(Winters, Blitzen, Wolf and me crosspost)

Sy opened her eyes and found her bedside deserted. For a moment she was confused. Wasn't she just talking to the one called Piper? But the shadows in the room were different. Furthermore, she felt somewhat invigorated. Breathing was a little easier now, and the rattling feeling was gone. She drew in a deep breath and winced. Okay, that still smarted.

She looked at her left hand. She vaguely recalled Piper saying something about not turning it on in the Spire, just before she'd nodded off. But Sy was not the type to take anyone's word for anything, least of all a cop. She had to find out for herself, instead.

As soon as Heimdall was on, she regretted not listening. Outside the Spire, the grid was an ordered, reasonably static network. Inside the Spire, the connections between the Neos were like a whirlwind, a flickering vortex of links blinking in and out of existence, like a million conversations swirling around her in a maelstrom of blue light. Gossip, advice, admonishments, grief, love, boredom, excitement, everything mixed together. Crying out in alarm, Sy shut Heimdall off straight away. Her voice seemed to echo through the silent room, and she glanced around whether she had woken anyone up.

In the bed next to Sy was Toxx, sitting up and spooning ice cream from a chic and small container. Spoon in mid air, his head turned slowly to the woman who stirred beside him. “Hey, there you’re all right,” his voice was smooth and with a touch of bass. He was getting a better look at the woman beside him. Clothed in a hospital gown just like his own, her dreadlocks cascading around her shoulders, she was wide eyed when she met his gaze.

He stuck the spoon back in his mouth.

The drugs were keeping him fuzzy because the sheer amount of chatter in the spire. It had been a rude awakening when he came to from the Flesh Pit. They’d put him out again to help him ease into the newness of it all. Saul had insulated him from the outside chatter for so long, but he was finally getting his sea legs.

Sy studied Toxx quizzically for a minute. He was a handsome black guy, roughly her age. He didn't seem visibly hurt. "Hey," she finally said, and she was surprised how much easier speaking already was compared to the conversation with Piper. Those nanobots worked fast. "What'chu in here for, kid? Had ya tonsils snipped?" She chuckled, the wound thudding dully in her chest but no longer stabbing. "Name's Syiandra. Sy fo'short."

“Pleasure,” he said, waving his spoon between bites. “I almost blew up the Pit--it happens.” Toxx was watching the wall instead of Sy. “And you?” He had slid his legs out from under the sheet and set down the spoon and container. “They wrangle you to the Spire willingly or not? All this shit just blows my mind.” He’d never heard of the Spire, never left that skin business for his adult life--the snippets that came by about Neophytes and the like came from customers, Johns and Janes; not even Saul had clued him in about that. “They have a city in here just for the dangerous ones of us who might poke the Martian bears.”

"I fucked up, then terrorists got me the same time as OSEC, got shot twice 'n almos' died," Sy counted off on her fingers. "Now I'm prob'ly gon' be hauled off t'jail or get shot again by Sevo or somethin'. So don' get too 'tached to me." She looked somberly at her hands.

He frowned, “Terrorists, huh? The way I hear it in the Hive OSEC isn’t your friend. I’m not sure what’s what, but that Piper seemed to know what’s up.” He stood, stretching, “You think they would’ve spliced you back up if they were going to space you?” The drugs were starting to wear off and Toxx’s eyes darted around the room. Whispers were coming through, now, like before when Piper was speaking in his brain. Fragments surfaced: Somebody named Blue Jay was crying a lot, and there was someone else whispering about an anomaly they just brought into the infirmary. Toxx watched Sy stare at her hands.

She looked up after a moment, stared at the ceiling and sighed. "Dunno. Don' know 'bout anythin' anymo'. Piper seems solid, but I can't trust OSEC farther 'n I can throw 'em. Don' think they'll off me themselves but migh' not be up to them. Ugh…" She ran her hands into her hair and tugged. "Kinda want t'just give up but my da'..." She looked Toxx in the eye. "Ever heard of a man named Bryan Wiles down in the Hive?"

