By Jeff Skagen and Michael Surbrook
[this occurs in late June of 2033]

Shoko was convinced that based on a per-inhabitant ratio, Bell's Motors saw more acts of intercourse than any other place in the Zone. Oh, by day everything looked normal enough, what with André and Ken tinkering with cars and bikes and engines, Bell tending the garden and cooking up mouthwatering plates of food, and Ayane helping out where ever she was needed. But once the sun set and the place closed down for the day...

Ayane had an excuse, she was a synth, and Shoko suspected that she'd been tinkered with to be more randy than was normal for a Lynx. Although, truth be told, Shoko had no idea what "normal" was for a Lynx in the first place. All watching trivids told you was that virtually all synths were A: female, B: impossibly proportioned, C: bisexual, and D: possessing an insatiable appetite for sex. Shoko knew from personal experience that the trivid view of the world was pretty much crap. Still, Ayane did seem to enjoy an active (and vocal) sex life.

And that was the gist of the problem. It wasn't that apparently every night André, Ayane, Bell, and Ken all went to their respective bedrooms and did the Wild Thing, it was that Shoko could hear it. With her large ears she had quite acute hearing, and the beds the garage had didn't have the best springs in the world. Not to mention the assorted noises that came from each bedroom. If she wasn't getting free room and board, she'd move out. As it was, Shoko realized she really needed to get her tail in gear and find a job and a new place to live, not necessarily in that order.

Of course, being kept awake every night listening to everyone else get what you weren't wasn't exactly conductive to a good night's sleep. So for the moment Shoko was content to sit in the warm sun and doze off and on. Bell was weeding the garden, Ayane was chopping wood, and André and Ken had gone off in Ken's smaller (and much quieter) truck to look over some parts or some such. For once the garage was quiet.

Drowsing in the warmth, Shoko began to wonder if she couldn't work a bit on her tan. In Sydney, the constant sun had baked her cinnamon-toned skin into a rich mahogany shade that she'd loved. Since coming to Neo York, her skin tone had been lightening back to its original shade. Of course, without a bathing suit, or even a bra and panties, working on her tan would require she be in a clothing optional environment. Normally Bell's Motors was not such a place, but with the guys gone for the If it were just Ayane here she'd might go for it, but she just didn't know Bell well enough to guess if she'd be shocked, and she didn't dare risk offending her hostess, especially when she was so dependent on her charity. Better to play it safe and stay on best behavior around Bell. Throwing one arm over her eyes to block the sun's glare, she leaned back in her chair and allowed the suns rays to lure her into nodding off again.

The sudden thump of something heavy snapped Shoko out of a strange dream where she was naked on a Sydney beach, having sex with CK while Ayane, André, and the rest looked on and gave her performance and technique tips. Quickly filing the memory away into the "soon to be forgotten" part of her brain, Shoko shook herself awake and glanced around to find the source of the noise.

Standing on the wide pad of concrete that fronted the garage proper were two Pumas. Two tall, blonde-maned Pumas who looked virtually identical. They could have been twins in fact, with matching faces and lushly-endowed figures. Dressed in somewhat matching costumes of black leather, vinyl, and armor plate, they were a far cry from the sexy duo that had danced and stripped for a frenzied 93 Underground crowd, but there was no mistaking their height and hair. Shoko hated them immediately.

The noise had apparently been caused by one of the two dropping her bike down onto the concrete. Even Shoko could see something was wrong with it, as she doubted a working machine would leak oil so freely. The other, who still had her bike slung up over one shoulder, prodded her companion with an elbow and nodded at Shoko.

"Ooh... Look Anna, dark meat." This was followed by a suggestive licking of the lips that Shoko found a touch disturbing. She presumed that it was meant to be sexual in nature, but she wasn't exactly sure.

Whatever had been meant, Shoko was pretty sure she didn't care for the comment. With a big yawn, she arched her back and stretched limbs until joints audibly popped, then sat forward and leveled her gaze on the Puma that had spoken. "You know, you're doing that backwards. See, the idea is you ride on the bike, not the other way 'round."

