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Dai O'Dell: "Don't Fear the Shadows" Chapter 05

From Our 'Verse

Dai O'Dell
Don't Fear the Shadows
Daijha
previous Chapter 5 – Time 

© 2016, Daijha Ravenblood   All Rights Reserved.

Little Things

Chapter 5 – Time

Dai stood there, hunched over, hands on her knees trying to get her breath.  She had not gotten that far on that song in quite a while.  She might be getting in shape, but still had work to do.  Her right knee throbbed in time to her rapid pulse. Oops. Maybe that had been too much work for her new knee.  She would ice it before she got down to work tonight.

Tommy grabbed for her arm almost throwing her off balance.  "After that, we need a drink."  Without waiting for her consent he drug her towards the side of the crowded, noisy bar over by the door. 

Dai contemplated just yanking her arm away but found she did not want to make a scene.  She was parched, and a near-beer would not be a bad option now.  He would let go to get his drink. And besides she was in a room full of new friends.

As they reached the bar, his arm went around her shoulder and he nuzzled her neck.  His breath reeked of too much booze.   She silently swore because she had been too wrapped up in wanting to dance to even notice. 

Well, that proved she still had a long road of study ahead of her.  Awareness had to be automatic.  No time off allowed.  Hank would lecture her tonight.  She knew the words by heart, but she should expect them until certain reactions were automatic.

She was still gulping air to get her breath.  She changed tactics to slower longer breaths letting calm clarity replace the exhaustion.  She felt her awareness widening with each breath.

First fact.  The bartenders were busy filling orders with the main part of the long bar.

Second fact.  Tommy's arm had actually tightened.  He was wedging his body far too close for anything polite.

Third fact. Another man, not quite as tall as Tommy had slid in next to them so she was solidly between the two.  His breath was even worse and his eyes had picked up that unfocused quality of someone past his limits.

She felt familiar fear well up.

Oh, this was just ridiculous! 

She did not need to turn into jelly.  She pushed back memories of the threats with the Fix-it Circus.  Tommy was just a grabby lug and his friend, too drunk to be any kind of a threat. 

If she started running cargo she would need to handle much more than this.  This was just a little thing.  She could step away at any time.  The trick, do it without muss or fuss.  After all, she was Captain Dai, free merchant, cargo hauler.  Time she acted like it.  Or, as Hank said, fake it.

So, defuse and distract. 

How?

Drinks first.  Another shot would not hurt her, but she would keep it to one. 

A harried bartender finally came for their order.  True to form Tommy did not ask and just ordered a bottle and glasses.  Dai removed her last coin to pay for herself, not wanting any assumed entanglements.  Tommy put his hand on hers and put the hand back in her pocket.

The two men downed their shots right off.  Dai just touched her glass to her lips.

"Drink up, Kay." He admonished still getting her name wrong.

"A lady sips.  This is strong for me," she lied.

The men babbled back and forth with a drunken comradey of a long term friendship not paying attention to what she drank.  They complained about everything rather good naturedly. In that babble she learned that even though they both were currently wearing Blue Sun jumpsuits, they were actually employed by something they called G Corp and worked on one of the Ariel moons.  Dai guessed it was Ariopolis since it was a restricted manufacturing moon.  They might be drunk, but they were in control enough that they never named it exactly or the product.

They had been brought in to work on Persephone just this last week. Both were impressed that they were supervising others.  Repacking of some sort that auto-packers could not handle.  Again, they were vague.  In this they actually took delight in being in the know.  Something dangerous, and it was the local workers, not themselves in danger.  Some how. His friend muttered something about his own immunity that caused Tommy to start another swearing streak. 

The week had been nothing but them work long shifts in the Blue Sun warehouses then evenings sampling the bars and whore houses of the Eavesdown Docks.  Neither seems to approve of the "better" manners of the docks proper.  Given the bad rep that Eavesdown had, that was an amazing concept.  

From their chatter, their world revolved around a company town environment.   The corporation provided for their workers needs rather liberally and they were used to taking, not limits.  Dai felt a bit of sympathy for folks so locked down, but only a little and that certainly did not expended to the control they were trying to exercise over her right now. 

The sad part was, since they were used to paying, any of Maisie's girls would sit and talk with them and let them pour drinks as long as their money held out and they kept buying their time with the bar's little time stars.  But they felt the need to bully.  And they were not interesting in talking to her either.  Right now, it was drink, brag to themselves and sandwich her in between their bodies.

 Dai felt annoyance grow within her.  This was just stupid.  The irritation pushed the fear down. Right now she was more concerned with the prospect of looking weak to the people within the bar that the jollies these two mooks got from siding up against her.

Focus.

And breathe.  

