Lucia Trandilli woke up. She yawned and stretched, the muscles of her toned arms rippling as she did so. The sun had not yet risen, as usual, but she felt rested all the same. She looked at her feet. A grey little ball of fur was gently snoozing, so fast asleep her movements had not yet awakened it. “Fice,” she said calmly. “Morning arises, kitty.”

The cat stirred, lifted her head and yawned. She looked at Lucia with enormous eyes, the pupils nearly entirely dilated in the dim light. Lucia smiled and stroked its head, scratching behind the ears. Soffice stood up and jumped off the bed. Lucia followed, walking to an apparently bare corner of the small apartment. Not that the rest of the apartment did not appear bare; visitors often assumed Lucia had just moved in and had not gotten around to buying all of the various decorations, gadgets and knick-knacks most people possessed to fill the blank holes in their habitations. But Lucia did not care much for having things for the sake of having them, and so her apartment was void of anything non-essential. Aside from the cat.

But daily, intense exercise was not non-essential to Lucia. She sent a ping to her gym module. Two bars unfolded from the wall, a few inches from the ceiling, just out of her reach. She jumped up, grabbed the bars and began her daily set of pull-ups. There was no better way to shake off sleep’s diffusion of the mind than working out.

An hour and a half later, she stepped out of the shower and began to dress. As she picked up her pants, a small clip fell out. The sound of its landing, a sharp, short, cascading ting, reverberated through the empty room. She stopped for a moment, reflecting. The quiet in the apartment was something she had always welcomed, even reveled in, but lately it had affected her mood adversely. It troubled her that her mood was becoming less predictable. She had spent years honing her body, mind and spirit through intense exercise, focused research and meditation, and though she knew she could always do better, she had been satisfied with her path for years. Why was it changing? Yes, age was beginning to catch up, but she was as fit as she had been for a decade. Still, was that the cause for her intentional isolation to wear on her like this?

She resolutely shelved the contemplation for later and finished putting on her clothes, but her exercise high was shot by the time she finished putting on her sneakers and when she left the apartment, after putting some food out for Soffice, the look on her face was enough to prevent catcalls from the movers in the hallway. She stopped and looked back. The movers were carrying some very basic furniture into the apartment next to hers. Apparently someone else liked a measure of isolation from the world, considering the entire floor was locked off from the Grid. She made a mental note to check in on the new arrival when she had the opportunity.

She passed through the two sets of heavy doors that led to the elevator. Passing through the Cage, her Grid feed immediately came to life. She dismissed the majority of the notifications, and marked an e-mail from the company research coordinator to be reminded later. As the elevator zoomed down, she looked out of its window into the Dome. The irrigation system was on, and the low sunlight created a rainbow over the artificial forest below. A smile returned to her lips, and as the glass cage slid down into the entrance hall of She’Yin laboratories, she was beginning to feel a little more like herself again.

A few hours later, in the midst of a complex neurograft, a knock came on the door. Initially Lucia did not even hear. Her eyesight was zoomed in to max level, so she had less than zero peripheral vision available to her, and when her focus was this devoted to her work, it took a lot to break her out of it. A breaking beaker and distinctly urban exclamation of “Shit! This fuckin’ thing!” would do it though. If it hadn’t been for her tremor suppressors she could very well have ruined the morning’s work right then and there. She turned off the magnification and looked around. Her colleague Bertrand stood behind her, glancing behind with a bemused look on his face. Behind him, a young black woman of a borderline gaunt build gingerly stepped off a glider and began dejectedly pushing some shards together with her shoe.

“Can I help you?” she asked Bertrand, making it clear from the look in her eyes that she didn’t appreciate the interruption.

Bertrand smiled wryly at her. “I guess you didn’t read the message, huh?” She shook her head and he nodded. “Didn’t think you would have, yet. This is Syiandra Brooks. She’s new, and she’s yours.”

“I do not train interns,” she said shortly.

“She’s not,” he said. “Management thinks she may be able to help with the Crawler project.”

Her eyes widened, but just a little. “Hadn’t we decided that was a dead end?”

“Not anymore,” he said. “So let me introduce you. Syiandra, this is Lucia. She’ll be your new supervisor.”

The black girl stopped sweeping the beaker shards together and stepped closer. “Sorry ‘bout the mess,” she said. “Not totally used to that thing yet.”

“Do not worry about it,” she said and stood up. She was both significantly taller and much more broad-shouldered than the new girl, who looked up at her and gulped. “Wow,” she said in a small voice. Lucia smiled, amused by the girl’s appreciation for her size, and held out a hand. “Nice to meet you, Syiandra, and welcome to She’Yin.”

Syiandra took the outstretched hand and shook it. “Y’can call me Sy.”

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