Fybertech: The De Novo Project, Part 13
By: FyberOptic
Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Fyber groaned to consciousness, dragging his disagreeable eyelids open. His head was foggy, leaving him unsure of where he was or how he got there. He felt himself lying on his side on a cushioned surface, but a veil of darkness blanketed the area, making it impossible to tell where he was even if he had been in a better state of mind.

A few grunts later, he had himself pushed mostly upright, and dropped his feet down to the floor. But the frigid metal below sent a sudden shock rippling through him, with his hiss of unexpected discomfort filling the otherwise silent room. He felt more awake already, if only somewhat.

Carefully this time, he lowered a foot into the unknown once more, as if testing the water of a pool. After a moment of this, he had his foot firmly planted on the floor, followed by the other, feeling patterned grooves in the chilled surface beneath them. A sense of familiarity spread over him as he sat completely up now, but he was still bewildered as to his circumstances.

It wasn't until now that he noticed a narrow bead of light off to his left along the floor. It appeared several feet away. Without much conscious thought, he heaved his body upwards, and carefully made his way towards it. Each step nearly prompted more hisses of discomfort, with the familiar grooved pattern in the metal floor feeling equally icey beneath him with every tired motion. It didn't take but a moment though to reach whatever obstacle blocked the light. He placed his hands out against it, feeling a smooth, cool metal surface, with the occasional ridge or bevel to accentuate the fact that it was apparently a door. He felt around it for a knob or button, then around the frame itself. It was there that his hand found a squared indentation, which he didn't hesitate to push inward.

His face immediately contorted, with a hand unconsciously moving up to protect his face from the unknown source of light that now bombarded the room. Without looking back, he made his way forwards, feeling an increasing sense of urgency in him now, but not quite sure why. He still wasn't sure where he was or how he got there, but he was intent on finding out something. Anything.

With one hand still in front of his maladjusted eyes, the other felt its way along the wall, leading him off to the right as he followed it. It felt metallic under his fingertips, as the floor had. And still did, in fact. He determined that it must be a corridor, leading to somewhere more vibrantly illuminated than where he stood.

The floor here felt progressively less cold, he noticed, though the light got brighter with each step, as did a faint humming sound from up ahead. He waited impatiently for his eyes to adjust, squinting and trying to open them towards the bright room ahead, until eventually his ears detected that he was no longer in the narrow corridor. Nor did his hand have anything beside him to follow any longer. He stopped, unsure of where to move, and rubbed both eyes with his palms now.

As his vision cleared, a ripple of green light flitted against his face while he stood there, which quickly made him aware of where he was, but left him no less confused.

He was in his lab. His perfectly normal lab. He turned his head, only slightly squinting now, seeing the computer displays lining the silver walls all going about their business. The large cylindrical artery in the center of the round room pulsed with its steady beat of green. He looked back over his shoulder, seeing the hallway he just passed through, which lead back to the bedroom he apparently awoke in. He scratched his messy head of hair, turning back towards the center of the room again, and made his way towards the center table surrounding the power core, settling down tiredly onto one of the short stools.

With a few lazy taps, the display embedded on the table changed to the current time and date, along with the outside temperature and forecast displayed below. It was indeed morning; approaching ten at that.

He propped one side of his face and chin in his hand, staring into oblivion, while his memory groggily told him things which made no sense. The things that flashed to mind seemed extremely distant to him now, though. Things such as his lab exploding still being the most prominent. This didn't really alarm him though, particularly due to the fact that he was sitting in it.

He recalled wrecking his truck, and the state of mind he found himself in upon waking up from that. It made him wonder if something similar had happened. Yet he found this concept strange to accept, because he otherwise found himself in his right mind, unlike before, where everything felt like a daze. All he felt now was tired. And a bit sore. But both were things that weren't entirely unusual, considering the work he found himself doing most days for the construction of the lab.

It suddenly occurred to him again that he was barefoot, which prompted a downward gaze to see what else he had on. Normal worn-out blue jeans, the right knee of which nearly worn to a hole, and a casual gray pocket t-shirt. He raised a brow and shrugged to himself underwhelmingly, as it was also perfectly normal for him to end up asleep in his clothes much of the time after working at the lab all day.

