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Status Quo - Chapter 61

Written by: Paullell

 Lana never even considers any of those possibilities, its just not part of her mindset.  She laughs and shakes her head.  “Oh god, what must you think of us?  That was just an accident that occurred earlier, we hadn’t gotten around to cleaning up yet.  It is nothing that we have a problem with anyone seeing including the authorities, if for some strange reason they were to show up here.  The kitchen is this way, I can’t thank you enough I’m not a cook and my friend has never had a really well prepared meal like I’ve been telling her about.”  

 

Lana perches on one of the chairs in the kitchen and watches Melissa as she looks around, determining what she will have to work with. “So tell me, what are you planning on cooking for us?”  Lana pushes her emotional strain into the back of her mind while she talks, determined not to frighten away this seemingly normal woman who has entered the house.

 

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Melissa eyes Lana for a second, then looks toward APRIL, who is trying with only mild success to clean up the mess on the couch. After a moment, she seems to take Lana at her word, inclines her head, and pushes her little cart of groceries off the elevator, following Lana into the kitchen.

 

"I'm sorry ma'am, I have seen some things in my time. Enough that there are company policies on how to deal with them. It's always better to be safe than sorry." She takes a moment to look around the kitchen, raising her eyebrows a few times at some item or other, but on the whole, she seems to be fairly impressed by the accommodations. She quickly discards her light jacket, draping it over the stool next to Lana's, then washes her hands and sets about arranging her groceries on the ample counter space. "Given what you paid, it didn't seem right to be using your groceries, and since it is for a friend who hasn't ever enjoyed a good, social, eating experience..." She smiles up at Lana as she pulls a couple of knives and chopping blocks from the cupboards and drawers, setting them on the counter and inspecting the knives for a moment. "I thought we would start with some adamome to hold everyone over while I set to work on the meal, then some spring rolls, then some Kobe beef skewers. After that I have some Mackerel that I was thinking of poaching in a salt dome with some citrus and rosemary. Then I have some amazing Tuna flank that I would like to smoke for you and serve with sautéed asparagus and a rice pilaf."

 

She quickly sets herself to chopping vegetables and creating marinades and various other concoctions after setting a pot of water to boil, a steamer atop it filled with a goodly amount of green pea-pods. She smiles as she talks and works, and seems more than pleased to be working and chatting. "I also brought along some fresh fillet mignon and prawn that I thought I would pair with a nice thyme-infused potato side, and for dessert, I have planned a fresh tiramisu followed by a fresh almond ice cream." 

 

She finishes chopping some herbs and mixes them in a bowl with a dash of olive oil and the juice of a couple lemons, then bones and skins a large flank of salmon, cutting it into steaks and depositing them into the liquid. Setting that aside, she moves on to the smaller fish and a couple boxes of finely ground salt. "So, is there a special occasion? Would you like me to bake a cake, or change any of the courses around? I also brought some chicken breasts and I managed to get hold of a duck as well, if you'd like me to use any of that instead of, or in addition to what I have planned. I know you said I would be cooking for five, so I didn't want to over do it."

 

APRIL moves back across the house, dumping her soiled rags in the laundry room and then moves up next to Lana, sitting down and watching Melissa's deft knife skills as she makes quick work of her produce. Her eyes are wide at the sight of all the food spread across the counters and the several pans that Melissa has going by then, some with oil and herbs, some with vegetables, some simply boiling water. Both ovens are on already and the kitchen looks as if it has been assaulted by an army of cooks, rather than a single chef, with bowls, cups, containers, and utensils everywhere, although there is no real mess to speak of, just a lot of different projects taking up space.

 

-This is quite interesting Lana. I have never seen such a thing before. I used to think there was no validity to the term 'organized chaos' but it seems now that I was completely in error...-

 

"Hey! What're you two doing in there?" Daray's voice calls over the house speakers, which causes Melissa to look up and around curiously, but she doesn't say anything; simply looks at Lana and APRIL then bends back to her work.

 

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Lana watches her work with interest, seeing her as a professional and rather gifted at her art.  The smells that quickly fill the room are wonderfully potent, stronger than usual for her and she comments.  “You must have very fresh supplies; I’ve never smelled herbs so sharply.”  Lana picks up one of the rosemary cuttings and holds it to her nose, breathing in the fresh scent.  “Cook as much as you like; what we don’t eat today will be eaten as a leftover tomorrow I am certain.”  

