Status Quo - Chapter 65

Written by: Paullell

 Melissa stands down, but there is still an obvious tension to her bearing as she eyes the soldiers surrounding them.


As she presents her arm, one of the soldiers quickly scans it with a portable computer and eyes the holographic display for a moment, then nods to another of the armored figures as they share the screen between them for a moment. Finally the second soldier makes a complicated hand gesture and speaks through his filtered helmet speaker. “Stand down men. She’s legit. Rowdy, take Cruiz and Samson and see what you can do with the crowd. Flourez and Tibolt, escort these ladies to their ride, make sure the gene-job doesn’t get loose again.”


A series of salutes and brisk “Yes sir’s” followed, then the group broke up and started going about their assigned tasks. 


APRIL stands up in front of Lana, keeping her head down and her manacled hand bent behind her back. She is completely compliant now, as if she’s given up entirely and has resigned herself to her fate. Her head is lowered, chin on her chest, and her frazzled, filthy rope of hair dangles loosely down between her and Lana, the loose end still tied around her waist. The skinsuit appears to be perfectly clean, despite the action, and has indeed reverted to its neutral state of skin tight, black matte rubber-like material. Except for the color, she appears to be completely naked, with nothing of her form left to the imagination.


“That’s quite the piece of work your people have got there,” the officer comments as he falls into step with Lana, Melissa, and APRIL on their way to the plain white vehicle waiting just beyond the scene. The sound of an Emergency Response Vehicle arriving can be heard now that the rest of the noise has calmed down, and a few medics leap out to take care of the shot bystander, who appears to be holding on to life with some degree of tenacity. “And while we’re at it, you’re a pretty quick responder. This capture contract only went out thirty minutes ago, and you two look like you came directly from work…” He swivels his helmeted head back and forth between Melissa’s chef jacket and Lana’s… apparel… “Bounties aren’t quite paying the bills eh?” He adds, “which reminds me, how is Gene-Systems going to be paying for all this damage?”


As the group of them move around behind the small truck, the man rests his hand on Melissa’s shoulder, as if to stop her, or draw her attention somehow, which causes her to grab his hand and twist around in a blur of motion, slamming his armored face up against the back of the vehicle with his arm now bent back at an awkward angle behind him. The other two soldiers quickly point their weapons at her but all she offers them is a smile as she leans in close to the helmeted head and says, “I didn’t give you permission to touch me. Just as she didn’t give you permission to touch her,” she jerks her head in APRIL’s direction and then torques his arm a little more, making him stand on his tip-toes and grunt a little. “Now, I suggest you take your collateral damage bill and discuss it with your supervisor, since our digerati is fishing your inappropriate behavior out of the public security net as we speak. If you don’t want your career to evaporate like an ion-trail in vacuum, along with the rest of your unit’s careers, since they are all complicit in this debacle.” She smiles sweetly at him, an action that is rendered somewhat ghoulish by her partially-exposed, mechanical jaw before she reaches back with her free hand and effortlessly crushes in the barrel of one of the other soldier’s rifle, then adds, “M’kay pumpkin?”


The man just nods, his support relaxing off their postures a bit and trading meaningful glances between them. Melissa releases the man, who quickly begins to check his arm for damage, and looks up at the trio with an unknown facial expression. He acts as if he is about to say something more when Melissa takes a half-step toward him and makes a shooing motion with her hands, as if she is brushing some crumbs off a counter, “go on now boys, I think we’ve got it covered from here…” The three soldiers pause for one more second, then make a break for it, trying to look as calm and collected as they can.


The door to the back of the vehicle opens sometime during the exchange, revealing a largish internal space with one long, padded bench along either side of the interior. Doctor Yamato swivels his head around to look out the back, trying to remain as quiet as he can while Melissa is assaulting the officer.




Lana nods her head at Melissa in appreciation; the way she handled the captain was perfect, especially since Gene-systems wouldn’t be paying any bills related to the ‘case.’   When they glance at her she just raises her eyebrow haughtily and watches as they skedaddle away.  She helps April into the back of the truck and then slides in next to her.  As soon as the door is closed she warps her arms, awkward with the cuffs, around April and begins running her hands over her checking for damage.  “I’m so sorry April, I never wanted to hurt you. Are you ok… physically, I mean.  Emotionally is going to take more time.”




