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Status Quo - Chapter 66

Written by: Paullell

 APRIL climbs out of the vehicle with Lana, standing beside her sheepishly as they regroup with Melissa and the Doctor. She nods her understanding as Lana reactivates the comm link, and a sudden realization has her reenabling her own transceiver to reestablish the link between the three of them.

 

-Daray, we are outside, heading up to you. I apologize for my rash behavior earlier. I think we need to have a discussion.-

 

“Hi APRIL!” Daray’s voice is ecstatic, “Are you okay? Is Lana there? How are you guys?”

 

The four of them make their way through the back door of the building and into the elevator, with a nod from the security guard, and in moments are back in their home. The clear pane that was the dining room wall has a large hole punched through it, leaving spiderwebs of cracked material all along the wall and up the curve onto the ceiling/roof as well. The entire thing will no doubt need to be replaced. 

 

There is a pungent smell of burnt food, which elicits more than a few colorful metaphors from Melissa as she charges into the kitchen and begins making adjustments and swearing under her breath. Forgetting completely about the fact that Lana and APRIL are still locked together.

 

Doctor Yamato looks to Lana and APRIL and offers a wan, uncertain smile, “Are you ladies ready?” He motions toward the office with his right hand, resting his left on APRIL’s shoulder gently.

 

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Lana just shakes her head at the destruction, she’s so out of her depth here she’s not even certain if it will be affordable to fix.  Briefly she considers going after Melissa for the key but decides it can wait.  “We’re ready.  Daray, could you please let Melissa know I would appreciate it if she would bring the key in to us once she is finished keeping the kitchen from burning.  Lana follows the Dr to the room he has been working on and looks around at all of the computer things with the curiosity and bafflement of a child looking at a magician’s trick.

 

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APRIL moves in concert with Lana, following her into the office, where they can see a veritable junkyard of computer parts all cabled together all over the floor. It’s not even clear where Doctor Yamato found half of the equipment, except that several cabinets are open and appear to be devoid of more than a few large objects from their shelves.

 

“She said’ she’ll bring it in a few minutes. She’s mumbling something about the chicken and charcoal…” Daray responds.

 

“I need to remove Daray from the network now,” the doctor says, approaching the wrist computer that holds Daray’s consciousness.

 

“I’m ready doctor, all tucked back in,” she responds.

 

He nods and starts disconnecting the add-on modules from the unit as he moves over to his Frankensteined apparatus, where he plugs the little computer into the mess with a standard ODN cable. “Now, for this process to work, you will each have to be downloaded out of the body, in order to make room for the software change. Daray, you won’t feel much of anything until the process returns you to your body. APRIL, I am sorry to say that since you have become so acclimated to Daray’s body, there will be a long period of disorientation and discomfort once you return to your previous arrangement.”

 

APRIL nods her understanding, “I understand Doctor. Where do you want me to be?”

 

“Here on the floor please,” he motions to the only clear spot on the floor, which is a wide circle, at least a couple of feet larger in diameter than APRIL could reach fully stretched in any direction. 

 

APRIL moves to the clearing and lays down in the center, with her head toward the larger apparatus in the doctor’s strange assemblage.

 

Paying out another ODN cable, the doctor hands it to APRIL, who quickly plugs it in to the jack behind her ear. She then quickly sits up and embraces Lana, still connected as they are, and says, “thank you Lana. For everything. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor in the real world.” She just as quickly releases her friend, and lay down on her back, locking eyes with Lana and smiling slightly.

 

“There will probably be an extreme physical reaction as the body undergoes these transitions. Lana, it is imperative that nothing interrupts the process. No matter what you see. I’ve never attempted something like this before, so I really don’t know what to expect.”

 

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Still connected, Lana is forced to kneel and then sit as April arranges herself in the clear space on the floor.   She hugs April back and there are tears of sympathy in her eyes as she arranges herself near April/Daray’s head.  Lana grabs her hand and squeezes it, offering moral support for what she assumes must be rather scary.  Leaning over April slightly Lana whispers,  “give me your other hand also.  I’ll hold it too… And if anything happens hopefully I can keep you and Daray from thrashing too much and disturbing the equipment.”

