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Status Quo - Chapter 73

Written by: Paullell

 “It could be that the lie was his though Lana. Maybe he lied to her about his family, or what he was doing for T.R.I.P.” Daray muses.

 

“And he didn’t hire me specifically to find you. Technically I’ve been working for him for a decade. You were just another assignment,” Melissa shrugs nonchalantly.

 

-There seems to be nothing significant on record that might have spurred him in his search for you, except perhaps the death of your mother.- APRIL sounds thoughtful as she responds.

 

“So maybe he wanted to keep her safe, but was afraid that if he knew where she was secreted away, his family could find out.” Daray’s eyes light up.

 

“That means that she would have to have something that the family would actually want form her,” Melissa adds.

 

-Something that a geneticist who designs custom genes would have in his possession.-

 

“Which means money, which they would already have plenty of, or something he made,” Daray looks at Lana with a look of wonder on her face.

 

“Something, or someone, that could be used to hide a secret little bit of genetic code maybe?” Melissa looks at Lana with a similar face to Daray’s.

 

-Something that a person making changes to another person’s genetic code, would be able to slip in unannounced.-

 

“Something that might show up as an errant bit of unknown genetic material…” Daray reaches out slowly and puts her hand on Lana’s knee.

 

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Lana looks at the others in the room with dawning realization.  “That… would sort of make sense…”  Lana shivers suddenly as a feeling of fear grows in her stomach.  “You know, I’m going to hold my judgment of him.  But it sounds like I’m not going to like the rest of the family very much.”  Lana ignores any other questions or questions directed at her.  She reaches out to grip Daray’s hand in her own, her fingers cold with worry. She directs her eyes back to the picture of her father, her gaze troubled and her entire demeanor letting others know that she has had enough of this subject for a while.

 

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Daray simply holds Lana as the Kestrel finishes its approach to the facility. Doing anything she can to comfort her as the conversation settles in on all four of them, nobody quite sure what to make of things.

 

The moon of Titan is like something out of a fantasy video, with wispy clouds of methane gas floating around, creating thick banks of swirling fog that are set ablaze in hues of red, orange and white, by the sunlight shining through Saturn’s atmosphere. The gas giant fills the sky in almost every direction and its icy rings glitter in the blackness as they reflect the light of the sun down at them.

 

The Kestrel skims the surface of the moon, revealing vast seas of liquid methane that reflect the light of Saturn back up at them through the mist. The body of the moon is dotted with structures that add twinkling fields of light across its surface. Small domes with windows that reveal hints of green beneath them, but nothing so large as any of the domes they’d seen on Mars recently.

 

It is one of these little facilities that the Kestrel approaches at last. A small complex consisting of a half-dozen solid domes and one larger, mostly transparent structure with what looks like a fully functioning greenhouse beneath it and three small hangers on the opposite side. One of the hangers opens up to accept the ship as they approach, and within moments they can hear the faint sound of breathable air being cycled into the hanger around the ship.

 

As she comes out of the cockpit, Riana immediately starts wrapping her combat webbing around her body, and attaching numerous handguns, a submachine-gun and several other, unidentifiable devices to her person with a serious look on her face.

 

“There was no response from the facility on any frequency,” she explains to the three other women as she slaps a magazine into her bull-pup rifle and pulls the charging handle. “I had to use the emergency assistance protocols to cycle us through the airlock. APRIL, we’ll probably need some computer assistance once we’re inside, and you three should be ready for anything. Scans say the facility is still pressurized and has power.”

 

Melissa nods, a look of deep concern on her face as she pulls a belt with two holsters and a couple of handguns out of her duffel bag. One of the guns seems to be an energy weapon of some kind, and makes a quiet electric whine as she powers it up, then holsters it, with a nod toward Riana.

 

Daray straps on her own simple weapons, her skinsuit bulking up around her to form her protective, black armor, but leaves her head and hair open. She slides her bastón from the sheath across her back, holding them both in her left hand and nodding as well. “Our comm channel is at 88 GHz in sub-space domain S-46. Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing with a 1024-bit encryption. Comm key is LanaMaxalis.”

 

Both Riana and Melissa nod to her and begin making adjustments on their own personal wrist computers until suddenly, both of their voices can be heard in Lana’s head along with Daray and APRIL’s.

 

“Are we ready?” Daray asks, looking at Lana as she speaks.

 

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Lana had been debating which of the three things she owned to wear.  The black vinyl skirt and top seemed awfully revealing for a first meeting with an estranged parent.  She still had the yellow sun dress purchased so many weeks before which was what she had been leaning towards and then the black armored bodysuit that had still been in the duffel from Mars. She had just started to slip the dress on over her head when the announcement came that there was no response from the facility.  