Climbing in behind Lana and APRIL, Melissa pulls the door closed behind them and sits down opposite the others, grinning widely, again, the damage to her jaw and chin making the simple display look a bit off-putting. “I love giving those twerps a hard time.”


APRIL seems to sit very awkwardly next to Lana. Which seems to be only partially related to their still being connected by the manacles. When Lana’s hands start roving her body, looking for damage, APRIL flinches away slightly, but seems to get herself under control fairly quickly, “I am undamaged Lana. I don’t understand where this pain is coming from. It’s like a point of despair in my stomach. I remember a bright, wash of pain when you first connected me to the computer to separate our minds, but that was something I could endure. This is intolerable Lana. Why am I so frightened by the prospect of what is to come?”


She leans heavily into Lana, trying to get whatever physical contact she can before she is no longer able to feel such things. There is no sign of further rebellion, or any intention to be of more trouble. Just quiet sobs, and a desperate need to keep feeling.


“Lana? Is everything alright? Did Doctor Yamato find you guys?” Daray’s voice is concerned, even a bit frightened.




Lana answers Daray first.  “We’re all here Daray.”


She pulls April practically into her lap and hugs her, rocking her in her arms.  “I don’t know April.  When I first met you I would never have imagined you being in this predicament. You were completely analytical.  You have always been a highly advanced program.  So much so that unless Daray or you told me that you were an AI, I would never have guessed it.  I’ve always treated you like your own person and so has Daray.  I can only assume that that encouraged your development of a sense of self.  To finally have a form, free of the control of another, must be an amazing thing.  Limiting in some ways but addicting in being recognized as an individual by everyone around you instead of just the two people closest to you.   I have an idea that I want to try when we get back to the apartment and I have a few questions to ask Dr Yamato also.”


Lana glances over at Melissa and really takes the time to look her over.  She is still using her ability to see auras and she pays close attention to that, suspecting that she may see something similar to Riana in Melissa’s aura.  “That… is really disturbing.  I’m going to ask this mostly out of pure curiosity but please realize I am not judging.  What exactly are you ?”  Lana reaches out her hand to gently touch Melissa’s jaw just below the missing skin.




APRIL folds herself into Lana’s lap, curling up into the fetal position on the bench of the vehicle and crying quietly.


“Oh good. I didn’t know if he’d make it in time. The AO soldiers are cleaning up the mess on the news now. All the footage of APRIL’s face has been scrubbed, but i left yours visible so that you could get a foothold in the industry. You’ll be able to get any bounty or reclamation job you want now.”


Melissa actually leans forward to allow Lana better access to investigate, smiling again, in that disturbing way. The metal is warm to the touch, and the skin around it feels real. There is what appears to be real blood coagulated along the edges of the torn flesh, and some smears of it along the exposed metal of her jaw. Her eyes lock on Lana’s, and as real as they look from a distance, it is easy enough for Lana to see at this range, the tiny mechanical aperture beneath the surface opening and closing to adjust to the light. As she replies, it seems as if her tongue, plainly visible through the wound in her face, is perfectly normal, biological material.


“I am a full conversion cyborg with a cloned epidermis. Top of the line. Strength, Speed, Agility, built-in weapons, sensors, full combat chassis and mil-spec across the board, except for the looks of course… And in answer to your next question, I didn’t choose this… I was… injured… a few years back…” Her eyes loose focus for a moment as she seems to be reliving some distant, but vivid memory. After a moment she snaps out of it and refocuses on Lana, her far-away look changing to a mirthful smile, “Your dad fixed me up when I should have died. Gave me a job, and a place in the world. He gave me a second chance at life…” She raises her hand and wiggles her fingers, rolling the hand over a couple times so Lana can see both sides. There is absolutely no indication that her hand is anything other than flesh and blood. “I can’t imagine people willingly throwing away their flesh in exchange for cybernetics, but it does have its benefits, and it’s certainly preferable to the alternative.”


