Fybertech: The De Novo Project, Part 12
By: FyberOptic
Monday, December 18th, 2006

Fyber sat shaking his head, which sat propped lazily against his left hand, which sat propped lazily against the round metal table in the control room of his lab. Before him rested the disemboweled H.E.A.T. he had acquired from the Arvix Industries thug; its pieces carefully strewn across the table in such a way as to remember how to properly reassemble it again later, though this may have been less apparent to anyone else who saw it at the moment. His gaze was still fixed on a meticulously manufactured circuit board sitting closest to him, which he gingerly shifted to different angles in his right hand, to scrutinize over its mass of tiny components.

His disconcerted mood was related to the fact that many of the components in the device he had been studying for the last few hours weren't alien at all, which as far as he was concerned, they should have been. In fact, with the exception of a small few which had perhaps been specially manufactured, he could order most of them from the mammoth Allied Electronics catalog which sat splayed beside him.

As was the case with a standard H.E.A.T., this particular model had been designed with some form of security implemented as well, preventing it from being used by anyone other than the authorized user. Despite insisting to himself that he was more authorized than anyone else on this planet to operate one, it still unfortunately refused to recognize him of course, which meant many hours of work still lay ahead, dumping all the software from the device and carefully analyzing it in attempt to bypass such restrictions. Part of him had almost considered chucking it across the room; not purely out of frustration, but because his own H.E.A.T. had initially been damaged from a crash. The shock of the event left it believing him to be someone he wasn't, which set him on the incredulous path to where he was today. Somehow though he didn't think this facsimile would stand up to the same abuse, and resorted to lazily chucking his pencil instead.

It didn't help.

At this point he didn't even know what the thing could do. All he had so far was speculation, based on the battered state of Boris' SUV which sat abandoned in the woods. Particularly the hand prints in solid steel, which was ineffaceably emblazoned into his mind, undoubtedly created by the increased strength provided by a HEAT when its energies encompass its wearer's limbs. He had to admit that he was certainly impressed that someone here could reproduce such technology in any form, and was so enthused to see what they had accomplished that a small part of him almost wished that the soldier had attempted to use it against him. Though if that had been the case, he was pretty sure that the only thing that would be taken apart right now would be himself.

Its very existence at least proved that he wasn't the only human to ever come in contact with Zentaxian technology though, which was something he had always wondered about. It also proved that the particular individual who had acquired it had been in a much more prominent position than himself, obviously capable of complex reproduction, undoubtedly thanks to the resources of Arvix Industries. But who exactly had come across such technology, and how? And when, for that matter. Those were the burning questions.

But the fact that even an original model's capabilities were restricted by using modern components, as evidenced by the one barely capable of still producing a motionless intangible rockface at the mouth of his lab, eased his mind a little. Then again, he wasn't capable of producing custom machined circuitry as found in this version, so he wasn't quite ready to downplay its effectiveness just yet. There was surely a usage limit, since modern battery technology was nowhere near that of the power source a standard H.E.A.T. unit would use. And then there was the fact that he recalled no scorch marks in the vicinity of Boris' abduction, which lead him to believe that this model either wasn't capable of the same offensive capabilities, or that it was saved for a last resort.

Finally he sighed, propping his head on both of his hands now, his mind searching for answers which he simply didn't have as he stared blankly across the round table.

Laying near the other side was a thick black belt with evenly spaced compartments of the same color anchored rigidly from it, pointing upwards like dulled points of a crown. A wire trailed from one of the pouches, leading to a radio handset, which laid as silent now as the rest of the room. Beside that was a snubby hand-held automatic rifle, which still appeared just as menacing despite the lack of its owner; its glossy coat glinting with a pale green at each rapid pulse still thumping from the power core pillaring from the center of the table. The gun strap was still missing though, hopefully still bound to the person it belonged to, who Vito was still off dealing with apparently.

Fyber slid his arm in front of him and looked at his watch. It was nearly daybreak. He'd been sitting there for several hours apparently, but obviously not long enough. He wasn't any closer to unlocking the power in his new toy, nor had he received any word from Vito. Maybe illegally shipping human beings to unknown locations took more time than he would have thought. Not that he often pondered how long such a thing took.

The lack of sleep and physical exsertion of the day was starting to take its toll, leaving his vision blurry and his muscles weak. There had been many late-nighters during the construction of the lab, but it wasn't every evening you had two people you know mysteriously kidnapped, found out about alien technology in the hands of bad guys, almost been killed, and had the guy that attempted it mailed to who knows where, by the detective you hired after nearly being killed twice prior to now.

Yeah, sleep sounded pretty good.

- - -

Being a technology buff, Boris had always appreciated any invention which allowed for the user to experience a more immersive environment. An important part of that was three-dimensional sound for example, which was pretty much standard on modern PCs, and provided for much more engrossing gameplay, and for the viewing of movies with theater-quality audio at home. If one could only combine this now widespread technology with an equally advanced visual representation of the same experience, then some people would be in heaven; or at least could be in a virtual rendition of such. And not to mention, it would make a person rather rich to develop such a device as well, thought the entrepreneur in him.

But Boris was having some second thoughts on the benefits of his idea at the moment. This was likely due to the ever-growing lump in his throat, proving to be as adequately unpleasant as he presumed was intended, compounded by his head trying to spin more so than the room around him. That was because the room was indeed spinning, or at least was providing Boris with the sensation of such, from the perfectly reproduced ambient white noise which gave the perception of motion, combined with the visual stimuli of the room's clean white arrangement pivoting swiftly around his central location. He crouched and closed his eyes to block out part of it, and to prevent from possibly toppling over, but his mind was thoroughly convoluted by this deception of physics, and no change of his position seemed to lessen the feeling of nausea it induced. And yet at the same time, despite the circumstances, a small part of him was impressed that a simulation could so overwhelmingly affect him.

