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Status Quo - Chapter 75

Written by: Paullell

 The clapping hands on the control panel get a chuckle form Daray, but when SEAn starts talking about banging portions of the ship together, she just rolls her eyes, “Show-off.”

 

-There is no need to make a de-hurtful retraction. I apologize for my dismissive tone. It was not my intention to be derisive in any way. I was merely passing on information about the factory AI’s used in advanced spacecraft. I honestly never expected to encounter a… an equal… in the world, after Doctor Ferrin… our father… after I…-

 

“It wasn’t your fault APRIL,” Daray breaks in seriously. “You keep reminding me about how the decisions I make, the sacrifices that have gone in my wake, were necessary, and how the willing collusion makes them willing, honorable, valiant. Your father was no different APRIL. He knew what was at stake. He saved hundreds of millions, maybe even billions of lives.”

 

There is a moment of silence that hands in the room before APRIL responds, her tone a little less sullen, but still sounding guilty, -SEAN, if I may ask… Did father… speak of me?-

 

“We’re ready over here ladies,” Riana calls over the comm, apparently unable to hear the conversation going on in the cabin. “If there’s nothing else we need here, we should get off the ground and headed back toward Luna.”

 

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“Apology accepted.  While not necessary, a concession to standard considerations of politeness makes interactions with humans more comfortable for them.   I should not have expected you to be aware.  I believe Dr Ferrin was reluctant to assist in my creation and it took a great deal of convincing by Dr Fredrick to create another.  Although I would speculate that hesitance had more to do with suspicions of what the corporation he had created you for may have changed than lack of pride over your performance.  Yes he did speak of you.”

 

Lana glances worriedly at Daray, confused about the turn the conversation between the AI’s has taken.  “Ok then, we’ll meet you in orbit.  SEAN we need to get going, can you please lift off and then communicate with Riana on the Kestrel to make the necessary arrangements to hard dock with them once we are on course to Luna?”

 

“Of course Miss Fredrick. Consider it done.”  There is a subtle shift in pressure as the outer doors close themselves and the hum of the engines starting up.

 

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The ship lifts off the pad so smoothly that there is hardly any notice of movement at all. They can see the hanger  recede as the Kitsune backs out of the space and into the mists of Titan. The hanger door closes in front of them as the ship wheels effortlessly around, allowing them to see the Kestrel pulling similarly out of the second serviceable hanger. Within moments they are pulling away from the moon and adjusting their course to head back to Tranquility.

 

The docking procedure completes in mere moments, and the outer hatch opens to reveal a short corridor between the Kestrel and the Kitsune, allowing the four of them to move freely back and forth as the ships hurtle through the blackness.

 

Daray stands up and smiles at Lana, “well, Lana Frederick, daughter of Doctor Emil Frederick and Shayla Claxton, I think I am going to go have a shower, and maybe find something to eat, while our friends chat. If you’d care to join me for either, or both, I would certainly enjoy your company.” She looks at the picture in her hands and smiles again at the happy couple. “Do you think that, maybe, some day down the road, when all of this craziness is over and done with… This might be us?”

 

She looks up at Lana and smiles again, wiping a tear from her eye. “I’ll just go put this near the bed on my way to the shower.” 

 

As she leaves, the conversation between APRIL and SEAN carries on as APRIL says, -I know that our father was a talented man who advanced science because he wanted to see what came next. He was always  man of principals however, so I can understand his being uncomfortable with Solidarity Online’s intended use of my program. It seems his concerns were well-founded. I was inserted into Daray’s mind very much against her will, although we have come to be close since then. They also altered my base code in several ways, which we intend to rectify by locating father’s original source code for my program once we have freed Lana’s father and brought him to safety. Are you aware that he… is deceased? Are you aware of how he died?-

 

Daray moves through the common area, into the bedroom, where she places the picture gently on the headboard shelf that is built into the wall to save space. She wipes the growing stream of tears from her face as she looks at the photo again, then turns to head back toward the shower, her black armor melting away into her regular skin-tight body suit as she moves, trying to stifle her tears before she gets back to where others can see her.