Look for just that right moment to break their lock and swing towards the main bar.

Simple.

Yes.

Prove she could stand on her own.  It might sound silly to a stranger, but she needed to prove it to herself, even more than to anyone else.  She was on a new path, a better path, and too stubborn to give in now.

Tommy shifted his footing slightly. Dai shifted to duck under his arm and break.

Suddenly a hand clammed painfully onto her left shoulder and she felt a sharp prick at her other kidney.

"Thinking of leaving us, girl?  We have some great ideas for a party."  Suddenly he did not sound half so drunk.

The old panic froze Dai.  Breathing was not even an option right now as her mind flashed back to her rough handling at the Fix-it Circus.

She just needed to shout, anything.  Her ballistic vest should protect her unless his blade was really sharp.  Shouldn't it?

Her throat closed as her mind betrayed her.  She was back in her tiny cell, lights too bright even with her eyes closed.  The hand grasping her shoulder was another, bigger, meaner. His hand had been strong enough to crack her bones.  She felt the phantom pain return.  She started to shake.  Back to a little mouse in the trap.

A breath finely tore from her lungs. The bar snapped back into focus.

One gasp. 

She used that moment for control.  Slowly she exhaled.

The next breath in was slow.  Then she lost control again, fighting shadows.

This was exactly why Hank had been training her the way he had.  This was where she had to reclaim herself.

"We're gona to head out slowly now, girl."

"Not interested."

The knife pricked again.  "We're gona to have some fun."

"Staying.  Have friends here."  She fought to keep the words even.

"Don't see anyone paying ya any kind of attention. You came to me for a dance.  I paid for ya."

"You want to play.  Go see the girls at Cherie's.  There's a flyer behind you, out on the board by the door."

His friend giggled far into his drink.  "We've done been banned from that whore house the first night. Then the others. So we're finding we like strays just fine."

"Not… a… stray."  Dai did not know why it was so important to state that. Suddenly that little wreck of a ship was important to her.  It was her tomorrow.  She had a place.

She had to concentrate.  To breathe. 

Just breathe. 

Slow. 

Even. 

Think.

Push the past down.

This was all happening so fast.  No one at the bar looked towards them.  She was alone in a sea of people. In fact, the crowd almost still.

She did have the skills.  She had had some fight training, some decent, very expensive training.  It was not what she needed here.  Her grandfather had paid to have her train with a security team.  There her goal was to follow the team's orders.  To stand where they wanted, to freeze when they wanted so she did not get in the way of "her" rescue.  She had had a few motions drilled into her muscle memory.  They were all break-aways, violent, and some deadly. Then she had been expected to just stay out of the way – the victim waiting for rescue.  Hank found the whole thing annoying, and totally incomplete because she knew no follow thru.  He had been trying to train them out of her.  He believed in the right amount of violence.  Death only when necessary.  That was just the opposite of her grandfather's philosophy.  He liked fear.  The old man discarded what got in his way.

Her shaking subsided.  Well, at least a little.

Options to break-away? She was too close to the bar to use her lower center of gravely to flip him anywhere. 

She looked toward the bar men again.  They had that same stillness as before.  Her reality was bending.  They were not in freeze frame, but almost.  As she slowed and evened her breathing she could see one reach out for a bottle, another for a glass.  Neither was turning towards her.  And, they moved as in heavy fluid.

She could not see Tommy only feel his grip.  Dwelling on the grip threatened to push her back to the circus.  She snapped her mind shut on that.  This time she succeeded. 

She could see his friend out of the corner of her eye.  He was raising his glass to his lips… oh so very slowly.  She could see a bead of liquor slosh over edge.  Then the golden drop did appear to freeze.  Dai just stared.  Almost imperceptibly the bead formed into a droplet on the far side of the lip, even slower than before.  Gravity formed the shape but it seemed to deny that force as it clung to the side of the glass.

Everything else was now just as slow.  Even the piano music had stretched into a wail of a long sustained note.

Dai snapped her focus back, again. 

Options.  They had work boots with steel toes.  She could not rake down their shin and/or expect to destroy the top of their foot.  This tight to the bar, Tommy's jewels were safe from a jab.  However, the though brought a slight smile.

With this odd time warp she considered going for her weapons.  Her knives would be messy.  She was not angled right to get at Tommy, only the friend.  And, he was so far in drink he was not the same level of threat, just an unstable bulk in her way.  

Gun?  She was not much of a quick draw.  Her right shoulder was being pushed down by Tommy.  Even if she could clear her hostler, and avoid the tangle of her coat, it would be a wild shot and surely would trigger him to stab.

Think!

She glanced back at the glass.  The drop had traveled only half way down.

