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Status Quo - Chapter 74

Written by: Paullell

 Lana listens and looks around the holographic image- or whatever it is- that she is seeing with all the awe of a child.  When the man stops in front of her and begins addressing her in such a loving manner all of her reserve fades.  She actually reaches out to touch the image and he hand passes through it without any sense of contact.  

When it finally shuts off and she again notices the noises of Daray she turns with tears streaming down her cheeks.  She waits until Daray gets to her side and carefully hands her the photo.  She then reaches out with both hands, picks up the bed and hurls it to the far side of the room; screaming with every ounce of pain and frustration that she is feeling.  

When the scream dies down she announces firmly to the communication system, "Melissa.  Your contract with my father is officially complete.  You have delivered me here.  I don't care what backup plans he had with you, what provisions he's made, any of it.  He can have left me his entire fortune with enough money to see my grandchildren still trying to go through it all.  I am not loosing him before I even have the chance to speak to him just once.  We will either find who has taken him and get him back… or we will find the person who killed him and enact retribution on them.  He says he never won an argument with my mother… Well I'm her daughter and he'll not win this one with ME either!"  She looks at Daray with iron resolve, confident of her willingness to help without even asking.

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Once she has forced her way through the remains of the door and sees Lana's state, she moves to embrace her, but comes up short when she is handed the picture. She looks at it for  a moment, taking it in, and almost asks what Lana is doing with the man, before realizing what she is actually holding. Her grip changes to one of near-reverence and she is about to hand it back to Lana when the bed comes up off the floor and is smashed against the far wall by Lana.

She staggers back a step, shielding the picture from any debris and opens her mouth to speak but is cut off again by Lana's proclamation, which completely silences her. Instead of speaking, she glances down at the picture for a second, then squares her shoulders, straightens her back, and nods her understanding and resolve to Lana.

Melissa's reply to the news is just as heartening, "I've just got a message from him through our normal channels. He's paid me a decade's salary and told me to keep you safe and out of T.R.I.P.s hands. He made no mention of stopping you doing anything. Probably just out of respect for me. I'm sure he suspected your obstinate nature and didn't want to force me into a position to disobey a directive…" She chuckles over the comm. "He's also given you his ship…"

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Lana manages to grin at Daray once she sees her nod and Melissa's words make her feel better as well.  She ponders the news that she has been given a ship. "Well… that could come in handy.  Riana, are you willing to keep helping or are you needing to get back to your own business?  I'm not certain what I've been left, but I'd rather stick with you if possible.  Depending on your recommendation we can keep with your fast little ship, or if you are willing we could use your skills to pilot whatever I've been given.  Of course before we can even worry about that we need to figure out who took him and where he is.  April, who currently is the top ranking relative of mine in T.RI.P and where do they have private laboratories stashed away.  It makes sense that they took him somewhere they can keep him working."

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"Well, I don't know what you said to Xavier when you spoke to him Daray, but whatever it was, it must have been good. He's more or less assigned me to you until you are clear of this business. So it's your call folks. I'll go have a look at your new ship and see how she stacks up against the Kestrel," Riana replies.

-I am finding no less than a dozen relatives registered as employees of T.R.I.P. Lana, most of them in upper management, which places them on Earth Station. However, I think there is something else you should be aware of. I have been running facial recognition algorithms on the deceased in this facility and have discovered some connections neither you will enjoy. This cyborg appears to be a known enforcer for Turin Glastnost.-

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Lana's sudden confidence falters at the last name.  She reaches out and grabs Daray's hand, a wave of fear powerful enough to affect her coloration washes through her and turns her skin yellow, unintentionally for the first time in days.  It takes her two tries to ask her next question.  "April, is the any video feed from the docking area?  An way to see which faction actually took him?"

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What little of Daray's skin can be seen also turns a funny color. Although in her case it is more of a sickly green. She holds on to Lana tightly, her own expression changing to one of uncertainty, with a glimmer of true fear. "Oh god…" she whispers.

-I am attempting to locate any usable computer records Lana. Thus far the system appears to be too far gone to be recovered. However, I am communicating with the Titan port authority systems and they are reporting two vessels in the vicinity of this facility within the last twenty-four hours.-

"That falls in line with time of death on our defenders here. This is pretty recent," Melissa adds, her voice can be heard accompanying her footsteps as she approaches the mangled door of the bedroom.