 

She sees the others holstering their weapons and preparing for trouble.  She slips the sun dress back into her bag with a sigh and pulls on her own skintight black body suit and coat.  After the week of practice she has a little more control over her body's coloration, so she darkens her hair and tail to black again with their white streak and tip.  For now she leaves her skin it's natural pale white but she can darken it to black at any time if she needs to.  

 

The last things that she puts on are her boots and stunner holster that Daray had replaced.  Changing her mind about her clothing so late has her as the last one who is ready to go.  Finally she looks at Daray and nods.  “Ready as I can be.”

 

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Daray nods to Lana, approving of her choice of attire under the circumstances. “I’m sorry Lana. I don’t know what it is about me that attracts such craziness.” She rests her free hand on Lana’s shoulder and gives her a reassuring squeeze, then nods their readiness to Riana and Melissa.

 

“Alright. Keep in sight of one another unless we need to break into groups, then stick with a partner at all times. Melissa, you’re with me, Lana and Daray are together,” Riana quickly takes charge as she cycles open the Kestrel’s airlock.

 

Melissa and Daray both nod their agreement, and the instant the four of them are off the ship, Riana cycles the door closed again, locking it with what looks like a fifty character code. The hanger is clean and clear of anything suspicious. The inner airlock is closed and locked, but the quickly breech it with APRIL’s assistance.

 

-The network is still online. I am accessing critical systems as we speak. Main computer is on-line, but I am having difficulty getting any useful information from it.-

 

“Keep at it APRIL,” Daray responds as they move through the airlock and into the facility proper.

 

The little base is small, less that two dozen rooms, about half of which are fairly large research labs, and the rest being habitation for the tiny staff, kitchen and recreation facilities. A few rooms are dedicated to storage, then there are the two hangers, one of which has been forcefully breached and sealed off from the inside, the other still having a small shuttle, about the same size as the Kestrel parked in it. Lastly, is the large greenhouse that is flourishing quite well, with a tremendous volume of edible vegetation ripe for the picking. Much of which, none of the small group have ever seen before, having been clearly engineered.

 

As they move through the passages and rooms, they discover half a dozen dead mercenaries, having been shot down in what appears to have been a precision raiding style of attack. There is little collateral damage, with nearly every shot having landed on one of the facility’s defenders. There are several discarded weapons laying around the bodies, and all of their gear appears to be intact as well.

 

In fact, the entire facility appears to be unharmed, save for whatever localized damage occurred due to the active defense of the mercenaries. “This is very strange,” Riana comments as they move toward the main control room of the facility after having checked the rest for trouble.

 

“Yeah. And precision work too. They didn’t damage anything but the hired guns, who appear to have been fairly competent people, especially knowing how boss tended to surround himself with excellence,” Melissa adds. “Someone was after something very specific, and they brought a commando strike force to the ass-end of the solar system to get it.”

 

“Yeah, but what were they after?” Daray muses quietly as she pokes through some equipment.

 

-I think I have located some pertinent information,- APRIL interjects. -The central server seems to have been recently formatted. I am working to see what information I can get from the system, but they have done a thorough job of it.-

 

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Lana feels the cold press of despair growing inside her.  She’s never met him but there has always been a strange comfort in know that she has a father out there somewhere.  That somehow, someday she may get to meet him.  Seeing the dead mercenaries has her worried that now she may never get the chance.  What if they had left immediately after they met Melissa?  No, they couldn’t have left any sooner then they had, Daray needed the time to recover and if something had gone wrong they needed to be close to Dr. Yamato.  

 

Lana stays close to Daray but not close enough to hinder her if she needs to leap into action.  Thinking over the conversation she asks the most pertinent question she can think of.  “Where is the staff.  These are all mercenaries right?  Who does the cleaning and the cooking? This place is too big for him to have lived here alone.  Is he still here?”

 

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“I count about twelve rooms that don’t look like they belong to those poor bastards. So there was definitely some kind of staff here. Maybe research assistants and general staff…” Melissa pipes in over the comm. Once they’d verified the place was empty, she’d set off exploring for clues.

 

“And I didn’t detect any signs of human life on the Kestrel’s sensors,” Riana adds. “I think, whatever happened here, anyone not fighting back with weapons was taken away.”

 

“I’ve got something interesting here,” Melissa calls back, “APRIL, can you patch my feed through to a monitor up there?”

 

A holographic display in the control room blinks to life, showing the three of them a view of one of the corridors. Melissa is currently looking at one of the dead mercenaries. -Done.-

 

“Okay. You see this bloke here?” Her hand comes in from off-frame and points at the dead man, “he was a local defender. Regular body armor, not special rigging for vacuum or climbing, or anything else that a raiding party might need to be successful.” She then gets up and moved down the hall, to kneel next to another body, this one looks thinner, much more compact, but still appears to be armored beneath a thin layer of clothing.

