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Status Quo - Chapter 27

Written by: Paullell

 Lana chuckles at Daray’s discomfort over the option of one or two rooms and pokes Daray in the side to tease her.  She picks one of the rooms at random and opens the door long enough to toss in the bags she is carrying.  Lana watches as Riana greets Daray and ribs Vincent good naturedly.  She easily steps in to the offered hug and squeezes her back comfortable with the more relaxed greeting.  She recognizes the unique aura but doesn’t comment, figuring that it is just a unique facet of her abilities. 

 

Lana looks around at the bridge in awe for a moment before hurrying to one of the chairs.  She sits down, a little awkwardly with her tail and tries to figure out the buckles of the chair. After a few fumbling attempts she looks over at Daray helplessly, hoping that she will remember Lana has never done space travel before and will come over and help with the strange strapping system.

 

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Daray is halfway into her seat when she sees Lana’s trouble and hops up to help her. “These five-way straps can be a real pain sometimes.” She smirks as she slides a hand between Lana and the side of the seat to fish out some of the lower straps. Her hand lingers longer than is necessary before pulling each strap out and clicking it into the buckle. She makes several ‘attempts’ to pull out the strap between Lana’s legs, grinning at the fact that, with all of the other straps already in place, Lana can do little to stop her.

 

Once she has them all clicked into place, her grin widens as she cinches each of the straps, the lap and crotch a little tighter than was probably necessary. The tension pulls Lana’s body back into the gel-filled acceleration seat, and it is really much more comfortable than one might thing, with all of the straps so tight.

 

Once finished, she leans in and gives Lana a kiss on the lips, then slips back into her own chair and buckles herself in.

 

Riana grins as she does her own straps, pretending to ignore the interaction going on behind her, and Lana can see her grinning face turn toward Vincent and a slight jerk of her head back toward Daray. “Looks like we’re all ready.” She says, ears perked up happily.

 

“OK, here we go.” Vincent says. They can see the huge hanger doors trundling silently open, then a slight lurch and the ship rises up and accelerates smoothly out of the huge room. “Two minute to the outer marker,” he adds.

 

The space outside the hanger is a kaleidoscope of ships in every size, shape, and color. The panoramic viewscreen of the Serendipity offering an amazing view of everything ahead, to the sides, and quite a bit that is overhead as well. Over the next two minutes, the traffic thins out more and more, until it finally seems that they are alone in the blackness between planets.

 

“Going for hard burn in 5…” Vincent begins.

 

“This part’s awesome.” Daray whispers, offering Lana a wry grin, “unless you get sick easily.” She adds.

 

“...2, 1, now.”

 

Vincent throws the throttle lever forward and they are pressed several inches back into the acceleration chairs as she Neophyte’s Serendipity catapults forward. It seems as if the stars become small streaks for a moment before everything starts to set itself right again, and within minutes, their stomachs seem to return to a state of equilibrium.

 

Vincent lays with the controls for another moment, then turns around and clicks his harness open as he faces them all. “OK then. Who’s for a little lunch?”

 

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Lana laughs at Daray’s mischief, not minding it in the least.  “You are a naughty girl Daray.” She whispers before their lips meet.  

 

She settles back into the gel with a fatalistic sort of air and watches the view screen while the ship expertly maneuvers through the traffic.  Lana has only a second to try to catch her breath at Daray’s warning and then her stomach tries to imprint itself on her spine.  She closes her eyes and counts to ten and then twenty, certain that any minute she is going to embarrasses herself and vomit or pass out.  

 

Then the critical moment passes.  The world stabilizes and she can breathe again.  Her fingers are clawing into the edge of her seat and she is panting, her lungs trying to catch up with her heartbeat.  Her yellow eyes are showing white all around and she is inordinately grateful for Daray’s tight cinching of her harness.

 

She watches Vincent swivel around in his chair and ask about lunch.  She glares at him for a moment and then laughs.  “Ask me again, in 10… no make that twenty minutes.”

 

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Vincent chuckles as he stands up. “Sorry about that. Serendipity’s engine upgrades have outstripped her inertial dampeners. They were next on the list to change out, but then I had to get the traction drive installed so I can show Ree how a fast ship really performs.”

 

At that, Riana spins her own chair around and plants the soul of her booted toes on his butt, extending her leg and forcing him to skip a few paces in order to keep from falling on his face. “I told you before wanna-be racer-man, the Neophyte is a great ship, but Kestrel’d fly rings around her. She’s got the same thrust capacity in smaller engines, and less than half Serendipity’s mass.”

