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Status Quo - Chapter 8

Written by: Paullell

 Lana stares at the masculine objects on the floor in confusion.  At first she thinks the bag may have belonged to someone else but then little pieces of memory filter through her thoughts. –witness protection- -reconstruction- -read the fine print.-   She lets her mind relax and looks at Daray with her empathy tuned to her, the warring between masculine and feminine emotions more obvious this time.

 

Lana lets out a low whistle as understanding sets in. If the change had been voluntary there would not have been that conflict. “Wow.  That’s… unique.”  Beyond that she is at a loss for words.  She sees Daray stop suddenly and decides to try to offer comfort. She walks over to the other woman, whatever she was once before she is a woman now.  Lana reaches out and lays a hand on her shoulder.  “You’re tearing yourself apart emotionally, is there anything I can do to help?” Her words are soft and soothing.

 

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Daray begins to dodge out from under the touch, but forces herself to be still and allow Lana’s hand to stay on her shoulder. The warmth emanating from the other woman’s hand is at once very comforting and frightening to her.

 

Sh took a deep breath, still keeping her glassy eyes turned away from Lana as she spoke, “I… I don’t know. I’m sorry I’m such a wreck. I thought I’d gotten over all of this a while ago. I guess maybe this is why I try so hard to be alone. I don’t have to face the reality of my situation as often when I’m on my own.”

 

She pulls her arms up, wrapping them around herself again and shudders under the weight of the situation. “I shouldn’t be so embarrassed about it really. I agreed to most of it, been this way for almost a year now. But I still have trouble reconciling my thoughts and emotions.” 

 

She pauses, taking another deep breath and deflating a little more when she exhales, her shoulders rolling forward and head drooping lower. “I’m really sorry. As if you don’t have enough crap going on in your life at the moment, now you find out the person who dragged you into this mess is some kind of freaky, transgendered, emotional wreck…..”

 

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Lana smiles despite the fact that Daray wont be able to see it.  She sees Daray’s wounded and kicked puppy look and her heart reaches out to the other woman.  Lana may be incapable of defending herself or surviving this adventure without Daray’s help but it is becoming obvious to her that she can offer something back; maybe teach Daray a way to relax with herself. She brings her other hand up and rests it on Daray’s other shoulder and begins to rub them.  Lana’s fingers instantly convey her aptitude for massaging as she tries to offer Daray some relief from her stress. 

 

“Freaky; you’re talking to a woman who’s mother altered herself to look part animal.  Transgendered; you are what you are.  Emotional wreck;  Ok I’ll be honest, that part worries me.  We’ll have to see what we can do to help with that.” Her tone is calm and steady, offering support without forcing any opinion on her.

 

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Daray flinches as Lana’s other hand touches her other shoulder, but she quickly tames her response and finds herself melting into the skilled touch. It’s been nearly two years at this point, since she’d been touched in any way even close to this. The closest she’d come were a few kisses with Riana, Vincent, and that magical, scary evening when she and Aline had shared a much deeper kiss.

 

Alina. Alina had told her it was OK to be who she was. Of course, she hadn’t known the extent of Daray’s condition. Neither did Lana, but she already knew more than Alina. She was shook by a sudden realization that, aside from the people who had been involved in her reconstruction and training, there was no one who knew who, or what, she really was. Maybe that was the piece of the puzzle that was keeping her from any form of a life that she could be comfortable with?

 

It felt odd to her that someone could be so accepting of her situation. Lana seemed to be a true gem. Of course, she was right about her emotional state too. She seemed to be fine as long as she didn’t have time to think about it, or someone nearby to bring the feelings out. But this downtime was going to be lasting for a week once they got to a transport bound for Mars. 

 

She leaned back into Lana’s ministrations, her iron-hard shoulder muscles slowly beginning to unwind may have been the cause, or it could have been her line of thinking, she couldn’t be sure. Either way, her tongue seemed to loosen along with the muscles in her back and shoulders. She wasn’t even sure when she started speaking, let alone why.

 

“They rebuilt me into this partly to hide me from Aeon, because of what I uncovered, and partly so that I could be better equipped to go back in and get the rest of the virus code. They were supposed to change me back again after it was all said and done, but there was a mistake.”