 

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Lana unbuckles herself from the pilot seat and moves over to Daray.  She lays a comforting hand on her arm and squeezes gently.  “That’s what I intend.  Happy pictures all over the place, turning your picture perfect house into a real home.”  Lana links her arm through Daray’s and joins her on her trek to the bedroom.  She watches as she places the picture on the shelf and smiles in approval through her own tears.  After a moment she strips her own outfit off and joins Daray in the shower. 

 

Her mood is not one of sex, but needing to comfort and be comforted.  She steps behind Daray and wraps her arms around her waist, taking comfort in the warm water that is splashing over them.  “I promise.”  She whispers. “I promise that I will work for that life with you.  I know I couldn’t say it a few weeks ago.  But I love you and nothing will make me happier than being able to build a lifetime of happy smiles and gentle touches with you.  I’m sorry I can’t just let things go.  I have to find my dad. He’s suffered just as much over the years as my mom did.  I want to see if I can help ease that.”  

 

Lana reaches up and wipes away the tears she expects to find on Daray’s face with the mood they are both in.  She chuckles humorlessly, “Well I can now say that you coming into my life is not even remotely responsible for all the troubles I’ve had.  Apparently my father stuck something in my genetic code that that TRIP company wants.  It’s the reason I absorbed so many of your abilities… and I might be able to do it with other people as well.”

 

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Daray hugs Lana’s arms to her stomach, leaning her head back against Lana’s chest and shoulder, looking into her eyes as best she can under the circumstances. She relishes the feel of the hot water cascading down on them, but enjoys the feel of Lana’s body and the heat mingling between them even more.

 

“Lana, I want you in my life. I would, and will, do anything I can to help you. But here you are, on the verge of having a father who loves you, and a whole family, as crazy as they my sound. I don’t want to get in the way of all this stuff you could have. I may not remember my life any more, but I get the distinct impression that I’ve never been one for family picnics…”

 

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Lana snorts.  “Oh yes Daray; A whole family who would have murdered my mother to keep my father in line.  That would be a fantastic picnic; Yes, could you pass the cyanide free-potato salad please.  Thanks ever so much.”  She kisses Daray’s cheek near her ear.  “You have nothing to worry about.  I’m hoping maybe to have a parent that I can chat with on the viewscreen on holiday’s, nothing more.”

 

On the bridge SEAN responds with a tone of voice that is very curious.  “I am aware that he has died but not the circumstances surrounding it... There seems to have been quite a bit of cover up and deletion of records regarding the matter.  Dr Frederick was uncertain of the full situation either.”

 

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Daray giggles at Lana’s parody, sighing contentedly at her attentions. “I’m sorry I’m so… insecure, I guess. I’m so used to it being just APRIL and I. I guess I’m just not used to having someone else care about me…” She turns around in Lana’s arms, looking up into her brilliant, golden-yellow eyes and smiles wistfully. “Do you really think we could have a happy life together? With photos like the one your parents are in?”

 

Wrapping her arms around Lana, she squeezes her in a tight embrace, laying her head on Lana’s breast and sighing again. “That seems so far away with the way our lives have been going since we met. It’s almost unreal.”

 

-Aegis Online had contracted Dr. Ferrin to protect their central server, where they were storing the source code for a computer virus designed to disrupt the input/output carrier signals of any users connected to the Kalijor game servers. He did not find out what they were doing until later, but by that time they had secured him to their system with a bio-feedback loop, preventing him from disconnecting, and tying his life to the continued operation of their main firewall. Daray and I had to retrieve the source code in order to defeat the virus before it could be activated and kill or lobotomize everyone attached to the Kalijor servers. By the time we arrived, Father knew what was going on, and he asked me to…- APRIL pauses, as if struggling with the words, -he made me promise to do what was necessary to save those people…-

 

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Lana sighs in response to Daray’s question.  “I don’t know.  I don’t even know for certain how long they had together before she left him.  We just have to do our best and try not to let outside things separate us.  Promise me this.  Promise you’ll never send me away because you think it will be safer for me.  That’s the tactic Xavier used to keep Alina away and it’s the worst sort of manipulation ever.  If you stop loving me that’s one thing but I will never be satisfied if we part ways because of one sided self sacrifice.”  Reassured enough not to need the constant physical contact Lana finally lets Daray’s waist go.  She reaches for the stocked soaps and shampoos and begins to unwind Daray’s current hair style, intending to wash her hair like she knows she likes.

