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Status Quo - Chapter 5

Written by: Paullell

 Lana is surprised but unresisting when Daray grabs her and shoves her though the door. She trips and ends up falling, using her dancing reflexes to curl into a ball and roll with the motion and then scrambles back to her feet, looking to Daray in confusion for an explanation of what just happened.  “What?....”

 

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Seeing Lana safely through the door, Daray scrambles out behind her as the little robotic spider drops out of the shaft into the tiny room. Apparently it felt it was close enough to its programmed target because it almost immediately exploded.

 

It was everything Daray could do to get the door closed again before the explosion. She certainly didn’t have time to lock it, so she instead braced her shoulder against the metal barrier, locking her legs and wedging herself between the floor and the door as tightly as she could.

 

The explosion knocked the door open anyway, catapulting her across the empty space of the pipe-lined corridor, straight toward Lana.

 

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Bob smiled a cruel smile that could only have been born of the accomplishing of a dastardly, evil deed. The thump dull of the concussion grenade shook the walls of the apartment building, dislodging things from shelves and walls all over the building (Lana’s apartment was too smashed already for anything more to be damaged), and a plume of dust and smoke spewed out of the escape tunnel as he looked on in pleasure.

 

After the dust settled a bit, he cued up his comm again. “Alright boys, lets find the lower level access and locate what’s left of our little beauties.”

 

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The ‘what’ changes into an “oooffff!”  as the blast goes off and Daray is thrown bodily against her.  Lana attempts to catch the slightly smaller woman and ends up with her back slamming against the wall behind her being the only thing that stops their movement and keeps her from falling again. She looks past her to the door blown partially off of its hinges and the wrecked room behind it and finds herself immensely grateful for Daray’s quick reflexes.  

 

Her initial worry turns to excitement as the blood pounds in her veins with adrenaline.  “That was amazing!  What next?”  Her voice is light with enthusiasm as her body and mind compensate to keep her going in this time of crisis.

 

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Daray groans as her lungs start to take in air again. She staggers to her feet, turning to look at Lana, not sure if the tone she heard in the other woman’s voice could possibly be accurate. 

 

“Amazing, says she.” She chuckles as she dusts some debris from her body and looks around. “Next, we find a way off this station. Which may be tough, since we can’t use any sort of registered transportation, or they’ll instantly find us, since they have your name by now, and I’m not officially here, so it will look a little odd if I am suddenly leaving. I don't suppose you know anyone with a boat we could charter under the table?

 

‘Anything APRIL?’

 

-Not yet. The Electro Magnetic fields from the data and voltage lines in these tunnels are likely interfering with any wireless signals.-

 

‘OK, keep at it. The instant you get a signal, please try and find us a Runner we can use.’

 

-Of course Daray.-

 

She moves up the short hallway a few paces, peeking into the now dark hold-out room, debris is still settling to the floor amongst a wash of foul-smelling fluids from the burst pipes. She waves her hand in front of her nose, turning away from the mess and moving toward one of the two hallways that lead away from their location.

 

“I can explain how to use that gun on the way if you want. I must apologize, I’ve been in the game so long that I sometimes forget there are people out there who’ve never done stuff like this.”

 

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Lana follows suit and dusts her own clothes off with her hands.  After a moments though she answers Daray’s question.  “One of my longtime clients is a pilot.  He’s been away a while but he should be due here soon if he isn’t back already.  He usually docks in hanger 23A6K.”

 

Lana follows Daray closely in the hallways leading way from the near disaster.  She is thankful that the grey boots she grabbed have a thicker heal, allowing for more ease of movement than the yellow ones would have.  She grins at the offer of lessons.  “I would appreciate that.  There has never been a need for me to arm myself before but I don’t want to be a hindrance.  How long have you been doing this sort of thing?”

 

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“OK, let’s head that direction and see what we can find.” 

 

‘Can you check that out when you get signal back please APRIL?’

 

-Of course Daray.-

 

As they move through the darkened tunnels beneath the streets and buildings, Daray shows Lana the basics of how to work the little gun’s safety, how to eject and replace the tiny magazine, and shares some basic insights on how to aim and fire the weapon. She also offers some advice on how to move while carrying the thing into potentially dangerous situations, demonstrating how to ‘cut’ corners, keep under cover, scan a room, and tells a few horror stories about what sorts of things happen when you lead with your gun, when entering unknown spaces.

