Chapter 3

It felt strange to be almost completely unarmed. Riana wandered through one of the massive promenades in Xaman-Otoch, the North Pole section of the Earth Ring Station, as she made her way toward Vincent’s apartment. Willhelmina had decided to go back to Tranquility on the moon rather than come with Riana. She wanted to see if she could reestablish some of her childhood friendships since Xavier had been kind enough to grant them both a week’s leave from duties. Riana had offered to fly her sister to Tranquility but Willhelmina had insisted that she use public transportation so that Riana could go straight to Earth Station. She had told her to maximize her time off since she had yet to really explore the world on her own.

She had stopped more than twenty times now in various shops and stores along the way from the Kestrel’s hangar on the ring. It seemed that the pay for being a courier for Solidarity Online was definitely something out of the ordinary.

She hadn’t really been watching her account but over the course of a couple of years she had managed to accumulate millions of credits, and this was the first opportunity she had actually had to spend any of it.

Thus far, she had acquired several new outfits, numerous pairs of shoes, various accessories in the form of necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and a myriad of decorative hair clips and fasteners. She hadn’t had so much fun shopping for clothes since her last big spree in the Rathalon Bazaar years ago, and worlds away, and her only wish was that her sister could be there to help her through the selection process.

Throughout the experience, she had to keep shifting her monowire sword around as she changed garments in order to keep the shopkeepers from noticing it. She wasn’t sure if it was the sort of thing that would cause her trouble or not but she saw no reason to take chances with it. Her day would have been much smoother if she had left it onboard the Kestrel, but the last time she had come to Earth Station she had ended up being chased halfway around

this promenade by a mass of armored soldiers with automatic weapons. She was not about to be caught unarmed on the off chance that someone recognized her.

Slowly, due to the numerous stops as opposed to any real traffic issues or obstructions, she made her way out of the promenade and into the housing area where Vincent lived. She hadn’t called him before coming to the station. Rather, she had used her connections through SO to verify that his ship, the Neophyte Serendipity, was

still secured in its berth and he had not left the station through any monitored points. This meant that she could be about ninety percent sure of the fact that he was here somewhere. At this point, she had but to find him.

Her last stop had been at a small grocery store where she picked up some fresh produce and some other essentials that she intended to use to reproduce one of the more interesting meals she had eaten while aboard The Tyconderoga. She had never actually prepared the dish before, but she had tasted the flavor and researched

the preparation of several varieties of the dish on the net. The computer imbedded in her skull insured that she recalled every step, ingredient, and flavor perfectly and she had no doubt at all that she would be able to replicate the dish.

Moments later she arrived at Vincent’s door, laden with the fruits of her afternoon shopping extravaganza. With no effort at all, she raised an arm-full of fully loaded bags and pressed the call button on Vincent’s door. The tone rang out clearly inside the apartment and almost immediately afterward she heard the sound of two people approaching the other side of the door.

The panel slid quietly into the wall and Riana’s heart leapt at the sight of Vincent standing in front of her. His long blond hair was pulled back into a lose tail at the nape of his neck and his tall, athletic body filled the doorway as he took an instant to recognize the person standing on the other side.

“Riana!” he shouted exuberantly, throwing his arms out wide and stepping into the hallway to embrace her.

She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him as tightly as she thought his body could handle, leaning into him heavily, and still managing to keep hold of all her shopping. When she placed her chin on his shoulder, she saw the other person standing behind him. She was a gorgeous, statuesque blonde woman, wearing a smart, classy outfit that revealed most of her lower legs, her arms up to the shoulders and just enough of her chest to provide a tantalizing view of her impressive cleavage. She stood there with one arm around her waist and the other holding the collar of her jacket that was tossed casually over her shoulder.

Riana’s heart sank. In a flash, she went from being elated to feeling like a bug crushed under someone’s heel. She shrunk out of Vincent’s embrace, ears drooping down low and shoulders sagging.

