Shion looked at Lilith for a long moment. "What do you mean 'make you stronger'?"
Lilith paused for thought. "I want..." She stopped, looking somewhat unsettled. "I want you to train me. To use my powers better."
Shion regarded Lilith with... What? Lilith couldn't read her expression. Was it confusion? Interest? Even amusement? "Why would I train you?" she finally responded.
"I... I'm not sure. I know I don't have anything to give you." She looked down. "Legally, I'm not actually allowed to own anything. I can't offer my assistance, since everyone knows you work alone." She continued, somewhat quieter. "In fact, all my reasons are purely selfish. You see, I'm not a production model. I'm just the prototype. When they start making the real thing, I'm going to be worthless to them." She looked up at Shion again. "So that's what I want from you. An opportunity to be more than I was made as. So I can be useful to them. And so I don't just get disposed of.
"And at the very least, you seemed to be interested in me at the display. This is a chance for you to see what I'm capable of, to see how well they made me." She looked down again, a rueful smile crossing her face. "Or at the very least, when those 'long-term mental instabilities' set in, you'll be in a position to do something about it."
She stood in silence, waiting for the Empress' reply.
Shion stared at the other woman for a long moment, her face a blank mask. "I... I will need to think about this. How can I contact you once I have an answer?"
"I don't have a number of my own... Or anything, for that matter. Call this number," she said, writing it down for Shion "And ask to talk to Kim. She's one of the researchers who worked on... well, me. She'll pass on a message."
She looked around, seeing the confusion was settling. "I have to go. They'll be wondering where I am." Lilith turned and briskly walked away, unsure for the first time of where her future was headed.
The cafe was a calm place, decorated in fake wood and leather rather than the glitzy chrome of a night club. The place was hardly well-known; it was somewhere to get a good (but not great) cup of coffee, meet a friend, and have a quiet conversation, or have a quick lunch. The muted, plain decor in dark browns and reds usually appealed to an older clientele, so it was unusual to see a young woman, twenty at most, sitting by herself at a corner table. She was beautiful, too, all gentle face and well-toned figure and long black hair, dressed casually in blouse and skirt. She'd garnered some puzzled looks from the regulars; but she sat there for half an hour and didn't seem interested in much more than her coffee cup, so one by one they returned to their occupations.
Sipping at her coffee, Raven awaited Shion with trepidation. Sanato had manage to dredge up an e-mail address where Raven could contact Shion, and she'd given the Empress an appointment at this small, unremarkable cafe down in the suburbs. Shion's succinct response indicated that she'd be there. Finally Shion came in, dressed in a classy skirt suit and a long coat, and Raven almost sighed in relief at the loosening of tension.
"Good day, Shion," the young esper greeted the Empress. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a customer light up in recognition as he saw Shion, toss money on the table and leave quickly.
The Empress, needless to say, paid him no heed at all. Instead she turned her attention on the young woman. "Hello Raven. I presume that you have some information for me?"
"I have an offer, actually," Raven explained.
Shion perked up a bit. "Do you?"
Raven nodded. "Remember you asked me to ask Sanato about Lilith?"
"Of course. What did he say?"
"750 thousand," Raven said. "But he wants me to get a first-hand look."
Shion showed no reaction to either the number or the stipulation. "You are to be there for the training sessions?"
"Basically. I can be your assistant. Provide a target, that sort of thing." Raven smiled faintly. "You can claim you'd rather not overwhelm her with your massive power."
"I usually work alone. And Lilith does not strike me as stupid. She may suspect something is up."
Raven nodded. "Or you can claim that your contract to train me has been extended, or not expired."
Shion thought on that for a moment. "She wants me to make her more powerful. Perhaps you are just another tool to bring that about?"
Raven nodded again. "Perhaps."
"In any case, I will meet with her first," Shion said.
"Very well," Raven agreed. "You know how to reach me."
"Is there anything else that Sanato wants out of me?"
"He'll no doubt want your impressions as well as mine."
Raven shrugged. "I think that's all." She consulted her PDA, where she'd jotted down all she needed to ask Shion, and confirmed, "It is."
"Hmm... tell him my initial impression is of almost perfect control."
"I told him that."