 

Lana rolls her eyes toward the speaker when Daray talks through the house speaker system.  She grins at her ingenuity in giving them a way to communicate that would not confuse or frighten the visitor.   “Hi sweetheart. The chef I requested has arrived to cook dinner for us, too bad you won’t be back in time for it.  If you are very sweet I might save you a portion.”

 

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“The herbs are grown in a hydroponics bay in the restaurant. Most of the protein we get from local growers, but the kobe is imported from Hector. That’s the only place with enough land for cattle,” Melissa replies, then adds, “alright, I’ll do a nice orange-glazed duck, and some teriyaki chicken with fried rice and veggies as well then. No sense in letting any of this go to waste if you are willing to take it,” she smiles.

 

“That’s not really fair you know. Ordering some gourmet meal while I’m ‘out’. I haven’t had anything… good… to eat in forever it seems,” Daray pouts through the speakers.

 

-I thought it was understood that you’re being punished,- APRIL says through the link. In the kitchen, she reaches across the counter and snags another piece of rosemary and sniffs it just like Lana had, then she puts the sprig in her mouth and chews at it a bit before recoiling a bit, yanking the small plant from her mouth in surprise.

 

“Oh honey! You aren’t supposed to eat it raw like that, it’s way too strong!” Melissa looks a little worried as she almost reaches across the counter to take the plant from APRIL, “Are you okay?”

 

APRIL makes a sour face, then sets the rosemary gently back on the counter and licks her lips a few times as she turns to look at Lana. “Okay…” she responds, then shudders a bit as the taste continues to settle through her.

 

“Right APRIL,” Daray responds, not really thinking about Melissa not having heard APRIL’s reply, “punished… I’ll remember that the next time you two are in danger of being detained… Oh. Doctor Yamato wants me to tell you that the computers here are in pretty good shape and that he will be ready for APRIL in a little less than ninety minutes. He says the SO gear is already pretty well set to handle her code…”

 

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Lana laughs gently at April’s mistake.  “God, you weren’t kidding about only eating what was necessary to get you through the day before you met me.  If you cant tell the difference between a vegetable and an herb.  I’m willing to bet that this is the fist time this kitchen has even been used, isn’t it.”  She speaks lightly and hopes that the cover up is enough to explain April’s funny and yet embarrassing mistake.  

 

Lana gapes a little further when Daray responds to April’s internal communication and then refers to her code.  She can’t even imagine how a common layperson would interpret that conversation and for once Lana can’t even start to think of a reasonable cover up.  She finally shrugs her shoulders and makes a note later to tease them both about being such bad covert operators and continues on as if nothing of any importance had been said.  “Thank you for the update Daray.  Would you please let Doctor Yamato know that dinner has been started and I did order in anticipation of him joining us.”

 

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“First time…” APRIL confirms verbally as she reaches for a slice of carrot. Before she snags it however, she looks to Lana for a confirmation that it is actually something she can/should try.

 

For her part, Melissa seems fairly unconcerned with the conversation, or at last, she give no sign of being interested, merely going about her business and chatting when she is addressed in some way.

 

“Okay, I’ll let him know. He seems pretty intent on what he’s doing though.” Daray responds.

 

Moments later, Melissa pours the adamome into a glass bowl and slides it across the counter between APRIL and Lana, then adds another, smaller bowl for the husks, and an even tinier one filled with fresh sweet and sour sauce and hot mustard on one side, and soy with wasabe on the other.

 

“Here you go ladies. Fresh form the garden. Please dig in while I get these spring rolls finished up,” she smiles as she returns to a bowl of julienned and seasoned vegetables and begins moving portions into egg-roll skins.

 

APRIL picks up one of the steamed pods, inspects it for a moment, then eats it whole, making a funny face as she chews the stringy material of the pod, shaking her head as if she is disagreeing with someone. -This is a most unpleasant sensation. Why would anyone eat these without a dire need of fibrous materials in their diet?-

 

Melissa quickly turns around to attend do something down the counter a ways, but it is obvious to Lana that she is covering up a giggle, and possibly working to restrain an outright laugh. It takes her several moments before she is composed enough to turn around and get to work frying the spring rolls. “These will be just a moment longer now,” she manages to say without cracking up.

