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Status Quo - Chapter 11

Written by: Paullell

 There is nothing but silence form the comm in the room after Lana’s admonishment. Whether because her words struck true, or because Daray had damaged something important with her energy blasts was unclear to the pair as they both glared at the wall.

 

Daray’s arm was still pointed at the wall, her forearm smoking slightly and her smooth, rubbery outfit bubbled up strangely around where the blasts had emanated from her body. Her face was a mask of anger, blood dripping from the corners of her mouth and eyes smoldering with hatred and confusion.

 

“At fukr!” She spat. Her arm finally dropped to the bunk beside her and without thinking about it, she collapsed forward, dropping her head toward the cradle of Lana’s shoulder and neck. Her other arm was still wrapped around Lana’s back, acting as support for the other woman in her precarious position. “I ot ink i ang oo ishh anga…” she sputtered as her body deflated toward Lana, all strength draining out of her in a matter of seconds.

 

The ship jostles a bit as it pulls free of the atmosphere captured within the shaft of Venus Station and begins its long journey toward Mars, its movement a sort of punctuation mark, driving home the finality of their situation.

 

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When the only answer was silence Lana has to assume that Daray must have done enough damage to the equipment that Tor hadn't heard her.  He didn't seem the type to let someone else have the last word.  Now that the intrusion was handled she wanted to panic.  The fact that Daray had bitten off her own tongue Lana found repulsive.  She wanted to back away.  Jump up and down, shake her arms and make faces at the taste of the blood in her mouth.  She wanted to break down and panic but she couldn't, Daray's emotional needs seem to trump her own right now so she holds onto her nerves with iron will and pushes her disgust into a corner of her mind to deal with later.  She had always been good at compartmentalizing her mind and emotions.  So she holds the bit of tongue awkwardly in one hand and pats Daray's back with the other.  “I'm afraid I didn't catch that.  I got that you think... something... and then anger.”

 

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Daray straightens up a little, tears streaking down her face as she offers Lana a look of confusion. At the sight of the blood smeared across Lana’s lips, Daray’s eyes go wide in horror. She shifts her glance down to the hand that is awkwardly holding the chunk of her tongue.

 

“Omigawww!!! Anga, I’m ohhh orry!” Both of her hands move to cover her mouth as she realizes what happened. She was so upset that her body had covered up the pain of the damage almost instantly, and her anger seemed to have camouflaged the rest. “I ang’t bleive i id at oo you!”

 

She tries to pull her legs up to her chest and worm back on the bunk away from Lana in a sort of horrified panic as she mumbles out the distorted apology.

 

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Lana drops the piece of tongue onto the bunk and wipes the blood away from her mouth.  Her hand is a bit shaky when she does so but she maintains and grabs the back of Daray's neck so that she can bring their foreheads together until they are touching.  She looks deeply into Daray's eyes and chastises her gently.  “Now that's completely unfair.  I've had a strange woman drop into my house.  Soldiers have ransacked it, a bomb was thrown down an air vent at me.  There is a warrant out for my arrest and to top it all off I don't handle blood well.  If I'm not allowed to panic then neither are you.  Just hold on to me and work on calming your breathing.  No matter what happens we will handle it, stop letting the little things get to you.”

 

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“Iddl ings?!” Daray only pulls against Lana’s touch for a moment before allowing her to have her way. As their foreheads touch, Daray can almost feel a slightly intense, but calming energy coming off her friend. She can tall Lana isn’t as calm as she is letting on, but is amazed by how well she is reigning in her feelings.

 

She locks eyes with Lana and listens to her words, hearing the truth of what she is saying, she feels her own nerves, and body beginning to relax again. “Ahm thorry Langa, ou’re ight.” She scoots back to the edge of the bunk, reclosing the gap that she’d formed between them and nervously fidgeting with her hands as if she doesn’t quite know what to do with them. “I ong’t ow how oo oo ight. Ooo heem oo be aking ish uff raer well. Ahm not shure I could oo ash well ing oor pace.”

 

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Lana kisses Daray lightly on the cheek and then steps down from the bunk.  She begins to investigate the room looking in drawers and under the bunks; trying to separate out trash from clutter.  Every so often she peaks over at Daray as she starts to clean the room, trying to think of how best to explain how she is able to handle what has happened in the past four or so hours so well.  “It’s sort of who I am.  It’s how I was so good at my job.  I read the people around me; get a feeling for what they need and almost instinctively become that person.  You needed help.  I could fulfill that.  When things started to go wrong you needed someone who would follow your instructions and not panic.”  She stops cleaning and looks over at Daray.  Her expression serious.  “Promise me. Promise me you wont think that I'm out to make a platinum off of you.  I just like you and want to help and it’s the one thing that I know how to do to help someone.”