Boris and Jenny came to mind, as they were the last people he could remember interacting with in that distant set of events in his head. Despite the normalcy of everything else, he lowered a hand to the inset control pad beside the console in front of him, and tapped a few buttons until the time and weather were replaced with a telephone icon and a representation of a telephone keypad. Through another couple of presses, most of the display was replaced with a listing of names and numbers. Fyber tapped the digit next to the line with Boris' information, and the screen reconfigured again, this time showing a small communications dish on the left, curved lines animating outwards from it, while on the right side of the screen was the icon of an off-hook telephone. A progress bar was aligned between them and gradually filled from left to right. After a moment of this, the bar's contents were solid, and a muffled ringing sounded out from a speaker embedded in the table. Three of these came, then a faint click, followed by a voice.

"Decided to get up before noon today, did ya?"

It was Boris. Fyber chuckled tiredly, mostly from the sense of relief of hearing his voice rather than the jest.

"It happens on occasion, believe it or not." Fyber finally retorted, which prompted a faint laugh on the other side of the phone, mingled with the sounds of other people talking and laughing in the background. He figured Boris was at school, either heading for or just getting out of a class.

Boris quickly confirmed this without Fyber needing to ask. "I was just heading into class. Did you need anything in particular?"

"Oh you know, just making sure you weren't blown up or anything." Fyber said casually.

"I guess these days it doesn't hurt to check, eh?" Boris asked, a hint of amusement to his voice, but also curiosity.

Fyber just chuckled faintly. "I'll tell you about it later. Just thought I'd check in, and then with Jenny after I get off of here with you."

"No need, I just talked to her about half an hour ago. She still has all her body parts intact as well." Boris assured.

"Then I guess the next place I call will be the psychiatric ward. They're surely expecting me by now."

Boris just laughed. "Maybe it's best if you really do sleep till noon after all." He paused for a moment, seemingly distracted, then spoke again. "Alright, gotta go. Catch you later."

Fyber managed to get off a "Laters" as he heard the phone click again, followed by the display in front of him changing to read "Call Completed", showing the number of minutes and seconds he had used below that.

Fyber just sighed, hitting a single button to turn the display off entirely, and rubbed his eyes. Apparently he just dreamed whatever nonsense was floating in his head after all. It wasn't too hard to believe, considering some of the things that had been happening lately from Arvis and his goons. And if Boris and Jenny were okay, then he had no reason to assume Boris' friend Jake wasn't either. All of this was starting to come as a relief to him.

He heaved himself up from the stool and wobbled his way back down the corridor to the bedroom, blindly reaching a hand back inside the doorway to press the button for the lights now that he was conscious enough to remember it was there. Fluorescence flickered across the compact living quarters in a staggered display from above, until it settled at a constant array of light. He glanced around the room he awoke in now that he could see it properly, and it looked... unsurprisingly normal.

The metal slab forming a table, mounted into the back-left wall, was still covered in a mess of open books, disassembled parts, a coffee pot, and a small microwave. The bed sat in the back right corner, as messy as ever. The closet sat open along the right wall, with old jeans and t-shirts dangling from hangers inside. To the left, closer to the door where he currently stood, was the open entrance to the miniature bathroom, with its stainless steel furnishings gleeming from within.

"Crazy dreams" he mumbled to himself, seeing that everything was apparently normal after all. He shrugged a bit and headed for the bathroom, figuring a shower would help clear things up more. He stepped into the cramped metal area he had furnished with a sink, shower, and toilet, and reached over to flip the shower handle on. He started to pull off his shirt, but not hearing the typical splattering of water, he stopped, and looked over at it.

Not even a drip.

He fiddled with the handle, putting it on both hot and cold, but it didn't even make a sound. "Odd" he thought aloud, moving it back to the off position before standing upright again, then resting his hands on his hips as he thought about the possible causes. His deductive reasoning brought him to the sink, but a toggling of its handle provided nothing but a squeak. He grumbled to himself and shook his head, stepping back into the bedroom, his gaze still directed from where he had just come.

Vito hadn't brought any new information regarding Arvis and his goons recently, and without Boris or Jenny to shuttle him around, he didn't have anything else to be doing today. He almost would have preferred having something dangerous to investigate than to have to deal with this. But it was particularly important that he get the water flowing again, since various components in the lab were water-cooled, and they automatically cycled their supply every 24 hours. Normally he would just disable the timer, but there had been an evaporation issue in the coolant lines somewhere that he had never solved. It never seemed a priority since the water had always kept flowing to refill it.

It was apparently just going to be "one o' them days."

