Fybertech: The De Novo Project, Part 1
Monday, January 23rd, 2006
A sudden CLANK snapped FyberOptic's drowsy eyes back open again. He didn't turn to check the source of the racket this time, however, since it was the third time it had waken him. It was for the best though, he thought, considering it's hard to watch the road while asleep, even if he had driven the same road for what seemed a thousand times by now.
The beat-up pickup truck sped along the unkempt road, while its cargo, an assemblage of what most might consider scrap metal, or just plain junk to some, chattered away into the night. A single headlight was all that pierced through the darkness ahead, since headlights weren't cheap, and cheap was more than Fyber could afford as of late.
He reached down to turn on the radio, which sat unlevel in the cracked and discolored dashboard, hoping that some music might distract his mind from the lull of the ride. Instead, he was greeted with a soft whining and static. "Out of range" he murmured to himself, and twisted the coverless metal knob back to the "Off" position before dropping his hand tiredly back onto the wheel.
But it was of no matter, he realized, as the road beneath him steadily became more rugged. He sat up a bit in his seat, slowing a bit and preparing for his imminent turn, which meant he was nearly to his destination. Even having two headlights would have made it no easier for one to notice the strips of worn grass which led off the main road to the left, having been put there by those seemingly thousand trips Fyber had previously made. He swung the truck abruptly off the road to follow the path, which was much rougher now than the main road, probably because there was none now.
The sound of twigs and leaves crunching beneath the worn radials was silenced by the much louder clanging of his metallic cargo as the truck swayed and bounced through the woods. He had to concentrate a bit more now to avoid the trees, focusing out into the darkness through the glasses which slid ever slowly down his nose from the ride. But soon he pulled into the clearing beyond the woods, provoking the usual brief sigh of relief before relaxing again somewhat in the seat, allowing him to adjust his glasses back into place as he shifted the truck's direction to the right, and headed onwards towards a large rocky knoll.
The knoll itself sat with its back to the main road, which kept a winding path up its front hidden from passers-by. Continuing parallel to the road, Fyber slowly guided the truck through the darkness along in front of the large earthly stump, nearly approaching its far end, until coming up on a fairly indiscernible inlet onto its sloping surface. Fyber veered right once more and up onto the scratchy pebbled path of the knoll, which lead upwards in a serpentine pattern. His cargo required a bit more finesse than usual due to the unlevel and jarring terrain, combined with the fact that he preferred not to go tumbling off its edges by trying to navigate carelessly in such darkness.
About half-way up the hill he began to slow, as an entrance into the hillside gradually became illuminated by his headlight. He skillfully maneuvered the truck widely and turned into the dark cave, letting it roll to a gradual stop from the terrain, and swiveled the ignition until the engine went dead. The sound of the V8 still echoed past the cavern walls, but soon returned to a creepy silence.
Fyber sat there staring through the windshield, relaxing somewhat more in his seat; the light from the truck illuminated the cave, bouncing off of some of its sheer surfaces, and glimmering a bit off of something rather unnatural. There was a door inside the cavern, embedded on left side of the back wall. It was solid gray, with gradual ridges and beveling along its rim. No handle, no window, no markings. Just a keypad off to its left side, which glowed dimly.
Stacked nearby, against the cave wall to the left, were metal plates. They appeared similar to much of his cargo, albeit in slightly better condition. Other evidence of unfinished work was also visible, such as a small chunk of cave wall missing not far from the door, with what seemed to be capped wires running out through a hole at the back of the indentation.
But none of this came as a surprise to Fyber, since he was the one who put it all there. What was to go in the indentation was part of what ran through Fyber's mind at that moment, along with a dozen other projects he knew needed finishing soon. But there was always tomorrow for that, he thought. Always time tomorrow.
According to his watch, it already was tomorrow. Not that Fyber noticed, though, for he had already drifted off to sleep.
- - -
A blinding light spilled into the passenger compartment of the truck the next morning as the sun peeked its fiery head over the distant hills, reflecting back at Fyber through the crooked rear-view mirror. His face scrunched, and a weary hand raised to block the intense rays. After a satisfying yawn, he came out of his tired stupor enough to reach down for the door handle, jerking it outwards roughly and ramming his shoulder against the stubborn door. It took a few tries before it would budge, as it always did.
He slid out of the truck and dropped out onto the ground with a grunt, his boots crunching down onto pebbles carpeting the cave floor, echoing faintly. He slammed the truck door, which still managed to not close entirely in its buckled frame, before dragging his feet over towards the metal entrance. His body was nearly equally unwilling to cooperate at this point as the truck's, with his bones popping and cracking at each step, combined with the general stiffness as a result of his sleeping arrangements. "Gotta stop doing that." he mumbled, though knowing full well it probably wasn't the last time he'd end up sleeping there.
