Part 3

By Mathieu Roy and Jeff Skagen

February, 2039

Raven spent a couple of hours getting a tan; if she was embarrassed at all by her nakedness, or the stares of her fellow beachgoers, she showed no sign. All she did was lie there and sunbathe, heedless of anyone's interest or lack thereof. In truth, the nudists were used to this kind of sight and after a little while, they went on as if the other two weren't there, since they seemed only interested in sunbathing. Raven, for her part, had been inured to this sort of thing from her time under the microscope-like cameras of Shiroko-Tsuhi, and from infrequent visits to the very liberal beaches of Europe, where she occasionally took a vacation.

For her part, Vivian was finding that after a couple of hours of lying on the beach, she was, if not precisely at ease with her nudity yet, at least not nearly so uncomfortable as she had been. She'd started her sunbathing laying face down on her blanket, so as to expose as little as possible of herself to the crowd, but eventually she'd had to turn over to avoid sunburning her backside. Since then, she'd found her discomfort easing somewhat, especially after she'd glanced out from under her sunshades a few times and found that the other beachgoers really did seem to be mostly ignoring them.

After a time Raven opened her eyes and smiled at Vivian, lying on her own towel alongside. "Care for a swim?" she suggested. "It's time to redo lotion, so it'll be a perfect time for it."

Vivian glanced briefly at the inviting water and returned Raven's smile. "Sure thing. Seems like a waste of a perfectly good ocean not to go swimming in it."

Raven nodded. She stood up, stretched a little—to the delight of the few onlookers—and started strolling towards the surf. "The water's great here", she said, "it's a great place for a swim."

Vivian quickly hopped up and followed her, grateful as she walked through the crowd that Raven's physique was the one garnering most of the glances.

Raven slid into the warm water with a happy sigh, swimming above the waves. "Well, that didn't turn out quite the way we'd planned", she said, "but they haven't bothered us yet." She swam a bit further, towards the sea.

", I guess not," replied Vivian. She waded in after Raven, but hesitated when the water reached the level of her shoulders. She was a fairly inexperienced swimmer - neither Alice Springs nor the Neo York Zero Zone had a surfeit of swimming locations - and the ocean waves were rougher than anything she'd ever swam in before. Still, remembering that she could always just levitate herself out of the water and back to shore if it really became necessary, she pushed off the bottom and swam after Raven.

"I think one of them has an eye on you", said Raven as she turned to face Vivian in the water. "At least he was making eyes at you. He's kinda cute, too. Dunno if you're interested."

"Huh? Are you sure?" Vivian asked, eyes widening. She quickly looked back at the shore. "Who was it? Is he still there?"

"Buff brown-haired guy. Poor boy didn't dare follow you into the water, so now he's playing volleyball. Whoa, nice spike, too", said Raven, designating the shore with her chin.

"Him? Whoa. He'" The young man in question seemed to be fairly close to Vivian's age or perhaps just slightly older, with casual good looks and a wiry, athletic build. "He was really checking me out?" Vivian asked, smiling and sounding pleased. Her smile abruptly transformed into a look of alarm as another thought suddenly occurred. "While I was lying there naked?"

"Yes, and yes", said Raven. She frowned a bit, as if she was just realizing something. "Um... that's good, right?" She sounded a bit embarrassed all of a sudden, a first today so far.

"Well...yeah, I guess so," answered Vivian, sounding uncertain. "That is, I'm glad he was interested and all, but..." she trailed off and tried to shrug, but found it difficult to do while treading water.

Raven's cheek turned red, and she sank down into the water a bit, as if to hide. "I think I see where this is going", she said, embarrassed.

"Oh hey, c'mon Raven," said Vivian quickly. "Don't get like that. Yeah, I'm a little embarrassed, but I chose to stay here, remember? I...needed to."

"I put you in a really awkward position if you'd have wanted to leave, though. That was stupid of me." Raven dove to her neck in the water, her skin flushed. "I'm sorry", she added, the words sounding lame to her.

"You don't have anything to apologize for," Vivian insisted. "I could have said something at any time, and you would've 'ported us right out of here." She kicked herself a little closer to Raven and lowered her voice. "I chose to stay because I want to be more...well, confident. Self-assured, like you. And I've come to realize that won't happen if I don't challenge myself. If I don't...push my comfort zone. So, I decided to stay, even though I knew I'd be embarrassed and uncomfortable. Can you understand that?"

Raven considered her for a moment, then nodded. "I think I do understand. You're a lot braver than I was at your age, Vi", she said. She shrugged and added, "I still need to apologize. I shouldn't have put you in that uncomfortable position. I really should have known better."

Vivian laughed suddenly, rolling her eyes. "You're not gonna be happy until I accept your apology, whether or not I think you need to make it, are you? All right, let's trade. I'll accept your apology for putting me in an uncomfortable position, if you'll accept mine for hiding that I was embarrassed from you. Agreed?"

"Okay, okay... It's a deal." Raven laughed, inwardly glad that it didn't seem to be a big deal for Vivian... and really hoping it wasn't. She swam around a bit. "So..." she said. She hesitated, then added, "You interested in the blonde Aussie guy? I guess this might not be the best way to meet someone..."

Vivian glanced toward the volleyball game, and then back at Raven, abruptly looking uncertain. "Well... I'm interested, yes. But you're right, this probably isn't the best way for me to meet him. I know I've been trying to push myself socially, but I don't think I'm up to chatting up a guy when we're both bare-assed. I wouldn't even know where to look, much less what to say." Vivian sighed and shook her head sadly. "I am such a basket-case..."