- - -

"Very convincing! I didn't expect it to go quite so smoothly." complemented Arvis Risk, while laying a telephone handset back on his desk. He turned, leaning against it casually, as he continued to address his guest. "I was sure you'd try some clever way of warning your friend of the situation. But perhaps I give you more credit than you deserve."

Boris frowned, pulling at the zip ties that held him firmly in place on his seat, to no avail. "Well you asked so politely and all." he countered sarcastically.

Boris directed his attention to his left, where a distraught Jenny, bound similarly to a chair of her own, struggled against the thick hand wrapped around her mouth. The hand was connected to Bluster, whose pudgy fingers barely left enough room for her to breathe around them. But it was the gun he had pointed to her temple with the other hand that had Boris' attention. And cooperation.

"Crude, but effective, is it not?" Arvis remarked rather casually. "But that will do, Bluster."

Bluster pulled his sausage-like appendages away from Jenny's mouth and waddled back a step, placing his hands behind his back to await further instruction. He may not have been the brightest of Arvis' thugs, and certainly not in the best of shape, but he was loyal. It was why he was one of the few hired muscle in Arvis' employ actually allowed to be in this office. Even the cleaning crew for the room were specifically hand-selected.

The office itself was bigger than his parents' living room, Boris had thought. The mahogany desk which Arvis leaned upon, obviously meant to be the primary focalpoint of the room, was surpisingly clear of clutter. The only thing noticable on its lustering surface, aside from the recently placed phone, was a keyboard and LCD display, both mounted directly into it. Behind desk were windows, which went from one side of the sizeable room to the other. They were covered in blinds at the moment though, no doubt due to Boris and Jenny being such special "guests".

Boris realized that despite being a man of technology, Arvis preferred a rather natural feel about his office, with everything seemingly made from some variety of varnished wood, all garnished with brass or gold fixtures. Even the casing of the computer display on the desk had noticable swirls of wood grain in it, attached to a golden armature that mounted cleanly into the polished surface of the desk. And the chair Boris was bound to, an antique oak, was fairly attractive, he had to admit. And under different circumstances, apparently pretty comfortable, too.

The rest of the room, however, while keeping up the same motif, looked more like a museum than an office. The walls were covered with trinkets of all sorts, either hanging in frames or sitting in carefully positioned display stands against the wall. To Boris, it almost seemed a gallery of Arvis' business accomplishments. And to Arvis, that's exactly what it was.

The memorabilia ranged from the first dollar Arvis had ever earned from recycling cans as a teenager, up to the popular low-power ARV2000 microprocessor he had designed for embedded devices, which put his company on the map, all the way to a prototype laser-based rifle he had designed for the military. All of the items here were housed in cases or mounts designed specifically for each item, both to protect and show them off most impressively. Each were identified by a small plaque with a name and date etched into them. And they were arranged around the room very much like a timeline.

They all represented a particular milestones to Arvis and his endeavors. The rifle project, for example, while ultimately abandoned due to poor cost-effectiveness and recharge issues in the field, was Arvis' first foray into weapons development. And it made him a lot of money regardless of technically being considered a failure at the time (in the military's eyes, at least). This was particuarly due to the related contracts he would later earn as a result of proving his company was capable of such technology.

Of course, had the interested parties known that he didn't exactly invent most of these things personally, and borrowed concepts from extraterrestrial technologies to guide much of his work, then the government's interest in his company might have been of a slightly different sort. Arvis was no fool, however, and took great pains to ensure any technology he produced wasn't too advanced to draw attention, but still advanced enough to give him an edge over competition. He had always considered himself a clever businessman, as far back as paying other kids to find discarded cans for him, but only giving them a third of what he actually received for recycling them. And all because those kids never bothered to see how much they were really worth. Arvis had no time or tolerance for stupidity, and didn't hesitate to take advantage of it whenever it suited him. And if that meant an alien was stupid enough to leave some gadgets behind for him to find? Well, that was fine by him too.

Another thing Arvis disliked was uncleanliness. But no longer subdued, an incensed Jenny suddenly spat in the floor beside her chair, pulling at her bindings while smirking angrily behind her towards Bluster, then forwards to Arvis. "His fingers taste like ketchup." she complained.

Arvis glanced down distastefully at the floor, then to Jenny. "Yes, well, thank you for that bit of information, young lady. But as your mouth has and continues to prove, it's rather incapable of staying closed for very long, and we needed our little charade with your friend to go without issue. I'm sure you can understand."