The sun shone brightly on the keypad at the back wall, glaring off its glossy surface, but Fyber knew it by feel, barely having to look down at it to punch in a series of numbers against its warm plasticy buttons, until the pad responded with a soft beep, immediately followed by a brief clanking sound as the locking mechanism released. He groaned a bit again, gripped the ridge of the door with both hands, and forcefully slid it aside.
Sun flooded the dark interior, while at the same time the smell of electronics and artificial cooling swept back in the opposite direction towards him.
"And maybe one day I'll make that work." he commented to himself, stepping through the uncooperative doorway before muscling it closed again behind him.
He hit a button on an identical keypad on the inside, which produced another echoey clank from somewhere within the doorframe, followed by the hum of electricity overhead as a series of lights began to activate, revealing a curving passage ahead. Conduits lined the narrow cave wall to his left, each marked with various things such as "Lighting", and "Security". Another, which didn't appear to be as securely attached yet, was marked "Holo". These went from a junction box near the door down the length of the hall, which Fyber trudged down, hearing the lights click on in the sections ahead of him.
As the curve ended, the bare hallway opened up into a larger area, now not looking much like a cave at all. The room was mostly circular and dome-shaped, moderately spacious considering its location, with metal panels lining a majority of the walls, many of which were covered in lights and indicators and controls of all sorts. Some had covers removed, revealing an array of wires and components nesting inside. In the center of the room was a tall metal cylinder, reaching from floor to ceiling, and intesecting the center of a round metal workstation of sorts. It was covered in a mess of tools and unfinished projects, which he of course meant to finish one day, but just hadn't gotten around to yet, naturally.
There were a couple of exits from this circular room aside from the one he had come through. Each seemed to be similar narrow cave-like passageways, with one of them, almost directly across from the entrance passage, being brightly lit and with a number of wall panels installed. The other passage off to the right was dark; the light from the main room just barely revealed some open conduits and wiring hanging loosely from its bare stone wall, leading off into the darkness.
Fyber continued onwards into the lit hallway, which curved around to the left slightly and lead to somewhat of a junction, possibly capable of branching off in more directions, though all but one were sealed off with panelwork. The one available direction was embedded in the left wall of the passage: a solid metal door similar to the main entrance, with a smaller, less advanced keypad attached to the panel beside it. Fyber tapped a single green button along the bottom, and the door hummed with life, sliding open automatically unlike its counterpart. Or almost, at least. About three-fourths of the way, it produced a struggling whir, followed by a faint click, then nothing. Fyber raised an eyebrow, and soon began to smell the stench of burnt motor components. He shook his head a bit and pushed the door the rest of the way open by hand, uncaring this early in the morning of problems, and stepped on into the room.
Inside, along the far right wall, sat a single narrow bed, which was relatively tidy. A metallic counter of nearly equal length ran along the left side of the room, inset into the metal-plated wall itself. A wooden chair sat slid somewhat underneath, while on top sat a small microwave, a mini-fridge, and a small coffee pot. Everything tended to be rather small, really. A necessary downside to living in a cave, Fyber supposed. Or a cave without enough shelf space, at least.
There was a closet-like opening immediately to the right, filled with a smattering of clothes and personal items, mirrored by a similar open doorway to the left, leading to a cramped bathroom. The metal floor looked a bit out of place for such a room, but even stranger was that the sink, shower, and toilet were metal as well. Though possibly even more out of place was the white plastic seat attached to the rim of the latter, instead of the original matching one. Cold floors were one thing, he had thought, but cold toilet seats were another.
He put on a pot of coffee, then stepped into the bathroom area, tapping some buttons on the wall panel to activate the shower, and tossed his dust-covered clothes into the recepticle in the wall. The recepticle, of course, was supposed to whisk his clothes away to be cleaned automatically, but it wasn't much more than a fancy-looking clothes hamper at the moment. The amount of clothes inside suggested he hadn't gotten around to working on it lately, either.
Regardless, he stepped into the stainless-steel shower, expecting to soothe away his tired muscles. Instead, it provoked an almost immediate sharp icy gasp from him, as he unpleasantly came to realize that there was no hot water. Again.
In another record-settingly short shower, he was very awake now, rushing back out to be greeted by the strong smell of the coffee that perked noisily across the room, which seemed like an even better idea now than it did when he started making it. After throwing on another set of similar clothes from the closet, he poured the steaming liquid into a stained mug, and moseyed out of the bedroom and back down the narrow hallway, into the main circular room.
Despite Fyber's penchant for lots of lights and buttons, most of the panels in this room actually did have a purpose. The one he headed towards, for example, had an icon of water drops, along with a temperature control and power settings. He pushed one of the buttons, which cycled the nearby display into what appeared to be battery representations, with animated arrows pointing from one of them towards a blue cylinder shape at the top. The battery from which the arrows were animating from, however, was blinking red.
"You're not supposed to draw from there." he scolded, taking a sip from his steaming mug as he tapped in a few more commands, redirecting the electrical flow to the water heater from the other battery which glowed a steady green.
