Role Models

Paramitha is sitting crosslegged on her mattress, keyboard in her lap and gloved fingers dancing over the haptic interface as she watches code scroll by on the monitors mounted haphazardly on the wall. She pauses, hands hovering over the keys as an incoming video call interrupts her work. Her eyebrows furrow slightly as she recognizes the ID as a public extranet terminal, and she tucks a loose strand of black hair into her headscarf before answering. Her expression softens and her posture relaxes a little when she sees who’s on the other end.

“Little cousin… calling again already?”

The face on the other end, a young girl approaching her teens smiles brightly, waving to the camera. She’s definitely on a public terminal - the busy street is visible behind her, and beyond it, disorganized stacks of mismatched houses, some segments centuries old and some seemingly new construction, all mixed with the plastic sheen of cheap prefabs. The terminal’s audio compensation does its best to filter out the noisy street, but it can only do so much.

“Yeah! I-... I found a credit chit.”



Paramitha lets out a heavy sigh. “Sena…”

“It was just laying there, I promise!”

Paramitha scrutinizes her for a moment before relenting with a slight shake of her head. “You shouldn’t be wasting your credits calling me anyway…” she points out, although there’s a small smile on her lips.

Sena frowns a little, her gaze falling away. “But I miss you! And-... and I want to be in Hong Kong too. Can’t I come stay with you…?”

The question prompts another sigh from Paramitha, a tired frown crossing her face. “We’ve been over this… you know that’s not possible. You need to be with your parents.”

The girl’s face falls, and she looks down at the ground for a while before facing the camera again. “But… you did it.”

Paramitha sucks in her lips, bringing one of her knees up to rest her chin on. “Not because I wanted to. I-... I had to leave. You know that.”

Sena nods, looking a little guilty over having brought her cousin’s mood down. “I just… I don’t like it here. And-...” she pauses, looking of screen as somebody calls out, the words muffled by the audio dampening. “I-... I need to go.” she sighs, looking disappointed.

“Okay, little cousin… I promise, you can come visit some day, when you’re older, alright?” comes the softly spoken reply, accompanied by a small, reassuring smile.

The girl on the screen still looks troubled, but she nods faintly, and ends the call without another word. After it ends, Paramitha lets out a heavy sigh, shoulders dropping as her gaze falls to the faint glow of her keyboard. Sena had been calling more often lately, and they seem to keep repeating the same conversation. She flicks at one of the keys a bit before peeling the haptic gloves off, deciding she doesn’t feel like doing more work at the moment. Not to mention her sweaty palms need a chance to breathe.

She’s about to sink back into her troubled thoughts when knuckles tap softly against the doorless doorframe that separates her little corner from the rest of the Den’s ‘basement’. Said basement is, of course, a series of top floor apartments, with most of the walls knocked out. Her gaze shifts towards the opening, a little surprised to see Yan Sun standing there, looking ever the picture of the perfect cyberpunk between the weathered, ripped jeans, the dramatic vest with its tech inlays and her bold blue hair.

“Hey Para…” the woman leaned against the doorframe says softly, flashing a small but subdued smile, studying Paramitha with poorly concealed concern. “Didn’t mean to barge in or anything. Kinda… caught the end of that though. No doors…” she says with an apologetic glance and a vague gesture at the pulled-aside curtain that usually covers the empty doorframe. “Your cousin again…?”

Paramitha lowers her knee, once again crossing her legs as she collects herself and nods. “Yeah…” she confirms, voice low, before quickly thinking to add: “And-... uh, it’s fine. What-... what are you doing down here though…?”

Yan Sun shrugs as she pushes off from the doorframe, shooting a glance towards the stairs before looking back to the sitting woman. “You know how she gets before a big run.” There’s a mix of discomfort and concern in her face. And hurt, maybe? Paramitha just nods in response, prompting Yan Sun to continue: “...and, you know… this one is kind of as big as it gets. At least for her.”

The sigh that accompanies the words is heavy and laced with both emotion and exhaustion. “Sooo… I needed a break. Figured I’d tag out for a bit, come down and see what you’re up to. Hotaru’s more use with the planning anyway.” she explains further, forcing a bit of cheer into her tone before plopping down next to Paramitha on the mattress, causing the latter to shift a little awkwardly, pulling her right leg back when she realizes their knees are touching.

“Uhm… you’re always welcome here, Yan…” she says, flashing a smile. The words causes the gaze of the woman next to her, which had been studying the various monitors, to shift to Paramitha, eyebrows rising slightly, expression simultaneously questioning and amused.

“What, no ‘Blue’?”

