Late January, 2039
Coughing, Korey spluttered on the water before getting her feet underneath her and standing up. She wiped the wet hair out of her face and realized, with growing urgency, that the room she was in was rapidly filling with water.
Ignoring the destroyed state of the room, as though a giant had shaken it out of boredom, Korey took up her weapon and found the portable computer after a few frantic seconds of searching. From there, she began to run, albeit very slowly, through the waist high water. If the water was this high already, then whatever happened outside must have blown a sizable hole in the ship's hull.
Through the speakers built into the wall, she heard the alarm sound over and over, and she shoved past several pieces of cloth covered something before realizing that they were hunks of flesh. One disembodied head with long blond hair and cat's ears identified it as a puma, and Korey felt her stomach turn just a little as she pieced the clues together.
In the hallway, she found Vivian laying, thankfully, right side up in the water, and slipped an arm around her shoulders.
"Come on, Vivian, it is time we left... this ship is sinking fast... Vivian?"
Korey checked for a pulse, and found one steady and strong beneath her fingertips.
"Poor girl... you burned out," Korey mused aloud before searching for an exit. None presented themselves right away, aside from the hole in the hull itself.
"That is about as good as it gets," she said before taking a few deep breaths and placing a hand over Vivian's mouth. "Hold steady, Vivian, we'll be out of here soon."
And with one last breath, Korey took the plunge.
Vivian found herself disoriented and confused as she slowly came to, at first aware only that it was cold and dark, and that she was being smothered. She began to struggle to pull the obstruction from over her nose and mouth, but fortunately was still too dazed and weak to put up much of a fight before finally realizing that she was underwater, and the hand over her mouth was keeping her from drowning.
Seconds later she pierced the surface and began treading water as she eagerly sucked in a great lungful of fresh air. After several more panting breaths had eased her lungs frantic demand for air, she suddenly realized that the person who'd pulled her to the surface was still pressed up behind her, arms wrapped around her and kicking to help keep her afloat.
"K-Korey? Is that you?" she asked uncertainly.
"Yes, it is me," she replied, and continued kicking for the shore. It was at least a half km away now, but since the waves were relatively calm, swimming even with the dazed Vivian held on top of her wasn't that hard. "Simply stay still... no doubt you have brain burn, and you should not try to exert yourself just yet."
"It's either brain burn or someone split the back of my head open with an axe." Too weak to do much else, Vivian stayed limp and allowed Korey to continue towing her along. Her head was pounding so hard that she found it difficult to make her eyes focus clearly, but eventually she realized that what they were swimming away from was the casino boat that she last remembered being on... except that now it seemed to be tilted, with the stern sitting rather lower in the water than the bow.
"Hey, Korey... that's the casino boat we were on, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is."
"It looks like it's sinking."
"It is sinking."
"Did we do that? Is that why we're swimming away?"
"I hate to be frank with you at a time like this, but we did do that. It was partly my fault for not backing you up enough. You fought some Pumas and when you... destroyed them, you blew a hole in the hull."
Vivian fell silent for a time as she absorbed that. "'Destroyed'? I really... killed them?" she finally asked in a small voice. "I didn't mean to."
"I know you did not mean to... sometimes in battle, things happen that we wish did not, and this is one of them." She gave Vivian a gentle squeeze. "I do not know how you feel about Pumas, if they are really people or not, but they were sent to do a job, just as you were, and you did yours."
Again Vivian didn't reply for a time. "I lived in the same house with a Puma for several years," she finally said. "Her name's Elisa. I like her. We all do. And she's definitely a person to me."
Korey murmured acknowledgment that she had heard her partner, but remained focused on the task at hand.
"Thing is, I know those Pumas were trying to kill me.... or at least capture me, which pretty much amounts to the same thing in the long run. And maybe I couldn't have done anything to save myself except kill them in return. If so, then I could live with that. But what if I could have done something else? If I hadn't lost control of my powers, hadn't brain-burned, maybe I could've found a way to stop them without..." she trailed off with a sigh. "I guess I'll never know for sure."
"Hindsight is 20/20, and you are still relatively new to this business, so the truth of the matter is that mistakes will be made. The best one can do is learn from them and move on," said Korey. "I made plenty of mistakes in my time, and I will probably make them in the future... what counts is how few I make."
