When Lilith answered Raven's polite knock at her down, she was dressed in a sweaty tracksuit. She'd been in the middle of a workout session, and was obviously nonplused by the interruption. She looked Raven up and down, and said, "What? More training?"
"No, not yet," Raven replied. "Want to go out on the town tonight? Food and music."
"Food, music. Fun." Raven smiled. "Dancing, maybe, though I'll just embarrass myself."
"Why do you want to do that?"
Raven rolled her eyes. Lilith's adaptation to the subtleties of social life was nowhere near Adam's. "It's fun, Lilith."
"Embarrassing yourself is fun?" Lilith asked, incredulous.
Raven grinned. "No, but dancing is."
"Well... What do I have to do?" Lilith looked around nervously. "Is Shion joining us?"
"I dunno. I'll have to ask. Uh, does that mean you're gonna come?"
"Well... I'll join you then." Lilith seemed very uncertain.
"Well I might learn something," the replicant added.
"You have something to wear?" Raven asked, looking her outfit over.
"What's wrong with this?"
Raven hesitated, fishing for words. "It's uh, not really appropriate."
"Well, there's my usual clothes, but they're still a mess from the desert. Are they good enough?"
"Well... I think you need something a bit more, uh, classy."
Lilith frowned. "What do you mean? Is there something wrong with my clothes?"
"Nothing wrong, they're very practical. But if you go out on town, you want something a little more formal."
"Oh. So what do you suggest?"
Raven rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "I don't think I have anything that'd fit you well. I guess we'll have to go shopping."
"But I don't have any money," Lilith pointed out.
Raven waved that away. "I'll pay."
Lilith looked surprised, considering the possibilities. "Okay."
"Great! If we want to go out tonight we'd best go right away."
"Okay," Lilith said. She stepped outside her room. "I'm ready."
"Uh, you may want to put on something a bit less, um, sweaty."
Raven led Lilith to an Andacio's boutique, a nice ladies' fashion chain she knew from home, owned by one of the furthest arms of the Shiroko-Tsuhi Corporation. It was designed with the daughter of the executive in mind; clothes suitable for young adults, fit for any occasion, but not so daring as to upset the rarefied sensibilities of corporate parents. Some would say petrified, but the store struck enough of a balance between youthful exuberance and corporate conservatism that it maintained a brisk business.
The place was laid out cautiously, with the most expensive formal fashions on one side of the display to draw people inside and the more casual clothes, that accounted for most of the sales, on the other. Raven loved to browse for clothes, a pleasure denied her for the first twenty years of her life, and that she'd not even dreamed of ever enjoying. She led Lilith that way, pointing out as she did a red dress here, a blue shirt there, things she felt the replicant might wear to best advantage.
"So what kind of outfit were you thinking of, anyway?" Lilith asked as Raven rummaged through the racks.
"I'm thinking a skirt to about here," Raven said, putting her hand just above her knee. "With stockings, and either a bodysuit or a blouse. And shoes, of course, but that's in another store."
"Will I be able to move in this?"
"Yes, easily. And there's no fabric to snag. Granted, you may run a seam on the stockings if you move too rapidly. But heck, the Scotsmen wore glorified skirts."
Raven rolled her eyes. "Kilts, you heard about kilts?"
"Oh. Well, medieval Scotsmen fought wearing kilts, which were pretty much skirts."
"I guess that's fine then. What will you wear?"
"I have a black dress I can wear, with stockings and flat shoes. I can't walk in high heels."
"I probably couldn't either." Lilith looked around the store, a little bewildered. "Can I... Um..."
Lilith looked seriously embarrassed. "I... I've got no idea what would look good... So can I ask you to pick them out for me?"
"I can try."
"Thanks," the replicant replied almost inaudibly.
"You'll have to tell me what you like though."
"Slacks and loose shirts," Lilith replied quickly. "But that doesn't work, does it?"
"Hmmm... Not really."
"Slacks and a blouse?" Raven suggested.
