By Jeff Skagen

[Note: This story take place the day after "Fox Tales 2".]

What she wanted was a Victoria Bitter. What she had was something that tasted like it had been filtered thru a cat. Of course, that was only in keeping with how Shoko's entire day had been going.

She'd started by oversleeping, which had gotten her a cold breakfast and a very late start on the first day of her job hunt. Almost as soon as she headed out it had starting to rain, and had kept up a cold, nasty drizzle for most of the afternoon. Then, still unfamiliar with the Zone, she'd gotten lost on the way to the Entertainment District. All told, it was well into late afternoon by the time she started finding the nightclubs and bars where she hoped to find work as a bouncer.

Unfortunately, having finally located the nightclubs hadn't done her much good, as it had soon become obvious that no one would to hire her. They'd all pretty much told her the same thing, that all positions were filled and they weren't hiring at the moment. Probably most of them were even telling the truth; plenty of big, beefy bouncers were in evidence in most of the bars and clubs. But she'd also picked up on an unvoiced "we wouldn't hire you anyway" vibe that she couldn't explain.

She'd finally figured out for certain that something was up when asked Duke, the manager of the 93 Underground, about a job. She knew they were looking for some new bouncers to replace recent losses, CK had told her so, yet he'd turned her down flat. Hadn't even given her a chance to sell her skills. Well, at least he'd been honest enough to just say "you're not what I'm looking for" instead of claiming they were already fully staffed. Unfortunately, a waitress had pulled him away before she could try to press him on why she wasn't what he wanted for a bouncer.

So now she was sitting at a worn table at a back of the nightclub, watching a young girl on stage take her clothes off to the beat of the music, and trying to wash away her depression with some crappy North American beer whose only virtues were that it was cheap and contained alcohol. Having been artificially created fully-grown, Shoko'd never had much of a knack for judging the age of normal humans, but if the girl on stage weren't underage then she'd lop off her tail and make a hat of it.

Across the room against the far wall, clad in faded denim jeans and a tight white T-shirt, discretely stood the one bouncer on duty, surveying the room with arms crossed. Shoko noticed that he was regularly eying on her. It would have been nice to believe that it was because he found her attractive, but she suspected it was because she had him worried. An unhappy and slightly inebriated Puma isn't the sort of customer that a bouncer wants to see hanging around.

Gathering her resolve, and taking one more swig of beer, she stood from her table and, skirting the edge of the dance floor, strode toward him. She saw him tense slightly as he saw her approaching, uncertain of her intent. Then he noticed her fox-like ears, if not quite fully upright, were at least not pressed flat to her skull in anger, and he relaxed slightly.

"Excuse, mate," she said, stopping in front of him. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Yeah," he answered simply, assessing her with as dispassionate a gaze as he could, given the degree to which he had to raise his head to meet her eyes.

"Just how did you get to be a bouncer here?"

As his eyes narrowed, she realized how that sounded. "Sorry!" she said, holding up a hand to forestall his anger. "That came out so wrong. I didn't mean to imply...well, that you don't look like you could be a bouncer. I just meant... let me explain. You see, Duke, the manager, just turned me down for a position here, even though I know there are some openings. I thought that, as someone who did get hired on here as a bouncer, maybe you'd give me some pointers about what I'm doing wrong. Why won't any of the clubs around here hire me?"

"Ah, I see. Now I understand," he said, relaxing enough to lean casually against the wall behind him.

"I though at first it was some kind of anti-synthetic prejudice," she continued. "But I know there were one or two synths among the bouncers I saw at other bars around here, so now I don't know what to think."

"You don't?" he seemed vaguely amused. "Yes, I'm sure there probably were some synths among the bouncers, and almost certainly a bunch of cyborgs and the like as well. That's not the issue. I bet you didn't see a woman bouncer, though. Or if you did, she was probably drek-ugly."

"So, what, this is some sexist thing?!?" exclaimed Shoko angrily, her ears lowered and tail twitching sharply back and forth.

"Whoa, ease down, girl," he said, making calming gestures with his hands. "That's not what I mean, at least not exactly. The problem is that a bouncer is supposed to stop trouble, whenever possible before it happens, right? I mean, if some drunk starts acting up, or some corper starts hitting on a waitress, then I have to move in and stop him. But as a b-...attractive woman, the drunks and corpers are likely as not gonna try to hit on you. You'd be a focus for the sort of trouble you're supposed to prevent. See?"

"Well, tool," she muttered unhappily. "I guess I see your point. But I mean, really. How many people would try to bother me?"