She smiled a little. "I know it is not much condolence now... but it is better than nothing."
"I suppose so," replied Vivian in a tired voice. "I hope so, anyway..."
Swimming to shore was slow, but without anymore difficulties, as Korey had insisted that Vivian make no efforts to help, considering how bad a shape she was in. She reassured her, also, that things on the boat were not that bad. Despite it having a hole in its side and sinking, rescue efforts were soon underway, so it was highly unlikely that anyone would drown.
From there, it was simply a matter of getting a cab once they had made it to shore, with Korey supporting Vivian all the way. With the place being as big as it was with all the tourists and parties it had, the cabbie hardly batted an eye at the sight of two women in dripping wet torn evening gowns.
Korey gave him the directions and paid him with cash she had kept in a small, waterproof bag she had wrapped about one thigh. Once they were settled in, Korey felt Vivian's head rest upon her shoulder, and she did her best to make her comfortable on the trip back to Rinn-Fa's.
"How are you doing now?" asked Korey as the two sat in the casino owner's office. Fortunately, Rinn-Fa had been more than happy to provide them both with extra clothes, and so now they found themselves dressed in stylish Chinese dresses.
"Well... I'm warmer, at least," answered Vivian, tugging at the high collar on her cheong-sam. The cut of the Chinese dress was different enough that she wasn't quite comfortable in it yet, although she had to admit that it seemed flattering to her slender figure. "And that guy who was jackhammering on the inside of my skull is just rapping with his knuckles now."
Korey looked at her curiously. "Brain burn, for lack of a better term, lasts so long if a PK extends themself so much?"
"Well, at this point it's not so much the brain burn itself as the after effects," replied Vivian. "Kinda like, oh say... if you got really drunk and then had a hangover later. Plus, that's the worst I've ever brain burned myself. I think it may be lingering longer than usual because I went so far overboard this time." She suddenly groaned and then shook her head. "Oh jeez... 'went overboard'? Sorry, pun not intentional."
"Think nothing of it. There really was not any other term to use for it," said Korey. She glanced up at doors of the office as they opened. "Now, I believe our reward is in order."
Vivian looked on nervously as Rinn-fa glided into the room and seated herself behind her desk. She was dressed to play her dragon lady image to the hilt, her overly-endowed figure wrapped in a formfitting silk cheong-sam slit high up each leg. She lifted her long cigarette holder to her lips and took a drag as she settled back in her chair, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
"Sorry about the wait, but I had to have the data verified," she started, but the very slight twitch at the edge of her mouth told Korey all she needed to know; they had done their job and done it well.
"You did indeed get me back the money that was so wrongly taken for me, as well as dealt a rather humiliating blow to my foe, a nice bonus that I am more than willing to pay you for." She took a drag on her cigarette and eyed the two's clothing. "Especially after the trouble you've gone through."
"Thank you, Rinn-fa," said Korey, and couldn't help but feel a touch of warmth build up within her as the doors opened, responding to a buzz from the lady dragon's desk.
A number of Pumas, male and female, all done up with cat ears and tails, walked in.
"As well as the money I will be paying you, I offer you a free night with a Puma of your choice," Rinn-Fa said.
Vivian found herself staring at the Pumas, trying to figure out how she felt about this. At least she hadn't flinched or yelped in fear when they'd walked in, so apparently the battle she'd nearly lost earlier this evening hadn't left her emotionally scarred where Pumas were concerned. On the other hand, she was hardly at ease with them either. Even standing across the room they towered over her, the sense of restrained power unmistakable. She knew that many people enjoyed bedding Pumas, but she'd never heard it suggested that they were particularly gentle lovers. Was a Puma really the best choice of lover for her to lose her virginity to? She'd always imagined her first time being with a young man, her own age or nearly so, who she was in love with, and who loved her in turn... or at least who cared about her deeply. She was honest enough to admit that her first boyfriend surely wouldn't be the person she'd end up spending her life with, but at least she imagined him being someone she'd always look back with fond memories at.
That's not going to happen if I let a Puma take me to bed tonight. On the other hand, let's be honest... I'm so shy I've never even managed to get asked out on a date yet, much less had a romance of any sort. At the rate I'm going, if I hold out for this unrealistic fantasy of mine, I'll be at least 25 before I get laid. Plus, I might be a lot less shy with guys if I actually had some practical sexual experience under my belt. And I do want to experience it for myself. Still, is a Puma who I really want my first time to be with instead of a real person?
