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Status Quo - Chapter 6

Written by: Paullell

 Daray seemed almost more concerned about having bitten her tongue than anything going on in the dining room. She spit something onto the floor at her feet, whether it was a piece of the egg roll or her tongue was not at all obvious, then she looked up to where Lana had been a moment before, intending to make up the next bit of her ever-changing plan. It took her a few seconds to realize that her new companion was no longer standing where she expected her to be, then another moment to find her in the kitchen, making her way toward one of the cooks with her scarf in hand.

 

She was about to dash across the busy kitchen and grab Lana when she was stopped by the other woman addressing the chef in fluent, traditional Chinese.

 

‘Wow. She’s pretty smooth.’

 

-My psychology files indicate a 70% chance of being turned in to the authorities by these people Daray, we need to devise what you term as an exit strategy.-

 

‘Wait.’

 

-There isn’t time. My monitoring of sensors and radio traffic indicates that more soldiers are at the rear exit to this facility already.-

 

‘APRIL, wait.’ Daray tried to sooth the voice in her head.

 

For his part, the chef handled the appearance of Lana fairly well. If not dropping anything can be considered handling the situation well. Everything else stopped however, as all eyes in the kitchen turned toward Lana as she spoke. Also a credit to the man’s quickness, it wasn’t five seconds after Lana stopped speaking that he bellowed to the kitchen, “Back to work! What are you looking at?!”

 

He wiped his hands on a nearby towel, stepping away from his wok and indicating that the young man he had been instructing take over again, then took a step closer to Lana and looked her up and down with an appraising eye as he tossed the towel across his shoulder for safe keeping.

 

There was a long, pregnant silence from him, and all eyes in the kitchen seemed to be divided between their tasks and the pair as they stood there taking one another in. Daray seemed to be invisible to the rest of the room, which was just how she liked to be. She watched with interest, trying to divide her attention between the kitchen, the small window into the dining room where three soldiers were making their way, slowly but pointedly, toward the door she stood at, and picking at the tip of her tongue with her index and forefinger.

 

‘I think I bit the tip of my tongue off.’

 

-Your inability to grasp the severity of this situation concerns me Daray.-

 

‘Calm down, Lana’s got things well in hand.’

 

-I estimate less than 90 seconds before those armed men come through this door.-

 

‘Thanks for the head’s up. That was my tongue right? That I just spit on the floor?’

 

-Yes Daray, it was your tongue.- It may have been the first time Daray had ever heard a computer sound frustrated.

 

“Your presence here will bring good fortune.” The chef finally responded to Lana’s plea, bowing low to her, with eyes averted. “Please, follow me.” He indicated the walk-in refrigeration unit with a sweep of his arms, then stood up straight again and began heading in that direction.

 

He quickly leads them into the cooler, then to the back of the large, cold space where he performs a complex series of gestures with his index finger on an open section of wall between a rack stacked full of bags of rice, and what must have been 200 pounds of hanging pork and fowl. His movements are too quick, and a bit guarded, for the pair to follow, but when he is done (in mere seconds) he bows again, waving his arms toward the blank spot of wall. It takes a moment for the pair to realize that his hands are passing through what looks like a solid metal plane as if it wasn’t even there.

 

Following him through, they find a steep, narrow staircase that leads them to a comfortably sized suite of rooms that seem to occupy the space directly over the kitchen and refrigerator. The space is designed to look like the traditional chinese homes seen in old vids, with lots of lattice work, paper room dividers with beautiful and elaborate scenes painted on them, and a few bits of jade statuary sprinkled about. There is a comfortable sitting area at the top of the stairs, a bedroom and a bathroom off the main area, and a rather impressive looking computer system appears to have been integrated flawlessly into the decor on the far side of the main room.

 

It isn’t a large space, maybe 700 square feet total, but it is very comfortable looking, and inviting, with warm colors, and lots of fluffy pillows and rugs. The chef bows again, indicating that they should enter and use the space.

