by Michael Surbrook and Mathieu Roy

"So, Johnny, what is it you so wanted to show me?" asked Raven. She had her sports bag over her shoulder, as she was just about to meet Shion again in the gym. But her friend had wanted to show her something, and she'd agreed to meet him beforehand.

"Look at that," said Johnny, in awe, waving towards the car in the repair bay. It was a low-slung, gleaming sports car in immaculate white. The hood was open, revealing the massive V-12 engine, impressive even to one who did not know the first thing about car mechanics. Even standing still with the hood up the car looked like it was speeding. The black leather interior was spacious and comfortable, complete with such luxuries as a car phone, internal computer and wet bar. "Behold the Mercedes-Benz 2028s. The car to end all cars."

"Nice, isn't it?" Raven said casually, earning a double-take from Johnny. She giggled. "I've ridden into it."

"What? You lucky chick!" He bent lovingly over the engine. "How come you get all the breaks, anyway? How did you get to ride in that?"

"It's Shion's car. She drove us from the airport."

Johnny looked up. He seemed paler all of a sudden. "Shion?"

"Shion Nys. I think they call her 'the Empress'."

"Shit..." The mechanic was as pale as the car. "So the rumors are true? She's here?"

"Yeah, she is." Raven shrugged. "What's the big deal, anyway? She ain't gonna kill you for looking at her car."

"With her, you never know." He shuddered. "She's the most cold-hearted killer out there, and she's got the PK power to back it up. I'd rather meet Ran than her."

"I dunno, Johnny. She's been pretty nice to me."

"I guess she's paid to be, Raven." He looked longingly at the car. "I was hoping to tune that baby up, but I'm certainly not going to the Empress and ask, 'Hey, can I play with your car?'"

Raven sighed. "I'd better go and meet her."

"You do that..."

Changed into her gi and hakama, Raven approached the door to the gym. To her surprise, Shion was there already, and she wasn't alone. Another female voice Raven couldn't recognize was talking. "Bored, bored, bored."

"Be quiet. You have nothing to be bored of." That was Shion. But it sounded a lot less imperial than what Raven was used to.

"Christ, Shee, it's what? 10 in the morning? Back home I could be in bed with Ling Ling, gettin' some!"

Sex at 10 in the morning? Not an early riser I guess, Raven thought.

Shion went on. "Is sex all you think about?"

"No... there's money..."

Raven heard a sigh, then a snicker.

"By the way, little sister, I don't recommend trying your tricks on Raven... she won't fall for them."

Tricks? Raven thought. What kind of tricks?

"Aww..." Raven could envision the stranger's pout. "I saw her picture, she's just my type."

Just her type? Intrigued, Raven stepped inside and looked at the scene. Shion, dressed in hakama and gi, was sitting on the floor in typical martial arts rest pose—at least, what Raven figured to be a typical martial arts rest pose. Across the floor, with her legs propped up on a pile of mats and pads was a short woman—at best she was Raven's height. She had long black hair (much like mine, Raven thought idly), which was held out of her face by a headband. She was dressed all in black and looked straight out of a kung fu sim, complete with white socks and slippers. She was laying on her back, looking at the ceiling with her hands behind her head.

"Hmm, good day," said Raven.

"Raven, this is Marta Nys," Shion introduced the stranger.

"Your sister?" Raven bowed to Marta. "It's a pleasure."

"Pleasure is all mine."

All of a sudden, Raven felt naked—small wonder, since Marta was visibly undressing her with her eyes. That wasn't something she barely starting to get used to... when coming from a man, which Marta was definitely and obviously not. Confused, with absolutely no idea how to react, Raven just stared at Marta staring at her while the silence stretched.

"Enough." Shion's voice sharply cut through the mental haze. "We have work to do."

"Yes. Of course." Raven quickly turned to Shion, her expression almost grateful. "What's the plan for today?"

"Movement." Shion gestured at the center of the room. "Speed is mainly a matter of muscle memory. The less you need to think about an action, the faster that action becomes. So if we can get you comfortable with moving, you won't have to think about it as much and will be able to pay attention to the truly important elements."

"That," Raven said, "would be great." She was suddenly very eager to get started.

"So," Shion went on, "I am going to have Marta run you a variety of drills. Tumbling, falling, throws, stretching... drills that will force you to move quickly and without time to think, just act."

"Sorta like physiotherapy on steroids?" Raven offered.

Shion pointed ignored the comment, while Marta snickered quietly. "You will probably fall a lot at first, but the pain will be worth the final result."

"Don't worry about that," Raven said, remembering her excruciating attempts to stand and walk, back before she was cured. "Pain and I are old acquaintances. What's a bit more for that kind of return?" This time it might actually work!

