Top

Status Quo - Chapter 38

Written by: Paullell

 The shot hits her dead center in the middle of her abdomen.  Pain radiates though her despite the armor, or perhaps because of it.  It takes the impact of the bullet and hardens, dispersing the impact as best it can, but she still feels as though she had been punched in the gut.  At first she struggles for breath, her eyes closed, not even certain if she hit or not.  Her ears register a clatter and she forces her eyes open.  Bob has fallen to the ground and is convulsing as remnant electricity traverses through him.  Daray lands an instant later and kicks him out of the ally and into the street.  

 

Lana tries to nod at her order but she isn’t sure even how to get herself out of her situation, hanging upside down from a railing by her knees.  The sound of shouts and boot steps is a good motivator.  She pushes her fear away, switches the stunner to her injured hand and lifts herself with her abdominal muscles screaming in pain, but they obey.  She grabs onto one of the lower metal rails with her uninjured hand and releases her knees.  

 

She swings down and dangles from one arm for a moment while her feet try to find the railing below.  They make contact and she regains her balance, finally right side up again.  She tucks her stunner back into its holster and climbs down onto the lower level.  The closer she gets to the street below the more her fear recedes.  Soon she is on the ground, she briefly glances toward the direction that Daray ran but she doesn’t follow.   She gathers her legs underneath her and takes off, sprinting for the other end of the alley, she rounds a corner, nearly knocking down an older woman who glowers at her and then begins to weave her way into the pedestrian traffic on the street.  “Keep me updated please April, I need to know she’s still ok.”

 

_________________________________________________________________

 

As Lana makes good her escape, the sounds of the occasional gunshot can be heard, receding into the distance as she bolts down the street, weaving through the pedestrian traffic. There is no response from APRIL, but not knowing the actual range of the transceiver means that she doesn’t know if it is simply due to being too far away, or some other, more dire, eventuality.

 

The reactive armor did its job well, spreading the impact of the bullet out over a wider area of her body, making it more like getting kicked by a horse, than shot with a gun. Her adrenalin does a good job of carrying her away from the scene, but a sort of whole-body soreness threatens to overtake her.

 

The streets of Hector are unusual to Lana, having grown up in the tight, enclosed spaces of Venus Station, she is unused to the open air surrounding and permeating the city. The buildings are tall, although nowhere near as tall as what she had seen in Neo-Tokyo, and instead of meeting with a hard, metallic ceiling, they just end, leaving hundreds of feet of open air between their roofs and the transparent, geodesic dome that separates the city and its inhabitants from the almost non-existent atmosphere of Mars.

 

Beyond the dome, a weak, orange-ish light filters in, a strange combination of the suns rays and reflected light from the ruddy, red ground of the planet. But the light is real, natural, illumination, rather than the harsh artificial light she grew up under. 

 

Within minutes, she finds herself at the edge of the dome. Unsure how far she has run, or even in what direction. She stands, panting for breath, on a sidewalk with an alien city on one side, and a thin transparent sheet separating her from the alien landscape of Mars on the other. Through the pane, she can clearly see more domes, not too far off, filled with miles and miles of green. A few small structures here and there punctuating the landscape that, artificial nutrients notwithstanding, is the source of food for much of the Sol system’s population.

 

Looking from dome to dome, she can even make out a structure that, instead of neat rows of hydroponic crops, seems to be supporting a field of some kind of low-lying, green vegetation, like a carpet. On top of the green blanket, she can make out hundreds of large, four-legged animals milling about in small groups. Cattle perhaps?

 

Her survey continues around and she can see, a few yards away, an opening in the wall of her own dome, leading into a tunnel that looks to connect this dome to the next closest one (one of those filled with what looks like miles of hydroponic racks). The road she is standing next to seems to extend away in either direction, following the gentle curve of the dome’s life-giving wall, opposite of which is the city, standing tall and imposing in all its openness.

 

There is continued silence from her earpiece. She is now too far from the scene to hear even the faintest reports of gunfire. In short, she is lost, and alone, in an alien city, with nothing more than an address that she shouldn’t go near for the better part of twenty-four hours, and passers-by are still giving her strange looks, although it is now unclear as to whether they are due to her hair, ears, and tail, or the fact that she is working for air as if she’s just run a marathon.

 

________________________________________________________________

 

Lana comes to a complete stop and just concentrates on breathing for a few minutes.  She ignores the people around her, pretending that they are ignoring her as she would wish them to.  Once she has regained her breath she starts walking again, more slowly now, following the flow of traffic back into the city area.  She has a vague thought to sit in a café or other public building until it is time to head back to the apartment. Her gut clenches as she realizes she didn’t take any money from the backpack so she is not only lost and alone but penniless as well.  She begins looking around for a free terminal where she can access a map of the area, she has a vague idea of looking for a public library to waste a few hours in.