"Oh? Were you speaking for me or yourself?"
"For me. But I'll tell him you thought so as well. Is that kind of control very rare?"
"Very rare, Raven. I know almost no one who has it."
Raven nodded, but pointed out, "I think I could've done that trick in the Expo."
"Oh? You've practiced on moving water about?"
Raven frowned. "No. You're right. It might be tricky."
"Exactly. Her control is impeccable. It is something to think about."
"Brute force?" Raven asked.
"What do you mean by that?"
"How strong is she, do you think?" the young PK elaborated.
Shion sat back. "Raven, that is the question. There is no way to tell without actually pushing her limits."
"Let's do that, then," Raven suggested with a grin.
Shion returned the grin. "She wants me to make her stronger."
"Only one way to do that, is there?"
"Yes... intensive training. Much like what I put you through."
"If you do it halfway like me," Raven said with a wince at the memory, "we'll know real quick."
"Exactly," Shion agreed. "I will be able to find out what she can and cannot do."
"And presumably, the limits of the production model should be close."
"Yes... that is the problem. If they can mass produce a synthetic like her, then they will have a lock on a very lucrative market. But, I think it will not be quite that easy. All synthetics have minor differences in their make up, in a synthetic esper weapon, these differences will probably be magnified, perhaps with fatal results."
"But they'll have a few successes," Raven objected. "It'd probably be worth it even if the success ratio is one in a hundred."
"The power level of which will vary greatly," Shion pointed out. "But that is still sufficient for corporate needs." She paused, then asked, "Tell me Raven... Is Sanato offering any of this money in advance?"
Raven frowned. "He hasn't mentioned it."
"Perhaps you should ask him about it."
Raven nodded, "I will." She quirked an eyebrow, and asked, "Does it really matter with you?"
"Now then.," Shion said, "I shall contact Lilith and see what it is she wants me to do, exactly."
"And I'll ask Sanato about a retainer."
"I'll talk to you afterwards, then." Raven paused, then added, "Other than that, how have you been?"
Shion seemed startled by the question. "Why do you ask?"
"Because I'm your friend."
Shion sat quietly, almost glaring at Raven.
"Even if you won't be mine," the young woman added.
"I've been fine."
"That's good to hear," Raven said sincerely.
"I've been doing fine." Raven smiled and winked. "Adam's been a peach."
"Oh, I'm sure he has. Have you had any reason to use your training yet?"
"No, but I'm sure it's coming."
"Yes... and probably very soon."
Raven smiled thinly. "I'm sure they'll want to use that investment to its fullest."
Shion's smile was halfway to a smirk. "I'm sure they will."
Raven sipped at her coffee. "How's Marta?"
"I have no idea. I have not seen since your training session."
"You don't talk to her much, do you?"
"No. We live and move is separate worlds."
Raven sighed. "That sounds lonely."
Shion said nothing while Raven sipped her coffee. At length Shion spoke. "She is very happy where she is. Marta does not need me or my interference."
Raven quirked an eyebrow. "The Empress concerned for another?"
"She is my sister."
Raven smiled. "So you do care."
Again Shion was quiet and Raven used the silence to take a sip. "Is there anything else?" the Empress finally asked.
"Since I don't suppose you'd be interested in going to see a movie or something," Raven said, half-joking, "then no."
"A movie? Raven... if I am supposed to be fulfilling this new contract, then no. I do have work to do."
Raven nodded. "Well, goodbye then."
"I will call you later," Shion said, standing, "as soon as I have more information."
Raven smiled. "I look forward to it."
"Goodbye, Shion." Raven looked around to see that the other cafe patrons were studiously looking anywhere but at the Empress and the young woman. She grinned as one of them, a well-dressed man of about forty, sent her an incredulous stare once Shion had left. Then she stood, paid for her two cups, and left the cafe. She unchained her scooter (such a calm place, you could even leave your vehicle unattended outside!) and climbed on, then rode back towards Neo York, enjoying the ride in the quiet of suburbia.
Taking a sip from her bowl of miso soup, Shion glanced over the platter set in front of her. It was covered in sushi and sashimi, all of which had been artfully arraigned to look as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palette. Putting the bowl down, Shion selected a set of chopsticks and plucked a piece of eel free from the tray. Pausing a moment to savor the taste, she then washed it down with a swallow of Sapporo.