With a smooth rippling of muscles the Puma slung her bike off her shoulder and set it down on the ground. The machine looked to be in fine shape, if one discounted the front wheel, which was a mangled mess. Taking her time, the Puma than produced a long, thin cigarillo and lit it, breathing out a cloud of smoke before responding. "Can't ride if the bike don't work," she replied in a "boy aren't you dumb" tone.

Looking around at the garage, the one named Anna stepped away from her ruined bike, hands on her hips and what looked like a scowl on her face. "Where's Ken?" she asked.

Distracted from another sarcastic reply, Shoko turned her attention to Anna and answered more politely, "Gone. Lookin' at some possible salvage or something, I think. Not sure when he'll be back."

Seeing the Puma's scowl deepen, she added, "I guess you can park those bikes and wait, if you want. Or, hell, park them and come back later, if you prefer. Just park 'em there on the dirt, so there's not so much of an oil slick to clean up later."

"Crap." That remark was punctuated by a quick kick to the bike, sending it toppling over on its side. "Never around when ya need them." Anna then snagged the handlebars of the bike with one hand and then slid it over to the gravel that bordered the concrete pad, leaving a long streak of oil.

Shoko raised an eyebrow at the display, but didn't comment. Rude or not, they were as still as strong as the average Puma—or herself for that matter.

With a low "humph" the other Puma lifted her bike and set it next to her partners. As she moved, Shoko caught a glance of a large handgun strapped to one hip. Both the Pumas were armed in fact, with apparently identically-sized automatics that looked capable of putting holes in armor plate. It made her all too uncomfortably aware that she'd left her own gun, a Remington Stormbreaker, in the garage.

A moment later the two flopped down onto the concrete pad, sitting back-to-back as there was nothing to lean against. Then the one who wasn't Anna (Shoko was glad one was smoking, or else she'd never been able to tell them apart) dug around her belt for a moment before handing her partner a cigarillo similar to the one she was smoking. Shoko sighed. Nothing was ever easy.

"So," said the one who had called her 'dark meat' at the outset, "you the new help?"

"Not really," she answered. "Ayane's letting me to stay here until I find a job and a place to live, is all. I try to help out where I can, though. Don't wanna be a leech."

"Ah," said 'dark meat' offhandedly, as her partner puffed her cigarillo to life.

"By the way, my name's Shoko," she said, leaning back in her chair. A slight smile pulled at the edge of her mouth as she added, "I think it means 'Dark Meat' in Japanese."

Anna snickered as her companion blew out a large cloud of smoke. "Uni," she replied and then elbowed her partner in the back. "That's Anna."

"Pleasetameetcha," Anna grinned and then raised an eyebrow. "Nice tail."

Now it was Uni's turn to laugh. "Yeah, did André get tired of Ayane's nine yet?"

Shoko raised her eyebrows. "André? Not hardly! He wouldn't look away from her if I were dancing around him naked and oiled. Ken, maybe, but not André."

"Do you?" Uni asked.

"Do I what?" Shoko replied.

"Dance around naked and oiled?"

Shoko burst out laughing. "I'm afraid not," she chuckled, and then thought a moment. "Well...not lately, anyway," she amended, "and certainly not around André. The rejection would just be too embarrassing!"

"Figures," Anna muttered. "Ayane must be friggin' sexgoddess in bed or somethin'. Oh well, guess that means we still gotta pay to get our bikes fixed."

"Well, yeah," said Shoko, momentarily clueless. "Why would her being... oh, right. So, um, speaking of your bikes, what happened to them, anyway? I used to own an XT2000, and I'd hate to have seen it banged up like yours are."

"Same ol' same ol'," Uni answered, amid a cloud of smoke. "Buncha punks decide they can take the Puma Sisters inna fight. But we showed them, eh Anna?"

Anna grinned and took a few short puffs on her cigarillo. Shoko was reminded vaguely of an old flatscreen movie Nagate had been watching once. "Showed them the business end of my M-100," she giggled, which Shoko found to be faintly disturbing sound. The strain it put on her top didn't help either.