As they chat, APRIL slowly seems to get hold of herself, finally wiping away her tears and looking up at Lana without moving her head out of her lap. She takes a deep, shuddering breath, as if trying to build her confidence, then speaks quietly, “Lana, can you shut off your transmitter for a minute please? I need to tell you something… Something Daray can’t hear…” her voice is quiet, a whisper that is barely audible above the thrum of the vehicle’s hover system and the road noise outside.




Lana listens to everything that is said to her and tries to respond one at a time.  “That’s great Daray.  Although considering what people will now think is my work attire… once we get advertising out there don’t be surprised if we get calls for other types of jobs as well.”  She grins as she says it, considering the possibility rather funny.


“That’s… unfortunate.  So do you maintain any sensitivity through the artificial skin? Uhh.  Hold that thought.  Daray, love. I’m going to turn off my transmitter for just a minute.  Don’t panic If you cant reach me for a few.  We’re on our way home.”  Lana leans her head back against the seat and loses her eyes, trying to remember what it had felt like when she turned it off before.  After a moment she hears a pop and crackle and then silence.  She opens her eyes again and answers quietly but still audibly.  “It’s off April, but there are other people in the car and depending on what you say there is no guarantee it will not get back to Daray somehow.”




“I have full sensitivity over my entire epidermis. Even enhanced in most places. I’d love to demonstrate for you sometime…” Melissa grins again as she leans back against the wall to let Lana deal with her other business, folding her arms across her chest and smirking.


“Okay Lana, I’ve alerted Archie at the door that you will be coming through the back door as a group.” Daray responds to Lana’s warning, her voice a little uncertain.


After the click, and her announcement, APRIL hugs her arms over her chest and her eyes begin to tear up again. Her words are stammering, tentative, and filled with what could very well be the source of her pain… “Lana, when I did what I did to Daray, in Turin’s home… I didn’t have memory for her entire mind… I couldn’t save all of her memories… I had to act… I was compelled by my programming to to save her, but also by my… feelings… She is my friend and I didn’t want her to suffer so even beyond my programming, I was forced to take action… I…” She begins to cry freely as she tries to work through her confession. “She was in so much pain, all the time… So conflicted… I never knew her before, but I knew those memories were causing the pain in her soul so when I was forced to choose, the choice seemed an easy one…”


At this point, Melissa starts to look more than a little uncomfortable, finally excusing herself and moving up to the front of the vehicle to sit next to the doctor and strike up a conversation about any offices he could recommend in the area for regrowing her damages flesh.


APRIL watches her go, then shifts her eyes back to Lana and wipes away the tears once more, “I let them all go Lana. Every memory she had from before the procedure…” She returns to sobbing then, trying to roll away from Lana, but the manacles connecting them makes the entire prospect very awkward and difficult.




Lana’s jaw drops in surprise and her skin tone fluctuates, darkening to a pale pink instead of white.  “Oh, my.  That was not anything that I would have guessed you might say here.”  Lana moves her arms to pin April where she is, not letting her move away.  “Shh.  Don’t… just … just give me a minute….”  Lana adjusts herself, Aprils wiggling had move her to a point where she was pinching her tail against the seat.  Lana gently brushes the tears from April’s cheeks.  


“There is nothing we can do about it now.  So far she doesn’t even seem to realize there is a gap in her life.  Apparently she does not think about her younger life and childhood much.  Really the only thing we need to decide is do we tell her about what happened… what was done to her.  Or just let it go.  The mind is a funny thing, able to adapt to the strangest of circumstances.  It’s not exactly like a computer, people can have amnesia for years and then suddenly, someday they remember things they never expected to.  I’m not a neurologist.  I cannot begin to say if what you did will be permanent or not but I would say there is always a chance she may recover those memories.  Once you are… no longer occupying the areas of her brain that those memories were housed in they could recover.  If they never do I will still love her and so will you.  This may make her life less… complicated.  I would recommend we tell her what happened so when she goes searching for a memory of her childhood she won’t be surprised when she finds none.  Don’t feel so bad; it’s part of being a person, making a decision to the best of your judgment.  Sometimes it’s a good one.  Sometimes it’s a bad one.  There is really no telling at this point.  It might have driven her crazy; being raped with the memory of not always having been a woman.  It might not have.  This body is so powerful it is dangerous to risk being out of control.  You made the safe decision; there is really no way to tell if it was the right one.”




