Fybertech: The De Novo Project, Part 14
By: FyberOptic
Wednesday, June 13th, 2008

"Why do I always get stuck with the clients that go missing?" complained Vito, stepping through a dark hallway and into a larger room. He waved his flashlight around in a semicircle to examine his new location, which failed improve his demeanor. "And better yet, why can't I get more normal ones?"

He stood in the very empty and very dark lab. Or what was left of it, apparently. Many of the wall panels were torn away, thrown haphazardly across the room. Based on the condition of one closest to Vito, they hadn't been removed very carefully, he thought. The air was acrid, and he could see tendrils of smoke emanating from within the scorched walls. An occasional spark would shoot from one, like lightning in a night sky. Of all things he expected to find inside this cave, this was all definitely missing from the list.

After his eavesdropping session earlier in the day, he had followed Bluster and Sever away from the alley. The pair of them met up with a small convoy of nondescript black bread trucks, and then headed out this way to the middle of nowhere. Vito had kept to the shadows, slipping out into the woods once they'd arrived, when all manner of crazy events occurred. The speeding vehicle that disappeared into thin air being one of them; the same vehicle which took hundreds of bullets without a scratch. That one was probably going to need some explaining.

He had also seen Fyber and Boris running up the serpentine path of the knoll during all of this, and disappearing into a cave mid-ways up. Unfortunately for them, it had only been a matter of time before Arvis' men stormed the place. Some strange flashes of light later, and all had been quiet. A second team of men had gone in afterwards, at which point they appeared to have control of the situation. Then it was a waiting game, before Vito could investigate for himself.

He came to an opening as he circled clockwise through the room and shone his flashlight down it. The narrow walls down the passage emitted a metallic sheen against his beam, revealing all of its panels were intact, unlike his current location. He rounded the corner, cautiously treading down the short tunnel, until he came to the single left turn at the end. There was another door here, similar to the original entrance back at the open cavern, except this one had merely been forced open and slid mostly into its pocket in the wall. The main entrance hadn't faired so well; what was left of it laid in a twisted heap a few feet from its intended opening. Not a very good welcome mat, Vito thought.

He rounded the turn at the end of the tunnel and directed his light inside, which revealed a small squarish room. A bedroom of sorts possibly. A quick examination found that one wouldn't get much rest in there though, based on the mess it was now in.

The mattress had long gashes in it, with the padding somewhat pulled out, and all left slouched off the frame of the bed. Opposite of that was a table in the wall with a smattering of items strewn in disarray. Below it, shards of a coffee pot sat smashed along the floor, along with a microwave toppled over on its side not far away. The closet to his right had been ransacked, with clothes strewn all around in front of it.

He stepped towards the left side of the room, his shoes crunching noisily through glass shards, and directed his light into a small cavity there. The light shimmered off of the stainless steel fixtures of the bathroom, which showed no signs of damage there. Which was good, he thought, because when people start tearing out toilets and sinks as part of their routine ransacking, then it's time to throw in the towel.

Vito guided his light across the floor one last time, raking his toe around to part the debris for possible clues, but everything was just too much of a mess. If there'd been anything of value here, these guys had found it, and broken most everything else either by accident or spite. He'd have better luck finding Bluster and asking him directly for tips than searching through this. So he huffed and traipsed back down the corridor, to the smoky circular room.

It was then that he happened to notice that one of the openings here along the wall wasn't scorched and exhaling smoke like the others. He approached this dissimilar one with a renewed curiosity, maneuvering his flashlight up and towards its innards, lighting up the exposed equipment mounted inisde. It seemed surprisingly undamaged compared to the rest of the room. He floated the flashlight around, examining the series of empty brackets, each with a connector filled with tiny pins mounted at one end. Vito had no idea what any of this electronic nonsense was for, but he could plainly see that something was missing here.