Vivian racing thoughts hiccuped to a sudden stop. Oh damn... did I really just think 'instead of a real person'? Aww hell, and after I told Korey earlier tonight that I think of Pumas as people. Maybe I'm not as quite enlightened as I thought I was...
She suddenly became aware that Rinn-fa and Korey were both looking at her curiously, and realized that she'd been staring at the Pumas a little too long and intently, like a deer frozen in a spotlight.
"Sorry," she said. "I'm, um... having a little trouble deciding on one. They all look... very attractive."
Rinn-fa didn't say anything, but from her knowing smile, Vivian guessed that she wasn't buying that for a moment. She briefly wondered if the casino owner really knew what was going on in her head, or only thought she did.
She found her eyes darting from one Puma to another as she tried to decide whether she should choose one or politely refuse Rinn-fa's offer. As she often did when confronted by a difficult decision, she asked herself what Raven would do in the same situation. The answer to that was obvious—Raven would say yes, of course, as evidenced by more than one video circulating the Net of her with various pleasure synths, both male and female. Still, she knew that as much as she idolized her 'big sister', she was going to have to make this decision based on what she herself wanted, and not simply doing what Raven would have.
Hoping to buy a little more time to think, she turned to Korey. "So... have you decided which one you want?"
"I believe I shall enjoy a night with the long, dark haired one with the blue eyes," said Korey with a small little smile. "He looks as though he is very good with his hands."
"They're all quite good with their hands, a fact that I can personally attest to," added Rinn-Fa, whom gave Vivian a wink.
Vivian blushed and avoided her gaze by glancing back at the assembled Pumas. She contemplated them for several seconds more, and then released her breath as she finally decided what she was going to do. She gestured to indicate the Puma that had caught her eye, one with bronzed skin, pale blue eyes, and a shock of very blonde hair. "What's your name?" she asked him.
For just a moment, the Puma seemed surprised to have been addressed directly. "My name is Jayce," he answered, ears twitching.
Vivian stood and walked closer to him. He was even taller up close than he'd seemed from across the room, and she had to crane her neck to look at his face. "Well, Jayce," she said. "Would you like to, um... that is, do you want to..."
"I'd love to be with you this evening," answered the Puma sincerely, bending slightly to better look her in the eyes. "If that's what you're asking me, of course."
Vivian smiled and nodded in reply, then turned to Rinn-fa. "I guess I choose Jayce, then," she said.
"An excellent choice," she said. "Of course, they're all excellent choices... hmmm..." Rinn-fa smiled, and sauntered over to Jayce. "Be extra tender with her, Jayce, she's rather new to what you can do."
Korey remained quiet, but couldn't help but take notice of the blush along the psychokinetic's face. Still, there was one last piece of business to tend to before the pleasure would start.
"And the other half of our payment?" she asked.
"Already deposited into your account. You have done such a fine job, that I think I shall keep your business card, in case something comes up again." Drawing another puff on her cigarette, she turned to the remaining Pumas. "And now, I believe I shall celebrate. The Pumas will show you to your rooms. Good night."
And with that, Rinn-fa left with the three other Pumas, and now Korey saw a rather wide-eyed look on Vivian's face.
"She does have a rather... voracious appetite," she said before hooking her arm about her Puma's. "Will you be okay, Vivian?"
The young esper looked at her sheepishly. "I guess my... inexperience... is kinda obvious, huh?"
"It is not uncommon to spend a night with a pleasure Puma, but it is not something that everyone does," said Korey. She gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "You will be fine."
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, even snuggling into her own chosen Puma. "Hmmm... I shall be off as well. Now, good Puma, I have had a rather rough night, so I believe a nice massage is in order."
Vivian watched as Korey's Puma escorted her out the door, leaving her alone with Jayce.
"Well, I suppose you should show me to our room too," she said nervously.
"Of course, miss," he replied, reaching out to take her hand.
"Vivian," she said as he led her out of the office. "Please, if we're going to be intimate tonight, you should at least call me by my name."
"Certainly, Vivian," he replied. "Our room is right this way. I'm confident you'll enjoy yourself."
"Yes," she said, smiling as she looking into his pale eyes. "I'm sure I will too."
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