 

He head lolled to the side, Lana’s touch working some kind of magic on her that she hadn’t felt in years, if ever before. “The skinsuit. They gave me the skinsuit to use during my infiltration, since it has the ability to mimic just about any shape and color of clothing. Unfortunately no one was privy to the fact that, if you wear one for too long without ever taking it off, it permanently bonds itself to your body. I probably would have been fine with that too, but one of the side-effects of the suit is that it sinks some kind of genetic marker into its host’s DNA that prevents it from being altered in any way. So now I am Daray, Darren is gone. And I feel unbelievably lost whenever I stop running…”

 

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Lana dedicates herself to one of her best massages.  Her thumbs and fingers working together to reach the deep tissue in Daray’s neck and shoulders and rub away the tension.  When Daray loosens up and begins to talk and Lana remains quiet, understanding from her years of experience with clients when someone just needs to unload their troubles to a sympathetic ear.  She adds a few ‘Oh My!’s and ‘Ah ha’s and ‘hmmm’s in as she listens; soft non committal noises of comprehension to let her know that she is paying attention.  When Daray finally pauses for breath she lets the silence hang for a minute while she considers her reply.

 

“In my line of work I have come across a ton of different types of people.  One or two of them have even been people that don’t feel right in their own skin.  Those that have undergone gene therapy for physical changes up to and including gender reassignment generally are set up with a support group; contacts that are people who have gone through the same feelings and emotions and will understand them.  Did they do anything like that for you or just throw you back into the world with no coping skills at all?”   She tries to ask the question gently but has a feeling that she may already know the answer.  And if that is the case, the company that did this to her left her deliberately vulnerable and probably for their own purposes.

 

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Daray chuckles quietly at Lana’s question. “A support group?” She pauses as she recalls the events that transpired in the weeks after she woke up from her reconstruction.

 

“Well, Riana grew up in a computer game of some kind, and is the biological child o two women, So she has issues enough that I wasn’t terribly shocked when she beat me half to beat after kissing her. Willhelmina did everything she could to get me comfortable in my new skin. She offered up fashion advice and some suggestions on how to act, and react. Vincent kissed me in a room full of people. Gayle yelled at me, and shot me in the face, and Xavier immediately started calling me ‘Miss Erricson’ the moment I woke up, only changing to ‘miss Bowen’ after APRIL informed him that I’d picked out a new name. He was very matter-of-fact about things, and is not an emotional man, at least not beyond shouting at people when he gets really upset.”

 

She paused as Lana’s fingers found a particularly tight cluster of muscles and worked a knot out of them expertly. “Vincent is a nice guy though, don’t get me wrong. I hitched a ride off the station with him and we had a good long talk about how different things were, and how to cope. I honestly thought I was beginning to accept things a little more but every time I get around attractive women I…”

 

She froze up again, the muscles in her shoulders knotting up almost instantly as she realized what she’d said. There it was again… her unreasonable fear and tension over… what exactly?!

 

She was about to try and back-pedal out of the situation when APRIL interrupted her thoughts on how to do so. -Daray, if we are going to get aboard ‘The End’ before it disembarks, we should be leaving momentarily. I doubt if the Captain will be amenable to tardiness when you are involved.-

 

‘Thanks APRIL.’

 

Finally, she looked over her shoulder at Lana and offered her a look somewhere between ‘I can’t thank you enough’ and ‘Oh god I think I might just die of embarrassment’ then said, “We have to go if we are going to get on this ship. It’s the only one leaving for Mars in the next 6 hours.”

 

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Lana pauses in confusion as the work she had just done to relax Daray is almost instantly undone.  It doesn’t take her long to figure out why and she has several reactions so close to each other that she barley has time to asses the emotion before the next one comes.  The first is a thrill of pleasure that rushes through her at being called attractive.  She doesn’t consider herself vain, but every woman likes to be complimented. The second is a wicked impulse to lean forward and kiss the shoulder that she had just been massaging just to see Daray’s reaction.  Next is a feeling of irritation at herself for such a thought when she knows Daray is far too stressed to deal with that kind of advance right now.  Lastly she has a feeling of sympathy for Daray, recognizing what a difficult situation it must be for her.

