Adam chuckled softly as he ran his fingers down Raven's side, his fingers deftly tracing along her naked hip. She shivered from his touch, and with a wicked grin he pursed his lips and blew a gentle stream of warm air over her exposed flesh.

The sudden surge of energy spiked through Raven's mind, causing her to cry out in pain.

"Raven?" Adam's voice was full of the concern that was nakedly obvious on his face—that was NOT the usual response to what he had just done.

"I..." she gasped, and winced.

Pressure built, pushing behind her eyes and forehead. It was the signature of an incoming PK, a powerful incoming PK. It was growing larger (and louder) by the millisecond, and it was...

"She's here," Raven announced weakly.

A booming crash that shook the walls and rattled the door answered Adam's questioning look, as did a very familiar voice.

"Where... where the... hell am I?"

"Shion?" Raven's voice was little more than a whisper.

The door slammed open, revealing a tall, white-maned silhouette that seemed to sway in place. "Marta, wha' the hell're you... doing with a man?"

Recovering a little, Raven quickly grabbed at the bed covers and brought them up to her neck, covering her nakedness. "Shion, what are you doing here at this hour?" she asked, her tone half-anger, half-puzzlement.

A man? Adam looked like he was considering being insulted, but apparently was willing to let it slide. He remained outwardly calm, but Raven could feel his muscles tense like rocks where his skin touched hers—whether for fight or flight wasn't apparent. Still, as usual, he let his owner take the lead.

"Don' use... that... tone of voice with ME... Marta." Raven quickly realized that Shion was drunk, very drunk, considering the slurred manner in which she spoke. "Where's... Ling Ling?"

"Hong Kong, I guess," said Raven uncertainly. Now she was thoroughly confused. She glanced at the light switch and teeked it on. "Why are you calling me Marta?" she asked as the room was flooded with light.

"I..." Shion walked inside the room, and then stopped, staring down at Raven and Adam. "You... y're not... Marta," she said intelligently, and then fell face first into the bed.

Adam moved fast, sacrificing modesty for expediency in lurching forward to catch the falling esper. "What's wrong with her?" he asked calmly, easing his legs out of the bed and maneuvering around to make Shion more comfortable.

Hesitantly, Raven stepped out of bed. Held down by Shion's weight, the sheet slid off her delicate shoulders, flared out when it reached her shapely breasts, then fell off along the graceful curve of her hips, stroked her long, well-toned legs, and settled on the bed.

She approached Shion's side and bent over her to check her condition. The diagnosis was pungently apparent. "From the smell, I'd say she's drunk." She carefully levitated Shion off the bed, hoping that the vibes of her PK power wouldn't wake the Empress, and settled her more comfortably in the bed. "Very drunk," she added.

"Lovely," Adam said dryly. "She's... not going to randomly demolish this section of the Arcology if we disturb her, is she?" he asked, starting to look faintly concerned. There wasn't a great deal he could do to protect Raven if that was the case, short of convincing her to get well away from here, immediately.

"I don't think so," Raven replied. She noticed something in Shion's hand and bent to examine it. It was a long green box with a figurine with it... except for the garish uniform the white-haired woman depicted looked like Shion. The label on the box read "Supreme Senshi Starfighter Andromeda." Raven stood and reached for her robe, then slipped it on. "I think it's best we don't disturb her, that way we won't find out. She'll sleep it off and we can get explanations in the morning."

"Agreed," Adam said, deftly snatching one of the pillows before following Raven out into the living room.

The room was in shambles. The carpeting was torn, furniture had been knocked over, and several raven statuettes lay on the floor where they'd fallen off their perch. A box of assorted candy that Adam had started keeping near the door, for visitors, had spilled, and the contents were all over the floor. The ceiling lamp was smashed, but thankfully the globes were intact, and were still illuminating the room.

Adam quickly righted the couch and prepared it for Raven, using spare linens and the couch cushions.

"And no," he said before she could object, "I'll be just fine. There's no way you'd be able to get enough sleep if both of us tried to cram on there, and you know it. I'll be all right with a throw pillow and an afghan on the floor." As soon as he was done with Raven's bed he started cleaning up the room, picking up the candy and tossing them in the trashcan. Ignoring Adam's "don't-worry-yourself" gesture, Raven took the statues and examined them carefully, making sure they weren't too badly damaged (thank goodness they were metal and hard stone), before setting them back where they belonged.