Shrugging, he said, “No, but the names I do know you don’t want to know, either.” He didn’t want to get into why he wasn’t aware of what was going on in the Hive. It wasn’t exactly a badge of honor to have been a sex slave, no matter how popular he was among the scum of the Hive. He’d been below ground for almost his entire life, it was like waking up on a completely different planet in the Spire. He winced, “Do you hear that? All the voices?”

"No…" Sy said pensively, staring at Toxx intensely. Then a look of understanding dawned on her face. "You a Neo too, ain'tcha? Swear to ya, I turned Heimdall on an' the place was like a fuckin' hurricane. I dunno how you Neos pick up those signals but…" She winced on his behalf. "Fuck. You can't even tune that shit out, can you?" She slumped back in the bed. "Rough fuckin' deal, nigga, tell you what. They prob'ly gon' keep you 'round here fo'good. Erryone 'bove ground knows, Neo taken into the Spire don' come back out. Less you turn OSEC an' get a leash from an Alpha."

“The fuck you say? You mean they’ll keep me here unless I turn?” he took a seat on the foot of Sy’s bed. He motioned to his head, “I never used to hear this shit, it came on all of a sudden. Before, well, before it was simpler--that’s sure. Damn,” he rubbed the back of his neck, “it’s crazy out here.” He felt a sharp pain of regret escaping the brothel that had been his home. A simple, terrible, home.

Toxx turned to face Sy, one foot rested on the floor. Cocking his head, “You know you got a look about you, like you know things. What else do you know about these people? This place?” He inched closer on the bed.

Sy shook her head. "Told ya most o'what I know," she said. "Neos are like you, all tuned into the grid 'n tech 'n shit. Alphas are these super elite stud types that'll hand yo ass on a platter an' they get paired up with the Neos that work for OSEC. Most they do is fetch Neos out in the wild an' bring 'em over here, like they did you. 'parently rogue Neos tend to go fuckin' haywire 'cause of all the tech everywhere." She peered at him through narrowed eyes. "You din't though. How'd you stay so sane?"

“I honestly didn’t know anything about any of this shit.” He paused, not sure whether he should talk about Saul. Saul said it would be better for him not to mention him to other people because it would make him look crazy. For all he knew Saul was God; he’d always been there for him. Look at this, the Spire? This was about as crazy as it got.

“I guess it had something to do with Saul. He was always there, protecting me from it, I think. But when he left…” Toxx was biting his lip.

Sy felt a pang of sorrow for Toxx. Loss was something she knew intricately. "Look, bro. I lost someone impo'tant to me, too. I know the pain. I dunno how long I'm gonna be 'round, but… If y'need anythin', I'll be here, 'kay? Us street rats gotta stick together. I got yo back." She smiled weakly. "'s the only thing I got left to offer, anyhow."

You don’t need Saul, not now, you’ll see- the Spire will protect you. Piper projected to Toxx, walking in the room without knocking, Romeo by her side. The snippets of conversation she picked up weren’t sitting well with the Neo, but her main concern at the moment was the tech. She turned her attention to Sy. “I’m not sure how awake you were earlier, but you’re really going to want to leave--” Piper held up a hand for emphasis. “That off while you’re here.”

Sy laughed curtly. “Sh’yeah, no shit,” she chuckled. “‘S like a hurricane in here. Guess I weren’t very awake fo’ that warnin’.” She pointed a thumb at Toxx. “He can’t turn that shit off, though, can he? As I gather y’all get that shit all the time. Shit, how do y’all Neos even sleep at night? D’you get each other’s snores all the time, too?”

Piper quirked a confused eyebrow for a quick second and tilted her head slightly, visibly bristled. “That shit?” Did the anomaly mean her siblings? The ones that she purposely ‘broke in’ to listen to, starting this whole thing? They risked their asses to save her from the New Way, Wren was fucking blind, is that the shit she meant? “It’s more as a courtesy to us, because that shit,” she snapped, pointing to Sy's hand “is like nails on a chalkboard.”