Raven laughed. "You're already way ahead of me at your age. Marta pulled my gi open in training once, when I was twenty or so. Completely froze me up." She laughed at the memory. "I was so red I probably glowed, too."

"You were really that shy before the whole thing with S-T?" Vivian asked, a hint of her smile partially returning. "Well, maybe there's some hope for me after all then. Although," she added pointedly, "You did have the advantage of a whole-body makeover to help give you a confidence boost".

"Yeah, well that boost took a bit to kick in." She grinned. "I'm not complaining. But I wasn't used to thinking of people in any kind of a sexual manner, you see, so I was totally confused when it started happening—and doubly so when Marta started hitting on me. She was looking to tick off Shion, but fat chance of me figuring that out at that point."

"Shion's sister made a pass at you? Really?" said Vivian, looking surprised. She paused a moment before asking "So, um...what did you do?"

"Blush. A lot. It's a miracle I didn't cuddle into a little ball. What's more interesting is what Shion did. She got mad, teleported Marta back to Hong Kong, and got Nabiki to do the job in her place." She laughed at the memory. "Of course, it was something like 3 AM over there and Shion
wasn't going to wait."

"So she just teleported her sister away? Whoa. I bet that ticked Marta off to no end." Vivian chuckled and shook her head as she tried to imagine the scene. "All right, I admit it—you were even shyer back then than I am now. And if you could go from where you were to being as confident as you are today, then I guess there's hope for me too. Which I suppose means I should stop kvetching so much about it, huh?"

"Yeah, well maybe you want to kvetch *just* a little. Sometimes I think I went too far in the opposite direction." She winked at her. "Like dragging my sister to a nude beach."

"Nuts to that. You know I'm gonna have to face these sort of situations at some point if I'm ever going to overcome my terminal shyness." Vivian paused and glanced fretfully back at the beach. "And speaking of which, I hardly ever go swimming, and my arms are getting pretty tired. I think I need to head back to shore now—or at least to water shallow enough to stand in."

Raven laughed lightly. "You could teek yourself afloat, you know. But lets head back." Raven began lazily swimming towards the shore, enjoying the saltwater, letting the waves carry her along towards the sand and the beachbums.

Vivian silently followed her, frustrated at her lapse. Raven was right, of course. A small trickle of her power would have had almost no spillover effects and could have provided just enough lift to give her perfect buoyancy in the water, yet the idea hadn't even occurred to her. The problem, she realized, was that her limited control of her psychokinetic abilities made her see them as something foreign to her, a tool that she had to put thought and effort into using. Raven's powers, on the other hand, were almost entirely second nature to her, and she used them as comfortably as anyone else would use their hands. As they reached shore and waded out of the surf and onto the beach, she found herself wondering if she'd ever develop the kind of casual rapport with her powers that Raven possessed.

Raven stepped outside of the water, dripping and glistening, to the grins of the two male beach bums who seemed to not quite have gotten used to nudity, or at least not Raven's. One other, the one Raven had pointed out, seemed to be glancing furtively at Vivian.

The telekinetic royally ignored all three as she settled right back down on her towel. "Let me know when you want to leave", she whispered to Vivian, giving her an out should she desire one.

"Sure thing," Vivian whispered back as she settled onto her own towel, grateful that Raven wasn't overcompensating for her perceived thoughtlessness earlier and pushing her to leave now. "But I think I'll stay awhile longer...if only to prove that I can masochistically beat my head against a wall with the best of 'em. Besides," she added as she slipped her sunshades back on, "If that guy gets to check me out in the buff, then I'll be damned if I'm leaving before I've returned the favor."

Raven laughed at that. "Happy watching then. I think I'm going to even up my tan." She settled back onto her towel, as unconcerned as before.

"Yeah, me too." Vivian lay back as well, trying to act as unconcerned about her nudity as Raven. She slipped her shades on and, confident that nobody could know where she was looking—or even if her eyes were open or closed—quickly began eyeballing the attractive young man who was indeed, she saw, slipping occasional glances in her direction, somewhat to the detriment of his volleyball game.


"Wonder if he'll work up the nerve to talk to you?" asked Raven.

Vivian glanced abruptly at Raven. "Talk to me?" she said, sounding slightly alarmed. "I...hadn't thought of that. You think he really might?"

"I dunno", said Raven. "I'm not an expert on this, I'm usually pretty oblivious, but he looks sort of intimidated..."

"He does?" Vivian looked back at the young man, suddenly seeing his furtive glances in a new light. "I thought he was...well, trying to not be rude. You know, by blatantly staring. But maybe you're right." She snorted in dry amusement. "It figures. Both of us too damn shy to talk to the other."

"Happens way to much", Raven said. "I'm very prone to it myself. There's usually only one way to end it though. One of the two to overcome the shyness." She smirked. "If they don't have a matchmaking friend, of course..." she teased.

"Don't you even think about it," said Vivian firmly. "I can't imagine anything more mortifying than you—oh, right. So it's blackmail, is it?" she added, sounding amused.

Raven laughed. "It's an offer. Or it's encouragement. Either way."

"I appreciate the thought, although I'm gonna take a pass on your 'offer'." Vivian stared up at the sky. "But..." she finally continued, "I suppose I can accept some 'encouragement' from you. Especially since you're right. If we're ever going to meet, one of us is going to have break the ice. And frankly, knowing he's a shy as I am about this somehow makes it—well, a tiny bit easier, anyway."

With a great sigh, she stood up and brushed a few stray grains of sand from her legs. "Well then, wish me luck..." she said nervously, and headed off toward the young man who'd caught her eye.

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