 

“Please, this is space I use to host some of my out of town contacts when they visit. Stay as long as you like. I will inform you when the soldiers have left.” He speaks with a tone that belies no love of the Conglomerate and as he stands up straight and begins to head back down the stairs, he eyes Daray, standing there with a take-out box of fried noodles and a pair of chopsticks in her hands, eyeing the space curiously. “I will send food up as well.” He finishes, then disappears down the stairs.

 

‘I told you she had it sorted.’

 

-It is clear that I have much to learn yet.-

 

‘Don’t sweat it APRIL. People are complex and unpredictable.’

 

-So I am beginning to understand. You for example, profess a desire to change careers, and yet you continue to steal from people.-

 

Daray looked at the box of noodles in her hand and the briefest pang of guilt washed over her, but it was gone in a heartbeat, and she began to eat the purloined food happily.

 

‘Hey. A girl’s got to keep herself going right?’

 

She sauntered into the room to get a closer look, smiling at Lana as she moved past her. “Nice job!”

 

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Lana maintained the bowed head while the chef made his decision; rewarding him with a brilliant grin when he decided to help them.  She waved to Daray when he started to lead them to the cooler.  She averts her eyes politely when he begins to press the paneling to open the door, not wanting to seem too interested.  She sees his hands pass through the wall and moves quickly to walk through the entrance, knowing that the soldiers cannot be far behind.  

 

When they reach the apartment at the top of the stairs she looks around with pure pleasure at the painted rice paper walls and the jade ornamentation.  She bows even more deeply to the man before he leaves and then settles herself on a cushion.  Looking to Daray she grins as she whispers “Wow.  I was expecting a cubicle or a tiny hidey hole, this is absolute luxury in comparison!”  She blushes slightly at the compliment.  “Thanks.  I had a client that taught me to speak his language.  He taught me a bit about his culture as well.  They may be trying to stamp out all forms of ethnic pride but his culture has always held on longer and harder to their customs… and they hate soldiers; too many years of warfare and oppression for that to go away.”

 

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Daray nods at Lana as she slurps up the box of noodles. “You know,” She spoke around the food as best she could without actually stopping her eating for more than a few seconds at a time. “These Conglomerate people just don’t understand what motivates the average person.”

 

She waves her chopsticks around the room at all of the culture there by way of explanation. “People don’t want to give this stuff up. And they really shouldn’t have to. It seems like we could all still get along, while still being individuals you know? I mean, it seems to work just fine in The Dregs.”

 

She finishes speaking and returns her full attention to her food, picking out every speck of food with the chop sticks and giving the impression that she might not stop at the food and may head straight into eating the box as well. 

 

-Daray. I’ve scanned port authority records and find no record of Lana’s friend having docked his vessel in the specified bay, nor any other bay.-

 

‘Thanks APRIL.’

 

Finally, she tosses the empty box and chop sticks into a waste receptacle before eating them. “APRIL says your friend with a ship isn’t here. We need to find someone who can smuggle us out of here. But first, I think I’m going to get a shower. I feel all slimy after being down in the tunnels for an hour.”

 

She begins stalking toward the bathroom, her skirt and top melting away as she moves. Her heavy boots whither back into her legs and by the time she gets to the door, she is wearing a simple, glossy black cat suit from the neck down. In moments the shower is steaming away and her voice can be heard humming quietly as she stands under the deluge.

 

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Nope. His day was definitely not getting any better at all. It had taken Bob’s men less than two minutes to get through the crowded dining room into the kitchen where the entire staff had proceeded to heckle them ruthlessly. They’d stopped short of pelting them with cut vegetables, but Bob suspected it might have more to do with the cost of doing so than any form of respect he might feel his men deserved.

 

It had taken another two minutes to get the head chef to stop screaming at him in full Chinese and, while he only understood about a third of what the man had said, he was pretty sure that none of it was what might be considered polite.

 

He briefly considered just shooting the man had having done with it, but then he’d have to file an 8817b (justification for killing an uncooperative civilian), and he just didn’t want to end his crappy day with a pile of paperwork. The worst part was that he was certain that his quarry was here somewhere, but there was absolutely no physical evidence that they had been able to detect, aside from the tunnel door being open in the basement, but could have technically been opened by anyone, or left open by the last maintenance crew to have gone in or out.

