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Status Quo - Chapter 26

Written by: Paullell

 

 

Sergeant Killgore smirks as he watches Lana fleeing toward the back of the store. He can see how scared she is, and he seems to revel in that feeling as he pokes and prods idly at the clothing, watching her through his dark glasses.

 

-Daray would like me to pass on that you are safe here, as long as he has not brought a military unit with him. One moment please.-

 

During the pause, Lana reaches the cyborg, who looks her over only briefly before returning his attention to Sergeant Killgore. “Don’t worry. He knows better than to come in here and bring trouble with him.” The man’s voice is deeper than it looks like it should be, based upon his skinny frame, but his confidence is unwavering.

 

-Street level sensors indicate that he is alone. I am detecting no signs of military presence in the surrounding area.- APRIL finally returns.

 

After another moment, Sergeant Killgore begins making his way through the racks and shelves, his general course bringing him directly to Lana and the cyborg.

 

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Lana nods and tries to steady her breathing.  “If it’s all the same to you I thank I’ll stay here anyways until my friend comes back out.”  She sits down on a nearby chair with her purchases in her lap and her tail flicks nervously.  “That doesn’t make me feel better April.  He’s the kind who once official business is done will hold a PERSONAL grudge if you know what I mean.” She speaks quietly, hoping that no one but April will hear.

 

Lana doesn’t retreat any further, she tries not to look at him and prays that Daray will come get her soon before violence begins.

 

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Sergeant Killgore saunters up to Lana and the cyborg, smiling a winning smile as he looks down on Lana’s nervous form. The cyborg eyes him harshly, daring him to try something.

 

“You know,” Sergeant Killgore begins, raising his hands as if to show that they are empty. Almost immediately it becomes apparent that his intent is to show off the cybernetic right forearm and hand that are new since the last time Lana has seen him. “When your mysterious friend broke into ‘The Ether-Bean’ and rescued you, I thought my day was going bad.”

 

He flexes the shiny metal fingers a few times to demonstrate their function. It is not the best cybernetic prosthetic available, which is obvious by the way it whirs and clicks as its digits move. “But then I found out that the hand she crushed with that metal stick of hers would have to be amputated.”

 

He then pulls the sleeve of his jacket back to reveal the horribly scarred flesh of his upper arm where it meets the metal prosthetic. The skin is lumpy, twisted, and off-color, as if it was hastily pushed into place and held there with a piece of cheesecloth while it healed, instead of given any form of proper medical attention. “Of course, that was bad news, but it was made even worse by the fact that I was relieved of duty, and discharged from military service for my involvement in dissident affairs. That meant I had to find a somewhat less-reputable cyber-doc…”

 

He slowly rolls the frankensteined limb around a little bit for Lana to see, before covering it back up with his sleeve and then clasping his hands behind his back. “On the good side however, my discharge has allowed me to pursue my hobby as a full-time occupation. You see, as it turns out, there are whole organizations dedicate to eradicating your kind of gene-filth from the face of existence.”

 

His smile turns more than a little sinister as he continues, “and they seem more than willing to cover my expenses in the pursuit of that same goal. So I figured that I would start with you, the little bitch that cost me my arm. Imagine my surprise when I track you here only to find out that your other gene-filth friend is somehow still alive.”

 

He leans down to get to eye-level with Lana, raising his flesh and blood hand to lower his dark glasses to the end of his nose, so he can look over them at her. Behind the glasses, his left eye has been replaced with a mildly-glowing, blue-green lens, surrounded by an ugly frame of metal. The artificial eye is set in a similar field of ugly, lumpy scar tissue a his arm, but here there is the addition of a pair of deep, ugly, pink scars that run diagonally across his eye socket, from his brow to his cheek. The scar tracks look as if they went down to, or even into, the bone beneath the skin, and his face seems to have lost some ability to articulate in that area as he glares at her. “You see, this is a good thing, because, I know she was the one that came after you that night, and I owe that little bitch for an eye, and an arm. And when the pair of you leave the protection of the market here, I’m going to take you to a nice, private, secluded little hole in the wall, and I’m going to tie her up, and make her watch as I take payment for her actions, out of your hide.”

