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Status Quo - Chapter 82

Written by: Paullell

 Lana listens to Alina talking and empathizes with her emotions as she tells her story. Finally she begins to slow her eating, the portions in front of her almost gone. “She sounds like a smart lady.  Sometime when this is all over you’ll have to bring her by and we can all have dinner.  I bet Daray would like to meet her too.  That’s right there is a third part to this mission… or is it fourth?  Rescue my dad, Daray, as many of the girls as we can and something to do with your father…”  

 

“I have to agree.  If he had never involved me I would not have met Daray.  I still don’t know if Turin was responsible for my mother’s death or an unknown family member of my father’s… But at least this way I’m going to get the chance to know my father which I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  And I have to say, hanging with all you girls is far more exciting than life in the brothel was.”  

 

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“You know what’s interesting? I think it was Daray who changed my life with Niko. I was working as a customs officer at the spaceport, to get inside information on Turin’s shipments and people. This tiny little woman comes through my line one day, looking something between over-confident and dying to crawl out of her own skin. She stands there in front of me, holding up the line for a good three minutes trying to get up the nerve, and finally asks me if I’d like to get a drink after my shift,” she chuckles a bit at the memory.

 

“I remember this guy in line behind her mouthed off at the interaction. I think he was mostly upset about being hung up for so long, really. But Daray turned around and lit him up something fierce. Totally cowed this guy, and then she turns around and finally asks me.” She laughs at the memory, sipping at her tea and smiling. “Anyway, that night, we came here to eat, and she looked amazing in this almost business, skirt-suit thing, made out of that shiny skinsuit material. She was quiet all evening, that under-confident, mousy air about her. Things were going well, so we went to see a Resonance concert, and on the way back we got stopped by those two muggers because we missed the monorail.” Tears form in the corners of her eyes as she recounts the evening’s events. “These guys were asking for all our stuff, and I had this silver chain my dad had given me. It was all I had left of him and I refused to give it to them. He threatened me with this vibro-blade, and Daray steps in front of me without an instant of hesitation. She was so selfless. As confused as she is about who she is, and what she wants, the one thing she refused to waffle about was defending an almost total stranger from harm. Of course, I screwed it all up and got stabbed trying to save her,” she laughs through the tears, wiping them away as she chuckles.

 

“I think that was the moment though. When my life turned a huge corner. I was hell-bent on killing that bastard Turin. But when I saw Daray do that, it struck some chord in me. I knew that wasn’t what dad would want to happen. As brief as our relationship was, she really turned me around Lana, and she never even knew it. I will go to the ends of the universe for her. So bringing my Niko over for dinner will be easy enough,” she laughs.

 

“As for my dad… I don’t think Turin will be of much use there. I just want to take a crack at his computer records. See if I can figure out who he hired to do the hacks that pinned the ring station disaster on dad. I doubt if Turin even remembers what he did…”

 

She gets a far-off look in her eyes for a second, as if thinking about something completely different, then shakes it off and smiles at Lana. “So, I’ve been chatting you up about me… What about you? Long-term plans? Designs for the future once dad is safe and sound and things begin to calm a bit? IfyoubreakherheartI’llcarveyouupwithavibro-blade. Going to stay in Tranquility?”

 

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Lana pauses at the not so subtle threat in Alina’s speech.  She grins, her smile widening until she is chuckling and then laughing outright.  She laughs so hard that tears come to her eyes and she has to wipe them away before she can continue.  “If I do I promise to stand still and let you.  She saved my life too you know.  I was just this unwanted out of work prostitute when she stumbled into my little two room apartment.  I actually though she was my landlord at first, coming to insist that I pay the rent early and if I didn’t have the money he had already insinuated I would need to trade my services for the missing cash.  Needless to say I was relived it wasn’t him.  And she was so hurt but healing right in front of my eyes, you know?  I fixed her a meal, she was the most interesting thing to happen in my life in weeks.  Almost as soon as she woke up there were soldiers knocking on my door.  I could have stayed but they weren’t exactly the law abiding type and I had a bad feeling about them.  She helped me get off of Venus station despite both of us ending up on wanted posters.”