They were making good progress when a loud pounding rattled the door. "Raven!" a familiar voice bellowed, "Open up! I know you're in there!"

Inside Raven glanced at Adam. "Paula," they intoned simultaneously.

Raven grabbed Adam's shoulder as he moved automatically to answer the door. "Put something on," she said. "I'll handle this." She went to the door, paused in front of the mirror to make sure modesty would be preserved, and thumbed the lock. She opened the door a little and placed herself into the opening, blocking Paula's view of the room. "Yes?' she asked.

"What the hell is going on in there?" Paula, Raven noted was dressed in an over-sized, knee-length "Don't mess with Texas" T-shirt, and a worn bath-robe. Somehow it didn't seem to fit her tough-girl image. "I felt that, y'know? You finally come or something?"

Raven hesitated for a moment, then deciding it'd be best if knowledge of Shion's presence wasn't spread around, at least for tonight, she forced herself to giggle. "Oh, my, was I that loud?" she said, barely believing how vapid she sounded.

"Someone was..." Paula didn't sound like she was buying it, but then, she was also suspicious about anything Raven did or didn't do. The blonde esper looked to the left and right, down the corridor and returned to glare at Raven. "You're up to something."

Raven rolled her eyes. "Look, Paula, I'm sorry I woke you up, I really am, but other than that it's none of your business."

"Hmph," Paula snorted, "Keep it up and I'll make it my business." Apparently feeling she'd put on a good-enough show, Raven's wanna-be rival stepped away from the door with one last dirty look. Turning on her heel, Paula strode away, Raven catching a faint "...bitch..." as the woman made for the elevators at the far end of the hallway.

Raven closed the door, leaned her back to it, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was a good thing Paula hadn't noticed that there was an extra PK signature in Raven's apartment. She smiled weakly and gave Adam a thumbs-up sign.

Adam returned Raven's gesture and continued to tidy-up of the living room. With things put more or less to order, a full job could wait until the morning.

"Now, I believe you should get some sleep," Adam chided Raven gently. "I imagine you'll need it in the morning," he said with an oblique glance towards the bedroom.

"You betcha, Adam. Shion's always been a handful." She settled down on the couch to sleep. "I wish we could pick up where we left off though..." she said, smiling at him.

Adam smiled back. "Whatever you wish," he said archly, a tone designed to bring a blush to her face.

It succeeded admirably, rosy skin looking quite fetching on Raven's face. "I don't want to wake Shion up, though," she said regretfully. "Maybe some other time..."

Adam's smile softened. "Whatever you wish," he repeated, more kindly this time. Gathering a blanket, the synthetic spread it over her, tucking the end of it into the foot of the couch cushions. "Sleep well," he said, bestowing a tender kiss on her forehead before retiring to a chair for some rest of his own.

Raven awoke to the smell of lightly poached eggs and freshly buttered toast, with a hint of coffee just starting to drift into the air.

Raven stood from the couch, stretched herself, and waltzed over to the kitchen. There Adam was busy with pots and pans, cooking eggs. Raven smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Good morning, Adam. Breakfast for three?"

"Oh? Do we have a house guest?" Adam asked with exaggerated innocence. "Oh, that's RIGHT," he said, smacking his forehead theatrically. "I do wish you'd let me know before inviting your drunken friends with fearsome telekinetic powers to drop by without warning, dear."

"Well, it was on very short notice," Raven said, laughing. "You know how she likes to drop in. Think we should wake her up? Or let her sleep?"

Adam shuddered theatrically. "YOU can wake her up. On second thought, scratch that. I wouldn't be doing my job if I let you take that sort of risk. Any idea what she might want when she DOES wake up?" he asked.

"I think we should let her wake up on her own—and I'LL talk to her. She doesn't know you well, and quite frankly, she'll probably think you're beneath her notice." She frowned. "She's often that way.

Adam shrugged. "Frankly, I'd rather remain beneath her notice. Seems safer to me." He still seemed to be waiting for suggestions on serving the Empress.

"I think Shion'd prefer something fancy, like eggs benedictine or something. On the other hand, whatever it is, it has to be something that'll go easy on a hangover." Raven shrugged helplessly. "You're the expert."

Adam nodded. "Tea then, and toast, to start. We'll see about anything more after she's had that."

"I'd better go check up on her," Raven said, turning to leave the kitchen.

