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Status Quo - Chapter 72

Written by: Paullell

 Daray blushes scarlet at Melissa’s entrance, turning her head and wrapping her arms around her body protectively. She offers Lana a look of sheer admiration at the way she handles the situation though, and immediately falls into step behind her as she roams about, looking for her bag. 

 

“Honestly, I’d rather teach you how to defend yourself bare-handed. But we can start with shooting if you want. I’m not much of a gun user either, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.”

 

She smiles when Lana talks about unpacking, “we’ll have to go through the closet and drawers and see what fits you. We can donate whatever you don’t want, or can’t use, and then you can move into the free space. By the way, please feel free to redecorate, move furniture, whatever you like.”

 

“Can I put a fish tank in my room?” Melissa asks as she picks up a small duffel she’d brought back with her after having her face repaired.

 

“Since when do you have a room?” Daray raises an eyebrow at her.

 

“Well, I thought if we’re going to be partners…” Melissa manages to not look terribly hurt.

 

“Partners? When did that…” She stops and looks thoughtful for a moment, then her eyes light up, “oh! I remember discussing that. Hey! I remembered something from last night!” She paints a giddy expression across her face for a moment, then returns her attention to Melissa, “I’ll tell you what. We’ll keep a room open for you on the off-chance that you end up leaving Lana’s father’s employ. If that happens, we’ll discuss fish then.”

 

Melissa smirks, then heads for the elevator. Daray loops a hand around Lana’s elbow as they start to move in the same direction, and then she perks up even more as something new occurs to her, “You know who could really teach you to shoot well? Riana and Kat. They’re both expert marksmen. Riana with handguns and those little submachine-guns, and Kat with some kind of really long, heavy sniper rifle.”

 

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The spaceport is a mere five minute walk from their building. A walk which Daray seems to enjoy immensely, with both arms wrapped round one of Lana’s forearms, and the rest of her leaning heavily into her friend’s side. She chats idly about various things, including the possibility of her teaching Lana Capoeira, or Parkour.

 

Melissa walks in silence, a few paces behind the pair, and within ten minutes they are inside the hanger, looking at a very small craft that looks almost brand new. It is incredibly sleek, with a set of wide wings coming from the top of the fuselage and sweeping forward like a predatory bird. The slight downward hook to the tip of the ship’s nose does nothing to detract from the bird feeling.

 

Striding toward them from the ship’s open airlock door is Riana, wearing a skin-tight black bodysuit with a criss-cross of webbing and strapping over it, all covered up by a flowing, fitted duster that seems to shine with a pearlescent sheen, shifting through the color spectrum as she moves and the angle of the light changes. Her dark purple hair is pulled back in a simple pony tail, and she grins at them and opens her arms in welcome, her long, pointy ears raked back from her head and twitching slightly with excitement.

 

“Dare! Lana! How are you? It’s great to see you both!” SHe hugs them each in turn, then shakes hands with Melissa, offering her a warm smile and nod.”

 

“We’re great Riana. All things considered.” Daray replies, then tilts her head toward their companion, “this is Melissa. Melissa, this is Riana Thorindal.”

 

Melissa’s eyes perk up as she is introduced. “Wow! Riana Thorindal uh? You guys have some kind of clout, I’ll tell you that.”

 

“You know me?” Riana asks, raising an eyebrow of her own.

 

“By reputation only. I’m sort of a courier of sorts, and your name comes up occasionally.”

 

“Not too much in the way of negative comments I hope?” Riana chuckles as she turns toward the ship and leads the group to the hatch.

 

“Only in as much as you seem to be a tough act to follow. You know, there’s even a rumor you’ve fought Gregory Shantal!”

 

Riana stops in front of the hatch and turns to look seriously at Melissa. “I have. Twice.”

 

Melissa’s entire demeanor changes and a look of near hero-worship breaks across her face, “Seriously?”

 

“Seriously.”

 

“And… you beat him?”

 

“Once.”

 

“And the other time?”

 

“I didn’t,” she replied plainly, then stood to the side and waved toward the hatch, “Ladies, welcome aboard the Kestrel.”