 

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APRIL nods, offering Lana her other hand. With Lana sitting on the floor at her head, and holding both her hands, she takes a few deep breaths as the doctor makes a few last-minute adjustments.

 

“Alright ladies, this is going to be a bit disorienting. I’m going to download APRIL’s program into a buffer I have created, then scan her code for any signs of damage or incompatibility that may need to be addressed. While that is going on, Daray will be re-uploaded into her own mind, then APRIL will be re-uploaded again. I have to tell you that I have never seen, done, or even heard of a situation like this before, so there may be any number of side-effects that might occur. Just keep in mind that you are both, now, very familiar with one another, and that the majority of anything that might be hinky will be mental. You’re going to have to learn to live with one another again.”

 

“Okay,” Daray replies through the computer speakers.

 

“I understand doctor,” APRIL responds, offering Lana’s hands a squeeze, and a tiny smile.

 

“Alright. Are we ready?”

 

“Yes Doctor.”

 

“Ready here.”

 

“Okay, here we go,” he responds, pulling up a rather complex holographic display and pressing an  actuator on the display.

 

Instantly, APRIL jerks against Lana’s grip, her body stiffening and eyes opening wide. She clenches her teeth, baring them as if there is an intense, constant pain she is dealing with, but her eyes never waver from Lana’s, and she never thrashes even once before her body suddenly goes limp.

 

The doctor watches his display rather intently throughout that leg of the process, then manipulates a few controls, starting up some kind of diagnostic program, and turning his attention to a second display that appears. With a wave of his hand, a new grow-bar appears and the body in Lana’s arms shudders, then convulses a couple of times, before finally coming alive, back arching up off the floor and a primal scream escaping her lips.

 

The scream goes on for longer than should ever be possible, a loud, harsh, all-encompassing wail. Her back remains arched, body tense as if every muscle is clenched and locked in place, and her wide, cobalt eyes have lost focus, huge pupils dilated out to the point that there is almost no color left in them.

 

“Please keep hold of her Lana, the upload is now moving into her higher brain functions,” the doctor’s voice somehow cuts through the noise. With a move of his hand across the controls, the tone of Daray’s howl changes, becoming more an expression of pain. Her limbs begin to flail, quickly proving that she is still stronger than Lana as she is forced to adjust to the violent movements. Her claws repeatedly extend and retract from her fingers, perforating Lana’s clenched hands and wrists again and again over several minutes before she finally goes limp again, chest heaving and sweat pouring from her head and face.

 

“The first upload is done,” the doctor comments, his voice a bit stark in the sudden silence of the room. “She’ll probably be unconscious for a while as her mind readjusts and flows back into her brain’s nooks and crannies. This diagnostic just finished up. I need to make a couple adjustments and then we can re-upload APRIL. Just a moment.”

 

He quirks an eyebrow as he examines the display, which looks like millions of lines of computer code as he scrolls through it with a speed that most people couldn’t read regular text. He quickly highlights a few lines, makes some adjustments, then moves on. The process repeats several times, each time garnering a little ‘herm’ noise from the doctor. Finally he waves his hand again and another grow-bar appears. At this point, Daray’s body starts to twitch and convulse, but the motions are small, more like tiny involuntary nerve firings. At this point, Lana can feel a difference in how the manacle feels, and looking down to her wrist, she can see that the metal device has been twisted apart in the center, breaking the link between them and leaving a mangles, sharpened, metal spike attached to each of their wrists. She’s not even sure when it happened, and it must have been painful, given the strength of the band, but aside from the blood that escaped, there doesn’t seem to be any appreciable damage to either of their wrists.

