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Status Quo - Chapter 35

Written by: Paullell

 Lana chuckles at Daray’s comment regarding making a living at it and watches with interest as Daray investigates the bag.  “I’d say there is a good chance that at least some of that was payment for erasing my life.  So I feel no guilt at claiming some of the platinum and buying you lunch for once.”  

 

She glances over at Nate and adds something she remembered him saying.  Do you think it will be much longer until he wakes?  He said T knew what he was doin’ when he hired him.  Do you think T is Turin?”

 

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Daray takes four of the platinum bars from the bag, then closes it back up and tosses it to the floor at Lana’s feet. “I’d say you’ve more than earned it. I don’t know what the going rate is for someone’s complete history, but I’m pretty sure that comes nowhere close.”

 

She pulls her baston from their sheath and proceeds to replace the four platinum bars she had pulled out of the hidden compartments over the past few days. “He should be coming around any time now. It looked like you just winged him, and I’m sure those cybernetic upgrades probably absorbed some of the current.”

 

As if on cue, Nathan began groaning again, and pulling against the cords Lana had bound him with.

 

“T could be Turin. Or Tim, or anything else. The only way we’ll know for sure is if we can get Nate here singing.” She slides the metal baston home in their sheath again, then stands up and moves over to the hog-tied body on the floor.

 

Crouching down next to him, she flicks at his pierced earlobe until he comes around with a start, then offers him a bright smile. “Nate, that wasn’t very bright. I have to say that I’m a little disappointed. Frankly, I thought T knew better than to trust someone like you with something so important.”

 

She rolls him roughly over onto his side so he can see both her, and Lana, then flicks out the claw on her index finger again and hooks it through the side of his nose with one quick motion. Nathan screams out in pain and surprise at the sudden damage, and when his head jerks back reflexively, it yanks the claw the rest of the way through the nasal wall, leaving a clean cut all the way down one side of his nose.

 

He starts to howl in pain, and bleed all over the floor, but comes completely non-responsive to anything else in the process. After a couple minutes of him sobbing, Daray finally leans forward and punches him in the side of the face, which instantly shuts him up.

 

“He said you’d come. Told me to buy a gun and hide it near the door. He said I was gonna win. Said you’d die here…” He glares at Daray as he speaks.

 

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Lana makes a scornful face.  “Well then he either lied to you or he’s not as good at predicting the future as he thinks he is.  Daray’s really bad at that whole dying thing.”  She walks a little closer to the writhing man.  “When he spoke with you, did he have a problem with his speech, as if his tongue was forked?”  Lana tries not to show how important the answer is to her as she crouches down next to Daray.

 

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“Like I know what a forked tongue sounds like? Lady, I’m a computer hacker. I’m not exactly what you’d call a people person…”

 

Daray leans forward and punches him in the face again. His head bounces of the carpet and he winces, the blood from his nose wound is covering most of his lower face and pooling on the floor beneath him. “I don’t think that’s what she was asking Nate. You know, your chances aren’t looking too hot here. I don’t suppose you can survive a five-story drop out your window here can you?”

 

Nathan gawks at her for a second before shaking his head, “Alright, he spoke with a lisp. I never saw his tongue. He approached me. dropped all that platinum in my lap, told me what he wanted, and that you would come here for me. He said if I had a gun near the door that you’d die here and I would be done. I don’t know his name, on the street they call him T. He’s some kind of psychic. Apparently not a very good one though.”

 

-I am detecting a massive build-up of electro-magnetic energy from the kitchen Daray. Based upon the pattern of the energy wave, it appears to be a micro-fusion bomb.-

 

Daray snaps her head around toward the kitchen. Her eyes scan the space for any likely hiding spots for such a device. “How much time do have?”

 

-Based upon the power level, less than sixty seconds.-

 

“Shit.” Grabbing the computer, Daray shoves it back in the pack, then hands it to Lana and picks her up without the slightest sign of exertion. 