 

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As Lana looks over the monstrosity that the soldier has become she is filled with a feeling of pity.  Not only is he a very sick man with nodes of corruption that reach to his very soul, but now his is physically damaged as well.  She ceases ignoring him and looks at him directly, sorrow shining in her eyes.  “I’m very sorry you have had such a rough couple of days.  I thought at one point you were a very powerful and competent solder.  Now I can see that you are just a pathetic racists whose exterior finally matches the ugliness in your heart.  I hope you find peace but I promise you; you will not ever touch either one of us and unless you want to end up more damaged than you already are, I suggest you find some other occupation to dedicate your time to.”  She then turns her head away and ignores him again, trusting in the guard to prevent him from starting any physical violence.

 

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“Yeah, what she said.” Daray’s voice comes from behind the cyborg. Her statement is punctuated by a brief electrical hum, followed by an energy discharge. A lance of blue-white light arcs out of the relative darkness o the partially-hidden door, striking Sergeant Killgore squarely in the chest.

 

The cyborg guard turns to the side, raising an arm as if to strike at the source of the beam, but stops when he sees Daray standing there, arms held up at head level. Her hands are open, fingers spread wide, and on the index finger of her right hand a small, gun-shaped gadget is dangling loosely by what looks like a trigger guard of some kind. The device is much smaller than the pistol she had given to Lana a few days earlier, and a dark, hunter green in color.

 

The guard casts a critical eye at Daray, who’s eyes are looking back and forth between Lana and Sergeant Kilgore, ignoring the guard completely. Seeing that Daray is obviously not going to start shooting up the place, he relaxes a little and turns to see the results of the blast.

 

Sergeant Killgore is laying on the floor twitching and convulsing, completely incapacitated. His new cybernetic prosthetics are smoking slightly, their more sensitive electronic components obviously not shielded very well against power surges.

 

Seeing that she is not going to be attacked by the guard, Daray lowers her hands, sliding the stun-gun into a moulded holster and holding it out for Lana to take. “I know you didn’t care for the gun, but I wanted you to be able to defend yourself if you need to, so I got you this… I guess you can pretty well see how it works.”

 

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Lana grins with relief when Daray appears.  She steps past the guard and throws her arms around her, heedless of the clothes that she scatters on the floor in her haste “Oh, thank god!” then more nervously, “Is he dead?”  

 

She turns and looks between the downed man and the tiny green gadget dangling from her hand.  “You bought that for me?” She laughs, “So that’s why you wanted to know my favorite color.”  

 

She looks at the guard hesitantly.  “Your not going to get mad at her are you?  I promise that is a very bad man.” She points at the man on the floor as she adds that last part.

 

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“No, it’s just a stun gun.” Daray smirks as she encircles Lana’s waist with her arms and plants a quick kiss on her lips. “Although it looks like it may have burned out some of his new cybernetic components. That’s what you get for buying cheap, unshielded, black market knock-offs though.”

 

She grins down at the stun gun, then eyes Lana mischievously. “Well, I didn’t see any sense in getting yo your own stun gun, and have it be some gaudy color you couldn’t stand.”

 

The guard chuckles at Lana, prodding at former-Sergeant Killgore’s unconscious, twitching body. “No ma’am. This guy’s a real asshole. Always has been. ‘Bout time someone shot him. Tell you what. You buy all this mess you jus’ tossed on the floor here, an we’ll call it good ne?”

 

Daray releases Lana from their embrace and stoops to help her gather her selections, raising an eyebrow at a few of the unmentionables she gathers from the floor, but not wanting to sound like a typical guy, she bit her tongue (gently), and just picks them up.

