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Status Quo - Chapter 76

Written by: Paullell

 “Maybe not, but you’ll have me by your side the whole time. And you’re not just keeping up with me, your a damn sight faster these days. I guess the cheetah markings are pretty appropriate,” she sticks her tongue out at Lana as they move into the ship’s small common area where Riana and Melissa are chatting about muzzle velocities.

 

The other women look at the entering pair and Melissa snorts, spitting up some coffee she’d just drunk. Riana simply smiles at them, as if nothing is out of the ordinary at all. “You two look much more relaxed. A nice, hot shower must have helped quite a bit,” she says, then holds up the coffee carafe questioningly.

 

Daray sticks her tongue out at Melissa like a little child, then adds a feline hiss and bares her claws for the other woman to see, black ears laying back on her skull to complete the illusion of an angry cat.

 

“Oh, my, god!” Melissa finally manages to speak up. “You two were positively made for one another weren’t you?” She gets up and turns to the tiny kitchenette, rummaging through the cupboards and refrigerator for anything perishable that needs to be cooked right away. She turns up some eggs, and a few vegetables, and sets about making omelets for them all, still chuckling to herself.

 

With a happy grin plastered across her nearly-black face, Daray sits down across from Riana and pours herself a cup of the proffered coffee, “did you want a cup Lana?”

 

-Please rest assured that we have has experience breaking into fortified locations. We suspect that we know where the doctor is located, and we should be able to affect a rescue shortly after returning to Tranquility. Although some initial scouting and information gathering will need to be performed first. We suspect that he is int eh hands of Turin Glastnost, who is upset at Lana for escaping his harem. Apparently, the man hired by Doctor Frederick to locate Lana, used a Turin to do so, and instead of turning her over as intended, he decided to keep her. He even used Daray as bait, torturing her to draw Lana in. That was when Daray and my minds were exchanged. Turin is a powerful psychic, with the ability to control others’ minds. If you would like to assist me in some preliminary investigations, we will need to know the location of Turin’s home, as well as any other holdings in Tranquility, and the whereabouts of a small supply of Psy-Nul may also be helpful.-

 

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Lana chuckles in agreement.  “That, and it was the fluffiest tailed feline that I could think of.  I can probably pull off raccoon too, and maybe skunk.”  She grins at Melissa’s reaction when they reach the kitchen and slide into the two seater bench.  “I’ve been practicing and thought I should try out some multi-color combinations.  I think it will come in handy.  Turn a corner, change my coloring and walk right past the pursuer.  I mean, who but a rare few have the ability to change their coloring as dramatically as this as fast as I can! As long as I can keep the ability out of any records no one should suspect it and it could give us some element of surprise.”  Lana nods her head and accepts a cup of coffee from Riana.  “Yes thanks!  So the last time I encountered Turin I injected him with a double dose of Psy-Nul.  Will that have had temporary or permanent effects on a strong psychic like him?”

 

Sean eagerly agrees to help. –Of course.  You many boost your signal off of my satellite if you like.  I will watch how you do your research and give advice if I feel I have something to offer.  That is as long as you don’t mind someone watching over your metaphorical shoulder.-

 

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“She’s right, that could be helpful, not to mention sexy,” Daray smiles, sipping at her coffee and trying not to drool at the smell of the cooking eggs.

 

“It’s hard to say Lana,” Riana responds, chewing her lower lip a moment as she considers. “I’m not terribly familiar with psychics or their abilities, but I’ve been told that Psy-Nul can be extremely painful to psychics, and has been known to cause psychosis.”

 

Melissa turns around and sets a large plate of toast and a stick of butter on the table, then places an omelet in front of each of them. “I assume you’ll both want more to eat. Do you want to kill the good stuff today, or try and stretch it out a couple days and top this off with some freeze-dried fare?”

 

“I’m fine either way,” Daray smiles as she digs into the eggs. “I’m used to eating bland food, so rations are nothing terrible to me. Thank you by the way, this is awesome.”