 

As they move through the service tunnels that provide water, power, data, and a myriad other services to the streets above them, Daray opens up slightly to her new companion, but it is obvious that she is either unable, or unwilling to share a great deal about her past.

 

“I’ve been doing this for years. Ever since my parents were killed in a shuttle ‘accident’.” She traced quotes through the air with her fingers after handing the gun back to Lana. “Of course, it wasn’t always quite this…” she seemed to be searching for the right words, finally, she seemed to settle on, “fantastic.”

 

“A couple years ago I came across something on a job that could have meant millions of deaths. It was a virus that Aegis Online was writing to attack the Kalijor servers. They had it in their heads to fry people’s neurons, apparently hoping that the disaster would catapult their own MMO to the top of the heap, and bury Solidarity Online in one fell swoop.”

 

She paused her story long enough to twist another hand crank on another heavy door. The entire web of tunnels, with all of its pipes, steam, and stench, seemed to be built like some bizarre combination of a labyrinth and a fortress. Almost as if it was intentionally confusing and overly complicated.

 

“Anyway, I went straight to SO with the information. I have no love of either company, but I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I’d just let millions of people be turned into vegetables.” She shrugged as she gave the rusty old door a swift kick, knocking loose what looked like 100 years worth of rust and corrosion.

 

“I worked a deal with SO for some ‘witness protection’, in exchange for going back into Aegis Online’s facilities and swiping the source code for the virus. That’s when they rebuilt me, and when my life started to get really hectic.”

 

She stopped in front of another heavy door, this one looked much better cared for than the rest, indicating that they were possibly in a more frequented area of the tunnels. “We’re going to have to get back up on the surface, which may mean we have to start running if we get made. Are you ready?”

 

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Lana spends the first half of the instructions/demonstration getting more and more nervous about the weapon in her hands, the danger of it really sinking in.  Then the latter half she starts feeling more comfortable and thinking she might actually be able to manage this, if her brain doesn’t explode form too much information at once.  

 

When Daray starts taking about what brought her into her current line of work Lana listens entranced until she finishes.  She notices that she doesn’t talk about her early life but doesn’t really consider that odd, especially since all of this chatting is going on while they are running for their lives, or at least freedom.  “I can’t imagine anyone being so greedy that they would be willing to sacrifice so many lives just for money.  Its depressing to realize that the only difference between the greed of the poor and the greed of the influential is the number of lives that can be effected by them.”

 

She stops behind Daray when she comes to the last door. She quickly runs her fingers through her tail fur to knock off as much of the dust and debris as she can before dusting her clothes off one more time.  She licks two of her fingers and steps forward to wipe a smudge from Daray’s temple as she explains.  “No reason to look any more out of place then we have to.” 

 

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Daray nods at Lana’s statement, her face seemingly indicative of a much deeper understanding of how lives could be affected than she was willing to let on.

 

When Lana reaches for her face, Daray flinches back a bit, but seems to realize what is going on after a second and allows the contact. Looking down at herself, she brushes some of the debris from her own body, then closes her eyes for a moment.

 

‘APRIL, could you do something a little more inconspicuous for me please?’

 

-Of course Daray.-

 

In the darkness of the tunnel it is difficult to see at first, but as the changes begin to become larger and more pronounced it is quite obvious, and a little disturbing to see her black catsuit begin to flow around her body, large chunks that look like globs of tar flow toward her upper chest and arms, as well as her waist and upper thighs. With a frightening speed, the globs begin stretching across open air and merging together in places, forming a stylish top, with cap sleeves and a knee-length, pleated skirt. As soon as the garments formed, the black color changed to lighter purples and dark blues, and flowed out of the material still covering her legs and arms entirely, leaving her heavy, knee-high boots black, but a few silver buckles did appear as part of the metamorphosis, leaving her limbs looking bare, although a bit shinier than normal.

 

When her garment stopped flowing around, Daray opened her eyes and looked down at herself, then sighed heavily.

 

“Always with the skirts APRIL!”