He was also pretty sure it was the Arvix Industries goons who had taken whatever this was. It certainly hadn't been his clients, because he had watched the black-clad men haul the unconscious three out to one of their trucks. Where they went when they left, Vito didn't know for sure. But if he were a betting man, they'd be at Arvix Industries right about now.

- - -

Boris felt a hand thrust against his back, forcing him out of the elevator. He turned a shoulder to look back with dissatisfaction just as Spree grappled the collar of his shirt, using it to lead him forward with an outstretched arm. She kept the gun casually pointed towards his back as they marched the hallway of level six. Bluster tagged along directly behind, with a hand clamped around Jenny's bicep, jerking her carelessly along beside him.

"Cut it out!" she protested, unable to get beside him adequately due to his girth and proximity to the wall. Instead, she was left to dangle somewhat behind him and tripping over her own feet as he shuffled along briskly.

Boris twisted back as they walked to see what the commotion was, and glowered at Spree's burly associate. "Hey-" he warned, only to be interrupted by a rough thrust of Spree's grip on his collar. After skipping forward a step to keep up, he twisted his attention back to her for a moment, offering her a dirty look too. Spree was unaffected, not even taking her eyes off the hallway ahead, but it made him feel better at least.

Boris had noticed that this hallway was different than what he would have expected. Not that he was exactly sure what he expected, but it didn't appear like any office building corridor that he had been in. For starters, there were no offices. The walls were a metallic white, with doors few and far between. The few doors that were there weren't traditional by any means: beveled steel slabs, with keypads mounted on the doorfacings, all of which slightly varying shades of white from the wall itself. They reminded Boris of Fyber's lab almost, just cleaner, and probably a lot more expensive. And certainly not something typical of an office building. Boris also took notice of the security cameras buzzing quietly, automatically tracking their progress down the hall.

Spree reigned Boris to a sudden stop at one of the doors, then pulled his collar sideways to turn him around to face it. Bluster unceremoniously dragged Jenny to a stop not far behind, anchoring her in place with his vice grip. Spree had already pivoted the gun downwards in her hand, allowing her index finger to extend outwards, and punched an access code into the door control panel. It chirped favorably, prompting the glossy door to glide quietly into its pocket. Spree resumed her roughousing by thrusting Boris through the threshold with the flat of her hand. Bluster followed, Jenny still disapprovingly in tow, with Spree bringing up the rear, until the door closed itself behind them.

"You, here." ordered Spree, grabbing Boris once more and carelessly jerking him onto a padded white stool. "And you, with me." she continued, waving the gun in gesture for Jenny to follow. She stepped forward apprehensively, passing a concerned glance back to Boris.

Their exchange lasted only but a moment, with Spree grabbing her arm when in reach, and started dragging her over towards another door inside this room. "Man what is it with you people?" Jenny complained, jerking her wrist free in defiance. For a moment she was surprised at having done so, not expecting it after being used to the solid grip that Bluster's paws were able to apply, compared to Spree's much more feminine hands. Spree didn't react to the momentary escape however, apparently satisfied at having gotten her intentions across, and stayed focused opening the second door. As it slid open, she simply motioned for Jenny to enter. And she did, without protest this time, glad to go somewhere without being dragged there for once.

Spree took a step back towards to Bluster and returned his weapon. "If anything goes wrong, shoot him." she ordered, offering a nod in Boris' direction for clarification. Bluster understood perfectly, as indicated by his glance in that direction, followed by a curt nod. Spree then turned swiftly and marched through the second door, disappearing inside with Jenny before it closed.

Boris had to admit, he felt a bit relieved to have that woman out of sight. Sure, Bluster had the gun now, but the guy was obviously lacking in mental capacity. He felt better being held captive by an armed moron than an unarmed ice queen like her.

With Jenny gone, Boris turned on his stool, taking the opportunity to examine his new surroundings. In a word, they were... fancy. The walls here were of the same metallic white as the hallway, but with some gray trim along the floor and ceiling. Boris assumed that was the designer's idea of decorating the place. But large LCD displays were mounted aside one another, all the way across one of the walls, which Boris found impressive. Various computer terminals, the sort you can sit down at, were also mounted into the walls, and all covered with a myriad of controls. There was a technician working at one of them, dressed in a white lab coat. Near that individual stood Sever and Contact, who continued to obediently gaze at the large displays in front of them.