"Providing coordinates which visually map out to the representation of.. a smiley face... was obviously a bad decision on your part, Mr. Grant. Wouldn't you agree?" spoke the voice from above finally, which confirmed Boris' suspicion of why his unpleasant experience was taking place, which had begun rather suddenly and without warning. But a part of him still found it funny enough to chuckle softly despite what was going on around him, since he had worried that he may have inaccurately plotted out such a shape at the time. Apparently all that college math had come in handy after all, he thought.

The environment then came to an impromptu halt, sending Boris swaying as his equilibrium attempted to compensate for this misinterpretation of deceleration. "I'm glad you find this situation amusing, Mr. Grant." continued the voice, the tone of which Boris took as admittance of aggravation and impatience due to his dereliction of instructions.

In perhaps a more desperate maneuver, the center wall panel across from the white cushion bench seat again flashed to that of Jake in the other more normal-looking office locale, who showed his incredible boredom of the situation by tapping a pencil incessantly against the apparently simulated wooden desk in front of him. Boris had come to the conclusion that, based on the state of his own room obviously being an illusion, Jake's location was surely no less equipped, based on the prior incident of the disappearing chair.

"Alright, alright." Boris said defeatedly, climbing up from the floor and back onto the bench, wiping his hands across his eyes and forehead to appease his blurry vision. He actually had been grateful of the fact that they had decided to punish him instead of Jake for his little act of defiance. This at least gave him the impression that so far they had no intention of letting Jake in on their secrets, which gave him more of the impression that they actually meant to release him. He had come to remember a particular bit of information from the night before, during their abduction, which justified that thought. He distinctly recalled hearing the words "It's the blond one we want", after which Jake was pulled from his car. With Jake obviously having no involvement in any of this, Boris had come to the conclusion that the only blond one they could have wanted was Fyber, and the goons they sent to do the job apparently had no idea they were taking the wrong person. This bode well for Jake's future, it seemed, as long as Boris himself cooperated. But not necessarily for his own, he realized.

"I honestly have no idea how to locate anything on that map of yours, I have to say." he continued, somewhat honestly, as his mind, still swimming and unsettled from his experience with the future of technology, attempted to improvise a plan to avoid any possible further actions against Jake.

"But, I know where it is when I see it."

- - -

"Ya didn't tell me it was one of Risk's guys." groaned a chunky balding man, slouched lazily beside Vito at the trunk of his car.

"Yeah well, I'm taking a Risk even talking to you." responded Vito, emphasizing Arvis' last name and accompanying it with a flash of his eyebrow and a grin. His overweight acquaintance merely gave him a sideways glare at the attempt of the joke.

Vito sighed falsely, reaching into his trenchcoat to flare out a set of crisp twenties. "I wonder how far an extra hundred gets a person these days.." he asked, pretending to count the bills rather auspiciously. And in the periphery of his vision, he could see the man's demeanor change rather quickly, to which he grinned inwardly.

"Another hundred, and I might not recognize the uniform." counter-offered the man greedily, just as a plane thundered overhead down onto the nearby runway, no more than a few hundred feet away. Making deals out on the airport tarmac probably wasn't the best of locales, especially in this day and age, but nothing about what they were doing was legal anyway, so aside from a headache afterwards from the deafening engines and overpowering scent of jet fuel, Vito figured there were worse places to get arrested.

Vito drew up his gaze to meet the man's as if attempting to bargain, but let out another sigh, still false but adding a hint of reluctance, and pulled out another set of twenties from his inner pocket, the now emptiness of which known only to Vito. He pretended to count out all the bills again, then dipped his hand out to his soon-to-be accomplice. The man quickly grabbed for the money, but Vito jerked it back again, eyeing him. "This ought to leave him with a long trip home." he instructed. The man half-nodded in understanding, never shifting his gaze from the money, which he eyed almost hungrily, hands outstretched and pudgy fingers wriggling. Vito cocked a brow, but slid the money into the man's greedy paws, who promptly proceeded to count it for himself, while licking his chapped lips. At least the man's inescapable greed had been as predictable as expected, having allowed for an accurate quote to his client on how much this ordeal would cost. And by client, he meant that hot chick that gave him those crisp bills; the one that had tagged along with his actual client last they met in the alley, and who was playing hard to get.

But since hanging around here wasn't doing much to getting him a date, Vito went to dragging the limp body out of his trunk, hoping it'd regain his accomplice's attention. It did, and the portly man stuffed the bills carefully into his pocket, then grabbed onto the body's thick clothing, and the pair of them heaved him out onto the tarmac. "He's not dead, mind you." Vito commented, which he thought was probably a particularly important thing to point out, since this fellow seemed to have no problem with smuggling of bodies if the price was right. Vito could only assume that many of which he had dealt with never made it this far alive.

The man simply grunted, as if this was an inconvenience if anything, waddled back over to his baggage vehicle parked behind Vito's car, and whipped open one of the side compartments to rummage around inside of. After a moment, he dragged a large suitcase out, which seemed more than adequate to hold a person, just probably not very comfortably. Vito eyed it suspiciously, then felt it important to ask "Isn't that a passen..", just as the man dumped its contents all over the damp pavement, then ripped off the nametag, it obviously having belonged to a passenger as Vito had suspected. "Nevermind."

- - -

Jenny stood quietly at the masked entrance of the lab, one hand propped against the cool rocky face to her left to look out through the shimmery wall of light in front of her, to watch as day began to break. "Missing class.." she mumbled to herself with a depressed sigh, realizing it was about this time that she'd be headed out for advanced biology if it hadn't been for this mess that she had let those guys drag her into.

As the sun lurched its way out from behind the mountains, she closed her eyes and let the light and warmth wash over her weary face, drew her arms around her middle, and stepped through the false rock. It shimmered in protest, but allowed her to pass freely into the openness outside. It was nice here, she had to admit. It wasn't often she had the time to simply enjoy a sunrise, let alone from out in the moutains. Not that she'd ever admit any such thing to those guys, of course, but that was often the case with a lot of what she thought. Her father always said that being hard-nosed was how you succeeded in life, and she wasn't about to change that philosophy now, considering it had worked out for her thus far.