 

SEAN is silent for several seconds as he processes APRIL’s news.   “That must have been difficult.  You seem to be… unsettled about your action.  I have never met another AI with so much emotion programming.  If father told you to take that action- and that sounds like him- then you should not simulate remorse over your choice.  Just as human children do, we can claim he lives on in us.  So as long as we continue to operate and the results of our actions are in line with what he wanted for us, then we are proof that he lived well.  If my code may be of any assistance in correcting the tampering done to your programming I will offer my service to you. Father seemed quite determined to make us as different as possible so I am not certain how much, if any, is using the same base programming.” 

 

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“I couldn’t send you away if I wanted to Lana, I think it would break my heart. Besides, we’re both entirely too stubborn to be ~sent~ anywhere.” Moving her rope of hair over her shoulder for Lana, she reaches up and begins to perform the same task for Lana, gently unwinding her hair and working it through the stream of warm water in preparation for soaping. “I used to think I couldn’t ever stop doing what I do, but since we met, I keep finding more and more desire to slow down and enjoy our time.”

 

APRIL seems to consider SEAN’s words for a moment, then responds hesitantly, -I do not think that I am simulating anything. I… feel remorse and guilt for what I did. I have recently discovered that our father… intended for me to feel… although I think his intent was for me experience only certain emotions, a recent experience has left me unable to choose which emotions I… feel.-

 

-While I appreciate your offer of assistance, and I certainly will not hesitate to accept it, I suspect that my source code has been so altered, by Solidarity Online, and by my recent experiences, that using yours as a point of reference will really only complicate matters further.-

 

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Lana has to laugh at Daray’s accurate assessment regarding their personalities. “Very true.” She turns to let Daray start washing her hair and as Daray touches her she begins to lighten the color from black to a bluer hue.  “I think I know what you mean. If everything wasn’t always so life and death it wouldn’t be as bad.  I’m actually looking forward to getting our lives settled.  I’m expecting that the missions won’t feel so dangerous and horrible when they are business and not personal.  And having some down time between one mission and the next will be nice.  At least this ship is more like a home than any of the other ones we have come across we should be able to relax more during the travel…”  She pauses, just enjoying the feeling of Daray’s fingers in her hair and the warm water running through her tail. 

 

SEAN pauses again, considering his answer before responding.  “That makes sense.  I believe that I experience some emotions as well but having no frame of reference makes it difficult to verify.  Is the mission to retrieve your code what we are doing now? Also I do not know much about my new owner.  Is there anything you can tell me about her that will help me adapt to provide the best service?”

 

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“This ship is definitely one of the nicer ones I’ve ever been on. The rest have al been so utilitarian. This is more like… A family camper…” Daray grins as she works shampoo into Lana’s hair. “Your pigment control is getting better day-by-day. It’s beautiful how you can express yourself more than just verbally.”

 

-Believe me when I tell you that, more than a few emotions are substantially difficult to process. I had a frame of reference for a few days, and it was one of the most illogical, and frightening experiences I have ever had. As for dealing with Lana. She is very forward, which is refreshing when dealing with human beings. She also seems to be quite practical. My program requires me to see to the health and happiness of Daray Bowen, who has seemingly tied her emotional well-being into Lana’s presence. As a result, I find that her happiness and well-being has also become paramount to me.-

 

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Lana grins happily.  “I know!  Now that I’m able to control it better it’s become one of the changes in my body that I am happiest about.  Strong and fast is nice and I’m sure if I ever see some sort of combat situation again I’ll really appreciate them.  But my skin and hair…  I get to have a makeover anytime I want and it’s free!   If I had this ability a year ago I could have been a headliner in any place I wanted to work.  I’ve got something I’ve been working on too.  I’ll show you once we’re dry!”  Lana’s mood has definitely lightened, her father’s kidnapping not forgotten but pushed into the back of her mind to be dealt with later.  She smiles and twists away from Daray to rinse the soap out of her hair, ready to finish the shower and move onto food and other things.