"Except one of 'em put a round through Anna's bike and blew the front of mine apart." Uni grumbled sourly.

"Huh. Stupid headbangers. You'd think they'd at least have the sense to leave Puma's alone," said Shoko with disgust. "Then again, uneducated drek like that, maybe they just don't know much about synthetics. I suppose they saw you two up on stage, and figured that if you were strippers, then you must be some sort of sex model and not know how to fight, or something."

"Or something," Anna agreed. "Y'd think they'd learn."

Behind her, Uni shrugged. "I say we learned them enough for now. That bunch won't be botherin' anyone for a while."

A cloud of smoke was Anna's answer as she stared thoughtfully at Shoko. "Did you really dance?" she asked, her ears up and forward.

"Well, yeah, sometimes. Privately. Nagate, my former..." she paused, trying to find the right word. Lover? Owner? "...companion, liked me to strip for him. And he had a thing for baby oil. Guess he liked how I looked all slick and shiny. You know men."

Anna thought Shoko might be blushing a bit, though it was hard to be sure with her dusky skin. "Oh yeah, we know men," she said. Behind her, Uni chuckled before taking another drag on her cigarillo.

"Actually, I might have been dancing on stage that way right now, if it weren't for you two. Remember I told you I'm searching for job here in the Zone? Well, I thought I'd make a good bouncer, but I found out most of the club owners didn't agree. They thought I'd make better entertainment, apparently."

Shoko paused to marshal her thoughts, and noticed that both Pumas were watching her attentively, though Uni had to crane her head around to do so.

"So the other night I was watching the strippers at 93 Underground, and thinking that I can dance as well as most of them. And hell, I'm a Puma and I've got this cute tail, so I should stand out a bit from the crowd, right? So I decide I'm gonna do it, hire on as a stripper. I've just made the decision, I mean literally, I'm just starting to stand up to go see...what's his name, the owner or manager, whatever he is?"

"Gordon," chimed in both Puma Sisters simultaneously.

"Right. So I'm just standing up to go see Gordon, and who do you think comes out on stage?"

"Who?" asked Uni breathlessly.

Shoko blinked in surprise. Wasn't it obvious? "You!" she exclaimed, waggling her finger at them. "You two came out on stage, and started doing your act!"

"Oh!" said Anna in a tone of sudden understanding.

"Right! You two are Pumas like me, and you're better dancers than I could probably ever hope to be. Even my tail isn't much of a trademark, compared to you two being twins. Which do you think most guys would like better! You two totally outclass me, and why the hell would I ever want to hire on in a job where I'll always be second fiddle to someone else?"

Shoko paused a moment, uncomfortably. "So anyway," she finally continued, sounding a bit sheepish, "that's why I was kinda bitchy when you first showed up here. I know it's not your fault, but I was still a little pissed at you. Sorry."

Anna shrugged with a twitch of her ears, causing her front to rise and fall suggestively. From the neck down, the pair looked virtually identical to Shoko's own well-endowed figure, a prime reason for the two Pumas to be so popular as strippers. "Actually," she said slowly, "I was thinking about that. See... our act is getting kinda old." Behind her, Uni nodded quickly. "I mean, we get the crowds, but we don't get the tips we used to. We need to spice things up."

Uni's ears twitched as she took a long drag on her cigarillo. "Hmm..." she muttered. "White and dark meat. A Puma sandwich...." She licked her lips again. "Could be fun."

Anna virtually jumped to her feet, sending her twin sprawling. "Yeah! I like it!" Gripping her cigarillo between her teeth, she began undoing her top, motioning to Shoko with a free hand. "C'mon, take it off, let's see how you look."

"You're serious?" exclaimed Shoko, ears popping fully upright. "Dance with you? Ace! I'd love to!"

She quickly scrambled out of her seat, pulled her T-shirt off over her head, and threw it over the back of the chair. Her shoes and pants soon followed. With no underwear, this left her entirely bare. Hands on hips, she pirouetted in front of the Pumas, pausing briefly with her back to them, before completing the rotation. Then, throwing her arms open in a "Ta-Da" gesture, asked, "Well, whaddya think? Do I measure up?"