 

The purple-haired elf unlatches her own harness and hops to her feet. Wrapping her arms around Vincent’s waist and leaning into his back, she places her cheek between his shoulder blades and grins. “I still love you though.”

 

“Well that accounts for quite a bit in my book.” He smiles as he wraps his hands around hers.

 

“I’ll tell you what. You can fly her when we get back to Earth. Get a feel for a real ship…” She grins widely as she says it, obviously knowing it will start a ruckus.

 

“That so? Well how about I just run you off, ungrateful elf!” He Spins on her, but she leans down low and leaps through the door, careening down the narrow corridor giggling as she goes.

 

“Right. That’s it Ree. I’m afraid I’m going to have to kick your butt!” He shouts after her.

 

“I’ll be in the cargo hold waiting for you to try!” She hollers back.

 

Vincent turns to look at Daray and Lana. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes in an exaggerated way. “Work, work, work.” As he heads down the corridor after her he adds, “You’re welcome to join us if you want to watch her kick my butt. Otherwise, we’ll do dinner in about an hour.”

 

Daray turns to face Lana as she twists the release on her seat harness. “My friends.” She jerks her thumb toward the closing door. “So, what do you think? Go watch Riana wipe the floor with Vincent?”

 

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Lana copies Daray’s movements to release her own harness and actually manages to make the thing release.  She stands and stretches for a moment before shaking herself from her head to her tail to loosen out the muscles that had tensed with her fear. 

 

“I’d day let’s go watch them for a bit.  I want to see the girl in action who can beat you.”  Lana gives her a quick grin and then asks a question that has been bugging her.  “April is there any way that you can save the information that the hacker is trying to erase so that it can be replaced once he is stopped?  Everything except my 6th grade English final, that can be lost to the annuls of time, or cyberspace as the case may be.”  She reaches out and takes Daray’s hand, squeezing it for comfort as she tries to make a joke of it to lighten the importance of her question.

 

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Daray grins at Lana. “Well, she likely won’t be going full out with Vincent. I’m not sure how much of a brawler he is, but I know she’s faster, and stronger, than I am.”

 

APRIL’s response is quick and decisive. -I have been collecting all data that I can find pertaining to you and your mother over the past 48 hours. I am afraid that some of the more critical information, date of birth, father’s name, and so on, is already lost. Some of it I am sure you can provide. I will endeavor to insure the integrity of your recorded life Lana, but the systems where the pertinent information is stored are so disparate, that I can not predict with any accuracy which systems will be attacked next. However, I am pleased to announce that your sixth grade English assignment is not yet among my stored records. I did get your seventh grade French and Italian results though.-

 

“Was…” Daray begins, then stops, quirking her head to look at Lana. “Was that a joke APRIL?” 

 

-Was what a joke Daray?-

 

“Nevermind,” she sniggers. “Do everything you can APRIL. If you need anything, please let us know.” Daray cringes at the news, accepting Lana’s hand and offering her a return squeeze.

 

“OK. Let’s go see how Vincent and Riana unwind.”

 

As they cycle through the airlock into the cargo hold, they are met with the sight of Riana, now wearing just her body suit, her boots and coat having been meticulously folded and set neatly aside on a nearby crate, and Vincent in his trousers and t-shirt, his gun belt, jacket and boots, tossed haphazardly on the deck. 

 

Riana is standing calmly in the middle of a large open area of the hold, with Vincent prowling around her, grinning from ear to ear. Every once in a while, he darts in with a pretty impressive looking move, which Riana bats away, deflects, or intercepts with no visible effort at all. It doesn’t seem to matter if the attacks come from behind, to the side, or anywhere else that might trouble a normal person. She just seems to know where they are coming from and intercept them as if Vincent was standing still.

 

He doesn’t seem to be getting deterred though. Still grinning and putting his all into every attempted strike. Every once in a while she will take his attacking limb and twist it around, or turn it back on itself in a strange way, most of which results in Vincent being bodily flipped over and thrown to the deck. From these events, he kicks his feet up, hopping back into the fray as quickly as one might expect from a seasoned fighter.

 

It took about thirty minutes before he started slowing down, and another fifteen after that before he finally took a break, sweat pouring from his body and lungs working overtime to provide oxygen to his taxed muscles.

 

“Good… workout… Ree…” he pants, leaning on his knees and waving at her as if encouraging her to go on without him.