When Shion awoke, it was to the sensation that her brain was attempting to force its way out of her skull, preferably through her forehead. The pounding was constant and unrelenting, and made any act, even something as trivial as opening her eyes, an exercise in sheer agony. So, Shion decided it was best to take the path of least resistance and simply lie still.

Actually, opening her eyes wasn't exactly the easiest of tasks anyway. They felt like they were glued shut, and to make matters worse, her mouth was painfully dry, and seemed to have developed a thick coating of fuzz sometime during the night. And if that wasn't enough, her back felt sore, and there was a sharp line of pain across her lower spine. If she didn't know better, she would think she'd fallen asleep in her armor again.

It was, she realized, all the symptoms of the perfect hangover.

Blearily opening one eye, and wondering exactly how much she'd had to drink the night before, Shion found herself staring at a completely unfamiliar bed, in room she couldn't recall ever having been in. And contrary to all forms of common sense, she had fallen asleep in her armor (or, more likely, passed out).

With agonizing slowness, Shion struggled to sit up, wiping at her mouth and eyes with the hem of her cloak. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she shuddered. Eyes red and bloodshot, with deep circles underneath, face pale, hair in hanging tangles, clothing rumpled. She looked like something that had been dragged out of the Hudson River.

Taking a deep breath, and immediately regretting it, Shion fumbled for her pistol, carefully holding it out and way from her body once it had cleared the holster. Standing was another chore, accomplished only after a few attempts, and leaving her swaying in place, teeth gritted in an attempt to overcome the sudden wave of nausea. Finally, she took a few tottering steps to the door, one hand gripping the knob tightly for support as she opened the door.

Across the living room, Raven, dressed in her robe, was just coming out of the kitchen. She smiled when she saw Shion was up. "Good morning, Shion. Back in the lands of the living, I see." She noticed the pistol in Shion's hand. "Err... something wrong?"

Closing her eyes, Shion took another deep breath, willing herself to remain both calm and stable. Opening her eyes (and wincing at the light), she carefully took in the figure of Raven, Adam, and the numerous bird sculptures scattered around the room. Satisfied that she wasn't hallucinating, Shion pointed the pistol at the floor. "Why," she gasped, "am I in your apartment?"

"That's a damned good question," Raven replied. She offered Shion a chair, since she seemed so wobbly. "I have no idea. You teleported right into my living room yesterday night. Caused quite a ruckus, you even woke Paula up. Made quite a mess in this room, too. From the amount of power you developed, you were either coming from China or something—or trying to get there." She paused. "You were pretty incoherent, you even mistook me for Marta."

"I did what?"

"You mistook me for your sister. It was dark."

"I..." Shion paused, shook her head and instantly regretted it. "I remember spending some time in 93 Underground... and then decided to see my sister. But..." she gave an uncharacteristic pause, and Raven could hear the catch in her voice. "I saw a body on the ground, my body... so I left..."

"Sit down, Shion." Raven took a seat on the couch, and went on. "Shion, you know that couldn't possibly have seen your own body."

"I know..." she sighed. "But... it looked just like me, except she was dressed in a suit. A black suit." Pausing, Shion glanced around the room. "When I arrived last night, what did I do? I... don't remember much after leaving 93 Underground." To Raven, the normally aristocratic "Empress" sounded almost embarrassed.

Raven shrugged. "Don't worry. You stayed awake for about two minutes, rambled a little, and then you passed out on my bed. You were holding something, too, a figurine in a box."

"A figurine..." Shion was quite for a moment and then stood up in rush. "Andromeda! Oooh... my head..."

"Why is the figurine so important, anyway?" She looked towards the kitchen. "Adam's preparing breakfast. Want anything?"

"My sister sent it to me, and..." Shion gave a cautious sniff and visibly paled. "No... just tea. Green tea, if you have any."

Raven called out to the kitchen. "Adam, could you make some green tea, please? I think we have some." Of course they did; Adam always made sure the cupboards were well-stocked with anything they might possibly need.

"Green tea, coming up," Adam called back from the kitchen, just loud enough to be heard without being too loud on sensitive ears.

Raven turned back to Shion. "Would you like some aspirin with that?"

"Yes, four. No... six." Carefully re-holstering her pistol, Shion pushed the door open behind her slowly walked back into Raven's bedroom, reappearing a moment later with a tall green box. Returning to her chair, she sat down with a sigh, looking less woozy than she had a few minutes before.