 

As she leaps through the window, the sound of the explosion causes their ears to ring, and the pressure wave accelerates them over the street. Doing her best to protect Lana from the brunt of the damage, Daray spins them around mid-flight, and is slammed into the building across the street like a missile, the wall partially caving in from the impact. The pair fall through the crumbling structure to the floor of the loft they find themselves in.

 

“I think… I’m gonna take… a little nap…” Daray gasps. Clutching Lana to her protectively, it’s fairly easy to tell that most of her major bones have been broken, and there are at least a couple of sizable chunks of metal sticking into, or through her body. Looking Lana in the eyes, she smiles, “I… l… love… y… you… laannaaa…”

 

Her body goes limp beneath Lana as the sound of sirens and vehicles can be heard closing in on the scene of the explosion.

 

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Lana is close enough that she hears April’s warning about the energy build-up in the kitchen.  Her head turns in horror toward the door and she grabs reflexively at the bag that Daray thrusts into her arms.  And then she is picked up and they are flying through the air, Lana hears an explosion and then there is dust and glass and pain.  Lana crawls off of Daray, pushing her arms away so that she can examine her wounds.  “Damn it!  Hijo de a perra!”  There are tears in her eyes at Daray’s whispered words before she closes her eyes.  “Love you too Daray.  Sleep and I’ll take care of us for a bit.”  She takes off her jacket and stuffs it under Daray’s head before standing up.

 

Looking around the room she sees that they have crashed into an attic area of the neighboring building.  She bites her lip and determines that they probably have some time before they start investigating the next buildings over.  She gets to her feet and rummages around in the rubble until she finds the bag that had rolled out of her arms when they landed, she also finds her stunner underneath a piece of wall section.  When she lifts the bag her right wrist twinges and she realizes she may have sprained it when they landed.  She switches the bag to her left hand and grabs out three platinum bars before putting the bag down next to Daray’s unconscious body.

 

She finds the door that leads to a narrow stair well and makes her way down them as quickly as she can.  Once in the main building she dusts herself off and quickly makes her way to street level.  There are others in the hallway; all clamoring to get out of the building and see what caused the explosion and sirens.  Out on the street she grabs a youngster, probably about 14 years old, by the shoulder.  He is standing near the sidewalk gawking at the activity and Lana is well aware that it is normal school hours right now.

 

“Hey, leggo puta.”  He tries to shake her off of his arm.  She lets go now that she has his attention.

 

“Look here.  I have a job I need done.  Want to make some platinum?”

 

The kid’s eyes light up with greed.  “Depends on the job.”

 

Lana pulls out one of the platinum bars and shows it to the kid.  “I need bottled water and protein bars.  Go get as many as you can carry and bring them to the top floor of that building there.  You can keep the change and I have two more bars just like this one waiting for you to get back.”

 

The young kid gives her a cheeky grin.  “Sure thing, puta. I’ll be right back.”

 

Lana’s hand snatches him by the ear, her eyes are narrow and her expression is grim.  “It’s rude to call a woman that you see on the street a whore.  It’s dumb to call your employer one.  Got it usted filty poco híbrido.”

 

She waits until the kid takes off and watches the emergency vehicles for a moment before making her way back to Daray. She looks at the wounds that still have metal bits in them and asks out loud.  “Should I try and take the bits out April?”

 

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The emergency vehicles arrive and crews of armored men and women charge into the building to deal with the mess. As bodies begin coming out of the wreckage, it quickly becomes evident that whoever planted the bomb had little concern for the lives of uninvolved parties. It is also easy to assume that there will be a lot of time spent on the investigation, and that authorities, arriving presently, will be well and truly involved.

 

In response to Lana’s question, she hears the familiar clicking and some tiny bursts of static in her ear. A quick survey of the damage reveals more than just a few bits of shrapnel in Daray’s body. It appears that when she hit the wall of this building, several pieces of metal reinforcement were lodged in her back, including a short piece through the back of her skull. A close inspection reveals that she is neither breathing, nor has a detectable pulse.

 

Within a few minutes time, the boy returns, dropping off grocery bags full of protein bars and a case of water bottles. He is sweating from the exertion of carrying it all from wherever he got it. He whistles appreciatively at the wreckage, and the mess on the floor around Daray.