Jenny scowled. "You'll understand when I-" she began, but a simple nod from Arvis brought Bluster's beefy mitt back over Jenny's protesting mouth once more. She struggled in her chair, portraying her dissatisfaction with even more angled eyebrows. If eyes could talk, Arvis was sure he was getting quite the scolding. But it wouldn't be the first, he thought, and likely not the last.

"Much better" he commented, turning his attention away from her as she squeezed out muffled grunts through Bluster's thick hand.

"Now that the call went off without a hitch, and your friend is none the wiser of the situation, it should only be a matter of time until he attempts to access his computer system. Which, of course, will allow me full access to the database. I do wonder what technical marvels will be documented there.. for Arvix Industries to patent, of course." He grinned, rubbing his palms together anxiously.

- - -

The water supply system of the lab had been one of the first things Fyber had built, and in many ways, one of the simplest in concept. Find a well, stick in some pipes, and pump the water out. That's pretty much how it had been done for centuries, Fyber imagined. But once he set out to accomplish this seemingly simple task, he realized a very important factor: he had no idea how to actually find a well.

As a result, Fyber had spent a week just modifying remnants of sensor components salvaged from the original shuttle he had returned to Earth in once upon a time; the same shuttle of course which he had also gotten the power core and various other technologies which were now intertwined with his lab. It took another two days to chart his way through the lower caverns and catacombs of the cave network he chose for his lab, just so he would have a clue of where he was once he found the lowest point possible.

Upon locating a water source underground with his newfangled dowsing rod, the next realization Fyber came to was that he had no idea how to actually get to the water. The only tool he could think of that could melt through the rock was his HEAT, which at the time, was still capable of firing its bursts of superheated plasma. That required for a long reinforced flexible conduit to be constructed to run the distance from the power core to the "drilling" point, which ended up being about the circumference of a firehose and nearly as unwieldy. That was followed by modifications to the HEAT to allow it to be directly interfaced with the power core above. There went another week.

Those same modifications allowed for it to presently be powered as a continuous hologram generator, so that aspect eventually worked out advantageous anyway. But to the contrary, the unexpected three days of computer-controlled bursts to melt through layers of limestone and granite had its toll: the deflection prism in the HEAT had warped by a fraction of a nanometer from the prolonged use, rendering its offensive capabilities void. He might have felt bad about it at the time had it not already been for the fact that the HEAT wouldn't hold a charge on its own anymore to have been used offensively anyway. But it now required added bulk of modern components just to produce holographic imagery properly, to correct for the poor light dispersion by the damaged prism. And yet it was still unstable at performing even that job now. Had he known how useful it would eventually be to hide his lab, he would have surely babied it more back then. But it had done its job, and he had reached ground water, so at the time, he was thankful for small miracles.

The rest of the plumbing project had gone fairly smoothly. The floor of the lab rested on a metal framework, almost a foot above the uneven stony surface below. That framework didn't exist at the time, but the idea to put everything above the rock had seemed the most logical way to do it, allowing him to just run his piping through the lab without any more digging. It would make servicing it in the future easier, and allow other important things to run below the floor as well, which he ended up doing for a majority of the computer and electrical connections. Besides, he had kind of run out of easy ways to cut through lots of stone.

To actually get the water from the ground up to his habitat is where a pump came in. Or in this case, pumps. He had been at the salvage yard getting piping when he had gotten the idea: average vehicular water pumps, working in parallel. Three pumps were connected via belts to an electric motor, so that it could be powered by the same energy source that would provide life to the rest of the lab. It was also much quieter than having a full-blown car engine rumbling away like a dragon in the bowels of the cavern.

Back in the present, Fyber stepped up to one of the wall consoles in his lab; one he hadn't negotiated with since the hot water heater had failed to function properly. A few taps brought up an iconic display of a well and the pumps. Text readouts along the side indicated water level in the well, pump efficiency, flow rate, and water contaminate level. The pumps were programmed to shut off in the event that the well water dropped too low, or if the contaminate rate was too high. And yet, all of them indicated that things should be working just fine.

This wouldn't be the first time a sensor possibly lied to him, but verifying that would be easier said than done, considering the pumps and everything were below him, in one of the unlit and unheated chambers of the cave network. Despite everything he had gone through over the last few weeks with Arvis and his goons, the idea of heading into those dark, dank caverns still gave him the creeps.

Fyber sighed thoughtfully and headed for one of the storage panels across the room. He pushed an indentation along the bottom of it, and it opened like a locker. From inside he retrieved a flashlight and a black toolbelt, shoving the former in his back pocket and hooking the latter around his shoulder for the moment. He turned, giving a passive glance across the room, and hesistantly headed down the corridor, towards the paneled wall at the far end near the bedroom entrance, which seals the lab off from the undeveloped cave network.