 

________________________________________________________________

 

Public terminals are available quite readily, leading Lana, within a half hour, to a large, high-tech facility that is filled with public access terminals. There are fewer than a couple hundred, actual printed books there, most of them in the hands of private collectors and paper being a rarity in this day and age.

 

There are a few people going about whatever research they need done, some kids horsing around in the back, their holographic display showing off some bit of female anatomy or other. 

 

The facility is in stark contrast to the couple of buildings Lana has seen on Mars thus far. Being ultra-modern, every nook and cranny is clean, almost gleaming. The light is a pure, white, and seems to emanate from nowhere, and leave no shadows. The chairs are not uncomfortable, and even have hollowed out backs to accommodate people with tails, although the thought of spending a whole day sitting in one certainly is not comforting.

 

As she moves through the city, and into the library, Lana’s senses tingle with the feeling that she is not alone, as if someone is watching her, although there doesn’t seem to be anyone paying her any more attention than the regular passing stares she has been receiving since she arrived, and once inside the library, the only eyes she can find upon her, are those of the unruly teens who suddenly find something much more interesting to look at than the virtual bits of flesh on their displays.

 

________________________________________________________________

 

By the time Lana reaches the library the fur on her tail is standing on end due to the ever present feeling of being watched.  No matter how many times she tries to tell herself that she is just being paranoid, she can’t shake the feeling.  She notices the boys in the back but determines that they pose no threat to her.  No matter how uncomfortable the seats look, they are a welcome relief from standing and walking.  She picks a terminal that will allow her to see the entrance, the idea of sitting with her back to it suddenly seeming like a bad idea despite never having cared about things like vantage points before this adventure.  She slides into her chosen plastic chair and stretches her feet out, groaning quietly at the relief she feels before turning her attention to the terminal.

 

The first thing she searches is ‘sightseeing on mars with a small budget’.  She figures if anything happens and she has to leave quickly this may give her a few options of other public places to go.  After fiddling around with that search for a while she inputs ‘local news and events’ curious as to what has been reported about the explosion investigation so far. She hears an odd noise and her head pops up, looking around the large room for what may have caused it, but other than the boys who have moved several terminals closer to her and are still giving her assign and curious looks, there is no obvious answer for the noise that disturbed her.  She goes back to her research.

 

________________________________________________________________

 

Sightseeing on Mars is a wonderful experience that everyone should have, at least once in their life. The terminal reports with a rather saccharine tone. Whether you visit Sedona, the sight once through to be an alien structure in the shape of a face, or Olympus Mons, the massive mountain visible from Venus (at the right time of year), the sights of Mars can be had for all, even those on a mono-filament budget. Within the agrarian community of Hector, the traveler will be afforded a rare opportunity to see where over eighty percent of the Sol System’s natural food is grown. If you’ve ever had a fresh vegetable, or a piece of beef, chances are good that it originated in Hector.

 

The article goes on for a little bit about how pivotal Hector is in the economy of the Sol system and the lives of its denizens before actually getting to the point Lana had originally queried, The Vito Family Orchards are a sight to behold, and can be explored at no cost (just don’t pick any of the produce, as it is all carefully monitored), and if you choose to take part in some old-fashioned grape stomping, you will earn yourself a complimentary sample of their system-famous wine. Touch here for more information.

 

The Bar-J ranch is an amazing, 40,000 acre ranch where visitors can walk amongst the cattle herds (watch your step!) Touch here for more information.

 

The hanging gardens of Xanthe Terra are simply a must see, especially if you’ve never experienced the aromatic wonder o fresh flowers before (Health information: The Hanging Gardens of Xanthe Terra represent a class D biological hazard, please ensure that you carry a .01 micron air filter with you, or speak to your physician before breathing in the pollinated air). Touch here for more information.

 

The Bowen Family Farm and Distillery represents a wonderful opportunity to see how grains are grown and harvested, or use in breads, noodles, animal feed, energy production, and the best single-malt whiskey in the Sol system (Private claim, not verified by independent third party sources). Touch here for more information.

 

The list goes on, representing a host of agricultural sights, the library she is currently browsing in, the space port (the current record holder for largest space port, in terms of land area covered, and ability to handle the largest atmosphere-capable cargo transports in the Sol system), and a few coffee shops/cafes around the city (including the one she and Daray had visited earlier. All seem to be within, at most, about twenty minutes’ walk of the dome housing the major portion of the city itself.