 

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Daray’s cheeks flush and a heat spreads through her whole body at Lana’s simple kiss on her cheek. Her hands moves to the spot her friend’s lips had just been after Lana hops lightly form the bunk and begins moving and talking. She watches and listens with no end of curiosity at how this person who’s never gone anywhere, or done anything, settles into her new environment with seeming ease.

 

After a moment, she moves her hand from her cheek and tentatively opens her mouth, extending her regenerating tongue and touching it with her extended index finger. “I can’ believe I bi my oung off again.” She mutters as she returns her attention to Lana and her activities.

 

She feels another flush run through her as she takes in the form of Lana going about the simple activity of cleaning up the room. She can’t figure out why she is having so much trouble getting close to her. Before her reconstruction, she wouldn’t have hesitated to at least try to get closer to Lana, but now the thought of it made her feel waves of heat, and other strange sensations that she’d never experienced before, and it scared the hell out of her.

 

“You’re gorgeoush, you know hah?” She finally managed. “An’ noh jush physhically. You’re a ruly gorgeoush pershon inshide.” She hops off the bunk and moves to pull Lana into a tight embrace.

 

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Lana is startled when Daray wraps her arms around her but happily drops what she is holding and returns the embrace.  She lays her head on the other woman's shoulder  and whispers.  “Thank you.  I think that may be the nicest compliment that anyone has ever given me.”

 

Lana finishes sweeping the trash into a corner and begins to take the soiled bed linens off of the bunks.  She looks at Daray questioningly.  “You've been on this ship before, right?  There is someplace to wash these I hope?”

 

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The embrace, while still not completely comfortable to Daray, is still comforting, and sends that increasingly familiar wash of warmth through her. “Well I’m not sure yet, but you could very well be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” She replies.

 

When Lana breaks off the embrace to continue her cleaning, Daray can’t help but feel a little empty, but she quickly sets herself to helping with the straightening up of their temporary accommodations, beginning with the disposal of her disembodied tongue in the ship’s incinerator.

 

Looking at the armful of laundry in Lana’s arms she merely shrugs in response. “I was only on the ship for under a day last time. Are you sure you don’t just need the incinerator chute? There’s a clean towel in my survival pack, we could use that to keep something between us and a mattress since I doubt he has anything clean onboard.”

 

“I suppose if worse comes to worse, we can wash them a set at a time in the galley sink though.” She works her jaw awkwardly, running her tongue along the insides of her cheeks and over her teeth, as if testing out the freshly grown appendage after speaking.

 

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Lana nods, “As much as I would love to just pitch them down the incinerator chute I want more than a towel between us and the mattress.  I’m a bit fastidious about my hygiene.”  She sets the blankets aside to be washed later and looks around the much cleaner room.  “Well without chemicals and cleaning supplies I think this is the best we will manage.  So how much extra trouble are we in for damaging his equipment?”  She grins and asks excitedly.  “And where are you hiding the gun you used?  I didn’t even feel you reach for it; although I was a bit distracted at the time.”

 

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“The sad part is that this place is a lot cleaner than it was the last time I was on board.”  Daray’s face is deadpan as the words are spoken. She prods a bit of junk with the toe of her booted foot as she speaks.

 

“It’s been a while since I’ve had to worry about hygiene at all. I love a good, hot shower still, the feeling of the water, the steam. But this thing…” she pinches the material of her hoodie, distending it as she pulls it away from her forearm, then letting it snap back into place with a rubber-band sound, “sort of eats anything that comes into contact with it, at least in the way of dirt, grime, and stink.” 

 

She moves to the wall where she’d blasted at what she thought was the camera and sensors in the room and pokes idly at some of the protruding optical fibers and electrical wires. “I wouldn’t worry too much about this stuff. If he raises a stink, this can be paid for with cash I’m sure. And if not, then I can tie him to his chair again and this time not send someone to check on him before he starves…” Her voice took on a decidedly malicious tone as she spoke about the way she’d treat Tor. If a person didn’t know her, it would be very difficult to tell that she was not the murderous type.