-Reports indicate that one ship was the Trifecta, registered to T.R.I.P. out of Earth Station, and the other was the Horus, registered to Glastnost Interplanetary out of Tranquility. Also worthy of note, is the fact that the Trifecta was recently reported destroyed by pirates. All hands are presumed lost.-

"Well, I guess that settles that," Riana breathes through the comm. "By the way, this is a pretty sweet ride you've got here. I think the Kestrel is still the faster of them, but this beauty's no slouch, and she's got better facilities as well."

"So… Back to Tranquility then?" Daray whispers quietly, squeezing Lana's hand to both offer, and receive support.

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Lana squeezes Daray's hand when she sees the shade her skin turns.  She listens to the other's and acknowledges her bad luck when it really seems that Turin is their most likely suspect.  "Ok then.  If it's a little bigger lets sacrifice some speed for creature comfort.  I think if we had to spend another week cramped into your ship like sardines we might just kill each other and save our enemies the trouble."  Lana looks at Daray and asks privately.  "Do you want to stay in the background on this one?  I'll understand if you want to stay back and help with communications rather than face him again."

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"If anyone here can get this other bird off the ground, then we could hard dock them once we're on course and have all the interior space for the trip. It'll add a couple days to the trip, but it gives us more space and means I'm not leaving the Kestrel behind," Riana says with a hopeful tone.

When Lana offers Daray an escape route from the action, she very nearly jumps at the opportunity. The thought of that man, and what he had done to her, even if the physical damage hadn't been caused by him personally. He had raped her. Mind, body, and soul, and she found, for the first time that she could remember (which only amounted to a couple of years now, but they had been busy years), that she was well and truly scared.

It was everything she could do to keep her legs under her, but Lana's hand squeezing hers gave her strength enough to keep upright, and when she glanced down at her lover's hand in hers, she also saw the picture in her other hand. She slowly raised the photograph up and looked at it, examining the happy couple and imagining some wonderful, joyous event or activity that had put them in that mood. Then it occurred to her that, had their lives calmed down, she and Lana could be sharing an experience like that while simply walking down the street.

A steely resolve pushed down through her and she found that the strength was returning to her legs and the sickly feeling in her stomach was receding again. She could do this. Facing the demon could only help her get through the experience and find that happiness. And she'd be damned if she'd let Lana go face that bastard alone.

Shaking her head, she looks back at Lana, some of her strength and color returning, and pressed her lips into a hard line. "No. I need to face him, and I want to be there for you. I'm in it with you until whatever end we reach."

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Lana hugs Daray right then and there, relieved not to have to face him alone and scared all over again that they might end up with a repeat of what had happened before.  After a moment of indulgence in the feeling of Daray's arms returning her hugs she pulls away again.  "Alright, let's see what we have to work with.  Riana, Daray and I will be there in a minute.  I have some theories, a previous client of mine was a pilot and he love to talk endlessly about it, but I'll need you to spend a few minutes drilling me to see if what knowledge I have can be put into practical use safely."  Lana then grins at Daray.  "Race you to the hanger!"  She then turns and launches herself through the door and down the hall, eager to get away from the revelations she had just been given and to have some time to process her own feelings.

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Daray hesitates only a second before leaping through the mangled door after Lana, the fullness of her strength and fortitude washing back into her at the prospect of having some fun with Lana. The brief head start, combined with the fact that Daray still has the picture of Lana's mother and father in her hand puts her at an instant and severe disadvantage, but she moves off laughing with delight just the same.

The nearly bowl Melissa over as they wing past her outside the door, and she turns to follow after them, shaking her head like an annoyed parent might. Within moments, Lana is in the hanger where Riana is examining the small shuttle. Compared to the Kestrel, the ship is a bit fat through the mid-section, and the wings don't bear that same predatory look, but the ship is sleek and looks to be brand new. 

The nose of the craft is a bit blunter than the Kestrel's, but still narrow through the sides, with the viewplate of the bridge sitting atop it and two small sensor nodes rising up on either side of the top of the ship, just behind that. The entire front of the vessel takes on a vaguely canine appearance, and the name 'Kitsune' is stenciled in a light hand just next to the open airlock.

Riana smiles at Lana as she bounds into the hanger, offering her a friendly wave before sticking her head into one of the engine nacelles, and a moment later, Daray leaps through the inner airlock, skittering to a stop and bumping into Lana's back as she takes in the scene.

"That's a pretty ship!" She grins at Lana, "next thing you know you'll be head of some massive corporate empire, the way you're finances have been going!" She grins at her friend, standing on her tippy-toes and resting her chin on Lana's shoulder.