"Enjoying your dinner?"
Shion gave a distracted nod, gesturing towards a chair with her chopsticks. "Please, have a seat, Nabiki. Can I get you anything?"
The fixer slid into the offered chair and set her PDA on the table. "Tea if you please."
Pausing only to finish chewing a rather tasty piece of tuna, Shion picked up a small cup and filled it with green tea. Setting it down before the other woman, she gave a slight nod. "Here. Are you sure you don't want anything else?"
"No, no. I already ate." Nabiki gave a slight smile and sipped politely at her tea.
"Too bad, this is very good." Shion drank off the last of her miso as if to emphasize the point.
"Of course it is, else you wouldn't eat here," Nabiki pointed out.
"Hmmm..." Shion glanced across the table and smiled, "True."
Nabiki stared nonplused at Shion. The other woman seemed almost giddy in attitude, a far cry from her more sober and somber appearance. She tapped the screen of her PDA absently, wondering exactly what had been so important for Shion to come out to Mega-Tokyo on such sort notice; it certainly hadn't been to watch the Empress eat.
Sipping at her tea, Nabiki glanced over the rim of the cup. "So, what is it you require?"
Sitting up, Shion's expression become calm and impassive in an instant, any sign of her former carefree behavior swept away as she regarded the fixer with cool gray eyes.
"You know the work I'm doing for Shiroko-Tsuhi, right?'
"Yes, you're training Shiroko-Tsuhi's newest esper-weapon, one Raven Clark."
"I've been asked to do the same by someone else."
Nabiki gave Shion a quizzical look. "And?"
"Have you heard of a esper by the name of 'Lilith'?"
"Lilith? No, I can't say that I have." Nabiki sighed inwardly, usually she was the one who played such games, not her clients.
Shion grinned and took a long pull at her Sapporo. "She works for Ishiyama." The was a pause, and then "Actually, I think she was built by Ishiyama. The woman's a replicant."
Nabiki tried her best not to choke on her tea. "But... isn't that... impossible?"
"Apparently not. And Lilith has asked me to make her 'stronger.'"
"Stronger." Shion took another swallow of beer.
Nabiki thought quickly. A replicant esper? "Where did you see this?"
"The Jinesi Expo."
"The..." Nabiki managed, before Shion cut her off.
"Yes, the Jinesi Expo - the one you declined to attend since you think anything that isn't in Mega-Tokyo isn't worth looking at."
Nabiki decided to sip her tea instead of responding to the taunt.
"So," Shion said with a grin. "I have a business proposition for you."
"Exactly how much would detailed information about the combat capabilities of a stable synthetic esper be worth?"
For Nabiki this was a no-brainer. "Millions."
"Then shall we discuss my fee?"
Perhaps, thought Nabiki, she would order dinner after all.
The air was chilly in the Ishiyama research lab, and no-one felt it more than their current research subject. Clad in a uniform gray jumpsuit, breath forming small clouds of mist before her, quietly shivering in the intense cold, Lilith sat patiently as her creators examined her.
Professor Yuki Tokamura, chief scientist of Ishiyama's replicant research division, stamped her feet and cursed inwardly at the cold for about the millionth time. She reminded herself how the conditions were necessary to preserve some vital and delicate equipment and samples stored in the room as she knelt before her seated creation, examining her eyes.
"Hmm..." she trailed off in thought.
"Ma'am, what is it?" her assistant Kim nervously asked. Kim was rugged up in about three layers of coats, which only served to bulk out her somewhat round figure. She held a clipboard in her gloved hands, clumsily waving a pen near it. Getting no response from her supervisor, Kim decided on her own not to list "hmmm" on the examination report. For her, it was a hard call.
"Flashlight." Yuki held out her right hand perfectly flat, not even glancing at Kim. The portly assistant fumbled in her pockets and finally produced a small torch. Yuki proceeded to shine it directly in Lilith's eyes.
Lilith winced slightly at the brightness, yet stared straight into it. This must be part of the examination, she thought. Is there something wrong with my eye? Did she spot some problem? Even as her eye watered, she held it open.