Adam emerged from the kitchen after a few moments, dressed only in a pair of denim blue jeans, and poured a small handful pills into Raven's hand—ibuprofen, aspirin having been banished from the apartment shortly after his arrival. Squeezing her hand briefly, the synthetic returned to his work.

"I guess you were going to see her," Raven said quietly. "Somehow you ended up here."

"Yes..." Shion stared at the brightly-colored figure of Andromeda through the packaging. "Marta sent this to me... I dressed up like this for Halloween, when I was six... Marta was General... General somebody, I forget. Oh, we ended up so sick that night."

Raven hesitated. The thought of the Empress having a childhood never really occurred to her, not that she didn't know she had one, just that it wasn't something you usually thought about, really.... but that Shion could be so, well, mushy about it, was definitely a surprise. Very out of character. "Sounds like it was a great time," said Raven, with a slight pang of regret. Her Auntie had fixed her up a few disguises for Halloween, though they weren't very convincing on her twisted form, and she'd come up with candy somehow; but Raven had never been trick-or-treating.

"It was years ago," Shion said dismissivly, snapping back into a more regal manner. Looking at the pills Adam had brought her, Shion picked them up carefully before asking "Can I get a glass of water?"

Well, that was a short moment. "Sure." Raven stood and went to the bathroom, quickly returning with a glass of water. She set it in front of Shion. "It was thoughtful of her to send you that," she said quietly, sitting down again.

"Yes," Shion responded, still looking at Andromeda's frozen smile through the clear plastic window. Opening the top, Shion slid the doll out of the box and into her hand, holding it carefully by one leg. "I used to have one just like this... I wonder what ever happened to it..." If Raven noticed the beginnings of a tear at the corner of Shion's eye, she said nothing. Setting the doll down, Shion scooped up the aspirin and swallowed them along with most of the glass of water. "I hope that works."

"Sounds like going to visit her and reminisce a bit was a good idea," Raven suggested. Unsure what else to say, she added, "I think you should stick around and recover a bit, though, at least until we get some solid food into you." Raven looked at Shion's battle armor meaningfully. "That must be pretty uncomfortable. I don't know if I have anything that'd fit you, though."

Glancing at her clothing as if only just realizing she had it on, Shion nodded. "Yes, and I could use a shower... or a long hot bath. I presume you could have some proper clothing brought to you, correct?"

"Probably, yes, but if you want your presence here to remain secret, I'll have to send Adam out, or go myself."

"That would be sufficient, I think." Rising, Shion carefully returned the doll to is container. "I think I shall shower now, and make myself presentable."

For a time Shion was content to merely sit in the shower, letting the strong spray of hot water wash over her body. She'd tried standing, but her unsettled stomach had quickly put an end to that idea. So she sat with her back against the far wall of the shower, the triple shower heads washing her down from all sides. Running a hand through the tangles of her hair, Shion regarded the silvery-white stands contemplatively, as if seeking an answer to several unasked questions in the locks of her hair.

She had managed to salvage some of her normally cold and aristocratic self out there in Raven's living room, or so she hoped, considering the presumably undignified manner in which she'd arrived last night. Fortunately for her, the only witness was Raven, who Shion was sure wouldn't inform anyone else of her plight.

But now, alone in the shower, Shion felt the depression of the night before creeping back up on her. The last few months had not been good ones. She needed to get away from the corporations, to go somewhere she could alone. Unfortunately, it was impossible to really get away from the corps, as they literally were everywhere. But she could find somewhere to spend some time alone. Like that beach on the west coast of Australia, where she'd taken Raven that one time...

That line of thought brought up a new question. Raven. Why had she ended up in Raven's apartment of all places? She had intended to go to her sister's, she remembered that much, and if she had been as intoxicated as Raven had said (and her pounding headache backed that argument up quite nicely), then why hadn't she mis-teleported to somewhere more familiar, like home? Why here?

There was a polite knock at the bathroom door. "Y-yes?," Shion said, her voice sounding uneven to her.

Raven's voice came in, muffled by the door. "Shion, it's me. I've got your clothes."

"Oh... yes, thank you. PLease, leave them on the sink."

Raven thumbed the lock open, holding a folded bundled of underwear, jeans, and sweater. Through the hazy glass of the shower, she could make out Shion sitting in the back of the shower, her body language depressed and pensive. She deposited the clothes on the sink, and asked, "Is something wrong, Shion?"

"What? No... nothing's wrong" Shion lied.

