Sunset Adventures

Annick sat on the lion, pointing her spear at his throat. She felt alive. Next to her she could feel Kinar, tensed to the maximum. If the lion suddenly jumped he would be the one protecting her. Annick smiled. Not that she didn't trust Kinar, but he was such a small boy. He couldn't be any older than 17 and he was shorter than her. He was pale, what made him look ill and it clearly showed he didn't go out much. This Sunset Adventure Cruise was probably his first vacation in years.
"Everything ok?" she asked him.
"No, what if he attacks?" he asked, his voice a bit trembling.
"Don't worry, I won't let him go." she smiled to reasure him.
Annick herself was tall, tanned and perfectly built. At least she was at this point in time. The trick was knowing how to change to get the most out of the Cruise. In real life she was rather chubby, of medium height with short black hair. She in fact didn't go out much either, but every year she took one of the Sunset Adventures Cruises. Last year she had gone surfing on hawaii.
"Have you ever tried Sunset Adventures before?" she asked Kinar.
"Eh, no." he said.
"Don't worry, nothing can happen to you." she said, releasing the lion.
The lion roared and jumped in front of Kinar. The boy screamed and started running. The lion, 5 gigabites of pure compressed data lunged after him and waved his paw. He suddenly became transparent and a twip alerted both Annick and Kinar that their African adventure had ended.
When Annick took of her virtu-screen she saw Kinar trembling in the seat just across her. He clearly was angry about the stunt she had pulled.
"Don't be mad, I was just showing you nothing could happen. That's the first thing you have to realise and then you can change reality itself. Like I change my appearance." she said.
"Well, maybe I'm happy with my appearance." Kinar replied.
"You can't be! You're way to skinny and you look like a corpse." she said.
"Are you always this blunt?" he asked, "People don't like it."
"Hey, it's all I have. Seriously, do you think people like looking at me? I'm fat, short and my face looks like someone threw it together without reading the manual!"
"But why pick on me?" Kinar wanted to know, "I never hurt you."
Annick turned away. She had tried to protect him from the hurt appearance could cause you. Every year she took this trip and changed her looks in another way. once she had been blond, once she had been a mermaid, once she had even been a tiger. It didn't matter here at Sunset. You could be all you wanted. In the real world people wouldn't give her a second look. All the talk about the inner being important was just  so ugly people wouldn't feel bad. Inner beauty meant squat in real life. Only here could she become who she felt she was.
"Kinar! Wait." she said and got up as he got back, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean too."
Kinar stood silent, he waited for her to make more apologies.
"You're not ugly and I just said those things because I'm insecure about myself. Ok?"
Kinar nodded.
"Want to try again tomorrow?" she asked.
"ok." he said.
After Annick had left he sighed. When would this torment be over? Go to Sunset! His friends had said. No dangers and guaranteed fun. None of them had tried it of course, they all liked beach vacations, laying on the hot sand, impressing chicks with their bodies. Kinar looked down. He was skinny and pale. But he had never had problems with it until now. Tomorrow he wouldn't let Annick call the shots. No, he would decide where they would go, and he would decide how they looked. He had never been more certain in his life about anything before. He had always been kind of a doubter, he'd rather wait than act. He'd have to change to be able to stand up to Annick. Why in the name of all that was up there would Sunset Adventures pair up people for the whole of the two weeks they payed? And did it happen randomly or did some sadist little man chose who teamed up? He had gotten nothing but trouble with Annick. All she wanted to do was scare him or insult him. Thoughts kept running through his head and it wasn't easy to find his room. The complex they were in looked like one of those old Cruiseships. All the decks looked the same and all the rooms were small. He would never ever take another vacation like this. And when he got home he would have to have a serious talk with his friends...