What other way could she take advance of the time distortion?

Examine everything.

The pressure on her shoulder was pulling her back.

Had Tommy moved at all???

Yes.

His balance was shifting, too.  If time had been moving normally he would be pulling her back, spinning her around intent to shove her out the door before anyone noticed.  However, right now there was just that small crack between the two men's bulk.

Dai watched the drop on the glass just slide off the bottom and begin its leisurely fall towards the bar.  The drink itself was still on the way to the friend's lips.

She sorted through more options from her training. 

No.  No. And, no.

She so wanted to ask Hank's advice.  However, he was across the bar somewhere, out of line-of-site.  She smiled for a moment just thinking of the games this afternoon.  Then of other games.  His slow lazy voice joking talking of fools moves, of taking the easiest path, of using little things to the greater benefit.  She calmed farther as oh so slowly the distance between the two men's shoulders opened.

What would this time difference do if she moved at her full speed while they stayed slow?  A little motion would have great momentum.  It would be like motions in zero-g. Push off hard and everything would spin and bounce.  Energy magnified.

OK.  One more deep breath and hold. 

Reach deep for total clear focus.

At that moment the drop hit the bar.  The piano changed notes. Dai dipped slightly and Tommy's hand automatically followed her down.  She spun though the crack between the men, her fist solidly landing in the friend's stomach.  In the background she heard an odd ripping.  Her coat?  His knife?  She was spinning the opposite way.  That did not matter now.  True to plan, her spin not only turned Tommy but brought her behind him with his grip on her bringing his arm behind him.  His hand loosened and parted from her shoulder.  She reached for his thumb.

There was a thud somewhere.  The knife had encountered something, but not her.

She braced her feet and stopped the motion of the spin.  Tommy now faced the door.  She was behind him.  His right arm was twisted up behind him, tight.  She gripped him thumb and practically pulled his arm up to his neck and his shoulder almost out of his socket.  She had total control.

Time still crept, but she could now make out separate musical notes at the speed of a dirge.

Tommy's friend was just raising his head up.  The "oof" from her punch had sent his head into the bar.  As time started to revert, blood started flowing from his broken nose.

Dai twisted Tommy's thumb, and therefore arm, even impossibly higher.  He yelped as she propelled him towards the saloon door.  At the door she released his arm and pushed.  " {translation| Goù huāngtáng. | Enough of this nonsense }}!" For good measure she finished with a precision kick smack on his butt and sent him sprawling face first into the street.

Taking advantage of the last of the time slip she moved back to the bar and grabbed his friend by the collar.  She could see the bartenders and a bouncer start to react.  Her eyes just locked for a second with Jack's one eye.  She yanked the friend around and propelled him through the door unceremoniously, but without the flourish of the kick. He staggered out tripping over Tommy. Their swearing was unimaginative.

The piano, and time, snapped back to regular tempo.  Froze again for a moment.  Then sped back up in fits and starts until the piano sounded normal again.

A bouncer moved towards the door.  Those two would not be coming back in.

Jack pushed through his workers behind the bar to get to her edge.  He stood there waiting for her to return.

He reached across the bar to her side and yanked a large, wickedly sharp knife out of the edge of the bar.  He examined the knife for a moment.  No blood.  He frowned as he examined his precious redwood bar.  His bar rag reached to wiped the spot as if he could remove the deep nick then his dark eye focused directly on her.

She gave in to the trembling, finally remembering to breathe again.

"Thanks for ejecting the Qing wa cao de liu mang trash."  His voice was flat but there was just a slight upwards break on his lips as he tried to stay serious.  He reversed the knife so the handle faced her and he laid the blade across his other arm ceremonially presenting the knife towards her.  "Souvenir?"

She shook her head, not yet trusting her voice.

The knife disappeared under the bar.  He pulled out a shot glass while reaching behind him for a bottle that a bartender slapped into his hand.  He poured a double and shoved it at her.  "Drink."  That was an order that could not be refused.

Dai forced her shaking hand out towards the glass.

No.  She would not shake. 

As the glass moved towards her lips she took a whiff. That was not his regular stock.  She gulped half of it anyway.  Felt it warmly slide down her throat.  It hit her stomach with a magical glow.  Wow.  That was the black-label gold.  Some of the tension eased immediately.

Jack continued to stare, assessing her now.  Concerned.

She sipped the rest slowly, appreciating the high end vintage now.  Every breath bringing control, and reality, back.

Eyes throughout the bar looked at her now.  They reappraised.  They did not know quite what had happened, but they knew she had handled the trouble like a pro.  She had done what she needed to do.  Done it right.  Controlled her destiny with just those moves, picking the most minor way.  Just little things, but just the right things.