Raven appeared over Shion's indoor pool with a booming rush of air that rattled the windows and sliding glass doors. Touching down on the wood deck that ringed the pool, she took a moment to compose herself, and to home in on Shion's signature, which was currently in the living room. Turning around, she headed that way, wondering how the woman was feeling now.
"Hello, Raven." Shion's voice was mild in tone, if not calm.
"Uh..." Raven's greeting died in her throat as she caught site of Shion's outfit.
Black boots to the knee. White formfitting trousers. Bright gold sash around the waist. A long white swallow-tailed coat with gold lining and trim, complete with braid and epaulets. White sash over the shoulder. White gloves. Shion looked like something from an earlier time, a military officer dressed in a uniform 200 years out of date. She looked, of course, stunning.
Shion shrugged. "I felt like dressing up."
"You certainly have," Raven said. "Where did you get that outfit?"
"A corporate function I attended a few years ago. They wanted me to project a militaristic aura, without being intimidating. I have a matching sword as well."
"That'd be too much." Raven sat on the couch. "Slept well?"
"Yes." Shion fussed with the dangling lengths of braid for a moment. "I did. I felt clearer headed when I awoke. I think I am feeling much better now. You?"
"I had to step out for a while, for a personal emergency. But that's taken care of now."
"Good." Shion stood and performed a minute adjustment to her jacket. "Care to do lunch?"
"Sure," Raven said. "But wherever we're going with you dressed like that, I probably need to change."
"Do you wish to return home, or do you want to pick up something new along the way?" Walking over to Raven, Shion reached out and touched a lock of bright white hair that stood out in sharp contrast to Raven's inky-black tresses. "Is this part of a new look for you?"
"It's a reminder," said Raven. "Or maybe a tribute. Or a battle scar." She shrugged. "I'm not too sure. It seemed fitting."
"A reminder?" Shion looked puzzled. "Of what?"
"Lilith," Raven replied. "Lilith, and what she might have been." Her teeth clenched, and she added, "And what she was meant to be."
There was a long moment of silence as Shion digested Raven's words. "Come on," she said finally. "We need to get you something to wear."
"No problem. I'll just drop by my place on the way out. Where are we going?"
"Depends. Do you like Chinese?"
'Do you like Chinese?'
Such a simple question, really, to which Raven had replied "of course." She should have known that Shion wouldn't bother with imitations. No siree, when Shion went for Chinese... well, she went to China, first class flight of course, and went for Chinese.
Now she was in Hong Kong, which as she knew for previous experience had excellent dining choices. At least this time she was in company of people who could appreciate the cuisine.
Upon hearing Raven's answer, Shion had produced a phone, and called her sister—more accurately woken her sister up, based on Shion's side of the conversation. Arrangements made, the two of them then drove back to Raven's so that she could change. She emerged wearing a black dress, low cut and slit up the side of the skirt, that clung to her like a sheath. Her hair was combed to one side to display her ear, where a silver earring hung. A thin chain joined the earring with a brooch on her chest. A thick black ribbon held her raven pendant visibly above the neckline of the low-cut garment. A silver ferromaine completed the ensemble, an unusual piece that placed a small amethyst on her forehead. Less wild than Shion's outfit, but equally formal and, she hoped, equally beautiful.
Then the airport, and then a First Class scramjet trip to Hong Kong. Time Zones had whipped past in an eyeblink, and now Raven found herself at one in the afternoon, the next day, standing some ninety floors up in the air outside the door to Ling Ling and Marta's home. Shion rapped gently on the door, and waited, looking totally unruffled in her unconventional choice of clothing. She had, naturally, turned heads everywhere she went, and once again Raven was glad for the way Shion could part a crowd by the sheer presence of her existence, a talent that came in most useful at the Hong Kong airport.
The opening of the door snapped Raven back to the present, as Marta stepped out to join her sister. The shorter woman smiled politely at Raven, and turned from side to side, allowing the young esper to see exactly what she was wearing.
Apparently, Raven decided, everyone was dressing up today. Marta had on a virtually skintight black bodysuit with a high collar. Over that went a short-sleeved knee-length jacket in pale gray, secured by a narrow black belt. Black high-heeled boots and black gloves completed the outfit.
"Do you like?" Marta's question seemed genuine, and not an attempted come on.
Well, that was a relief. Raven looked Marta up and down, then nodded. "It suits you. And your personality," she said with a small smile.
"Hello, Raven. I hope you are well?"