 

“We need to get moving. This lug won’t be out more than five minutes, and we have a boat to catch.” She nods to the guard, hefting a small pack she hadn’t had going into the back room up higher on her shoulder. Then helping Lana transport her selections to the counter, she eyes her friend, and snags a couple more items along the way, what looks like a pretty heavy, but stylishly cut leather jacket, a couple belts, a couple pair of leggings that look like they have some kind of shaped plates in areas down the fronts and sides, and a full body catsuit, all in basic black. 

 

The young girl is watching the proceedings at the back of the store with genuine interest as they rush forward to her station, her periodical discarded and forgotten on the counter. “Dad’s been wanting to shoot that jackass for years now. I bet he’s opening a bottle of champaign back there right now.” She grins at them as they approach. “Just for that, I’m taking 25% off your stuff.”

 

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Lana nods and helps gather up the clothes that she had dropped.  She grins when they reach the counter and the girl gives them a discount.  “Wow, he’s made himself very unlikable around here.”  

 

She briefly wonders about the things that Daray has grabbed but she doesn’t take time to ask about them, anxious to get away from the ticking time bomb on the floor.  

 

Once they leave the shop and get on their next transport she realizes she hasn’t thanked her for the shopping trip.  “Thank you so much for thinking of me.  Should I be thinking about how to pay you back for all of this?”  She asks hesitantly as she shakes the packages.  Once she asks that question a huge gaping hole of worry opens inside her.  She is with someone now.  This almost always means an end to her profession.  How will she pay for her share now?  She’s a complete charity case and the feeling doesn’t sit well with her.

 

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Daray smiles as they make their way to docking bay 94. “Lana, I want you to know that I would, and will, do anything for you. I know that you don’t want to be dependent on someone. ‘Kept,’ as you called it before. I don’t want to put you in a situation where you feel that way. Not ever.” She pauses, eyeing her friend fondly before keying an entry request into a closed door along the outer edge of the docking ring. “I don’t need you to pay me back. But I will understand if you feel you need to.”

 

The familiar voice of Captain Torres comes over the intercom on the wall near the door. “Hello. May I help you?”

 

Daray keeps her eyes locked on Lana’s as she answers, “It’s Daray and Lana, Captain.”

 

“OK, cycling you through.”

 

The panel went silent, and the heavy pressure door began to retract into the wall, revealing a 10 by 10 foot room with another pressure door on the other side. Daray steps into the room as she continues talking to Lana. “When this is all over and done, I want you to be happy. Whether that’s with me, or back in your old life, or something else. I just want you to be happy. Of course, I’d prefer it if it was with me…” She grins as she outer door trundles closed again behind them.

 

“I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about doing something different with your life. I know I do from time to time. Anyway, I’m really good at what I do, but sometimes I have a need while on the job, to be two places at once…” She reaches out and gently grasps Lana’s upper arms, her face turning serious. “You’re pretty fast. You learn quickly, and you’re smart as anyone I’ve ever met. I don’t want you to feel obligated just because of our relationship, whatever that is, or is going to be, but I think you’d make an amazing Pincher. We could be a team. I’m talking equal partners here too, not you being my employee, or apprentice, or whatever. I mean you and I, together. Freelance. Taking the jobs we want. Not answering to anyone else.”

 

There is a hissing noise as the outer door creates an air-tight seal, then again as the inner door’s seal is broken, and it begins to trundle open to admit them into the docking bay.

 

“Anyway, you should take some time to think about it. It’s hard sometimes, and there’s a lot of danger involved. Nearly everything I do is against some law, somewhere, and I get shot at. Of course, if I’m doing my job right, the shooting stays to a minimum.” She pauses for another moment as the inner airlock door stops moving, then lets go of Lana’s arms and smiles.

 

“And know that whatever you decide, I’m behind you all the way.”

