Grand Tour pt. 3: The Den Mother

(Cross-post Winters, Blitzen, GardensTale)

Sy craned her neck up to look at Romeo, who was pushing her chair. "So who's this den mother you rollin' me to?"

“Pyria Rai, our resident Neo Den Mother.” Romeo explained. “Like her title entails she’s pretty much the Mama Bear in this place. Have a problem, need a friend, Pyria is there. She always welcomes new Neo’s and in general looks out for everyone’s mental health. She also organizes all the fun Neo activities.” He listed absently.

“She’s a good one to have in your corner, wasn’t it Pyria’s idea to do the Vet vs Pups blitzball?” Romeo asked Piper.

“Yeah, the Big Game, that was her brain child.” Piper replied, biting her bottom lip, filled with warm memories. “That’s where I first saw my 457, and knew he was going to be my Alpha.”

Sy nodded and looked forward again. "Guess it's a good idea meetin' the landlord 'fore receivin' the master key," she said. "You sure the other Neo won' mind ya doin' this, Pipe? I don' wanna cause bad blood or nothin'."

“If there’s bad blood, you’ll know it first hand. I think this’ll hold more weight than just a promise or apology.”

Sy said nothing, but the response did not make her feel at ease as they rolled into a hallway and stopped at an office door. A dreadlock came undone and she draped it back around her head. If this Pyria was the head honcho in here, she wanted to make a good impression, but she was acutely aware of what she must actually look like right now: disheveled, in a wheelchair, wearing nothing but a hospital gown and day-old knickers. She wondered whether her nose was crooked now; the nanobots were almost done fixing it, she could feel that much, but she hadn’t seen a mirror all day. She wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand and saw a red streak of tomato sauce. This was going swell.

Pyria opened the door, which oddly didn’t have a lock on it. “Hello, children I see you brought, hopefully, our newest resident.” She said flashing a bright smile.

Pyria was tall and slim with dark skin and even darker hair and eyes with a what was clearly of Indian descent. Her hair, neatly braided fell past the woman’s waist.

Romeo suddenly snapped to attention, Neo and Alphas alike held a lot of respect for there resident Den Mother. “Ms. Rai.” He said in a crisp tone.

“When are you going to stop doing that and just call me Pyria like everyone else.” She said flatly as she waved a hand at Romeo as if to brush away his militaristic discipline.

“Never.” The Alpha answered honestly.

“Figured. Piper…” Pyria acknowledged with a nod. “ … And you must be Sy. Please come in!” She said stepping back in her office and waving the trio in.

Sy was so struck for a moment she didn’t know what to say. She’d expected someone older, more like a grandmother than a mother perhaps, and certainly not someone of such exotic beauty. Then the spell broke as Romeo pushed her chair inside and a smile spread over Sy’s face. “Yes I am, ma’am. Pleased to meet you, and thanks for taking such good care of me.” She was speaking in a very different tone than usual, softer and more melodious, and losing the urban accent. It struck Piper that this might be how Sy spoke before her life was condemned to the slums.

“I hope your stay so far in our home has been okay. I know things are rough right now and giving your very special situation not all the children are very welcoming.” She said taking a seat on the sofa as opposed to her desk. The den mother office was homey, with toys stuffed in boxes, children’s drawings overflowing a large corkboard on one wall. Even the women desk was decorated by various arts and craft projects done by her many children over the years. It looked more like a playroom for children than a place for business or even work.

Understatement of the year, Piper thought, containing a smile.

Piper, don’t be rude. We have a guest. Pyria kindly reminded. It’s easy for a Neo to think and others to hear but in Sy’s case with the option to turn it off it became necessary to speak on mind now. She was happy to do so but everyone would have to make the effort as well!

Sy gave a wan smile. “I haven’t really behaved brilliantly either, ma’am. I’ve intruded, and that’s more rude than the Neo have treated me. And Piper and Romeo saved my life, so I’ve little cause to complain.” She absentmindedly stroked the palm of her left hand. “Still, I would like to clear the air with the Neo, if at all possible, which is how Piper came up with the idea for fine tuning my augmentation. I’m sure you know all about it by now.”

Pryia seemed to chew over the idea a bit. “Well, I think right now I would rather see you healed up first before jumping into that kind of deep water.” The Den mother said leaning in. “I get it, I do. Terrible things have happened very rapidly with you smack in the center. It warms me to see you wanting to make amends for the wrongs you feel you have done. I will encourage and help you in any way I can, so I ask you to first rest, heal and get better.” Pyria smiled.

“There is a lot here for you learn, if you’re willing, in good time. Tea?” The Den Mother offered.

“Yes please,” Sy said. As the Den Mother walked over to a cabinet to grab cups, Sy looked over to Piper and Romeo, the latter giving her a raised eyebrow. “What?” she said. “I like tea.”

“Not the tea…” Romeo murmured in a similar teasing tone that mimicked Sy’s change in speech pattern.

“Guys please sit! Look at you standing there makes my leg hurt!” Pyria tsked, the click of cups seemed to punctuate her complaint at the overly polite pair. “So I heard you are from the slums?” Pyria asked making conversation. “Also feel free to ask anything. You’re going to be reminded constantly you are in a place with no secrets, pretty hard to keep one when everyone’s thoughts pop up like virtual ads on a porn site.” She snickered pouring hot water in each cup.