 

The noise sounds like a gunshot in the relative silence of the library, although the teens that are closely monitoring Lana’s activities don’t seem to notice it, seemingly more concerned about her catching them gawking at her as she pops her head up to investigate the sound. Maybe it was just someone dropping something, or a chair being cracked against a table leg. Still, she can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching.

 

News reports seem to indicate that a Dissident terrorist attack destroyed the fifth, and much of the forth floor of a low-rent apartment building in the ‘D’ sector of Hector about ninety minutes ago. Emergency personnel are reported to have arrived within three minutes of the explosion and casualties appear to be around six or seven individuals, including the badly-charred body of the owner of the apartment in which the fusion device was apparently placed. The owner of the apartment was a young computer programmer for Aegis Online who appears to have been badly tortured and beaten before he was killed in the blast (the news description of his injuries seems to be completely incongruous with what Lana knows to have happened while they were in the apartment). While the reasons for the heinous attack are still unclear, the terrorist responsible was almost immediately flushed out and, after a long and hazardous chase, was forced into an airlock by some quick-thinking soldiers, and flushed out of the city where they disappeared into the construction crews and materials who are working to enclose the Valles Marineris. The search is still on-going, and authorities are confident that an arrest will be made soon.

 

The article is linked to some footage, showing a security camera feed of the explosion, where they enhance and point out the form of Lana in her black bodysuit and jacket (Daray appears to be mostly-hidden beneath her form), blasted across the street and into the attack of the shorter building. The footage then cuts to a much clearer shot of Daray, clad in her black, faceless armor, crouching low over the prone form of Bob Killgore, who the announcer identifies as an Aegis Online soldier who served with distinction and was mercilessly cut down by these rebel insurgents. Daray then leaps into action, blasting away at the investigating troops with he forearm energy weapons, and leaping around like some sort of insect, sticking to, and bouncing off of walls, doing handstands and twirls, kicking and punching people and generally making a nuisance of herself. While the announcer goes on and on about the terrorist’s insidious plot, and anarchistic goals, Lana can clearly see that Daray only fires her energy blasts into the ground at people’s feet, and is careful to only kick or punch them in the chest, where their armor is the thickest, never attacking limbs, or heads, where her strength could easily cripple, or kill someone.

 

The footage then breaks to a shot of Raoul and Emil, who appear to be being interviewed by a reporter. “Si! She was here! There was this enorme explosion, then our building shook like in an earthquake. Me hermano opened the door to see what was going on and this loca mujer in black armor bursts through the door! I grabbed him out of the way and she runs through and climbs out the back window onto the fire escape!”

 

The footage then shifts again to show an ariel view of Daray running across rooftops and leaping from building to building, scaling walls and generally making a show of how easily she can avoid the pursuing fire of the soldiers in their tiny VTOL craft. She runs like some kind of animal, sometimes upright, on her legs, and sometimes on al fours, propelling herself with powerful movements of her core muscles more than those of her arms or legs. It’s like watching some kind of acrobatic circus act as she leaps around, grabbing protruding pipes to spin herself around in mid-air, or suddenly change direction without actually slowing down. The announcer talks about reckless endangerment and how the terrorist put the lives of citizens on the line (here Lana can see that Daray seems to be taking a much more difficult route in order to avoid more populated streets, and is even staying in the central city area in order to avoid the soldiers’ shots going stray and hitting the dome over the city.

 

The final cut shows her diving into an airlock, then out the other side, onto the surface of Mars, where she leads several very large military robots across several landing pads and around numerous storage buildings that make up the spaceport, before diving head first into the mile-deep rocky trench of the Valles Marineris, where she disappears amidst the thousands of workers, robots, and piles of construction materials.

 

The search is reported as on-going and hopes are high that she will be captured soon, but Lana can see that there is clearly too much ground, and too many nooks and crannies in the canyon for them to have any hope of finding someone as small and nimble as Daray.

 

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Lana memorizes the locations of both the Vito Family Orchards and the hanging gardens, both looking like places she would enjoy visiting, as well as being a reasonably safe distance away.  At the news that Sergeant Kilgore is dead she is surprised by how relieved she feels, the man had gone from bad to worse with every passing encounter.  By the end he seemed to be fixated on them like some sort of sick obsession.  The fact that he would no longer be pursuing them she could only view as a good thing.