The question causes Paramitha’s cheeks to flush a little, and she immediately looks down at her own lap. “I-I mean… I-... I wear at least as much blue as you do. Feels a little weird to call you that.” she answers in a half-mutter, gesturing at her own clothes. A loose, blue dress over black leggings and a matching, longsleeved black undershirt.

Yan Sun snickers quietly, nodding in acknowledgement as she studies Paramitha’s outfit. “Fair…” she concedes, before gaining a grin and raising her left eyebrow, causing her cybernetic eye to light up in electric blue. “...but can you do this?” she says, voice smug.

The words bring Paramitha’s gaze up, a goofy smile spreading across her lips as she just studies the glowing eye for a moment. Then she catches herself, quickly looking away towards an arbitrary screen. “You know I can’t…” she mutters quietly.

“You know I could still hook you up with something, right? I mean, it’s a bit harder now, but we could figure something out.” Yan Sun suggests, nudging the woman next to her with her shoulder, an enthusiastic smile on her face.

“I just… I don’t want to alter my body like that.” Paramitha says a bit uncomfortably, before her eyes suddenly widen, gaze snapping back to Yan Sun. “N-Not that-... I mean-... your-... your cybernetics are great. Like… super cool.” she blurts out in a panic, prompting a surprised but fond laugh from Yan Sun.

“I know you didn’t mean it like that, Para.” she replies through her grin. “I’m sorry, you’ve told me before. I should stop bugging you about it.” she adds, voice softer, an apologetic little shrug accompanying the words.

Paramitha relaxes a little, nodding a couple of times. “Thanks…” she says softly. “I-... I know some of the others think it’s a bit weird.”

Yan Sun is quick to shake her head. “Not weird. It’s your choice, yeah?”

She nods again, gaining a small smile. Her gaze lingers on the woman next to her, until it causes Yan Sun to reach up and touch her own face. “What? Did I-... Do I got dye on my cheek or something?” she asks through a mixture of amusement and confusion.

Paramitha’s eyes widen a little and she shakes her head. “Uh… no.” she says, attention turning back to her screen, gaze falling on the end call screen as she draws in a breath. Yan Sun shrugs it off, following her gaze to the screen.

“You’re worried about her?”

Paramitha lets out a long sigh, just watching the screen in silence for a couple of seconds before nodding faintly. “Yeah…”

“Do you have any idea why she wants to leave?”

She shakes her head. “No… not really.”

“Do you… think…?”

“No. I-... I mean, I don’t think so anyway. I think maybe she just wants to be like me, which definitely isn’t-...” she trails off with a frustrated noise, shaking her head again. “She’s better off where she is. Her family loves her.” she says, without looking away from the screen.

Yan Sun’s expression turns to a frown as she studies Paramitha’s darkening expression, and she’s quick to place a comforting hand on her back, sliding up to her far shoulder and giving it a squeeze, rocking her slightly to the side. “Hey… you’re here now, okay? You’re with friends.”

Paramitha turns to face Yan Sun, and quickly finds herself wrapped up in a hug. She does her best to contain the maelstrom of conflicting emotions in her head even as tears threaten to escape. She tries not to think about the past, or about her cousin. But that leaves her thinking about the warmth of the arms wrapped around her and the smell of Yan Sun’s hair, and she’s not sure if that’s better or worse. She takes a deep breath, willing the gentle pressure to just be comforting as she returns the hug. Yan Sun still speaks softly: “We’ve got your back. Always. You’re gonna be fine. And… so’s your cousin. She’s got you looking out for her.”

With that, Yan Sun pulls back, flashing a soft smile, one hand lingering on Paramitha’s shoulder, searching her face for confirmation that the worst of her thoughts have been averted. Paramitha answers the smile with a weak one of her own, nodding softly. “Thanks…” she says quietly, a bit of embarrassment in her expression.

Yan Sun’s smile widens in turn, snickering softly. She opens her mouth to say something, but a crashing noise and a muffled shout from upstairs causes her to flinch and look up. “Aaaand I think that’s my cue to get back to work before somebody ends up barbequed.” she says with an exasperated sound, climbing back on her feet. “Just let me know if you need to talk, okay?” she says while backing towards the door, shooting a goofy fingergun towards the sitting woman. “Uh… after the run.” she adds as an afterthought, shaking her head with a tired laugh and darting off to go break up whatever argument is going on upstairs.

When she’s left alone, Paramitha lets out a long breath, slumping. She chews on her lips for a moment before flopping face first into her pillow, letting it muffle the drawn-out, frustrated groan that follows.