 

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The inside of the Kestrel is very much like Willhelmina’s ship, the Vol. That is to say, barely large enough for the four of them. There is a small room with four bunks in it, just forward of the engine room, then a ready-room/kitchen/dining room with a staging area on one side and the head on the other. At the front of the ship is the bridge, with only two seats in it. There are two seats in the multi=purpose room, on either side of a tiny table that is attached to one wall.

 

“It isn’t much for conveniences, but please make yourselves at home. Titan is a ways off, but if we kick in the traction drive, we can shorten the trip by a couple days.” Riana talks to the group as she cycles the airlock closed, then moves up to the bridge to work on getting the ship off the ground.

 

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Lana giggles at Melissa’s question about fish.  She smiles and nods when Daray remembers the conversation form the day before.  “Exactly right.  And she’s agreed to cook for us on occasion too. This morning’s fare was only a small sample of her talent.”  Lana complements Melissa with complete honesty.

 

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Lana listens to Daray go on about her favorite hobby with a grin and a look of skepticism on her face.  “So… you just run and throw yourself at any obstacles that get in your way?  You know, I had a feeling you were crazy the first day I met you.  It’s just taken this long to confirm it.”  Lana hugs the arm that Daray’s has linked through hers.  “Well if you have so much fun at it I will have to give it a try and see if I can enjoy it too.”

 

Lana’s grin widens at the sight of Riana walking towards them.  “Hello again!  It’s nice to see a familiar face.  You will have to speak to me in your language some more, I want to learn the rest of it!” Lana watches the introduction of Melissa to Riana with some confusion and when she gets the opportunity she leans over and whispers to Daray.  “Who is Gregory Shantal?”

 

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Daray smiles at Lana’s willingness to at least try some Parkour, “It’s kind of like that, although it’s really a way to keep the mind and body working as one cohesive unit. Throwing yourself at an obstacle is a pretty literal description, but it works. The point is that you see an obstacle, you determine a course of action to circumvent it, and then you take action. Never stop moving, never go backward, and never tackle the same situation the same way twice. Capoeira is similar, constant motion and readjustment of your position, but it’s all about fighting, which I suppose is just a different form of problem solving…”

 

Once on board the Kestrel, she pulls off her single piece of ‘luggage’ and tosses the thing on one of the bunks. Melissa has already discarded her duffle and followed Riana up into the cockpit, asking a stream of questions that sound like they are about specific incidents on jobs that it’s likely no one should know about.

 

Turning to Lana, Daray shrugs, “I’m not really sure. It seems like I’ve heard the name before. I think he’s some kind of mercenary or something. It sounds like he’s supposed to be pretty badass though, especially if he’s beating Riana in a fight…”

 

She throws herself onto the bunk next to her weapons, propping her head up on her hand and smiling at Lana as the ship lurches off the ground and the inertial dampeners kick in with a shudder. There is the briefest moment that they can feel the ship accelerating, and gravity shifts to the ship’s artificial system, then it is gone and everything feels normal again.

 

“So the trip will be a few days, at least. Not much space in here… Maybe we could hole up in the engine room and make some noise uh?” She grins at Lana as she jokes.

 

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The trip is indeed long, taking the better part of five days. But Riana assures them that with the planets in their current alignments, any ship with a regular sub-light engine would have taken seven to ten days to do the same thing. She explains the traction drive to them, but it’s mostly techno-babble to anyone without multiple degrees in quantum mechanics and sub-space physics.

 

When asked, Riana describes Gregory Shantal as a self-important, patronizing mercenary with an over-inflated reputation, but acknowledges him as a worthy opponent in a fight. Melissa goes on to describe him as some sort of amazing figure with more than a hundred years of known, active service and a reputation for winning at any cost. It seems he has something of a legendary status in the ‘hero for hire’ business, even if he isn’t really counted as a hero.

 

By the time they are on final approach to Titan, Melissa has got Riana to clam up completely from all her questioning. It is apparent that there is a bit of idol worship going on, and that Riana wants absolutely nothing to do with that, shortening her answers to one-word affairs, and changing the subject whenever possible. Thus, she seems to welcome any opportunity to converse with Lana in a foreign tongue, of which she knows several that Lana has never heard before. She names them as elvish, which Lana had heard her speak previously, gnomish, dwarvish, common (very much like the combination of english and chinese that is the basic language of the human race), and a sort of ugly, guttural language that she calls gobbley.

