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Status Quo - Chapter 18

Written by: Paullell

 Lana is surprised at his level of disgust for the people around him.  If he hated them so much why was he interested in bedding her?  She looked even less normal than some of the pedestrians the he had seemed to try to hit.  Her tail and arms have gone numb from sitting on them and she shifts to try and get some circulation flowing back into them.

 

She noticed the flash of dark figure again and proceeds to dismiss it, no longer even looking outside the windows; not wanting to call attention to it if it may actually be help.  She gets a crazy idea, a way to ask the voice a question or two without calling attention to it.  She looks over at the man who has taken her captive and smiles nervously at him.  “You know, I’m really nervous right now.  It would help if I could get to know you a little better.  My favorite month is APRIL, what’s yours?” 

 

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Sergeant Killgore casts Lana a sideways glance as he swerves the vehicle around a parked truck on the side of the road, narrowly missing half a dozen pedestrians who dive for cover at their ballistic approach. “Now you’re starting to get into this uh?” He sneers at her then. “The fuck does the month matter? Been 500 years since anyone’s seen any real weather.”

 

In contrast, the voice in her ear responds as well, but the woman’s voice is much softer and even sounds a bit amused. -He really is quite the brute. As you have guessed, I am APRIL, Actualized Personal Relativistic Intelligence Link. I must apologize for my behavior last evening. I was busy managing the X-07 Bio-Mechanical Mimetic Skinsuit’s integrity while Daray’s biological systems regenerated. The task is much more difficult when her brain is not function at full capacity.-

 

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Lana has to restrain herself from grinning right then and there.  Her heart rate excellerates with excitement at the confirmation that Daray was impossibly, miraculously, alive.  She was truly baffled as to how and why the soldier had given her the device in her ear but she blessed him all the way down to his feet.

 

"Of course, that was a silly question.  Is there anything that I can do to make this easier?"

 

Lana fights her amusement that he set himself up so perfectly for her to be able to as the next question.  If all went well she might even get out of his clutches before he had a chance to try to bed her.

 

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The Sergeant snorts as he accelerates toward kid with green hair and a long, skin-colored tail hanging from below his belt line. The kid saw him coming at the last second, then dove out of the way. The vehicle was so close that even sitting on the passenger side, where the kid dove, Lana couldn’t see his feet as they went by.

 

“Don’t worry. You’ll be helping things along well enough as soon as we get back to my place.”

 

APRIL waited a breath after he stopped speaking before she began, -We will follow you to the Sergeant’s residence. It is inadvisable to attack him in the open, so we will need to get inside his residence before we can move against him. I am unable to locate a residence in his name anywhere on Earth Ring Station, otherwise we would have met you there.”

 

A brief glimpse of the dark figure can be seen out the passenger side window, just as the form vaults over a parked vehicle, lands in a crouched position on top of a metal crate, and then leaps up and over the roadway. Another glimpse, out the other window reveals a lithe, feminine form, clad entirely in black with dark grey accents and covered from head to toe. Her face is a smooth pane, completely featureless and sleek, much like a helmet one might see on an extreme hover bike rider’s head. Streaming down the figure’s back is a wave of black ropes that look like four-foot long dreadlocks dragging in the figure’s wake.

 

She lands lightly, crouching under the force of the impact, then springing forward and breaking into a dead run that propels her ahead of the vehicle so she can be briefly seen through the windscreen. Then, as quickly as she had appeared, she veers off to the left and vanishes again by diving between a temporary awning and the tables beneath it that are stocked with various odds and ends.

 

-Daray can not speak through this link, but she asked me to translate a message for you. She says ‘Io sono sempre per voi.’-

 

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Lana is startled; she had though Daray didn't speak any other languages. 'I am always for you.'  It was a sweet and perfect comment.  She settles back in her seat and closes her eyes, unable to hide her thrill of joy at the knowledge that Daray was coming for her.  That knowledge calms her nerves and she is able to relax at last, unconcerned as to what may happen to her in the interim.  Help is coming; all she has to do is live to see it arrive.

 

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The rest of the trip through the ring is uneventful. APRIL keeps quiet unless Lana asks her some sort of indirect question, and Sergeant Killgore seems content to drive in silence, save for the occasional growl or oath directed at some presumably innocent pedestrian.

 

It takes the better part of a a couple of hours for the vehicle to make its way into the mega-city, which truly lives up to its name. As they reach the end of the ring, the whole thing becomes opaque for a moment, like driving through a tunnel. There is a huge display overhead that reads: ‘Now entering Neo-Tokyo’

 

As they exit the short tunnel that connects the ring with the city, the harsh, artificial lights of the always-bright ring is replaced with the much darker, natural light of a billion billion stars. The city is designed in much the same way as the old pictures of Earth cities looked, with huge, freestanding towers all clustered close together in the center of the city, surrounded by ever-shrinking buildings until they eventually appeared to be mostly two and three story tall apartment-style buildings around the outer edge. 