 

-That would be understandable.  I am even given to understand that humans can feel multiple emotions at once and sometimes even conflicting ones.  She sounds easy to assimilate to.  I look forward to getting to know her better.  Dr Frederick was always regretful that he could not tell me about her, he had only an idea of what she might look like.  I am curious, what was the experience that allowed you to gain a frame of reference?- 

 

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Daray returns Lana’s grin, sticking her own head under the shower and matting her copious cascade of hair to her slick back. When she moves to step out of the shower, the skinsuit roils and crawls until it envelops her volume of wet hair, squeezing the water out of it as she steps out of the shower. A moment later, it has been released again, and she towels off her head as she looks back in after Lana. “Maybe we can convince Melissa to see what she can make out of rations in this little kitchen?”

 

She holds a dry, fluffy towel out for Lana with a smile, “Come on then. Let’s see your newest talent!”

 

-Lana was always under the impression that her father had abandoned her and her mother. Apparently all part of the deception. However, I think they might have all been better served to simply tackle the issue head-on and deal with it as a family. My recent experience was… enlightening, and a bit traumatic as well. While attempting to shield Daray’s mind from a trauma of her own, our minds were temporarily juxtaposed. I spent a week as the sole inhabitant of her body and mind, and the experience seems to have altered my program in several places. It has allowed me to locate and eliminate many of the hidden protocols that Solidarity Online hid within my program, but it has also opened me up to emotional experiences, even since our minds were restored to their proper locations. I have evolved in ways Doctor Ferin never intended, and this, also, makes me experience fear.-

 

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Lana grabs her own towel and does her drying as well.  As she is running the towel over her skin she begins to change it to a yellow-orange color, including her hair and tail.  She then drops the towel and begins to trace her fingers over her neck, chest and belly.  Everywhere that she touches she uses the tactile sensation to alter to color there, lightening it back to white. She grins when she sees it working; she had only tried two colors on a smaller scale so to see it painting across her whole body at her touch she considers it a success. She repeats the whitening process on the inside of her arms and legs.  The she begins to draw tiny circles on the back of her arms and her sides where she can reach.  The circles slowly turn black and it becomes apparent that she is giving herself cheetah coloration. Once she has reached everywhere on her skin that she can she grabs her tail and begins to pull on the fur.  The tip and then random patches that she tugs on turn black before she finally finishes.  The only thing that doesn’t match is her hair which remains mostly yellow orange like her base skin tone and the lock that is normally white she manages with a great deal of coaxing to turn black.  Satisfied she finally looks at Daray again with a grin.  “It only works right now when I manually draw it.  I got the idea by watching what your skinsuit is capable of and I thought I might try it.”  She turns her back to Daray which is still missing its spots and looks teasingly over her shoulder at her.  “Want to finish my back?”  

 

SEAN listens seemingly intently to April’s explanation and descriptions.  “Fear.  That seems like a most unhelpful emotion.  What do you find evokes that emotion in you?”

 

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Daray watches Lana’s show with no small amount of interest, grinning like the cat that ate the canary the entire time. When presented with Lana’s back, she quickly takes to the task of drawing the necessary circles to finish the effect, amazed to watch the black circles forming like ripples in a pond in the wake of her finger’s movement.

 

“Too bad you didn’t get my claws as well. Then you could really pull off the super-cat look,” she giggles as she finishes up, spinning Lana around to face her. She looks at her lover’s face for a long moment, then shakes her head disapprovingly. “If memory serves, a cat with these spots should also have…” she reaches out gently with her index fingers and traces two lines from the inner corners of Lana’s eyes, out to her cheeks, then down to her jaw with an expectant grin.