 

He sighed heavily as he he listened to the chef yell at him (in basic now) about his disruption of lunch hour traffic and how he was going to have to file an 8811a (request for revenue reimbursement due to Conglomerate Police Actions) in order to recoup the loss.

 

Finally he’d had enough and called his men off. He was already going to have to endure a schalacking from that wuss, Captain Flowers, for ignoring his summons earlier. He’d best just go get it over with so he could get back to some decent yelling and posturing around people who would be intimidated, unlike this greasy little cook person in front of him who was still going on and on.

 

With a wave of his hand, he turned around and strode toward the dining room, which seemed to quiet the chef, mostly, and as he pushed the doors open, stepped on something that made a squishing noise. A squishing noise that sounded exactly the way a cockroach being stepped on, doesn’t sound. It lacked that distinctive crunching sound that usually accompanied such an event.

 

He slowly lifted his boot and stared at the bit of pink meat stuck to the tread. For a long moment he didn’t realize what he was looking at, nor the fact that the chef had shut up. Then it came to him and he returned his boot to the floor, looking at the suddenly-quiet chef with a look of horror as he attempted to quiet the sudden turbulence in his stomach.

 

“Is that tongue?!” He bellowed. “You’re serving tongue here?! That’s revolting!” He pointed at one of his men. “Jack, cite them for a health code violation, and for serving disgusting slop!” He commanded, then whirled around, almost loosing his balance as his foot slid on the bit of flesh, recovered himself, and strode out of the kitchen.

 

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Lana looks at Daray with her shields down, curious to see her aura and use it to get a sense of the woman she has ended up traveling with.   

 

Once Daray is in the shower she turns back to the door, waiting for the chef to come back.  While she waits she reaches into her shirt and pulls out the platinum piece that she had remembered to grab from her closet. She turns the metal over in her hand as she tries to determine what the appropriate gift would be for the incredible kindness that the man has shown them.  He doesn’t appear for quite a while so she begins to undress for her turn in the shower.  She lays her cloths neatly to the side of the door and walks into the bathroom to talk to Daray; completely unconcerned with her state of undress, comfortable in her own skin after several years in her profession.  She waits until Daray pulls the curtain aside and holds the metal out to her along with a towel.

 

“Here, we will probably end up needing this.  We should consider giving the business something to compensate for the risk they are taking with us.  Either money or services, something of appropriate value.  Make certain you express that if he comes back while I’m showering.”

 

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Daray’s aura is a whirlwind kaleidoscope of colors, swirling about her in a maelstrom. The strongest emotions that Lana can see are a subtle confidence that seems equally balanced with utter confusion and chaos. There are equal amounts of masculine and feminine emotions and states swirling around her, seemingly in direct competition with one-another. There are signs of strength and intelligence, but there is an odd tint to the colors, as if they are somehow artificial, or induced.

 

Her entire aura is awash with conundrums, but the one underlying constant seems to be an overwhelming swell of loneliness and emotional confusion.

 

When Daray whips the shower curtain aside and comes face to face with Lana’s naked body, she staggers back into the shower stall, stammering and sputtering. She looks back and forth over her shoulders as if searching for something, and holds the curtain up between them, although it is unclear if she is trying to cover Lana’s naked form, or her own cat-suited form. 

 

“I… um… That’s… Yeah… I…” Her aura is suddenly all confusion and embarrassment, with spirals of lust and tiny tendrils of what looks like loathing winding around her.

 

She staggers back against the shower wall, averting her eyes from Lana’s body and finally places the back of her hand across her eyes, reaches out to take the platinum from Lana, and presses her back against the side wall of the shower and tries to squeeze past the other woman as she slinks out of the stall.

 

“Yeah. Um, I’ll uh… just go in here… and wait…” She jerks her head in the direction of the living room without letting her eyes stray from behind her hand. “I’m sure he’ll be up..BACK! I’m sure he’ll be back, any tit...TIME. Any time. He’ll probably be back any time. And I should, you know. One of us… Like you said…”

 

She then dashes out of the bathroom without looking back. She moves fast enough that there is a small gust of wind in her wake that ruffles the towels and shower curtain, followed by a loud groan as the frame of the futon takes her weight and, if she listens very closely, the sound of a quiet, obviously muffled sobbing.

