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Status Quo - Chapter 63

Written by: Paullell

 Melissa moves to help Lana when she half-gags, but pauses when Lana waves off APRIL, who is looking at her questioningly. When she recovers, APRIL goes back to the food and Melissa smiles, "that sounds good. If things don't work out with your father, I look forward to seeing more of you guys. Maybe we can even hang out if everything works out fine..." her tone suggests that she daren't hope as much, although there is an undercurrent of something else, a lingering doubt of some kind maybe.

 

"I don't know Lana," Daray replies to the room. "He's pretty busy, and has parts all over the room. I can't get to speak coherently though. He keeps mumbling about quantum-state memory systems or something..."

 

-My memory is quantum-state Daray, it requires substantial processing resources to manage. He is likely building a powerful computer node and massed memory network to contain my program during the transfer. It is interesting to note that my program, while not nearly as complex as a human mind, still requires hundreds of times more CPU cycles and memory to operate.-

 

"So, can I interest you in some pan-seared duck breasts with lemon and herb crusting?" Melissa picks up the sizzling pan and begins plating the duck for them, adding, "you should take your time on this one ladies, duck is a little hard to come by these days."

 

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Lana digs into the new dish with relish.  The original intent may have been to treat April before she goes back to a digital life but the experience is a treat for her as well.  She lets out a hum of enjoyment.  “Your cooking is so good.  What made you decide to pursue… whatever you would call our career path… instead of actually becoming a cook?”

 

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"Thank you! I appreciate the compliment. I love cooking and did it for a number of years. Unfortunately, I found that I loved it too much to do it for a living any longer, so I decided to put some of my other skills to use in an entirely new field... And you may be surprised how often being a chef can get you into an otherwise difficult or unreachable place. Case in point..." she waves her hand around their home by way of explanation. 

 

"Okay guys... The doc just said he was ready to plug APRIL in to this... Whatever this is..." Daray interrupts. 

 

APRIL looks up from her plate, her mouth stuffed with duck. She looks like a wounded animal that is about to be put down. Her eyes move back and forth between Lana, Melissa, and the terminal in the kitchen a few times, and a tear actually forms in her eye. -I don't want to go back Daray... I'm experiencing something... An emotion I think... My body feels strange and my stomach is behaving erratically. Please don't make me do this..." She sets her plate down gently, swallows her food, and unseats herself, backing slowly away from Lana and Melissa with her hands held out in a defensive position. The Skinsuit begins flowing and shifting until she is wearing the thick, black, armored outfit that Lana saw on Mars, although her head remains uncovered as she backs away, eyes flitting about nervously. 

 

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Lana turns and looks at April as she begins stammering out her comments over the communication link.  An innate suspicion strikes her and she lowers her mental barriers, using every ounce of her abilities when she brings her gaze back to April.  She can see her friend’s aura swimming around her in vibrant yellows and oranges meaning that she is terrified and panicked.  Lana puts her hand out to keep Melissa from making any sudden movements.  Lana’s own colors darken into somber hues as she realizes what her friend is going through.

 

Her voice is low and soothing as she tries to empathize with April’s situation.  She makes no movement towards her, fairly confident that if she does, April will run.  “April, You’re armoring yourself.  Do you really believe that I would hurt you?  Deep inside could you truly hurt me?  Try and take a breath for me.  Listen to your heart rate; it’s fast and erratic.  You are panicking.  Please calm down. You are hurting and it’s killing me to see it.  I’m sorry, I never even considered that not only would you be feeling with sensations, but emotions as well.  It must be very hard to go from a completely analytical consciousness to dealing with the overwhelming feelings and other human frailties.   It’s a difficult situation that we have found ourselves in. I’m not going to rush you.  If you can, think for just a moment beyond your own pain.  Imagine if you have always felt like this; had taste, sensations and emotions and suddenly they were gone.  That’s what you did to Daray.  You did it to help her, to protect her.  But if you leave her like this; locked away from her body, trapped in a computer, you will hurt her.  Can you do that to her deliberately?  I imagine that when you were created and bonded with her in her mind, you were programmed to aid her, weren’t you?  How will it make you feel to cause her that much pain?  Let’s talk, let’s see if there are any alternatives that will be tolerable for both of you.  Please, sit back down.  We still have two more dinner courses to go.  I’m sure you won’t want to miss them.”