Beside her, an equally naked Anna raised her arms up over her head and flexed, displaying her impressive muscular definition. Uni examined the pair coolly and with a critical eye. Her twin was just a few inches shorter than Shoko, but her long ears and thick name helped disguise the fact. Otherwise, Anna and Shoko had basically the same figure and the same general proportions.

Muttering under her breath, Uni walked around Shoko and her sister, trailing one finger across Shoko's bare skin. "Color's good... Good muscle tone..." Uni brushed one bare breast, "Tits are big enough..." A moment later she stood behind Shoko and gave a slight tug on the tail. "Nice ass..." was her only comment.

"Unnniii!" Anna exclaimed. She grabbed Shoko by the shoulders and turned her to face her twin. "Stop being so picky! Look at this body! We'll make a fortune! All the clubs will want us!"

Hands on her hips, Uni gave a nod amid a wreath of smoke. "True. Whaddya say Shoko?"

"I think sounds like a ripper idea. Let's try it!" she said excitedly, then sobered abruptly. "Oh, there is one thing. Like I said before, I'm not nearly as good a dancer as you two. I'm a quick learner though. You guys up for giving me, I dunno, maybe a week of intensive lessons? After that, well, I'm not sure I'd be a smooth as you, but at least I'm sure I wouldn't embarrass us up on stage."

"No problem!" said Anna quickly, as if to forestall an objection. But Uni, after glancing over Shoko's body one more time, simply nodded. "Yeah," she said, "we can get you up to speed."

"Great!" said Shoko, tail flicking happily. "So when do we--"

"Shoko? What are you doing?"

Shoko spun about to see Ayane standing wide-eyed in the garage's doorway, looking a bit sweaty and disheveled from chopping wood. She still had the ax gripped in her left hand.

"Oh, Ayane! Hi!" she said, a bit flustered. "I'm, uh, well... auditioning, I guess. Anna and Uni want me to join their act! Looks like I finally found a job, eh?"

"With them?" Shoko had a sinking feeling that if Ayane had ears like her own, they'd be flat. As it was, her tails swished from side to side and then pressed up against her legs. "Stripping?"

Shoko's own ears and tail drooped in return, and she found herself fighting off a sudden urge to cover herself with her hands or snatch her clothes back. "Well... yeah."

"'With them'?" muttered Uni beside her, sounding insulted.

Gathering a bit of resolve, Shoko planted her hands on her hips and said, "Why not? It's honest enough work, I need the money, and, well, I am well built for it after all. So why shouldn't I strip with them?"

"Yeah! Why shouldn't she?" chimed in Uni supportively, though Shoko rather wished she wouldn't at this particular moment. "And what did you mean 'with them', anyway?"

The ax still held in one hand, Ayane took a step forward and pointed at Uni with her free hand. "You two are nothing but trouble and you know it! Always tearing around, blowing stuff up, and hiring out to anyone who pay you in gas and ammo. Shoko can do better than that!"

Uni's response was to narrow her brows, take her own step forward and virtually growl at Ayane. The two ended up so close that their noses almost touched, glaring at each other for all they were worth. Anna meanwhile dropped her arm over Shoko's shoulders and whispered, "Uni won't do anything, we still gotta get our bikes fixed."

Shoko's own response was cut short by yet another interruption. This one stood about five-foot-two, with long brown hair held out of her face by a colorful scarf. Her face and hands still smeared with dirt from the garden, Bell walked up to the towering collection of synthetics and made her displeasure known. "Anna! Shoko! What are you doing?!? Uni! You leave Ayane alone if you want to get any work done! Ayane, you go get cleaned up and stop bothering the customers!"

The effect was actually quite amazing. Anna and Uni both retreated almost immediately behind Shoko, looking over her shoulders as they strove to keep her between them and Bell. Ayane dropped her ax in surprise, then fumbled around for it before uttering a quick apology and vanishing back into the garage. Bell finally came to a halt before Shoko, her hands on her hips, a stared up at the tall dusky-bodied synthetic, totally ignoring her current nakedness.

