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Status Quo - Chapter 54

Written by: Paullell

 Lana’s eyes roll back in her head as Daray continues to gently stroke through the hair above her still throbbing sex.  She actually has to fight to lower her heart rate, its rapid thumping seeming almost dangerously fast due to Daray’s tenacity.  She grins at Daray’s wishful comment and wraps her arms around her to snuggle closely.  “As sweet a comment as that is, we would eventually grow bored doing nothing but living in a bedroom.”  Lana’s hands alternate between stroking her love’s back and playing with her thick braid of hair.  She signs happily, perfectly content in this moment.

 

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“Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I am unwilling to try…” She grins mischievously at her lover then, placing a few more kisses along her shoulder as if she is gearing up for round two. 

 

Which, of course, is when the shimmering, luminous form of a woman appears next to the bed. Her figure is that of a perfect hour glass, and her hair hangs lazily in the air, dropping down to her butt, but strands and clumps of it waft about as if suspended in water. The woman’s features are all lost within the glowing light that shines from within her body, and when she speaks, her voice rides the familiar tones of APRIL’s speech.

 

-My apologies for intruding ladies, but I thought you should know that we are approaching Tranquility and are moments from landing. Daray, I have taken the liberty of readjusting the time dilation of this simulation to give you a few more minutes time to finish up before Lana logs off.-

 

Then, as suddenly as she’d appeared, APRIL vanishes from the room, leaving the pair alone again. “Well then… She certainly can kill the mood, can’t she?” Daray grouses, her body sort of deflating against Lana’s. “So, did you want to play a little longer before we have to go? I don’t know how long a few minutes is…”

 

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Lana glowers at April’s intrusion, equally unhappy with the interruption.  Once she is gone Lana sighs and pushes at Daray until she rolls onto her side and then snuggles up next to her, sinuously twining her limbs around Daray and holding her closely.  “I just want to hold you right now. Hopefully I’ll be holding the real you soon.  But this will have to do until then.”  Lana sighs and closes her eyes, resting against Daray until the digital world finally melts around her.  She opens her eyes to the shallow bunk and the weight of the computer once again present on her wrist.

 

April is not in the room, Lana can only assume that she has been pestering Wilhelmina while she passed the time in the virtual world they had built.  Lana stretches and realizes her muscles are sore and her stomach is famished, briefly she wonders how long they had been in that virtual environment. 

 

“Wow.  I’m famished!” she comments out loud, both to share how she is feeling with Daray and to make certain Daray is once again aware of the outside world.  She climbs out of the bunk, removes the harness and makes her way out of the room, looking for Wilhelmina as she goes.

 

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“That sounds nice,” Daray smiles as she snuggles into the covers with Lana, reveling in the warmth of their shared contact, and the simple feel of her breathing. They lay there in one another’s arms for half an hour before they have to log out and return to reality.

 

Despite how short the experience seemed to them, the hours spent in a near-catatonic physical state have offered Lana’s mind a chance to recuperate after her recent ordeals. The physical discomfort is a common side effect of laying in one place, without moving at all, for several days, while the mind was otherwise engaged, but beyond that, she is extremely well rested and, once she shakes off the initial drowsiness, quite alert and sharp.

 

To her comment about being hungry, Daray’s voice quickly responds, “I haven’t been hungry for days. It’s kind of weird…”

 

Once out of the bunk room and into the staging area Daray chimes in again, “Didn’t Kat say there was some kind of food in here?”

 

“Hey you two!” Willhelmina calls back from the bridge, a few feet forward of the staging area. “We’re about to land on Tranquility, just a few more minutes and we’re on the ground. Help yourself to anything in the galley there, it isn’t much, but it will tide you over until you can get some real food. APRIL! Stop fiddling with my controls!” The sound of a hard slap issues from the bridge following her admonishment.

 

-Your flight path is not plotted to optimal efficiency. If you would allow me to make adjustments, I could increase fuel efficiency by up to twenty-one percent, and reduce travel times by upwards of twelve percent.-

 

APRIL doesn’t seem to be concerned with the fact that Willhelmina can’t hear her, although another smack can be heard from the front of the ship, “Stop it! We’re on final approach here!”

