The problem with books, Raven thought as she closed the dog-eared sci-fi novel she'd just finished rereading, is that even when they're good reads they always have the same story the second time around. Raven loved to read, especially real paper books; they had more reality, more feel, to them than computer text. But Raven was flat out of books she hadn't reread. Getting up from her bed, she put the book back on the shelf where it belonged. She needed something else to occupy her time.

Stretching, she went to the door of her room to see what the others were up to. Duncan was no doubt doing some housework—that's all he ever did on his own and neither Raven nor Aasha had really ever asked him to do anything. The minder today was Katsura, something of an enigma to Raven. She had to have some sort of life—nobody was so completely absorbed by their devotion to the corporation, were they?

Noises from the kitchen proved that Duncan was either making dinner or cleaning up after lunch—or both. Katsura, meanwhile, was reading of all things. Raven couldn't see the title of the book from where she was standing, but decided it was a moot point—the book was in Japanese.

"Hmm?" Katsura replied intelligently before closing the book and setting it aside. "Oh, it's nothing. Just an examination of various cybernetic systems."

Right, Raven thought. Too much to hope she'd be reading a novel. "Something for a course?" she asked.

"No." The cyborg glanced at Raven for a moment. "I try to keep up to date on new technologies."

"Ah. I guess you would want to do that." *This is awkward. She has to have some interests?* "I'm just done reading a novel, myself—Silver Dreams by Leman Barstow. Great book, if a little old now. Do you read any fiction?"

"Not really, no." Katsura shrugged. "I don't see the need for it."

*Oh boy.* "Well, that's okay—not everyone likes the same things." Raven hesitated, then asked, "What do you do for fun then?"

There was a pause as Katsura digested the question. "Why do you ask?" was her response.

Raven shrugged. "Seems we're going to be together a lot from now on. I figured we might get to know each other a little."

"I'd rather not," Katsura replied icily. "We are coworkers, not friends."

Right. "No reason why we couldn't be both."

"I find close attachments can be a hindrance in my line of work. They can be..." Katsura paused for effect. "Inefficient."

"Right. And efficiency is everything?"

"To an extent. I am a company troubleshooter after all."

"So am I, in a way," Raven said, shrugging. "I think," she added.

"Oh?" Now Katsura showed some interest. "In what way?"

"Is that not why they have me here? To deal with trouble that would otherwise be insurmountable?"

"Probably," Katsura answered with a nod. "Every corporation wants an esper weapon or two, if only to keep enemy esper weapons away." Katsura paused and looked thoughtful. "In some ways I'm the same."

"How so?" Raven asked.

"I'm just like you. A corporate asset." Katsura stood and made a sweeping motion with one hand. "Did you think I was born looking like this? Of course not. I'm a cyborg, and my perfect face and figure are a gift from the company. In addition, I'm stronger, faster, and more durable than I ever was before, I never get sick, and I rarely get tired. In exchange I do what the company asks. All in all, not a bad price, hmm?"

"Well, I really used to think so. I'm stronger, faster, prettier—heck, I can even walk. I was in heaven. Now?" Raven looked around the apartment that served as her prison and protective cocoon all at the same time, ran a finger along the collar around her neck. "Now, I'm not so sure it was all worth it." Perhaps not the sort of admission to make on camera and to Katsura—but surely, the corps knew she wasn't happy at all with her situation.

There was a long moment where Katsura said nothing. "I've always thought it best," she finally spoke, "to keep esper weapons happy and content. You have less accidents that way."

Raven smiled sadly and shook her head. "I wish someone had told them that," she said. "Unless this all is supposed to make me happy and content."

Katsura looked around. "Doesn't it?"

"Why would it? I'm a prisoner, Katsura. The cage might be golden, but I'm still stuck here." Raven half-smiled. "Unless you're telling me I could get up now and go down to 93U or the Edge of Night for a drink."

"But why would you want to? You have everything here."

"Well, there's no people, no atmosphere, and no alcohol," Raven pointed out.

"Alcohol I can get." Katsura said. "Will that do?"

Raven shook her head a bit. "You don't go to clubs much, do you? The booze is secondary, really. The ambiance, the music, the dancing, and especially the people, that's why I would go there."

"No," Katsura shook her head. "I don't go to clubs. Do you want me to apply for a leave pass?"

"Leave pass." Raven chuckled bitterly. "See what I mean? I need to beg for permission to go out in a club. I bet I'll need to wait for a week so they can plan an escort of security guards and the like, if they even say "yes'."

"That's the best I can do," Katsura snapped, "So don't take it out on me."

"I know," Raven said. "I'm not blaming you." She was, a little, but she didn't really mean to. "My point is, you can see why this would make me less than happy and content."

There was another long pause. "Yes. I can."

"But I'm under control, and I guess that's all that matters to them," Raven added.

"Do you know why I'm here?" Katsura asked.

Raven looked at her curiously. "You're here to watch over me, right?"

"Because it's easier to put a cyborg back together."

"And harder to take apart, too..." Raven paused suddenly, realizing what Katsura meant. "They think *I* might tear you apart, right? They think I might freak out and turn on my minders."

"It's happened before." Katsura sat down near Raven. "Esper weapons aren't the most stable of people. Ms. Lars is proof of that."

"So is that why they're doing this to me, then? Because they're scared I might freak out and attack someone?" Raven snorted. "That and they want me to do exactly what they want."

"Is that so hard?"

"It hasn't been—yet." Raven threw herself back into the couch. "And that's what so infuriating and so frightening at the same time. I wasn't giving them trouble, I wasn't rebelling at all, so why do they feel the need to do this to me? To get me to do things I normally wouldn't want to do?"

"Possibly." Katsura glanced towards where Duncan was working in the kitchen. "That's the idea behind military basic training—to condition men to respond to order without hesitation. To obey the chain of command. However," and she turned to looked back at Raven. "Unlike myself, you are not a soldier."

"Very much not so," Raven said, wondering where Katsura was heading with her argument.

"So I can't tell you to "sit down and shut up" now can I?"

Raven frowned. "I've been told to do what my minders tell me," she said, "and if I don't, well, you have my remote."

"That's not what I meant."

"What did you mean then?"

Katsura sighed. "This isn't the military. I can't order you to be quiet, don't ask questions, and just do your job. Instead, I have a button I can push, which may or may not make you obey and might end up with the building exploding." She sat back heavily. "If certain people had handled this better I wouldn't have to be here."

"Right," Raven said. "I can't see what was wrong with the way "this" was handled before."

"As I understand it, you had too much freedom."

"Too much?" Raven shook her head in disbelief. "Exactly what did I do that I shouldn't have, and why didn't they tell me?"

"I don't know," Katsura snapped. "I just do what they tell me."

"Sorry," Raven said. "I'm just trying to made sense of what's happening."

Duncan stepped in from the kitchen. "Dinner's ready," he announced. Raven looked at Katsura quietly, then rose to head for the kitchen. She rarely felt hungry these days, but when she didn't eat, she always got visits from very friendly, very concerned doctors. So she ate to avoid the hassle.

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