 

“She kept giving me these cute little glances.  Like I was beautiful but she was too shy or ashamed to do anything.  At that point I figured I was off duty, so why not indulge myself for once instead of it always being business.  Then I figured out that she wasn’t just shy, she was hurting and confused and it made her seem all the sweeter. I wanted to help her.  To make the pain go away and help her be as confident sexually as she was in everything else she did.  I never wanted to get attached.  That was always the rule…  Never settle down.  But she just wiggled her way into my heart and wouldn’t get out again.  I can’t imagine living without her now.  The current plan is to form a business together, Daray, Melissa and myself.  I’m looking forward to meeting my dad.  That’s a whole other story. But my plan is to stay with Daray for as long as she’ll have me.  I still can’t believe my past doesn’t bother her.  Sometimes I’m sure she’ll wake up one day and not want me anymore.”  Lana shrugs her shoulder, tears in her eyes as she opens up her own vulnerability to Alina, letting her in so she knows she can trust her.

 

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Alina reaches across the table and takes Lana’s hands in hers, squeezing them reassuringly and offering her an understanding smile. “Honey, it’s okay. I know how you feel. I didn’t realize what I had until Niko turned me out. Now that we’re back together, I still have this little nugget of ear in the back of my mind that, one day, our morals will clash again, and it will all come crashing down around me. I made a resolution to myself a while back though. I promised myself that every day I would live true to myself, so that I never have to look back at anything I did and question myself about it. I dearly hope that Niko and I work out. I hope I don’t let her down, and that she continues to help my moral compass stay on true north. But I won’t hurt myself to make it happen that way. I won’t compromise myself. I think the benefit we both have is that our partners will never ask us to.”

 

“Now, I must apologize for my rudeness. I didn’t mean to come off as the jealous ex or anything. You certainly know Daray better than I do by now, and I’ve no intention of skipping out on Niko. Just promise me that you’ll both always take good care of one another. And have us round for holidays from time to time,” she grins. “Of course we will as well! We don’t own a penthouse, but we can fit everyone in well enough. And don’t tell anyone else, but before I left, Niko said she’d like to have kids one day,” she positively beams at the thought. “Isn’t science great? I mean really! Who’d have ever thought of such a thing, even fifty years ago?”

 

She waves the server over and pays the tab, signing off a generous tip and nodding to Lana, “you about ready? We still need to find a transport of some kind before e head over.”

 

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At the touch of Alina’s hand on hers Lana feels a familiar flash of heat travel over her skin.  She tries to resist it and does manage to keep her hair and tail from changing color but only because their hue was already in her control, although she can almost feel the ‘reset’ button being recalibrated in her genes.  She can’t stop the heat from reaching her eyes and shifting them in color, she can only hope that no one else in the restaurant picks up on it.  The change is even faster this time, her body more easily adapting to the ‘new’ genetics.

 

Lana tries to ignore the changes and move on as though nothing had happened.  “No don’t worry about it.  I took it as a friend-who-cares threat and not jealous-ex-lover.  Kids… the universe is a pretty amazing place now a days.  I’ll bet my dad can even help you two with that.  I know he messed around with my mother’s genetics and is the reason behind my current… abilities.”  Lana finishes up the last of the noodles on her plate and wipes her mouth with her napkin, she can feel the shift in her genetics fading and glances at a clock.  “Hmmm. It appears one second of contact equals about a minute of change for me.  That is good to know.  I wonder if the ratio is remains static over time or if the results diminish after a certain point of exposure.”  Lana nods her head at Alina’s last remark and pushes herself away from the table.  “I’m ready.  Let’s go.”

 

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Alina’s eyes widen at the change in Lana’s, and she gives a low whistle as she watches the golden yellow turn bright green. “Okay, that’s pretty cool. And  a little disconcerting, if you don’t mind my saying so… Can you copy anything? Or just what’s been altered from someone’s original DNA?”