 

By the time she has finished speaking tears are coursing down her cheeks and her body from her head to her tail is quivering to hold back her sobs.  Even as she recommends it she cant think of a way to resolve this situation.

 

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Melissa holds her hands out to show that she does not intend to interfere in any way. In fact, she quickly turns her attention to the chicken in the oven.

 

APRIL keeps backing away from the kitchen, even as Lana speaks in her calming tone. She presses her hands into her temples and shakes her head as she listens to Lana’s words, almost as if she is in pain. -Lana… Can’t think… the feeling is… overwhelming… I don’t want to hurt… I’ve never had… to feel… Daray…”

 

She doubles over as if she is in terrible pain, leaning against the transparent wall of the penthouse apartment for support. “Can’t think…” she speaks aloud.

 

“I was afraid of this… APRIL is beginning to fully integrate into Daray’s body. You got to me too late for this to be a simple procedure…” Doctor Yamato hisses from the hallway across the living room form the kitchen.

 

APRIL turns toward the doctor as he speaks, then presses her eyes closed and squeezes her head even tighter. -I can’t… can not… can… don’t…”

 

“APRIL, please listen to Lana. Nobody wants you to be in pain. We’re all your friends here.” Daray’s voice soothes through the speakers, “Don’t even worry about me APRIL, we just need to make sure you’re alright now.”

 

When APRIL opens her eyes again, she looks directly at Lana, tears streaming from her dark blue eyes. She shakes her head as a sob wracks her body and her aura flushes through with, of all things, a deep embarrassment. “I’m sorry Lana. Daray. I can’t… I’m scared...”

 

In the space of a heartbeat, she is turned around and slamming into the transparent wall, which cracks all along its surface in several directions. She rears back again, crouching to gather her strength, and leaps through the damaged pane, shattering the area around her into pieces and clouding the rest of the normally clear surface with a spiderweb of broken material that instantly blocks out the view.

 

A rush of air fills the room as the apartment’s air pressure equalizes with that of the rest of the city, and after it dies down, only the sound of Melissa’s sizzling pans can be heard.

 

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Lana kicks off her strappy shoes and lunges after April through the wall.  Her body reacts almost faster than her mind can process the thought.  There is a bit of a fall and she lands a little awkwardly on the street below.  Her tail is able to help her balance and her knees bend automatically to absorb the shock so she finds her body in a crouch much like she has seen Daray do a million times.  She sees April ahead turn a corner and head onto a side street.  She stands up and begins to follow her.  Her skin has changed to a dull yellow and her hair and tail a muddy brown except for her white accents; the colors reflect her mood of worry and apprehension about the situation.  She can only imagine how odd she must look to any observers, a brown and yellow fox gene freak, in a bright blue pleasure outfit, running through the streets in bare feet.  

 

Lana remembers that April was able to overhear her with the speaker in her ear when she was first captured by Bob Kilgore so she assumes the same microphone technology is still there.  She speaks out loud, hoping that April and Daray will both be able to hear her if her integrated tech is sending out any sort of signal.  “April, I’m following you.  I’m not going to stop you, I just am making sure you are alright and that you don’t run into any trouble.  Daray do you have any way of hearing me?  I’m going to let her run herself out, sometimes a body just needs the emotional monotony of exhausting itself and if I really have absorbed your abilities I’m probably the only one who stands a chance of keeping up with her.  I hope you’re hearing me,  if you are, I’m going to remind you that I am very new at this, I might need help keeping from loosing her.  Do you have a GPS in your/her body?”

 

Lana rounds the corner of the building and looks ahead, searching for April along this new street.

 

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“Lana, I can hear you. I’m having Doctor Yamato reattach the broadband transceiver to this computer. I can’t see or do anything outside the house without it, unless I reprogram this radio again, which means I’ll loose contact with you two. We should be able to track her with the transceiver in my head, but I’m not very good at all of this. I’ll need time to try an triangulate her position, and I don’t think I’ll be any good at it while she’s still moving.”