Sy threw up her hands in a gesture of apology. “I didn’ know,” she said simply. “Last thing I wanna do in here’s antagonize y’all. I don’ know shit about any o’ this shit, y’know? So I dunno’f y’gonna lock me up in here or somethin’ but ya gotta teach me the proper etiquette if I gon’ be interactin’ with any more o’y’all.” She smiled wryly. “I'm jus’ a street rat from the slums, 's all. Y'all're like a band o'wizards t'me, an' I dunno half how to behave or what's sensitive to y'all. Plus," she chuckled, "I run my mouth a lot. 'S just my nature. Sorry in advance f'all the stupid shit I'm gon' be sayin' any time in the future." The smile left her face and she looked Piper straight in the eyes. "But y'all saved my life. I ain't forgettin' that. Whatever you got comin' at me, I'm in yo debt."

“It’s not up to me what OSEC has coming, that’s above my pay grade, but the Spire isn’t a prison.” Piper insisted cooly. “It’s our home. It keeps us safe, and right now it’s keeping you safe. You think it’s a hurricane in here with just over 90 of us? How much tech is out there? Even before the New Way, outside most Neo’s didn’t stand a chance, Toxx here being the exception. That’s what it’s here for. Protecting us from out there, and out there from us.”

Sy nodded slowly. "All the shieldin' makes sense then," she mused. "I didn' make Heimdall to spy on y'all, y'know. It's jus' meant to be able to freely crawl the connections o'the grid an' read out the data. It visualizes those connections too, as a literal network. In case o'ya Neos, it shows me yo entire nervous systems. All o'yo thoughts show up as instant connections to all Neos in reach. I dunno how y'all can be what you are, but y'all are like walkin' an' talkin' computer components with 24/7 grid connection."

Piper took half a step back, closer to her Alpha, who as promised, stood behind her looking menacing. “You didn’t make it to spy on us, but that’s what you used it for. So the Spire protects us from people like you too seeing as there’s no grid in here to peep into. How can I be what I am? I don’t know - Heimdall aside, How are you what you are? We’re Neophytes, not circus freaks.”

"I don' see y'all as freaks!" Sy exclaimed, sitting up straight, a look of shock on her face. "My da' raised me better 'n that! Y'all are like… Gifted, in a way, I guess. Blessin' an' a curse of sorts." She slumped back down on the pillow and coughed. "I really am sorry 'bout intrudin' befo', though. An' not just 'cause I got shot. I was jus' curious an' on a power trip, an' I didn' stop an' think twice. I meant no harm, honestly. Jus' couldn' help myself bein' a peepin' bitch."

Piper gave a wry smile. “Gettin’ shot does give perspective. I suppose. But just a head’s up, most of the Neo aren’t too happy about the whole invasion thing.” She pointed to her head for emphasis. “I’m not thrilled about it either, but I guess I can see it. “

"Guess I got 89 apologies to go," Sy smirked.

That made Piper chuckle “If you were a Neo? You’d be done already. We don’t get a lot of outsiders. Kind of weird actually to hear how other people see you. Only big difference really is I can eat and have a conversation without worrying about chewing with my mouth open.”

Sy laughed hard at that, lapsing into another coughing fit, grimacing at the pain thudding through her chest. But she smiled when it was finished and said: "Be happy t'give y'all the word on the street. Think y'can show me 'round? Or do I need more bedrest 'fore I can walk? 'd like to see the place with my own eyes 'fore I get tossed into a cell fo' the rest o'my life."

Piper shifted her eyes then looked back up. “Doc says that she’d prefer if you weren’t walking around just yet. Just to--” she paused for a second and nodded. “give the nanites time to do their repair work, but if the higher ups say it’s okay, she’s got a wheelchair you can borrow.”

"That would do," Sy nodded. "Be like Detta Walker with my legs still on." She looked at their quizzical faces and chuckled. "Old book, nevermind it. Dad used to read me a lot. If I get t'stay long 'nough, I can tell you more 'bout 'im, too." She looked around expectantly. "So bring out the wheels, girl. I'm ready fo' my 89 apologies!"

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