 

“I could maybe place a call to some of the medical staff aboard the Tyconderoga, see if we can fish out a more definite outcome for you,” Riana adds as she begins eating her own food. “Most of them are kind of self-important, so I’m sure they’d love to tell us, at some great length, about anything medical or psychological.”

 

“Yeah, especially if it’s about gender complexes,” Daray adds, then stops suddenly and stares at Lana. “Gender complexes… I remember them talking to me about that. Why would they be talking to me about gender complexes?”

 

Riana raises a purple eyebrow at Daray, then looks curiously at Lana. Not wanting to say something inappropriate, she doesn’t mention anything about Daray’s origins, although it is obvious that she is in the know.

 

Melissa just snorts again and says, “because you’re fucked up Daray.” She takes a drink of her coffee and adds, “don’t get me wrong though. We’re all fucked up in our own ways. Maybe you used to be hetero or something…”

 

-That is perfectly acceptable SEAN. Although, I must warn you that my research frequently takes me deep into the net, which could have you away from the Kitsune.-

 

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“Stretch it out please.  I find my attitude is happier with good tasting food several days in a row rather than once a week.”  Lana nods her head at Riana.  “Yes please.  It will be good to know going into this how mad he will be at me.”  At Riana’s questioning look Lana answers both her unasked question and Daray’s verbal one.  “During a recent event Daray has lost her memories from any time more than; four years ago was it?  Daray, it’s up to you, I’m certain that April will be willing to explain why you were seeing them for that issue.  And I can confirm that when we first got together you were having trouble deciding which gender you were attracted to…  As an aside, my personal philosophy is why limit yourself to one… But if you decide to pursue that line of questioning your decision to keep a ‘blank slate’ and have a new beginning will probably be impossible at that point.”

 

As Lana Waits for Daray’s response the speaker system activates at SEAN’s voice can be heard again for everyone in the room.  “Miss Fredrick, APRIL has advised me that you are in need of some research being done on your current mission.  I would like to observe her work but it may leave me unable to navigate the ship should something arise.  Is there someone on board that can handle the piloting if anything happens?”

 

Lana looks up at his question and then over at Riana.  SEAN, please call me Lana… and yes I believe we can handle anything that may come up if you are unable to return quickly.”

 

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“Sure thing,” Melissa responds, then pulls a few packages out of the cupboard and begins opening and reconstituting some of the contents on the cook top.

 

“Alright. I’ll head back to the Kestrel and put in a few calls,” Riana nods at Lana, then gets up and moves back through the airlocks before Daray can make a decision about her information.

 

Daray’s face turns a little sour, the cat ears and face coverings melting away into her collar again as the skinsuit returned to the comfortable, grey outfit with blue highlights she’d created before the cat look. “I don’t know… I can’t imagine being confused about who I am… I’ve been so happy the last few days, even under the circumstances… I don’t want to know.”

 

She tries to sound confident, but give Lana a look of pure fear. “I don’t want to know,” she confirms.

 

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Lana smiles reassuringly at Daray and reaches over to take her hand, squeezing comfortingly.  “It’s up to you sweetheart.  I will love you either way.  And if at some point in the future you change your mind I will love you then too.”  Lana waits until Daray seems more at ease and then turns her attention to the meal that Melissa sets in front of them.  “You have again out done yourself Melissa.  Thank you so much!  So have you ever run a rescue mission like this before?  I’m new at this, you both need to let me know what we should be doing.  Do we try and sneak in?… Honestly we could probably contact him directly and he might just let us walk back in.  It wont be pretty but it might give us a place to start.  That is as long as he still wants me and doesn’t want me dead.”

 

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Daray leans into Lana, wiping her eyes at a few un-fallen tears. The warmth of Lana’s body seems to have become a sort of security blanket for her. “I love you too,” she smiles as she works on regulating her feelings.

 

“Thanks muchly!” Melissa responds to Lana’s comment, “I’m a firm believer in the fact that just about anything can be made into a good meal with the proper application of spices and love.”

