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Status Quo - Chapter 19

Written by: Paullell

 Lana slows to a halt and eyes the man and his cohorts warily.  She turns to change directions and sees that she has been flanked.  She ignores the flicker of movement, instead turning back to the leader she says haughtily.  “Sort of, the John tried to skip out without paying and take me along.  My boss is dealing with him now.  I'm sure the boss will be along to collect me any minute; I would recommend you be long gone by then.  The boss has quite a temper about employees disappearing.” 

 

She stands up straight and lets her breathing calm down, confident that Daray will pick an appropriate moment to take out the thugs before she gets in any serious danger.

 

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The man chuckles at her, spinning the blade around idly in his hand. “Hear that boys? She let her John get away with the coin and thinks her handler is going to come save her for the trouble.”

 

The whole group chuckles in response and Lana can see several of them pulling knives, pipes, and other instruments from the shadows of their attire. “More like he’s just going to leave you to find your own way. Which is fortunate, since I happen to be looking for a couple new girls myself.”

 

The high-tech knife in his hand stops spinning and he hits the actuator that starts the blade humming, making it capable of cutting armored hull plating with little effort. “Now what say you just come with me and we get you settled righ…”

 

His words are cut off by the increasingly familiar streak of black landing on his chest from somewhere high over head. The man crumbles to the ground in a heap, his limbs bending out at odd angles and a few sickening crunching noises can be heard as he exhales a strange combination of the contents of his stomach, lungs, and a few yards of blood vessels.

 

The figure’s long dreadlocks are spread out around her like a concealing cloak, her feet planted in the dying man’s chest, and body crouched down low, making her appear even smaller than she really is.

 

There is a pregnant pause from the group as they try to assimilate what just happened. Then one of the men with his hands in his pockets, raises up a long, silver rifle from beneath his coat and moves to point it at the dark figure. She moves at the same time, her hands planting themselves on the now-dead man’s chest and her feet kicking up into the air in a graceful arc. Her black feet extend outward as she cartwheels in front of the man, catching him in the face and sending him spinning heels over head, the weapon forgotten, but still attached to him via some sort of strap.

 

She then lands on one foot for mere seconds before jumping into another spin, this time with no part of her touching the ground, and her body parallel to the sidewalk as she pirouettes sideways through the air. Both feet lash out alternatively and slam into the head of the second guy with his hands hidden inside his coat. He is knocked several feet sideways, arms flailing and coat blowing open to reveal some kind of compact sub-machine gun. 

 

The dark figure and the two waylaid men all hit the ground at the same time. Their unconscious bodies slide to an ungraceful stop and lay at awkward angles, while she lands perfectly, standing next to Lana, the featureless black visor completely obscuring her face from view. Slowly, she slides two metal sticks out of a sheath on her back and holds one in each hand, like short, thin, metal bats, and stands ready to fight.

 

The figure’s height and dimensions seem right for her to be Daray, and the baston are the same ones that she had been carrying around before. But the dreadlocks and soundless movements add a very creepy air to her presence.

 

-Please, be ready to run again. Daray says they may not be deterred by what they have seen.- APRIL’s voice calls over the earpiece as the dark figure waits to see what will happen next.

 

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Lana actually grins.  She realizes that this is violence at its most visceral and she should be horrified but she knows the caliber of the people that they were and the universe is most likely a safer place for their deaths.  She grins at one of the other thugs that is looking on with confused amazement.  “See I told you.  Better run.  Once the boss starts killing it's hard to stop.”

 

When there is a break in the activity and April speaks to her Lana nods, but these are not brave criminals, they would much rather face an unarmed and bound woman that someone who can fight back. With their boss gone she will be very surprised if they stay.  She looks at one of the stronger ones now and gives him a smile.  “Looks like someone got a promotion.  What do you think? Want to be the boss?  Or would you like to pass on the honor to someone else that makes the intelligent choice to run and live?

 

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The whole group seems to hang on Lana's every word. The big man she address directly considers her words for a long moment before standing up straight, jamming the bit of pipe he had in his hand back into his jacket and waving at the group. "She's right mates. This one ain't worth dying for. Let's get back to the house and take stock."

 

The group considers his words for a moment, glancing back and forth between their fallen comrades and the dark figure standing next to Lana. Finally, they all start tucking their various implements away and slowly back away from the pair of women. Two of them make a wide circle around Lana and her companion, stooping down to steal the guns off their fallen friends and leaving their unconscious bodies in the street as they dive back into the shadows and vanish once more.