 

As she watches the vids of Daray’s escape, she smiles, realizing that Daray’s body and movements are like poetry in motion.  Her hand raises and she caresses the image on the vid, although it is a poor substitution for the woman herself.  Lana is at least reassured that Daray has suffered no further mishaps, and she feels better knowing the authorities seem to have no clue as to her identity.  She realizes how soft her expression is and that it might look inappropriate for the material she is watching. Hastily she schools her expression to be bland and uninterested and she clears the news vid off of her screen.  

 

Lana shifts in her chair and stretches her arms and legs out.  Her wrist twinges at the movement and when she looks at it again she realizes it is swollen.  She sighs, but she knows she doesn’t have any supplies to wrap it with, so she studiously tries to ignore it again despite the throbbing that is growing stronger.  She taps on the countertop as she watches the digital clock display tick away the minutes.  After a few moments of inner debate, she opens a second search window and taps in two more searches, ‘businessman biography Turin’ and ‘businessman biography Almon’.  She had only heard their names in passing on Vincent’s ship, and since they hadn’t had a chance to hear back about Riana’s investigation, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to do a little research of her own.

 

________________________________________________________________________

 

The search results come back with what looks to be the correct names on top of the list. There is an article about how Almon Genloe is working to single-handedly restore Neo-Tokyo to reputability, by providing a safe, comfortable place where youths, as well as adults, can go to listen to music, enjoy food and drinks, and even do their work, or homework, in the company of peers. While it is mentioned that the staff of his establishment, ‘The Ether-Bean’ is  bit on the exotic side, there seems to be no mention of any sort of illicit activities taking place in or around the establishment. The piece then goes on to explain how there have been numerous allegations and suspicions about the legality of a good majority of Almon’s operations, but that the Conglomerate has done numerous, and extensive investigations into both his business operations, and his accounts, and have uncovered not a single shred of evidence to support any of the public suspicions.

 

The article on Turin is a little more interesting, although not much more helpful. It begins, Released from prison this morning (the article is dated about a week ago) after serving six months for assaulting a young woman in Tranquility general hospital on the Moon, Turin returns to his Tranquility estate where his comments to the press concerning the event were that the woman provoked his assault by disrupting his shipping operations in a cut-throat bid to take control of the flow of cargo in and out of Earth’s local system. The young woman he allegedly tried to assassinate  comes from a family with questionable corporate allegiance, her mother, a loyal, middle-manager for T.R.I.P (Touch here for more information), separated from her father, a dock-worker on Earth Ring Station, who was later found to have Dissident ties and was killed while attempting to escape authorities who were bringing him in for questioning concerning the ‘Divine Wind’ incident four years ago (Touch here for more information). His daughter, Alina Martin, went missing after her father’s execution in the streets of Earth Ring Station, and remained off the grid for nearly four years, before allegedly working feverishly to disrupt and seize control over Turin’s vast shipping operations on Tranquility. (A picture of Alina Martin reveals a very pretty young woman with a full head of vibrant green hair, including her eyebrows and eyelashes, with numerous, seamless rings pierced through her face at both eyebrows, the left corner of her lower lip, the left wall of her nose, and at least ten in each ear, including a couple of industrial bar piercings. Her vivid green eyes, which match her hair almost perfectly, look bright and intelligent, and the caption beneath the image reports that ‘Miss Martin refused to comment when approached’).

 

An image of Turin Glastnost reveals a medium height, skinny man with dark hair and dark eyes. He seems brooding, and dresses quite nicely. Beneath his image, the caption reports ‘When asked why he attacked Miss Martin, Turin responded that he had ben dealing with a great deal of stress due to the loss of a close, loved-one, and that, combined with the continual disruption of his business, provoked an aggressive response that he wasn’t aware he was capable of. He has served his time in prison, and is seeing a counselor about the aggression. Authorities are confident that he has made a complete recovery and, in light of his willingness to seek help, will no longer pose any threat to society.’ Turin Glastnost, perhaps one of the wealthiest individuals on the Moon, controls more than eighty percent of the shipments in and out of both Tranquility, and Neo-Tokyo, and is a self-proclaimed ‘collector of the exotic and esoteric.’ Miss Martin’s allegations that Turin is keeping a slave harem of mind-controlled women in his Tranquility home were proven false when a Conglomerate search warrant was executed, and his estate searched, immediately following his attack on her at the hospital.

 

Despite the fact that his attack on Miss Martin was witnessed by hospital staff, the lack of evidence to support her allegations concerning Turin have called her statements into question and, following her release from the hospital, Miss Martin appears to have dropped off the grid again, leading authorities to believe that she may have Dissident ties and further discrediting her sworn statements concerning Turin and his operations.