 

She stands up and leads the way to the door as they chat. “And if it’s only what’s been changed… do you realize what that means? It means that as much as we’ve been told of the years about how altered DNA becomes a part of you, indistinguishable, at the DNA level, from any natural DNA.  If you can somehow, even instinctively, distinguish between original and altered patterns, that’s sort of a game changer.”

 

Alina leads the way outside and after a few twists and turns, stops in front of a large white delivery vehicle. She pauses and looks at Lana for a moment, then quietly asks, “do you have any issues with us borrowing a vehicle off the street? We can rent one if you prefer, but that sort of leaves a trail, if you know what I mean?

 

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Lana follows Alina outside and responds to the conversation as best she can.  “I don’t know.  I don’t seem to have control, but from my experience with you it seems like it is only tinkered DNA.  Riana and Melissa have touched me a bunch of times and never prompted a reaction.  Daray’s changes are the only ones that I have picked up permanently, and we have not had a chance to find out whether I got them all or only some of them.  I’ve used claws once but haven’t been able to use them again.  Why would that be a game changer?”

 

Lana shakes her head at Alina’s last question.  “Three weeks ago… I would have.  But if you think that is the best way to handle this… go right ahead and borrow.”   Lana begins looking up and down the street, assessing if any of the other people were paying any attention to them. 

 

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Alina pulls a small device form her jacket and fiddles with it near the vehicle’s door, which promptly opens for her. She slips inside and opens the other door for Alina, then fiddles with the device a bit more, placing it on the dashboard and pressing the actuator control. The vehicle’s motor comes to life and she smiles, pulling the door closed behind her and accelerating away form the spot the instant Lana is fully inside.

 

“Well, Melissa is a cyborg for sure. And Riana, even thought I’ve never seen anything quite like her, appears to be as well. So they probably aren’t bearing any DNA mods. We know Daray is more or less nothing but mods, and sophisticated ones a that. Now imagine, all of the people in the solar system who have mods of one kind or another. Most are harmless, like I started out. Hair color and so forth. But plenty of folks have gone well beyond that, and they’re passing these changes on to their kids, and their kids, and so on. The Conglomerate is quickly loosing control of the situation. They can regulate cybernetics, for the most part, because the parts are manufactured somewhere, shipped, etc. They leave a trail before they are ever installed in a person. even the black market chop-shops can be sussed out and torn down fairly easily. But bio-engineering is something else entirely. Sure technology makes it easier, and faster, but really all a good BioEngineer needs is a computer, an RNA retrovirus, and a couple small pieces of equipment. As a result, you have guys like your dad wandering about with enough knowledge in their skulls to create armies of Bio-Engineered dissidents.”

 

She drives the truck across the city as she explains, obviously very confident in where she is going and how she is getting there. “So the big stumbling block for the Conglomerate has been, once they track down a bio-borg, what do they do with them? Kill them right? But what about all these other people, like me, who don’t really have any augmented physical abilities? Am I a threat? Certainly so, but not really in a combat sense. So do they kill me too? And if that’s the way, then what percentage of the human race has had something tweaked, or tucked here and there? Where do they draw the line?  Previously, there has been no way to look at a modded person’s DAN and tell what is original and what is new, and certainly no way to recover what was overwritten by the new. But if you can touch someone, and on whatever level, tell what is original and what is after market, it means they could round people up, toss them in an RNA tank, suss out the original bits of them, and rebuild them back to factory default, or close to it.”

 

“If anyone in a major corporation knew what you were doing. What you’re capable of. They may stop at nothing to get hold of you and find out how you’re doing it.” She stops speaking as she pulls to a stop along a featureless, white wall that runs along half a city block. She shuts off the motor and turns to look seriously at Lana. “I’m sorry honey, but you need to keep that little trick as close to the vest as you can. I the wrong people find out about you, then your life will likely never calm down. Here we are…” she finishes, pointing at the wall, “I think there’s a service entrance just around this corner up here. It leads to the back door of the house after a winding trip through the grounds. APRIL, can you find his network and see if you can do anything about local defenses?”