 

Finally, he waives off his displays, moves over to Lana and Daray and gently unplugs the ODN cable form her skull. “She’ll likely be out for quite a while. We should probably move her somewhere more comfortable,” he speaks quietly, “we won’t know anything until she comes around, and I need to talk to you about some things I found in APRIL’s base code…”

 

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Lana’s crying never ceases, changing from sympathy to worry and then pain as she has to hold the woman she loves down while undergoing an obviously painful process.  She glances over at the doctor once or twice when looking at Daray’s struggling body is too much for her bruised heart.  It is at one of those moments that she notices him evaluating what she assumes is April’s code and deleting portions of it.  She starts to protest, not wanting him to change April in any way.  “Stop! What are you…” Then Daray resumes her thrashing and she has to put all of her attention in attempting to hold her still so she does not damage any of the equipment surrounding them.  

 

The pain in her hands from Daray’s claws is actually a welcome distraction, giving her something to think about outer than sympathizing with the pain that Daray is feeling.  This close and this connected, her empathy is working even without her knowledge or intent and it cuts along her consciousness, coloring the experience horribly.  When she finally lays still and the doctor removes the jack all she wants to do is collapse and sleep.  At his words of needing to talk she groans, instinctively sure that it will be more bad news.  “All right doctor, give me a moment."  She moves herself and reaches under Daray’s shoulders and thighs to gently lift her in her arms.  Normally she would never have attempted this but her newfound strength holds true.  She carries her out and makes her way to where she assumes the bedroom would be.

 

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The trip to the master bedroom has the pair parading through the entire house, as it is opposite the office. Melissa is halfway through scrubbing down the kitchen and watches them move through with a raised eyebrow, but no other attention to speak of. She seems to be able to hold her words, and opinions when necessary.

 

As with the home on Mars, the bedroom is huge, and sparsely decorated. Obviously a place that is either rarely used, or used for nothing more than a place to sleep. When Lana deposits her unconscious form on the bed, Daray seems to instinctively curl around her friend’s arm, wrapping it up inside the curve of her body. The tenderness of the moment is perhaps a good sign of the results of the pain and suffering just visited upon them all.

 

It takes a little doing, but Lana is able to disentangle herself from Daray’s coiled body, and almost the moment she reemerges from the bedroom, she is swept up by the doctor and rushed back into the office where he has brought up several displays around the desk. The room is still cluttered, and there are marks in the stone floor where Daray’s heels have created gouges.

 

“Lana, I found a few troubling bits of code in APRIL’s program. I’m not as adept at this as Doctor Ferrin was, but I found a few things that troubled me.” He points to some code floating on the holographic display, highlighting a bit of it with a swipe of his fingers and enlarging it for her to see. “This is just one bit of it, I found several, and there were probably even more that I didn’t find… You see, I am responsible for the hardware that allows APRIL to interface with Daray’s physical tissues. I have to know some things about software, but the level of complexity that Doctor Ferrin reached with APRIL is far beyond my capabilities. Anyway, the reason I recognized this code is because it is designed to interact with some of her hardware systems. You see? Just here.” 

 

He points at the code and looks expectantly at Lana for a moment before shaking his head. “I’m sorry, I sometimes forget that not everyone understands this language. I’ll explain it. You see, this bit of code is designed to operate the sub-space transceiver array that is part of APRIL’s basic hardware. But the problem here is that this routine sits just below her level of consciousness. She likely doesn’t even know it’s there. It’s set to upload pre-compiled activity logs to a dedicated server address on a regular basis.” 

 

He waves his hands in a frustrated display, swiping through section after section of highlighted code. “And here, something in motor control, and here again in power management… I don’t know what all of this is for, and I’m certain that I didn’t get all of it, but I can tell you one thing for certain,” he turns and looks at Lana pointedly, “none of this code was in here when Doctor Ferrin and I turned APRIL’s hardware and software over to Solidarity Online. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they wedged all this code in here to create a series of booby-traps and fail-safes to protect the company.”

 

Leaning back in the seat, he stares for a moment at the code and then shifts his gaze back to Lana, hoping for some insight as to what he is looking at, or some kind of comment to make it all better. It is obvious that the man is very distraught about what he’s found, and that he has a rather paternal attitude about APRIL.