 

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Lana wonders what could have happened in Daray’s past to have caused such chaos.  The confusion is doubled as she realizes Daray is bathing in her clothing.  Then the reaction to her sends Lana into a state of bafflement.  The lust is a familiar but surprising emotion; she had not gotten any sexual vibes from Daray previously.  The loathing is equally surprising.  She can only assume that either Daray does not approve of the fact that she felt desire for another woman… Or she disapproved of Lana’s occupation.  She briefly considered going back out an apologizing but when the faint sound of sobbing reaches her ears she decides to give her some time alone.  

 

While she quickly showers Lana takes a moment to consider what she should do. She has no qualms about who she has sex with, always having seen limiting herself to one gender limiting potential money she could make.   She obviously won’t be doing that for a living for a while therefore any intimacy she may find will be on a voluntary basis for some time; an intriguing concept for someone like her.  She considers Daray and has to admit she is an attractive woman.  She would quite enjoy any attention that the other woman may be interested in… 

 

Lana finishes washing her tail and leaves the rest of those thoughts for later.  The most important thing right now will be to make certain she hasn’t offended Daray; because without her she doesn’t stand a chance.  Lana Dries her hair and fur quickly and then wraps the towel around herself, careful to cover everything vital before walking back into the main room.  She searches for Daray before launching into an apology.  “I’m so sorry if I offended you Daray.  It never occurred to me that you might be shy…. I hope you can forgive me I promise to try to be more..."  She searches vainly for the right word "… proper.”

 

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By the time Lana finishes cleaning up and reappears in the living room, Daray sitting on the floor at the coffee table, picking idly at a couple medium-sized trays of food with a pair of chopsticks. Her hair is a disheveled mess, having not been tended to after her shower, and she wears a face of absolute depression as she pushes a dumpling around on a plate with her chop sticks, her eyes glossy.

 

When she sees Lana, she sits up straighter, and wipes her eyes with the back of her free hand, although it’s more than obvious that she’s been crying. Her outfit is still the simple black cat suit from the shower, although there seems to be a pair of boots and some other ornamentation in the form of a belt and some strips of dark grey around her thighs, ankles, and biceps, along with more strips on her torso that make it look like she is wearing some kind of combat webbing or tactical gear, although no equipment hangs from it anywhere.

 

“It’s OK Lana.” She’s quick to respond, forcing a smile that she doesn’t really feel as she looks at the woman and the familiar, albeit somewhat lessened feelings roll back through her. Two years ago she would have been excited to be in the presence of such a woman. She would have done everything she could have to court her. 

 

Of course, two years ago she was a man. She couldn’t figure out how to reconcile her feelings on the matter of other men and women. She was still a man in her mind, although she felt more and more female every day. More accepting of her body, more accepting of her circumstances, and more accepting of herself. But, she still thought like a man, which, in her case, meant that she found women very appealing. At the same time, her hormones, this new body that she had been given, seemed drawn to men, and despite her sincerest efforts to curb those physical impulses, she couldn’t help the daydreams that would sometimes play themselves out in her mind as she was idle.

 

The sight of Lana in the bathroom had just set her off in so many ways that she couldn’t even begin to process the situation, flight seemed the only logical recourse.

 

“You didn’t do anything wrong. You just… caught me off guard is all.” Honesty seemed the best policy under the circumstances, they might be spending a lot of time together in the near future. “Ito-Sama stopped by again with some food. I gave him the platinum. He seemed very grateful, but refused to take it from us. He kept saying something about a fox spirit of some kind and the good fortune it brought. APRIL says the word is Kitsune, but her cultural database is pretty shallow on the subject beyond that.”

 

She picked up a small plate and a pair of chop sticks and offered them to Lana, hoping it would be an acceptable start to repaving the road between them after her break-down. “Come on, you must be hungry after all the running around. Get some food before it gets cold…. or I eat it all….”


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