When Boris looked at what was on the large displays though, he had a pretty good idea of where he was. It must have been the control room to their holo-imaging chamber, because on the large screens were various angles of Fyber sitting at his center workstation, leaning over it to watch something on one of the embedded displays. That struck Boris as a bit odd for a moment, since he rarely saw Fyber that enthralled by a tiny screen of what appeared to be television. But maybe it was just part of some morning routine that Boris wasn't aware of. After all, as far as Fyber was aware, it was just an average weekday morning.

As he sat staring at the displays, he contemplated what it would be like to have one's reality be fictional as it was currently for Fyber. He knew from first-hand experience just how real the world could feel inside there, even if it wasn't. If he were held in such a place for hours, or days, without being told ahead of time, would he ever be able to suspect otherwise? Would Fyber?

He just hoped that he could come up with a plan soon so that they'd never have to find out.

- - -

Jenny waved her hands in confusion. "Wait, geeze, hang on a minute, lady. I don't understand a word you're saying. You're reconfiguring what to do what, and you want me to what when I go where?"

Spree sighed with frustration, enough so to momentarily replace the faint hum of the short tunnel-like room they were in.

"I said, the imaging chamber, the room through here," to which Spree directed her hand toward a door directly across from the one they entered through, "is reconfiguring to accommodate a second individual. That being your nescient self."

Jenny scowled at the remark, having actually understood it, but carried on the conversation. "The other individual being..?"

"The other individual being your friend, this 'FyberOptic', of course."

"Who, Jeff?" Jenny inquired, unfamiliar with the designation Spree used.

Spree shook her head, on the verge of sighing again. "It's like I'm talking to Bluster. But yes, Jeff, whatever you wish to call him. When you enter the chamber, you'll arrive in a different location than he presently occupies, to avoid him seeing both the entrance and you suddenly appearing. As you approach, the computer will compensate for distance, eventually realigning to have you both in the same physical space. From that point, stay close to him."

Jenny arched her brow, still not entirely understanding the situation.

"Once you find him, just stay within six feet at all times." Spree responded simply.

She then turned to a touch-screen display mounted across the entire width of the wall of the short passageway. The space was barely large enough to leave Jenny a comfortable distance away from Spree, which made her glad Bluster had waited outside. An electrical hum continued to radiate around them in the narrow space, leaving Jenny slightly unsettled at what this place was. It wasn't as brightly lit as the previous room, and lacked the glossy white decore. It was much more metallic, with the walls left intentionally open in various areas to expose electronic innards. The floor was covered in course metal grating, with conduits and components run underneath it as well, but barely visible through the small openings. It was all apparently designed for function, not comfort. But she focused her attention back on whatever Spree was doing with the terminal, thinking it might be important.

Much of it was iconic, except for a three-dimensional representation of a cube-shaped room drawn in the center, with two short passages leading away from opposite sides. Inside the cube was a red blip, identified as "User 1" above. Overlaid on top of the cube representation was a slowly transforming pair of colored rectangles. The larger one, in light red, encompassed the darker red blip, but was slowly shrinking. The other rectangle, in blue, enlarged at the same rate, taking up the unused space. In one of the short passages leading from the cube, two gray dots sat unlabeled. Text flashed below the imagery, reading "Revectorization commencing..."

Jenny concluded that she was one of those gray dots, and that the red one must be Jeff, inside a larger room directly connected to this one. This revectorization process was apparently what Spree was talking about in regards to sending her inside. It seemed to almost be complete, whatever it was. The rest of the data on the screen was Greek to her. Or it would be to anyone else, at least, since she had taken Greek in college. But she didn't understand the values presented nonetheless.