But that's when he froze in place. He turned and stepped back into the lab, eyeing something on the center lab console for a moment. It was a water bottle he had left there at some point. He never finished those things, so it always seemed like a waste of money to buy them. But that's what was odd about it. Fyber picked up the bottle and jostled it around.

Bone dry.

Evaporated maybe? No... they never did before. They never sat there long enough, anyway.

Something about this didn't sit well with Fyber. He had no idea why. It was just a water bottle, after all. But it was this sudden feeling that something wasn't right.

The toolbelt hanging off of his shoulder provided him with an idea. He settled down onto one of the stools at the center table, slid the belt down into his lap, pulled open one of the small black compartments, and removed a short stubby oil container. After pulling the nub up from the spout, he tilted it upside down, and squeezed it towards his upturned palm.

Nothing came out.

Something was definitely wrong here.

- - -

"Whas he doing?" asked Sever, bumping Contact aside as he stepped closer to one of the many monitors the pair stood across from.

Contact accidently dropped his half-eaten sandwich at the disruption, which splattered to the floor in a mess of mayonnaise and ham salad. Worse yet, part of it ended up on the tip of Contact's freshly polished shoes.

"Hey watch it, jerk." he protested, and shoved Sever from behind in retaliation.

Sever turned around and grabbed Contact by the collar of his cleanly pressed white shirt, which escalated the situation immediately, prompting both of them to raise their fists to one another. Sever's eyes had widened to that crazed look that Contact had seen before. Contact wasn't much of a fighter, and he realized that, especially against someone like Sever, who wouldn't care to kill a man as to blink. But it was a matter of respect, and in his line of work, you maintained it the old fashion way. He might not come out on top, but he was about to show this clown he meant business.

"Stop it. Both of you." ordered Spree, eyeing them both with contempt before turning her attention back to the monitor formerly in question. They both immediately let each other go, albeit roughly, scowling at one another, but knowing better than to ignore an order from Spree. They would have to settle it another time.

Spree watched as Fyber did something at the center workstation of his lab. Her view was obstructed by Fyber himself; she couldn't see past his shoulders to his hands. She stepped to the right, shoving both Contact and Sever out of the way to stand in front of another of the large monitors that lined the wall of the room. Neither of the men protested.

The other monitor showed Fyber's lab from another angle, but now the table blocked her view of his actions. She stared inquisitively, looking for even the smallest indication of what he might be up to. It was then that Fyber tossed the toolbelt over onto the workstation, sat upright in his seat, and tapped out a few commands on the embedded console in front of him. A display near it changed to that of the CNN, and Fyber seemed to settle into watching it, done with whatever he had been occupied with a moment ago.

"Hmm" she pondered aloud, standing erect and frozen in place as she considered the situation. Contact and Sever silently watched her, decidedly not interrupting her train of thought. Not that they had anything intelligent to add to the situation in the first place.

Spree suddenly whipped her head towards them both. "Watch him. Closely. Alert me of anything suspicious." she commanded, then whipped her head back in the opposite direction, her jet-black hair swishing from her sharp movements. She marched to the exit, barely slowing to tap the control pad to open the door, and promptly exited.

"Where you think she's going?" Contact asked, turning back towards Sever.

Sever just gave him a grim look. "Shut up and watch the screen."

- - -

Spree's heels snapped with purpose along the tiled floor of the corridor. It was empty, as she had expected, since only people with level 6 clearance had access to this floor, and she was aware of all of their general locations at the moment. Security cameras quietly tracked her position as she made her way down the length of the hallway. The elevator at the far end had already been summoned as she approached, and by the time she was ready to enter, the doors opened, much to the surprise of its current occupant.

John, an office worker of Arvix Industries for eight months, stepped forward apprehensively as he saw her approach, needlessly reaching out to hold the door to be polite, but staying back far enough to give her plenty of clearance to enter. Without even looking at him, she entered the elevator, turned in place, and pushed the uppermost button on the floor selection panel. The timid Arvix Industries employ sank back inside, leaning up against one of the sidewalls, since the statuesque Spree stood in the very center of the now seemingly cramped space.

