By Logan Darklighter and Mathieu Roy

Note: This takes place before "Dry Run" and "Shiroko-Tsuhi Event".

Raven sat quietly watching the TV and waiting for Lora to relieve her minder. Of her three cyborg escorts Lora was by far her favorite --- she didn't even see her so much as a bodyguard or watcher than as a friend. Katsura was all business, always going with what the company told her, and Aasha... Aasha was friendly enough, but she had to keep the appearances up for the company, and Raven was quite honestly nervous about having the secret agent around, for fear of revealing her.

Lora, on the other hand, always managed to make her sheltered life seem less boring, and Raven found she always felt more comfortable around her, even forgetting that there were hidden cameras trained on her at all times. The blonde cyborg somehow managed to often make Raven forget her situation and step back into normal life for a time. The sense of relief it brought into her life was worth every second.

The main door to the "apartment" chimed and Lora walked in carrying a large bag over her shoulder and a case held in her other hand. Katsura looked up from the book she had been reading, closed it, then got up from the couch to greet her relief.

"How's it going?" Lora asked.

"Quiet as usual." Katsura shrugged. "Raven slept late. She's been watching TV for the last couple of hours."

Lora nodded. Before an awkward silence could develop, she continued, "Well okay then. Feel free to go. I've got it covered."

She looked at the bag and case that Lora was carrying. "May I ask what you have there?"

"Musical instruments. Keyboard and speakers, flute and guitar. Got cleared to bring them in today. I want to keep in practice. And Raven shouldn't mind."

"Ah, yes." Katsura acknowledged with the hint of a lifted eyebrow. "Well have a good day." She said as the door closed behind her.

Lora muttered under her breath, "Bitch..." She could swear the woman had a contempt for her and her willingness to be friends with Raven that she kept well hidden except for pointed moments like that. Well she could just go do something anatomically impossible to herself as far as Lora was concerned.

Then she turned and brightened when Raven's eyes met hers. She still didn't feel any better about Raven being a prisoner than she did the first day she had come down here. But she was bound and determined to lighten Raven's mood as much as she could.

"Hey there!"

"Oh, hey Lora!" said Raven, turning the TV off. "How are you doing?" She noticed that Lora was laden with several packages. "Hey, that looks heavy, do you need help?" She made as if to assist Lora, then stopped herself and chuckled with belated realization. "Oh, right, I guess you don't, do you?"

Lora's held a slightly sardonic expression just a moment, then having teased Raven enough, said, smiling, "Not really, but thanks."

"So what's this stuff?" Raven asked curiously.

Putting the guitar case to one side, Lora unslung the other large carrying case and laid it on the coffee table. "I told you I used to busk for a living in the Zone, right? Did I mention that I've kept in practice when I can?"

"No, I don't think you did but then—I saw you play that piano, right?"

She flipped open the lid of the case and revealed a keyboard and a smaller case, which she extracted and opened. Inside was a flute, which Lora proceeded to put together.

Raven was looking at the keyboard curiously. "Cool... Kinda looks like a computer, doesn't it?"

"Eh... Sort of, I guess." Lora ran a quick scale on her flute and then pulled the keyboard out of its case and started plugging in the leads to the speakers and the power into a wall outlet. As she worked, she asked Raven, "So, ever played a musical instrument?"

"Uh, nope." Raven chuckled. "Woulda been kinda hard with only one hand that didn't work too well."

Now it was Lora's turn to look a bit chagrined. "Oops. I forgot about that."

"Hey, don't worry—it's all in the past now."

Lora smiled, "Okay." Then she cocked her head and asked, "Do you sing?"

"In the shower?" Raven giggled.

Chuckling in return, Lora replied, "Sure, why not?"

"That's all tho. Nothing formal really."

Lora nodded, "I haven't done much singing myself. I play this stuff instead." She said, gesturing at the equipment and the guitar. "If you like, I can teach you. Or we can just have a little bit of fun. Or I can just play something if you'd like to hear it."

Raven smiled. "Cool."

Sitting cross-legged, with her keyboard to the side assembled and ready, Lora reached over and got her guitar out of its case, plugged its leads into the speaker and power systems as well and began tuning it. Strumming it softly as she did so. The sound was very relaxing to Raven.

With her smile still on her face, Raven sat comfortably in one of the easy chairs and watched Lora.

After tuning up, Lora drifted into a catchy, bluesy tune. Just enough to make Raven want to tap her foot in time with it. But relaxing, too, in a way. A laid back thing that had a touch of old fashioned swing to it.

When she finished with that one. Lora said, "Got anything you want to hear?"

Raven shrugged. "I kinda liked that Celtic thing you were playing back at the mall," she said.