 

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Lana opens her mouth to stop her, knowing what is coming but doesn’t speak quite quickly enough.  With a sigh of sympathy she picks a pod of her own and peals the husk away, depositing it into the bowl.  “You have to peel it first.  The husk while edible is not good to eat.  Once you have peeled it, dip it into one of the sauces, they add flavor to it depending on if you like sweet, spicy or savory flavor, you should try them all, one at a time.  This one is the sweet and sour sauce, this is spicy mustard.  This is soy sauce and this is wasabi.”  

 

Lana dips hers into the Soy sauce and chews it slowly.  Once the delicious appetizer hits her tongue her stomach growls and her mouth waters.  Her eyes widen as she realizes she is starving.  She swallows quickly as she suddenly has to fight not to grab the bowl and shove the entire contents down her throat. She can feel her skin start to shift to a new spectrum and it is only by taking several deep breaths that she keeps the shade from sifting only a shade towards the green spectrum,  “Oh no!  April, what are the chances that my… recent genetic upgrades… will include adopting a similar metabolism to Daray?” 

 

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APRIL listens to Lana while she chews the remainder of the pod and swallows it a bit dramatically, then mimics her actions, peeling the next few and tasting all of the sauces individually and then in every possible combination. Her eyes light up at the myriad flavors she can create, and she eagerly dives into the act of getting to know each one. 

 

Even when Lana’s question is asked, APRIL doesn’t stop eating, merely answers through the link as she normally would when more than one or two words are required. -If you have indeed assimilated her regenerative capabilities, then your metabolism would have to have increased as well. There is no other way for a body to fuel such a capability. Especially if you are exhibiting signs of strength and speed in addition. All of these metabolic changes would require more energy on a regular basis in order to fuel them.- She is more than half way through the bowl by the time she finishes, still having not noticed Lana’s concerted effort to keep her skin from changing color.

 

It is fairly obvious however, that Melissa knows something strange is afoot. She is giving Lana a curious look that suggests she saw something, but as soon as she is aware that Lana has noticed her attention, she returns to her cooking, pulling several spring rolls from a pot and plating them atop some cabbage, sprouts, and julienned carrots. “I’m sorry, were you speaking to me? Your friend here doesn’t seem to talkative. I don’t know much about genetics I’m afraid, except where it pertains to growing plants and food animals in enclosed, pressurized, and micro-gravity environments.”

 

“Guys? I don’t think the doc is going to make it for food. I can’t seem to get him away from this computer at all. He’s a bit engrossed really…” Daray adds, “did you say you picked up my appetite Lana? Good lord, now you have no choice but to work with us, half our income goes to food as it is!”

 

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Lana sees Melissa examining her more closely.  It’s on the tip of her tongue to attempt an explanation about her skin but she decides at the last moment not to bother and let her make whatever assumptions she wants to make about her genetic makeup.  “I was actually speaking to my friend here.  She’s telepathic and frequently forgets to vocalize for those not linked with her.”  

 

Lana shoots April a mock frown even as she continues to eat her share of the appetizer.  Daray’s voice over the intercom makes her heart sink a little.  She’s right; the additional food budget will be astronomical compared to what she is used to spending.  The choice to join Daray’s business is become less a choice and more a necessity.  Lana worries about the soldier’s recommendation earlier that she leave this business to trained professionals.  The idea of stumbling along on job after job, always being a hindrance is a real fear for her.

 

“That’s fine Daray.  Can you page him and ask if he would like us to bring something back to him to eat while he works?”

 

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“I see. I’m sorry, it’s really none of my business anyway. I didn’t mean to pry. She just seems a little… detached is all. Like she’s never really… experienced real food before…” Melissa shrugs and continues cooking, deftly slicing the spring rolls and pushing plates across to the women, then topping off the sauces for them to dip into.

 

“Uh yeah… I’ll uh… page the doc…” Daray responds to Lana’s request. It’s quite possible that she is lashing out a bit over the meal, based upon her lack of willingness to play along with Lana’s facade.

 

“I had a telepathic friend a few years back, she was a bit touched, but much more vocal,” she drops several skewers of marinated beef into a hot pan and quickly sets to the next task.

 

“The doc mumbled something about not enough time and he’d be out later. Then something about a singularity and the advent of nano-machine surgery… I honestly don’t think he’s all there Lana. APRIL, are we sure this is the right guy?”