 

Finally getting herself back together, Daray sits up and talks as she picks at her food, “Riana, Kat and I ran a rescue mission into an AO facility to save APRIL a while back. It was an all-out brawl in the streets and across the rooftops of Tranquility. I’m not sure the same thing will work for us here though. AO didn’t know they had APRIL in their system, and that gave us a huge advantage. If your father is still alive, that gives Turin a huge amount of leverage.”

 

“I only know this guy by reputation, which isn’t good,” Melissa adds. “Rumors are that he’s kind of unstable.”

 

“I think that’s a safe comment,” Daray frowns and shifts uneasily in her seat, staring into her coffee cup.

 

“And it gets worse,” Riana comments, stepping back through the airlock. “They Tyconderoga picked up straight away when I asked about Psy-Nul, and the news isn’t good. They say that if Turin was unstable before, then it’s very likely that a massive dose of Psy-Nul would be enough to tip him completely over the edge. Possibly even causing a total psychotic break.” She plops down in the chair she’d been sitting in before, which causes the metal furniture to groan as if it’s being crushed.

 

“Add to that the fact that this guy is rumored to be one of the most powerful known psychics, and this isn’t a recipe for someone we want to upset. He could just explode. Or he could be a totally emotionless, cold, killer,” Melissa sits down next to Riana and starts poking at a plate of food that doesn’t look like it would be enough for a child of five, let alone a grown woman.

 

“Well, if you go in willingly, and he’s okay with that, he won’t trust you, and he certainly won’t give you an inch of slack. Do you think you can hold out against him if he’s really bearing down on you with his powers?” Daray looks worried as she talks, looking at Lana with a visage of deep concern. “I don’t remember everything he did to me, but I do remember him pushing into my mind, like some kind of spike. I was an open book to him. There wasn’t anything I could do to keep him out. I can’t imagine how someone would resist such an assault.”

 

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Lana fingers the collar around her neck that they have still not had time to try to get removed from her previous encounter with the psychopath.  “No, no I really don’t think I could hold out against him.  I was extremely lucky last time.  The only thing that I can really do is hope to keep a core memory locked away from him.  Sort of pre-program myself to perform an action when certain stimuli are applied, like seeing Daray in danger last time.   Truthfully, last time he seemed less interested in my thoughts and memories than he was in manipulating my emotions.  I don’t know.  I think if I called him up directly I could get him to let me in.  Tell him that you were arrested and sent to a mental institution and that I want to come back to him so that he can free me from the pain of loosing you.  Perhaps if we put a tracing device in me you all could keep track of where he takes me.  I can probably get him to take me to my father, especially if I seem to come willingly.  But then it will be up to the three of you to get us out.  I’d say we should save that for a last resort.  Only if we have no other way to find my father.  What are the chances that he knows we are related?  I assume that he went after him because he blamed my father’s soldiers for causing the disruption that allowed Daray and I to get away.”

 

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Melissa looks at the group and shakes her head slowly, “Here’s what I know about the order of things. Your father contacted a man in Neo-Tokyo by the name of Almon Genloe…”

 

“Oh lord…” Riana breathes, pressing her palm to her forehead and sighing heavily.

 

“Yeah,” Melissa confirms with a frown. “Almon was given only what information he absolutely needed in order to track you down, which included your mother’s real name, the time of her disappearance, and the name of the hacker who originally set up her new life for her.”

 

“Any one of those pieces of information would have been enough for Almon to find you eventually,” Riana looks up again. “All three together, and I’m surprised it took him as long a it did.”

 

“Right. And to make matters worse, Almon sub-contracted the grab to a third party. We didn’t find out who, until a couple days before the assault on Turin’s compound on Mars.. Once we knew who had taken the investigation, Boss, I mean Doctor Frederick, hired a spec ops group on Mars and had them go in to get you. Of course, none of us knew what you looked like, except that you’d have the tail and the tufts on your ears. All the pictures Boss has of your mother are from before the alterations. While everything was building up to that assault, we hired another digerati to try and uncover as much as we could about what Turin and Almon’s activity.”