 

Seconds after Lana hits the street and springs into a run, she hears the sound of another, much heavier object hitting the street behind her. A quick glance over her shoulder reveals Melissa extricating herself from a deep crater in the street and kicking herself into a sprint after lana and APRIL with surprising speed, although Lana is easily gaining on her.

 

When she rounds the corner and scans the area for signs of APRIL, it takes her a moment to catch the movement, and then a long stare to really focus in on it. About three stories above street level, on the wall of a building that is more metal than glass, she can make out the blurry shape of APRIL, scaling the wall, with her own chromatophores changing color as she move, causing her to blend into the surface like a chameleon. Only the fact that she is moving, and the fact that Lana seems to be able to discern very subtle visual details since the accident, seem to be allowing her to be seen.

 

“What can I do to help?” Melissa asks as she moves up beside Lana. Her breathing is calm and even, as if she hasn’t exerted herself at all in leaping from a six-story penthouse and running half a mile at a sprint.

 

“Lana, Doctor Yamato has me hooked up now. I’m diving into the net to see if I can find her signal on the local repeater stations,” Daray’s voice calls over the comm.

 

-Please. Leave me alone. I’m sorry. I can’t go back. This pain is unbearable. Just leave me alone…- APRIL’s plea rings through the comm as the subtle blur of her form disappears over the top edge of the building she is scaling.

 

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Lana begins dashing for the glass building as soon as she spots April’s movement. She acknowledges Melissa’s presence with a nod.  “Just help me keep from losing her.  I want to let her run herself out. She’ll feel better afterwards.”  Lana points to April’s figure on the building ahead, showing Melissa where she is in case she hadn’t seen her yet.

 

Lana’s heart thumps with worry when she hears Daray mention the net.  “Daray is that safe for you? I swear, if you get yourself lost in there I will be very unhappy with you.”

 

“I can’t do that April.  You’re my friend and I care about you.  I can’t leave you alone out in the world.  I won’t stop you April but I’m going to follow you and make sure you don’t get hurt.  You go ahead and run as fast and as far as you need to.  I’ll find a way to keep up.”

 

Lana reaches the foot of the building and skids to a halt, running into it because she is not used to controlling herself at these speeds.  “Ooffffff!”  She reaches up and smacks her hand into the wall.  “Claws!  Come on…. Claws.”  She voices in frustration as the appendages do not make themselves known.  “Daray how do the damn things work?  Oh, never mind.  I see a ledge… how far can we jump?”    Lana crouches down and springs herself at the small metal outcropping she had spotted.  She overshoots it, not expecting the strength of her own legs and slams into the wall above it.  She nearly ricochets off of the building’s wall but manages to grab a hold of something, she’s not sure if it is a welder’s mistake or a design of the building but there do seem to be various outcroppings that she might be able to use like those mock rock climbs she has seem people play on.  “Ouch… Higher than that apparently.”

 

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“I’m not as fast as you, but I’ll do what I can,” Melissa nods then moves down the alley with Lana. When they reach the wall and Lana leaps twenty feet straight up, she whistles her appreciation, but only after gathering her wits from Lana’s collision with the wall. Lana can hear a quiet ‘thwip’ sound as a small grappling hook is fired from Melissa’s forearm, a monofilament cable paying out behind it as it arcs through the air and disappears over the lip of the building’s roof. Seconds later, Melissa is traversing the wall at a near run, her right arm held out in front of her with the grappling line retracting back into a hidden port as she moves.

 

“It’s hard to explain Lana, there’s these muscles in my hands that… imagine the feeling of pinching your fingertip from the sides, but without actually touching it. It took me weeks to figure out how to control them… How far? I don’t know, it depends on how much of a running start I have… usually about fifteen or twenty feet I think,” Daray’s reply comes a little bit late to be of much use, not to mention that Lana has easily jumped further than that, from a standing position.

 

“Don’t worry about me Lana, I will be…” there is a loud click, and the comm line seems to go dead.

 

“Are you sure letting her run is the best idea? This is a huge city with a lot of twists and turns. As quick as she seems to be, and with that ability to cloak herself, one quick turn and we could loose her completely. It might be faster to just knock her out or something…” Melissa offers as she moves past Lana’s position on the wall.