Spree turned her head to speak over her shoulder as she tapped instructions against the screen. "You might want to remove any loose metal objects before entering the chamber." She started to turn back to the screen, but turned her head back again with a callous grin. "And before you ask why, let's just say it would brighten my day if you didn't."

Jenny humphed, but did as instructed, quickly pulling the earrings from her ears. They were the very same ones she had put on for her failed date, which seemed like so long ago now, despite having only been the night before. She removed her watch next, folding it carefully in her hands. A quick once-over revealed that was everything, and she deposited her items onto a small shelf fixed in the corner of the room, probably for that very purpose.

The console in the wall chirped, and an outermost ring of color around the entire display changed from red to a more pleasant green. A sudden echoed clacking sound in the door opposite the entrance startled Jenny, with the small control panel next to it now blinking its largest button. Back on the large interactive display, Jenny saw that the two colored rectangles overlaid on the 3D cube were now identical in size. The text below read "Process complete. User 2, enter when ready."

Spree turned to face Jenny and lowered her attention to Jenny's torso. From this distance, Jenny was able to tell that the cold pair of scrutinizing eyes were green. She watched them a bit self-consciously as they made a quick pass up her mid-section, then to her face, meeting her gaze for just a moment before they darted the rest of the way up to her hair. And almost before she sensed the motion taking place, a hand was whisked up near her face, sending a shot of adrenaline through her. Her eyes shot open, and she tried to sway to avoid a possible strike, but the hand had already stopped. And by the time she realized what was happening, Spree had pulled a single bobby pin from the top of Jenny's hair, leaving it to droop lazily down into her face.

Spree held the bit of folded metal in front of Jenny's shocked expression, shaking her head in mock disappointment. "You almost made my day. But lucky for you, this time, Mr. Risk's concerns come above mine."

Jenny just sighed heavily and relaxed, swishing her head around to fix her hair.

"Remember, your primary goal is manipulation. We need him to access computer records requiring access codes. We don't know what those records are, so you'll have to be subtle and possibly improvise. The secondary goal, if he shows sign of realizing the situation, is simply distraction. Talk to him, engage him in activity, or.. do whatever else you do with him privately, if you have to." she instructed, progressively more disdainful.

Jenny's jaw dropped at the last remark, shaking her head immediately to protest. "I've never-"

"When we have what we need," she interrupted, "we'll begin the revectorization process again to remove you. Until that time, stay within six feet as instructed. And I don't believe I need to remind you of what will happen to your other friend if you think about trying anything stupid."

Jenny shook her head solemnly in acknowledgement of the threat, which prompted Spree to take her arm and guide her to face the door with the blinking control pad. Jenny suddenly felt herself nervous, having no idea what to expect at this point, regardless of her instructions. She didn't want to be here anymore, doing this craziness. She wanted to be curled up on her comfortable couch, reading a book, and sipping from a steaming mug of just about any kind of tea at the moment. Hell, she would even settle for going to class unprepared at this point.

Spree reached out with her other hand, hovering her fingers over the waiting button, but gave one last piece of advice. "Do remember to bring your clothes back with you."

Before Jenny could respond to the bawdy attempt at bating her, Spree had tapped the button, and the inner door split down the center, its halves sliding cleanly back into the wall. Harsh rotating light spilled into the room from the other side, as if looking into the sun with a kaleidoscope. Spree gave Jenny a nudge, and she stumbled through the threshold, with the door promptly shutting and clacking again noisily behind her.

- - -

"Report." demanded Spree, as she strode back into the control room from the imaging tunnel, resting her hands on her hips as she came to a stop.

"He aint done nothing while you were gone but push some buttons, then went back to watching TV." reported Sever.

Spree directed her eyes curiously at the screen of Fyber still sitting. "Hmm..."

After a brief moment of contemplating, she then turned her cold gaze to Contact, who just shrugged and nodded in agreement with Sever's telling of events. As far as judgement went, she didn't particularly trust either of them, but if she had to pick one of the two to verify a situation, it would be him.