 

Within minutes, the ship can be felt settling on the ground, followed by the quiet sound of a hanger being pressurized around the ship’s hull. Willhelmina moves into the staging room from the bridge and smiles at Lana, “Hey there! You look pretty well rested. Look, I hate to drop and run, but I just got a call from SO. Ree needs some assistance with a retrieval on Venus, so I have to run as soon as I get the tanks topped off here. Is there anything I can do for you before I fly again? You can help yourself to any hardware or artillery you think you might need.” She motions to the racks of weapons and equipment on the back wall of the staging area, and the small closet laden with tactical apparel, ranging from reactive body armor to flowing, armored trench coats and harnesses, all cut to fit and flatter the fighting female figure.

 

As she speaks, APRIL lopes into the room form the bridge, casting Daray’s cobalt eyes around the room before moving to sit near the airlock, -I took the liberty of optimizing her take-off and landing subroutines for her.-

 

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Lana hurries to the galley and grabs a pear and a bagel from the refrigeration unit.  She nods at Wilhelmina’s offer of artillery but the only thing she takes, unless prompted by April or Daray is another stunner to replace the one that was confiscated from her in Turin’s home.  As she follows the others to the air lock she sighs, feeling something between amusement and irritation at April’s know-it-all attitude.  “April, it doesn’t matter how much more efficient you can make her flight path.  It is incredibly rude to touch another captain’s ship.”

 

Lana impulsively hugs Wilhelmina, beyond grateful for all her help.  “You have been a life saver, literally Kat.  If you ever need anything, just give me a call and I’ll help you to the very best of my ability.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

 

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“She did what? Dammit APRIL, I thought we talked about you mucking about with the controls!” Willhelmina offers APRIL an admonishing glare, which seems to bother the figure sitting on the floor not at all as she casually surveys the room and its occupants.

 

-This vessel is the property of Solidarity Online. As a duly authorized representative of Solidarity Online, I am well within my rights to optimize flight systems, navigation, or any other flight parameters that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the ship. Additionally, I gain enjoyment from being a nuisance to Willhelmina.-

 

“Wow APRIL, was that an expression of emotion?” Daray jabs at her friend.

 

-Unlikely, although I have been experiencing some illogical thought patterns since the ordeal at Turin’s estate. Perhaps Hakiro Yamato will be able to offer some assistance with root-cause analysis on the issue.-

 

“So, it’s a glitch?”

 

-That seems the most likely prospect.-

 

“Uh huh. Hear that Lana? APRIL’s emotions are a glitch…”

 

Willhelmina shakes her head at the awkward silence in the room, although it lasts mere moments, a breath or two perhaps. When Lana embraces her, she returns the gesture with a widening grin and replies, “no sweat Lana. Any friend of Dare’s, is family, as far as I’m concerned. I’m just sorry I have to run right away, I was hoping to stay and help you out some more.” She releases Lana and turns halfway around, picking up two small, lipstick sized cylinders from a bin, pressing them into Lana’s hand with a smirk. “Okay, these are flash-bangs. Just twist them int he middle and toss them, you get three seconds, then a loud noise and a really bright light. Usually stun people for about five or ten seconds. Good to use if you need to escape from a rough spot.”

 

Next, she fetches Lana’s luggage form the bunk room and sets it down between Lana and APRIL, who stares at it passively. -Apologies Lana, I do not think I can carry that and still move this body.-

 

“That’s my friend APRIL, the super-computer,” Daray chides.

 

Once they cycle through the airlock, they step out into a tiny hanger, where Willhelmina hugs Lana again, smiling and wishing them well, “Wave me if you need anything. Venus isn’t so far away that we can’t get the troops here in a couple of days.”

 

She waves them off and turns to supervise a flight crew that is filing in form a maintenance access to refuel the ship, “Hey! The hell’s wrong with you?! Who taught you to connect an O2 line?!” She pauses long enough to holler back at the trio with a grin, “Good luck ladies, let me know how it goes.” She waves again, then returns to her verbal assault of the maintenance crew.