As the elevator started its ascent, he found himself without much anywhere else to look but straight ahead. He didn't recognize her at first, but knew she must be someone important, considering the elevator never stops on that floor. And if he needed any other indication of her importance, it only took a moment's notice to realize that her outfit was probably worth more than three months of his salary, with everything from the black Chanel pantsuit, secured perfectly around her slim figure with what appeared to be actual gold buttons along the center of her chest, to her lustrous black Gucci pumps, up to the diminutive pair of designer frames that sat almost unnoticed across the bridge of her nose. A golden necklace of some sort hid itself beneath her charcoal-colored blouse, all tucked neatly inside her jacket. There wasn't a wrinkle to be seen anywhere, which kind of embarassed John, who suddenly attempted to smooth his messy white dress shirt. Hell, even her shampoo was probably more expensive than his shirt he thought, after noticing how the light gleened off her dark tresses.

John glanced up at the floor counter above the door, realizing they were still only half-way to their destination. He felt himself sweat a bit, yet unsure of why he was so intimidated by the woman standing in front of him. He had heard rumors of her ice-cold personality, but it was just rumors after all. He had never met her before. He had barely even seen her. Maybe she wasn't really that bad? Maybe it was a jilted co-worker who wanted to ruin her image. Or someone trying to get her job. Who knows. He flattened his shirt again and cleared his throat, summoning up his courage.

"So, nice day today, eh?" he asked, managing a convincing smile.

Spree continued staring straight ahead, with her only movement being the occasional blink of her eyelids.

John cringed inwardly at the lack of acknowledgement. But maybe she was just occupied in thought. It happens, right? She's a top-level executive here, after all. She probably has a lot of responsibility. He shrugged off the previous attempt and straightened himself up once more.

"So your name is Victoria, is it? Victoria Stover? Folks have said.. Well, I've seen you around a few times, and... I'm John Bryer. From accounting." he managed to say, feeling rather pleased with how his introduction came out. And he felt particularly delighted when Spree changed from her previously hardened position to direct her gaze at him.

And after a very brief and disapproving appraisal with her eyes, she directed her attention back to the elevator door, sending John's ego crawling back into the recesses of his gut.

It was only a moment later that the floor chime rang out softly from above, and the lift quietly slowed to a complete stop. The doors parted, and Spree exited swiftly into the corridor without a sound, as this floor was carpetted. John stepped towards the center of the elevator, watching as she stalked off confidently for her destination, soon turning a corner and out of sight. He sighed as the doors closed, and reached over to smack the second floor button, despite it already being lit.

After mumbling something resembling "bitch" under his breath, John slouched back into his relaxed posture, as he had been before Spree came along, and pulled at his collar until his shirt was messy again, while the elevator began its long descent.

- - -

Spree made her way past the myriad of executive offices of this level, one of which was hers, until she reached a short staircase, which spiraled around a half turn to a lobby area of moderate size. This room was filled with similar trinkets and items for display as Arvis' office was, but none of these quite as personal. She strode past the sample display of a high-efficiency solar panel, past the model of the AR-X4 communications satellite, past the model of the fully-electric "AR-vee" mobile home, and past the myriad of other products and prototypes until reaching the open reception area at the far end of the room. She didn't stop to confer with Arvis' secretary, heading straight up another couple of short stairs, to an intricately carved mahogany door, set in a matching doorframe.

Angela, the secretary, glanced up at the unexpected visitor, while Spree tapped a code into a panel beside the office door. A brief examination of her expensive attire, and particularly of the black nail polish that decorated the perfectly groomed nails which tread across the security pad, was all the indication Angela needed to discern who it was.

A light next to the keypad then turned from red to green, and the door clicked opened, which Spree then disappeared behind.

Angela raised a brow in disapproval of the woman as she turned back to her work, when suddenly Spree reappeared at the door, her upper half leaning out past it.

"Angela Martin?" she queried flatly.

Angela looked up in startled curiosity, particularly since it was very seldom any of Arvis' upper-level staff ever addressed her at all, let alone by her full name. Probably because they didn't bother to know it.

"Yes Miss Stover?" she responded, trying to hide any degree of surprise in her voice.

"Have John Bryer from accounting terminated and out of the building within the hour." she instructed coldly.

Angela gave a confused look. "Wha-"

"Failure to comply with dress code, and inappropriate fraternization." Spree answered, before Angela could ask. She then disappeared behind the door again, closing it this time until it clicked shut. The light by the keypad returned to a steady red.