 

Daray is able to understand their conversations in any language, with APRIL translating in real time, but she can not answer back in any of them. 

 

APRIL, on the other hand, proves to be a linguistic challenge for the lot of them, able to speak fluently in any language that any of them can name, wether from the real world, Kalijor, or Earth’s ancient past.

 

The food on board is terrible, consisting of basic rations, freeze-dried fare, and water. There isn’t enough water on board for them to shower more than once apiece, and the cramped quarters insures that they are nearly always all in almost the same physical space. Like four adults taking a week-long road trip in a mini-van with doors that won’t open.

 

Fortunately, Melissa can take a hint and eventually slows down her questions, then takes to reading on her bunk most of the time, while Daray settles into a routine of regular calisthenics and conversations. This is also where Lana gets her first real glimpse of how Daray operates when she is on, or preparing for a mission of some kind. As she works out, never so much as breaking a sweat, she converses with APRIL in her head, which is a little odd for Lana, since she can only hear APRIL’s side of the conversation. They seem to cover a vast array of subjects and information, in this case pertaining to where they are going, who they are dealing with (after getting the name, Doctor Frederick from the records of the address Melissa had provided them), and what sort of tactical situation they are dealing with.

 

By the time Titan comes into view, it seems Daray has memorized the layout of the facility they are about to visit, how many and what kind of personnel are on site, including names, and dossiers on most of them, and the sort of business that Doctor Frederick is involved in.

 

-It seems that Doctor Emil Frederick is a genetic research scientist who has a strong reputation for creating custom genes for the rich and powerful.- APRIL announces after digging through a large volume of records. -And his family, who appears to work primarily for T.R.I.P. in upper management positions, appears to have a history of ostracizing family members who do not agree with their corporate philosophy.-

 

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Lana chuckles at Daray’s engine room suggestion but as the trip nears its end she is starting to seriously consider it.  Lana herself is a very intelligent person but until this adventure she had nothing but languages and her narrow job scope to direct it towards.  This leads to her being a very fast learner for languages.  April is able to solidify that she was already fluent in Chinese, Russian, French, Spanish, Italian and German.  Lana truly seems to relish sitting and practicing speaking in different languages absorbing any words in new languages that April can find for her and that Riana teaches her. After a few days she can speak nearly fluently in elvish, completely fluently in common which she already knows the English and Chinese languages that it is based on and be able to make herself understood in dwarvish and gnomish up to and including accents and beginning to duplicate cultural phrases and quips.  

 

Lana tries to work out with Daray as she prepares, stretching and exercising in the narrow confines of the ship.  It is quickly apparent that she has no true discipline for it except for the stretches that she already did on a regular bases for her dancing.  Strength training easily boors her but she does manage to beg Riana and Daray to show her some self defense moves that can be managed in the small space that they have.  She also readily listens to tips from Melissa, and any theory on how to incorporate the moves and strikes when there is more space for a fight.

 

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Lana had been quiet when Melissa announced she’s been giving an actual home address to take her to, something that was apparently unusual.  She was unsurprised when April was able to take just the address and pull up a huge file of information including, for the first time in her hearing, a name… Doctor Emil Frederick.  She rolls the name around in her head for a time.  Emil Frederick.  Lana Frederick.  She lets Daray and April chat about layouts and defenses for a while before she can stand it no longer and interrupts them.  “Is there a picture April?  A picture of my father… And any record of him having a companion by the name of Pria Maxalis for any length of time?”  

 

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Working out is all Daray had really known to do in order to fill her time between missions. Especially since APRIL had joined her and started handling most of the technical issues they might come across in their activities. She supposed it was a routine born of boredom, and wondered if it was even something she needed to keep up, with her body and metabolism, any form of strength training could be a complete waste of time for her. She’d have to remember to ask at some point.

