by Mathieu Roy and Michael Surbrook



Please see me in my quarters.


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Figuring Shion would want to see her alone, Raven shut down the e-mail program and concentrated, teleporting right into Shion's living room with a loud 'pop'. The luxurious room, featuring real leather furniture and all the high-tech amenities, was empty of people; however Raven heard a faint sound of running water coming from one of the doors; Shion's signature was perceptible over there as well. Raven walked in that direction, wondering what Shion wanted.

Raven opened the door, then blinked, momentarily blinded by a cloud of steam. She waved her hand to blow the vapor away and called out "Shion?"

"Come on in."

Raven stepped inside curiously and looked around. Through the haze of steam she could see the... it was a bath, although 'pool' might have more accurately described it. It was so large that the other edge was lost in the vapor. Shion was barely visible, lying calmly in the water on the far side, a bottle and glass close by. Hoping Shion wasn't drunk again, Raven picked at her sleeve—the steam was making her clothes humid—and approached.

Raven could finally get a look at the true size of the bath—it was comparable to her entire bedroom. She'd never heard of anything like it, all wood planking, tile, a waterfall in the corner, and plants decorating the room.

"Hello, Shion. Taking a swim?"

"Relaxing. I will be leaving soon. My contract is over."

Raven sat on the edge of the bath. "I'm sorry to hear that. It's been great to learn with you."

Shion sipped at her drink. "Yes, well... I have taught you all you'll need to know. The rest you learn on your own."

"I'll manage."

"I hope you do. Paula looks to be trouble."

"She looks jealous. I hope we can be friends but I'm not holding my breath."

"But I felt I should say this; I have no memory." Raven nodded, and Shion went on. "So... if we meet again... well... I think you understand."

"In battle, yes. Nothing to keep you from dropping by for a drink is there?"

"There is everything. Do you think ST will allow it?" Raven frowned as Shion added, "Do you think ST will allow me access to you once this contract is over?"

"Who knows? A friendship with you might be useful. But you're right—I doubt they will."

"I don't have friends Raven. You should know that by now."

"Don't you want any?"

"Do I need any?"

Raven looked her in the eye. "Friendship isn't all about needing, Shion. Besides, maybe you do need one."

"What do you know about what I need, Raven?"

Raven looked at her feet and sighed. "I know you need to drink less."

"Oh, so now you are going to instruct me?" Shion stood, water dripping from her naked body.

"No. I'm just trying to be your friend."

"Raven... you do not know me. You do not want to be my friend. I shall do as I please, for that... that is what the Empress does."

Shion's uncharacteristic hesitation gave Raven an insight, one she was quick to share. "Is it what the Empress wants?"

"The Empress does not want... she requires. You should learn that. Given time... you can require and demand as well, and won't have to be happy with what they give you."

"And are you happy, Shion?"

"I am... content."

"That's not happy."

Shion sat back in the tub. "That's irrelevant."

"Why? Some would say it's the point of existence."

"I don't. Survival. To survive is all that matters."

"What about living?"

Shion indicated her bath. "This is living."

"This is luxury."

"Yes, luxury befitting the Empress. That is what this suite is called after all."

"But it's not life," said Raven. "It's just a thing."

Shion looked Raven in the eye. "Raven, what else is there?"

The young PK shrugged. "Friends. Family. Love."

"I have no family."

Raven blinked in surprise. "What about Marta?"

Shion paused. "Yes... her."

"She is family," Raven pointed out.

"And? She has her life, I have mine. They do not cross."

"But you like her, don't you?"

"She is my sister."

"Do you like her?" Raven insisted.

"Do you have a sister?"

Raven sighed with regret. "No."

"We tolerate each other."

Raven nodded. "Have you ever had a friend?"

Shion was quiet for a moment. "And if I say no? Does it matter?"

"How can you tell that you don't want one if you've never had any?"

"Because I don't need one," Shion explained.

"You don't need a fifty-foot bath either," Raven said.

"Perhaps not, but I enjoy it quite a bit."

"You might enjoy having a friend more."

"Stop preaching at me Raven. I don't need it." Raven sighed, realizing Shion wouldn't be swayed, not today. "Perhaps you could try this on Paula, she is certainly a more captive audience right now," the Empress continued.

"I just might. And if you ever want a friend, Shion, I'll be there."

Shion took a sip of her brandy, but said nothing as Raven concentrated and vanished, steam from the luxurious bath filling the space left empty by the young woman.

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