 

When Daray finally turns to look over her shoulder Lana has composed herself and gives her a friendly grin and a gentle squeeze on her shoulders before she lets go and backs away.  “Not a problem.”  She stressed over and grabs the shit out of the bag and buttons it as well as she can and then tosses the other supplies back into the bag.  She then slips her feet back into her boots and puts her dusty shirt into the bag as well.  Once she is as ready as she can be she walks to the door and waits for Daray to lead the way back down. As she follows down the steps she does reply.  “… and thanks for the compliment.” Her voice is as cheerful and non threatening as if she had asked Daray to pass the salt shaker.

 

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Daray watches Lana clean up her dropped things, trying to reconcile her feelings yet again. Here was this amazing woman, who seemed quite intelligent, and was obviously beautiful. She was caring and doing more than she ever had to in order to help her out. There was a physical desire, and an emotional need to be close to this woman, but something in her just kept telling her that it wasn’t right, and she couldn’t figure out where that was coming from. Was it that she was becoming a true, heterosexual woman? Some quirk of her new hormones playing with the male mind she still possessed? Or was it something else? Was it some kind of self-induced panic caused by her lack of comfort with her own body?

 

She stood there watching Lana move, and thinking, until she heard Lana’s thanks, which caused her to blush again. But she started moving then, snatching her baston off the futon and tossing Lana’s platinum bar on the table between the food trays as the pair of them headed down the stairs.

 

“You’re welcome. I just wish I could figure out what’s wrong with me.” As they moved, her skinsuit began shifting and flowing again, forming into a long skirt and long-sleeved blouse in muted colors by the time they reached the bottom of the stairs.

 

“Now I have to warn you about this guy we are going to see.” She began as they moved through the refrigerator toward the kitchen. “He’s a real shit. Slimy as hell, lecherous as any guy I’ve ever met before, and thinks he’s really smart.”

 

She nodded and waved to Ito-San as they moved toward the back door of the kitchen. Once in the alley behind the small building, she added, “Oh, and the last time I got a ride from him I ended up tying him to his chair with some metal bars. He had to be cut free, and is probably not too happy with me, which means he will be even shittier to you than he normally would…”

 

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Lana was happy to see Daray toss the platinum bar on the table despite it having been refused earlier.  She follows Daray down the stair and out of the cooler.  Seeing Ito-Sama still in the kitchen cleaning up from the dinner rush she bows formally to him before walking over and bestowing a gentle kiss upon his cheek.  Lana gives him a smile and whispers in formal Chinese.  “Thank you for your help noble sir. I wish for you all the good luck I can bestow.”  He looks astonished but they can see a smile on his face before they leave the restaurant.

 

Once they are out of hearing she grins and comments.  “Sometimes luck is just having the right frame of mind.  If I can help with that I like to try…”

 

She nods as she listens to Daray talk about the guy they are going to see.  She bites her lip nervously, not liking the way he is being described.  “Thanks for the warning.  Any safety tips that I need?”

 

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Daray offered Lana a smile as the pair made their way out into the streets and toward the main lift that would take them down into the deeper bowels of the huge, moon-sized station. Because the center of the giant, spherical station was used as a low-gravity shipyard for the construction of new ships, and the refitting of old ones, there needed to be access to the core from the space outside. That access came in the form of a wide, round, miles long tunnel that was lined all around with docking platforms of all sizes. These platforms were the berths used by the majority of vessels going to and from the station.

 

The lift they found themselves on was large enough for several large cargo vehicles to use simultaneously. The metal platform was sparsely occupied at the moment, bearing only a half dozen smaller vehicles and a few groups of pedestrians. Daray had said little as they walked to the platform, her cobalt eyes constantly roving back and forth across the street and sizing people up as they moved. Once on the platform, she positioned then against the back wall of the elevator shaft, against one edge with the passing levels of the station mere feet away as the open air lift descended  slowly into the bowels of the station. 

 

Finally she propped herself up against the railing of the platform where she could see both the rest of its occupants and the people they were passing as they moved, and offered Lana a wan smile.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m not in a particularly trusting mood just now, with all these people around.” She took a deep breath and folded her arms across her chest before launching into her explanation. “Tor Rayean, Captain of ‘The End’, is a pompous, scheming bastard with little common sense and a wicked temper. I chartered a ride with him from The Dregs to Tranquility a while back. On a warning from Vincent, I spent the trip in my cabin, but before I could disembark, he tried to get me to sleep with him, in exchange for opening the door. That’s when I tied him to his shiny new Captain’s chair with a couple metal bands I peeled off of its frame. I’ve heard rumors that he works for, or with, a couple big name criminals in Earth Station and on the Moon.”