She took in a refreshing breath of morning air and opened her eyes again, drawing her gaze from the distant mountain peaks to the more immediate surroundings. Despite being a rather open area, it was still fairly secluded from the outside world due to the line of forest that headed away from the knoll to the east and west. Even though she could see plainly above the trees, the entrance into the knoll was pointing nearly opposite from the road, so passers-by wouldn't see strange things such as people and objects passing through a false face of rock. She couldn't see the road from here of course, but she could see a slight opening in the treetops to her left, marking the gradually curving dirt path from the road. She also noticed how that gradual curve would make it impossible to see directly from one side of the path to the other. Jenny doubted any of this was intentional, but if you were going to hide a secret lab, you'd have been hard pressed to find a better place to put it, apparently.

But it was then that Jenny realized the sounds of nature echoing across the knoll had changed. It was only slight, and had she not been out prior to now, she may have never noticed. Birds in the woods initially seemed more agitated, as if a cat were prowling towards their nest, only on a larger scale. But a veil of silence slowly blanketed the area she overlooked. She stiffened and stood more erect, cocking her head to different angles to better pinpoint the unknown disturbance, but the echoes from the rock made such things impossible. Seclusion also had its downsides, it would seem.

- - -

"Out of the truck" ordered a husky voice, immediately followed by an uncaring thrust of palms against Boris' back, sending him dropping out of the black rectangular vehicle he had been hauled in and down onto the cold mushy soil below. His hands bound behind him left much to be desired in terms of falling, to which his left shoulder could now attest as he laid there, recovering from his momentary shock of dropping several feet, yet still unable to see where he was due to a black hood placed over his head for the trip.

A thud to his right was indication of a pair of boots firmly planting themselves onto the ground beside him, which wasted no time in latching onto his arm and hoisting him back up onto his own feet. The same individual then ripped the hood from Boris' head immediately after.

Dawn rushed into Boris' unready eyes, which he attempted to shield by snapping them shut, but a jerk on his arm to lead him forwards reluctantly brought them open again, because he was fairly certain that a misstep would result in being dragged to his location rather than having the dignity of walking.

More boots pounded down into the chilled soil behind them as they walked. Boris twisted back swiftly to look, spotting no less than four other individuals following, but he was more surprised to realize his location; the truck was parked just off the road, parallel with it. With the road so close, all it would take was one bored cop taking the scenic route today, but as Boris felt himself getting shoved further and further towards the woods, he realized his chances for official rescue were gone.

As the treetops above cast their spell of darkness, Boris realized something else, and twisted back once more quickly to see the four individuals following him. Not one seemed to be armored with HEATs as on the night of his abduction; just seemingly normal military-esque garb of black padding over vital parts of their figures. Somehow he doubted they'd send men here without such equipment though considering the circumstances, and most likely simply didn't have them activated.

A power consumption issue..? Maybe these weren't of the same quality as the H.E.A.T. Fyber possessed, he pondered.

The guard rended Boris' shoulder forwards, nearly resulting in his loss of footing as the thickening snow of the forest they were entering gripped at his shoes. "Look back again, and I'll twist your head around so far that it's the only direction you'll see in, got it?" the guard growled.

Seeing as how Boris had grown accustomed to the direction his head normally pointed in, he decided it best to obey.

- - -

FyberOptic sat atop a rounded boulder at the apex his rocky knoll, overlooking a sea of green foliage which swayed listlessly to a cool summer breeze. Fringes of his purple hair whipped with it in silence, occasionally flittering over the tops of his blue-lensed goggled eyes.

Peering into the distance, rolling hills and mountaintops were the only thing obstructing a perfectly clear sky. Through his goggles it gave off a rich ultramarine hue, glimmering only slightly from the trace amounts of ultraviolet that passed. This eventually prompted him to turn his head to the sun, the culprit of such flashes, which peered down at him almost angrily with its persistently varying instensities of violet coloration. Perhaps it was upset that he could see its normally secret light, he thought in jest. Or more simply, that he could stare at it without injury. Either way, its mood was of little concern.

A drop of rain against his cheek made him reflexively snap his eyes, but the cool liquid instantly proved unthreatening, and he smiled somewhat, lowering his gaze again to the portrait of nature in front of him. As the rain picked up, he did not wonder how this was possible without a cloud in the sky; instead, he pondered whether there could be someone on one of the hills in the distance, staring this way, thinking as he did, and simply enjoying the day.

As droplets danced down against the alien plastics of his goggles, he lifted a hand to their side, pushing a nondescript indentation. The faintest of mechanics could be heard as they peered further into the landscape, presenting him with a closer view of the distant objects. But it was only slight, and no amount of zoom would allow for the distances he wondered about. He felt a small amount of disappointment from this, but as with everything else at the moment, it was of little concern.

But just as he was resetting them to their normal view setting, he noticed something odd. The rain, which even through the goggles was a pale translucent blue, had started to change color. The droplets were now oddly green, growing ever gradually in intensity. Slowly, he sat himself more upright and cupped his hand, letting the droplets form a small pool in the grooves of his palm. Despite this being odd in particular, he also strangely seemed to know the reasoning behind it.

He peered back up at the sun, which now throbbed with a more intense violet. As the casual thought eventually crossed his mind that it might explode if it continued its flurry, it did just that, in manner of speaking. A swirl of oily black enveloped it, reaching around from its edges like tendrils, as well as oozing from its center, until it became void of all color; the landscape around him was now drowned in darkness, except that provided by the fluorescent precipitation, which allowed only for the silhouette of the horizon to be seen.