Angela blinked at the instructions, not usually the one to deal with such matters, but knew it was probably best to do as she was told before she was next on the list of ex-employees. After a few brisk taps of her keyboard, she had a "Bryer, John A." on her terminal. Going by his photo and work record, he didn't seem like a bad fellow, Angela thought. And based on her own brief interactions with Ms. Stover, she felt sorry for whoever this poor sucker was who crossed her path today.

It only took a few more keypresses until his record incidated "Employment Terminated", along with the date and reasonings Spree had given. Angela knew security staff would soon be alerted of the situation via the computer, and escort Mr. Bryer from the premises. But it wasn't her problem she convinced herself, and went back to handling Arvis' unsorted mail before he came looking for it.

- - -

"Ah, Spree, what can I thank for bringing you to brighten my office?" charmed Arvis, with both a combination of sincerity and sarcasm.

Spree remained by the door, impassive to Arvis' comment, directing her cold stair from Arvis over to his two guests, and then to Bluster, before returning it to Arvis himself. Her brow was the only indication she provided to attest to her desire to speak privately.

"If you'll excuse me." he offered to his present company, and shuffled over quietly towards the door.

Boris turned his head, recognizing the woman even if Arvis hadn't identified her, thanks to Vito's detective work. It was the first time he had seen her here though. Probably been out busy up to no good, if everything else going on around here was any indication, he thought.

He listened carefully to their conversation, but all he heard was the faint chatter of hushed voices. Reading lips wasn't one of his specialties. Expressions, however, came a bit easier to recognize. Spree didn't look happy, but then again, maybe that look was normal for her, as he again recalled Vito's photo. Arvis didn't seem particularly disturbed by the conversation. Puzzled, perhaps. But interested.


"But he's shown no obvious behavior that might signify a problem?" Arvis asked quietly.

Spree hesitated, scrunching her brow just slightly. "Obvious, no.. But-"

"Then until he does, I'm afraid watching television doesn't count as problematic. Significant of laziness, perhaps, and will possibly delay the plan. But he'll access the computer before long, and we'll have what we need to decrypt the data. At that point we can decide how to deal with him. And them." Arvis turned his head slightly to indicate his guests in the room.

Spree's expression betrayed her dissatisfied with this decision. She fought to find words to express her gut feeling that something was amiss, but Arvis cut across her. His previously pleasant expression was quickly lost to a colder one. "Is there a problem with my instructions?"

"I.." she started, still finding the least subordinate way of making her recommendation, "I would suggest sending someone to indirectly persuade him into accomplishing the objective. To redirect his attention from any possible discovery of the situation. The girl, perhaps." Her attention shifted across the room to Jenny, who was already glaring back in her direction with contempt, despite having no idea what was being discussed.

"The girl??" Arvis sputtered. "The person who gave one of my men a black eye just getting her here? The same person who spit on my carpet not fifteen minutes ago?"

Across the room, Jenny smiled coyly, understanding every word of the conversation now.

Boris did too, and turned to Jenny. "You gave someone a black eye?" he whispered blithely.

"Apparently so. Guess you missed it." she whispered back, unable to remove the pleased grin plastered across her face.

Arvis sighed heavily and shook his head. "Out of the question. Return to the observation room and monitor the situation. If anything more serious than an interest in CNN occurs, inform me immediately. Otherwise, I don't want to hear about it."

Spree wasn't entirely affected by the outburst, as she had seen them before, but knew there was no changing his mind at this point. She rescinded her attempt with a curt nod, spun on her expensive heel, and headed out of the room immediately.


Arvis attempted to compose himself, but Spree's foreboding had left him unsettled. Her plan was rediculous. It was far too risky. He wouldn't lose this opportunity... he couldn't. His understanding of the alien technology he posessed was approaching its limit, and he doubted he would find many more products to create from it that could be done so with modern manufacturing techniques. Arvix Industries would lose ground to the competition if he didn't find new technology to study soon. And Arvis found that unacceptable. But as if fate willed it upon him, an opportunity to acquire what he needed recently presented itself on a silver platter. And here he was, so close to obtaining it.

But what if Spree was right? What if this FyberOptic realized he was being manipulated? Unlike his opponents in business, Arvis hadn't observed this one long enough to know him well. And that made him uncomfortable. Here was a man.. or alien?.. wielding technology this planet had never seen. An individual who nearly ruined everything by destroying his compound to prevent it from falling into other hands. But yet, an individual incompetent enough to not destroy all his data? Oh he had tried, certainly, with nearly every computer system in the room having been infused with some form of plasma. But as his operatives had found when they inspected the site, a third of the storage devices were left undamaged. And those were now in his possession.