"Hmmm..." Lora thought for a moment, then made a slight adjustment to her guitar and strummed a couple of bars. Then nodded and went into something that Raven didn't recognize. It wasn't what Lora had been playing at the mall, but it sounded similar. More lilting though. The melody built upon itself, soaring across the long notes and dipping into the valleys of short, improvised licks. Lora would occasionally hold a note long and bend it beautifully, so that it almost seemed like the instrument was speaking a language all its own. Then she slowly wound down the song and ended on a quiet few notes.

"That was something a guy by the name of David Gilmore played." Lora said. "He was with this band in the late 20th called 'Pink Floyd'. There are faster guitar pieces out there. Stuff that's more complex. But Gilmore somehow knew how to make more out of less. I love his stuff. And it's harder to play then you'd think."

"It's very cool. It kinda gives you this sense of longing." Raven sat back. "It reminds me of a stroll I had in a park in Australia."

"Really? Where at?"

"It was near Sydney."

"I've never been to Sydney. I'd like to someday."

"Well we could..." Raven trailed off, then said wistfully, "I'd love to take you to a visit there someday."

There was a slightly embarrassed pause, then Lora said, with conviction, "Someday, you will."

"Yeah, well, not anytime soon I bet," Raven said. She shrugged and changed the subject. "The keyboard looks a lot easier to play than the guitar."

Lora politely followed the change of subject. Particularly since it fell into one of her areas of interest. "Oh, you'd be surprised how many people think the other way around. When you're first learning keyboard or piano it feels so structured."

Raven noticed that Lora looked a little far away, not sad, precisely, but cherishing a favorite memory wistfully. "It took me what seemed like forever to realize that I didn't have to follow the sheet music so precisely to get the right sound." She chuckled, "My very first piano teacher was so strict about that --- thought there was only one way to play a particular piece. But whenever he played something, he didn't follow the sheet music exactly either. He never would admit it either. He said he was playing it perfectly, but he was hanging certain notes out there and increasing the tempo on others. Not by much, you have to understand. Just enough to give the piece 'character' and emotion. But I didn't understand that at the time."

"Kinda like giving each part of the piece a mood?" Raven asked, trying to figure out what Lora meant.

"Yes," Lora nodded. "But it's more than that. You can *never* follow the sheet music precisely without making things sterile. The stuff that's written down is just a guide. The artist has to put something of themselves into it or it just doesn't matter. A music box may as well be churning out the notes."

"Gotcha. It's not art if it doesn't have a human touch." Raven nodded. Art was something she understood.

"It's much easier to learn to play the guitar without any sheet music at all. But if you do that, you might have a tendency to limit yourself. A lot of rock musicians just taught themselves to play and they stick to only a few chords. Wonder why some music on the radio seems so cookie cutter? That's one reason. Oh! That reminds me of a joke! Wanna' hear it?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"How to you get a guitar player to cut down on the noise?"

Raven laughed. "Well, there was this one time I kept unplugging Rammer's amp from across the room..."

"No, no!" Lora said with mock exasperation, "You're supposed to ask - 'How do you get a guitarist to cut down the noise?'"

"Okay, okay," Raven said, "How do you get a guitarist to cut down on the noise?"

"Put sheet music in front of them!" Lora grinned.

Raven hesitated a moment, then chuckled politely—it was obvious she didn't really see the humor.

Lora looked at her expectantly, then looked disappointed. "I guess you had to be there..."

She forged on ahead, "Look, the point is that formal training and learning how to read the sheet music properly makes it easier to expand what you can do later. The joke is supposed to be funny because too many rock guitarists just learn how to play the guitar by guess and feel. And then they can't play any other way. You can't give them sheet music and have them play from that. They have to hear it first. So they can't sit down in front of a keyboard and compose their own stuff."

"Gotcha. But couldn't they just improvise something by ear?" She frowned. "Guess they would have no way to record it, then."

"Oh no, they do that all the time. Bands go in for recording sessions and just leave the recorders going while they just keep tweaking what they want to do. When they get a song where they want it, they just pick out that particular recording as the release and tweak it some more. Jazz is entirely improvisational and they do that as well. But the difference is that a guitar player or anyone else who learns their music that way seldom learns how to write their own music ahead of time. Improvisation is great. But being able to read and write music gives you even more flexibility in what you can do with a music career."

"Okay," Raven said, "so how do you read music, then?"

Lora looked a bit startled, then sheepishly said, "Umm... I didn't actually bring any music sheets with me. Figured I'd stick to memorized stuff. And here I go preaching like that..." She smacked herself lightly in the forehead.

Raven giggled. "Guess we'll have to work on something else for that court. Any ideas? The keyboard first maybe? It looks a lot easier to use than the guitar."

Lora nodded, "Okay, first let me show you scales..."

After showing which notes were which, Lora had Raven do a few scales on the keyboard - just running the notes up and down. The rest of the evening went pleasantly, with Lora alternating teaching Raven the keyboards with playing stuff on her own either on the keyboard or on guitar. A couple of times, she played the flute that she had brought along. Raven had never really heard the flute played solo before (she'd heard recordings of orchestras that had flutes in them, but that was different), and was entranced by the high wavering sound.

