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Status Quo - Chapter 17

Written by: Paullell

 Bill’s day was definitely taking a turn for the better. The computer-constructed image of this morning’s perpetrator had quickly turned into several tips and sightings, which allowed him to track her and her companion to the docks where he forced his men to let them board a ratty old cargo ship that some fuck-wad of a Captain had actually named ‘The End’. Seriously, did people have no taste any more?!

 

At any rate, he had then retrieved the ship’s flight plan from the Port Authority, and called in a favor from a friend in the AO navy. Of course, it had taken an hour or so to get onboard the Methuselah and cast off, but the bigger, and better maintained, ship had quickly overtaken the little smuggler wreck.

 

His initial conversation with Captain Tor had been full of misdirection and innuendo, punctuated by the appearance of the perp herself. She had a tiny pistol in her hand and a cock-sure attitude that actually impressed him.

 

When she’d moved as if to strike him, one of his men fired on her, and then the whole place descended into chaos for several minutes as she flipped, dodged, and cartwheeled around the crappy little tugboat. His men were good, but she led them on a merry chase, making them expend fifty times the ammunition it should have taken, and even killing nearly a dozen of his men in the process. 

 

Her skills were actually quite amazing. She stayed in close to his men, handicapping them and their sub-machine guns by staying inside their range and pressing the barrel of her weapon tightly to the soft spots in their armor before firing. At one point she’d even been running along a wall, then leapt from it and kicked the combat helmet clean off one of her pursuers.

 

In the end though, they managed to pin her down in the narrow corridor and end her. ‘Fitting.’ He mused. ‘That she should meet her end in ‘The End’.’

 

He chuckles at his own little joke as he moved through the gleaming corridors of the Methuselah toward the brig. It was a shame they’d had to kill her. But it was for the better really. As tasty as she looked, no one should ever share fluids with a gene-freak that was that far outside the pool.

 

“Bitch wasn’t even in the same recreational district.” He mused quietly as he keys open the outer door of the brig and steps through in time to see the on-duty Airman stand and salute him.

 

‘Damn shame we had to throw her overboard really. But I couldn’t have that kind of gene-filth sitting around contaminating the ship.’

 

He returns the Airman’s salute then eyes the bank of monitors at his station, trying to catch sight of the cell they’d thrown the tasty, blue-haired one in. He felt like a good shout, and it was always best to intimidate the prisoners straight away, make them really fear you before you got to the good stuff which, unfortunately, he was going to have to keep until they got to Earth Station and he could sign her out and get her to his secret apartment for some proper play time.

 

“How’s the new prisoner Airman?”

 

“She’s fine sir. Been crashed on the bunk since they brought her in. I just put her evening meal in.”

 

“Very good. Let’s see if we can’t rile her up a bit…”

 

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The occasional clicking coming from the device in her ear notwithstanding, there is little of interest in or around her current location. When the food try appears on the door, the quiet sound of it happening is almost an explosion in the intense silence of the cell.

 

The packaging of the nutrient bars professes the point that each of them has the same caloric intake as an entire days requirements for 300 pound dock worker.  The packet of water is pure, clean, cool, and quite refreshing. If it had some hideous problem, it would be that there were only eight ounces of it. 

 

As she moves away from the door with the water packet in hand, she can hear the sound of the brig door opening, followed by a quiet conversation between two men. Then a set of heavy boots can be heard approaching her door and the food tray is quickly yanked out of the slot. The small platform it was perched on, folds up into the door, and then the panel whips open to reveal the form of Sergeant Killgore.

 

He’s standing there, filling the entire, narrow doorway with his broad shoulders, hands clasped behind his back and a very stern look on his face as he inspects her almost clinically.

 

“Evading authorities.” He begins in a harsh, booming voice. “Fleeing the scene of a crime. Aiding and abetting a known fugitive, espionage, flight…” He sets a heavy gaze upon her, shifting his weight slightly. “The only thing you have going for you Miss, is the fact that you didn’t resist arrest. Although you did try to run once you were sent to the brig. That must be taken into account as well.”