 

She kicked the back of her heel with the toe of her other boot as she spoke, her eyes constantly roving around the platform, but stopping on Lana, and lingering there for a few seconds every so often. “He can’t be trusted as far as he can be thrown, and I’ve got a pretty decent throwing arm these days. We probably shouldn’t let one another out of sight, and to be honest, we should probably sleep in shifts. I don’t know if he’ll try anything, but I would be very surprised if he didn’t. Of course, this is all assuming that I can convince him to take me onboard at all, considering how I treated him the last time we parted company.”

 

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Bob’s day had gone from shitty to abysmal in the space of a few minutes. The instant his troops had reported back to base, they had been accosted by the local security forces, who had hauled them in for an hour of being raked over the coals by Captain Flowers. In the end, Bob had been suspended from active duty for dereliction and disobedience.

 

He tromped through the halls of Aegis Online’s R&D headquarters, growling and barking oaths at anyone who came too close to him as he strode down the center of the corridor. Never mind the fact that they all had to press themselves up against the walls just to get by him, that was their own damn fault for being there in the first place. 

 

He grinned as he saw a small robot approaching him on its tiny little treads, bearing a rack of data crystals on its back as it dodged and wove its way through the crowd. He stopped in the middl of the corridor, set his left foot ahead of him and prepared his right leg for action. As the robot sped toward him, he shifted his weight, threw his right leg forward, and give a great guffaw as the tiny robot hurtled back down the corridor over people’s heads, spinning in an erratic orbit and showering the passageway with data crystals.

 

“That helps a little.” He muttered under his breath, completely ignoring the glares, and hollering of the rest of the corridor’s occupants as he resumed his trek toward the lab.

 

In truth, he had no idea why he’d had the shit analyzed at all. He supposed it had been the texture of it, or maybe just the fact that it had been right there, in front of the door, where no raw meat should have been. Maybe it had just been his desire to cost the company a little more money after the reaming he’d had. Either way, he didn’t expect much as he swaggered through the door of the lab and presented his most imposing front to the tech therein.

 

“What have you found?!” He bellowed.

 

The tech looked up at him, seemingly nonplussed by his imposing demeanor. Obviously the man was a dullard or something. He may have to take his sample somewhere else. Somewhere he could get the proper level of fearful respect.

 

“It’s tongue.” The tech’s voice was flat.

 

“I know that you dimwit!”

 

“Then why did you bring it to me Sergeant?” The man sighed, rolling his eyes and reaching for a data pad he had set down when Bob had entered.

 

“Don’t mess with me boy! What kind of tongue was it?” He demanded.

 

The tech sighed again, removing his hand from the pad and looking up at Bon again. “Human.”

 

“They’re serving human tongue in that restaurant?!”

 

“Partly.”

 

“What? How can you partially serve a tongue?”

 

“No, sir. They aren’t partially serving the tongue. The tongue is partially human.”

 

Bob stopped midway through opening his mouth to berate the man. The words sticking in his ears, partially human… Finally he leaned forward, placing both hands on the shiny metal, self-sterilizing table, and narrowing his eyes at the tech. “Male or Female?”

 

“Female.”

 

“Can you extrapolate her appearance from what you have?”

 

“If I show you, will you go away?”

 

“Don’t you dare talk to me like that! I’ll come around whenever I damn well…”

 

“Have a nice day Sergeant.” He swiveled around in his chair to face his computer terminal. There was a long, pregnant pause before Bob finally sighed heavily and nodded, almost imperceptibly. “Fine.”

 

The tech sighed again, then reached for the pad once more. Calling up the holographic interface, he entered a few commands, then pressed a virtual button that caused a perfect, three-dimensional image of Daray’s head to appear between them, slowly rotating in empty air.

 

Bob’s grin was slow in forming, but after a moment or two, it was spread fully from ear to ear. His day was looking suddenly much better. He absently tossed a data crystal to the tech as he drank in the appearance of the woman. Yes, his day was finally coming around……


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