Lilith seemed on the edge of panic. "Um.... I have no idea. What do you think would work?"
"Black, brown, blue, red... You want the blouse to be lighter I think." Raven looked at Lilith, who was staring confusedly, lost in nervosity. "It's not that hard!"
"Uh... dark colors... Maybe blue... I've never done this before."
Raven picked a pair of dark blue slacks off the rack and held them up for Lilith to examine.
"What's your size?"
Why am I not surprised? Raven chuckled and placed the slacks against Lilith's waist, guessing at its fit. "These look too small." She picked another pair and tried again. "That looks about right. Or do you prefer this shade?" Raven fished out a pair of darker slacks.
"Then how about black?" Raven pointed another option on the rack. "Or dark gray?"
"Um... Raven? Why are you doing this?"
"Why shouldn't I? You look like a nice person." Much to my surprise, actually. You're nicer than Shion, and she hasn't been built to be a weapon.
"No, I mean... Why are you... why do you want to go out? I mean, with me?"
"It's much more fun to go out with other people, you know."
"But... Me? I'm... Well, boring. I don't relate to people. I've never had 'fun.' I barely know what it is."
"Time to learn then! Heck, I'm not terribly knowledgeable myself."
"But... I... You're not?"
"No... Not this kind of fun anyway. I, um, had a medical condition that kept me from doing lots of stuff, like dancing."
"Well... I guess we're in the same boat, then." The replicant smiled a little.
"Pretty much." In a manner of speaking, we're kindred spirits. And in more than one way.
"So... If you don't laugh at me looking stupid, I won't laugh at your bad dancing."
More than one way... "Deal!"
They shard a laugh, and Lilith said, "Fine. Let's find us both some clothes."
"So pick a color!"
"Blue. I like it."
Raven handed her the slacks. "Go try them on then!"
"Yes, ma'am," she said, then looked around puzzled.
"Dressing rooms are over there," Raven explained.
"No social skills?" Nabiki sounded dubious.
"None," Shion answered, downing a glass of beer. "She is socially inept, and has only the most basic understanding of human society in general."
"I find that very odd..."
Shion shrugged, "Not if she's only a test subject. According to Lilith, the next models will be more socially aware... Lilith is simply a test case for power output."
"Hmmm..." Nabiki sipped at her tea. "How many more are there?"
Putting her glass down, Shion's expression suddenly became quite serious. "I don't know."
Professor Tokamura regarded her younger, shorter and considerably rounder assistant with a withering glare. Kim fidgeted, fumbling with a biro and eventually dropping it, unable to take her eyes of the professor's face. If pressed, Kim couldn't have described the look on the professor's face. It was part anger, part surprise and part amusement; but it mostly looked like she was about to explode.
"Out," said Professor Tokamura, in response to the news Kim had just given her.
Kim's sole response was a squeaked "Yes."
"Out," she repeated, not quite believing her ears.
Kim looked around frantically, as if searching for an escape route. Finding none, she looked back at the professor. "Yes," the reply was even quieter than before.
Yuki closed her eyes, screwed up her face as if in pain, then let out a long sigh. All of a sudden, she returned to normal. "So," she said, her voice dripping with syrup, "Tell me precisely why you let her go 'out.'"
"Well... She got a call," Kim replied, still not sure her life was safe.
"You mean, you got a call."
"Nnnooo," Kim responded. "It was on my phone, but it was for her."
"And then?" Yuki asked, her patience stretching.
"She asked to leave."
Yuki rubbed her brow. She was going to regret this. Talking to Kim always gave her a headache, but she needed to know. "And then?" she said, mustering as much sweetness and pleasantness as possible.
"Well... I let her."
For several seconds, the unlikely pair locked gazes. After a long silence, Yuki let out a similarly long sigh. "And tell me, who made this call?" Kim only looked more nervous, and seemed to shrink under the interrogating stare. "Well?"
"The Empress Shion," Kim squeaked her reply.