 

Then she looks up at Lana and offers her a pitiful look. “I guess I’m ready too. This door used to lead into the basement of a Chinese restaurant. I don’t know if it’s still there or not, but I thought you should know we might be walking into a strange situation. From there it’s a short walk to the nearest public lift that can get us down to the docks. As soon as we get outside, APRIL should be able to reconnect to the net and get us some more intel, but I’d hazard a guess that we are both being looked for, so quick and quiet is going to be the order of the day.”

 

She dropped her eyes to where Lana had stashed the pistol and quirked her head to the side. “If they start shooting, run in a zig-zag pattern and try to get around a corner or something. They usually don’t just shoot into crowds, but that depends on their mood, so don’t count on the cover of other people. And if you have to shoot back, squeeze the trigger, don’t yank at it. Aim for soft spots, joints, flexible areas, that rod won’t do much against body armor.”

 

She then turned and cranked the door open, letting in the potent smell of oriental cuisine and the sound of a busy kitchen, not far away.

 

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Lana stands with her mouth agape as she watches Daray’s cat suit morph and twist, forming itself into normal looking clothing.  She had heard of materials that could change their color, but a material that could morph its shape and texture was generally for the elite of society.  She resisted reaching out and touching the new clothing; she had noticed the initial reaction to attempting to touch Daray and didn’t want to cause her any problems if she had a touching phobia or other issues.  

 

“Um… who’s APRIL?”  She asked.  Then she got an idea.  “Oh wait, no.  Don’t tell me.  you have a hacker teammate that is monitoring you.  That’s how you were able to tap into the soldier communications earlier…. Am I right?”  She tucks the gun into her waist band again and follows Daray into the restaurants supply area.    

 

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Daray sees the aborted attempt at touching and offers a shoulder for Lana to inspect and touch the slick, rubbery material before they step through the door into the basement of the restaurant. “It’s been described to me as a Bio-Mechanical, mimetic poly-alloy.”

 

She nods her head and ticks the words off on her fingers as they move through the stacks of foodstuff in the dark basement, as if to make sure she’s said it right.

 

-That is correct.-

 

‘Thanks.’

 

“I’m not entirely sure what it is, aside from some kind of nano-technology combined with bio-engineering, but I do know that you don’t want to leave one on too long.” Her tone was more than a little sour.

 

As they reached the base of the stairs and began making their way up into the kitchen, the sounds of pots and pans, and the general cacophony of kitchen noises grew louder and louder. There was a great deal of chatter, mostly in a pure form of Chinese that common basic (the combined English/Chinese language that had become the standard language of the human race over the last 700 years), didn’t allow any but the most basic comprehension of.

 

“As for APRIL. Kind of. She is my teammate, and she is a very good hacker. She does monitor me, but probably not from as far away as you might think.”

 

She paused at the top of the stairs to peek around the kitchen, then turned back to Lana and said, “Just make sure that you trust your surgeon if you ever agree to a general anesthetic for major reconstruction. And watch the fine print on your contract as well, because it doesn’t only say what they can remove, or change. It also details what they can shoehorn in while you are under.”

 

She pointed to her forehead briefly before turning and walking into the kitchen as if she owned the place, headed straight for the dining room and snatching an eggroll off a tray of plates as she moved by it.

 

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Lana rubs her finger across the material in awe, listening with rapt attention as Daray explains about the suit.  She follows her swiftly out the door and into the busier kitchen although she does not attempt to filch any of the food, knowing that she would be caught in an instant if she attempted it.  She puzzled over Daray’s caution of surgeons and sin print and chuckled at the thought that she would ever need or want the opportunity to undergo major reconstruction surgery.  She tried to mimic Daray’s confident steps and found for the most part moving with such purpose did make those around ignore them.  She almost stumbled into Daray when she paused at the door to survey the dining room ahead but she managed to stop just in time.

 

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Daray stopped short upon reaching the door to the dining room where a confluence of events came together that changed her plan entirely. She caught sight of the barest glimpse of Conglomerate armor moving through the dining room just as APRIL announced that she was back on the net and that street sensors indicated there was a group of soldiers in position outside the restaurant, and she bit her tongue while chewing on the purloined egg-roll.