 

Then she turnes back to Lana with a worried look on her face and bit her lower lip sheepishly. She seemes to be considering something pretty seriously for a long moment before she stepped closer to her friend and took a deep breath. “Since you ask, and I like you, and… since it looks like we’ll be getting pretty close, you deserve to know what you’re getting into with me.”

 

She takes another step toward Lana, her clothes changing and shifting as she does so. Within the span of that single step forward, her baggy pants and hoodie transform into a featureless, skin tight sheet of shiny black that follows every single curve of her body as if it were her skin. The true color of her flesh could only be seen from the middle of her neck up, where there was a dividing line that made it look as if her head had been screwed onto another body. The boots were gone, replaced with ten perfectly formed, but glossy black toes. Her body was completely denuded of hair, being perfectly smooth from toes to neck.

 

“This is me. I can’t take this, skinsuit, thing, off. Ever. As I said, they didn’t know there was a danger of it bonding to the wearer, so I wore it for weeks on end, and it did what it does. It became part of me. It seems to have eaten all of my hair, as it does with any other stuff that accumulates on it, thus the shower comment.” She stands for a moment so Lana can see her true nature before some of the nooks and crannies of her body seem to be softened, and de-emphasized, making her look less naked and more like she was wearing a figure-hugging body stocking of some kind. Then she raised an arm and held it between them, palm up, the blackness of the suit fading back from her fingers up into her body, leaving her arm looking like normal flesh except for a dull shine.

 

“I told you I’m a thief. Which is true, although I only steal information from corporations, and recently its only been the sort of information that saves lives. Part of my reconstruction was meant to make those tasks easier.” She flexes her fingers in a way that a normal person couldn’t, the new muscles along the sides and backs of the digits causing the tiny, curved claws to spring out of her finger tips, each one curving back toward her palm so that she could bury them in a surface and hang on them.

 

Another flex of her hands and the claws disappear into her fingers again. She rolls her arm over and holds it up so Lana can get a good look at her forearm where there are a series of slightly discolored patches between her wrist and elbow. “These are some kind of bio-energy glands. I don’t even profess to understand the barest bit of how they work, but these are were the energy blasts came from.”

 

“I’ve been reconstructed completely Lana. Bone structure, muscle density, organs, nerves, all of me. I don’t even think I qualify as a member of the human genome any more.” She stoops to pick up some kind of metal machine part that they hadn’t got to moving off the floor yet, holds it out so Lana can see it and get an idea of its weight and structure, then she holds it between her hands and, with a grunt, bends the thing into a ‘U’ shape, then tosses it into one of their piles. “It was all supposed to be temporary. They saved my DNA profile so they could change me back after the danger was over, but the skinsuit sinks genetic markers into its host when it bonds. They’ve done everything they can think of, but it all just ends in a lot of pain and no changes…”

 

She stands there, looking Lana in the eyes for a long moment before wrapping her arms across her stomach and hugging herself tightly. Her eyes dip toward the floor and her head turns slightly, hair falling across her eyes like a curtain. “I’m dangerous Lana. On top of all my other emotional issues. I’m built for one thing, and I’m afraid of what could happen if I let go, or get too distracted. I don’t think I could handle it if I hurt someone. Especially someone…” her voice trails off as her visible skin flushes crimson. She mumbles a few more, incomprehensible words as she nervously fidgets, awaiting judgement.

 

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Lana is silent for several minutes while she tries to process what Daray has reveled.  Her initial reaction is shock quickly followed by pity but she pushes those thoughts aside, well aware that neither emotion is constructive for anyone.  She walks closer to Daray her hand out and her eyes questioning; silently asking if it is alright to touch the suit.  If Daray allows she will put her hand on Daray’s shoulder and then slide it down her arm until she reaches Daray’s hand which she will bring closer to her eyes to inspect it more thoroughly. After a moment of touching the suit she will launch into a barrage of intimate albeit intelligent questions.

 

“How incredibly bizarre.  Do you feel through the suit as though it is skin or is sensation muted like with latex?  When you regenerate does it regenerate at the same time as your skin or as a final layer on top of it?  Can you cut it away?  If so how long do you have before it can grow back?  It’s smart enough to realize it needs to not cover your face, do you have settings where it will retract from your hands and feet at least? If it can adapt to impersonate clothing it should be able to be programmed to retract, especially if it is aware enough not to cover your face.” 

 

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Daray makes as if to flinch as Lana reaches out to touch her, but quickly reigns in the impulse and holds her ground. Lana’s hand leaves a trail of heat in its wake as she slides it down her arm. 