The data recovered from them so far had been more than Arvis could have hoped for. After all, it was that data which allowed them to recreate the compound so accurately in his holo-imaging chamber. The same chamber that FyberOptic was being held in now.

But other data, likely the technological data he wanted most, was encrypted. It could take months, years, or even decades to brute-force through the algorithms. That was time Arvis didn't have. And unless FyberOptic attempted to access his computer files from inside the imaging chamber, they might never unlock the secrets within.

Arvis suddenly composed himself, jerking the front of his suit down to smooth it, and quickly opened the door to his office.

"Miss Stover, on the other hand..." he said loudly, just before Spree was out of sight at the half-spiral staircase at the far end of the office lobby.

Spree froze just as her heel clacked down onto one of the marble stairs. She looked back over her shoulder, seeing Arvis standing in the doorway to his office, gesturing for her to return. She promptly reversed her direction and headed back for his office.

The secretary, Angela, lifted her eyes from her work to observe what was going on, but Arvis quickly redirected her attention.

"And Miss Martin, clear my schedule please." he asked politely, giving her his charming smile. She nodded, offered a professional smile in return, and immediately reached for her phone to begin the task, just as Spree slipped past Arvis and re-entered the room.

After shutting the door, Arvis turned to her, resuming his original hushed converation. "Why not the guy? Uh, Boris? Grant? Why not him?"

Spree floated her brow, almost revealing surprise at this sudden reversal on her plan. But she was quick to clarify her decision. "During our arranged phonecall, we had Mr. Grant going to classes, in effort to avoid further calls. Him arriving now would seem suspicious."

Arvis nodded. "Ah yes, very good. I understand your wanting to use the girl, then. But it seems risky. Grant would be a risk too, but this Colgan girl.. she is... impulsive."

"Indeed." agreed Spree, cocking a brow and directing her gaze across the room for a brief moment.

"Then what's your plan, my dear?"

"Intimidation." she said, simply and coldly. Arvis smiled and stepped away from her, extending his arm outward in permission to continue as necessary.

Spree strode menacingly over to their guests, giving them both an unpleasant look, before focusing her full attention on Jenny. "As your friend assisted earlier, it is now your turn. You will follow me and do exactly as instructed."

Jenny laughed in defiance. "I'm not your lapdog, I won't play your little games with Jeff."

Spree scowled, but anticipated such a reaction. She extended her hand to Bluster, while nodding towards his back. Bluster, a bit confused, brought his hands in front of him for her to examine, one of them still holding his pistol. She took it from him, and then instantly spun around on one leg, her narrow frame rotating in position as her other leg folded back into the air, which she ruthlessly delivered against Boris' chest, all in one swift motion. His chair tumbled backwards, crashing into the floor, leaving Bluster to scurry out of the way of the assault. Even Arvis found himself cringing a tad at her methods.

Almost immediately afterward, she stepped over him, pushed a foot against the side of his neck, pointed the gun near his head, and fired a round.

Jenny gasped, her eyes tearing open in horror.

"Goodness, my carpet." complained Arvis, frowning a bit at Spree's actions.

Spree tilted her head in his direction. "You would have replaced it anyway, after being spit upon."

Arvis chuckled. "Point made."

Jenny ignored their banter as she gazed in shock. On the verge of hysterics, she yanked at her bindings, trying to swivel around far enough in her seat to better view the scene. And in such a state, it took her a moment until she noticed the hole in the carpet near Boris' head, which sizzled quietly from the heat of the bullet embedded in the steel-plated floor just below.

Boris laid nearly still, in equal shock as Jenny, if not more so. His ears still rang, his chest ached, and his head stung from the fall, yet he found himself incapable of making any sound of discomfort. It didn't help that Spree still had her foot on the side of his neck, either. But he could still breathe, even if shallow breaths were about all he could muster at the moment.

He finally tilted his head to the side enough to see the hole in the carpet himself, and then directed his eyes up to Jenny's. Hers were glassed over in relief, and she managed an exasperated sigh between ragged breaths.

Spree directed her attention back to Jenny, and trained the gun over a bit, this time pointed at its originally assumed target. "Like I was saying, you will follow me and do exactly as instructed."

Jenny lifted her eyes to Spree's cold gaze, and just nodded her head quickly.

And then, enough to send chills down any man's spine, Spree's face uncharacteristically changed to a deadpan smile. "Good girl."



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