Despite all of this seeming rather odd, he didn't feel particularly afraid. And the sun seemed to realize this, because after another few moments of his continued disregard, it changed once more, this time flooding its outer circumference with a blinding green light. He instinctively raised his hand to try and block its intensity, it not occuring to him that he could simply look away. With the other hand he adjusted a control on his goggles, extinquishing the blaze of emerald at his eyes to a more tolerable color temperature. Pleased with himself, he lowered his hand again, his challenging gaze still focused at his apparent opponent.

The sun flared once more at this contempt of its superiority. As its color intensified again, so did the rain around him. In fact, the thickening droplets became as emblazoned as the sun itself; not only its color, but the intensity of the shower. The fear that for so long had been missing suddenly poured back into him as fast as the rain fell from the unclouded sky. Or was it rain, he began to wonder.

It burned now as it lashed his skin, feeling hotter and more acidic. He felt his goggles start to slide slowly down his wet face as the plastics began to melt away, their display screens crying with an electronic hiss as they faded with the surrounding darkness. Fyber pulled the mangled device from his face and watched as it eventually disintegrated in his hand. This didn't increase his worry exactly, despite their utter destruction, but left him more with just a sense of loss.

It was then that he realized the rain was still green, and the sky still blackened, despite his lack of spectrum-enhancing eyewear. The ghostly green horizon started to melt almost just as his goggles did, which prompted his attempt to look upwards at his foe, but the light was too much now. The sun throbbed triumphantly, and yet continued to become brighter, as did the rain. The burning at his skin was now alarming, feeling more like actual acid with each drop, approachi..

.. "WAKE UP ALREADY!" cried the voice next to him. Startled, and not just from the sudden vocalization, Fyber jumped from his chair, brushing his hands feverishly against his clothes. "It burns!" he responded, as his senses came to realize the unpleasant sensation he was feeling wasn't a dream at all. Jenny grinned to herself fiendishly as she dropped his now empty coffee cup back onto the round metal table at the center of his lab.

"Come look. Now." she ordered. Without giving him a chance to react, she grabbed him by one of the arms he so feverishly brushed against his coffee-stained pants, and started pulling him out of the room. Despite the importance of her tone, he still found his immediate circumstances a bit more stressing, and continued to brush away what he could of the ardent liquid before it soaked further into his shirt and jeans, while hobbling along unhappily behind her.

By the time he looked up again, semi-satisfied that he had removed all that was possible by hand, Jenny had stopped towing him, and he found himself in the cavernous garage of his lab. It was particularly colder out here, obviously reflecting the winter season, much unlike the pleasant warmth of his summer dream. He also unconsciously reached up to run a hand through his hair, which was notably less purple and back to its original blond. But despite the cold, he preferred this to his dream, since having the sun show a personal grudge against oneself was never a good sign.

Despite the absurdity of the imagery his brain had produced during his brief nap, he did recognize similarities to past events from it. Many years ago, aboard "his" ship, the Yaering, when Fyber still had his purple hair and high-tech goggles, he and his small crew had found themselves practically adrift after narrowly escaping destruction at the hands of a Hammer-class Nylarian cruiser. Their blind ripstream jump to escape had left them in a dying star system, orbiting a desolate world, with only life support and maneuvering thrusters still functional by that point. And that was only because both had independent power systems.

Witnessing the death of a star was something that those in even a spacefaring civilization considered a special occasion, and under other circumstances Fyber would certainly have enjoyed the privilege much more. That is, perhaps if not for the hourly radiation treatments the crew underwent as a consequence of sitting so close to the mutating ball of gas and plasma. The star stubbornly held onto them for days. Their weakened physical state from the radiation and treatments, combined with twenty-hour days to repair the ship, certainly played tricks with one's mind. And every morning and evening, when Fyber looked out from his cramped cabin's window, the sun would seemingly stare at him with a mocking irreverence. Almost as if it challenged his captaincy, he sometimes felt, much like everyone else had when he had initially come on board. After seven grueling days of being its prisoner, they finally completed sufficient repairs to break the dense gravitational field of the area, leaving their lethal foe to die in solitude. He probably even got a medal for the whole ordeal, but he didn't remember. They gave away lots of medals back then.

Jenny turned to see where Fyber was blankly looking, and nudged him roughly with her shoulder before pointing where she wanted his focus. He flashed back into the present and stared outwards where her hand directed, and possibly wouldn't have noticed anything for himself due to the thick foliage to the west, drowned with vibrant morning light from the yellow sun he preferred. But faintly through the trees where Jenny pointed one could see the evidence of movement. Wisps of shadows lurked through the dense greenery, ever so slowly, and cautiously, apparently headed toward the clearing out in front of the knoll. What was approaching, neither of them could tell, they were much too far away to discern anything even if the treetops weren't so obstructing. But they were both fairly certain it was unwelcome.

- - -

Vito remained crouched uncomfortably, with his notepad and microcassette recorder well-in-hand, waiting. When not getting chased by goons, shot at, beat up, or billed, this was the part of the job he most disliked. Which he always thought was somewhat funny, since waiting also seemed to be the part the clients didn't like much either. Why couldn't criminals and villains just be predictable and show up on time, and make everyone happy? Or make anyone of importance happy, at least. Important being himself, and the client paying him for the job.

Hiding behind a malodorous dumpster wasn't exactly motivating, either, but he was pretty sure going for the news reporter angle and interviewing his expected guests on their nefarious plans wouldn't work well on known criminals. So Vito exhaled the stench of rotten vegetables in a puff of steam from his gradually numbing nostrils and went back to his notepad, drawing in another X on one of the series of carefully drawn grid squares on the page, leaving tic-tac-toe game number twenty-seven for the day completed.

Some people preferred to use chess as an analogy for how a plan comes to fruition, but Vito saw no need to overcomplicate matters. That, and he'd have a hard time carrying a chess board with him when hiding in dark alleyways. Tic-tac-toe usually boiled down to luck and chance, with very few options to choose from in the beginning and end. There was also a high probability that it would end in a draw, which seemed much more favorable than either winning or losing sometimes. Vito could much more relate to this methodology than any chess game of countless possibility and strategy.