Turning around, Raven gave Ling Ling a smile, and tried not to stare. The Chinese woman was dressed in a very snug-fitting Cheong Sam that hugged every curve. Made from black silk and covered with a writhing gold dragon, the dress had a high Mandarin collar and no sleeves. It fell to mid-calf, and was cut far up the hip on either side, revealing a pale bronze lining. A pair of long black sheathes covered Ling Ling's arms but left the hands bare, and like the dress they were trimmed in gold.
"I'm doing great, Ling Ling," Raven replied. She smiled and added, "Although it's a good thing I didn't have any plans for the day. Shion can wreak havoc on a schedule." The last said with an amused gaze Shion's way.
"I did not hear you complain once," Shion replied in a haughty tone of voice. She looked to be insulted, although Raven thought that it was all just an act... maybe.
"Gee, Shion, in the bustle of getting ready to fly to Hong Kong RIGHT NOW, there was no time to complain." She shrugged and added, smirking, "Besides, I didn't have any plans for the day. Chinese food in Hong Kong seems as good as anything..."
"You could have said no."
"Enough!" Marta exclaimed, grabbing her sister's wrists and starting to pull the much taller woman down the hall. "Lunch awaits!"
Raven whooped. "Good, I'm starved!" she exclaimed, as she followed the pair.
"Marta, I swear at times you act like you're still a child." Shaking her head, Ling Ling followed after her bodyguard.
Har Kau, Chuen Kuen, Siu Mai, Gai Bu, Wor Tip, Jin Darn Kok, Raven was quickly buried under a sea of names that she couldn't begin to hope to pronounce. Each one represented a dish of what Ling Ling called "dim sum," which she said translated to "little hearts." It also translated to a table absolutely smothered in plates, each of which held a small selection of Chinese cuisine.
Apparently, the four of them were not having lunch, but "yum cha." which was dim sum accompanied by a ever-full pot of Chinese tea. The dim sum itself seemed to be infinite in its variety, and included dumplings both steamed and fried, soft dough buns, meatballs, egg rolls, scallion pancakes, sliced meat, seafood, and vegetables. It came on plates of different sizes, or in small steamer baskets, which was brought around on carts by smiling waiters who counted the empty dishes and left a growing pile of receipts.
Sitting next to Shion, who ate slowly, but seemed intent on trying everything, Raven watched Marta and Ling Ling in an atmosphere far more relaxed than her last visit. Outside on the streets, the black-haired street samurai had been edgy and vigilant, but here, in a private side room, she was easygoing, almost giddy in fact. Raven suspected the multiple beers Marta had consumed were to blame. Why else would she be trying to feed Ling Ling dumplings from her own chopsticks?
"Enjoying yourself?" Shion asked, sipping at a tall glass of Tsing Tao.
Raven lifted her cup of tea at her and nodded, smiling. "I love this kind of meal, where you get to pick and choose what you like. It's so much more interesting than the usual three-service thing."
"And we can spend as long as we like here," Shion put her glass down and nodded at Marta and Ling Ling. "Although we may have to leave before my sister causes a scene."
Having successfully managed to get a dumpling into Ling Ling's mouth without dropping it—no sure thing considering the two were laughing constantly—Marta dismissed her sister's fears with a wave of her hand. "We... or should I say you caused a scene the moment you walked in here. Come on, going to lunch dressed like that?"
"And what is wrong with how I'm dressed?"
Marta put her chopsticks down and picked up her own glass of beer. "You look way to formal." Swallowing a mouthful of amber liquid she grinned, "You need to loosen up, relax a little. Don't you think so, Raven?"
"Definitely," Raven said. She looked at Shion. "You're always on edge, and that makes people edgy. Well," she smirked, "present company expected, I suppose. You need to relieve some stress."
"And how do you propose I do that?" Shion asked in an almost sarcastic tone.
"Easy," her sister replied instantly, "Get laid." Marta then turned her attention to Ling Ling who sounded like she was choking on her tea.
"Get laid..." Shion turned to Raven. "Well?"
"It'd help," Raven quipped.
Raven was fairly sure she'd never seen Shion at a loss for words before, which made her present blank stare all the more amusing. "You need to do wilder stuff," Raven continued, "For example, you have this super-duper car that's like a rocket-propelled English manor on wheels... and what's the hardest you've ever driven it?"
"I'm... not sure," Shion responded slowly. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Fun, Shion. Fun! A bit of wild, unbridled fun. When was the last time you did anything just for fun?" Raven spread her hands. "You don't even go to movies, do you?"
"No..." Shion answered slowly. "But why should I? I seen any film I wish in my own home."