The lab technician had turned in his chair to face her, waiting for the go-ahead for his more detailed report, which she finally gave with a curt nod. She directed her attention to the technical displays near him as he began.

"Chamber readings nominal. User two is successfully integrated into the scenario. Imaging processors running at above average, with approximately fifteen minutes until image abatement failsafes engage. I don't expect that to be a problem considering user proximity in this scenario however."

Spree nodded approvingly, and the technician turned back to monitoring his station.

"How d'you understand any of that nerdspeak anyway?" complained Sever, scowling down a bit at the back of the technician. "I mean, he could just say 'we got fifteen minutes till shit's fucked up, but we're prolly good', and be done saying it in half the time."

Spree cocked a brow at him. "Yes, I suppose he could, how stupid of him to overcomplicate it. Perhaps you should assist him in monitoring magnetron field density, or photon cohesion, just in case he 'fucks shit up?'" She rolled out the empty chair from beside the technician and offered it to Sever.

"Well, no, but-"

"But you're an imbecile, who would never be trusted with such important tasks?" she quickly interrupted, ramming the chair back under the workstation, causing the technician to jump in his seat.

Sever just stopped talking and cleared his throat, though his intense irritation over being made a fool of betrayed his expression. Spree just stared at him with narrowed eyes, waiting for him to express that irritation, but Sever remained unwilling to meet her gaze. And inwardly, she was pleased by such cowardice, regardless of the satisfaction that she was sure she'd take away from planting him into the wall if it came to that.

As much as he'd also like to see Sever with a broken nose, Contact took the opportunity to disperse the situation with an honest question. "What exactly happens in fifteen minutes?"

Spree composed herself just enough to resume her original blank expression, feeling the question was answer-worthy compared to Sever's. "In layman's terms, when two people are in the imaging chamber at the same time, but in two separate virtual locations, the equipment has to work over twice as hard to maintain the two separate illusions. And put simply, that equipment gets very hot, especially in those circumstances."

Contact nodded understandingly as she spoke. Even Sever had unintentionally shown an interest, but he maintained his mock concern for display screens on one of the consoles.

"It's all cooled with liquid nitrogen, the stuff that turns fingers into glass." she commented, her choice of words giving everyone listening a chill. Contact actually wondered if maybe she had personal experience with the subject. But luckily she continued before he could think too hard on it. "And it's in a closed-loop system, meaning the same coolant is cycled over and over to maintain temperature. After fifteen minutes of running at the unsafe levels, the average temperature of the coolant will have increased beyond acceptable limits, and things begin to stop working properly. Possibly to the point of failure. Then after twenty minutes, things begin to melt. At half an hour, I wouldn't want to be the one inside."

Sever dropped his false interest of the monitors and interjected. "..anyone ever actually been inside at that point?"

The technician turned in his chair towards Spree, having been listening to the whole conversation, and they exchanged an untelling glance. But there was no answer.

"To prevent any of these undesired effects," began the technician, turning to face the others, "the system has a safeguard. Basically, view distance, as in how far you see, and image quality, as in how good it looks, can be reduced automatically. And normally this is fine, considering the alternatives, since the person inside would be aware of being in the chamber, and at worst, just be disappointed at his or her experience being disrupted. But in this case, of course, it is not fine, because the illusion must be maintained at all times for our main guest."

Contact continued to nod, making sense of the layman's explanation, but then cocked his brow slightly, looking to the both of them. "So, once they're within a certain distance of each other, none of this is a problem, right?"

Spree nodded. "There's no longer a need to run two individual illusions when both users occupy the same physical space. And being in the same space is required for them to interact on a physical basis anyway, due to technical limitations. But moving away from one another again at that point is... problematic."

The technician nodded in turn, adding to her explanation. "Yes, the users have to be physically separated again to their respective sides of the chamber in order to properly reimplement the dual illusions. You could have two unequally-sized illusion areas running in the chamber, certainly, but each user needs adequate space to extend their arms or lie down without them touching a physical wall of the chamber, or even reaching through the holographic barrier and into the other user's illusion. And to move a user in a situation such as this one, it has to be done slowly, so that they never sense the motion. Your best opportunity is when both users are stationary and at a distance from one another."