 

She smiles sweetly back at him and says, “You’re getting better. You just need to think less about your intentions. You’re still telegraphing most of your kicks to some extent.”

 

Vincent nods at her and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand. “Yeah… I gathered that…” He stands up and makes his way over to a small crate where he plops down and continues working to get his breathing under control.

 

Riana smiles serenely, turning to face Daray and Lana. “How long has it been since you’ve had a good workout Daray? You’re the closest I’ve come to a good match that remained friendly.”

 

Daray sits up abruptly when Riana addresses her. She’d been sitting on a crate, leaning into Lana as they watched. “What? Me? I… uh…” She looks at Lana for direction, not sure if she wanted to see a brawl break out in the cargo hold.

 

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Lana smiles at April's humor and Daray’s reassuring hand squeeze.  “I know you both will.  Thank you.”

 

Lana watches with interest as the two spar, in her opinion both are so far beyond any skill level that she ever expects to obtain that she realizes the idea of her sparing with them would be ludicrous.  She still watches and happily claps and offers encouragement for either one of the fighters after any impressive moves.  When Riana offers Daray a workout she grins in delight.  “Oh yes please Daray.  I want to see you when we aren't running for our lives.”  She gives Daray a little nudge, urging her to accept the offer and smiling at her with confident encouragement.

 

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Daray blushes, offering Riana a sort of ‘scared rabbit’ look, then squeezes Lana’s hand before pushing herself up off of the crate they had been perched atop. She hops lightly to her feet, her previous outfit melting away into a sleek, one-piece body suit. Even her toes are all visible as the thicker soles of her boots flow up into the material covering her body.

 

“Give me a sec. I’ve never done this with this kind of hair before.” She announces as she bends at the waist, grabbing her ankles and stretching for a second. She then places her palms flat on the floor and lifts her feet up into the air, standing on her hands. The long braid pooled on the deck around her hands looks like a huge coil of rope on the floor. Slowly, she arches her back, slowly lowering her feet back to the floor until they touch the deck again, and stands back up straight, dragging the rope of hair up with her.

 

“Wow. It’s really heavy.” She frowns as she inspects the dangling rope behind her. 

 

-Perhaps if you restrain it somehow?- APRIL suggests.

 

“Good thought APRIL.” Daray takes the end of the braid and wraps the rope around her waist, being careful to leave enough slack that her head still has a full range of movement. She looks around briefly for something to secure the braid with until she sees the skinsuit forming several thin bands, like belt loops, around the rope, holding it tightly to her body. “Nice. Thanks APRIL!”

 

-Of course Daray.-

 

“OK, now, one more time.” This time she quickly arches over backward, folding almost in half, plants one palm on the floor, and raises both feet up, holding a one-handed hand-stand for a couple seconds before lowering her feet and standing up straight again. “Much better!” She beams.

 

Finally, she turns to face Riana, more than a little trepidation showing on her face. “This is just friendly sparring right? You’re not planning on painting the walls with my blood again are you?”

 

Riana looks a little wounded, but only for a second before she grins widely. “I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last couple of years Daray. I am sorry for how I treated you that day. If you don’t want to spar, I certainly won’t hold it against you.”

 

Daray looks back at Lana for encouragement, then takes a deep breath and steps up to Riana and offered a hand. “OK. You’re right. I haven’t had a good workout…” She pauses, glancing over her shoulder at Lana again, “in the ring… for a while.”

 

Riana takes her hand, shaking it as she leans to the side and looks toward Lana with a quirked eyebrow. Vincent just chuckles, his breathing finally back under control.

 

The two women separate, stepping a couple paces apart from one another. Riana stands in her same, neutral pose, hands at her sides, while Daray starts to shuffle her feet forward and backward as if moving them on and off the points of a triangle, her arms swinging back and forth and her weight shifting almost completely from foot to foot. Their eyes lock for a moment, then they both explode into a flurry of movement.

 

While shifting her weight to one side, Daray ducks her head down low, throwing her weight to the side, and flinging her legs up off the ground into a spinning kick aimed at Riana’s head. The elf leans back from the foot, avoiding it by no more than an inch. Daray’s feet hit the ground again, her back turned to Riana, for only a heartbeat. She folds herself over backward again, planting a palm on the ground and throwing her feet up over her head and bring them down toward Riana like a pair of sledge hammers.

 

Riana brings both her arms up, crossing them at the wrists over her head. Daray’s shins slam into them, forcing Riana to one knee with the impact. She responds instantly, grabbing hold of one of Daray’s ankles and standing up again, lifting the shorter woman off the ground with amazing ease. “You should add something more to your arsenal Dare. This Capoeira gig isn’t getting it done any more.”