 

-I am working toward that end as we speak Alina.-

 

“Wow. I could get used to having a friend like you about APRIL!”

 

-Please remember that my presence is continually degrading your synapses. Your neural net was not designed, or prepared for my presence. My staying here will cause permanent damage to your brain if I am not removed fairly soon.-

 

“Party pooper.” Alina sticks her tongue out at no one specific.

 

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At the end of Alina’s explanation Lana closes her eyes and begins to curse softly in several different languages.  When she opens her eyes again they are full of worry.  “The time line never quite added up for Turin.  My mother died for ‘unknown’ reasons wile an in-patient in a hospital.  And my father’s family is aware of what kind of tinkering he was doing.  I’m not sure if I will be able to keep this secret.  What happens if I touch someone with more obvious changes?  A different kind of tail... wings?  I have no way of knowing if someone is a gene mod until they touch me or I touch them.  Just you touching my hand in the restaurant set it off. How on earth will I be able to keep this secret?”  Lana is talking out loud, but she doesn’t really expect an answer from Alina.  The questions are mostly rhetorical, a vocalization of the worry that is growing inside her.

 

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“Maybe we should try and locate another one of those skinsuits…” Alina chuckles. She checks her wrist computer for the time and then looks up at Lana again, “It’s ten-thirty now. We’ve got about half an hour before we get down to it. Are you going to be okay? I didn’t mean to upset you.” She reaches across the cabin, about to offer a reassuring touch, but then pulls her hand back, seeming to think better of it. She looks a little put off by the thought though, as if it is fighting against her nature, but she doesn’t want to exacerbate the situation.

 

“You know. We could find you two a nice, comfortable place on Ceres. Just get you out of the Conglomerate’s sphere of influence entirely. It isn’t a penthouse in Tranquility, but Ceres is nice. The people a genuine, and hard-working. And it’s not abad place to run any kind of operation from. You don’t have to squeeze behind old broken-down soda machines to buy tools of the trade,” she grins to try and lighten the mood.

 

“How are those grounds defenses coming along APRIL?”

 

-Turin’s network is extremely well protected. I am still working to breech his firewalls. If current progress is any indication, it should take me another fifteen minutes to gain entry. Nearby street and building cameras indicate multiple automated security points within the grounds. I am putting up a map on your HUD now.-

 

“Oh god!” Alina shudders violently in her seat, throwing her arms out in front of her at some unseen phantom, then waving them slowly as if to try and touch whatever she is seeing. “Warn me before you do stuff like that alright?”

 

-I did.-

 

“Uh yeah, I guess you did at that. Still, more than a half second would be appreciated. Can you plot an optimal path through this mess for us? And what kinds of defenses are these?”

 

-I am waiting to plot a course pending my discoveries once I breech the network firewalls. As for the types of defenses, I can not say, as they are concealed. I am simply using feature recognition algorithms to determine their locations.-

 

“Alright. Let us know when you get in. And thanks APRIL.”

 

-Of course Alina.-

 

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Lana for her part looks a little saddened that Alina pulls back from touching her.  At Alina’s comment she looks astonished, as though the idea of living outside of conglomerate space had never occurred to her.  “Live on Ceres?  I’ve never considered it before…  Isn’t it full of violent maladjusts?  People that are too wild or crazy to live in civilized space…  No… that’s probably corporate propaganda.  And if the last three weeks haven’t proven that there are plenty of criminals in civilized space then I’m not as smart as I think I am. I’ll ask Daray when we get her out.  It might be smarter for us in the long run.”

 

Lana grows silent as April and Alina converse.  When Alina throws her hands up and the uncontrolled van veers sharply she grabs onto the handle above the door and holds on for dear life until Alina regains control of the moving vehicle.  When she lets go she can see that she has dented the handle with her fingers.  She looks at the damage guiltily.  “Ok, I’m still prone to overreacting when startled.  Good to know.”  