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The inside of the Kitsune is much less spartan than the Kestrel's. The bridge has three seats and seems designed for comfort and luxury rather than pure functionality. Behind it is the galley, with a tiny kitchenette, a table for four, and a very small couch that might accommodate two friendly souls. There is a computer/entertainment terminal there as well, and the onboard computers have thousands of hours of entertainment filed away for viewing.

Next to the galley is a full bathroom, with a shower and a tub, although small, and the water scrubbers claim to be able to keep water fresh and clean for months on end, promising that everyone can keep clean and happy on most journeys.

There are two cabins behind these two rooms, one is a small affair with a double bunk in it and a bit of storage space, and the other is the captain's cabin, with a queen-size bed and a few amenities, which makes it quite comfortable and homey, even if it is still a bit cramped.

Behind that is a small cargo area, large enough for four standard pallets of cargo, although at the moment it is empty and looks as if it might be a good place to practice those combat moves Lana has decided to learn.

The aft of the vessel, behind the small cargo hold is the machine room, where the engines, water tanks, power generation and other systems are located.

"She's got a pair of top-end plasma drives, brand new," Riana offers cheerfully as she moves into the ship behind Daray and Lana. "If she wasn't a bit larger, she'd be faster than the Kestrel on sub-light. She's fully stocked with food and clean water, fueled up, and ready to go. Also the navigation systems seem to be as automated as they can get. The controls are good and tight, if you want to take over, but really it appears that you could pretty much punch in a destination and hit go and the ship's computer will handle things. It's even rigged for take-off and landing by linking with local port authority systems. Honestly, the computer and AI in this rig probably cost as much as the rest of the boat."

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She laughs at Daray's comment, not entirely certain what to say. Never in her wildest dreams had she thought she would ever have so much.  "I've come a long way from an out of work whore barely able to make rent on a two room crummy apartment haven't I?"

Lana nods as she listens to Riana go over the capabilities of the ship.  She makes her way to the pilot's chair and sits down, strapping herself into it as she had learned to on Vincent's ship so many weeks ago.  "That's amazing.  I'll hardly need to do anything at all."  Lana reaches out and touches the console, trying to remember what Lee had described to her and see if she could even read the thing.  At the touch of her fingers it lights up and several things around the room begin moving along with the sound of energy weapons charging.  A masculine voice comes out of the speakers.  It is calm and soothing despite the weapons around the room that are now armed and aimed at Daray and Riana

"Greetings Lana Frederick.  I am SEANI.  Ship-based Emoting Artificial Neural Intelligence, Please call me SEAN.  I detect two other females on board the ship with you and one that is now held in the hanger.  Do they have permission to be on board?"

Lana looks back at Daray and Riana with wide eyes.  "Um… Yes SEAN. All three have my permission to be on board.  APRIL?  How advanced is this AI in comparison to you?"

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At the sound of the weapons, Daray's entire body tenses and she whips her head around to find their source. A pair of high-power neural stunners protrude ever so slightly from two small alcoves above the bridge door, giving them easy line-of-sight to every nook and cranny in the bridge, and at the moment, one of them is pointed at her, and the other at Riana. She is about to blast them, slowly raising her hands so as to look non-threatening, when the strange voice fills the room and explains the situation. At which point, she relaxes a little, but keeps her arms half-raised in case trouble starts.

Through the entire situation, Riana remains completely calm and utterly relaxed, actually leaning up against a console even as one of the stunners follows her movement. Had there been time, and it wouldn't have been an utter cliche, Daray would swear the elf might even have gone so far as actually yawning.

The instant Lana explains that the others are welcome guests, the weapons power down, the sound of capacitors discharging fills the air for a few seconds, a quiet counterpoint to the conversation.

-The SEANI model AI is an 8th generation program capable of formulating lines of reason and taking independent action. It is hard-wired into the ship's systems and incapable of reaching beyond them, except to communicate with relevant support services, such as port authorities and navigational beacons. In its un-attuned state, it will not have much in the way of personality, but as it attunes to its owner, it will assimilate their basic moral character and methodologies, and can establish secure, voice communications with them. Essentially it is an extremely complex AI that has been given a ship as a physical body, instead of a more conventional robot chassis.- APRIL takes a moment to let the information sink in, then adds with what sounds like a note of pride, -this program is several generations my lesser, and severely crippled in comparison to my capabilities. However, it should prove to be an accomplished pilot and, if it has been assigned to you, as its owner, will follow your directions to the letter.-

Daray slowly lowers her hands, casting a curious eye toward Riana, who smiles and shrugs her shoulders nonchalantly, "That's why I waited to check the insides until you showed up. Vin has a similar AI installed onboard the Serendipity. Calls it Jarvis. It's a pretty handy system to have on board, but they can be a little taxing to break in. And once you do break them in  you can never sell them. They never get along with anyone else after they imprint on their owner and their friends."