"Well that's all certainly good to know," started Contact, casually waving his hand in dismissal now that he understood, "but the question is, how many months pay would it take to get one of them in my apartment?"

"'Bout as many as there are pages to your rap sheet." snorted Sever.

"In that case, at the rate it grows, I wouldn't get my hopes up." added Spree.

The men chuckled, with even Spree cracking the faintest of grins herself, since she was probably the only one there who knew just how long his criminal record was. But the moment soon passed, and then it was back to business for her.

"Alright, I have work to do, contact me immediately if anything arises."

The technician nodded, and with that, Spree headed back towards the door.

She strode with a scowl past Boris, who sat quiet as a mouse, staring with apparent boredom down at the floor. Though a bout of paranoia swept over her after she passed, putting a waver in her stride, and prompting a glance over her shoulder at him before she disappeared through the door.

Quiet Boris had been listening to the conversation as well, having found it very interesting. Some parts more so than others. After Spree was gone, he looked up, seeing the other individuals across the room focused on the equipment on the opposide wall. Bluster, while not doing anything in particular, wasn't paying him any mind. So he took this opportunity to turn quietly on his stool, and began to visually examine an unoccupied control station near him.

- - -

Before the blinding brilliance faded from her eyes, a biting cold already nipped against Jenny's skin. She shivered fiercely and clenched her bare arms up around herself, a bit in shock from the abrupt change of environment. She had gone from a warm cramped metallic space into an extremely cold cavern, with no longer an electric hum in the background but the sound of wind whistling along the crags and crevices. Sun spilled in from behind her to light the space, but it wasn't enough to affect the wintery chill.

She turned to face the bright light, only then realizing where she was: she was overlooking the hills at the mouth of Fyber's lab, the last thing she expected to see when stepping through that doorway. The bright morning sun hung above the distant peaks with its usual magnificence, forcing her to squint. But the cold was nearly unbearable without the thick wool coat she had worn the last time she stood in this spot, so she paused her contemplation of the situation and scampered immediately for the lab entrance. A tap of the door button sent a whoosh of warm air across her front, which she eagerly embraced. When the door slid closed behind her, she brought her hands up to her mouth, breathing soothing warm breaths against her numbed fingers.

After a moment of stillness to warm back up, she wrapped her arms back around herself, and slowly headed down the entrance corridor, gazing at her new environment. She still didn't fully grasp her presence here. She had been told to manipulate Fyber into helping the Arvix Industries goons, but they kind of left out the part of where exactly she would be doing it.

She paused for a moment, and reached out a hand to the stone surface of the wall. It felt surprisingly solid, and rough. She pushed on it harder, but it didn't budge. Eventually she removed her hand and turned it towards her, noticing even the momentary divots and lines in her palm. This seemed to rule out holograms in her mind, or at least ones that Fyber had been capable of producing, since they were never like this. But could that mean Arvix Industries had better ones? Was this all coming from inside the room she entered? If so, how did they get such technology?

She just shrugged to herself and continued onwards, since these were questions that weren't getting answered by standing around. She needed to find Fyber. And when she rounded the corner at the end of the passageway, there he sat, at the center table, leaning over it to watch a display screen. The pristine condition of the lab around him removed any further doubt of her location, leaving her a bit depressed at the conclusion that she was still somewhere in the Arvix Industries building. But a part of her felt relieved to see Fyber again, regardless of the situation, since she nor Boris had seen him since the night before, right before the real lab went up in sparks. Fyber had apparently been here the whole time, in this wonderful charade.

But she had a job to do, for all of their sakes. And she better get started.

"Hey." she greeted casually, running her hands up and down her arms to shed away any remnants of a chill. Real or not, she appreciated the warmth that the lab offered.