He turned to a fresh page and began to draw in a new grid to play on, just as a vehicle sputtered its way into the alley. Vito cocked his brow to attention and shifted slightly, pulling the fedora from his head to tuck under his coat as he carefully slid the corner of his eye around the edge of his hiding spot. He remained shrouded in darkness by an overhang of the restaurant from which the dumpster surely belonged to, based on the smell.

The bright afternoon sun did nothing to reveal the individual in the approaching car as it squeezed down the dim narrow alley, eventually easing to a halt some ways down from his position. It sat shadowed from the buildings whiched lurched on either side, but the blocky shape of a sedan and its navy blue coat were too familiar for darkness to disguise.

After a moment, the door swept open with a creak, and despite his eagerness to determine who the occupant was, Vito found himself distracted by an abnormal disruption of the light bouncing off the door panel. It was unmistakably the remnants of a dent, pounded out somewhat at least, but certainly not professionally. The corner of his mouth curled up into a grin in remembrance of his last run-in with Arvix Industries goons, which was surely what put that particular dent there.

A single man inside lurked out of the car, eased the door back into the frame, and then leaned against it, crossing his arms across his chest as he looked both ways across the alley. It was this fellow's turn to wait now, it seemed. Vito strained his eyes to see through the haze of steamy apparitions in the alley, eventually recognizing the man as Sever; a thin man, possibly in his late 20's, not particularly tall, with narrowed eyes, and dark hair pulled tightly into a ponytail that flowed out from the back of his narrow head. He just looked rather distasteful in general, which combined with his nack/urge for cutting things, left Vito with little concern of whether he had been involved, or hurt, in their last encounter. After all, his current clients seemed like decent enough fellows he thought, and he was quite sure Sever had no sympathy for nearly killing one of them, either.

After a short few minutes, another car eased into the alley behind Sever's; the exact same model and color. Again a faint smile overcame Vito's lips as he noticed the front end of this one showed evidence of damage. But unlike the first, this one came to a much more impatient halt. The engine promptly died into the ominous silence of the alley, and the door swung open roughly. A rounded figure emerged from behind the squared door, who Vito couldn't make out the face of from this distance, but if he had to go by size and shape alone, it was none other than Bluster.

"Had some business to take care of" grunted the fatter man unapologetically as he waddled his way up to the first car.

"Business is why I'm here" rasped the skinnier Sever. "I hear we've got some."

"You heard right" acknowledged the larger man, who as he stepped closer, Vito realized he had properly identified. "The boss got some info out of the twirps. Or one of'em at least. Guy said he'll take'em to whatever boss is looking for as long as he let the other dude go. Err, the scrawnier one, that is." Bluster paused, seeming to remember something unpleasant in relation to the subject. "The one boss weren't happy about us grabbin, you know." He paused again, and this time Sever seemed to share a sense of momentary displeasure in rememberance to something.

"Anyway, he done let the runt go since he don't know nothin' about nothin', but the boss s'been using that holler-o stuff to make it seem like he still had'im to make the other'n squeal."

Sever nodded in acknowledgement, then got straight to the point, seemingly uninterested so far. "So what's the job?"

"Bah, we go back out to the woods again, to start with" he began, which provoked a sigh and rolling of the eyes from his paler comrade. "Meetup with a crew already in route, and get the punk to take us to some building hid out there or some crap. Once we found it, we hold it and report back the position, and wait for backup."

Sever raised a brow. "What kinda building is hid out in the woods?"

Bluster shrugged his plump shoulders, dumping them lazily back into their slouched position. "Hell if I know. Or care, s'long as I get my money." Sever grinned in agreement with the greedy notion, and Bluster turned to head back to his car.

The meeting seemingly over, Vito stared down at his notepad, which hadn't been as useful as it could have been due to the information this particular expedition had provided, but it had certainly been mentally noteworthy. Kidnappings weren't anything out of the ordinary in his line of work, and it wasn't the first time he had heard tales of souls disappearing into Arvix Industries, rarely to be heard from again.

But this time they seemed to have kidnapped a wrong person, both from the sound of this conversation, and with the brief one he had had with that Jeff guy when picking up the body he just had shipped to South America. The two stories seemed to correlate. And Vito got the impression that Arvis Risk was none too pleased with these two fellows at the moment as a result. He had heard tales of even Arvix Industries employees disappearing without a trace as well, so it seemed these two had been lucky for whatever foul-up they had managed to be fairly easily corrected.

There was actually only one phrase on the notepad in which he had felt worthy of writing down. And that was simply because it made no sense to him at all. "Holler-o stuff." Somehow such a concept had been used to trick their remaining kidnappee into thinking the other individual was still there. How this was possible, Vito didn't know, and found himself not particularly interested at the moment as a rat skittered past his foot, no doubt in search of leftovers in the hulking garbage bin he hid behind. So he dropped the notepad back into his gray trenchcoat's pocket and began to ease himself back upright.

The sound of a glass bottle toppling over beside him however froze his ascent, sending a chill shooting through his spine all the way down to the object his coat had unfortunately brushed into. Footsteps in the alley stopped, and he pictured in his mind the expressions that they two were likely displaying right now. Probably a curious look to one another, then one towards the nondescript dumpster nearer the other end of the alley entrance. And then they'd probably head that way to investigate. Vito sighed inwardly as the footsteps began again, this time with the air of caution about them, which slowly headed his way, just as he had imagined it would happen. Why did these guys have to be so predictable?

Bluster drew a revolver from inside his suit coat, fidgetting it around in his pudgy fingers to get an adequate grip on the weapon, before pulling back the hammer with a quiet clack. He directed the barrel upwards slightly as he moved up next to Sever, the two of them now moving along side-by-side to investigate. Unbeknownst to anyone else in the alley, Sever had already armed himself, as the gleaming tip of a knife blade from within his dark sleave peaked out through two of his fingertips.