 

Daray grins at Riana’s words, then punches her in the calf, making her shift her weight. When Daray’s free leg snakes its way around Riana’s neck, catching the back of her knee at the nape of Riana’s neck, the elf actually looks a little surprised.

 

Daray then shifts to face away from Riana, grabs her ankle, and arches her back again, yanking Riana’s ankle up with her hand, while pulling her head down with her leg.

 

The pair of them land on the deck with a loud banging sound that echoes through the entire cargo hold. The noise has a distinctly metal sound to it, as if one of them is much heavier than they look, and possibly has metal bones.

 

Daray immediately launches into another back hand-spring, breaking loose from Riana’s grip and getting back to her feet. Riana only stays on the ground for an instant as well, kipping up to her feet and spinning around at the hips, launching a picture perfect reverse side kick at Daray’s chest.

 

Bending over backward to avoid the kick, Daray takes the opportunity to plant her hands again, and kick her feet up, aiming at Riana’s chin, but she is caught off guard as Riana’s kick spins the elf around full circle, dropping to a crouch and extending her other leg and sweeping Daray’s arms.

 

Daray grunts, taking the sweep in stride, and changing the direction of her arc of travel. She ends up spinning sideways instead of backwards, landing on one foot and carrying herself over into another sideways roll, mid-air, with both feet extended.

 

Riana stands up again, batting away Daray’s spinning kicks and stepping back into a fighting stance, hands raised and a mischievous grin on her face, as if she is truly enjoying herself all of a sudden.

 

“So you HAVE learned a few new tricks. Very impressive Dare!”

 

Daray catches her feet again, leaning down low with one hand on the ground and the other behind her. A predatory look washes over her face, her eyes taking on that same cloudy appearance that Lana has seen several times now. The claws in the fingertips of her raised hand are flexing in and out of their sheaths like a snake’s fangs preparing to strike. She growls in response to Riana’s compliment, then spins on her hand, kicking out with her feet.

 

Riana deflects the kick, followed by several more punches and kicks, moving in a tight circle as Daray spins and whirls around her, flinging her arms and legs out in what appear to be deadly accurate strikes that could take a normal person’s head off.

 

The dance they are engaged in continues to get more and more intricate, the pair winding their limbs around one another, tying their opponents up into positions that look as if they will end the dance, but they always seem to slide or roll out somehow, oft time reversing the lock-up, countering a throw with another throw, or a joint lock.

 

After about twenty minutes, Riana’s attitude seems to shift slightly as Daray’s attacks become more and more aggressive. Riana’s new tack is much more defensive, but also seems focused on wearing Daray out faster. At this point it is obvious that her skills really do exceed Daray’s as she begins to not just block her attacks, but actually intercept and redirect them.

 

Their energetic dance turns into a series of acrobatic kicks from Daray, followed by Daray’s body slamming into the ground, or a wall. She never stays on the ground long though, almost instantly spinning, hopping, or hand-springing onto her feet and launching back into the fray.

 

For her own part, Daray seems to become almost feral. Launching herself into the battle with no fear at all. She adapts quickly to Riana’s techniques, but her skills are obviously not quite up to the task of actually landing a blow on the elf. It’s difficult to tell if she’s still in control of herself, but the fact that her claws never seem to find flesh, it would seem that she is at least partially aware of her situation.

 

Finally, Riana appears to have had enough, or she is concerned about Daray’s mental state. She intercepts a spinning back-fist attack, grabbing Daray’s wrist and spinning her around. She twists the captured limb up behind her opponent, then catches the other arm as Daray tries to  attack her with it. This arm gets twisted around and locked up behind her as well and Riana slams her, face first into the side of the cargo hold, pinning her up against the wall. She offers Lana a fleeting glance and speaks very calmly and clearly. “Now I remember some of what happened. Lana, if I’m not too much mistaken, I think you may be able to help me out here…”

 

Vincent takes the opportunity, after cheering throughout the fight, but getting more and more concerned as it continued to look more serious, to gather up his gun belt and jacket (having already put his boots back on twenty minutes ago), and Riana’s things. “I think I can see where this is going to go. I’ll head up to the galley and get dinner started. Unless you need anything?” He eyes Lana for a moment. His look is completely non-judgmental. If anything, it is knowing, and maybe even hints at the fact that he could use the time for his own post-fight entertainment.

 

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