Fyber remained as he was, sitting mostly still, staring down at the screen. Jenny stared at him curiously, then scrunched her nose at the dismissal.

"Helloooo?" she prodded, louder this time, and waving one of her hands to get his attention.

But still he sat, oblivious.

Jenny huffed, then stamped over towards him, determined to get his attention one way or another, even if it meant pushing him off of his stool. But before she could reach him, a momentary rainbowed brilliance was everywhere, and her reality had changed again.

She froze, slightly disoriented from yet another transition. She was still in the lab, but this reality was not right. She had a hard time making her brain accept the visuals around her as she scanned the newly configured room, leaving her mouth agape, but she had an equally hard time trying to dismiss them.

Various objects were misshapen, warped in unnatural directions and positions, with some even in incorrect locations, or abruptly missing parts of themselves. For example, one of the paneled walls beside her now looked more like a melted staircase, as sections of it sat progressively more bulged out from where they should have been. A portion of the the stone ceiling above her was swirling around in on itself, as if it were an endless sink drain. One part of the room was intensely bright, while another side was inexplicably dim to the point of darkness. Particularly stunning was a section of the solid metal floor which rose up towards the ceiling like a stalagmite, while in contrast, another section not far away drooped downwards and was missing completely, leading into oblivion. Small bursts of light flashed from certain undefined points around her, but there was no source to produce it. Abnormal sounds would crackle in the background somewhere, but much as with the strange lights, she could never identify the source.

And yet, in the center of all of it, sat Fyber. In the same general location as before, he worked at the center console, but even it was now severely warped in shape, somewhat slanted towards him, and had many more controls and displays strewn across it than it should have. And instead of simply staring at it like before, he was working with purpose.

She finally got her senses about her, and tried getting Fyber's attention again. "What the hell is going on..?" she inquired, but much more meekly than before. Pushing him off of his stool no longer seemed appropriate.

Fyber turned, startled by the disruption. He gazed in her direction with astonished eyes, but for only a moment, then turned back to his console. After another brief moment of consulting it, he turned back to her to ask, rather genuinely, "You're real??"

"What do you-" she started to exclaim, "Of course I'm real! What the hell is going on?!" she repeated, her original sense of urgency starting to return.

Fyber slid a hand up through his messy hair, then unexpectedly ran over to hug her. She couldn't resist a small giggle from his unforeseen show of affection, but it was short lived when she quickly realized that it had a dual purpose. When the brief embrace was over, he was groping at her shoulders and upper arms, still looking her over meticulously.

"Hey geeze I said I'm real! What more do you want, a notary public to vouch for me?" she griped, brushing him away.

"Why, did you bring one?" he asked, maintaining his completely serious face. She just rolled her eyes, but found herself incapable of suppressing a faint grin, which he returned briefly.

He then backed away a half step, and simply stared at her with some degree of discontent while he considered this unexpected situation.

"Damn. Change of plan, then."

- - -

As Spree strode around the corner of level nine, she found Arvis Risk in the corridor ahead, conversing with Scaffold. The lanky individual was slightly taller than Arvis, and appeared thinner, but hidden underneath the generic black business suit were lean muscles on a lightweight frame, which allowed for his renowned climbing abilities.

But Spree sighed inwardly at seeing the pair of them, particularly due to them being together. One was bad enough, but she knew she was about to be bombarded with double the usual spurious charm.

"Ah there you are, Spree." smiled Arvis, turning away from Scaffold enough to extend an inviting arm. "Wonderful, we were just talking about you."

She was sure they probably were. What part of her were they talking about was the question.

"Afternoon gentlemen." she responded plainly, and with a courteous nod, choosing not to dwell on their possible locker room topic.

"She walks in beauty, like the sky. Of cloudless climes and starry nights." posed Scaffold, with a hand flatly over his abdomen while he bowed his head to greet her, all in excess. Spree particularly noticed the usual annoyingly-persistant grin planted across his boyish face.