After a couple of hours, Raven was idly running a scale, and Lora was fiddling with the tuning on her guitar. Lora looked up from the instrument and said, "Say Raven, did you ever know your parents?"

Raven shook her head. "Nah. Auntie's the only family I ever new, but she was mother enough for me and most of Clark Street. I should introduce you to her sometime." Raven hesitated. Asking Lora about her parents was probably dangerous territory, since after all, she'd run away into the Zero Zone. "I guess your home life wasn't all that good, at least at the end," she ventured.

"No... not really." Lora plucked at a string on the guitar idly for a moment, "I wish I could remember my real mom and dad better. I was about... seven, I think... my parents were killed in the civil war. I spent a few months in a state home before they found some relatives for me to live with. My aunt and uncle on my dad's side. They were nice and all... "

Raven smiled encouragingly. "Something didn't go well for sure, if you ran into the Zero Zone," she said.

Lora opened her mouth to say the words, but nothing came out. Why is this still so hard? Shouldn't I be over this? Her shoulders slumped and she sighed, shaking her head no. "I... I'm sorry, I really shouldn't have brought this up... I don't know why..."

Raven nodded gently. "It's okay," she said kindly. "How about some more music instead?"

Lora made an affirmative noise and strumming her guitar idly for a bit. Then looked up and said, "Y'know... you're the only one I've ever wanted to talk to... about that... I don't even want Matthew to know. Maybe... no... especially not him. Not yet anyway."

Raven could easily guess at what revelation Lora was struggling to impart—and could well understand her hesitation. She tilted her head slightly to one side and said, still gently, "Auntie once said that often when stuff inside bothers you, you have to open your mouth and let it out—and all you need a good friend to pick it up."

"Yeah..." Lora said softly. She closed her eyes, then opened them a few moments later, but looking at nothing. In a calm voice (too calm, Raven thought) she said, "I was raped by my uncle."

Knowing it was coming but still at a loss about what to say, Raven had to content herself with a sad, empathic nod.

"My aunt denied it. I think she was living in her own little world anyway. No one believed me. Not Thomas --- such a good man - pillar of the community and all that. I was just making it up." She shook her head. "I wouldn't go back to them after that. Not willingly. I stayed at friend's houses. I'd stay as long as I could and then find someone else to put me up for awhile. Then I heard that CPS was going to send me back. I couldn't believe it. Somebody got paid off big time. It was going to happen again. I knew it. And the cops weren't going to stop it."

"The bastard." Raven's voice trembled with barely-contained rage. Lora could feel the Power simmering white-hot in the telekinetic. But she nevertheless managed to school her face in an expression of compassion. "So of course, you ran away."

Lora nodded. "I ran away. I tried going across country. I wanted to go to the West Coast. Maybe Seattle or something. But I got caught after a few days. It was too easy to spot me. I didn't know how to stay hidden. I'm pretty sure they tracked me through cameras and credit purchases."

Raven nodded. "So you went into the Zero Zone where none of them could track you."

"Right. The second time I bugged out, I headed straight for Neo York and the Zero Zone. Figured I'd wait until my 18th birthday and then get out."

Again, Raven nodded in understanding. "Only it didn't work that way."

"No, it didn't." No more needed to be said on that. "Anyway, I guess I've never told anyone that before..."

Raven tilted her head to one side. "How do you feel about it now?" Her anger seemed mostly under control now.

Lora frowned slightly in concentration, "Hmm... I don't know... I'm mostly over it, I guess. Still ashamed about it. Don't know why. I know it wasn't my fault. Still..."

Raven's mind went back to that horrible moment of helplessness back in the warehouse, before she could gather her strength. "It's not the shame," she said. "It's the humiliation."

Lora shuddered, "That's how I felt. Couldn't believe I could be so powerless."

Raven had a wry smile. "I understand."

"And I trusted him too. I liked him. That's what really hurts."

Raven shuddered at the thought. "I... I can't imagine a worse betrayal... It's..." She looked Lora in the eye and shook her head. "It's awful." The words sounded hollow, but she knew none that would measure up..

Lora nodded, "I don't have very many close friends. Hard to put my trust in someone like that anymore. But," she gave a little half smile, "you I trust."

Raven smiled warmly. "Thanks. I appreciate it. I trust you, too."

Lora smiled back, "You're my friend, Raven. I think... " She trailed off as her expression changed into one of slightly bemused wonder. "Huh... I hadn't thought of it before, but yes, you are my best friend."

A touch of amusement glowed in Raven's mine. "Convenient, since you're mine as well."

"Well how about that?" Lora's amusement was evident as well. "Not very professional of either of us, is it?"

"Oh, something tells me they won't mind one bit," Raven replied, a touch cynically.

Lora wanted to reply with a joke, but then couldn't think of anything funny to say, so she just made a noncommittal sound and plucked at her guitar some more.

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