 

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Pulling to a stop along the long wall that surrounds Turin’s estate, Alina shuts off the vehicle and turns to look at Lana, eyeing the partially-crushed handle, then giving Lana a hard, appraising, once-over. After a moment, she presses her lips into a hard line and says, “I’m still earning to reign in my newly tuned senses. I can only imagine what it would be like to try an adapt to such serious physical changes. I’d have to say that you seem to be doing a great job of it.”

 

After another moment, she takes a deep breath and physically turns in her seat to face Lana, a very serious look spreading across her face. “Lana, I have some things I need to tell you. I’ve held them pretty close to my chest so far because I honestly wasn’t sure how they will change things.”

 

Taking a deep breath to steady herself she begins her confession, “I was in that house on Hector. Less than a week before you were. I had been on Ceres, trying to get hold of Niko, when I found out she’d been missing for two weeks. While tracking her down, I ended up in a storage hold, and opened a crate to see what she was hauling. I was forced inside the crate and hauled to Hector, to Turin’s house. I don’t know if it’s significant, but the crate itself was outfitted specifically for the purpose of hauling people. It had a whole little apartment in there, with food, and a kitchenette, the works. And it was registered to T.R.I.P.”

 

“While in Turin’s home, I overheard him speaking with Almon Genloe, a bad sort of guy from Neo-Tokyo. They were plotting your capture, and Daray’s death, which is why I was on Mars to help you that time we met. I didn’t know you, or about you, but I knew that Daray wouldn’t associate herself with just anyone, so you must be alright. Anyway, Almon said that he had been paid to find and retrieve you, and he had asked Turin to handle it. They were having an argument about you though, it seemed Turin wanted to keep you for himself, and Almon was threatening to have someone else do the job. Anyway, Turin said that he had hired several people to erase your records, erase you, from the world, so that when he finally came for you, you’d be too scared and alone to refuse. They mentioned that it had been one man that had hired Almon to find you, but I saw more than a little evidence around Turin’s place that he had been dealing with T.R..I.P. quite a lot. I think he may have been double-dealing.”

 

She paused for a minute to let her words roll around, then continued, “I’m not sure how far along he got in his plan before things went awry, but he talked about some ability to see the future, at least to some extent. and there’s one more thing…”

 

She looks a little odd as she considers what she’s about to say, looking as if she might be a bit crazy. “I ran into him on Venus station before all of that though. Him and this huge, full-conversion cyborg guy called Fredd. Things went a bit wrong and I shot Turin in the leg. That started a fight with Fredd, and by the time he cleared out, Turin was gone. But where he had fallen to the floor, was a bell-hop, looking confused and terrified, and bearing a bullet hole in his leg, right where I’d shot Turin.”

 

She looks at Lana again, giving her words a minute to sink in fully, then adds, “And when I was eaves-dropping on his conversation with Almon later, Turin said that his precognitive and mind-controlling abilities were weakened substantially by his need to control his ‘puppet’. They talked about how he was still stuck in his cell, and how much easier things will be once he’s released. Lana, I don’t know if it’s really him or not in there. It could be some innocent person he’s taken over and made to look like him somehow. I’ve never sen anything like it before, but I have to tell you that bell-hop was scared as hell and as confused as a person could possibly be.”

 

“The other thing that scares me is, if it really ~is~ him in there, and he is more powerful in person…” She pauses, a tear forming in her eye, “What’s he done to Daray in there? She has no psychic powers, and no real ability to resist him, especially since APRIL isn’t with her any more…”

 

“Also, I’m sorry, about shrinking back a moment ago,” She reaches out again and gently rests her hand on Lana’s knee, a soft smile forming n her lips at last. “I know the last thing you need right now is people being afraid to touch you. I just want you to know that I’m not afraid. I just don’t want to be causing involuntary reactions in you while you’re trying to figure out your changes. That and, I respect you and Daray, and Niko, too much to be creating any inappropriate situations.”