 

His aura is swirling with a combination of malicious humor and violent lust as he speaks to her. It is obvious that he is doing his best to scare her, rile her up so that she’ll play into whatever game he is trying to run.

 

With her attention diverted and the booming voice of Sergeant Killgore filling the cell it is difficult to know for sure, but the earpiece may have just fired off a whole, albeit short, burst of rapid-fire clicks, although they are still faint, it could easily have been the crinkling of the foil packet of water in her hands…

 

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Lana bows her head and looks at the half drunk pouch in her hand.  She flinches slightly at the volume of his voice and ignores the potential sound in her ear, it could start playing a symphony at this point and she would ignore it, now would be the worst possible time to be discovered with something that she shouldn’t have.

 

She listens calmly to the list of charges but makes no comment.  He is obviously trying to cow her by being loud and confrontational.  Normally she would have tried agreeing with a person of this caliber, admitting that what she had done was stupid, but she had a feeling that no matter what she does or says he will find a way to make it the wrong choice so she merely waits, waits for him to ask her something directly or demand something. 

 

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She doesn't wait long for his tack to take him where it inevitably would, although maybe not in the form she would have expected. Sergeant Killgore stops blustering for a moment, then eyes her critically and says, "the Conglomerate does not take kindly to people who behave like this. They usually resort to death sentences, or banishment. Of course, there are always alternatives; ways to disappear. If one is willing to accept certain standards of existence..."

 

He locks his dark eyes on her as he stops speaking, expecting a response from her but not giving her much in the way of something to go on. Like a store manager who professes a desire to fix a customer's problem, yet refuses to propose a solution because it might be over-bidding what they would say. 

 

A burst of static then blasts Lana in the ear. So loudly that it could easily be heard across a large, empty room, were the device not lodged in her ear and pointing directly at her eardrum.

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Lana Flinches at the pain in her ear from the noise and her heart stops beating for a moment as she wonders if it was audible to anyone else.  She waits another heartbeat before she raises her eyes from her hands and looks at the Sergeant directly.  Her eyes are painfilled but she works on calming them down.  She is well aware of what he is proposing.  She doesn’t want to die, doesn’t want to be executed or banished but she recognizes that it is a possibility.  She almost wants to say yes, but her mother’s words echo through her again.  Never be a kept woman.  Gradually she gets herself under control again and forces her expression to be calm and accepting, doing her best not to antagonize him as she carefully rejects his offer.  “I understand.  I have made my livelihood on abiding by contracts verbal or written. I’m afraid that there are some standards that are too exacting for me if I have the choice. Thank you, for making my circumstances clear to me.”

 

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Sergeant Killgore stares at her for a long moment. His face impassive as he seems to be considering her words. The thought process can almost be plainly seen there, for anyone who cares to look. It is obvious that he is not the most intelligent of people.

 

-You must... accept offer.- A flat, synthesized voice bursts from the device in her ear. -You can not... put... into... system. Rescue… impossible.” The voice stutters on.

 

“What are you telling me you little bitch?!” The Sergeant’s sudden outburst shakes the room. “I’m not stupid you know! You’re to use plain basic when you speak to me, or I’ll make sure you don’t have shit in this hole of yours except gruel twice a day!” He points at her accusingly as he shouts. “Are you telling me you’d rather die sucking vacuum?!”

 

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Lana's eyes widen in surprise at the voice in her ear.  She looks down quickly as though scared of his temper.  "I'm sorry.  I mean you intimidate me.  Of course I would prefer any other option to execution.  What I meant is that I'm very used to obeying contracts and I will be obedient to any standard that will save me from my bad decisions.  Thank you for telling me there may be other options, I am happy to explore any possibility that you can recommend."  As she speaks her voice is apologetic she raises her eyes again when she is sure that she has the properly submissive yet hopeful look in them that she thinks he is looking for.

 

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Sergeant KillGore stands and glowers at her for a long moment before he nods triumphantly. “Damn straight you are.”

 

He then turns around and waves the door closed behind him. His boots can be heard stomping away from the door and then out of the brig.