"Ma'am, what are you doing?" Kim asked nervously.
"Just checking her endurance and responses." Lilith's eye flicked shut. "Note down the time," Yuki said in the same flat tone. Kim fumbled with a pen, making a mark that could equally have been a time reference or an abstract masterpiece.
Lilith rubbed her still-shut eye as the professor examined the side of her head. "Keep still," Yuki ordered. The response was immediate. Lilith returned her hand to her side, and sat perfectly straight, still blinking to try and wash the after-image out of her eye. Yuki seemed intent on examining Lilith's ear, the scratched behind it with a delicate fingernail. She brought out a kind of whitish muck which she immediately flicked off her finger.
"Not washing enough," she absentmindedly commented. "Kim, make a note. Improve hygiene routines for the production models. It's meant to just be a soldier, but we know they never get used for just that," she commented evenly. Lilith worried at the thought of what her creator was implying, but tried not to let it show.
Yuki stood, looking at her creation. She hmmmed in thought again, then cradled Lilith's silvery-white braid in one hand. "I really meant to get rid of this thing," she said thoughtfully. "Remind me Kim, did we ever find the source of the discoloration?"
"Err..." Kim flipped through a few pages on the clipboard, dropping her pen with a loud clatter. Yuki rolled her eyes, inwardly thankful that Kim's task was limited to note taking and nothing more important. "Erm... No, we didn't," came Kim's simple reply.
"I should get rid of the stupid thing. Makes it too distinctive," Yuki muttered.
"I think she likes it, ma'am," Kim replied. Yuki turned to face her with a stern look on her face.
"She? Likes?" She stated with a mixture of surprise and annoyance. "Kim, this is not a person, it is a thing!" She checked herself, and calmed down slightly. "This is a product. It does not have opinions. It doesn't have 'likes' or 'dislikes,'" Yuki emphasized the words as if to indicate her distaste. "It does not 'want.' It does. Do you understand?"
Kim cowed at the onslaught. "Yes, m'm," she said in a small voice.
Yuki let out a loud sigh. "But never mind that," she said. "Hand me the scissors."
Lilith glanced over to her creator, worried at the thought of her displeasure, but immediately snapped back to her neutral posture as Yuki turned back towards her. The scientist took the braid firmly in one hand and held a pair of scissors next to its root, ready to cut. However before she could continue, a voice came over the PA system, calling for her.
Yuki rolled her eyes again and handed the scissors back to Kim. "I'm done anyway," she said and headed for the exit. "You clean up here."
"Should I do the haircut myself?" Kim nervously asked.
"No, we still want her ears," Yuki intoned as she left. Kim was left standing confused, then simply shrugged and stowed the scissors in her multi-pocketed overcoat. Unnoticed, Lilith let out a sigh of relief.
Kim checked over the clipboard, but was interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing. She fumbled through her pockets again, finally pulling out a mobile phone adorned in pastel pink paneling and playing a chintzy tune. "Hello?" she spoke into the end. There was a brief pause.
"Yes, it is," she responded. Another brief pause.
Kim's reaction to the unheard response was immediate. Her mouth hung open in shock. The remaining color drained from her face. He hands shook, almost causing her to drop the mobile phone. A noise from the speaker brought her back to her senses. She pressed the phone against her cheek and breathed a high-pitched "Really?" into the mouthpiece.
Short pause. "So I suppose you want the professor, then." Extended pause, causing Kim's brow to furrow. She blinked in surprise, then tapped Lilith on the shoulder. "It... It's for you."
Lilith stood on the street corner, desperately trying to shrug off the piercing cold. She hid under the shelter of an overhang, just barely avoiding be drenched from the driving rain. She was rugged up in a long trenchcoat and thick pants, yet still had goosebumps. The Ishiyama building was plainly visible across the road, and drew her attention in frequent, short glances.
What am I doing here? She thought to herself. This is mad. Crazy. I shouldn't be out here. I should be in there, with them. What was I thinking? Why did I come up with this? What's going to happen?
She paced up and down, trying to warm herself up and calm her frayed nerves.
Lilith started, and glanced towards the voice. Its owner was tall, white-haired, and dressed in a long, ankle-length overcoat, with a thick scarf knotted around her neck and a broad umbrella held in one hand.