Professor Tokamura blinked a couple of times in complete surprise. The Empress. The most famous, most feared and most powerful stable esper on the planet. And she spoke to her creation. And to... That's just not right, she thought to herself, turning her back on Kim.
She considered the situation for a few seconds, then over her shoulder asked "Tell me, what's the status on models eleven alpha and beta?"
"Um..." Kim flipped through her clipboard, infinitely relieved that the attention was no longer on model eleven herself. "They're ready. Fully developed, programmed and tested."
"Goood." Yuki smiled to herself.
Lilith and Raven took a moment to exchange glances and then turned to look back at Shion. Knee-high black boots, black skin-tight pants, form-fitting black jacket, and underneath that, a white shirt that was fastened at the base of the neck and the bottom of the sternum, leaving a diamond-shaped opening that revealed a wealth of cleavage.
Lilith looked back to Raven. "Is this what you meant by 'classy'?"
"Uh, it's a bit more than I thought." She grinned. "But I suppose the Empress has to set herself apart from us peasants, doesn't she?" She winked at Shion to indicate good-natured teasing.
Shion didn't bother to respond, but simply narrowed her brows at the black-haired esper.
Raven looked at her and said, "Oh come on, Shion, that was a joke. You need to learn to figure out when people are teasing you."
"Do you wish to have me go with you or not?" Lilith could only stare with slight surprise at the pair of them.
After a short and somewhat uncomfortable silence, Raven spoke up. "Um... I asked the desk attendant for a dinner recommendation. He suggested le Marmiton, it's a French cuisine restaurant."
"You did not say anything about a formal dinner, Raven." Shion replied in her favourite icy tone.
"It's not that fancy," Raven replied.
"Mmmm... if you say so.." Shion looked doubtful.
"Come on, the car must be waiting," said Raven. The other two followed her out of the hotel; Lilith remaining dead silent and Shion looking increasingly irritated. "There it is," she said, leading the other two to the cab. The trio noticed the driver was a Lynx synthetic, which brought out a look of surprise from Lilith. The three of them took their seats, Lilith not once taking her eyes from the driver. Raven stated their destination, and the cab pulled out.
Lilith leant forwards in her seat and whispered "I didn't know we were so common," to Raven in the front, inndicating to the driver.
Raven hesitated for a moment, before replying "Under Australian law, replicants are people, not property."
"Really?" Lilith glanced uncertainly between Raven and the driver. "How do they live like that?"
"The same way as the rest of us, I guess. Many of them are in long-term employment contracts, though."
"Wow," replied Lilith simply. She sat back in her seat, seemingly lost in thought.
Shion, looking out the window stated 'taxes' in a somewhat bored voice.
"Taxes?" Raven asked. "What do you mean?"
Shion turned to face Raven. "In Australia replicants were declared to be free citizens so the government could tax their wages. It also encouraged companies to hire lcoal labor, instead of cheap synthetics."
Raven shrugs, then replied "I'm sure the ethical angle looked good in the papers, too.
"Perhaps..." Shion said with a clearly doubting tone.
Raven glanced back to look at Lilith, who was still lost in thought. Shion resumed her bored look out the window, so Raven spent the rest of the trip in uncomfortable silence.
By Raven's standards, the Marmiton was a good restaurant. The dŽcor was decidedly French, with fake (but admittedly good) wood and leather furnishings. The draw card of the restaurant was its food and not it's dŽcor, and judging by the aromas from the kitchen, it was a strong one. The three of them sat at a small table by the window. Shion had taken up her favourite hobby of showing off, by ordering all their meals and wine in French.
The waiter, who incidentally spoke perfect French, had just departed with their order with Lilith interjected. "So what's so amazing about having a meal that requires bying new clothes?" She asked Raven.
"You ever had rabbit?" Raven asked back.
"No," came the simple reply.
"Really good food that's not made of soy?"
"You'll see," Raven finished simply. "And after that, I've been pointed to a nightclub with a really good local band on stage tonight. I don't have too many plans past that, but we can figure it out."
"I don't intend to dance," Shion butted in.