 

-I am quite sure Daray. Doctor Hakiro Yamato is the man who designed all of my core systems hardware and the bio-systems interfaces. He is as much responsible for my program as my father was, before he was killed. He has always been a bit eccentric, but has never failed in a technical challenge.

 

Melissa pulls the beef skewers from the pan and plates them, adding some sauce before pushing them across to Lana and APRIL. All the while, she is creating three more plates of everything she is cooking, but setting them to the side, seemingly in anticipation of other people. “Here’s the Kobe beef skewers, the sauce is a sort of Asian Au Jus, with a bit of ginger and a soy base. The Mackerel will be done in about five minutes and I will be putting the tuna on in just a moment. Will your dinner guests be arriving soon? I can hold some of this off a few minutes if you’d like it to be fresher for them.”

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Lana sighs at Daray's mule-headedness she can guess that her disgruntlement may be related to the dinner.  She shakes her head at Melissa.  “Well as for the other guests as you’ve heard one of them is too busy working to come eat and the other, that you are hearing over the intercom system, is unable to attend either.  As for the spare plate, April here has a rather stunning appetite so the extra food was actually for her.  Just go ahead and set two plates aside and put them in the refrigerator, the other two will have to eat them later and April and I will share the spare serving between us.  And thank you for being so accommodating, our household is a little… exocentric… so I appreciate you not balking at all of the oddness.”

 

Lana bites into the first beef Skewer and actually moans at the delicious flavors of the seasoned meat.  “Oh my, this is exquisite!  How much would we have to offer to tempt you to cook for us full time?”  She asks both as a compliment and as a wistful jest.

 

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“Well, as I’ve mentioned, I have done some cooking in a few very unique places in the past. A little bio-engineering and a psychic isn’t the worst I’ve encountered, and I’m not exactly one-hundred percent base-line either,” she smiles to reveal her sharpened, slightly elongated canines and points at her ears with the tip of a wicked looking kitchen knife.

 

“Thank you very much for the compliment,” she blushes a little, then adds, “well, I won’t say that you can’t afford me,” casting an eye around the room by way of explanation. “But Ambrosia pays me ninety a year and covers my tools as well, so it would have to be more than that. Plus the cost of groceries. Then there’s the matter of living arrangements. I currently live almost on the other side of Tranquility from here…” She lets that one hang in the air between them as she stars cooking the vegetables to go with the tuna.

 

“Lana, APRIL,” Daray’s voice is now coming through their comm link rather than the house speakers. “I asked Doctor Yamato to reconnect the broadband transceiver to my computer and am back on the house net. I’m running this cook’s picture through the standard checks and she is not coming up as an employee of Ambrosia, or any other restaurant I have checked so far… I don’t know who she is, but we should probably not be trusting her…”

 

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Lana pauses in her consumption of the beef at Daray’s private announcement.  A cold weight of fear settles in her stomach.  Her skin shifts fully into the yellow spectrum while her hair changes only as far as green.  There is no way to hide her reaction and she glances at April with concern when Melissa’s back is turned.  “So how long have you worked for Ambrosia?”  She asks vocally while she raises her hands in a ‘what do we do now?” sort of gesture.

 

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Melissa’s shoulders slump a bit and her entire demeanor changes at Lana’s question. It’s instantly obvious that she knows something has changed in the room. Meanwhile, APRIL shifts her gaze back and forth between Lana and Melissa, a skewer of beef still sticking out of her mouth and an uncertain look on her face.

 

-I don’t know Lana, the best I can do is charge her and hope she isn’t fast enough, or strong enough to stop me before I can get to her. I don’t know how to work Daray’s body well enough to access much more than basic motor skills at this point. Damaging your arm was an accident that I’m not sure I can replicate intentionally at this point.-

 

“Doctor Yamato has nearly everything in the house undone, computer-wise. I had to seal a camera from him to get a face shot of this impostor to run through the net. Whatever he’s doing, he’s got the entire active defense system off-line. And external communication as well. I can call for help, but I promised you two I wouldn’t get on the public net…” Daray’s tone is a bit cynical at the end, but she is still very engaged in finding a solution.

 

“I think it’s safe to assume, at this point, that we both know I do not work for Ambrosia. I suppose the real question would be. What happens now…” Melissa replies. Her tone is no longer chipper or full of energy, but deadly serious. The large knife in her right hand can be seen reflecting the light of the kitchen even though her back is still to them. “I was hired to bring you home, Lana. Your father wants you to come home now.”


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