"Hello!" Annick yelled, "Are you ready to go on surfing?"
"No, today we are going to do what I want." he said.
"But..." Annick started.
"No, you owe me this much. Today we will go as ourselves, so no changeing appearance. I want to look at you and recognise you, not wait until you think it's time to tell me in some weird way. And we're going to this one planet I read about. It's supposed to be calm and secluded. I'd like to sit in the sun for a while, maybe swim. That's all, is that too much to ask?" by the end of the sentence he was yelling.
"ok." Annick said.
Kinar was pleased to see she didn't dare look him in the eyes. Today would be his. He relaxed. Kinar went to the board and quickly paged through the manual. He was used to working with computers, this was nothing he couldn't handle. He looked at the panel, punched in the number of the cruise he had picked and hit a few buttons that he thought would be the ones used.
"k, put on your virtu-screen." he told Annick.
When they both had their screen secured he pushed the last button, the blue one and waited for the screen to take him into the cruise. But that didn't happen. In stead they rushed forward beneath the stars, ever further from the room they had been in.
"Kinar?" he heard Annick shouting.
"I'm here!" he said, "What's happening?"
"I don't know, this isn't right." her voice sounded afraid, "We have to get out of here!"
Suddenly Annick drifted in his view, she was twisting and hitting the sides of what seemed to be a tunnel. It was rather dark so he couldn't quite make out what she was doing. Somehow everytime she hit the tunnel a rumble went through it.
"I don't think we should do that!" he said, trying to warn Annick, but it was too late. The tunnel ruptured and they were hurled out.
Kinar ripped of his virtu-screen, but he kept seeing the green pastures he had seen when he entered this place. Something had gone wrong. Probably because he had punched in the wrong buttons. He could hit himself.
"Where are we?" Annick asked.
Kinar saw that her virtu-screen was nowhere in sight, she had ripped it of in the tunnel and dropped it. Maybe that was why she had panicked, her old trick hadn't worked and he was pretty sure they could get hurt in this world.
"We can't stay here, "he said, feeling guilty, "I think we better go to that town in the distance."
Kinar got up and started walking. He looked back and saw Annick was following him. She was very different in her real appearance. So odd. He didn't know why she would want to change in a virtual reality. If she wasn't happy with herself she should just change how she acted or looked, there were sollutions. They weren't living in the 20th Century anymore.
Closer to the town they noticed a big green creature flying through the sky. Annick yelled out in terror while Kinar could only stare at the might of the beast. He looked at Annick and grabbed her hand so she couldn't run.
"There wouldn't be humans here if they were dangerous." he said.
His hand grabbing hers seemed to calm her down a bit. He almost wished the other Annick was here. She would have loved this new adventure. But apparently the real Annick was just a lot of talk and little dare. He couldn't refrain himself from shaking her and yelling right into her face what he thought about her.
"Where's your big mouth now, huh? You're always acting tough, but you are just a weeping little girl. Pull yourself together! If you were half the woman you dream to be men would find you a lot more attractive!" There he'd said it.
Annick started to cry, but soon regained her dignity. She dried up her tears and looked him in the eyes.
"How do you like it?" he asked.
"I don't..." she said.
At that moment the green creature landed. lizard-like, winged and big it could only be one thing. A dragon.
"Everything ok?" a man on the back of the dragon yelled.
"Yes!" Kinar shouted back, "We're kind of lost, can you tell us where we are?3
"Seiryuu Weyr on Pern." he said and smiled at Annick.
"Is that really a dragon?" she asked.
"Yes. This is Green Trith. Dragons are quite common, in fact we are looking for candidates to impress hatchlings right now. Trith has a knack of spotting likely candidates."
Annick took some time to look at the dragon, thinking about what had happened and what Kinar had said while Kinar and the other man were talking. Maybe she should change.
"I'm sure you are fine the way you are." a voice said.
Annick looked up, there wasn't another person around. The voice had been female, but only Kinar and that dragonrider were here.
"You forget me. Look, I'm standing right in front of you."
The green dragon? Could it be?
"Yes. Dragons really don't mind appearance... They do go for inner beauty. Although you have been a bit frustrated and mean at times. But dragons are forgiving. Would you like to try?"
"oh yes!" Annick shouted.
"What?" Kinar asked.
"Go with Trith." she said.
"To do what?"
"Impress a dragon." her face lit up and her eyes were brighter than they had ever been in Sunset Adventures. Kinar shrugged.
"I better go with you. If you can impress one, I can too." he said, looking at the dragonrider, who nodded.
"Back to the Weyr, it is."

