most likely a remote camera or explosive device.-

 

“Shit!” Daray repeats as she lunges toward Lana, intending to grab her and fling her through the door if she can get hold of the other woman.


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