 

But at the same time, it kept her from going stir-crazy, which was also something that her body and metabolism made into a constant threat. Her own mental need to be constantly doing something, combined with her body’s hyper metabolism never made sitting around for any length of time an enjoyable experience. Maybe that was why free-running was so appealing to her.

 

She participates in a lot of the language exchange, but mostly to keep herself from being too bored and still hang out with Lana and Riana. She tries a few times to get some activity in with Melissa, but there proves to be entirely too little space in the ship for them to do anything more than just slap one another, which neither of them seems to enjoy much at all.

 

Teaching Lana some simple maneuvers actually seems to work better for Riana and Melissa, since Daray’s combat techniques seem to rely mostly on large movements and brute strength. Riana however, seems to be an apt teacher, and her understanding of the human body’s mechanics and how to manipulate them is instantly apparent. She teaches Lana several joint locks and pressure points that she can quickly bring to bear in order to restrain a person, or stun or incapacitate them long enough that she can make a run for it. It is something that is fairly easily practiced in close quarters, and Daray quickly volunteers as the practice target for her.

 

When the subject of Lana’s father and family comes up, things settle down pretty quickly. “I never knew his name,” Melissa breaths quietly when it is mentioned, “I always just called him boss.”

 

When she finally asks the question, APRIL is quick to respond. -I am unable to locate any records of Doctor Frederick being with a woman named Pria. I am however, seeing that name on a child death certificate, dated nearly sixty years ago. Searching file photos for the doctor, I am unable to locate anything other than what appears to be an old high school portrait. It appears to be nearly forty years old.-

 

APRIL projects an image of a handsome young man over Daray’s wrist computer. He has dark hair and bright, intelligent eyes. His build is thin, but not weak, and he seems serious, as if he was in the middle of working on some deep contemplation and had been interrupted for the photo.

 

-It is interesting to note that there seems to be a deliberate lack of personal information concerning the doctor. Additionally, there seems to have been multiple disappearances of other family members over the past seventy five years. Mostly seeming to immediately follow family members leaving the corporate structure of the family, or renounce their social methodology.-

 

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Lana examines the image closely, trying to find herself in the picture.  Does she have his chin?  She runs her fingers across her face, imagining the way it looks in a mirror… possibly, although on her the lines are softened.  Perhaps it’s his nose.  It was never her mother’s…  She taps her nose as she contemplates.  She is so engrossed in trying to find pieces of his image in her own looks that she almost doesn’t hear the comment about the child’s death certificate, and when she does hear it, its meaning doesn’t register.  

 

“Well the universe is a big place, I suppose everyone has someone with the same name somewhere; too bad for their family.  Accidents happen to everyone.  My grandparents were killed in a shuttle accident about that same time.  Grammie Calista and Grandpa Seth,”  Lana rattles off the names casually, completely unaware that those names are linked in the same report, also dead in the same crash.   “Mom told me she was raised by foster parents from a young age.  Funny coincidence,”  She comments before turning her attention back to the photo.

 

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Daray and Melissa both stare at Lana as she rattles off the names of her supposed family. They’ve both read the report that APRIL uncovered and instantly see what’s happened. Daray slowly reaches out and takes Lana’s hand, her eyes glassing with tears of sympathy for the impending revelation. “Lana… The universe isn’t that big of a place… The little girl’s ID is the same as your mother was using. APRIL’s salvaged records of your mom line up perfectly. When she broke form your father, she had her ID changed. Probably had some digerati hack her info in the system so she could get herself out of whatever mess was going on…”

 

-My information would seem to support that assumption. There is every indication that this deceased child’s legal identification was reactivated very shortly before your birth.-

 

“Lana… I’m so sorry. I promise, we’ll figure this out. We’ll find out why she did this, who she really was,” Daray leans forward, trying to enfold Lana in a comforting embrace.

 

Melissa tries not to look like a fifth wheel, sitting on her bunk and watching the exchange. But it is evident on her face that she is quite bothered by what has just been uncovered.  