 

A closer inspection of her hand reveals nothing but the barest hint of gap in the pad of each finger tip where her claws came from. The finger tips are still soft to the touch, although applying pressure reveals the hard line of the retracted claws. The glands in her forearms feel more like solid muscle than the rest of Daray’s forearms, but other than that, and a slight discoloration, they do not appear out of the ordinary.

 

She listens to Lana’s questions, nodding or shaking her head as appropriate as she replies matter-of-factly to each of them. I feel through it as if it were my skin, which I suppose it is really, but it also has the ability to dull sensations in the case of pain, or protection from harmful environments. I’ve never worn actual latex. The skinsuit regenerates a the same time as I do, I don’t think there’s a difference between it and me any more. You can cut it, but it won’t peel off of me, unless you were to sort of skin it off with a blade I guess.” She winces at that thought before continuing with her answers. “It won’t retract at all, the best I can do is make it transparent. The reason it isn’t covering my face is that there was no hood as part of the suit when I put it on. It can temporarily cover my head and face though, if I need a disguise, or protection of some kind. They tried removing it at a molecular level, with nanites and lasers, but it regenerated again, it just took a little longer, and the process hurt like hell. They said they could probably remove it all, maybe even keep it from growing back, but it would probably scar me up pretty badly and its DNA hooks would stay in place, so I still couldn’t be changed back, and the scars most likely wouldn’t be cleaned up by my regeneration. Something to do with the way it is bonded to me at a genetic level now.”

 

She stands there, stock still, reveling in the light touch Lana has offered her, and fearing beyond words what her friend might say next. The more she is with this woman, the more she realizes that what she may have been missing in her life, for a long time now, was a real, true friend. The very thought that Lana might reject her, had shivers of fear running up and down her spine as she waited for Lana’s next words.

 

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Lana still doesn’t reject her.  She drops Daray’s hand and raises her own until she can rest it on Daray’s shoulder before she begins walking around her. Lana traces her fingers lightly along her back and shoulders as she circles, slowly stepping closer as she moves until she has reached Daray’s front again.  Except for one low swoop across her back Lana has raised her hand slowly and consistently along her back so that now her fingers have reached Daray’s neck where the seam appears to be.

 

“Fascinating.  Truly, it is fascinating.  So they have tried all the medical science they can think of on it.  Has anyone ever tried the psionic healers? Maybe a telekinetic approach instead of a blade or laser.  Or even just to reprogram whatever the base material is?  Try and remind it where you end and it begins before attempting the removal.” 

 

Once she is in front of Daray again, her fingers on that seam between real flesh and suit.  She smiles comfortingly at her.  “The important thing is, if it can’t be removed, are you alright with that.  If you can be fine with it then nothing else matters.  If you aren’t fine with that idea then we need to keep searching for options.” Lana gently rubs her thumb across the seam, caressing flesh and non flesh at the same time. “I can see your emotions, they emanate from you like a rainbow colored glow.  What can I do to help you relax?  You are wound so tightly I’m worried you might snap in two.”

 

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As Lana traces a line around Daray’s body with her light touch, Daray shudders beneath the simple action as if it is an assault on all her senses at once. She never would have imagined that something so simple could produce so many ripples in her body.

 

“I’ve not been to any kind of psychic. But the skinsuit is technically a living thing. Something about cloned cells and nano-machines working together. It wasn’t supposed to permanently bond with the wearer, that’s why they are so hard to find now, T.R.I.P. stopped the project because of the defect. I understand that the nanites could be reprogrammed, but the living cells can’t. I don’t really know much about it beyond how to make it do things and even that much requires a lot of help from APRIL.”

 

She finds herself subconsciously pressing her neck into Lana’s fingers and thumb as she touches her skin. Shivers of warmth and tingling desire running up and down her body under the gentle ministration. “As for me, and how I feel about it… I love it. And I hate it. Just like this new body they gave me. Sometimes I can’t stand to be in my own skin, and sometimes I can’t get enough of what they did to me. I’m stronger, faster, I think more clearly and reason faster. The list goes on and on. And nothing compares to parkouring in this body. I’ve never felt so free and alive before in my life. Then I come home and get a glimpse of myself in the mirror, or a cat-call form some guy on the street, and it’s all crushed, smashed to pieces at my feet.”

 

She raises her chin and locks eyes with Lana. “I don’t know if you chose your appearance or not. I guess it doesn’t really matter in the end. I just don’t know what to do with myself, or how to be….”


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