It was a beautiful sunset at Seiryuu when the first singing of the parents of the Weyr's second clutch was heard. Kinar raced to the sands, followed slower by Annick who didn't believe in running. They took a place in the second row of candidates in front of the clutch' parents. When the person next to Annick moved back, she started too, only to stand firm and take a few steps back to the front when she noticed Kinar remaining where he was. If he stood there, she would rather be struck by lightning than back away.
When all the candidates were in and looked at by the parents the eggs started hatching, and one by one the hatchlings found their riders. Some commotion was caused by an odd-looking green who crawled out of her egg and calmly started moving around, her eyes set on Annick.
"You're for me!" she called to the young heavyset woman.
Annick was kind of dazed. Did she really hear that? Did she get the words right? "Me?" she asked, looking at Kinar for some confirmation, but her companion hadn't heard a thing.
"Yes you, I am Darainth and you are my rider."
"If you say so." Annick grinned.
A few more dragons had hatched, among them another twilight-coloured that had raised whispers all over the benches, when a clear blue hatched who went straight to Kinar.
"Are you ok?" he asked.
"Yes... I think so... now." Kinar answered.
"Ah... You were just scared I wasn't coming." the blue said knowingly.
"Yeah." Kinar said, still a bit baffled, only able to smile goofy and rub the blue's head.
"I'm Troponith and I would have been here sooner, K'ir. But it is harder to break out of those things as you'd think."
"I'll bet. Let's get you fed."

Dusky Green Darainth                              Blue Troponith

"You seem to have made a 180." Kinar told Annick.
"You've improved yourself." Annick added, "But it is true, I never would have thought I'd go swimming in a bikini no less. Dragon Training should be used more to lose weight.
'You didn't need to lose much anyway." Kinar grinned, "And I remember you complaining every minute of the time you spent doing chores."
"I remember it too." Darainth added pointedly.
"Know-it-all!" Annick called and swished the air with her hands in the general directions of her dragon.
Kinar laughed and dove, swimming a few yards under the water until he felt a familiar form rise up beneath him. Within seconds he was clinging on for dear life - which was hard on a wet scaly hide of a bathing dragon.
"I think you've gotten a lot healthier too." Troponith remarked.
"He has, hasn't he?" Annick said.
She didn't waste time letting her eyes glide over Kinar's now tanned skin. Though not very pronounced she could trace some developing muscles beneath the surface. His attitude had loosened up considerably too.
Kinar splashed her in the face and asked: "Were you thinking of home?"
"Home?" Annick asked, "No way. I'm on vacation."
"A permanent Sunset Adventures cruise." Kinar joked.
"The ONLY way to travel."

Kinar kissed Annick, feeling less embarrassed every time that he needed to stand on his toes to avoid her having to tip her neck down. He let his hands run through her black hair and gently pressed her back, causing her to shiver and lean into him.
"Wait for the flight!" Troponith called.
"No consuming before you've moved in together!" Darainth added.
"What are you? Parents from the stone age time?" Kinar asked.
"A kiss doesn't hurt, does it?" Annick asked.
"He was definitely going to take it further than a kiss." Troponith boldly said.
"You were too." Darainth chided Annick.
"Maybe we should elope." Kinar sighed.
"Only three more days before we move in together and they have their flight." Annick smiled.
"That doesn't sound long, but some parts of me whisper that it will be an eternity of suffering." Kinar sighed and turned to the doorway, "Hey you two, where are you?"
"Sunning Spot." Troponith said.
A grin appeared on Kinar's face. "Too far away to stop us you mean."
Laughing he pulled Annick away and the two of them ran off like children caught stealing candy. Hiding they only noticed through their linked sensations that not much later a dusky green female swooped up in the air, chased by a series of blues and browns, lead by a very determined, very needy Troponith

Lantessama Isle
Annick and Kinar impressed at Seiryuu Weyr