 

The buildings were mostly very close together, with narrow alleyways between them except where the major streets crossed. Surrounding the entire city was a massive wall that was the outer wall of the station (there was most certainly quite a bit of space and equipment within the wall and an outer hull between the city and hard vacuum, but one couldn’t tell from inside) and extended eight or nine hundred feet high, towering above the much smaller structures around the rim. Atop that huge wall was another transparent dome that arced up and over the city, allowing enough space for the ‘skyscrapers’ (they still called them that despite the fact that there was no sky to speak of) to stretch their bones.

 

The city itself was positively alive with activity. There were people of even more variety than what they had seen in the ring, all wandering and milling about in the streets and on the sidewalks. It was immediately apparent that there was little, if any law enforcement in this particular city, as covert transactions could be seen occurring in alleys and on corners as they moved past.

 

It was much more difficult now, but the occasional sight of the tiny female form could still be seen, now she was running alongside the road, leaping from building to building and scaling the walls of the taller ones as if she was running on a flat surface. Looking up through the windows to catch a glimpse, her nearly black form almost disappeared in the backdrop of the stars and space visible between the buildings.

 

It took another hour of driving within the city before they finally pulled to a halt in front of a tall, 25 or 30 story building. The front wall was all glass, and a writhing mass of dancing and frolicking bodies could be seen within, obviously enjoying some kind of music that could just be heard through the front of the building and the closed windows of the vehicle.

 

The occupants of the building were obviously mostly teens and young adults, a steady stream of them wandering in and out of the building through its wide, double doors. They chatted and shouted on the sidewalk and in the doorway and seemed to be drinking  a variety of different beverages, mostly from insulated cups. They happily glowing sign across the front of the building proclaims its name to be ‘The Ether-Bean’, in a flowing, curvaceous script.

 

“Here we are. Your new home.” Sergeant Killgore announces as he shuts down the vehicle and opens the door, moving to extricate Lana and escort her through the throng to the second floor.

 

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Lana looks at the building before her with complete surprise.  She had expected to end up in a shadier area of the city.  But not a place like this, the youths frolicking in the windows were an unfathomable contrast to the man who was ‘escorting’ her.  She resisted the urge to look around for one last glance of Daray.  She let him help her out of the vehicle despite the bruising grip on her shoulders, she needed the aid, not entirely certain her legs would support her with her tail in that much pain.

 

She does her best to keep up with his pushing and pulling through the crowd, not wanting to give him an excuse to strike at her or pick her up.  She wonders how much longer he will be leaving the handcuffs on her as she looks around attentively, trying to gauge the caliber of the frolicking people around her.

 

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The throng inside the building seems to be composed of mostly well-to-do kids and twenty-somethings who are all milling about, talking, bragging, and dancing to the pulsing beat of some new industrial music. Moving in and out amongst the crowd are a variety of scantily clad, exotic men and women with serving trays who all seem at ease with the various pokes, prods, and gropes that the patrons give them as they go about their work.

 

The building smells of hot, fresh, coffee, booze, and sweat, mixed with a variety of less-powerful food smells as an undercurrent. Sergeant Killgore leads the way through the crowd, one iron hand seemingly welded to Lana’s upper arm. They make their way to a wide, curving stairwell that leads to a second floor mezzanine.

 

As they reach the mid-way point of the stairs, the music and sounds of the lower level suddenly become muted, as if they are being heard through a solid wall. It’s interesting to look down in the writing masses below and see them going about their gyrations, but only hear the barest hints of the music despite how close they really are.

 

The second floor is set up as a sort of computer parlor, with maybe a dozen elaborate terminals set up, each in its own little sunken sitting area and surrounded by dozens of floating, holographic displays. Here the air is quieter, but not sober, as the computer operators, consummate geeks by anyone’s definition, give off the occasional hoot or holler as they perform some technical feat or other. The servers here are no differently dressed, although they are receiving far less attention from their patrons, but their presence is also complimented by the presence of numerous, equally-exposed men and women who are draping themselves all over the various digerati as they go about their activities.

 

Moving across the mezzanine toward a plain, solitary door with two very conspicuous, large men with cybernetic arms folded across their chests, Lana gets another burst of static in her ear, followed by APRIL’s voice. -Are you fit to run?-

 

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Lana looks at the man holding her arm and she shifts her weight from one foot to the other, stretching her muscles and trying to determine if she can run right now.  She determines that she wont look graceful doing it but she is plenty motivated.  “I can do this”  She whispers quietly.  Hopefully if the man overhears her he will assume she is giving herself a pep talk about staying calm with is intimidating presence so close to her.  She looks at the area with interest, trying to guess which direction she will need to run in and trying to understand why the sergeant had brought her here, it doesn't look like the kind of place that anyone would live.

 

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“Doesn’t much matter if you can or not. You’re doing this.” Sergeant Killgore responds, assuming she was talking to herself, or him, and dismissing her words off-handedly.