 

“This guy however, is a full-on combat chassis cyborg with all the bells and whistles. Vacuum sealed, ascender line, concealed weapons, none of this hardware is consistent with anything the local guys were using.”

 

“Okay. So he’s one of them right?” Daray replies, “anything he can tell us about where he’s from?”

 

“Yes, but that’s not the point…” Melissa responds.

 

“Where’s the weapon?” Riana pipes in.

 

“Exactly.” Melissa confirms this was her line of thought.

 

“What? His weapon is right there. Some kind of forearm weapon built into the cybernetics.” Daray points at the image.

 

“That is a plasma emitter. Class C energy weapon.” Riana shakes her head. “That would have torn any of these defenders in half, and done similar to the structure.”

 

“Right,” Melissa confirms again, then casts her gaze back down the hall toward the first body. “I think there was a third player here. This guy is obviously not a staffer, he doesn’t fit with the others, but the locals were gunned down by regular weapons, which means someone else was here and either lost no one, or took their dead with them when they left.”

 

“That’s not all they took…” Daray grumbles.

 

“Well, we need to figure out who was involved, and see if we can track them down. APRIL, are you having any luck with the computer?”

 

-Not as yet, but I have identified a separate computer node within the facility. It is a protected system of some kind that I can not access.-

 

“How did you find it then?” Daray raises an eyebrow.

 

-Power consumption records. There is a constant power draw coming from the Doctor’s personal quarters. The usage is consistent with a small computer network, but there is no record of it having ever communicated with the main network. Perhaps we should begin our search for answers concerning Lana’s father there.-

 

“Good idea, you and Lana go check that out,” Riana nods to them, “I’ll stay here and see if I can find anything in the sensor logs about who our mysterious visitors might have been.”

 

“I’m going to finish my forensics on the firefight, and then give the greenhouse a thorough looking over. There’s a lot of space to hide in there, and the facility could be shielded from sensor sweeps,” Melissa adds..

 

Daray turns to Lana and offers her a thin smile, “Are you ready for this?”

 

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

Lana casts a tremulous look at Daray before first shaking and then nodding her head.  “No… No I’m not.  But somehow I don’t think I ever will be… So we might as well go ahead and see what there is to see.”  Lana turns and forces herself to start walking in the direction they had determined the main quarters were in from all their blueprint studies.

 

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Daray walks with Lana into the dome that houses the residential rooms of the facility. They reference with APRIL a few times to verify which door is the Doctor’s, then slide it open to reveal a regular room with a rather spartan look to it. It isn’t any larger than any of the others, and would have been easily mistaken for the quarters of someone who’d just moved in, for there were precious few personal effects present.

 

There appears to be a framed picture of some kind on the table next to the bed, but it is turned away from the door so it can not be seen from where they stand.

 

Looking over the threshold from the hallway, Daray nods her approval that the room appears to be safe and empty, then looks to Lana. “Do you want to go first?”

 

______________________________________________________________________________

 

Lana nods and makes her way into the room.  It’s not at all what she would have expected.  She had gotten the impression from everything that she had heard and seen that her father was probably rich enough to buy Daray several times over.  She had always imagined a certain level of desire for creature comforts would accompany that kind of money.  She looks around the room with wide curious eyes, looking for anything that will give her some insight to who her father is.  She walks over to the bed and sits down on it, running her hand across the comforter.  “This can’t be right.  He’s lived here for years right?  There is almost nothing… Personal.”  Lana reaches for the picture frame, it being the only thing in the room that shows some level of… human needs.  She turns it to look at the frame.

 

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Daray watches from the hallway, wanting to give Lana some space to explore the situation on her own before they really start getting into the meat of their search. “Maybe this is a new facility and he hasn’t had time to really nest yet?” She offers, unsure of why there is so little.

 

The instant Lana touches the picture frame, it glows brightly for a second, then the door slides closed, cutting Daray off from her. The lights waver, fading to darkness for just an instant and them coming back up again to reveal a completely different room. The new room is much more interesting, and in line with what might have been originally expected, with a warm feeling, pictures on the walls, soft drapes over windows that look out on the misty, methane seas of Titan, and plush rugs designed to keep bare feet from the cold metal floor of the room. There are dressers and a vanity, and the distinct feel of warm happiness, and the touch of a woman.

 

A handsome, older gentleman, perhaps in his early fifties, who bears a marked similarity to the old school photo APRIL had given to Lana earlier, stands up from a desk on the other side of the room and moves over to where Lana is standing. stopping just in front of her and looking toward her, but not actually at her, as if he can’t actually see her standing there.