"I'm sure you'll think of something, Raven," Lilith said. "But I'm not sure I should dance, either."
"Any other suggestions?" Raven asked of the other two.
"Well, no." Lilith quietly admitted.
"We don't necessarily have to dance, anyway."
"I mean, I'll try it... Just I've never danced before." Lilith paused. "Or seen people dancing." Shion listened to the two of them, seeming somewhat amused.
"You'll look better than me doing it I'm sure," Raven said smiling. "But we could sit, drink, and listen to the music."
"Can you teach me?" Lilith asked hopefully. When Raven laughed, Lilith quietly asked "Is that a yes?"
"No," Raven replied, "Because I can't dance well at all."
"Oh." Lilith looked down for asecond, then turned to Shion. "Can you dance, Shion?"
"Yes," came the simple reply.
"Then she can teach us," Lilith said brightly to Raven. She and Shion both looked somewhat startled at Lilith's outburst. Lilith continued, undeterred. "You can teach us to dance, since we don't know how. If you want to.
Shion eventually recovered her composure. "I do not think this is the time or the place for me to teach anyone how to dance," she said coolly.
"Oh." Lilith looked somewhat down again. "I guess she can't dance that well then."
Stunned silence followed that comment. Raven looked slack-jawed at Lilith, half expecting Shion to vaporise the replicant on the spot. Shion simply raised an eyebrow, then asked "Tell me, does Ishiyama ever let you out on your own?"
"Once, but only for a short time," Lilith replied.
"Then how is it you are here? Won't they look for you?" Shion asked.
Lilith paused before responding. "I... I sorted it out with Kim. One of... I mean, the Professor's assistant."
"I see. That explains a lot, then," Shion said with a smug tone. Raven glanced between the other two, wondering when to intervene.
Lilith narrowed her eyes. "Like what?" she asked back.
"Like why you are so lacking in even basic social skills," Shion replied.
"That's because they concentrated more on the combat aspect of my learning program." Lilith spoke with a clear confidence, almost as if quoting a book. "The production models should be more fluent than I."
"I see..." said Shion, althouhg she made her disbelief evident.
"There's always room for improvement. In everyone," Lilith said with a surprisingly biting tone.
Once again, Raven gaped the the replicant, almost not believing what she had just heard. Someone more naive than myself, she thought. Wow. For a second, Shion looked as if she was going to reply, but instead simply drank her wine.
Once again, an uncomfortable silence fell over the table; Shion regarding her wine with casual indifference, Lilith looking somewhat off-put and Raven looking just plain nervous. Raven finally broke the silence, saying "Um, I think the entrŽes are coming."
Sure enough, the waiter presented the trio with their entrŽe, a mixed seafood dish. Raven quickly dug into it, glad for something to break their conversation. Shion delicately sampled some of the dish, While Lilith sipped her wine. A look of surprise came over the replicant's face."I'm beginning to see what you meant, Raven," she said. Raven smiled as Lilith tasted the entrŽe. "And this... What did you call it?"
"Shrimp," said Raven.
"Well it's very tasty." Lilith dug into the entrŽe, her enjoyment evident by how quickly she was eating.
"Excellent," Shion said, apparently happy for the first time all night.
"You like music, Lilith?" Raven asked.
Lilith stopped devouring the appetizer, and looked up at Raven. "I... Don't know."
Raven sipped at her wine. "Don't know? You've never heard any music?"
"Some, yes. But I don't know anything about it," Lilith said.
"I hope you like this band," Raven said.
Raven took an opportunity to have some of the entrée before Lilith polished it off on her own, but was interrupted by Shion "Exactly what sort of band is this?" She asked.
"Mixed rock, I think. Soft and hard tunes," Raven replied, keeping an eye on Lilith "I hope you'll like them."
"Mmm... perhaps," Shion conceded. Lilith seemed more than contented with the meal, and Even Shion seemed to be enjoying herself, if only marginally. Raven let herself relax. Tonight might not turn out so bad after all, Raven thought.
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