Lilith shook as she regarded the speaker. Somehow, despite the common clothes and umbrella, she still seemed as majestic as always. "Y-yes," she stammered in reply, trying to shake off the cold.
"Hmmm..." Shion looked the other woman over, subjecting her to what seemed to be a fairly critical examination. "Perhaps we should begin by getting out of the rain. And," she continued nodding slightly at the dim shape of the Ishiyama building, "out of sight of that."
"Whatever you say," she responded quietly.
"Have you ever visited the Zone?" Shion asked abruptly.
"Yes. I didn't see much of it," came the quiet reply.
"Do you know 93 Underground?"
Lilith thought for a second. "No. I've heard of it, but never went there."
"Well then, follow me. I assume you can keep up," Shion stated matter-of-factly. In an instant she had vanished, a sudden rushing of air the only clue to her having been there. Lilith was surprised, but then concentrated. She could "feel" where Shion had gone - she concentrated on the spot and suddenly the scenery changed around her. Shion was there, the pavement cracked beneath her feet from her arrival. A few onlookers gawked at the pair and their sudden appearance. Before them, a stairway lead down to the club's inviting entrance.
"Come on," Shion said and walked past her, starting down the stairs. Lilith followed silently.
They headed straight for a private booth off to one side. Soon after seating, they were served by a beautiful waitress. No doubt another replicant, Lilith thought. She couldn't help but feel uncomfortable, and didn't order anything.
"So," Shion started after she set her drink down, "you wish for me to make you stronger. How?"
Lilith took a deep breath, then begun. "I... I want you to train me, to use my powers better. And to develop them. So... Well, so I can be more. Than I started." She came to an uncomfortable silence. What's wrong with me? she thought. Isn't this what I wanted? Why am I so nervous?
"I see." Shion sipped from her glass, once again giving the other woman a thorough visual examination. "What do I get out of it?"
"Well... That's the problem. I don't have anything to give you. All I can offer are my services." Lilith fidgeted with her braid in thought. "I guess that's just like every replicant." She pondered the question for a moment. "I can't pay you. There's no way I could coerce you into helping me. All I can offer is... Well, satisfaction. the satisfaction of knowing that you helped someone else who needed you." She looked down, and continued quietly. "But that couldn't even pay for your drink."
"No, it wouldn't." Shion pushed her now-empty glass away and gave the synthetic a hard stare. "I am not a charity. Why should I train my potential replacement?" Turning to look out into 93 Undergound's smoky interior, she sighed slightly. "And I certainly don't need your services."
"All I can really offer is information. About my company and, well, me. I guess if you can find any way to profit from that, you can. If not, I'll be on my way." She thought for a second. "My genetic code, maybe. You could learn firsthand what I'm made of. What I'm capable of. And even..." She paused, then continued in a hushed tone, "Even if I work. That's got to be worth something."
Shion smiled, an expression that wasn't warmed by the look in her eyes. "That, Lilith, is worth everything. Intel such as you are offering would be priceless to one who knew where to sell it. With an offer like that, how can I refuse?"
For a brief second, Lilith's face brightened, then it was gone. Her nervousness and worries vanished, and she returned to her normal calm self. She nodded slightly towards Shion. "Thank you. I shouldn't be too much of a bother to you."
Standing, Shion gestured for Lilith to do the same. "Come, we have work to do." Lilith silently stood, and followed her.
The place around them was quite a sight. Hot, dry and dusty, it couldn't have contrasted more with the Neo York winter she was familiar with. The earth was parched and red; flat for miles around. The only vegetation was sparse, stunted bushes. Ahead of them was an abandoned town - or at least, a collection of building that could be called a town.
Lilith shaded her eyes and decided that the worst part of this whole experience was the sun. It was high overhead, brighter than she'd ever seen before. If she didn't know it was patently ridiculous, she would swear it was larger here than back home. Already she was feeling hot, and she dreaded to think what long- term effects this harsh and barren climate would have on her skin.
She turned around, facing the other two who had brought her here. "Remind me what we're doing in this wasteland," she growled.
With a small smile, Shion nodded to Raven. "Tell her."