 

He takes a deep breath, and then speaks in a soothing, tenor voice that is quite calming. “My daughter,” he offers a friendly smile, but there is an undercurrent of sadness to his tone. “I must apologize for the way in which this message is coming to you. Believe me when I say that I would have preferred a great many things about our lives were much different. If you’re seeing this, it’s because you’ve made it here to my home, and found that, for some reason, I am not here to greet you.”

 

He hangs his head slightly, taking a deep breath and seemingly steeling himself for the things he needs to say, then looks back up again, still fixing his eyes on a spot just a bit to the left and below Lana’s. “I know you have questions. I know you want to know where I’ve been all your life, and why you had to grow up without me. No doubt your mother told you that I grew tired of her, or some other tale, but I tell you now that I would have given up everything for her, and for you. My family didn’t approve of my desire to be with your mother. They thought her to be below my station, and they are extremely powerful people, not to be trifled with, especially when my skills are so necessary to their immortality and power.”

 

“I wish that I could see you, embrace you, and tell you that everything will be alright, but I’m afraid that you may have a long road ahead of you before that may come to pass. You see, I was able to keep your mother with me for years, ostensibly as a paid consort, which kept my family at bay for those years, but when we conceived you, we knew that they could never find out, or it would be the end of us all. I fought her tooth and nail, told her that I would leave everything and go with her into hiding, but she always had a better command of the human psyche than I did, and she assured me that my family would find us if that were the case. She said she would go into hiding and raise you until you could seek me out and we could be reunited. I protested for weeks, but she would have none of it.”

 

“In the end I paid for the services of a hacker, and a private shuttle, and she disappeared so completely that it was years before I heard anything from either of you. It was the worst time of my life. My family forced me to marry a woman I did not love and continue my work in the void that you and your mother’s absence had created in my soul.”

 

He takes a moment to wipe at his eyes, then seems to straighten up a bit and clears his throat. “I’m sorry, this isn’t really helping things is it? I have a confession to make, and an apology as well. You see, my family, and the company we work for, has long been after me to create a new gene that offers a special sort of ability to temporarily borrow the special abilities of others. The creation of this gene could easily tip the balance of power within the Conglomerate, and the entire solar system. I couldn’t let them have it. So after I succeeded in my designs, I hid the gene away, deep down inside your mother’s DNA. I didn’t tell her, and for that, I am sorry, but there could be no record of it anywhere, or it could be found and used. At the time, she was just a normal, beautiful young woman, and I concocted a story about wanting her to change her looks in order to slip the new gene into her for safe keeping.”

 

“The new gene was never supposed to be passed on, but if you’re seeing this message, then it obviously found its way into your DNA. For that, and for what I did to your mother, I am terribly sorry. I hope that, one day, in the fullness of time, you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”

 

He wipes his eyes again, then clears his throat and carries on, “To make matters worse, my family found out about you somehow, and has been taking steps to acquire you. As a result, I was forced to do so as well. I initially tried a more subtle approach, trying to work through a man in Neo-Tokyo who has a reputation for tracking people down, but he involved Turin Glastnost for some reason and I was forced to take amore direct hand in matters to free you from him. of course, just like your mother, you proved to be quite strong-willed and managed to escape not only Turin, but my people as well, and so I had to try again, this time with a bit more subtlety. Melissa is my most trusted employee. She has worked for me for years and is very capable, if a bit heavy-handed at times.”

 

“So if you’re seeing this, it means that she succeeded, but something else has gone wrong. It means that I am not here, and you don’t get to slap me for what I’ve done to you, and to your mother. I know you’ve found someone, and that you hope to make a life together, and I beg you to do just that. Whoever has taken me, will never get what they want, and as long as you remain beyond their reach, the tenuous balance the Conglomerate maintains is not in jeopardy. Please, for your own sake, go back to your new home. Live a happy, wonderful life with your new family. Stay clear of T.R.I.P. and their machinations.They will stop at nothing to get hold of you and what you have in your DNA, but your new friends can help you tay clear of them, and I have left Melissa some instructions as well.”

 

“I am sorry, Lana. For the heartache I have heaped upon you, and for the impersonal nature of this, our first and only interaction. Please know that I love you. I’ve loved you, and your mother, with all of my heart, since they day she and I first met. I’ve thought of you every single day since we broke company. I love you with all my heart, and hope this message finds you well.”

 

The room then fades away, the lights coming up again and returning Lana to the ugly, gun-meal room it was before. The picture in her hands is no longer glowing, the image within the frame depicting an image of her mother and father standing arm in arm and laughing at some unseen thing. They look positively joyous together, arms around one another’s waists and nothing but warmth seeming to hang between them.

 

A banging and wrenching metal sound from behind her alerts her to the fact that Daray is hollering for her, and forcing her way through what is now a very mangled metal panel, with a look of near-terror on her face, “Lana! Lana, are you alright?!”


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