"Are you kidding? It's pretty quiet at this hour, and even so you're still lucky you haven't been hit on or felt up already. Hang around too much longer and you will be. Once some of these guys get drunk or hyped, they lose all common sense," he paused to glance around, making sure everyone in the club was still behaving themselves.

"And then think about the corpers," he continued. "We get a lot of them later in the evening, slumming. They're not used to the more...uh, independent sort of synths we get here in the Zone. The Puma's they're used to are all 'yessir! nosir! what position sir?'. They don't have the sense to be afraid of a Puma bouncer. Hell, they think you're here to protect them from the nasty zoners. Also, if you're too busy fending off drunks and corpers, then you'll likely to miss another problem elsewhere in the place. What good is a bouncer who attracts more trouble than they prevent?"

By the time he was finished, Shoko's head was bowed and her tail had drooped.

The bouncer looked apologetic. "Sorry to have to tell you. But the truth is, if it were my bar, I just wouldn't hire you. Not as bouncer anyway."

Shoko looked up at this. "'Not as a bouncer'? So what would you hire me as?"

His casual demeanor failed for the first time, as he suddenly hesitated, looking uncomfortable. "Um...well, I hope this doesn't offend you, but truthfully the only job here I'd probably hire you for would be, uh, up on stage."

Shoko's eyes glanced over to the stage, where the young girl, now entirely unclothed, strutted around in a way that might charitably be called 'dancing'. "Hmph. Yeah, well, don't worry. I'm not offended. That's sorta what several of the other club owners and managers I talked to said, or at least hinted at. I guess I better start at least thinking about it."

"Yeah, I guess you should." With her gaze averted, the bouncer took the opportunity to look Shoko over, trying to imagine her naked on stage. "You'd do well, I think. You're kinda exotic, what with your dark skin and all, and that tail would stand out. Sorta like a trademark thing, you know?"

"Yeah, guess so," answered Shoko distractedly, still watching the girl on stage. Then she turned her full attention back to the bouncer. "Well, thanks for your help. I appreciate your telling me the truth about why I wasn't getting hired."

"No problem," he said, as she turned and headed for a seat near the stage.

She found an empty seat at a stage-side table, and sat nursing her beer and fending off the occasional unwanted advance as several strippers cycled through. Their dancing skills varied a fair bit, the worst being the young girl she'd first seen, who could do little more than sway and strut to the beat while taking her clothes off, and the best being a lovely platinum-haired woman who was so sexy and graceful that she probably would have gotten applause and catcalls had she kept her clothes on through her entire act.

A stripper, huh? Well, why not! She wasn't a great dancer, but Nagate had liked to show her off and so had taken her out dancing at nightclubs fairly often. As a result, she was still a better dancer than a number of the girls she'd just seen up on stage. Admittedly, there's a big difference between dancing on a crowded disco floor, and taking ones clothes off on a stage, but she was confident she could adapt. And being a stripping Fox—well, a Puma, as everyone would assume—should make her something of a novelty n the Zone. Hell, she even had that outfit Capt. Hollister had given her—it would make a great striptease costume!

Shoko felt the tension in her back and shoulders start to release as she realized it was all finally coming together for her. Heck, it was almost like destiny or something, calling her to do this. As the blonde finished her act, Shoko made up her mind. She'd go find Duke again, and ask to hire on as a stripper, instead. She took a large swig of the fine North American beer she'd been enjoying, and started to stand up to go look for Duke. At that moment Electric Sheep's "Synthetic Love" blared from the over-amped speakers, and the next act strutted onto the stage. She dropped back down in shock.

It was a pair of twin Pumas.

They had long, blonde fountains of hair falling to their waists, and dressed in revealing outfits consisting mostly of a web of leather straps, and fishnet stockings. They were on the tall side by Puma standards, though still a bit shorter than Shoko, and were so identical as to obviously have been made as a matched pair. They were hot, they were sexy, and worst of all...

...they danced. They danced—and stripped—with an erotic precision that was stunning to behold. Well, for most of the audience.

Shoko sat sullenly in her seat. There was no way she could ever out-class or out-perform the two Pumas. She wouldn't even have the distinction of being the only Puma stripper in the Zone, and of course she'd always be compared to those two. Well, screw that. No way was she taking a job where she'd always be a second stringer!

So much for her new career plan. This one hadn't even lasted five whole minutes...

Halfway through the act, she got up, stalked to the exit—stopping only to retrieve her Remington Stormbreaker from the gun check girl—and marched out the door to begin the long walk back to the garage.

Outside, it was raining again.

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