Even Raven could see through that. She leaned against the wall, looking sideways at Shion, the other woman seeming completely out of focus across the hazy glass. "Do you want to talk about it? I find it helps a lot."

"I said I was fine! I..." She quit yelling, rubbing her temples as her alcohol-induced headache hit her full-force. "I..." There was a long, pregnant pause. "Raven?"

"I'm here..."

"Why did I end up here? Why not in Hong Kong, or home?"

"I don't know, Shion," Raven replied honestly.

"Did you know that someone stole my car?"

Raven's eyes widened in surprise. "Someone stole YOUR car? Who would be dumb enough to do that?"

"I have no idea. They never caught who did it. And the car ended up a burned out wreck abandoned in the Zero Zone."

"That's a bummer," Raven commiserated. "Good thing they were going to ship you that car we saw at the Expo, you won't be on foot for long."

"A bummer? Raven, they stole my car! No one steals my car! ... ow... my head..."

Raven almost rolled her eyes. She'd heard that kind of talk from go-gangers about their rides. "Shion, I understand you're pissed, and maybe you'd gotten attached to it... but it's not like you even NEED a car."

Shion remained silent for a long moment. "I know, I know, but... It's more than that... it's... " There was another pause, then Shion said, in a small, less-than-imperial voice, "it's too much."

"What? What's too much?"

"Everything... Ishiyama, Karin," Raven winced at the mention of her most-recently-killed friend, but Shion did not see, and went on, "my car... that body I saw in the street. Raven I really thought that was me, that I was lying dead there... it was... it was like a nightmare while I was still awake." She hesitated. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to be me? Do you?"

"No, I don't, not really."

"No one does."

"Think about it, Shion," Raven said. "You stride miles above their heads, you're wealthier than Cresus, and no one dares talk back to you. How are they supposed to think this is hard?"

"You try it for a while then. See how you like it. I can never quit. I have to always be the aristocratic Empress, the supreme ice bitch. What ever made you think you could ever be my friend?"

Raven smiled to herself. "You're talking to me, aren't you?" she pointed out.

That seemed to take Shion aback. "I..." she started, but then she paused thoughtfully. At length she said, "Perhaps I am."

"Maybe you don't need to always be the ice bitch after all," Raven said.

"I do if I'm to be treated with the respect I deserve."

Again Raven smiled. "You're not the ice bitch right now" she repeated.

Shion thought on that for a moment, then said, "No... and if anyone knew that the Empress was going to pieces in your shower I'd be ruined."

Raven chuckled. "Well, if you're going to go to pieces, that's probably the best place for it."

"You are not helping," Shion said coolly.

"You can't maintain your facade all the time, Shion. If you don't drop it occasionally, you're going to go to pieces, and next time it might not be in my shower, where there's only me to see."

There was a period of quiet as Raven let Shion digest what she just said. Then the young telekinetic said, "Well, I left your clothes on the sink..."

"Thank you."

Raven opened the door to leave. "Try to figure out if you can have lunch. Talk to you in a few."

"I'll be out shortly," said Shion.

Raven quietly left the room and closed the door behind her. Shion turned off the shower, got out, and dried herself up. She wrapped her hair in a towel, an action that required a great deal of effort. She picked the clothes Raven had brought and tried them on; they fit very well, apparently Raven's little boytoy had a good eye for proportions. "He would, wouldn't he?" Shion said, looking in the mirror. "I cannot be seen looking like this. Hmm.. I am feeling better."

She left the room and saw Raven waiting for her in an easy chair, idly looking at a TV program with the sound turned down. The young woman turned to her. "I think I can eat now," Shion announced. "But not here. I need to go home first." She hesitated. "Raven, I'd like it if you came with me. I... I want your help."

Raven smiled. "I'd be glad to."

"I... I don't want to try teleporting, or even being teleported. What do you suggest?"

"Well... There's always my scooter," Raven offered. Shion just sort of stared at Raven, torn between shock and indignation. Raven laughed. "I guess not. I was thinking of buying a car, but I don't have anything right now... Taxi is right out. Maybe I can rent something.

"That sounds better."

Raven had long felt that one could tell a lot about a person's status by the size of their living quarters. Back in the Zone, for example, she had lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, consisting of a miniscule living room, equally small kitchen, bath, and bedroom scarcely large enough for a bed, much less anything else. Nevertheless, for a Zone resident it was a great deal of space.