 

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Lana looks down in surprise.  “Fifteen feet?”  She’s pretty sure she is higher than that but the minute her mind catches up with her estimate of her height she suffers a bout of vertigo.  “Oh god… Don’t look down Lana. Heights are sill bad.”  She completely forgets the fact that she just leapt out of a six story building without a scratch.  It’s going to take time for her mind and natural inclinations to catch up with her new physical abilities.   

 

She smiles as Melissa catches up with her and begins to climb up the wall next to her.  “Oh, that looks easier, Daray I want to get one of whatever it is that Melissa has.”  She switches back and forth between her conversations with Daray and Melissa without any sort of warning.  “It may be easier to knock her out… but emotionally it’s wrong.  She inherited all these feelings with no basis for understanding them.  I can’t just force her to shove herself back into a smaller space, tucked in some corner of Daray’s mind.  I’m betting that along with the emotions and sensations she’s got a brand new sense of morality in there too.  She’ll eventually calm down enough to discuss this, especially since she has spent so much time protecting both of us.  She cares about us too and that more than anything else will bring her back to us.”  

 

Lana pauses as April’s comment comes through.  Her heart is in her throat as she tries to communicate back.  “April, why did you cut out?”  Lana panics and begins tearing up the wall faster than she had even though possible, suddenly worried that something had happened.  Claws never appear but she grips onto handholds with a strength she had never know she possessed in her fingers.  She practically vaults herself over the edge and looks around at the rooftop for a sign of April.”

 

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“Holy crap girl!” Melissa shouts after Lana when she kicks into overdrive and literally vaults from tiny handhold to tiny handhold. She climbs up the remaining wall so quickly that barely a few breaths could be taken in that time.

 

Cresting to the top of the building Lana can see in the waning light of day that this building is of similar height to all those around it, for a mile ahead and behind her. To the left, about five hundred yards away, is the dome wall that protects Tranquility from the vacuum of space, and on the right, is the bulk of the city, with the buildings getting taller and taller as they have more room to stretch beneath the middle of the dome.

 

About half a dozen rooftops straight ahead, with the setting sun shining directly in her face, she sees the barest trace of a nearly-invisible form leap over something and then drop away out of sight. From here it is nearly impossible to tell how far away the figure was, and by the time Lana gets there, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, assuming she can master her fear of heights, and her new abilities, APRIL will likely be long gone.

 

As she takes in the situation, Melissa comes up next to her again, her left hand paying the mono-filament back into the concealed port in her forearm. She looks down long enough to click the tiny grappling hook closed and lock it back into it housing, which then closes up around the object and seals to reveal a perfectly normal looking forearm. “Okay Lana, I understand what you are trying to do, but his city is huge, and she is out of her mind, super fast, super agile, can climb walls barehanded, and disappear into a shadow so completely that you wouldn’t know it if you were standing a few inches from her. I think you may need to think this through a bit better and come up with a different plan hon.”

 

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Lana rolls her eyes at Melissa and after only a moments hesitation begins running across the rooftop towards the direction April had vanished.  Her heart in her throat, she leaps and easily makes the jump to the next rooftop.  Each subsequent leap becomes a little easier after that until she is about on the rooftop she believes April had jumped off of.  She glances around while she waits for Melissa to catch up with her. “Daray, I think I may have lost her; any suggestions? Where would you go next? Also Melissa believes my plan to let her run herself out is faulty.  You’ve known her longer than me, what do you think?  If I can find her again do I stand a chance of taking her down?  And even if it is possible, is it a good idea?  I don’t want to hurt her… or you.”

 

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Melissa does catch up to her after a few moments. Whatever her body is made of, or purposed for, it is obviously not sprinting, or leaping from rooftop to rooftop, but she does seem to manage. Again, when she stops next to Lana, she is neither breathing hard, nor does she look as if she's exerted herself in any way. “Your file says nothing about any of these abilities. You said they are recent. Do you know what caused this change?”

 

No sign of APRIL can be seen, except for a set of deep footprints where she seems to have landed after leaping off the roof into the alley below. After that, there seems to be no indication of which direction she went.