 

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Lana tries to follow along with what the doctor is saying.  After her conversation with Alina she is not surprised by most of it.  She recalls the times she and Daray had been intimate that she had seemed to struggle to move but her limbs behaved like they were pinned.  What Lana wants most is to curl up and take a nap and for nothing else crazy to happen until she had a chance to really hold Daray in her arms for the first time in a week.  But as always the universe seems to have other ideas and more corporate intrigue seems to be in store.  Lana rubs her temples and sits back down on the floor.  At her movement little rust red flakes fall from her fingers, when she looks at her hands she sees dried blood on them but the wounds beneath it are already closed.  

 

“Dr Yamato.  Some of what you are saying makes a lot of sense.  I believe I have seen April restrain Daray in certain circumstances…  And I have heard from another source that buried somewhere in April’s code is a program designed to explode if she becomes uncontrollable, or were to quit their services.  This information was used to keep her apart from someone she cares about.  I am growing to learn that large corporations hide some very shady dealings.  I am a little confused though what are pre-compiled activity logs?”

 

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Doctor Yamato nods as Lana speaks, a small grin forming across his face as he realizes he is speaking to someone who, at least on some level, understands him. The smile fades, however, when she mentions the self-destruct code.

 

“Well, the bit about APRIL being able to restrain Daray is impossible. The only way she could do that is if…” he waves his arms around again, searching for words, then finishes with, “well, maybe if she completely lost all reason. But she’d have to be so far gone that there was no conscious thought in her head. That doesn’t happen to people, even when they sleep.”

 

He turns back to the code and begins paging through it again, shaking his head negatively, “There is no way that APRIL’s code could self destruct anything. There would have to be some sort of immense feedback loop built up in the power cells of the memory management module, but there are triple-redundant hardware fail-safes in place, so such a thing could not be. Unless…” he opens another screen and begins paging through what looks like a series of bio-scans of Daray’s head. After a few moments, he hangs his head low, shaking it mournfully.

 

“Those megalomaniacal corporate bastards!” He finally shouts, half standing up from the chair and banging his fists on the desk. “Look here!” Pointing at the scan, it is plain to see he is looking at some kind of cybernetic device that is wedged between the hemispheres of Daray’s brain. It is a flat, disk-like object, with a series of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of tiny tendrils, boring into both halves of her brain. Aside from that, it is essentially impossible for someone without a degree (or two) in cyber-engineering, to tell what he could possibly be pointing at.

 

After giving her a hopeful look, he can see that he is the only one who gets it again, and explains, “Right here, at the base of the module. There should be a small node here that contains the failsafes. It looks like they removed them before they implanted the system in her skull. And the way the system is installed, sitting right on top of this gland, which I think is what would be called a Lazarus Gland. ANd just in front of that is the control system for the nanites that are responsible for repairing APRIL’s cybernetic systems. If the software you mentioned really is in there, then this would certainly make it possible for this system to kill her, kill them both.”

 

He looks up at her and shakes his head again, “Lana, I didn’t find that code, so if it indeed exists, it is still in her program. As for the logs… APRIL is a mission-oriented program. Or was rather, before she started writing her own code. As such, she has autonomous sub-routines that build and save logs of mission activity. I suppose for all intents and purposes, this would include all activity. There is, or was rather, a hidden routine that would regularly upload those files for review. I’ve disabled that, along with a couple dozen other hidden routines. There’s no telling how many more are still in her systems.”

 

Waving away the floating displays, he stands up the rest of the way and turns to Lana with a grim visage writ across his face, “Lana, there is a lot going on in APRIL’s head, and it looks like quite a bit of it may be completely outside her control, or even knowledge. There’s no telling what is going on in her head, but to make matters… more interesting, I have found evidence that, in the last few months, she has started altering her own program. I don’t know how, or to what end, but it’s possible she could find and root out most of these issues, unfortunately something seems to be retarding the process. Something is inhibiting her ability to really make changes. Thus far, all she’s managed to do is create emotional sub-routines, and I’m fairly certain that she is not doing any of this consciously. What I wouldn’t give to talk with Doctor Ferrin about this. It’s entirely possible that that clever old bastard set this up, knowing what Xavier would do to her. For now though, you should just be aware that, APRIL is a potential time-bomb Lana. I didn’t have time to clean her up thoroughly, not that I’m really qualified to do so, and I had to put her back in Daray’s head before she wouldn’t fit any more. There isn’t a computer in existence right now that can handle her program. Without Daray, she’d die.”