“Well I had better get going, Vin. I’ll see you next time I get leave,” the mystery woman said as she moved past Vincent, kissing him on the cheek as she slid by and then striding confidently down the hallway, calling over her shoulder, “Have fun hon.”

Riana narrowed her eyes at the woman’s back, her ears pointing back in annoyance and briefly, she considered what might happen if she were to lob one of the fresh melons she had purchased at the back of the woman’s head. Her line of thought was interrupted by Vincent’s voice.

“Ree? Are you alright?”Turning back toward him, her inexplicable malice toward the other woman softened a bit as she saw his concerned expression.

“Uh.” She glanced back down the hall in time to see the other woman turn a corner and disappear from sight. Turning back toward Vincent once more, she smiled somewhat weakly. “Yeah. I’ll be okay.”

Vincent made a strange face at her, then stepped aside and, placing one hand on her shoulder, made a grandiose movement with his other, inviting her into his home. “Please, come in. It’s certainly a surprise to see you here. A very welcome surprise I might add.”

She made her way into his living room and set her bags down on the coffee table. Turning around to face him, her ears and shoulders drooping almost comically. Finally her emotions got the better of her. “Vin, I’ll understand if you don’t… I mean, if you and I…”

Vincent looked at her quizzically for a moment before understanding finally spread across his face. “What? Her? Oh lord. Riana that was a client. She needs some cargo hauled out to Titan next week and was just here making arrangements for the pick-up and payment. You didn’t think that she and I…”

“No!” Riana almost shouted, suddenly feeling like she should be crawling under the couch. “That is I… Well I know I stopped by unannounced and all, but I thought… you know… I mean I know we aren’t like, married or anything, but I did think that we had something, and when I saw her I…”

Vincent cut her off with a wide grin on his face, “You thought she and I were what? Hooking up? Riana I would never do that to you.”

“Well I wouldn’t blame you, it isn’t as if I’m a regular girl.” She plopped down on the couch, which groaned loudly in protest of her deceptively heavy, cybernetic frame. Her dark purple hair cascaded around her shoulders, framing her face against the white wall behind her.

Vincent’s face clouded for a moment before turning into a warm smile. Slowly he moved to the couch and sat down next to her, taking her hand in his and squeezing it tightly. “Riana, I would never do anything to hurt you. I know we haven’t had as much time together as we would like, but I have not been with anyone else since we first met in Kalijor, and I would not,” he paused for a moment to emphasize his point, “be, with anyone else as long as we are seeing each other.”

Riana squeezed his hand in response and smiled weakly. “Thank you. I’m sorry I just…”

Vincent stopped her by shaking his head. “Don’t apologize Riana. These feelings are normal. Your origins may be a bit irregular, but your reaction is as human as it could possibly be.”

Riana leaned into him, wrapping her arms around him once more. “Thank you Vincent.”

“Think nothing of it. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of this surprise visit?”

Her mood brightened instantly as she sat up straight, beaming at him happily. “I got some time off to come and see my… that is, to see Resonance. I thought I could come see you while I was here. I went shopping and found all of this great stuff, and I even bought some things to make dinner with.”

She was up rummaging through her bags happily, offering him brief glimpses of several different articles of clothing and other trinkets. Finally she held up a dead chicken by its legs and grinned broadly at Vincent. “That is, if you aren’t doing anything. I don’t want to intrude. I mean, I kind of do want to intrude, but not really if you have something else going on. Is there a place nearby that I can stay for the week?”

Vincent laughed as she continued rambling on and rummaging through her bags. Finally, he stood up, took the chicken from her, and made his way to the kitchen with it. Setting it gently in the sink, he turned back to her. “It’s okay Riana. You can stay here with me, and I am excited that you are here. You are welcome in my home any time.”

He made his way back to her as he spoke, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her athletic form up against his. Looking down into her violet eyes as he moved closer and closer to her lips, he spoke softly. “Of course, I will be a perfect gentleman. I have a spare bedroom you can use.”

Riana’s eyes glinted as he drew closer to her. She felt a strange, tingling rush run through her body as his breath washed across her lips. “And who said I want to room with a gentleman?”

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