 

Moments later, there is another, much quieter burst of static, followed by an obviously synthesized, but now distinctly female voice, “I can not… can not… not talk… talk… talk… system rebooting… stay… stay… stay… safe… pllllaaaaaaayyyyyy… plaaayyy… play… aloooonnnngggggg… D… D… Daaarrrraaaaaa… sstss…. sstss… staaasssesssss… reeepaaaiirriinnnngggg…”

 

The line then seems to go suddenly silent.

 

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Lana breaths a sigh of relief as the Sergeant leaves her cell.  She lays back down on the cot and curls up, trying to take in the shock of what she just heard. Did the voice mean Daray?  She was shot in the head and tossed out into space, how could she have possibly survived?  She the possibility relieves some of the pain in her heart and she holds onto the idea despite the incredibly impossible odds.  She whispers "Mio bello tesoro, please be alive."

 

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Some time later, the lights in the cell are dimmed as the ship goes into night cycle. Over that time, and all through the night, there is a regular, faint clicking from the earpiece. It happens regularly, like a very slow metronome that can easily fall away into the background.

 

By the time the lights come up again in the morning, there is already a tray with two sealed food bars and a packet of water on it. If she chooses to eat one of the bars, they are almost completely flavorless, and nearly impossible to swallow, like chewing a lump of clay.

 

Several hours later, Sergeant Killgore stomps up to the door again, maybe thirty minutes after the constant thrum of the engines winds down and several loud metal on metal noises can be heard as the ship is secured in a dock of some kind. He stands in the door in the most imposing way he can muster and says, “It’s time to go.” He pulls one of his hands from his hip and dangles a set of handcuffs from his finger with a wide grin on his face.

 

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Lana slept through the night, the clicking of the earpiece a comforting sound to her.  She pretends that it is Daray’s heartbeat and as long as the clicking goes on it is proof that she is alive.  The result is that the next morning, she is able to eat and drink, despite the nearly inedible taste and consistency of the ration bars.  She had been stretching on the floor, her normal morning routine, when the Sergeant shows up. Lana calmly gets to her feet and walks toward the Sergeant, putting her arms out for the handcuffs with a sense of cool acceptance.

 

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“I see we’ve had time to think some things through.” Sergeant Killgore grins as Lana holds out her wrists to be bound. He quickly, and with a level of precision that most peace officers would envy, locks one of the metal bracelets around her right arm, then makes a fluid motion in an attempt to spin her around and lock her arms together behind her back.

 

“It’s a short trip home from here girly. Just need to get you checked out, then we can be on our way home.”

 

He moves to clamp an iron hand around her upper arm and lead her roughly from her cell, then addresses the other soldier on duty in the brig for a moment, before leading Lana out of the brig and into the labyrinthine twists and turns of the Methuselah’s corridors.

 

It takes them several minutes to work their way through the ship. With any crew they pass, pressing themselves tightly up against the walls again, it’s almost like some sort of royal procession, although the feeling is quite a bit less celebratory.

 

At last, they make their way into one of the larger cargo holds of the vessel, where Sergeant Killgore makes his way to a small vehicle that another officer is loading a familiar case into the trunk. The man closes the trunk as the Sereant and Lana approach and holds out his hand. “All set Bob. Thanks for everything.”

 

“Don’t mention it Sean. I’m glad I could help out. Thank you for the lift.” The Sergeant’s voice is still basso, and has that practiced, imposing air to it, but he seems much more friendly with this man.

 

“Well if you need any help with your new toy later, just give me a call. We’re scheduled for some overhaul time so we should be in port for a couple days.” Sean looks Lana up and down with a bit of a lecherous smirk on his lips.

 

“You bet. And you took some of that whiskey right?” Sergeant Killgore pointed toward the trunk with the hand that wasn’t wrapped tightly around Lana’s upper arm.

 

“Yeah I grabbed a few bottles for my private stores. Can you believe all the contraband that guy had on board that shitty little boat? Jesus man, we found enough crap to get him an execution.”

 

“I figured he’d be dirty as hell when he called us to turn in the gene-freak. Jack-ass actually thought we’d leave his cargo onboard just because he rolled over on that freak.”

 

“Yeah, and he still thinks we did him a favor by letting him go. I fucking love my work!”