"Lord Bryon would be pleased to hear how eloquently you blunder his work, I'm sure." she remarked, in response to the incorrect recitation.

Scaffold drew his hands to his heart, theatrically staggering backwards. "Her callous words, how they sting me."

Spree just cocked a brow with disregard and turned to Arvis, who was grinning. She tried not to pay it much mind, but had noticed on many occasions that he apparently found her exchanges with the others to be amusing. She didn't.

"I should inform you that the girl has been successfully integrated with the scenario." she reported.

"Ah, excellent. I assume it's only a matter of time now before I have what I need." gloated Arvis. "And what news of the salvage operation?"

"I assigned Scaffold and a team to that task, and was on my way to get a report on the situation now." she said, turning her attention back to him now.

Scaffold suddenly seemed uncomfortable when the two sets of eyes fell on him. "I, uh-"

Spree's eyes blazed almost immediately at his hesitation. She already knew he had messed up something up, and the last place she wanted it to be revealed was directly in front of Arvis Risk. She was in charge of these oafs, so it was her head on the chopping block as usual. But again, as usual, she realized that the situation might still be salvagable without Arvis needing to know any details as of yet. So she scrunched her eyebrows at him, combined with her intense gaze, and silently warned him to keep his mouth shut.

Scaffold was quick to take the hint, and cleared his throat, immediately regaining composure. "There were.. minor delays, but we expect the task to be completed soon without further issue." he assured, restoring that overtly charming smile for the both of them. When he looked to Spree to guage her satisfaction with the fib, her penetrating stair was still drilling into him, enough so to almost warrant a cringe until he turned his attention back to Arvis.

"Very good. I do hope there hasn't been a problem removing the power generator. I'd prefer to recover it inta-" started Arvis, but his phone suddenly prattled for attention from within his jacket. "If you'll excuse me." he offered, giving it more priority than the two of them, and pulled it from his inner pocket while stepping a ways down the corridor to answer it, with his back to them.

Spree took the opportunity to grapple Scaffold's arm and give him a scornful look. "Come, tell me of your minor delay." she rasped quietly, and hoisted him farther down the hallway away from Arvis.

- - -

"So uhh, is that supposed to happen?" Sever asked, while he stared at one of the large display screens in the observation room.

The technician glanced around at him from his chair, then to where he was looking. "Was what supposed to happen?"

"Your mouse just fell outa your maze, fella."

The technician stood, staring at the large monitor, and then at another one that offered a different angle. "Maybe she just hasn't reached this area yet. Sometimes it's disorienting to first-timers."

Sever smirked. "Look, egghead, I might not be qualified for your job, but I got two eyes," to which he pointed with a V-shaped hand, "and I know enough to know when I see a girl disappear."

Contact snorted and mumbled to himself. "You would."

"Disappear? Nonsense.." dismissed the technician, who sat back down at his console and began checking things. It only took him a moment to discover the information he sought, to which he nodded approvingly.

"She's clearly still present in the chamber." he informed the group, and overlaid a 3D representation of the room onto the corner of one of the large displays, which showed two blinking dots, both labeled as users.

"You sure are a dummy, aint ya? Look at how close they are on your fancy map, and then tell me why she aint on this here screen." Sever said callously, jabbing his finger towards one of the large monitors that still displayed a lone Fyber in his lab.

Contact stepped forward, now seeing what Sever had been going on about. "Hey he's right, she should be standing right there beside him almost."

The technician tried to shake his head in disbelief, despite the facts that confronted him. "I- Well, there is clearly a logical explanation for this." he finally retorted. He circled his attention around his instruments, trying to discover one.

"Yeah, it's called you screwed up." Sever retorted, with a pleased smirk.

Contact reached into his pocket for something, but Sever quickly waved him away from what he was attempting. Instead, Sever pulled a small silver device from his own black pants pocket. He squeezed the sides carefully, which produced a quiet chirp, and brought it up near his mouth.

"'Ay Spree. Shit's fucked up."



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