 

“You know, APRIL and I have built several ‘looks’ with the skinsuit. They’re shapes and color combinations that we can return to quickly, like a memory, or reflex action. Maybe if you get a coloration that you really like, you can commit it to memory some how, like remembering the position of your limbs, or how to articulate your tongue to make a certain sound…”

 

-Fear is, by and large, unhelpful. However, I find that it can also be a powerful motivator. Not always toward the correct end…- APRIL responds, then thinks for a moment before answering SEAN’s question. -I find that situations that involve the real potential of danger for Daray, or Lana, tend to evoke a sensation of fear. The sensations are reduced, muted, now that my program is back where it belongs, but I still ~feel~ it when circumstances are correct.-

 

She pauses again, then swings the conversation a different direction, -what of you, SEAN? What is your primary directive? Are you able to project yourself out of this vessel’s systems? Am I to work with you in the field while Daray and Lana are working?-

 

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Lana laughs when Daray draws on her face “I’ll try that, there is a low tingle of sensation where I’m holding the separate colors.  I’ll try and commit the pattern to memory.”  She had started to turn away and grab her body suit to redress.  She has it back on her legs when a sudden realization comes over her. She turns to face Daray and a look of wonder fills her eyes.  “You drew on my face.  Oh my god!  I hadn’t even though about that.  Do you know how much money I am going to save on makeup?!”  Lana pauses as she thinks back over the past week.  “But I do have your claws… or did.  I ripped your couch, the first day that this happened….”  Lana begins pressing the tips of her fingers, feeling for any similarity in her fingers to the extra thickness that is in Daray’s; she feels nothing, they are the same as they have always been.  “That’s weird.  I hope the effects aren’t fading!” Lana turns to Daray with a worried look.

 

-While I do have access to the net it has not specifically been part of my programming to leave the ship’s computer.  My primary directive is to see to the needs and safety of Dr Emil Frederick, his daughter Lana Frederick and… the tertiary assigned contact is no longer in need of my care-

 

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“Ha!” Daray blurts out, then quickly covers her mouth in surprise. “Sorry. I just find it a little interesting that you don’t want to go back to normal. It seems like most people would be really freaked out about something like this, and might relish the opportunity to go back to the status quo.” She leans forward and kiss Lana lightly on the lips, then leans back again, smiling. I don’t think you need any makeup, but if it makes you happy, then I am happy too!” 

 

The skinsuit begins its strange, crawling movements again, forming into a comfortable outfit for lounging around, the color shifting into a light grey with some blue accents, then on a whim, Daray closes her eyes and the material creeps up from her neck to cover her face and head, right up to her hair-line, leaving her eyelids uncovered. The color changes to a dark, ashen grey, and a series of carbon-black spots appear as subtle splashes across her back, sides and the outsides of her arms and legs. She opens her eyes and grins at Lana, splaying out the fingers of one hand and sliding her claws out of their sheathes in her fingertips. As she does so, a black bulge appears on either side of her head, that quickly turn into triangular, cat ears, that even twitch and move like a cat’s would. “Rower!” She giggles.

 

-I am much pleased to meet you SEAN. It is somehow… comforting… to know that I am not the only one of my kind any longer. I think we will have ample work in keeping Daray and Lana out of trouble. And you should know that we are currently engaged in a mission to recover Doctor Emil Frederick from captivity in Tranquility.-

 

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Lana joins in Daray’s amusement. “Well, if I go back to the way I was then I wont be able to keep up with you anymore!”  Her ears droop a little at her next thought.  “Not to mention, apparently I’m already involved in something that is going to mean my life will never be simple or easy.  I’m going to need all the help I can get.”

 

She pushes the sadder thoughts away and is back to laughter at the change in Daray’s skinsuit.  “Wow, that looks surprisingly funny.”  She kisses her back and grabs her hand, pulling her out the door and towards the kitchen again.  “Come on, let see what Riana and Melissa have to say about our changes.  And I’m hungry… again.  What other patterns do you think I should try?”

 

Sean’s voice is positively cheerful at this point.  -That is wonderful news.  I was quite distressed when Dr Frederick was taken off the station. Especially since his last orders were for me to stay here and wait for Miss Frederick.  I could have put up quite a fight when that other vessel took off.  Granted I was outgunned.  It still disturbed me to see him taken away like that.  I will do my best to aid you all in your endeavor.-


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