 

“Damns! That perra is fucked up! I think your friend’s to far gone for protein bars and water punta… She’s muerte! Oh, and the cops are start’n t’search the surrounding buildings. If you had anything to do with that mierda across the street, you’d better rabbit now and forget this muerte perra!”

 

A moment’s attention reveals that he is right, the sounds of military vehicles can be heard, along with the resonating beat of boots moving through hallways. There may be mere minutes before the attic is filled with potentially very disagreeable, armed soldiers.

 

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Lana snarls at the youngster “What did I tell you about insulting your employer culero?  She’s not lost yet.”  She doesn’t look at him. Her heart is pounding in her chest but she pushes the panic down, refusing to give into despair yet.  

 

With careful movements she probes her fingers around where the metal is lodged in the back of Daray’s skull.  Her fingers are quickly covered with warm wet blood.  She digs her nails into the metal and inch by inch pulls it out of Daray’s skull.  She spends one more minute pulling any other bits out that are obviously penetrating major organs.  Once done she can hear the footsteps, the soldiers have obviously entered the building.  She looks at the kid again.  “I cant leave her, someone wants us dead.  I have more platinum, do you know anyone in the building that is loyal once bought?”

 

The kid smiles.  “More platinum? Sure thing gringa.  Mi hermano lives just a floor down.”

 

Lana nods.  “Fine.  You keep carrying that and show me the way.”  She slips the backpack on backwards so that it rests against her chest and then through sheer straining and stubbornness, manages to heft Daray over her shoulder. She is well aware of the blood that is seeping down her and hopes that her body suit catches most of it and keeps it off the floor.  Grunting and sweating, she makes her way as fast as she can down the stairs after the kid.  He leads her to door C-8 and opens it.

 

“Hey Raoul.  I gotta surprise for you!”

 

“What is it Emil?” he asks as he walks out of the kitchen.  Lana pushes past the kid and steps into the tiny apartment.  She is stumbling under Daray’s weight.  This complex is no less slum-like than the one she had been in earlier but although this apartment is cluttered it does not have the filth of the previous one.  She looks at the kids brother, a rather attractive 25 year old of apparent Spanish descent.  She lets the tears of worry fill her eyes and her voice is pleading. “I need your help, por favor.  I’ll pay.”  She takes her injured wrist and fishes out a hand full of platinum bars from the backpack.  “I have more but they are coming.”

 

He looks her over for a moment and she fears that he will turn her over himself, but he finally nods.  “Eh. Emil,”  he tosses a rag at the boy. “Go wipe up as much of the blood as you can find and then toss the rag.”

 

“Si”  He drops the bag of bars and water and takes off, wiping the floor nearest the door first.

 

Raoul walks over and lifts Daray off of her shoulder and walks into the back bedroom of the apartment.  Lana follows in time to see him stuff her under the bed and then slide books, toys, and a thousand other odds and ends in front of and around her.

 

He then stands and looks at Lana again.  She shoves the backpack into the closet and follows him back out into the main room.  “This will only delay policía.  They will find her if they search.”

 

“I know. I’ll distract them.”  Lana answers as she begins to strip the bodysuit off of her.

 

Raoul looks at her with confusion for a moment and then grins.  “Ah chica, this will be fun.”

 

Lana wipes her hands on her bodysuit and stands naked in the middle of the room her blue tail flicking with nervousness.  They can both hear the sound of footsteps outside and then his brother’s voice. “Hola Policia. What’s up?” Spoken overly loud in warning.

 

Lana walks over to Raoul and pushes him until he sits down on the couch she then stuffs her bodysuit underneath one of the cushions and straddles him.  Her hands quickly move to unbutton his shirt and her lips descend on his.  She is hoping that whoever comes in will get the impression they have been at this for a while considering her disheveled hair and fully unclothed appearance.

 

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Daray’s body is heavier than one would expect from seeing her slight frame, but adrenaline does interesting things to a person, as does that sense of panic that can only be tamed by the sheer gravity of a nearly-hopeless situation. Curiously enough, there is almost no blood seeping from even the most grievous wounds in her body by the time Lana begins to move her, but there is enough that Emil has to move with haste to get it cleaned up before the authorities arrive.