 

Once out of the hanger, they wind their way through an oddly familiar labyrinth of hallways and corridors before arriving at the customs counter, where a smiling woman with orange and red hair happily processes them through without much hassle. “Please enjoy your stay in Tranquility ladies.” She winks knowingly at Lana after eyeing APRIL with an appraising stare and a mischievous grin. “I know I’ll enjoy myself thinking about the two of you later this evening.” She adds quietly as they move pst her and out into the main portion of the space port.

 

The main concourse is a massive, stadium-sized, open area with a transparent ceiling that looks out into a geodesic dome so large that they can see blue skies and clouds overhead rather than the structure of the dome. “I wish I could see it. I love it here. APRIL, can you lead her to our place to dump the luggage before we head out?”

 

-Of course Daray.- APRIL lopes out ahead of Lana, leading her through the crowded concourse and out the wide doors where they make their way down a massive ramp that leads to the street. Tranquility is a sight to behold for anyone who has never been there before. Even at the edge of the dome, where the space port is located, the buildings are six and seven stories tall, and the towers of shimmering metal and glass only grow taller and taller as they move toward the center of the city. 

 

They can clearly see that the buildings are spaced out enough to allow plenty of sunlight through to wash the many parks and small green belts that dot the massive city, and the populace seems to be even more diverse than Venus Station or even Neo-Tokyo was, with cyborgs, regular people, and genetically reconstructed people wandering around, going about their business.

 

-This way.- APRIL leads Lana to the right, moving down the sidewalk at a good clip, especially considering she is still moving on all-fours. -The dome here is high enough that the condensed water vapor actually provides a similar blue tint as what one might see on Earth. The natural convection even provides for the formation of clouds, and weather patterns within the city. There is occasionally light wind, and sometimes it even rains.- APRIL narrates as they move down the sidewalk.

 

Less than a mile form the space port, APRIL moves into the lobby of a four-story building that seems to be made of nothing but glass. The lobby is large, with polished stone floors and a couple largish palm trees growing in planters near the doors. A security guard eyes them as they move through the lobby to the elevators, but says nothing to them, apparently recognizing Daray’s body, even if it is moving oddly and possessed by an artificial intelligence.

 

The elevator is equally lavish, and when APRIL waves Daray’s hand across the smooth, buttonless surface of the car’s inner wall, the doors smoothly slide closed and the car moves silently up to the very top of the building. After only a few seconds, the doors open again, directly into a living room that is huge, and possibly even better-appointed than the one they had visited in Hector.

 

Daray’s apartment, is a penthouse, occupying the entire top floor of the building, and offering phenomenal views in every direction, with the city of Tranquility on one side, and the gray, dusty landscape of the moon through the city’s dome on the other. The place is huge, easily four or five thousand square feet, with several bedrooms, an office, a library filled with real books, the massive living room with a sunken, circular couch, a dining room for fourteen and a kitchen that would be the envy of any five-star restaurant.

 

The master bedroom, which is on the second floor, is huge, to say the least, and is equipped with two closets, each the size of Daray’s (and Lana’s) apartment on Venus station, and a bathroom with a shower stall large enough for four and a tub large enough for ten. Throughout the house, the majority of the rooms have high, vaulted, glass ceilings, that further enhance the feel of luxury and space in the apartment.

 

-Your bed room is upstairs, just like the house in Hector.- APRIL says as she sits down on the floor and watches Lana with a passive expression. -The refrigerator and pantry should be freshly stocked, I placed an order yesterday. Hakiro Yamato’s residence is an hour away by public transportation so you should take a moment to unwind before we go.-

 

“It’s good to be home!” Daray adds, “now if only I could actually ~be~ there with you… I hope it’s okay Lana. We can sell it if you want. Or rent it out and get a smaller place for ourselves.” She still sounds horribly worried, even after Lana’s soothing words days ago.