 

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Lana looks away from the picture reluctantly when Daray takes her hand.  The look on Daray’s face tells her before she even says a word that she is not going to like what she has to say.  Her intuition proves true in the next moments.  A black hole forms in her stomach at Daray’s words and the blood in her veins seems to freeze as she tries to listen to what they are saying and not reject it out of hand.  “Wait… what are you saying?  My mother lied to me my whole life?  About who she was.  No, no!  My mom was the sweetest person in the world ever.  She couldn’t harm a bug, let alone carry off some massive plot to hide herself in the world.  We never even moved around or anything. I grew up my whole life in the Starsheen Lounge.  That’s what people who are hiding from something do right?  They move around a lot.  We never went anywhere, not even on vacation…”  

 

Lana’s voice trails off as she realizes what she just said.  Her mother had found the perfect hiding spot.  No one was better at protecting their own then a brothel.  That community of working girls… and occasionally boys… stuck together better than any other group.  The other girls would have helped out too, especially Madam Seara who has always been a second mother to her.  Lana melts into Dray’s embrace, tears trickling from her eyes and onto Daray’s shoulder where she is resting her head.  She feels pity; first for herself, it’s a crushing and terrifying thing to suddenly discover your past is all a lie.  Eventually her sorrow changes from herself to her mother, having to live a lie so long must have killed her gentle mother.

 

Finally she starts laughing through her tears, her humor starting to return.  Her shoulder’s begin to shake with her amusement until she pulls back and looks at Daray, smiling despite the tears running down her cheeks.  “Oh god, we’re perfect for each other.  You don’t remember your past.  And mine apparently wasn’t true.”  She straightens up and begins to wipe her cheeks with the back of her hand.  “Ok.  My whole life I’ve accepted two things as utter truth.  My mother loved my father… and he abandoned her when she got pregnant with me.  Melissa said earlier that he had been looking for her… and me. I had assumed it was a guilty conscious later, but for the sake of argument let’s say the first part was true.  Why would a woman in love leave the man she is going to have a child with.  She was a courtesan, there is no way that part wasn’t true.  So it wouldn’t have mattered to her if he was already married or anything.  Thoughts ladies?”  Lana gets calmer the more she starts approaching the problem in an analytical manner, encouraging others to help her brainstorm.

 

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Daray can’t help but begin to crack up a little bit as Lana starts to accept the situation, then comments on their deepening compatibility.  She helps Lana wipe her tears with a gentle thumb over her cheek, then kisses her on the forehead before sitting back to listen to, and assist with the brainstorming.

 

“Well, it makes sense that she would hide there, now that you mention it. APRIL, do you have anything on the family that we can use to draw any other conclusions from?”

 

-I have uncovered at least three family members that were excommunicated from the family after choosing to follow some humanitarian path, or become artists. Most of them went mysteriously missing afterward and were never heard from again. And their disappearances were never investigated either. The family has a history of corporate allegiance and covert violence against those that oppose them. It seems likely that, if the family was averse to Lana’s father and mother having children, there would have been very legitimate threats to both their safety.-

 

“So, it’s possible that Lana’s mother went into hiding in order to protect Lana, not to get away from her father?”

 

-I can not speak to the psychology involved in the activity. But that does seem like one possible reason for the activity. However, I also think it would be relevant at this time to point out how expensive it would be to hire a digerati with the skills necessary to perform this identity exchange.-

 

Daray looks into Lana’s eyes hopefully, “Lana there could be more going on here than anyone ever suspected. If there was a threat from his family, and if he actually loved your mom… Maybe she didn’t run away… Maybe he hid her from them?”

 

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Lana shakes her head.  “That would be a fairy tail come true.  But it doesn’t make sense.  He would have always been able to find us and he had to hire Melissa to look... When we first met you said something about my father giving my mother up because of a lie.  I have to admit I dismissed most of what you said because it didn’t fit,  I never realized my mother had hidden her name.  It seems far more likely that the people who objected to him being with my mother were the ones who helped her disappear… God, this would be so much easier if my mother were alive and could answer some questions.”  Lana stills as another cold chill washes over her.  Her mother’s death never had been explained.  “Oh god.  April.  My mother died three month’s ago to the day.  Did anything of significance happen with my father or his company in that time?  Something that might have caused my father to start looking for her again?”

 

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