 

By the time his voice is heard announcing the arrival of the soldiers in the hall, Raoul is getting over any initial hesitancy he may have had at the sight of Lana stripping out of her second-skin armor. He shudders as her fluffy tail brushes over the thin material of his pants, which are some sort of casual, lounging-around design. As her lips descend on his, he is more than eager to accept the interaction, his tongue immediately going to work against her lips and tongue. His hands begin to roam her sides and back, eventually reaching her wild mane of blue locks and his fingers twine around and through the strands, pulling her in closer to him the instant his chest is bared.

 

It is obvious that he is no stranger to women, with as quickly as he takes to the task in the face of the impending interruption, although he is perhaps a bit forceful in his approach. 

 

A slightly more subdued conversation seems to be taking place in the hallway. It is difficult to hear every word, but the overall tone seems to be Emil trying to explain that his brother is indeed home, but is entertaining a lady. He actually asks if they wouldn’t mind coming back in twenty minutes or so, which serves only to get them banging on the door immediately.

 

“Open up in there! This is a lawful police search pursuant to section eleven of article twenty two of the inter planetary expansion charter. Terrorist activities in the area are under investigation.”

 

Raoul ignores them for several moments, fully absorbed in Lana’s attention until the banging on the door becomes more of a battering. Finally, he hefts her off of his lap, setting her gently on the couch cushion that is hiding her clothing, and gets up, not bothering to hide his arousal as he opens the door and is almost instantly overrun by four heavily armed soldiers in full body armor.

 

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‘What is this? Where am I?’ Darren looks around at the flat, featureless landscape he finds himself in. There is nothing as far as he can see in any direction, except for the soft, pliable ground that has the color of sun-starved flesh. He isn’t sure, but he thinks there may be the faintest outline of a pair of mountains far off in one direction. 

 

-You are in your head.- A female voice responds.

 

‘Who is that? Who’s there?’ He spins around, but can find no sign of the voice’s source.

 

-It is me Daray. APRIL- The voice sounds much closer, almost in his ear. And this time it is accompanied by a soft glow emanating from somewhere over his right shoulder. 

 

Spinning around, he sees the luminous figure of a slim, attractive woman standing there, arms at her side. She doesn’t appear to be wearing anything, but it is difficult to tell with every square inch of her body softly glowing. Even her straight, shoulder-length hair seems to be giving off a dull light, and her face and eyes are completely unreadable, almost disappearing completely into the luminosity of her form. ‘APRIL?’

 

-Yes Daray.- The glowing form inclines her head ever so slightly.

 

‘My name is Darren.’ He corrects her. ‘Where am I?’

 

-You are in your head Daray. You suffered grievous damage in the explosion and your body has shut down.-

 

‘Explosion?’ He quirks an eyebrow at the form.

 

-Yes Daray. There was a micro-fusion explosive planted somewhere in Nathan Tennant’s kitchen. You moved quickly enough to get clear of the initial blast, but the concussion wave propelled you into another structure and you were damaged upon impact.-

 

‘What would I be doing that would make people want to blow me up? And why do you keep calling me Daray? My name is Darren.’ He takes a step toward the radiant figure, stopping in surprise when the ground beneath his feet gives way slightly. It seems firm but pliable, in exactly the same way that normal ground isn’t. ‘This is my mind?’

 

-You and Lana are investigating the source of the attacks on her. My programming only allows me to refer to you as Daray, which is your legal name. And yes, this is your mind.-

 

‘Why does the ground feel like… skin?’

 

-I do not know Daray. I am still not able to decipher the cryptic nuances of your dreams. Although of late, they seem to be largely centered around gender and self identity. I suspect that this case is no different.-

 

‘Stop calling me Daray! My name is Darren! Darren Owen…’ He raises his hands to his head and drags his fingers through his hair in frustration. ‘Darren Owen… something… Why can’t I remember my last name?’