As small as it was, it was more living space than that accorded to most entry-level Japanese salarimen, who—if Tara was to be believed—were given quarters in which everything pulled down from the walls. One could go even smaller, as the rooms in a coffin motel could attest, rooms where one barely had enough space to turn around, and no chance of standing upright.

At Shiroko-Tsuhi, Raven had been given a spacious three-bedroom apartment, which was frankly more space than she could ever imagine using. Still, she wasn't going to complain, as she knew for a fact that Paula, who had recently slipped a great deal in corporate standings, lived in a much smaller two-bedroom apartment several floors down. In an arcology, higher was always better. The closer to the top of the arcology, the better the view, and the more luxurious the offices and living spaces. Sanato, Raven suspected, lived at the top of the building, and probably had half the floor to himself.

Thus, it was with a mixture of awe, apprehension, and curiosity that Raven waited for Shion to open the door to her penthouse suite. It was located some ninety stories above street level and was accessible only through a private elevator. The door was a featureless black slab, marked only by a bright chrome handle. Entry came via a keypad and a maglock strip. A few moments later, the door swung open on silent hinges.

Spacious, Raven decided, didn't begin to describe Shion's penthouse. The foyer alone was bigger than her old bedroom. There was a large kitchen with attached "breakfast nook" to her upper left, while beyond that was the dining room. A spiral staircase to the upper floor was right in front of her, and just beyond that was what looked like a movie theater. Past that was the sunken living room, and over to her right, through an open doorway, she could see... water?

"Shion?" Raven asked.


"What's through there?"

"The swimming pool."

Very spacious indeed. "And you live here alone? Gosh, Shion, do you have a gym, too?"

"Upstairs. I had one of the spare bedrooms converted some time ago." Shion paused and glanced about warily. "Why do you ask?"

Raven rolled her eyes. "It was rhetorical. What do you do with all that space?"

Turning back to look at Raven, Shion thought for a moment before answering. "I live in it. I do have certain standards to uphold."

"Right," Raven said with a chuckle. "I should have known."

Glancing at her clothing, Shion sighed and shook her head. "I'm going to get changed, you make yourself at home."

Raven looked around the place as Shion left, wondering if she could ever feel at home in such a huge and luxurious place. There were smaller buildings on Clark Street—heck, Lydia's clinic would fit here. Uneasily she went to the living room window to admire the view—Neo York by morning. It was less impressive than she'd expected; today was a bad air day. The penthouse was above the thick layer of smog clouds that covered the entire city; the rising sun, clearly visible from so high, colored the top of the clouds in weird greens and grays and browns. Only the peaks of corporate arcologies, and landmarks such as the Empire State Building, pierced the thick pollution. The view seemed like an alien landscape of dispersed buildings rising from a weird, slowly rolling ground.

Since Shion was giving no sign of returning anytime soon, Raven decided to go hunt for a can of pop. Finding the kitchen in the palatial dwelling was not too hard—she simply needed to return to the foyer and turn right—but she was a bit surprised that Shion had a kitchen. She'd half-expected Shion to order all her meals in.

A quick look in her refrigerator, however, made her realized that her assumption wasn't too far from the truth. The fridge contained high-quality prepack (prepack made from real meat and vegetables—the concept boggled the mind), various bottles of chilled liquor and white wine, and a few other amenities necessary for drinks, such as, thankfully, a bottle of cola. Raven had never heard of the particular brand, but it had a classy, gold-trimmed label that read "rum-and-coke mix". It was probably horrendously expensive, but it looked like pop, it smelled like pop, the ingredients list read like pop, and once she'd poured some in a glass, she found that it tasted like pop. She spent a few moments trying to figure out how to get the ice machine to provide standard-sized ice cubes instead of the plethora of options available, but gave up and simply poured the current selection in her glass—tiny ice cubes that Shion probably used when crushed ice was called for.

Raven sipped at the overpriced cola—the glass, a heavy, solid-looking thing that she'd found after rifling through three cupboards full of exotic glassware while she returned to the sunken living room and sat down in a plush couch that was as long as her bed. Glancing about, Raven counted eight speaker sets, and that were those that were visible. She suspected there was a subwoofer set embedded in the floor. Raven sank back in the soft couch and wondered if she should try to put on some music.

*beep* *beep* *beep*

Frowning, Raven took the phone/PDA combination in her hand and looked at it for a moment, thinking about the thing's awful timing, before she flicked it on. "Hello," she told the small screen.