 

There is no response from Daray for a long time as Lana tries to find some sign of APRIL’s passing, and when she finally does come through the comm, it is in a way that suggests something else has gone wrong. 

 

“Lana! Can you hear me? I don’t know if you can hear me… I’ve had to reroute communications through a public repeater. Something’s wrong with our private link. Please respond if you can hear me Lana!”

 

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Lana is growing curious about Melissa’s capabilities; most intriguing to her is the lack of altered breathing which should accompany such strenuous activities as jumping and climbing. She plans to voice her curiosity as soon as the situation with April has been resolved.  

 

“I’m here Daray, but I seem to have lost April.  She jumped off of a building and has taken to the streets again.  What’s wrong with our communication?”  Lana asks as her eyes the drop.  If April made it unharmed she ought to be able to as well.  Its one thing to consider jumping off of a building of this height, it is another to actually do it.  Just before she makes up her mind to leap she notices a nearby street lamp on a pole at a height about halfway between the rooftop and the street.  

 

With a grin she starts to run again, changing her angle until she leaps off of the roof straight towards the lamp.  Once again she slightly overshoots her expected jump and instead of gracefully catching onto the horizontal bar at the top and swinging down she has enough momentum to swing complexly over the bar like a gymnast.

 

Lana blinks in surprise but quickly adjusts her body to reduce the swinging so that she can climb her way over to the vertical pole and slide down it the rest of the way.  She then quickly makes her way over to where April had landed, searching for any clues with all of her newly enhanced senses.

 

Once Melissa catches up to her she takes a moment to answer her question while she searches.  “It’s something to do with recessive gene splicing and an overloaded stunner charge while I was in close proximity to Daray.”

 

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“I’m not exactly sure what happened Lana. If I remember correctly though, I think the transceiver in my body was acting as a sort of hub for our communications. I didn’t know it could be turned off. Never really had a reason to. But APRIL would have known, and known how. If she shut that off, it could break the link between us, and make it impossible for me to track her through public repeater stations. If you’ve lost visual on her, we could be in serious trouble.” Daray’s voice is on the verge of breaking down. It sounds like only the pressure of the matter at hand is keeping her from falling apart.

 

Once she reaches the alley below,m Lana’s new senses make quick work of the scene, although there isn’t much of a story for them to tell. There are a couple of deep footprints where APRIL landed after stepping off the roof, and even a complete set of smaller indentations that look as if they could have been fingers, as if she landed on all fours. 

 

The alley is a sort of dead-end with a ninety degree turn in it, wedged between two buildings and providing only enough space for a waste-collection vehicle to get in, retrieve containers of waste, and get out again. There are several doors, spaced out along all of the walls, all of which appear to be locked upon initial inspection. There is a narrow gap between the two buildings that appears to lead out to the main street, but it is barely wide enough for a person to squeeze through if they pressed their back up against one wall and thought extremely thin thoughts as they shimmied through the fifty foot span. But then, at barely five feet, Daray’s body is rather small…

 

The upper walls of the buildings are lined with windows, all of which appear to be closed, and very likely belong to private residences positioned above whatever commercial facilities occupy the street level spaces.

 

The sound of a cable being rapidly unspooled briefly draws Lana’s attention to the form of Melissa, descending from the roof on her mono-filament line, which quickly retracts into her forearm again once she reaches the ground. She looks around thoughtfully and shakes her head at Lana’s words, “sounds like a bad day. I’ve never heard of anything like that happening before, but I guess once you open Pandora’s box by tinkering with your DNA, pretty much anything is possible. No offense intended by the way, I know your mother was modded and you just inherited what she had done.” She looks around the scene again and clicks her tongue disapprovingly, “Easiest way for a panicked individual to get out of here would be to run that way, out to the street,” she points to the wider path designed for a maintenance vehicle.”

 

“Although, if she was thinking tactically at all, this gap here might be just wide enough for someone of her stature to slip through,” she nods toward the tiny gap between buildings. “Nothing looks breached, so it is less likely that she is inside one of these buildings. I guess the real question is, do you think she is rational enough to be thinking strategically? Or do you think she is in pure reaction mode?”


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