“I’ve lived in the slums for 11 years now,” Sy said, shooting Romeo a look. “As a child I still lived with my father in the inner city. He… disappeared, not of his own volition, I should add.” The remnants of her smile left her face. “I soon had my doubts about my own safety. I’ve been looking for him since. All I know is that he is most likely somewhere in the Hive.” She held up her left palm. “That’s why I built this. It was meant to look for him. Instead, it landed Logos on my trail and that wound up with me here.” She looked down into her lap. “I’ve never talked about this before, but at this point, I don’t feel like I am going to find him if I’m going to keep this all secret.”

Pyria quietly passed Sy a cup of tea smelling strongly of lavender and jasmine. “Very impressive. To all that on your own for so long in an environment that would eat most folk alive.” She complimented passing a mug to Romeo and Piper as well now that they had sat down as well.

Piper accepted the tea with a nod off her head. [I]Thank... shit.[/I] “Thank you.”

“To also build such an impressive piece of wetware as well. I’m sorry it did not work out as planned.” The Den Mother sat back down with her own mug across from Sy. “But it doesn’t mean it has to end in failure. You could, in time, have a place here in the Spire with OSEC. That is something to consider. You would be an amazing and helpful asset here where you will, I believe, flourish. It also could give you easier accesses to assets and information not previously available to you.” Pyria said, blowing away the steam from her cup before taking a careful sip. “More importantly, you could be part of a community and family unlike anything else. Something I hope you will put serious thought into.”

Sy blew at her tea and sipped, letting the words sink in. All her efforts thus far had been focused on getting the information from Sevo. The reason she had always avoided OSEC was because she believed corrupt cops to have been involved in her father’s disappearance. Joining OSEC could be dangerous, it could expose her… But so was trying to break into Sevo’s inner networks, and that hadn’t stopped her before. Besides, if she agreed, she might be able to count on the help of a team of Neo, and that was a far more powerful force than anything she could hope to whip up.

“Alright,” she said. “I trust the Neo. But I must let you know, I can’t trust all of the rest of OSEC. So what I’m going to say next should not leave the Spire.” She took a deep breath and held it for a second. As she released it, she tried to blow out the horrible knot in her stomach with it, and the fear and insecurity that she wasn’t making another huge mistake. “My real name is Sara Wiles. My father’s name is Bryce. He worked at Sevo, but found out they were doing something terrible. They made him disappear. I will find him. And if you are willing to help me, I will be deeper in your debt than I can ever repay.”

“Name a single Corporation on this planet that doesn't have a PIT of skeletons. All of them have, continue and will do terribly awful things. I know that comes across jaded but I mean that more as a fact that anything.” Pyria said with a nod but still not shocked over the admission.

“Helping you find out what happened to your father … we can eventually help you with. Doing something about it? Could be beyond our power.” The dark-skinned woman explained. She wanted to make the girl didn’t come to the conclusion they could move mountains after all! “Realize at the end of the day we are a very specialized branch of OSEC and as such, it means we are to a degree beholden to our corporate overlords. I just want you to have realistic expectation and an understanding of our place in the Oracle. That we will help you as best we can Sara.”

“Thank you, Ms. Rai,” Sy said earnestly. “I realize you can’t do everything, and you don’t have free rein in all matters… But if I can just find out where he is, I might be able to free him myself. And in the process, you might be able to get some crooked cops off the street, too.” She took another sip, wincing slightly as hot steam entered her nose. Okay, not totally healed yet. “Also, and I don’t mean to be rude about this, but since this is my new life since my dad went… I prefer to go by Sy, if you don’t mind.” She stared into her teacup. “If I ever get him back… I might be able to go back to being Sara again.”

“Hardly rude. You’ll see here we also have many names.” Pyria pointed out. “Sandpiper …”She motioned to Piper. “ … Frosty …” She motioned to Romeo. “ … Though no calls me it anymore, I once was called Snow Owl.” She smiled.

“You don't need to make any decisions now.” The women stressed to Sy. “But if you do choose to throw in with us, you won’t be doing anything alone.” Pyria assured the girl. “I can’t promise anything, just that the Spire can endow many privileges and responsibilities.”

“You’ll want for nothing in the Spire,” Piper concurred.

Sy smiled. “Thanks for the opportunity,” she said. “I think I’ll focus on the healing for now, but I’ll probably stick around a while. Unless some higher-up decides differently, or all the other Neo get sick of me and toss me out of a window.” She chuckled, then went on: “Could you ask the doctor how long until those nanites are done with me? I’d like to walk soon as I can. I can tell this chair doesn’t get used much… My ass is a block o’wood right now.” She looked apologetic and added: “Pardon my French, ma’am.”

“No apologies needed. I would probably give it one more day to be safe. Even with nanites healing it sap the energy out of you and expect some soreness.” Pyria said with a pleasant nod. The elder neo had been more than able to tap into her current medical record and ‘Speak’ to the nanites for an update.“If you have any question feel free to ask, otherwise why don’t we send you back to the infirmary to rest?”

"Yeah," Sy replied with a smile. The homey environment and warm tea made her feel quite sleepy all of a sudden. Though the heavy, carbohydrate-laden meal may have had something to do with that, too. "Rest sounds real good right about now." She drained the rest of her tea, ignoring the scalding feeling in her throat, and set the cup down with a clink. As Romeo began wheeling her out the door she said with a yawn: "Thanks, Ms. Rai. It's nice to have you three in my corner."

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