Sy cutting loose

"Where might you be going at this hour?"

Sy whipped around. Lucia stood in the hallway outside her door. Her grey-streaked hair was loose around her shoulders. Her arms were folded over her chest. She was wearing yoga pant, a black halter top and, to Sy's amusement despite the shock, bright yellow socks with ladybugs on them.

Sy pulled the straps of her backpack tighter. "Out," she said, avoiding Lucia's eyes. She bowed her head, her hoodie casting a shadow over her face.

Lucia sighed. "I like you, Syiandra. But you are a damaged individual and your own most successful saboteur. Don't do this. You've been given great opportunities here. If you leave now, you'll be considered a liability and permanently stricken from the She'Yin records."

Sy was silent. She knew all this, of course. Nor did she need reminding that this was all the result of Pyria calling in a favor on her behalf, after she almost killed everyone in the Spire, including Piper and Romeo. Just the thought of throwing away a gift she never even deserved in the first place ate at her like acid.

But something else ate worse.

She pulled a piece of paper from the pocket of her hoodie. Without a word, she walked up to Lucia and handed it to her. The paper contained just four words: "He's in the Hive". Next to it was a small symbol of three interlocking triangles.

Lucia looked from the paper to Sy, understanding dawning in her eyes. "It's your father. Or rather, you believe it is."

"I found that on the table couple nights ago," Sy said. She still wouldn't meet Lucia's eyes. "Someone knows everythin' 'bout me an' dad. Who we both are, where we both are. I got confirmation now. I got a shot. I gotta take it."

Lucia put on her lecturing face. "You know that the most likely person to have this information is Logos, Sy. You are likely walking into a trap with no backup. Even if your father is indeed in the Hive, which I find doubtful-"

"Ain't," Sy interjected. "That lines up with everything I found out myself."

"Even so," Lucia went on, "for one, the Hive is enormous, Sy. It's as big underground as the city is aboveground, and far less structured. It's like looking for a particular stalk of hay in a stack that has passed into a tornado. Without a further clue-"

"Look on the back," Sy said.

Lucia flipped the crap of paper. In hastily scratched letters, there was a single word. A name.

ROWAN

Lucia rubbed her temples, looking tired, weary and frustrated. "Sy, it does not matter what they wrote if they only wrote it to lure you out of hiding! Surely you can see that?"

"If they wanted me dead," Sy said, her voice curiously level, "they could have killed me instead of leaving me a note. You can't protect me. She'Yin can't protect me. Shit, the fuckin' Spire couldn' protect me an' protectin' people is their fuckin' job!" She threw off the hoodie, finally locking eyes with Lucia, her dark eyes full of fire. Her face was growing hot, anger and sadness battling for control as her restraint began to give way. "Logos tried to recruit me, an' I spit in his face, an' since that moment people been tryin' to protect me, an' every fuckin' time they been gettin' hurt over it, an' I'm done! So yeah, maybe this is a trap, maybe they got a reason not to just fuckin' kill me in my sleep, and maybe I don' know that much about the Hive, but I know how to hide in a crowd, I know how to survive in slums, an' I know that no one else is gonna die tryin' to protect me there!"

Silence fell between them. The air seemed suspended in animation, growing thicker as the quiet held. Sy held Lucia's gaze, and finally, for the first time, it was the elder of the two who cast her eyes down. "I see," she said quietly. "Sy, forgive me. I misjudged your intentions. I would still ask you not to go... But I know it would be futile. So instead, before you go... Please wait a moment and come with me."

She went back inside her apartment, leaving Sy dumbfounded in the quiet dark hallway. The moment spun out, eerily, but soon Lucia returned in a thin sports jacket and carrying a small bag "Come," she said. "We need to be fast and decisive now."

In silence, they descended the elevator into the laboratories. The dark, silent hallways were creepy in their quiescence, but Lucia seemed undeterred. Sy got the feeling this wasn't the first time she came here at night, possibly to work on something after a nighttime moment of inspiration. "Lucia... What are we doin' down here?" she asked in a hushed voice.

Lucia merely said: "Getting you something you will require." She did not speak again until they entered their mutual workshop. Sy looked around the little laboratory, with its messy shelves and benches full of the results of her tinkering and programming, wondering whether she would ever set foot in there again. Lucia walked over to the case in the middle of the table, swiped the DNA lock, opened it, and lifted out the tube with the complex organic network floating in the liquid. "Take the prototype of the Crawler," she said, holding it out to Sy.

"Wait, what? Luce, I can't take that!" Sy protested.

Lucia was undeterred. "I can replicate it within days," she said. "I still have all the data. Now, I'm not telling you to use it at first convenience. Whether it will do anything at all is a roll of the dice, and I can not tell you what side effects may occur. But if it works, it may be the best weapon you could have down there. So take it. Use it if the situation grows dire, and you will know where to find me. If at any point you need my help, all you need to do is ask."

Sy reluctantly took the tube and put it in her backpack. "I don' want ya to be in danger, I told you," she muttered. "But... Thanks."

"It's not too late to decide against going," Lucia offered. "I can request better security for our floor. It should not go unanswered with She'Yin in the current circumstances."

Sy shook her head. "I gotta take care of this myself," she said with determination. "Ain't ya gonna get in trouble for givin' me this?"

The corner of Lucia's mouth twitched. "Oh, I only let you bring it into your apartment because you wanted to finish some calculations in the evening. It was stolen when you were kidnapped from the premises. I'm sure I'll catch some flak for this... But not much. It's not unusual for employee residents to take work home, although that usually means code or notes."

Sy looked quizzical. "Kidnapped? But..." Understanding dawned on her face. "Why would you do that?"

Lucia gave her a small smile full of sorrow. "Because if you ran away, Sy, She'Yin would not accept you back. If you were kidnapped... Well, we'd be overjoyed to have you back. I know I would." And a tear welled up in her eye and rolled down her cheek.

"Hey now," Sy said slightly shocked, "C'mon Luce, I ain't never seen you cry, you gon' make me weep here."

Lucia nodded and wiped at her cheek. "There's no time for that. I will let you out. Come on."

They hurried along the corridors to an employee's entrance around the side of the building. The air outside was chilly and harsh. It was far enough from the city for the atmospheric shell to wear thin. "Will you be okay getting to shelter, Sy?" Lucia asked, worried.

"Yeah," Sy said, "this ain't the first time I had to get into the city in the dead o'night through the outside atmosphere. I'll tell you the story one day."

"I'd like that," Lucia said with a wan smile. "Thank you for being my friend, Syiandra. Please get in touch as soon as you can."

Sy couldn't find words to say. She wrapped her arms around the olive skinned amazon and pulled her tight, her face digging into Lucia's shoulder. Lucia was not reluctant now to return the embrace. When Sy did let go, she saw tears shine in her face again.

"You're my friend too," she said finally, her voice breaking. "I'll be in touch. Goodbye, Lucia."

And she turned around and quickly walked off towards the city, afraid of losing her nerve, afraid she would not be able to go at all if she stayed any longer, afraid she could not bear losing yet another home. Supplies and the biotech prototype clinking softly in her backpack, Sy marched across the barren Mars landscape toward the city, and the infamous Hive, where perhaps her father still waited...

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