 

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Lana considers her words as they move along, the possibility of doing something different had never really occurred to her.  “I don’t know Daray.  I’m not a violent person.  It can be a little overwhelming at times, sensing people’s emotions in a violent or tense situation.”  She turns the stun gun over in her hands.  “I’ve always been very good at what I do… did.  And I seriously doubt I could ever keep up with you at a dead run.  But despite all that, I think I might be willing to give it a try.  If you really think I could be an asset instead of a liability.”  She starts out hesitantly but by the end of her verbalized thought process she shoots Daray a grin, letting her know that she is seriously willing to consider a vocational change. 

 

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Daray smiles as they enter the hanger, loosely wrapping an arm around Lana’s waist as they turn toward the parked craft. “It isn’t always, or even usually, a violent job. I just had a bad turn this last time out. Usually I sneak in, get what I’m after, and sneak out again. Truth be told, a lot of what I co, can be done remotely, with the right equipment and skills, but since my own hacking skills are… shall we say, somewhat lacking? I end up going hands-on quite a bit.”

 

Docking bay 94 is a large room, about the size of most high school gymnasiums. Along one of the short walls is the airlock they just entered through, and the opposite wall is dominated by a massive door (currently closed and sealed) that is split down the middle where it will come apart to permit the ship to pass in and out.

 

The ‘Neophyte’s Serendipity’ is a pretty large ship. nearly twice the size of ‘The End’, and probably about as old, although it is infinitely better cared for. The fuselage of the vessel is long and a little squat. Almost cigar-shaped, but squat, as if someone had applied a heavy weight to the top, causing the sides to squish out in a roughly oval cross section. Attached to the top of the central body of the ship, starting about center mass and extending all the way to the aft, a pair of wide, sweeping wings curve gently down toward the deck. The overall effect is that of some humongous predator, like the long-extinct birds of prey from Earth’s past.

 

Hanging beneath the wings on either side of the fuselage, there are four ion drives, two on each wing. They are humming slightly, as if waiting for the command to catapult the craft out of the bay. The ship is obviously old, but well cared for, with many shiny new parts visible as they make their way along its length, walking beneath the quietly humming engines, along the central hull of the ship.

 

As they reach the front, they can see that the fuselage narrows suddenly toward the front, with the area toward the ground raising sharply into an overhanging portion that then narrows to a point some thirty feet further along. Beneath the overhanging area, which is easily twenty feet above the pair, is a large open door, with a low ramp extending down to the deck. Up the ramp and through the door, they can see almost all the way to the back of the ship through the large, mostly-empty cargo hold.

 

As they stand and look, a young man with long, blonde hair that is pulled into a tail at the base of his skull approaches them. He is wearing simple clothing, buckled boots, pants, a t-shirt, and a brown leather jacket. He has a thigh holster on his right leg, with a pistol in it and a couple extra magazines in surrounding pouches, and his blue eyes match the genuine smile that spreads across his face as he approaches them.

 

“Ladies! Welcome.” He offers his hand to them each in turn.

 

“Captain Torres, It’s very good to see you again, thank you very much for helping us out of this jam, we really appreciate it.”

 

“It’s my pleasure Daray. Anything I can do for a friend. And please, call me Vincent, or Vin.” 

 

“OK. Vincent, this is my very good friend, Lana.”

 

“Delighted to meet you m’lady.” He smiles as he takes her hand, then turns and gestures toward the ship’s open door. “Please come aboard. She’s all ready to go and we are cleared for embarkation. We should be able to have you ladies on Mars in under two days.”

 

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Lana looks over Vincent with a smile.  He reminds her of her own pilot friend Jas.  Something about his grin or his stance that they share.  She assumes it is a similar love of adventure and challenge that comes with piloting a vessel.  She holds her hand out to return his greeting.  

 

“It’s nice to meet you Vincent.  Your ship looks to be in beautiful condition, you must be very proud of her.”  

 

She admires the lines and care that she can see he has taken with his ship, something that Jas had always told her would almost never be boring conversation for a pilot.  She lets herself really look Vincent over, opening up her special abilities, looking for the colors in his aura to tell her more about him and his current emotional state, as well as to tell if she misspeaks in any manner.  As comfortable as she normally is with new people she feels slightly out of her element and hopes that Daray’s friends will like her, also a worry she has never had to deal with before.