"And," Marta chimed in, "if you fall right, it won't hurt at all." She rolled backwards from where she lay on the floor, coming to her feet in a move that reminded Raven of watching a stream of water. It wasn't smooth, it was... fluid.

Again, Raven found herself staring at Marta, this time in amazement. "Whoa... How'd you do that?"

Not bothering to answer, Marta leaned back... way back, until she was gripping her ankles in her hands. "Modern medicine," she stated with a laugh, "it can work wonders."

Oh, don't I know that, Raven thought. Then she realized what Marta was doing. "Wow. That looks painful."

"Not if you're joints have been rebuilt properly. Besides, I've always been able to do shit like this." Turning the bizarre example of flexibility into a handstand, Marta then flipped to her feet. "Of course," she continued, "I'll have to go easy on you during training. If I really hurt you, my big sister is going to kick my ass, so I'll be nice."

"Uh, thanks." Raven looked at Shion. "I guess tumbling drills and broken bones don't mix."

"Don't worry, mine don't break," Marta grinned.

"Sure, but I meant mine. Never mind."

Shion scowled at her sister, "Will you get started?"

Eager and a bit apprehensive, Raven looked expectantly at Marta for instructions.

Marta grinned, and dropped into a combat stance. "Let's dance."

"Time to get my ass whipped again?" Raven took a half-step back and lifted her guard. At least, she seems to have given up on the staring for now. I'm glad Shion's still in the room, though. She circled a bit. "No teeking, right?" Marta just quirked an eyebrow, and Raven glanced at Shion. "Just checking." The wizzer decided to stick with hand strikes; there was no way she could land a kick on Marta with the speed she'd shown, even if she managed to pull one off without falling.

Snap punch, hook, jab... After a few tries, Raven realized that punching was pretty much a lost cause too. Marta blocked each and every one of her attempts with contemptuous ease. Each of the blocks jarred Raven, so much that she was literally hurting herself more than her opponent.

She tried for a one-two combination that Marta easily blocked, but she knew it would shift her balance... She tried for a sweeping kick. Marta, however, was fast enough to simply bring her weight back on the leg Raven was aiming for, foiling the sweep handily. Raven's foot smacked in her ankle, and the teek hissed in pain. It'd have hurt less to kick the concrete pillar, she thought ruefully.

She returned to hand strikes. She figured she'd never land a hit on Marta, but she doubted that was the goal of the exercise. Left, right, and a left hook... Marta caught her fist in mid-swing. "It's time to stop," she said.

"Looks like I have quite a bit of learning to do," Raven said.

"Enh," Marta shrugged, "You'll learn." Dropping the other woman's hand, she then slid to the floor. "All right, you have some training - looks like Tae Kwon Do - so I need to know: has you teacher done anything with stretching?"

"A bit—warm-up exercises mostly. We just started out." She chuckled. "Nothing like bending over backwards!"

"Alright, then I want you to do what I do... and stop laughing, I'll stick to normal body movements!"

Marta led Raven in a series of stretching routines that seemed to take forever; much longer, at any rate, than what her first teacher had taught the beginning-level class she'd been in. Behind her Shion was doing pretty much the same thing. To her slight surprise, Raven was doing pretty well; none of the exercises involved any fancy balancing, and while some of the more extreme stretches were a bit painful, her body appeared to have pretty good natural flexibility.

"Do these every morning, especially before you do any exercising or any martial arts training. Me? I like to do this before I go to bed." Marta grinned as she spoke.

"Uh. I guess you could call that exercising." Raven saw Marta's grin widen, and she squirmed a bit.

Hopping to her feet, the black-garbed woman extended a hand to Raven.

"All warmed up?"

"I guess so."

"Good. It's time to fall."

"No," Shion corrected, it is time for her to learn how to fall." Turning to Raven, Shion continued to speak. "Tae Kwon Do concentrates and hand and foot techniques, while Aikido deals more with throws, sweeps and the like. So, I'm going to show you how to fall."

Raven nodded. "You know, I'm not married to the style—if you think I should change, I'm all willing. God knows I don't know much of it yet."

"The basics are fairly simple," Shion explained. "Roll with the ground, and slap the mat when you impact."

She demonstrated by letting herself fall forward, then roling along her arm and whacking the mat when she hit the ground. "If the ground vibrates when you strike it you won't get hurt."

She had Marta throw her repeatedly, to show how to break a fall in a real situation. Both sisters gave an alternating, running commentary of Shion's falling technique. Then they traded, since Raven's frame was more like Marta's than Shion's. Raven was impressed—she didn't know the laws of physics would allow someone to perform a throw so slowly and gained new respect for the Nys sisters' strength, which apparently matched their speed.