 

-Your name, on official record, is Bowen. Daray Bowen.-

 

‘But it isn’t. Daray is a woman’s name. Look at me. I’m not a woman!’ He motions down at his slim, androgynous body. He is standing naked, but without closer inspection it would be difficult to tell what gender he really was. ‘This isn’t right…’

 

As he inspects his effeminate body, the ground begins to shake and roil, causing him to stagger slightly to keep his balance. The motion doesn’t seem to bother the glowing form of APRIL in the least however. -You have been a woman for nearly two years now Daray.-

 

‘What do you mean? I’ve been a woman? I’m not a woman? Look!’ He switches his gaze from her form to his body again. His chest is now pressing outward slightly into two subtle globes of flesh, and his male genitals have all but completely receded into his body. ‘No! This isn’t right!’

 

He closes his eyes and concentrates. ‘Man. I’m a man. MY name Darren… Darren… something… What’s my name?’

 

The tremors continue, and the ground begins to bunch up beneath his feet, causing his concentration to break again. Glancing toward the far-off mountains, he sees that the ground is now sloping up hill, the mountains rising higher and higher as the angle of the incline continues to increase. ‘What the hell is that?!’

 

-I do not know Daray, this is your mind, despite my having taken up residence here as well.-

 

‘This is crazy! What the hell is going on here?’ The slope continued to increase, the ground shifting beneath his feet. He struggled to keep his balance, which made it impossible for him to avoid the gargantuan hand that quickly moved overhead and snatched him up by the scruff of his neck.

 

He was lifted into the air, past the now-vertical expanse of what was obviously the skin of some giant. The hand lifted him past the two mountains, which appeared to be two huge breasts, and finally stopped, suspending him in front of a woman’s face. Her enormous cobalt blue eyes fixed on him, staring seriously as if contemplating what to do with him. A massive cascade of strawberry blond hair rolled off her head and down her naked back, and her look, while not gorgeous, could easily be described as pretty, in a sort of easily dismissed on the street, or in passing, but still attractive way.

 

*Why aren’t you saving Lana?* The giantess bellowed at him. Her breath was sweet and warm, and washed over him like a gale-force wind.

 

‘I don’t… who is Lana? Who are you?’ He squirmed helplessly against her massive hand, trying to free himself.

 

*You really are useless aren’t you? No wonder you went away so easily. You didn’t have the balls to stand up to the people who killed our parents, and you don’t have the balls to stand up for the woman we love. I’m glad you’ll be gone soon.* She chided him as she might a sibling, or some other close relative.

 

‘Please. I don’t know who Lana is. I don’t know what’s going on here! I just want to be left alone.’

 

*Oh. I’ll leave you alone alright. Leave you to wallow in your own self-pity. Since you won’t help her, APRIL and I will have to do it instead.*

 

‘Who are you? What the hell is going on here?’

 

*You just don’t get it do you?* The giant woman moved him closer to one of her space shuttle-sized eyes and narrowed it at him angrily. *I’m you. And you’re not!*

 

With that, she tossed him up into the air and quickly swallowed him whole.

 

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It was everything she could do to not jump up and scream out the instant she came to. It took several very long moments for her to understand where she had awoken. Stashed beneath a bed of some kind, with books and debris pushed in around her on all sides, allowing the merest slivers and gaps of dim light to reach her. 

 

She was about to start digging her way to freedom when she heard the commotion somewhere off to the side, probably in another room. Where the hell was she? And where was Lana?

 

‘APRIL?’ She thought.

 

-I am here Daray.-

 

‘Was that A dream?’

 

-I do not know Daray. My understanding of the human psyche is, as yet, too limited to determine the source, or root cause, of the images.-

 

‘Where are we? Is Lana OK?’ She clenched her eyes against a stab of pain as one of her ribs adjusted its position, forcing some organ or other bit of tissue to move aside for a moment.

 

-Lana appears to be in the vicinity. This structure is not equipped with sufficient monitoring equipment for me to be able to tell you more. As it is, I can only tell you that her transceiver is near by.-

 

‘Can she hear you?’