 

Lana's companion stands up straight, slips the metal sticks back into the sheath across her back, and then stoops down to pick up the vibro-blade that the pimp had dropped when his ribcage was crushed. Holding the blade up for Lana to see, she makes a circle with its point in the air, indicating that Lana should turn around.

 

-That was a nicely executed negotiation.- APRIL's voice compliments in Lana's ear.

 

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“Thank you April!  Greedy people are a lot easier to understand and work with than people who desire destruction or violence.”  Lana turns around to give the woman that she assumes is Daray the ability to cut her bonds.  As soon as her arms release she spins around and throws her arms around her and starts crying “I thought you were dead!  I cant believe you could heal that much damage!”

 

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-Some times I fear I shall never master human psychology.- APRIL replies.

 

When Lana turns around, the dark figure engages the vibro-blade and uses the weapon to slice through the chain between the cuffs, then turns it off in time to get the blade out of the way for Lana's embrace. 

 

Her body seems much harder than it looks, as if the black suit is some kind of armor, and her face remains shrouded behind the featureless, glossy, black visor, but she wraps her arms around Lana, returning the warm embrace, careful to point the knife away from her body.

 

-Daray's regenerative abilities are quite extensive, although she did actually die in the fight. Her lazarus glands were able to restore her, but she is still very much damaged from exposure to hard vacuum and needs time and energy to finish healing.- APRIL's tone seems somehow more serious than a moment ago as she describes the situation to Lana. -We must find a safe location for her to rest.-

 

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Lana lets go of Daray and looks around.  The neighborhood seems familiar despite being a space station that she has never been too in her life.  She looks around critically and then shakes her head.  "Just goes to show that people are people, no matter where they are."  She mutters under her breath.  Out loud for both Daray and April she asks, "Well girls.  I don't know this area, where should we be headed?  If you don’t have a friend or a safe house here my best suggestion would be a brothel.  There is a sort of understanding with most working girls in that business.  A willingness to give up a bed and some food for a night because you never know when you might next be down on your luck and need the same favor."

 

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Daray stoops down to pluck the sheath for the vibro-blade from the dead man’s jacket, and slides the blade home as Lana looks around and suggests they locate a brothel. She shrugs her shoulders awkwardly, then offers the weapon to Lana, not sure if she’d be any more comfortable with it than she would the pistol.

 

-I am unsure of where such a business would be located. My search of public records indicates that there are no such business registered within Neo-Tokyo, although I find that difficult to believe.- APRIL’s voice in Lana’s ear pauses for a moment as if the computer is listening to something, then continues again, -Daray does not know where any are located either. She suspects that any in this area would likely be located further from Almon Genloe’s establishment however, and suggests that we move away from the dead body before pausing too long to consider.-

 

Daray takes a few steps in the opposite direction of ‘The Ether-Bean’, waving an arm in a ‘come, follow me’ sort of way as she does so.

 

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Lana shakes her head, rejecting the offer of a weapon.  “No thanks I’d injure myself before anyone else with that thing.”  She trots to catch up and then matches her pace to Daray.  Her brow is furrowed with concern, worry as to why Daray’s isn’t speaking with her.  Did something happen, is her speaking voice still damaged, is she upset about something Lana had done? There are a ton of questions she wants to ask and she is at a loss as to whether she should direct the questions to April, or Daray or if she shouldn’t ask at all.  She walks in silence for just a few minutes, finally she can’t keep silent any longer.

 

“Who is Almon Genloe and where was it that you rescued me from?  That bastard had seemed to be indicating that he was taking me to his home to… spend private time with  me, but that didn’t seem to be a residence.”

 

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Daray’s head turns to look at Lana for a moment as they walk, she tucks the sheathed knife through a loop in the strap that holds her baston across her back, all the while keeping her pace, and taking numerous turns as they progress further and further away from “The Ether-Bean”.

 

At Lana’s question, APRIL answers almost immediately. -Publicly, Almon Genloe is  the owner and proprietor of “The Ether-Bean”. However, my research indicates that he regularly trades with Runners, black market operators, and slave traders. Our suspicion is that Sergeant Killgore intended to sell you to him, although we are not yet sure why.-

 

The walked for several minutes more before Daray’s pace begins to slow from a brisk walk, to a sort of meander, and then to a pained, almost drunken stagger. Within minutes, she is leaning heavily on the wall of the building next to them and she is bent over, almost double.