Raven grinned and waved at the surroundings in a grand gesture. "This is to be our playground. It has things to lift, things to throw, things to wreck, things to take cover behind, things to crush, things to carefully arrange in neat little piles. Equally important, it has nothing of value that we can't risk wrecking, crushing, or arranging in neat little piles. In short," Raven finished, turning to the replicant, "here we can, without risk to our surroundings, throw our powers to their fullest extent, and beyond." She glanced at Shion with a sly smile. "Way beyond."
"Okay then, what do we do first? Stand here and bake some more?" Lilith shot back.
"No." Shion gestured at Raven, "You will... 'spar' with her. I want to see your powers in action before I decide how you need to be trained." Rising into the air, she floated backwards in a swirl of sand and dust. "Try not to kill each other, it would not reflect well on me."
Lilith shrugged. "If that's what you really want." She turned to Raven. "I'll try not to hurt you too badly."
A dust cloud had already begun to swirl around Raven as she set up her defenses. Without so much as a gesture, Lilith fired of a blast of force towards her fellow student. Raven tried to avoid the shot, but was too slow. The bolt sliced through her shield like a knife through cloth, barely losing energy, and she caught it full on. It knocked her back several feet away, dust flung away by her shields as she rolled across the ground.
*Great goodness*, Raven thought. *That was strong and focused. And she's so fast...* Before she could react, Lilith followed up with a second shot. With split-seconds to spare, Raven concentrated on her force field, both strengthening it and hardening it enough to foil Lilith's tightly focussed blast. Her shield sustained the terrifying impact, but the force of the hit still drove Raven back. She dug her feet into the ground and stayed standing, leaving two long furrows.
Lilith stared in shock. *How did she do that?* She thought. She dismissed her pondering and took to the air, flying upright and skimming just above the ground towards Raven. She fired again, her blast going wide and blasting a chunk of ground behind Raven. Raven stood still, watching her adversary. *Very well,* she thought, *if you want to play that game...* She watched Lilith carefully as she prepared to pull her trick.
Shion glanced between the two. *Impressive power,* she thought. *I see that Raven is a bit over-matched.* She watched as Lilith flew in closer and fired once more, anger apparent in her face. At this point-blank range, there was no way she could've missed—but Raven crossed her arms in front of herself, manifesting the reflection shield she'd used against Shion at the beach, and at this point-blank range, there was no way she could miss.
Lilith was hit square in the chest by her own blast, her momentum sending her flipping backwards in mid-air and bringing her face- down into the parched, red earth. A brief, spluttering cough from the wounded replicant brought up some blood.
Belatedly Raven realized Lilith had lowered her shield before her last attack, perhaps to conserve energy. She stepped forwards, hand raised to unleash a blast of her own at Lilith, but glanced questioningly at Shion, who merely held up her hand, signaling Raven to wait. The replicant lay still on the ground as the other two watched over her.
"Lesson one," Raven said. "Never let your guard down." Shion nodded her approval. Long seconds went by as Lilith remained still on the dusty ground. Raven used the reprieve to slowly gather her energies, ready to unleash the most powerful blast she could, while keeping her kinetic shield up and ready, a lesson she'd herself learned from hard experience. Dust swirled around her in intricate patterns as she stood, hands along her side, and watched her fallen opponent across the blasted scrapyard.
At length, Raven broke the silence again. "Lesson two: Expect the unexpected." Still no movement. Raven glanced nervously at Shion, who remained impassive. Raven concentrated on Lilith, ready to fire as soon as she moved. *I can't fire now*, she thought. *This isn't a street fight. She has no shield, I just might kill her.*
A long silence passed until, with a low groan, Lilith slowly stood up. Both Raven and Shion detected Lilith erecting some kind of barrier; just what Raven had been waiting for. She fired off a massive blast, which was sent smashing into an invisible wall Lilith erected in front of her. She strained against Raven's attack, scared of her force wall giving way. Just as she felt she could take no more, the blast dissipated, leaving Lilith standing, albeit still shakily.