APRIL tries several times to squirm out of Lana’s grip, but finally resigns herself to it, averting her eyes instead. “So much pain. She was so conflicted, all the time. I don’t know if it was my programming, or my love for her that made me do it. It hurt me so much to know she was in such pain Lana. When it happened, when I had to react to Turin’s torture, there wasn’t even a moment’s hesitation. I destroyed her past without a second thought Lana. What kind of monster am I?”


The vehicle slows to a stop outside the rear entrance to their building, and Doctor Yamato and Melissa both turn to look into the back of the vehicle at the pair, “We’re here girls,” Melissa says, then adds, “we’ll be waiting outside.” She motions to the doctor, and the two of them climb out and close the doors behind them to give the pair some privacy.


APRIL turns her tear-filled yes back toward Lana, “Alina said Daray was too emotional to assimilate feelings like these. That she will react impulsively, without thinking about the consequences of her actions. Alina and I have kept such secrets from her Lana…”


She takes another deep breath, her eyes suddenly opening wide in realization. “This is it, isn’t it? This is the source of my fear… this pain in my stomach… Lana, what sort of monster have I become?”




Lana takes a deep breath as she processes April’s confession.  “So the reason you ran was less because you were jealously unwilling to give up control of the body to Daray and be relegated back into cyberspace.  But more because you were afraid of hurting Daray further when she finds out what you have done?  April.  I’m not qualified to offer therapy at all, let alone in the back of a van in just a few spare minutes… But I think you have answered your own fear.  Monsters like Turin and Kilgore take what they want and actually enjoy the pain they cause along the way.  Everything that you have done… with the exception of dashing headlong out of a wall and across the city… has been to help and protect Daray.  By the very definition that makes you not a monster.  Will she be upset and hurt when she finds out what you have done… maybe.  But you did it with the best of intentions.  You are not a monster.“  Lana leans down and offers comfort in the most natural way for her.  She strokes April’s cheeks and tilts her head so that she can lean down and kiss her on the lips.  To Lana its almost habit; her standard mode of offering comfort, and very platonic.  She presses her lips to April’s with gentle warmth even as her hand grips April’s where they are still cuffed together.




At the touch of their lips, APRIL’s entire body shudders. Her hand clasps Lana’s reflexively, and her eyes go wide. There is nothing sexual about the interaction, but it is still quite sensual, and an experience she has never had before. The softness of the exchange, and the pure, emotional transference of it, are entirely new to her.


When they finally break apart again, she shudders once more, her free hand leaving Lana’s face, where she hadn’t even realized she had put it. “Lana, I’ve never… That was the most…” She closes her eyes and breathes calmly for a minute before speaking again, “I don’t want to give up this body. Being physically real… But I would never keep this situation as it is, not at the expense of you and Daray’s happiness. My base program requires me to insure her safety and well being, and she loves you. Depriving her of you would violate my most basic protocols, and upsetting you would upset her, which has the same end result. I ran because of the pain. I had no idea that such an emotional weight could cause physical. I don’t know if it is my base code causing it, or some impossible evolution of my program due to circumstances. I panicked Lana, and look what happened. Even if I could justify keeping Daray’s body to myself, I don’t deserve it, and I certainly can’t control it…”


Finally, she rolls off of Lana’s lap, shifting to her knees on the floor in front of her in order to keep their shackled hands in a comfortable position. She squeezes Lana’s hand and smiles through tear-stained eyes. “Thank you Lana. For everything you have done for her. And for me. You may have saved us both by coming into our lives. Let’s go make things right…”




Lana grins at April.  “I’m happy to help.”  She stands and starts to make her way out of the van when a sudden thought occurs to her.  Without the previous knowledge that she was once a man; when Daray is reunited with her body she may not be attracted to a woman in a sexual manner any more. Lana pauses and a worried look passes over her face but she decides to wait and see before borrowing trouble that may not occur.  “I’m activating my transmitter again.”  She states as she heads for the house.  She has to wait for April to walk with her.  While Melissa gave her the cuffs she had not passed along the keys.

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