 

-I apologize. Daray is on the verge of passing out. We must locate a safe place to rest.-

 

Ahead, the group can make out a wider alley that seems to be getting a lot of pedestrian traffic. The majority of the people going in and out seem to have nothing in common, aside from the fact that those leaving seem to be more relaxed than those entering. As they draw closer, at their staggering, snail’s pace, it becomes fairly obvious that there is a brothel accessible down the alley, with a surly looking man who is doing little to conceal his several handguns guarding the doorway with a red light emanating from within.

 

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Lana moves to support Daray, grabbing her arm and draping it over her shoulder while at the same time slipping an arm about her waist.  She does a good job of bracing her weight; Lana’s experience with helping drunken clients stumble to a room comes in handy in this situation.  

 

Lana walks straight up to the surly guard and looks him in the eyes.  She knows how important his job is for keeping the girls inside safe.  For him to be so surly either he has had a bad night of trouble or he’s not getting a fair pay for his services.  She looks at him with her read aura ability and sees a swirl of colors that tell her a story; brown for stress, red for anger, and underneath that a grey for depression.  Lana adjusts herself accordingly. Her expression is serious but she nods her head at him respectfully.  

 

She asks softly.  “Please, I need to speak to the head girl.  Is she available?”

 

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Daray’s weight shifts from the wall to Lana fairly easily. It’s immediately apparent that she is not much more than barely functioning. Her body is running on auto-pilot, and taking orders from Lana via subtle pushes and nudges in one direction or another.

 

As they approach the man at the door, he pauses from frisking a man to eye the pair, raising an eyebrow at Lana’s words and her subtle, but sincere acknowledgement of his station. He finishes his frisking of the man, removing a small hold-out pistol from one of his pockets and tossing it in a compartment in the wall before letting the man through, then turns his attention to them.

 

“Ladies.” He nods at them, looking unsure as to whether he should assist with Daray or just let Lana handle her. “Looks like we’re having a good evening.” He adds before taking a comm unit from his pocket and hanging it on his ear.

 

He casts an ugly glance at a young kid strolling up toward him, which causes the kid to about-face and head back down the alley, then activates the comm link and speaks, “Vash, we have a situation out front that requires your attention. A couple girls just stumbled up and are looking to be in a pretty bad way.” He pauses as something is said over the comm, which Lana suddenly finds herself eavesdropping on via the earpiece still in her ear.

 

“...are being followed?”

 

“No, it doesn’t look like it.” The man glances back down the alley past Daray and Lana, then back at them as the conversation continues. “One of them looks to be armored up but almost unconscious, and the other looks pretty normal, couple gene-mods…”

 

“Alright Lief, put them in the back. I”m sending Hal to relieve you. Watch them until I get there, and then would you PLEASE go and talk to her?! This crap is tearing the two of you apart and your refusal to talk to her is only making things worse!”

 

Leaf’s shoulders seem to deflate a little, and his aura suddenly streaks through with embarrassment at her chastisement. “I will.”

 

“You know she loves you Lief. And everyone can see that you love her. It isn’t anything that can’t be fixed. The girls are even pooling some creds to help her out. Just, please, go speak to her about it.”

 

“Yes ma’am.” He responds, turning slightly away from Lana and Daray and covering his comm unit and mouth with his hand so they can’t hear him, not realizing that APRIL is patching the conversation through to Lana. He then whispers, “She asked after you all this morning. I told her I’d say hi for her. If I ever catch the fucker that did that to her…”

 

The woman’s voice was sympathetic and caring, “I know Lief, just take care of these girls and then go see her. We’re all looking for the bastard.”

 

He nods his head and closes the link, then turns to face Lana and Daray just as another large man emerged from the red-lit doorway. “If you ladies will follow me please?” He motions them toward the door, leading the way inside.

 

The inside of the brothel is quite well appointed, in some great contrast to the alley that leads to it. It is warm and comfortable inside, and seems to be very well maintained. They pass a few people as they move to the back of the facility, most of them are women who smile and greet the passers-by knowingly.

 

Through a door at the back of the main hallway, Lief leads them into a small office where he places his palm on a blank section of wall and, after a second, pushes open a panel that was completely invisible before it swept aside. He leads them through and closes the hidden panel behind them, then motions to the room with a small flourish. “Please make yourselves comfortable, Lady Vash will be with you in a moment.”

 

The room is comfortable and inviting, but not lavish. More like an actual bedroom than a place of work. There is a large bed dominating the center of the long wall opposite them, and a long couch along one of the shorter walls. A small desk, a wardrobe, and a couple of dressers, one with a mirror and vanity attached to it, round out the furniture. There are numerous huge, fluffy pillows strewn about the soft, open carpeted floor and a door in the back appears to lead to a bathroom, and maybe another exit, but it’s too dark back there to tell for sure.

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