 

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Lana shivers as Alina shares the additional information that she has.  The news about the bellhop seems especially bizarre to her.  “That is… highly disturbing, but also explains how he is in two places at once.”  She ponders for a moment.  “When I dosed him, if the person in prison had been the fake, the illusion or whatever it was should have dropped away, if the one I dosed was the true Turin… however if he has the ability to take over a person and disguise them as himself I find it hard to believe that the real him would be sitting in prison.  Does that mean he may be running two puppets?”  Lana shakes her head.  “This is making my head hurt.” 

 

She bites her lip as she considers what to share with Alina about Daray.  “I don’t know how much you know about Daray’s past. When Turin got her last time he had her raped by one of his male soldiers.  Because of her past this was incredibly traumatic for her, causing her to suffer a breakdown.  April took over, trying to spare her some pain but when we finally got things sorted out her memories from before she and April came together were gone.  This actually seemed to help her, a lot of her personal tension was finally gone.  April and I advised her of what had happened and left it her decision, we could tell her about her past or we could just move on without it.  It was her decision to leave the past alone and not learn about her previous self.  I’m worried that this might have left her even more vulnerable to Turin’s machinations… on the plus side; without some of her previous baggage, emotionally I think she can handle anything that he may do to her.”

 

Lana smiles, her pensive mood improving when Alina reaches over and touches her knee.  “Thanks Alina.  I was worried that I might become a pariah because of what my abilities entail.  I’m a very social and physical person.. And the thought that you might be afraid to touch me really hurt.  I’ll just have to be careful from here on out with where and how I interact with people.”

 

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Alina shakes her head at Lana, shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t know the extent of his capabilities. He’s already well beyond anything I’ve ever encountered, or even heard of, before. But I do know that the guards in his prison are supposed to have special cybernetic implants, like the one I got, “she taps her skull by way of explanation, “that limit, or entirely eliminate the possibility of psionic influence. Which means there is a good chance that he’s still in his cell. And anyway, why should he leave, if he can still run his empire from there? He’s probably safer this way than if he was on the loose.”

 

Listening to Lana’s description of what happened to Daray, she winces and looks quite upset. “That bastard! What was the point of that? What did he hope to accomplish? That’s totally outside his MO. He’s an objectifier, not a rapist. The only reason for him to do something like that would be if she wasn’t…” Her look of anger turns to one of horror as she raises her eyes to lock them with Lana’s. Suddenly there is understanding there. “It was you wasn’t it? Nothing else worked. He foresaw Daray’s death, but he couldn’t see her ability to recover, so she kept getting in the way. He used her to get you to come in… Oh god. This man is the worst sort of monster.”

 

She quickly clasps hands with Lana and keeps her eyes locked across the gap between them. “Lana, this is serious. If he would do that to her, then he doesn’t really want her. He would never treat a woman that way if he had any feelings for her. You’ve been in there with him, you know how he works. How he presses his mind and emotions into yours. Whatever he has planned for her… It can’t be adding her to his harem, or sharing his bed with her. APRIL?”

 

-Yes Alina?-

 

“Daray’s psyche profile. Does it have anything to say about her susceptibility to psionic influence?”

 

-Daray, from the beginning, represented a high degree of susceptibility to suggestion, which is why she was chosen for individual, covert operations. Unfortunately, the genetic changes that were required in order for she and I to exist together indefinitely reduced her resistance even further. The intent was for me to take the place of that resistance, adding a second, logical voice in her head under the correct circumstances, to help her see through and avoid psionic attacks on her mind.-

 

“That would explain why you were forced out of her head this time. If Turin figured out how she was able to keep herself together last time, then eliminating you would be his first priority on a second attempt.”

 

-Precisely. And my absence would allow him essentially complete control over her mind.-

 

“Which just reinforces the fact that we really have no idea what we are walking into here,” Alina shakes her head at Lana. “Are you ready for this?” She calls up the time on her computer and adds, “less than fifteen minutes now…”


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