 

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Vincent smiles at Lana, his aura reveals that he is a normal person, with no psychic powers, and that he is confident, caring, and alert. He is also totally engaged in the conversation and gives off no signs that Lana has misspoken at all. “Thank you very much Lana. We take pretty good care of one another Serendipity and I. It’s nice to meet you. Any friend of Daray’s is more than welcome.”

 

He leads the women through the cargo hold, keying the controls to retract the ramp and close the outer doors as they pass the panel. In the back of the hold is an airlock that stands open. He leads then through it, cycling the doors closed behind them, then up a narrow stair into the habitable portions of the ship.

 

The hallway is narrow, but very clean, although the signs of age are still visible, it is the sort of well-aged appearance that states the vessel has been kept up for its entire life, not restored to an antique shine.

 

Vincent leads them along the hallway, pointing out rooms and facilities as they move, the galley, two empty cabins with bunks and other facilities, “Your choice, one or both.” He offers Daray an understanding look and a comforting nod that causes her to flush through with embarrassment. Then on to the community bathroom, med bay, community room, captain’s cabin, and finally the bridge.

 

“The engine room is in the back, other side of the stairs, not much need to be back there, but I’ll give you a tour later if you like. I just had a new traction drive installed so I can keep up with the Kestrel.” He comments as he cycles the door to the bridge open. 

 

He is immediately met by a tall, purple-haired woman with long, pointed ears and vivid, violet eyes. She is wearing a black body suit beneath a shimmering, indistinctly colored, but very dark, fitted trench coat. The woman leans through the doorway into the corridor and eyes Vincent crossly, her ears laying back from her head in a way that makes her look somewhat like an annoyed cat.

 

 “The Serendipity is a great ship Vin. But yo know she’ll NEVER keep up with the Kestrel!” She chides. Then she turns and sees the new arrivals and her face lights up, the tips of her ears perking up. She steps out of the bridge and pulls Daray into a bear hug. The size difference between them has Daray’s face pressed between the woman’s breasts and the skin on the back of her neck can be seen blushing crimson again around her long braid.

 

Daray returns the hug awkwardly, and seems extremely relieved when the woman releases her. “Hi Riana, it’s good to see you again.” Her voice is suddenly quiet, lacking her normal confidence.

 

“I’m alright. Got some downtime, so I thought I’d come visit Vin here.” She jerks her thumb over her shoulder at Vincent, who chuckles at her, then steps through the door into the bridge. “So this is your new friend. Lana right?”

 

“Yes. Sorry. Lana, this is Riana. Riana, my friend Lana. Riana helped me get accustomed to my uh… new body after the reconstruction. Lots of time in simulations and sparring and stuff. And she helped me rescue APRIL from Aegis Online last year.”

 

“Happy to help out.” Riana beams as she offers Lana the option of a hug. Her aura is extremely strange to behold. It is almost non-existent, as if most of her is somehow not alive, which is extremely odd. Even full conversion cyborgs have auras. What she can make out, seems centered around her head and spine, with a few tendrils surrounding the cores of her torso and limbs, but it does not cover or radiate out from her at all. Somehow, it seems as if she is intentionally holding her aura as tightly to her as possible, although there seem to be no signs of the sort of effort such a feat might take. The colors of her aura are a swirling maelstrom of strength, confidence, love, fear, self doubt, and a sense of reluctant higher purpose. She radiates the sort of strength and resolve one might expect to find in an unwitting, unwilling, but truly selfless person.

 

“Come on you two, plenty of time to chat once we’re away. For now we should get strapped down so we can take off.”

 

She smiles and motions them through the bridge door where they find a gleaming, brand new room with four high-tech acceleration chairs and a single, wrap-around panel of polished computer interface that is alight with surface and floating holographic controls and displays.

 

Vincent is already strapped into one of the two forward chairs, hands on the controls and a comm on his ear, talking quietly to the port authority about departure.


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