"Care to explain yourselves?" she asked.

"It wasn't our fault! We didn't do anything wrong!" cried Anna over her shoulder.

"Yeah! It was that fantailed hussy who was causin' trouble!" chimed in Uni.

"We was just mindin' our own business--"

"Talking to Shoko!"

"--when she comes out and starts insulting us!"

"And threatening us with an ax!"

"That right! You'd think you didn't want any payin' customers here."

"I think someone owes us an apology!"

"Enough!" cried Bell. "You two be silent! Shoko. Perhaps you can explain?"

Despite being over a foot taller, Shoko found herself faltering under Bell's glare and would have retreated a step if the two Pumas hadn't been pressed against her back.

"Right. Um...well, you see, Anna and Uni came by to get their bikes fixed," she said, gesturing to the damaged motorcycles. "And since Ken wasn't here, they decided to wait. Well, we started talking, they offered me a job, and then Ayane came out and got angry with them, and next thing I knew, you'd arrived and broke the argument up."

Shoko fidgeted nervously as Bell looked dubiously at her, head cocked slightly to one side. She suspected that Bell wasn't going to be satisfied with her brief and very incomplete explanation. If nothing else, Bell could hardly miss noticing that it didn't explain her and Anna's current state of undress.

"Tell me," she asked slowly. "Exactly what sort of job offer was this?"

"Uh-oh." Shoko's ear twitched as Anna whispered in it. "Busted."

"Uh, well, they offered me a job as a...dancer. On stage. With them."

"A dancer," said Bell. It wasn't exactly a question.

"Well, okay, a stripper really. That's why..." Shoko gestured vaguely at herself and Anna, somehow encompassing their lack of attire. "I mean, they needed to know if I looked good naked, and how I'd compare to them, didn't they?"

"Unhunh..." Bell looked at the trio and then at the bikes and finally around the yard. "If you three have enough time to strip naked for each other, then you have enough time to help pay for all the work we're going to do on your bikes." Bell took a step back, placed one hand on her hip and pointed at the synthetics with the other. "First you're all going to get your clothes back on. Shoko, go find Ayane, get a pitchfork and turn the compost heap. Anna, Uni, you two are going to stack all the firewood around the back. And if I hear any back talk or see anyone naked between now and when you're done, no bikes fixed and Shoko? You're going to find your own dinner. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, ma'am," Shoko replied meekly.

Bell hovered long enough to make sure that Anna and Shoko really were getting dressed, then headed back into the garage.

"So," asked Anna, fastening up her outfit. "You still wanna dance with us, right?"

Shoko had to stop and think about this. Ayane had made it clear that she didn't approve of the Puma Sisters or the job, and the opinion of her friend was important to her. Would Ayane still be her friend if she took the job? And if she wouldn't, what did that say about their friendship? Stomach fluttering uncertainly, Shoko decided to trust that a real friend would accept her choices, even if she didn't approve of them.

"Yes," she finally answered, "Yes I do."

"Cool!" Uni cried. "I got a great idea for our act. We cuff ya to the center pole and then... oh, I dunno... run our tongues all over your body."

"Uh...cuff me?"

Anna's ears twitched. "That's your great idea? Feeling Shoko up on stage? Who'd pay to see that?"

"Any guy with a pulse."

Anna mulled that one over for a moment. "You gotta point there."

"Um...Cuffed? I thought I was going to be dancing with you. You know, dancing?"

"Oh, better yet, we could lick whip cream off of her!" exclaimed Uni enthusiastically.

"Oh yeah, that has possibilities," said Anna. "I wonder what we could do with other foods?"

"You mean like...chocolate syrup?"

Figures it would be too good to be true, thought Shoko, sneaking off toward the compost pile, Ayane, I think I owe you an apology.

"Oooh! Chocolate and whipped cream, sounds tasty! A Shoko sundae. Hey, think we could cover her with candy sprinkles too?"

"Probably. Doesn't sound all that sexy, though."

"Yeah, I know, I just like sprinkles on my sundaes. What about you, Shoko? Shoko? Hey, where'd she go?"

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