 

“No shit, right? Alright Sean, I’ve gotta get going. Shit to do, you know?”

 

“Yeah I hear ya man. Take it easy alright. And wave me tonight if you aren’t too tied up with your new toy.”

 

Them men exchange punches in the shoulders, then Sergeant Killgore roughly assists Lana into the passenger set of his conveyance, pinning her arms against the seat and pulling the restraint harness tightly across her body before climbing in on his side and puling the vehicle out of the cargo bay and into the loading dock.

 

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Lana listens attentively to the conversation going on around her.  The comment about Tor double crossing them surprises her.  She would have though that he would at least wait until they had made good on the payment before he pulled something like that. Normally she would have assumed that Daray would be worth a lot of money as a bounty, but it didn’t sound like Tor had come out ahead in the deal.

 

She winces slightly when he straps her into the harness with her arms still cuffed behind her back, but she doesn’t waist time on useless protests or struggles.

 

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The trip is a long one. The vehicle is a surface-effect ride, so it hovers above the ground and does not translate any bumps to the passengers as it moves down the loading dock and Sergeant Killgore swerves around military personnel and their gear. The dock is about a thousand feet long, and at the end of the smallish tunnel, it opens up into a perpendicular corridor that is huge in comparison.

 

The new corridor is easily several hundred yards across, with a curved ceiling that starts at the floor near the dock, then sweeps up, high overhead, before arcing back down to the floor a quarter mile away. Most of the curved surface is interspersed with windows that look out onto the myriad of docked ships on one side, all nosed in against the structure with various docking arms protruding from the station and gripping them by the sides, allowing cargo and people to be moved on and off.

 

The other side of the structure is open to the beautiful, sapphire blue and white jewel that is planet Earth, spinning lazily beneath the massive space station that encircles it. The land masses of the planet can be made out through the wispy, lazily swirling cloud cover, and its oceans gleam blue in the dark field of space surrounding it. At a glance, it is difficult to imagine the fact that the entire surface of the planet has been rendered unlivable from nuclear fallout.

 

The top of the curving roof is opaque, with numerous pipes and other objects running along its surface, and looking through the inner windows, across the curve of the massive ring, one of the mega-cities can be seen, its bulk is impressive, although nowhere near the mass of the Venus Station, which is the size of a small moon, but it still looks imposing, sitting atop its needle-like shaft that is now a decommissioned orbital elevator that once was used to ferry goods and people up and down from the surface of the world below.

 

The ring itself is a busy place, with people and vehicles coming and going in every direction. Huge loads of cargo are being moved n and off of docked vessels, there are vendors selling wares in nearly every open space visible, and the center of the wide, open are beneath the curved ceiling is home to a raised, multi-tiered platform with three monorail tubes on it. One for cargo, one for express travel between mega-cities, and one for local trips, making frequent stops through the ring, and at the city on either end of it.

 

The sheer variety of people moving around the area as they drive toward the city is staggering. There are regular people, people with a few cybernetic parts visible on their bodies, people with multiple limbs and large portions of their bodies cybernetically augmented, and people who, for all the world, look like robots, they have been so modified. Mixed with them are the myriad of people who have strange and bizarre hair colors, tails, tiny wings, scaled skin, horns, and any other combination of unusual traits one might imagine. 

 

They all seem to be getting on just fine, which sets Sergeant’s attitude in a harsh light. He grimaces every time one of the obviously genetically modified individuals comes anywhere near his vehicle and, on more than one occasion, may have actually tried to hit one of them with the conveyance.

 

As they move along at a fairly good clip, considering the amount of pedestrian traffic, Lana occasionally gets a glimpse of a dark figure running through the crowd parallel to the vehicle’s line of travel. She can’t make out anything specific about the figure aside from the fact that it is small, fast, and limber. It keeps to the shadows as much as possible and can occasionally be seen vaulting over high obstacles, through tight spaces, cartwheeling or flipping around and over people and vehicles, and despite the fact that she is only catching occasional glimpses, never seems to slow, or stop.

 

Somewhere along the line, her earpiece fires off another burst of static, and this time the voice that speaks to her is very female, and no longer sounds computer generated. “We are with you. Remain strong.”


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