 

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Lana nods and hefts the bag over her shoulder.  She follows April tough the dizzying maze of the space station’s corridors doing her best to give the illusion that she is the one doing the leading.  Her acting must have been working because the customs officer seems completely distracted by their chosen roles, to complete the image Lana tugs on April’s collar to bring her close enough to plant a showy kiss on her lips before throwing a smile and a wink at the woman behind the counter.  “Oh, I’m sure well make our own fun.” She adds with a grin before walking past.

 

Lana finds herself getting lost in the site of the artificial sky.  She finds her gaze drifting upward in amazement so frequently that April has to give her little nudges to keep her moving.  Her wonder at the sky is a fraction of her awe at the penthouse apartment.  At first all she can do is drop the bag she is holding and gape at the beautiful surroundings.  She runs her hands almost hesitantly over a nearby chair, the fabric amazingly smooth and plush under her fingertips.  It’s only at the worry in Daray’s voice that she is able to give herself a shake and become coherent again.

 

“Stop that.  I’m not rehashing that conversation with you again.  We’ll get a smaller place only if YOU want that.  It’s beautiful here. April you should probably eat something again.  With our luck we will run into some sort of mischief as soon as we leave the house and I know that Daray’s metabolism needs constant intake.”

 

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“I’m sorry,” Daray’s voice has a wounded sound to it, like a chided child. “I don’t care. It’s just stuff. I was perfectly happy in that little place on Venus Station. I just want you to believe that none of this is me. I don’t define myself by the things I own and I can’t tell you how important it is to me that you know that.” There is a long pause as she seems to consider the situation. “Honestly I don’t even know why Xavier signed it over to me. This used to be a corporate time share for SO. They assigned it to me when I was working under cover to get into Aegis Online’s facilities, and then after all that settled, and after I turned myself in to the authorities, one day I was suddenly released without explanation, and I got a message from Xavier explaining that he’d signed this over to me, and set up some sort of trust fund or something in my name. I’ll share it all, or get rid of it… whatever I have to do to make sure you’re not uncomfortable, that I’m not trying to keep you in some golden handcuffs…”

 

-Daray.- APRIL interrupts as she lopes into the kitchen and starts rummaging through the refrigerator on Lana’s advice.

 

“What APRIL?”

 

-Please discontinue your wining. Lana has told you, twice now, what she thinks and expects. If you continue carrying on about it, I may be forced to self-delete my program.- She carried on her foraging in the kitchen in the silence that followed, munching on some odds and ends that she’d recovered from various nooks and crannies within the cooler.

 

Finally, Daray seemed to recover her voice, “APRIL, was that another joke?”

 

-No Daray. I do not make jokes. The very concept of human humor continues to elude me, much like the human predilection for consuming heavily processed protein byproducts that are vacuum formed into oddly-shaped containers.- At that, she held up what looked like a can of spam and gave the offending object a wary glance before returning it to the cool of the refrigerator. -I do not think that even Daray’s overly-aggressive immune system and regenerative capabilities would be capable of overcoming the chemical assault contained within this vessel. Perhaps we should take it with us in case we need to torture someone for information. We could use it in place of threats of violence.-

 

When she turns away from the refrigerator, APRIL has a huge carrot clenched between her teeth and several packages of what appears to be extra-firm tofu in her hands. She sits down again, right in the middle of the huge kitchen and munches on the carrot as she rolls one of the tofu packages over in her hands, trying to discern some method of entry into the sealed container.

 

As APRIL puzzles over the pressurized tofu container, Daray’s voice comes back tentatively to Lana’s ears, an uncertain waver to her tone. “Lana, do you really want to stay with me? Now that you know what my life is like? All of the craziness, and the danger? I tried to give it up, but I just keep getting pulled back in. It seems like this is the sort of life I am supposed to lead and I… well I just wouldn’t blame you if it was too much I guess…”

 

A sudden groan from the kitchen makes it almost impossible to tell if APRIL is reaching her frustration limit with Daray, or the still-sealed container in her inarticulate hands.


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