"Your turn," Marta said.

Marta started throwing Raven to the ground. The teek soon learned Marta meant her comment about not getting her hurt seriously. Shion's sister would often hold Raven a fraction of an inch off the ground if she truly fumbled her breakfall attempt, usually with one hand and in a awkward position. On the other hand, if she had it almost but not quite right, she'd let Raven take her licks. The pain was a pretty good incentive to learn fast.

Raven was starting to feel like she was getting the hang of this, when Marta performed a perfect-technique hip throw on her—except that she didn't let go of her gi. The garment opened broadly, exposing Raven's breasts; Marta gave them an appraising look, and whistled appreciatively. Raven felt her cheeks grow hot.

With the glare Shion hurled at her sister, Raven was surprised Marta wasn't going to be hauled off in a box. "Perhaps I should have asked Ling Ling to do this."

Still flushed, Raven looked up at Marta. Slowly, the mats around her began sliding away by themselves. A rack of practice weapons began rattling. She swallowed. "Uhm, can I...can I get my shirt back?"

"Hmm? Oh yea, sorry," Marta said in a very unconvincing manner.

Raven yanked the shirt from Marta's hand and pulled it closed. She fumbled a bit trying to stand up and straighten her clothes at the same time, then stopped and did it in sequence.

"Come here, Marta." Shion stated in an icy tone of voice.

Raven had recovered enough from her embarassment and unease enough to think semi-clearly. I wonder if Marta's acting like this only because she wants me, or because she wants to nattle her sister. She remembered Marta's whistle and her cheeks flushed again a little. Probably both.

Reaching over with one hand, Shion snatched Marta up by her jacket. As Marta sqwaked in suprise, the pair vanished.

Raven sat on the mat and watched the weapons rack rattle, not even bothering to try to clamp on the unconscious telekinesis brought about by her swirling thoughts. Alone in the room she might try to sort out what she felt about Marta's obvious lust for her.

She remembered her confusion she'd felt when it'd finally struck her that the male nurse, back in the hospital ward, wasn't staring at her deformities. What she now felt was very similar, only stronger, because the thought she might be attractive to another woman had never really occured to her. She knew it would happen again, even if it wasn't going to be as brazen as with Marta. And she wouldn't be able to come to terms with it right away; it would be a progressive process, much like the one she was still going through with men. Who knows? She might even end up enjoying women's stares, too. But first she had to conquer her inhibitions.

The other end of the equation, then: how did she feel about the thought of sleeping with another woman? She tried to sift through her thoughts but she was just too confused by the whole deal to figure that one out right away. She figured she'd eventually try at least once, on a whim, much like she'd tried to ride a Harley (to pretty disastrous results), or tasted just about everything Tara offered her. She thought she'd prefer trying with a guy first, however. As for anything more decisive, it'd just have to wait until she was more sure of her own feelings.

The rattling ceased, and the mats, already propped up against the walls, stopped their motion. Raven lay back on the mat she was sitting on and looked at the ceiling, wondering.

The booming noise awakened Raven just in time for her to feel the rush of air and hear the rattling of those few objects that hadn't completely be pushed back by her earlier reactions. Her shields went up almost reflexively, then she calmed her pounding heart and brought them down when she saw it was Shion. I must have dozed off.

Shion wasn't alone; there was a woman with her. She was perhaps a bit taller than Raven, which was rather tall for an Oriental. Her waist-length black-hair was in disarray, her cheong-sang was rumpled, and her clothes (long-sleeved shirt and trousers) looked hastily put on. She wore glasses, an odd feature in this day where miracles of optical correction were commonplace. Her pointed ears perked out of her hair, making Raven wonder if she was a replicant of some sort. Her busy figure did give credence to this theory.

The woman yawned deeply, apparently not quite aware of her surroundings. Shion glanced at her, then at Raven. "Class is over. Come back same time tomorrow."

"Uh, sure. Where's Marta?"

"Hong Kong," muttered the Oriental woman. "Where I should be right now."

"Hong Kong. Right." Eeep. More teleporting all over the world. She bowed to the woman. "I'm sorry, my name is Raven."

The Oriental yawned. "Li Ling Ling. I'd say I'm pleased to meet you, but it's 3:00 am and I need to get back to sleep."

Raven glanced briefly at Shion. "Teleportation over time zones can be pretty jarring."

The other woman shrugged, "Desperate measures."

Marta's... girlfriend? I have to get better with these oriental names. I just hope she's not too jealous, she might be pissed at me no matter what I think of Marta's drooling.

Shion nodded, "We'll pickup with falling tomorrow at ten."

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