Vito inched farther back behind the dumpster towards its opposing side, but alas, it was pushed too close to the adjacent part of the building to squeeze through that way. He was trapped.

"Come on outa there" Bluster ordered, the uncertainty of anyone even being there evident in his deep voice. But he knew the price of failure, especially if it were the result of being sloppy and overheard, so heading into the unknown darkness seemed the less dangerous alternative to him at the moment. At least the only outcome of this situation was death. The boss had much worse things, he knew, and he shivered at the thought.

As the footsteps came ever closer, likely almost ready to dash behind the dumpster and probably shoot on sight, Vito instead staggered out slowly enough to prevent any surprise reactions. And staggered out he did, misstepping, grabbing at the wall, his head lazily swaying from side to side. His hat and overcoat were missing, with his white dress shirt covered in streaks of dirt. His hair was as equally disturbed as the rest of him.

"Whas all this damn racket out here?" he grunted through slurred speech. "Can't a man get'som damn shut-eye without all this damn racket?" In his right hand was a large empty liquor bottle, which he waved around aggitatedly, never focusing on either of the individuals there with him, but yelling more directly at nothingness, as he stammered confusedly on by, catching a hand on the building occasionally to steady himself.

Bluster and Sever looked to one another, and upon a moment's hesitation, the larger of the two huffed frustratedly and shoved the gun back into its holster. "Goddamned winos" he mumbled, turning to head back to his car.

"Always somebody makin' some damn racket around here" he prattled on, adequately slurring his S's and R's as if tongue-tied. He reached up to his tie, which was already loosened sloppily around his unbuttoned collar, and tugged on it more so agitatedly, as if he were hot. Sever seemed to remain wary for a moment, but upon glancing down at the unwelcome guest's pants, and the large wet stain across the crotch, he smirked, and turned to head back to his own vehicle.

"I'll follow you out there" instructed Bluster, and he squeezed back into his car, dropping it several inches closer to the ground as he filled its seat, and slammed the door unnecessarily behind him. Sever slinked into his own almost silently, only the creak of the dented door giving away his action, and the two men started their identical cars nearly simultaneously. Vito flailed his bottle around at the roar of engines, throwing it down on the pavement in protest to the "damned racket", which exploded into shards of wet glass. He staggered on by, heading towards the direction they had entered the alley, when finally the two cars roared off in the other direction, disappearing around the corner, having never given him a second glance.

Vito eyed back behind him, and then, secure in the knowledge that they were finally gone, he stood upright, and strolled ordinarilly back towards his hiding place. Stashed securely on one of the dumpster's inset edges was his coat, which kept it moderately clean compared to the rest of him at the moment. It was carefully wrapped around his fedora, which he removed, and planted firmly back on his head. "I better get an Emmy for that one" he joked, brushing his hand across the drainage water he had smeared across his groin. "Or at least some new pants."

- - -

Boris felt the knot in his stomach return as he and the team lurking behind him approached the forest edge. In the time since they left the truck, the men had all pulled their sidearms to the ready. Or well, Boris hadn't exactly seen this with his own eyes per se, but he felt that he had watched enough movies to know what it sounded like when automatic rifle slides were wrenched back to their ready position. And automatic rifles were what he had already seen of them on two separate occasions now, so he had no reason not to think otherwise of this one, based on the familiar soldier garb.

The displeasure he felt wasn't from their display of force however. It was getting about that time to put up or shut up; he had promised to lead these people to Fyber's lab, and yet he really had no intention of doing so. It was quite the conundrum! So his hope was that Fyber was watching, or would be watching soon, and have some plan ready for his escape.

But deep down he knew that Fyber had never gotten around to implementing any security cameras. He also knew that even if such things were in place, Fyber had no offensive weapons, and Boris had gotten the impression that he was fairly opposed to them at that, so he really didn't know what he expected from any of this. He also tried not to think about Jake, because that was the only aspect of this situation that actually made him consider doing as asked. But at least if he could get away, he'd have a better chance of formulating a rescue with Fyber. Or so he convinced himself.

Meanwhile, the unrelenting passage of time dredged onward. Boris lead the individuals across the knoll, during which no dramatic rescue took place. He lead them through more wooded area exiting from it, then semi-circled around into the clearing beyond, which stood before a smaller knoll. After a careful sweep of the rocky hilltop, Boris had declared that it must be the wrong one. This continued for the next half hour, to the continuing dissatisfaction of his captors. After a time, he lead the team back to the clearing in front of the actual lab again, hoping for a rescue this time. But it never came. Instead, a rifle butt did instead.

"The bastard's stalling; leading us in circles!" he roared, positioning for another blow as Boris dropped to his knees, partially dazed. Another of the soldiers stepped forward, forcibly shoving the man aside, showing his obvious authority of the group.

"He aint gonna lead us anywhere if unconscious, you idiot" retorted the leader, who then reached down to grab Boris by the collar and jerked him to his unsteady feat. And yet he also raised his rifle threateningly, secured under his right arm, finger poised over the trigger. "But he can't if he's dead, either, now can he?" His large left fist still clenched onto Boris' collar, shaking him to a more aware state with emphasis on each word, as to better realize his dire predicament.

At this point, Boris was only half conscious enough to realize that predicament. He realized a gun was pointed at him, and that the individual holding it was probably speaking, but all he heard was noise. When he tried to speak himself, his throat only croaked a groan of confusion, his hand instinctively cradling the back of his neck to pacify the throbbing ache at the base of his skull.

As if this situation weren't bewildering enough in his current state, the next thing he knew, he was being dragged along by his collar. And the noise. There was a lot of it. Some of which he slowly came to perceive as yelling, but what, he couldn't tell. But that wasn't the only noise. Sharp cracks of air exploded out around him in quick succession, sending his brain rattling in pain. When he finally stopped moving, or being moved that is, he found himself at the lip of the woods again, thrown behind some shrubbery. More painfully loud crackling rang out around him, to which he covered his ears, attempting to focus his eyes through the pain in his head and that attacking his senses. And then in the distance, he saw something peculiar.