 

“Shit!” She offered as she peeked through the windowed door into the dining room where she saw two soldiers moving amongst the nervous patrons, inspecting them all one at a time, presumably in search of Daray and Lana. The soldiers looked agitated and were fingering the triggers of their weapons as they moved in and out of the crowd with an air of pompous authority.

 

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Bob’s day was getting to be less and less the energetic romp it had originally promised to be. His men had quickly located the blasted hideaway that the women had escaped into, and apparently from, with relative ease. They had then hastily plotted out al of the possible exit points from the tunnels in question. They’d started looking close to the apartment, but he quickly came to the conclusion (never mind the fact that private Laredo had mentioned it first, he wouldn’t be with the unit long with that sort of attitude anyway), that they should look more toward the major lifts off the level.

 

He’d led his troops across the crappy little ghetto town toward the closest tunnel entrance to the lifts that their schematics spoke of. It turned out that the entrance was in the basement of some greasy ‘oriental’ eatery. What the hell was ‘oriental’ anyway?! It’d been over 500 years since the Earth had been destroyed. Wasn’t that long enough to erase such shitty little labels from these peasants minds?

 

At any rate, his day wasn’t getting any better. While en route to this shit-hole, he’d been called by his ‘superior’ officer, Commander Flowers (Flowers? Seriously?! How the hell could someone with a name like Flowers even think about taking a career in the Conglomerate armed forces seriously?! And that wasn’t even mentioning the fact that the man was a complete idiot…), who’d informed him that his unit was now 2 hours overdue in returning to base.

 

As if being given the slip by these two little bitches wasn’t bad enough, now he had this peon of a commanding officer to deal with too!

 

He signed heavily as he shouldered a greasy, fat man aside, snatching a dumpling off his plate and wolfing it down in one single gulp, then turning to face the back of the dining room where, he could have sworn he caught just a glimpse of strawberry blond hair.

 

“What the hell?! Men! Form up on that door! You three,” he keyed up his comm and shouted at the rest of his unit who were waiting out in the street, “Get around to the service door and make sure nobody leaves!”

 

He moved the selector switch on his rifle over to activate the stun unit mounted beneath the barrel. He wouldn’t ant to harm his lovelies, not before he got to have his fun with them first. Maybe his day was looking up after all… 

 

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Lana peaked around Daray just enough to catch sight of the soldier’s uniforms as well.  She quickly ducked back behind the wall and looked at the other people in the kitchen.  Let down the walls she kept up in her mind, opening herself up to the bombardment of the auras and emotions around her.  She had to blink a few times to adjust her eyes to the rainbow effects of the see aura ability she had.  For her it covered people in a haze of swirling colors because most of the time people feel multiple emotions at a time.  She looked for strong aura’s the more powerful the personality the larger the aura would be.  

 

Lana’s eyes were immediately drawn to one of the head chef’s he was standing over a stove tending to a wok as he gave instructions to the subordinate that he had nudged aside to correct. The main color of his aura is a blue violet which means he is in a very good mood.  Through out his aura there are flecks of white which has always indicated to Lana a pure heart.  

 

She takes the scarf out of her hair and fluffs the tufts of hair on their tips.  She walks smoothly between the servers and other staff in the kitchen and makes her way over to the man she had targeted.  One of her clients had been eastern and he had always told her that she reminded him of a Kitsune.  He had told her that they were viewed as wise messengers of the gods or guardians of people.  He told her that he always felt luckier after having been with her.  Once she reached him she began speaking in fluent Chinese, the language that almost all eastern or oriental groups had adopted rather than switch to English or Spanish as the main language of society.

 

She flicked her fox tail, making certain he could see it as she addressed him pleadingly.  “Please, honorable sir.  My friend and I need help.  We are without protection and a soldier is determined to take services without paying.  This brings disgrace upon all trades for it is a simple step from taking services to taking food or art.”  She bowed her head respectfully, knowing that if there was one thing that the remaining oriental culture hated was dishonor and theft.  They were proud businessmen from cooks to CEO’s.  She waited while the man considered her request, Hoping that her experience held true that they probably wouldn’t trust or like soldiers any more than Daray would and that like her client they might have a hidden store room or compartment to avoid soldiers in times of need.

 

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