 

She stops eating her food, only having eaten about half of it, and pushes her plate away as if the thought of eating suddenly disgusts her. “When we found out that someone was erasing you and your mother from the system, Boss went ballistic. He started making calls all over the place. Within hours we got word that you and most of the rest of Turin’s harem has escaped the scene, because of the intervention of a third party who seems a fair hand with a long rifle, he put me on your trail. He asked me to bring you to him, safe and sound.”

 

Her eyes turn glassy as she continues, as if she is about to cry, although her voice conveys the sort of emotion that says she is already sobbing and the tears just won’t fall. “He gave me his address. Asked me to being you home at last. In ten years of working for him, he’s always taken the best care of me, but I’ve never met him face to face. He gave me his address over the comm, and by the time we got there it was too late. They’d already been and taken him.”

 

“It wasn’t your fault,” Riana tries to calm her down, reaching out to touch her hand, but Melissa yanks it back violently.

 

“No. It wasn’t my fault! It was their fault!” She points at Lana and Daray.

 

“Our fault?” Daray straightens up in her chair.

 

“Yes! Your fault! You made me wait! You had your stupid issues to work out and you made me agree to leave off bringing you to him straight away! It was only hours that we missed them by. but we waited more than a day. If I’d have made you come, I would have been there to help, to protect him!”

 

She stands up and storms out of the Kitsune, back across the bridge to the Kestrel.

 

“Okay, that was unexpected,” Daray breathes. “What’s with her eyes?”

 

“It’s a cyborg thing,” Riana responds. “No tear ducts needed for artificial eyes. I have the same problem. Although none of this really helps us with the matter at hand. With the possible exception that she implied the Doctor’s location was secret, until her sent her the location to bring you to him.” She seems fairly unfazed by the breakdown, forging ahead in as business-like a fashion as she can. “Which indicates that someone, somewhere, was listening to that communication. If we can get APRIL to track it down, we might be able to find out where it was intercepted and track it back to its source.”

 

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Lana’s ears droop at Melissa’s outburst.  She pushes her plate away, unfinished for the first time in a week, and lays her head down on the table.  She doesn’t cry, she just gets very quiet as she tries to process both her own grief and the excess of emotions that she had picked up directly from Melissa during her outburst.  Her coloring fades from the cheetah pattern to a dull gray from the top of her head to her tail.  She listens to Riana’s explanation and latches onto her suggestion.  “So from your understanding of the situation it wouldn’t have made a difference if we had left the same day she met up with us or today.  They were just waiting for the call from her before they pounced.  Why would two enemies have attacked at once?  His family makes sense, they had been after him for a while.  How did Turin get involved at the exact same time?”  Lana finally raises her head and joins in the conversation.  “APRIL, SEAN are you finished researching yet?”

 

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Cyberspace can be a winding, twisting, warped, alternate-reality that distorts the visitor’s sense of direction and understanding of how things work. This is largely due to the fact that so much of what is seen out there is subject to the interpretation of the individual viewing it. For some, entering a server may be like entering a state of the art computer room, while for others, the same server will appear as a medieval castle’s library. Defensive programs may appear as automated sentry guns, or chained dragons, and it’s all subtly, or even entirely different for everyone who sees it.

 

The visual appearance of computer systems’ internal workings is something that the human mind creates in order to cope with what it is experiencing. Applying visual references that make logical sense in a mind that has been designed, by millions of years of evolution, to react to certain kinds of stimuli. Humans engaged in cyberjacking, even the best in the business, still must interpret what they experience in a human way, which takes time and potentially introduces errors.

 

This is not something that APRIL has ever needed in order to work her own particular form of magic. Here, in cyberspace, she is a super being. Potentially omnipotent by some standards. Being a computer program means that she does not need to interpret what she encounters, instead seeing only 1’s and 0’s, and reading them at the speed of light.

 

All of this is curious because, given her purely digital state, and her ability to move around cyberspace at the speed of thought, she still renders herself as a tall, shapely woman with long, flowing hair, and an inner glow that is so bright it renders useless any need for clothing, allowing others to see only her basic outline, and the shape of her eyes, which glow an emerald green, in stark contrast to the yellow-white luminosity of her body.