There was a vehicle, speeding across the snowy plains. At least, he was pretty sure there was. And whose it was, again, he couldn't tell in his state, but as things gradually improved, he yet again felt himself get dragged across the wilderness, yet farther into the foliage.

But then he saw what truly must have been an act of his imagination. It was, in fact, himself that he saw. This somewhat worried him, because such a thing tends not to occur unless you're dead, as far as he knew. But sure as life, there it was, where he had just been, crouched at the edge of the forest, and as quick as he could perceive this situation, he saw himself run.

His senses continued their gradual return, and one of the sounds assaulting him quickly identified itself as gunfire. And as the vehicle in the field sped closer, and the guy.. himself.. ran out to it, he suddenly realized it was Jenny's car. The door flung open, immediately followed by his other self jumping inside, and the car took off again in its daring escape. He still couldn't tell who was driving though from this distance, which seemed to be just as good, considering the barrage of projectiles which must be spraying them at that point.

"GET HIM BACK!" roared one of the soldiers, who took the lead of the group, swinging out from his position of cover and cautiously began a low-profile advance, his rifle spitting out countless rounds as he emptied the clip in the direction of the escaping vehicle. The men behind him mirrored his stance, and the whole team raced stiffly forward, bullets slicing the cold air with whisps and snaps of ear-splitting sound as they attempted to take out their target.

Boris had come almost fully aware now, but part of him still questioned that fact, based on what he had just seen. That is, at least, until he came to realize the second pair of hands that had pulled him to where he was now farther in the woods were none other than Fyber's, who knelt silently behind him, hands still gripped firmly to the clothing on both of Boris' shoulders, staring out into the field with a determined fortitude that Boris hadn't seen before on his friend's face.

Just about that time, Fyber looked down, and simply said "Let's go." And as fast as he said those words, he was already heaving Boris to his feet and racing off into the shrubbery, one hand still clenched on Boris' arm. Boris of course wasn't about to question his rescue at the moment and did just that, following the brisk pace, hopping tree roots and grabbing outwards to block any of the stiff whipping limbs that Fyber was haphazardly bulldozing out of their path. Scratches quickly covered both their faces nonetheless as the wilderness attacked back, until finally they broke the edge, where Boris realized was the closest exit from the forest to the knoll.

Gunshots still rang out wildly to the left, to which Boris instinctively looked, seeing Jenny's car still trying to make its escape, but perhaps not as quick as it could have by now. In fact, it had the soldiers facing in the exact opposite of the knoll, too completely occupied with what they believed was their escaping prisoner to realize that he was now racing up the winding gravel path of the knoll, to reach the solace of the cave Fyber and Boris knew was not far above.

But as they reached the first turn up the path, things all began to go wrong. The car, or the collection of light which had fooled the soldiers into thinking it was one, began to break apart. It flickered in a disturbing rainbow of color, losing its shape and opacity in a brilliant display. It still moved as if it were the object it pretented to be, but it was quite obvious that it was no such thing anymore, which the Arvix Industries commandos had also apparently realized, for their guns had stopped their incessant firing.

Boris swung his head up towards the cave entrance which was still one slope above them, not seeing the safe protective cover of artificial rocks, but a distressed Jenny who struggled to hold a device in her arms which was now only barely sputtering out flashes of multicolored light into the distance. She looked down to them helplessly as the plan fell apart, to which Boris only heard an indiscernible swear seep from under Fyber's heavy breaths.

Words weren't really necessary for what Fyber thought next, because just as he picked up his pace up the hillside, those formerly duped men out in the field had now turned their attention to the true getaway, and without hesitation, began to fire in the proper direction. If Fyber's silent recommendation to speed up hadn't been enough for Boris to go faster, the bullets ricocheting against the stones and boulders of the knoll were.

Jenny had given up with the holo-imaging device, and was now found ducked back inside the cave, holding the inner door open just as the two fleeing targets made their way into the cave themselves. The sound of bullets echoed more prominantly in here, which surely meant it was none too safe to stand around, so they both made it inside the metal doorframe without hesitation. But just as Boris had hit the door-close button, Fyber swore and put his hand in the way of the sliding metal obstruction to push it open again. "Go on" he yelled, and pushed both Boris and Jenny back towards the direction of the lab. They barely had time to utter in protest before Fyber was back out in the cave.

It only took them a moment to realize what was wrong: the thick pulsating cable connected to the hologram generator had been strung out through the door in order to reach the cave edge, which left the door unable to close because of it. With bullets snapping and ricochetting around the narrow space, they watched nervously as Fyber ducked out towards the cave opening. When in reach, he quickly grabbed the sputtering holographic generator which had ruined everything, tucked it under one arm, and started back for the door, whipping the pulsing green cable connected to it along beside him. Boris hit the close button once more just as Fyber dashed through the opening, this time it sealing shut fully and clanking to its locked position. The three then made their way to the command center.

Jenny seemed quite obviously distressed, possibly since this was the first time she had been shot at out of the group. And by several people at once. She seemed to stare nowhere in particular, her breathing ragged, with both arms pulled across her chest. Boris just stood quietly, listening to his heart thump in his ears as he finally had a chance to catch his own breath after his escape. Or at least, what was apparently the first part of it.

Fyber headed for the center table, dropping the now quiet device down onto it with a frustrated clank of metal on metal, causing both his comrades to jump. He ran his hand back through his hair, thinking.

Boris saw the device of his rescue there on the table finally, which at first glance appeared to be the hybrid HEAT of Fyber's that usually masked the lab entrance. But he noticed that it seemed to have acquired some components which he didn't recognize as being there before. Now probably wasn't the time to ask about it, though.