 

-Her transceiver is close enough to receive. If she is still attached to it, then she should be hearing me, yes.-

 

‘APRIL?’

 

-Yes Daray?-

 

‘Why can’t I move my arms or legs?’

 

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To say that Bill Killgore was angry would be the sort of monumental understatement that would win awards at the sorts of conventions that awarded people prize money for being able to quote entire movies from front to back.

 

“You told me it was the best gear on the market!” His new cybernetic hand, this one looking much more like the sort of sexy, smooth appliance one might have seen in a 20th century science fiction movie, closed around the large man’s throat. There was no whirring, clicking, or hydraulic piston noise to accompany the movement. Just the simple act of a large, metal hand closing menacingly around a man’s throat.

 

“I’m sorry man. I don’t know what happened!” The smaller man gasped out as his hands pounded and clawed uselessly against the gleaming limb. “I thought…”

 

“The fuck you did!” Bob squeezed a little harder, which elicited a very satisfying gagging noise from the cyber-engineer that dangled a good six inches off the floor. “You hoped you could take me for a ride, and get away with it the first time I got into a rough spot!”

 

“It’s not like that!” His voice was squeaky and harsh now, the air from his lungs having a tough time working its way through his deformed wind pipe. “He made me…”

 

Bob’s one good eye went wide and he tossed the dangling man into the reclined chair that he’d sat in himself when he’d been here to get his arm and eye replaced. “Who made you?”

 

The cyber-engineer tried to soothe the angry peal across his throat with one hand while he clutched the arm of the chair with the other. “I don’t know his name. He was a a tall guy. Wore a dark jacket with a hood and talked with a lisp.”

 

“And what did he tell you?” Bob asked with a sinister tone. His flesh and blood hand playing along the edge of a shiny tray filled with all manner of surgical tools and implements. 

 

The man looked at him doubtfully. “You’re going to kill me no matter what I say aren’t you?”

 

“Probably. I’m sorry Chet, but you don’t do what you did to me and live to tell others about it. I’m not in the business of saving lives, or being nice to people any more, as I’m sure you’ve heard…”

 

Chet just nods dumbly at Bob’s words, eyes moving back and forth between the tray full of sharp implements and Bob’s dead-serious face. “Fine. He said you’d come in for repair, and to give you non-em shielded parts. He said you’d come back and threaten to kill me. Then he told me that you wouldn’t do it.”

 

Bob picked up a #7 scalpel, it’s long, curved blade gleaming wickedly in the brightly lit operating theater. He eyed the blade pointedly, making sure Chet got a good, long look at it. “You have my attention Chet. I’m eager to find out why I’m not going to kill you.”

 

“Because I work for Almon Genloe. And if you kill me, he’ll come after you.”

 

“Oh, I’m afraid that’s old news Chet. Almon and I have already had a falling out of sorts, and I don’t think our friendship stands much chance of repair. You’re going to have to do better than that.” He approached Chet, brandishing the shiny blade menacingly, a malicious grin forming on his scarred face.

 

“Fine, he told me where they were going.” Chet spat out so fast that it took Bob a couple seconds to unravel the words and realize what he’d said.

 

“They who?”

 

“Two women. One with blue hair and a tail, the other’s short, blonde, and tough to kill.”

 

Bob stopped in his tracks, narrowing his flesh-and-blood eye at Chet. “Where?”

 

“They’re on Mars. I’ll tell you where once you call me from a ship in transit.”

 

“Better Chet. But not quite there yet.” Bob slowly moved the blade toward Chet’s throat, then suddenly grabbed his hand, pinning it to the armrest with his cybernetic appendage. The scalpel changed course, now heading toward Chet’s restrained wrist.

 

“They’re in Hector! Hector! I have the address!”

 

“Good Chet. That will make things a lot easier.” Bob replied as the scalpel bit into the flesh of his arm. Chet howled at the spike of pain and the flow of scarlet fluid from the wound. Watching in horror as Bob set about the task of amputating his hand. “Now, you give me the address and I’ll leave before you bleed to death. Maybe you can stave off death with some of your fancy equipment here…”


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