 

There is a bevy of other material concerning both Turin and Almon, most of it concerning their community outreach programs and the work they are each doing to try and enrich the lives of those not as fortunate as themselves. Had Lana not been involved in conversations about these men with Riana, Vincent, and Daray, there would be no reason to suspect anything untoward or unusual about either of them, but in the light of what she had previously been told, all of the news seems to carry an impressive degree of spin, as well as a cargo ship full of spit and polish.

 

And still, that strange feeling of being watched seems to continuously tickle the back of her mind.

 

______________________________________________________________________________

 

Lana rubs the back of her neck trying to work out the tension and paranoia.  She glances around the room again but there is still nothing other than those pesky boys.  She memorizes both the face of Turin and the face of Alina.  Somehow instinctively Lana likes the woman. Since the search for Almon Genloe pulled up nothing useful, she sends that window searching for more information on Alina.  As for Turin, she did find something useful; he had been locked up until a week ago so he could not have been the precog, ‘T’, that both hired the hacker and set him up to be killed along with herself and Daray in the apartment.  She had also learned that he was violent and had a temper; very much someone that she did not want to get involved with.  The last search that she does is to look for any sound bites of interviews so that she can hear his voice, she wants to be able to recognize it just in case she ever comes across him.

 

Her tail flicks with agitation and she looks around again, growing more and more uneasy.  Suddenly she grows cold as a thought reaches her.  The precog had been good enough to know that she would meet up with Daray and come searching for the hacker, what if he had been good enough to know that that blast wouldn’t have killed her?  What if he had not intended to kill or even harm her?  What if he knew that Daray would protect her and this was the only way to separate them?  Lana shakes her head, no that’s silly.  If someone really was trying to kidnap her and could predict the future they would have been waiting in the attic that they were blasted into and would have collected her while Daray was dead.  Lana, still feeling paranoid looks around again, this time she is using her abilities, looking to sense the emotions of those around her, namely the boys and anyone else who may have wandered in.

 

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Searching for Alina Martin produces precious little in the way of useful information. It seems she did quite well in school, which was impressive, due to the fact that, until she graduated, there had been no history of genetic modification in her family, on either side. When she did graduate, in the top 0.02% of a class of 10,000 in both un-modified sports, and all-inclusive academics, she went to a Bio-Engineer and had all of her body hair changed to the vibrant green Lana had seen in her other search. It seems that this genetic tweaking created a schism between her already feuding parents, who then split up. Her mother disowned her, and she moved in with her father on the docks, where they lived for less than a year before the ‘Divine Wind’ incident on Earth Ring Station, which culminated in the public execution of her father, while trying to escape the authorities.

 

After that incident, Alina disappeared for the better part of four years, finally reappearing on the fringes of society where several unconfirmed reports had her working with an ex-Runner woman named Niko for a few months, before taking up residence in Tranquility and taking work as a customs officer at the Tranquility public spaceport. Less than four months later, she was injured in an undisclosed accident and admitted to Tranquility General Hospital, where she was subsequently attacked by Turin, then released, and has fallen off the grid again. As a matter of public record, all of her, and her father’s assets have been frozen, and all of their registered property seized by the Conglomerate as part of an ongoing investigation into Dissident connections. Hospital reports seem to indicate that her condition at the time of admittance was critical, with a deep knife wound to the abdomen and severe bruising over a large portion of her chest and the front and backs of her shoulders. The report goes on to mention that all of her body piercings appear to be seamless, formed, starship hull-grade metal that could not be removed without permanently damaging her, and that she seemed to heal more rapidly than a base-line human, but not so much so that they would have classified her as having been further modified.

 

Interestingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be any samples of Turin’s voice available on the net, and the only picture Lana can turn up, is the one she has already seen.

 

Surveying the library with her ability to see auras and emotions reveals a wash of lustful thoughts and feelings from the leering boys, indifference from the one person sitting bored behind the service counter, and interest in what they are reading from the two or three other occupants of the room. As she sweeps her vision over the many sterile terminals to take one last look before returning to her own search, she catches a brief glimpse of what looks like a large, purple-black blob of color that hangs in the edge of her vision for a mere heart-beat before fading under her renewed scrutiny, leaving her wondering if she’d actually seen it or not.


Leave a Comment

Submit your own story and score points! Your submission must be an original, not subject to copyright violations, and not found anywhere else on the web. Short stories count for 25 points and Novellas count for 100 points. A short story consists of 500 to 700 words while a Novella comprises 2,000 words or more.

Submit your story

Bottom