A wizened old lady appeared on the tiny display. "Raven?" the miniature woman said.

"Auntie?" Raven's face immediately brightened up. "Hi! How are you?"

"I am well, Raven," Lydia said in her ever-even tone, smiling slightly at her pupil despite her grave expression. "But there is someone here who needs your help. Urgently."

Raven sombered. "Who?"

"She is a Puma replicant who belongs to an executive at your company," the doctor explained. "She has been shot, and she is critically injured. She needs more help than I can give her here."

Raven frowned. "You want me to take her back to her owner? Lydia, you know that'd be condemning her to a life of slavery she probably fled... if they don't just recycle her out of hand."

"Raven," Lydia said patiently, "she is dying. Either way, it is worth trying."

The young telekinetic mused thoughtfully on that. Lydia certainly had a point, and there was a chance the Puma's owner would take her back. If not... Raven had a hefty nest egg and no desire to keep money. She had, she also figured, quite a bit of untapped clout within the corporation. Shiroko-Tsuhi might be willing to accomodate their prime esper's trivial whimsies.

"Okay, I'll arrange for the medical bay to be ready for her."

"She also needs a way to get there," Lydia pointed out.

Raven sighed. "Fine, I'll be right over to 'port her there, after I tell Shion I need to step away and I call the med bay."

Lydia's video representation seemed impassible, but Raven felt a bit of urgency in her tone when she spoke. "Raven, whatever you do, do not bring Shion with you."

"Why not?" Raven said. "I mean, I wasn't planning to, but..." she trailed off.

"It's important. I'll show you once you are here." The tiny Lydia smiled. "Thank you, Raven."

"Anytime, Auntie," Raven said feelingly, and she flicked the phone off. Well, best go talk to Shion about taking some time alone. She looked at the ceiling; Shion was still upstairs and hadn't moved in a while. Well, it was urgent...

Raven climbed the steps leading to the hallway, walked past the entertainment center (she could've sworn the screen in there was theater-sized) and went up the spiral stairs. Pausing to orient herself with Shion's esper signature, she made an about face and approached the door to the master bedroom. It was ajar; Raven knocked softly, but receiving no response, she peeked inside.

It was, as she expected, opulent. The door to an immense walk-in close hung open to her right, revealing more clothing then Raven ever expected to own in her life. The bedroom itself was done up in shades of blue, white, and gray, which went well with the black and chrome furniture. Dominating the room was a huge bed, across which an unmoving Shion lay sprawled.

Standing at the foot of the bed, Raven glanced about, noticing that Shion's borrowed clothing lay in a folded heap on the floor. Shion herself was dressed only in a sheer lacy bra and panties, which was apaprently all she had gotten on before falling fast sleep. Too much emotional drain on the poor Empress, Raven thought, as she pulled a blanket over the tall woman's body. The bed swayed slightly in response to her actions—apparently the Empress slept on a waterbed. It figured.

Quietly closing the door, Raven had to smile to herself. Well, having Shion asleep made things much easier, didn't it?

She went downstairs again, and hunted in the kitchen for a pen and a piece of paper. In the end she had to use one of her business cards to write her note. "Shion: Had to go, personal emergency. I'll be back soon. Didn't want to wake you up. Raven." She placed the card on the table under the pen, then stepped back and concentrated. Smoothly now, wouldn't want to awaken Shion....

The next instant, she was gone.

Raven stepped out of thin air ten feet away from Lydia's clinic, cracking the pavement slightly under her feet. Her Auntie awaited her in the doorsill, like she usually did, as if she knew the exact moment she would come in. In this case, of course, the feat didn't seem too impressive. Raven stepped forward and quickly hugged her adpotive mother.

"Where is she?" Raven asked. "Do you have her identification papers?"

"Right this way," Lydia said. She led Raven to a stretcher kept apart from the rest of the clinic. The patient was stripped to her underwear, and a thick bandage covered her chest. An oxygen masked also masked her face, but for a moment Raven still thought she'd been pulled back three minutes in time, and was looking at Shion asleep on her bed...

She turned sharply to Lydia. "No wonder you didn't want me to bring Shion here. Who the hell is that?"

Lydia handed Raven a smartcard. "Her name is Shion-Hime. She belongs to one William Case, who is an executive at Shiroko-Tsuhi."