 

On their tour of cyberspace, she flies through the systems with a gentle grace the belies the speed of light she is approaching, and she flits about from system to system as if there is no need to physically cross the distances between them. Where others see firewalls and other defenses as physical obstacles, APRIL sees only combinations of binary digits, and presses through them, or waives them aside with an almost careless ease.

 

She moves so quickly that the millions of human minds moving around the net, never even suspect she has come or gone and only the most secure, most well-defended systems present any kind of challenge to her passing.

 

Their tour takes them through mostly what she calls, mundane systems. Public records, income tax reports, and other public domain information, which for the most part leads them to a series of dead ends while searching for Turin. Which is when she begins attacking the more sophisticated systems that she terms as ‘high-value’.

 

She slides through tiny gaps and cracks in their defenses in mere seconds, while others tear and batter away hopelessly with their individualized, self-styled weapons. In these systems, she turns up information about property holdings, power usage, vehicle routing, and shipping records for Turin’s companies, quickly bringing to light a series of trails that wind their way in a complex, gyrating dance across the net. But once she finds that first trail, she stays on it until it merges with another, then another, and more. Tributaries of information merging together to form feeders that then join to create creeks, streams, and eventually larger and larger rivers, all leading to one location.

 

By the time they are heading back to their home systems, that is, Daray’s brain, and the techno-organic nervous system of the Kitsune, the location of Psy-Nul in Tranquility is something she plucks up as an afterthought. The pair of AI’s even has some time to chat and learn a little more about one another before they are called upon for their presentation.

 

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“I have no idea when she contacted your father and got his location,” Riana replies with a shake of her head. “If it was a couple days ago, then there could have been time for Turin to dispatch people before we arrived, if he had someone in the area. The same applies to your relatives. It could be just a coincidence that they all arrived at the same time, and I would never be so bold as to try and interpret the impetus of a madman.”

 

“Let’s not beat around the bush here,” Daray chimes in, some of the color returning to her own face after the mention of gender counseling. “Turin wants you badly. Whether for harm or to put on display remains unknown, but we ~do~ know that he is insane, powerful, and rich beyond belief, which give him plenty of means. Not to mention the fact that he already knows how to find you, since he’s done it once already, and he was hired, indirectly, by your father.”

 

“From the sound of it, he’s definitely not above kidnapping to get his way,” Riana adds.

 

-We are finished,- APRIL responds to Lana’s inquiry. -We have discovered the likeliest location for Turin Glastnost’s primary residence, based upon a number of factors. We have also located several small supplies of Psy-Nul in Tranquility and compiled a list by degrees of legal complication versus price. The average price is two-thousand platinum pieces per dose.-

 

“If you need any money, let me know,” Riana says, following the report. “So, what do we know?”

 

“We know that Turin is an asshole,” Daray pipes in.

 

“True, but not helpful.”

 

“We know he’s extremely capable, and likely unstable, so we can’t truly predict his actions or reactions,” Daray tries to get a little more serious.

 

“True,” Riana nods.

 

“We know he wants Lana.”

 

“True.”

 

“And that he knows we’re coming.”

 

“Supposition, but entirely likely,” Riana nods again.

 

“We know he’s still in prison,” Melissa’s voice calls from the airlock. She steps into the room again, averting her eyes from the others as she speaks. “I just made a couple calls to see what I could find out. A friend of mine in the corrections department of Tranquility says he just did a visual inspection of Turin’s cell, and he’s still in there. He check’s on him three times a day, feeds him twice, and cleans his cell once a month. He’s still in prison, and has been since he attacks some girl names Alina in the hospital over a year ago.”

 

Daray’s eyes lift toward Melissa at the mention of Alina’s name, and she takes Lana’s hand in hers and squeezes it reassuringly.

 

Stepping further into the room, Melissa sits down again, wiping at her eyes reflexively, and mumbles a very quiet, “I’m sorry.”


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