She pushes back off the console she'd been leaning on, and smiles as she moves toward the door. "On the good side, this means that neither of you needs to really know how to fly the ship, as SEAN here will be as good a pilot as most fighter jocks. Still, I'd ask him to run you through the basics once we get going, make sure you can handle things in an emergency." Waiving over her shoulder as she leaves the bridge and heads for the airlock she adds, "I'm going to go see about fueling and prepping the Kestrel. I found some ration stores and a few odds and ends that could go bad before anyone gets back here to take care of it, so I'm going to load up. You might consider adding some to your own spare argo room. I can probably convince Mel to do it, if you two want to check out the rest of your boat here," she cracks her knuckles threateningly as she disappears out the hatch.

Daray watches Riana leave, then turns back to Lana and shrugs. She still has the framed picture of Lana's parents in her hand, the glass tucked back up against her wrist protectively. "I'd say this is all pretty strange, but I'm a genetically-engineered super-spy with a sentient computer co-habitating my brain. So really, I guess it's all just another ay at the office…" She takes a step into the bridge, sweeping her eyes across the sleek, glass-like control panel, its holographic, fully configurable displays and controls glinting quietly in the shining, immaculate room. "So, SEAN it is then."

Daray turns her attention to Lana, still strapped into the command chair, and raises an eyebrow, "I guess we should get your things off the Kestrel eh?"

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As April is speaking her voice is suddenly audible through the ship's speakers about half way through her description.  SEAN waits patiently for the speakers to pause and then injects before Lana can answer Daray.  "Actually that may be true for most SEANI models but I was created only a year ago as a personal project between Dr. Fredrick and Dr. Ferrin using the most up-to-date neural networking processes and cybernetic advancements at the time, including Dr Frederick's own genetic and biological expertise.  I have a partly biological brain which allows me nearly the same functioning as APRIL, who was created earlier.  In fact, not sharing actual human brain capacity allows me to have a much larger memory storage bank than is available to you APRIL.  It was simply his preference to have me integrated into his ship instead of his own head. After all, testing of similar projects by other researches has determined that sharing headspace with a fully functioning AI has a fifteen percent chance to result in the eventual insanity of their human partners.  Out of curiosity, when was the last psychological work up done on your companion Miss Fredrick?  Should I be concerned about any potentially erratic behavior?"

Lana's eyebrows rise at the condescending tone of voice SEAN takes with APRIL.  She breaks into a grin at Daray, curious as to what APRIL's eventual response will be.  "I figure we can get my things when the ships link after take off.  Will Melissa be taking off with us or with Riana?"

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"I'll take off with Riana, since I'm over here now. We loaded a pallet of rations and water into your cargo hold and now we're loading up the Kestrel with whatever else we can fit while she refuels," Melissa responds over the comm.

APRIL is quiet for a very long moment before she finally responds, the tone of pride in her voice now completely absent, -you knew my father? He created another before…- her voice trails off, and Daray vaults in to fill the silence as if covering for a close friend.

"So, SEAN. SEAN of the big brain. Big brained SEAN with the space ship and the stun guns… If you're so very state of the art and new-fangled, can you give me a little demonstration? Can you clap your hands together please?" She grins at Lana mischievously as she plops down into one of the two empty chairs in the bridge and waits to see how SEAN responds.

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The holographic image in front of Lana that is the standard piloting interface disappears and is replaced by a visual of two hands from the wrists down clapping.  "I also have 14 different parts on the ship that I control movement functions for that could be 'clapped' together, although the sound would be more like a clang and you would have to move to the locations they are in.  I have audio and video that I can put through on the view screen if you wish.  April.  I believe I may have spoken hastily.  To my knowledge we are very similar in our programming and capabilities and are the only AIs in the galaxy crafted to this particular level of detail.  I had never expected to get the opportunity to meet you and to have you speak of me so dismissively caused me to react in a manner that humans would consider very rude.  I apologize."

Lana has to chuckle.  "Wow SEAN… That's very polite of you.  You have an awful lot of personality for such a new program."

"Your companion was correct.  I am designed to bond with my owner, however Dr Fredrick has owned me for some time.  I was advised from the beginning of our association that I was only to bond 33.3 percent with him.  The other bonding processes were to be saved for his daughter Lana Fredrick and her mother Shayla Claxton."

Lana blinks in surprise as she hears her mother's true name for the very first time and turns to Daray with a smile of delight.

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