"Yeah, Ling Ling, you should see her entertainment center," Marta said, gesturing with a pair of chopsticks. "It has everything. We should get one."
"But where would we put it?" Ling Ling answered.
Setting down her chopsticks, Shion turned to Raven. "Why are you doing this?"
Raven shrugged. "Because you're my friend, and I think your sister is right—you really need to relax from time to time. What good is it to have everything you've got if you never stop to enjoy it?"
"I do enjoy it. Usually when I am alone and away from everyone else." Shion pointed an accusing finger at Raven's face. "You of all people should understand why I have a need for privacy and a time to be alone."
"I agree, but it's just that you seem so... staid? It doesn't seem to me that you do much just for fun, and I just figured that you might be bored often, even if you don't want to admit it."
"And what do you propose I for 'fun,' then? Take my car out on the highway and drive as fast as I can? Or will you lend me Adam so I can 'relax'?"
"Adam?" Marta perked up at the name. "Who's Adam?"
Raven smiled. "He's an escort synthetic the company assigned to me," she explained. "He's awesome."
"Awesome?" Marta asked. "Can't you be a little more specific? Inquiring minds want to know!"
Raven blushed slightly. "Well what do you want me to tell you? He's attentive, he's romantic, there's no end to his skills... even those of a more physical nature" she said, borrowing a phrase from Adam. "I think he's as much fun out of bed as in it."
"Oooh..." Marta gave Raven a sly grin. "If I didn't have Ling Ling I'd want one."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Ling Ling stated, rolling her eyes.
"I will admit, Adam has his uses..." Shion started.
"Aha!" Marta interrupted, "I knew it! You need to get one of those! What do you say, Raven? Will you lend my big sister Adam so she can take him for a test drive?"
"Marta..." Shion said slowly.
Raven blushed fiercely. "I don't think that'd be very appropriate," she said.
"Well... it was just a suggestion," Marta said petulantly.
"And not a bad one," Ling Ling said soothingly. "But perhaps with someone else. Someone who isn't already spoken for."
Shion shook her head, "I can't believe I'm listening to this. My sister, the match maker."
"Maybe Raven knows someone?" Ling Ling suggested
Raven chuckled. "Someone who Shion would date, and who'd date Shion? I doubt it. No offense, Shion" she glanced at the other woman, "but your reputation kinda makes these things difficult."
"That's why you get her a synthetic," Marta pointed out. "They don't care about stuff like that.
"I think I had enough of this," Shion stated coldly, and stood up from the table.
"Don't take it so badly, Shion," Raven said. "We're just teasing."
"Yeah, we..." Marta managed before Ling Ling quieted her.
"I don't care to be teased, Raven," Shion replied, returning to her seat. "And I don't find this present conversation at all amusing."
"I think you're just not used to it," Raven said.
"No, I am not used to it. I am used to be treated with respect."
"Fearful respect. Doesn't it get annoying after a while?"
Shion sat silently as she thought about Raven's question. "I... I wouldn't call it annoying," she answered finally, "Although I do find it sometimes tiresome."
"So when your sister and I start teasing, maybe you should laugh at it instead of leaving in a huff," Raven suggested. "At least it's a change. And you could fight back—I thought you were more combative than that."
"Fight back?" Shion asked. "And give in to my sister? I think not."
"See," Marta said to Ling Ling, "I told you I'd win."
"You know, Marty," Shion continued smoothly, "I really have to wonder what Ling Ling see in you. You are still act like that fourteen year-old brat I knew back home."
"Do not," Marta growled, "Call me 'Marty'."
Raven laughed and clapped. "Oh, looks like Shion scored a hit there."
"Notice she didn't argue over being called a 'brat' either," Shion replied smugly as she took a drink of beer.
"Shee, I..." Marta said as she started to rise, when Ling Ling laid a hand on her arm. "Not now," the Chinese woman said quietly. "Let it go."
After a moment of glaring at her sister—who drank her beer quietly, apparently oblivious to her gaze—Marta relaxed and sat down. "All right," she said in return. "But I still stand by what I said. Shee, you're too uptight. You need to unwind, but with the exception of the three of us, everyone you meet is going to be scared to death of you. Maybe you should take a vacation. Rent a beach house, a couple of escort synths, and let them fuck your brains out."
"How eloquently put," Shion responded.
"Ditch the escort synths, and Marta's got a point," Raven said. "You need to hang with people who aren't scared witless of you. It makes for much better conversation." She grinned. "And it helps keep the ego in check."
"I'm here, aren't I?"