 

“Hey Lana?” Melissa’s voice drifts across the room as she pokes her head through the doorway. “Look, I know we didn’t get off on the right foot and all. And we’ve sort of come to a few decisions about how things are going to go from here, but I’m feeling a little exposed here,” she points to her damaged jaw. “I’ve got the kitchen all cleaned up and was wanting to go see a gene-doc about regrowing this, but I wanted to make sure you were alright, and that you’d be okay with me coming back. Since I’m supposed to get you to the doc alive and well and all, I figured hanging with you guys would be the best route. If that’s okay I mean. ‘cause otherwise, I’d just have to sneak around in the shadows and follow you every you went anyway…”

 

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Lana shakes her head.  “Oh god.  What else can go wrong?  Thanks for the warning doctor.  This is not an area that I am familiar with but I will try and keep up.  Actually I do have to correct you.  Something has been done to Daray that puts her on auto pilot.  Whenever sensory input becomes powerful she resorts to a sort of fight or flight, rather bestial mentality.  I can guarantee that there is almost no higher brain function going on at all.  I'm not certain how often it occurs when she is fighting, but I can now accurately say that it happens each time we are... intimate.  Afterwards she cannot even tell me what happened other than she is tired and sated.   But I suppose that is a problem for another time.  I really must thank you for all that you've done but if it's not too much of an imposition, can we keep you on a retainer?  I can make certain that they both visit you for regular checkups and perhaps over time you can work through more of April's hidden coding.  It would hurt her to find out that she has secret programing inside her that could hurt Daray, but it will bother her even more if it were to ever get used. Should we tell her?” 

 

 Lana looks up as Melissa enters, having forgotten all about her for the moment.  “Of course Melissa.  Go get fixed, you are welcome back.  As soon as Daray is up and about we will go with you and get this whole parent thing resolved.”  Lana's voice is somewhere between scared and excited.

 

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He nods when Lana mentions Daray’s frequent mental regressions, “yes, that sounds exactly like the circumstances required for APRIL to exert any physical control at all. I don’t know what would cause that, I’m no psychologist, but I would suspect it is emotional. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to say we should inform her fully, but since these emotional sub-routines started showing up, there is no telling how she’ll react now. Still, I suppose it would be doing her a disservice to not tell her, and Daray deserves to know what she is hauling around as well, I should think.”

 

Melissa nods to Lana’s statement, “thanks Lana. I left the key to those manacles on the counter, if you want to remove what’s left of them, and you should probably wash up before you head back into the bedroom. You look like a failed suicide attempt,” she points at Lana’s wrists and winks. “I’ll probably be a couple hours at least, unless I have trouble finding a decent place that can take me on short notice.” She then quickly disappears and can be heard getting on the elevator.

 

The doctor shakes his head again and smiles, “you know it seems that people I know never seem to have normal, every-day lives. I met a woman a couple years ago who was born as an AI in a video game, became sentient, and migrated into a cyborg body. Strange times I tell you. Anyway, as to your question, I think that’s a good idea. As I said, I’m nowhere near the skill level of APRIL’s father, but I will do what I can. I have a copy of her original source code on my system at home, and a copy that I made today. I should be able to ferret out the changes that SO made, but it will take me awhile since APRIL is now changing her own code as well. Honestly, this would be a lot easier to manage if we could get hold of Doctor Ferrin’s original materials.”

 

He pauses for a minute, then looks Lana in the eyes and raises his eyebrows thoughtfully, “if you three could get hold of those materials, we could straighten APRIL out pretty quickly.”


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