 

He leads her up to the door, where the two burly, cybernetically enhanced men cross their arms over their huge chests and take a half-step toward the door to block their entry.

 

“What’s your business here?” One of them growls at them.

 

“I have an appointment with Mr. Genloe. Seems I’ve come into possession of something he is after.” He gives Lana’s arm a rough shake by way of explanation. “I was led to believe that he would pay big bucks for it.”

 

The guard that spoke, looks Lana up and down for a moment, then smiles at her invitingly. “you’re a fine piece of ass baby. No wonder the boss is interested in you!”

 

“Let me just see if he’s avai… what the fuck?!” The second guard begins to speak, then a mask of confusion overtakes his face as he focuses on something behind Lana and the Sergeant.

 

At the same instant, Lana can feel the Sergeant’s arm jerk forward, imparting a spin to her body as his iron-clad grasp is released. She can see a metal stick ricochet off his wrist, spin wildly in the air for a second, then drop to the ground as Sergeant Killgore yanks his hand back and cradles it against his body, turning angry eyes in the direction the rod had come from. “Somebody’s going to die!” He shouts as he turns to see who threw the simple weapon.

 

-Run now! Back to the street. Head in the direction you came from.- APRIL’s voice was calm in Lana’s ear as the room started to descend into chaos around her.

 

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She spins unexpectedly at the sudden release, falling into a crouch to prevent him from grabbing her again.  She waits until she hears April's voice in her head and then scrambles forward and into a run.  Veering sharply she avoids hitting one of the servers and practically throws herself down the stairs.  She avoids breaking or twisting anything by sheer luck and reaches the bottom level unharmed.  Behind her she can hear shouts and cursing and begins to dodge and weave her way through the dancing masses with renewed vigor. Occasionally she twists and turns too late and the result is her ricocheting off of one or two bodies.  Finally she makes it through the masses and runs for the door, her legs are hurting but not at a level that she can't ignore, in fact the running seems to be stretching them out and the pain is lessening.

 

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As Lana runs for the stairs, she is passed by a streak of black, the form’s leg is extended in an arial side kick, and long dreadlocks stream behind her. A loud thump can be heard, followed by the sound of a body hitting the ground as Lana reaches the stairs. By the time she is halfway down, about when the music from below returns to full volume and masks the sounds of the fight, the turn of the stairs allows her to see the black form twirling around in a series of cartwheels and handstands, throwing her legs and arms about in precisely controlled circles.

 

The last thing she can make out before she descends low enough that the balcony is no longer visible, the last glimpse she gets is of one of the guards being flipped over violently by an arcing kick connecting with the side of his neck.

 

The people she bounces off of on her way to the door, don’t seem to mind much, as if they don’t even notice, or are just used to being bumped into. A couple of them turn to look in her direction as she retreats, but most don’t even go that far. Interestingly, any time she gets anywhere near any of the serving staff, they calmly back out of the way, turn to one side, and hold their arms out, creating a sort of void that makes it easier for Lana to to get by, and when she approaches the main entrance, the beautiful, half-naked waitress that is, for a second, blocking the door, backs out of the building, swinging the door open and holding it so that Lana can escape.

 

As she flies by, she hears a faint, “Good luck honey.” From the woman.

 

The sidewalk is smooth and fairly well-tended. Once she breaks free of the small crowd outside ‘The Ether-Bean’, the running becomes much easier, although her hands being restrained behind her back both makes it more difficult, and draws the occasional curious look from people on the street.

 

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Lana continues running, ignoring any stares she may receive.  She’s not the fastest, not the most graceful, but none of that matters; she runs as though her life depends on it, the sound of her boots on the pavement making a comforting rhythm that her heart seems to take up.  If Daray really is back there she will catch up, or April will give her specific instructions.  Up ahead someone does step out into her path.   She still has a way to go before she reaches him, everything about his posture and his demeanor scrams 'pimp' to her.  She asks out loud as she is running, a tiny bit breathless from the exertion.  "Change course or continue running April?  He looks like he could tackle me.”

 

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The earpiece remains silent as Lana runs, the man’s look growing more menacing by the second. When she’s within twenty feet of him, he slips something from his sleeve into his right hand, but holds it behind his arm where she can’t make out what it might be. He grins widely, as if he is privy to some great joke.

 

He nods at her, then holds his arms out wide, spinning the vibro-blade around so she can see the weapon clearly. As he does so, three more people, all wearing long coats and malicious grins, step around the corner and flank the man, their hands suspiciously jammed into the jacket pockets as if they are gripping something beneath the shrouds.

 

She doesn’t realize yet, but several more thugs have stepped out of an alley that she has passed, and are forming a semi-circle around her, trying to corral her between themselves and the building she is running along.

 

“Hey there pretty thing. Where’re you going all trussed up like that? Late for a hot trick are we?” His voice is cruel and matches the malice writ across his face as he speaks.

 

From the corner of her eye, she thinks she spies a streak of dark movement reflected in the windows of the building high over head.


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