Raven glanced at Marta. "I think she got us there."
"True," Marta admitted.
"Perhaps," Ling Ling said quietly, "We can continue this conversation elsewhere? I for one have eaten all I care for."
"Same here," Marta agreed with a nod. "Say... we can take soak in the hot tub, it seats four! What do you think?"
"I think not," Shion stated flatly.
"Hmph," Marta muttered as she slumped in her seat.
"We could return to our apartment," Ling Ling offered. "I promise no hot tubs."
"Are you in a hurry to be somewhere else, Raven?" Shion asked.
Raven shrugged. "They know my phone number if they need me."
Sitting in Ling Ling and Marta's living room, Raven decided that she knew who had done the decorating. The Chinese brush paintings and porcelain vases were a dead giveaway. Raven wasn't sure what the room would have looked like if Marta had been in charge, but she expected it would have involved a lot of guns... or maybe nude women... or both.
Currently. however, Marta was brushing out her sister's hair. Raven found it to be an almost surreal scene, one she never would have been able to visualize when she had first met Shion. But there the Empress sat, her jacket off and her head slightly bowed, while Marta stood behind her, a brush in one hand, and a handful snowy-white tresses in the other. What amazed Raven the most was the attitudes of the two women. Marta was quiet and relaxed, a far cry from her usual hyperactive self, while Shion seemed almost demure, and hadn't snapped at her sister for the last half-hour at least.
Ling Ling, meanwhile, had changed out of her dress, which Raven thought looked uncomfortably tight, into a much looser tunic and trousers. She now lounged in huge papa-san chair and sipped at a cup of tea. Shion had dropped her jacket as well, revealing a high-collared white shirt. Raven had experimentally hefted the coat, and almost regretted it. Between the buttons, braid, epaulets, and the high-quality armor-cloth fabric, Shion's dress coat felt like it weighed a good ten or twelve pounds, maybe more. Shion, Raven decided, was a slave to fashion.
"I wish I had a sister," she casually remarked to Ling Ling.
"Oh? Why is that?"
Raven just waved at Marta and Shion. "Stuff like that. That's just so sweet... It must be good to have someone about your age when growing up."
"I wouldn't know," Ling Ling replied. "I was an only child."
"Same here." Raven responded, and then paused to think. "One thing I'm still curious about is that Supreme Senshi Starfighter Andromeda doll, or whatever her name was. What's with that?"
Ling Ling smiled and shrugged. "You'll have to ask Marta, I've no idea either."
"I'm curious about the Andromeda doll."
Marta looked up from the handfull of hair she was brushing clear of tangles. "What Andromeda doll?"
"That doll that Shion had when she came to my apartment," Raven said.
"Oh... that doll." Marta grinned knowingly.
"Yes," Shion said quietly, "where did you find it?"
"Down in the street market. When I saw it I knew I had to get it for you."
"I see..." Shion sat quietly for a minute. "Thank you."
"No problem." Marta ran her brush through her sister's hair for several strokes before looking back up. "You see, when we were kids, my sister absolutely adored the Supreme Senshi Starfighters," she explained. "Especially Andromeda, since well, she looked just like her. Even dressed up as her one Halloween."
"And you were..." Shion paused and looked puzzled. "General... General someone."
"That was Grand Admiral Cygnus X-1, Shee." Marta sighed. "No one can ever remember that guy's name."
"That's so sweet," Raven said. "Sounds like a fun time."
Marta laughed," Shion didn't think so. She got so sick from eating all that candy."
"Do we have to bring that up?" Shion asked, looking, much to Raven's surprise, embarrassed.
Raven laughed. "I have a hard time imagining Shion flat on her back after eating too much candy!"
"Oh, it was worse than that," Marta nudged her sister. "Tell her."
"I'd rather not." Shion looked even more embarrassed.
"Okay, I will then." Marta resumed brushing her sister's hair. "She threw up for most of the night. And then spent most of the next day in bed."
Raven looked at Shion in surprise. "How much DID you eat?"
"It wasn't how much I ate, more like what I ate," Shion explained. One shouldn't combine extremely sugary sweets with heavily caffeinated sodas."
"Ewww... I feel sick just thinking about it."
"Same here," Ling Ling agreed.
"And the headache was the worst part."
"Yeah," Marta added, "cracked a mirror if I recall."
"Telekinetic kids can cause so many problems." Raven giggled. "I should know!"
"Oh?" Marta cocked an eyebrow. "What did you destroy?"