Raven grunted in recognition of the name; she'd heard a little of Case, enough to know she didn't want to deal with him, ever. "That kind of... of sickness is just like him, I suppose." She glared at Shion-Hime then, reminding herself that the Puma had nothing to do with her appearance, softened her stare. "What happened?"

Lydia went on, "She received several gunshots in the chest and abdomen. Someone brought her here from the 93 Underground. I've mostly stabilized her, but she's slowly worsening."

"Oh!" Raven said. "Shion said she'd hallucinated seeing herself dying in a street at the 93U... I guess she saw Shion-Hime. Okay." She tookout her cel again. "I'll see what I can do." She quickly dialed.

A cookie-cutter, pleasant-looking receptionist type in a white shirt appeared in the tiny screen. "Shiroko-Tsuhi Employee Emergency Health Benefits, how may I help you?"

"This is Raven Clark," said Raven. "I'm going to be at your door in three minutes with n emergency patient, a Puma called Shion-Hime," she looked at the smartcard, "designation PU2819-SH9231, with multiple chest and abdomen firearm wounds. Be ready."

"Um, Miss Clark," the receptionist said apologetically, "we do not treat replicants at Employee Emergency Health Benefits facilities. Might I suggest..."

"Whatever," Raven cut her. "The replicant facility is right next to you anyway. Just make sure someone over there's ready to take care of her. If you lose her, I'm going to have to be very angry, understand?"

The S-T operator, apparently used to dealing with overbearing customers, kept typing on her terminal, apparently unruffled. "Yes, Miss Clark, I understand. The replicant repair people will do everything they can, I'm sure. But, Miss Clark, the replicant you named is not registered to you, could you explain how a..." Raven could hardly suppress a smirk, watching the receptionist's gaze move up to read Raven's employment information, including her job title. "Oh, my God..." the receptionist said in a small voice.

"That's not important. I'll be there in a minute. Now, if Case is too cheap to pay for the surgery, then I will, and I'll settle things with him later. See you in thirty seconds." She flicked the phone off and briefly hugged Lydia again. She took hold of Shion-Hime's stretcher, closed her eyes, and moved again.

It took all of twenty seconds for a bunch of pale-faced orderly-types to rush out of the arcology's replicant repair bay once Raven was there. They moved with cautious haste, quickly taking Shion-Hime inside. All looked terrified at the thought of touching off a esper. Maybe they'd had to deal with Paula before, Raven mused.

While Shion-Hime was being rushed to the operating room, Raven went to the reception desk. The receptionist for Replicant Repair was as pleasantly nondescript as the one in Employee Emergency Health Benefits. Raven set her elbows on the desk, lay her chin on her hands, and looked the woman in the eye.

"Sorry about barging in like that, but it IS an emergency," Raven said. The receptionist nodded but said nothing. "You'll probably want to call Case. If he wants to spring for the surgery, then he's welcome to do so. If he doesn't, then tell him I want the ownership registrations transferred to me, and I'll pay for it." She paused, then added, "Needless to say, I don't want her to be recycled for any reason. Okay?"

"Got it," the other woman said. Remarkable aplomb, Raven thought—those emergency people were well-trained to deal with the unexpected.

"Thanks. Now I have another thing on the fire that can't wait, so I have to go. You have my number if anything happens." Raven turned and walked away, taking some time before she teleported back to Shion's penthouse to think about what she'd just done.

It was the only way to give Shion-Hime a reasonable chance of survival... Pretty expensive, and more than likely to cause trouble, but Auntie liked to say that even though you couldn't save everyone, you should try to save those that God left in your hands. And God had left in her hands a Puma that was designed as a dead ringer for Shion, just as she was helping the Empress herself deal with her issues. The Almighty had an odd sense of humor.

Would Case spring for the surgery? Raven didn't know, maybe he had gotten tired of his toy by now; perhaps that was why he'd abandoned her in the Zero Zone. If he did, though, Shion-Hime would be back to her old life as a pet... much like Adam, Raven thought bemusedly. She had the distinct feeling, though, that Adam had it much easier than Shion-Hime ever would.

However, what if Raven ended up paying for the surgery? She could afford it, it wasn't much of an issue, but she just might end up the legal owner of a combat replicant that looked exactly like the world's most infamous esper, AND her newest and most problematic friend. What in the world was she supposed to do with that?

Shrugging, Raven pictured Shion's penthouse. Better to deal with one problematic royal at a time.

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