Raven nodded her approval. *Not bad. Let's see how you take your own medicine.* Raven focussed her will and fired off a narrower blast, intended to punch straight through Lilith's wall rather than overwhelm it. Lilith reacted immediately, dropping the wall and bringing up a second field that sent Raven's shot flying back at herself. Raven almost laughed aloud at the irony as the blast slammed into her shield, rocking her back a step. *And here I get a taste of my own medicine.*
The pair prepared to fire again, but were cut off. "Hold!" Shion commanded. "I've seen enough."
The pair relaxed and let their defenses down, but still watched each other nervously. "Raven, why did you let her get up?"
"I didn't want to kill her. Besides you told me not to," Raven replied. Shion responded with a quiet "huff," and walked away to inspect the collateral damage from their fight.
Raven slowly walked over to Lilith, who was still catching her breath. "Are you all right, Lilith?"
"Fine," Lilith responded, wincing and gritting her teeth. "You hit pretty hard. I mean... I hit pretty hard... I mean..." She trailed off, not sure precisely what she meant.
Raven chuckled quietly, and smiled. "So do you. But *I* had my shields up."
Lilith looked briefly embarrassed at having let her defenses drop, but quickly covered it up. "A stupid mistake," she said offhand. "I won't do it again."
"You took me by surprise that first blast," Raven commented.
"You took me by surprise with that second one. How did you do that?"
"My second shot. You managed to completely absorb it." Lilith studied Raven, curiously. "How?"
Raven shrugged. "My shield took most of it," she said, casually.
Lilith pondered for a second, then quietly said "You're a lot more powerful than I thought." Raven blinked in surprise at her comment. *So are you*, the young telekinetic thought quietly.
Lilith rubbed her chest, still grimacing at the injury. "Is there somewhere else we can go? I don't favor staying out here for too long."
"Are you hurt?" Raven asked, her concern clear.
"I think so."
"We need to get you a doctor." Raven glanced around, reminding herself of where they were. "Damn."
"I'll be fine."
"I'm not so sure."
Lilith spoke slowly, as if to a child. "I don't need any help. It's fine."
Raven rolled her eyes. "We're in fragging Australia. I don't know anyone out here," she said, frustrated at her companion's stubbornness.
"I just need to rest, that's all." Even as she spoke, Lilith winced at the injury.
Raven let it drop. She thought for a second, then asked "Question, Lilith, what will your handlers think if they found out you're hurt?"
Lilith looked down, and quietly replied "I'll explain how it happened."
"And what will they do?"
"That's not for me to guess."
Raven frowned. "What will they do if they find out you died?"
Lilith shrugged. "I wouldn't try and guess. Probably build a new one, if they thought they needed more testing," she responded casually.
"And you're not worried about dying?"
"I..." Lilith stalled. "I don't know. It doesn't matter much to me."
"You don't care about yourself?" Raven asked.
Lilith looked up again. "For my intended purpose, that's considered a liability. I'm meant to lay down my life in service, if needs be." She spoke with more confidence, as if reciting.
"Why are you..." Raven began, then stopped.
"What? Say it," Lilith said, solemnly.
"Why are you here then?" Raven asked, cursing inwardly, thinking she made a mistake.
Lilith looked straight at Raven. "So I can be more useful to them. After all, that's all I should want." She looked away, and quietly added "I guess." Raven couldn't help but smile at the comment.
"Do they know about this?" Raven asked. Her only response was a solemn silence. Raven assumed the worst. "If you hemorrhage to death, Shion is going to be pissed. To say nothing of your handlers." Still no response. Raven looked around in frustration, then back at Lilith. "At least let me look you over."
"All right," Lilith finally replied.
"Lay down," Raven ordered. Lilith looked down at the dusty earth. Not again, she thought, then gently lay on her back. Raven knelt down by her side, then opened Lilith's jacket and raised her shirt. She began gently massaging Lilith's ribs. Lilith responded with a sudden yell of pain,to which Raven only nodded.
"I think you have at least one cracked rib."
"Is that bad?"
"I've heard cases where the broken rib would stab the patient's lung or heart."
"So that is bad?"
"Hmm, when that happens it's fatal."
Lilith lay her head back in the dust. "That's bad."
"Normally it would mean bed rest, but you can't do that. So I'd say a bone reconstituant and keep it mellow for a few days."
--to be continued
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