"Let's see, where to begin... Well there was this time when I was just beginning to manifest, and I had zero control, of course... And I caught a cold that winter. Every time I sneezed I'd send out a burst and usually break something. Windows, bikes, vases, glasses... Name it. It was pretty silly actually, Auntie and I had some good laughs over it."
"I never had problems like that," Shion stated. "My control has always been near absolute."
"Except for that time you blew up your boyfriend," Marta responded, obviously without thinking.
The silence that followed was deafening. Shion bowed her head, her hands clasped together and shaking slightly with repressed anger. Marta stepped back and dropped the hairbrush, her hands covering her mouth. Ling Ling simply sat frozen, nether moving or saying a word.
"I... I... I..." Marta stammered, "I'm sorry... I didn't mean to..."
Raven tensed and readied herself, in case the Empress lost her vaunted absolute control, either over her power or over her temper. "Shion..." she said, trying to sound calm, "Easy. She didn't mean it."
There was a long silent moment as Shion stared at the floor, neither moving or speaking. Finally she spoke: "That was a very long time ago, and I have grown since then. I do not think now is the time or place to mention it." She paused, and seemed to be about to say more, and then sat up, her face a cold mask.
"No problem, Shion," said Raven, relaxing a little. "So Marta, how did you meet Ling Ling?" she asked, in a transparent—but, she hoped, welcome—attempt to change the subject.
Picking up the hairbrush, Marta cautiously walked over to her sister, and then slowly returned to brushing out Shion's long tresses. Raven noticed the action seemed to act as a catharsis for them both, as the pair visibly relaxed after a few moments.
"It was in San Francisco," Marta started. "Ling Ling hired me to act as her bodyguard and general security for the duration of her visit."
"I was there for a few days on business," Ling Ling explained.
"Right, and San Francisco can be a rough place. There are a lot of Japanese companies there, and arguments between companies, as well as between the Japanese and Bear Flag nationals, are common. So my job was to run interference and make sure Ling Ling got through okay."
"She followed me everywhere," Ling Ling continued. "Never let me out of her sight for a minute."
"Everywhere?" Raven asked.
"Well, not everywhere." Marta laughed, and it was now Ling Ling and Raven's turn to relax. The tense moment was now well behind them. Even Shion seemed more at ease.
"You know what we really need?" Marta asked abruptly, interrupting what had been a contented moment of silence.
"I am almost afraid to ask..." Shion said dryly.
"Hmph," Marta responded before forging ahead. "We need to throw or attend a party. A really huge, really informal bash with lots of people too drunk to care that you're the big bad Empress." Marta paused and let her words sink in. "And you, dear sister, have got to go incognito."
"That sounds like a great idea," Raven put in. "We can help Shion get clothing that's a little less attraction-grabbing, we can find some place with lots of alcohol... I think we should do it."
"So, first," Marta continued, "we color your hair. It's far to obvious. We should make it black, so it matches the rest of us. And uhm... how should we dress you?"
"Don't I get a say in this matter?" Shion asked.
"No!" Marta and Raven replied in unison.
"Marta, dear," Ling Ling asked, "Where do you plan on going for this party?"
"Hmm... good question. Raven?"
Raven rubbed her chin. "Neo York Zero Zone, I'd say. It's got the wildest parties in the world, after all. But not the 93U, it's having a Classic Rock special tonight. Hmmm.... I think there's parties at the Edge of Night and the Pit. So what shall it be? Rough and tumble or Cit posers?"
Shion gave Raven a hard stare. "We are not going to the Pit. It is a hellhole, with no redeeming features."
"My kind of place!" Marta quipped.
"And I will not let you take Ling Ling there," Shion continued. "It wouldn't be a party, it would be a massacre."
"Edge of Night it is," Raven stated in a quick attempt to chance the subject.
"If we wish to attend the party "incognito" as Marta said, how shall we dress?" Ling Ling asked.
"Raven and I will take care of that," Marta answered, "You can fix Shion's hair after we dye it."
"I never said yes to this," Shion said slowly.
"Stop complaining, it will be fun." Marta lightly tapped her sister on the head with her brush.
"The Edge of Night is a Zone club for people who don't go into the Zone," Raven said. "So to blend in we need to dress up like Cits. _Think_ Zoner dress. Street chic—leather, jeans, PVC, that kind of thing. Think vidshow."
Ling Ling glanced over at Raven. "I don't own anything like that."
"No problem," Marta replied. "Raven and I will go shopping for clothing, while you two get ready here."
"I am not wearing vinyl," Shion stated flatly.
"Then I'll get you leather," her sister replied.
"Leather it is. Let's go, Marta"
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