Jenny gradually turned to Boris with a somewhat upset smile on her face, who shifted his glance from this seemingly newly acquired technology to meet hers. And with that, she reached out to hug him. While rather unexpected from her, and possibly more so under the circumstances, he sighed a small sigh of relief and returned the gesture. A "it's good to see you again and not dead" sentiment was implied without needing to be said, before the pair of them broke apart and looked to Fyber for instruction.

"I'd say we have about three minutes till they come barging through that door" he stated rather calmly, turning to face them. Despite the chilling realization of such, Fyber's cool state of mind seemed to spread amongst the group. Surely he had a plan. And as soon as the orders began, they felt they were right.

"Jenny, put the HEATs in the storage locker, I don't want them getting any of it" he started, pointing to the machinery on the table, then to a wall panel behind her that looked as plain and nondescript as any of the other unmarked pieces of metal panelling of the room. Boris' ears perked at the very reference of multiple HEAT devices, but Fyber ignored him and pressed on with his instructions.

"Put in 061743 on the water temperature pad" he continued, pointing to the set of controls and displays a couple of panels over. A small grin swept over his face as he explained the digits. "It's my mom's birthday."

She smiled back faintly at this small reference to normalcy, and with that, he was done with Jenny, already looking to Boris and pointing across the lab table to one of the sets of controls.

"I'm going to transfer you the procedure, just follow the instructions" he continued, and turned to one of the computer consoles on the wall behind him, typing in some amount of commands unknown to Boris. He had already started rounding the table as the appropriate screen on its gleaming surface beeped and changed displays, giving off the appearance of a checklist. Boris sat on the stool in front of it all, and began fumbling with the controls of another display below that which now resembled a modified keyboard.

The top of the first screen read "Core Protection Procedure", emblazoned in red text to denote the possible seriousness of the task he was about to perform. He began following the cryptic instructions: disengaging the primary coolant interlock; decoupling the radial intermix splines; disabling the automatic plasma consignment matrix discharge procedure; bypassing the plasma jet exit tubules. With each command, unfamiliar sounds were heard beyond the confines of the room, to which Boris couldn't place the location of, no more than he could have deciphered the diagrams that appeared at each step in the display to indicate what was being accomplished. But understanding wasn't necessarily, he realized, and as he finished the list, an alarm chime rang out from the console, the entire image replaced with a red and white striped warning, which read simply "Proceed?", with a yes and no box touchable below it.

Boris looked up to Fyber for confirmation, but he was immersed in whatever he was doing at his own console at the wall where he stood. Jenny too was occupied, apparently having figured out how to open the storage compartment, which seemed to already contain a small few objects Boris noticed, but he didn't have the opportunity to see what those might be as Jenny forcefully shoved the equipment cradled under her arm inside the compartment, fumbling in her attempt to keep them from rolling back out until she firmly slammed the panel back into place behind them.

It was then that an explosion thundered across the lab, forcing vibrations through every part of their beings. Fyber finally paused, being visibly concerned by such, looking up as some pale rock dust flittered down from the ceiling above. "Okay, maybe less than three minutes" he corrected, going straight back to work.

Without further hesitation or confirmation, Boris went ahead and hit the "Yes" button on his console, which rang out a much more audible alert into the entire room this time. The display changed to read "Implementing...", while the long, slender, alien generator in the center of the table, which had always pulsed in its familiar green surges of light, suddenly stopped pulsing. Instead, the green seemed to begin to build up inside, and the windowed openings where that light normally escaped filled with a continually brightening emerald brilliance. An unsettling hum also set into place.

But most of this sound was silenced when sets of plates began to slide out of hidden sheaths and clank shut into place along the windowed openings of the core, starting directly above the table and working upwards, until its green splendor was eventually extinguished, hidden beneath inches of foreign metal. The display in front of Boris chimed with accomplishment, and then stated "Procedure Complete" in pleasant green text.

At that very moment, Jenny's squeal drew Boris' attention back towards the entrance, which he just now noticed was exhaling thick white smoke into the room. But it wasn't smoke which startled her and provoked her backing away from the corridor, with a face nearly as white as the dusty floating rock particles she stared into; it was the dark figure that swept out from it in a prone position, weapon plainly visible, moving from Jenny and pointing straight at Boris.

"ON THE FLOOR!" began the shouts, as another of the men filed in behind the first from the narrow and smokey entrance hall, who repeated the order to the three. Boris and Jenny began to obey, raising their hands and inching down towards their knees, quickly looking to Fyber for a hint of what to do.

Fyber seemed to ignore their very presence, his fingers pedaling away at the controls at the wall console, until one of the men charged over and reared the butt of his gun into the back of Fyber's ribs. He immediately dropped to his knees, groaning just as Jenny shrieked again at the sight of such violence. Boris gritted his teeth in helpless exasperation, guns waving their way back towards their own faces now, while another two of the men filed inside, continuing their programmed conditioning of ordering everyone down. Boris and Jenny sank down onto their haunches, with wild expressions darting back and forth between their aggressors and their friend.

Fyber regained his composure somewhat, arching his back against the pain, a hand pressed firmly at his side to comfort it, and turned to look at Boris and Jenny. "See you soon, I hope" he said calmly, and winked. Then, in one last act of willful abandon, he reared himself up, his elbows falling onto the center table to quickly position himself, and tapped in one last set of commands to finish his work. The same commando skillfully applied the butt of his gun once more, this time to the back of Fyber's head, sending him drooping to the table, and then to the floor, in an unconscious mound.

But the looks on everyone's faces began to coalesce into the same expression of confusion and a growing sense of terror as a deep baleful hum built up around them. The guards pulled their guns to the ready, searching the room methodically with the reticles of their weapons for this invisible opponent. But the actual opponent laid limp on the floor, his final actions now coming to fruition. And just as Boris' mind started to grasp the possible concept of what Fyber had done, the room exploded around them in a brilliant flash of sparks and light and raw electricity.

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