But the panel quickly retorted with a stubborn beep, and then began flashing the other battery, along with the simulated connection leading from it, all in red, as well. Fyber swore to himself, swatting at one last button which brought the display back to a general water temperature indicator. Its informative "36F" prompted a sigh from Fyber, along with a brief reminder of the shock he received earlier. Twenty-six, thirty-six, it didn't much matter at that point when you were standing in it bare as a plucked goose.
He turned and stepped towards the circular table mounted in the center of the room, plopping down on one of the stools slid up against it. His mind pondered all the possible causes of the immediate problem as he continued sipping from his mug, which gradually warmed him back up while caffeinating his senses.
Many of the systems he had designed for this hidden laboratory ran off of battery systems, due to what generated the power for his lab. And it was the metal column in the center of the table he sat at, spanning up into the ceiling, glowing with a pulsating green light that hummed faintly at each oscillation, which did just that. It was one of the last working pieces of Zentaxian technology he had left, and he had been very grateful to salvage it, and it still be in such working condition, at that.
The power it generated, however, wasn't compatible with much of the Earthly technology he was most familiar with and likely to be using now, so he had set up a plasmatic converter to interface the two. Unfortunately, that crucial device was the only one he had found still intact, and and even more unfortunately, hadn't been in quite as good a shape as the power core itself. The modern materials Fyber had been forced to use to repair it with resulted in a rather inefficient device, which didn't convert power very well at all, when it wasn't failing altogether.
But he had tied it into a series of battery storage systems for various things, such as lights, security, main computers, temperature control, water management, etc. That way even if the converter failed, the batteries should keep things going in the meantime. And after he had come home one evening only to find the front door had no power, requiring a frustrating hour of pulling it all back apart to release the locking mechanism, he had decided to add the redundancy of extra batteries into the mix as well. Though obviously, as the water heating system had stubbornly shown, redundancy isn't everything, especially when most of the components used, including the batteries, weren't exactly new when he got them.
Realizing it meant another day crawling along the floor to track down whether it was a battery, wiring, or the computer at fault, he sighed a bit and leaned over the round counter he sat at, tapping on the one embedded control pad which wasn't covered in tools and bits and pieces of unfinished things. Speakers overhead chattered to life with a woman's voice mid-sentence, almost cheerily reporting the world's news of the day. Fyber adjusted the volume rather loud and slid off of his stool, mug in hand, and headed down the arcing hallway leading back towards the exit.
He tapped open the lock with his free hand, and was much more capable of sliding the door open now than he had been the night before, managing to do it single-handedly as he tried not to spill his coffee, and stepped outside. Fresh cool air swept inwards and filled his lungs, along with the bright light of the morning sun drowning his eyes, having come a bit higher over the hills now as day progressed. Instictively squinting and raising a hand to block the source of his discomfort, he stepped through the threshold, leaving the door as it was. He walked out past the worn blue truck, which sat covered in a thin layer of dust, with its rear end almost sticking out of the cave. And that's where he headed, resting himself down onto the rigid bumper, sipping his coffee, and staring out into the landscape while the woman's echoing voice from the doorway continued to inform him of the daily happenings.
- - -
While where he lived was quaint, or possibly claustrophobic depending on who you asked, it was plenty for Fyber. There was no rent, no electric bill, no water bill, no bothersome neighbors. The land was family-owned, though they didn't exactly know he was living on it. Or under it, as the case may be. And the place had its share of problems at the moment, but what home didn't, he thought. Most importantly, it gave him time to focus on what he enjoyed most: tinkering.
He had spent the last several months here, but he couldn't quite remember how many. Possibly a year by now, or at least that long constructing it. The days went by rather quickly, having spent most of them building things and fixing problems. Though some days felt as if they were just a repeat of others, with fixing many of the same things over and over again. But he had no money to waste on new ones, so he had to make do, even if that meant a copious amount of duct tape for some.
All in all, though, he didn't really have many complaints. Despite the nature of his current dwelling, he found himself outside alot nowadays, whether working or otherwise. So much untouched land without a soul in sight was certainly pleasant to experience. And the air here was refreshing, which he often realized after being in the city.
A chilled breeze swept past the hillside, steaming Fyber's glasses as he took another slow sip of the smoky dark liquid in his mug. It was late November, he believed. There hadn't been any big snows yet, so he hadn't had any problems getting in or out aside from the occasional tract of mud, but he knew if it ever got icy in the coming months, he might have some problems. He hadn't picked up any chains for his tires, or stocked up any extra food just in case. "Probly should get on that soon." he instructed himself, speaking out into the vast nowhere.
After glancing down at his watch, he slurped the last bit of coffee from the mug. He placed it carefully on the bumper where he was sitting, taking one last look into his personal landscape, then reluctantly pulled himself from his makeshift bench, flipped down the tailgate of the truck with a noisy squelch, and began to unload his cargo.
- - -
Most of what Fyber had been hauling came from the scrap yard these days. He had made "friends" with the yard manager, who let various pieces of certain sizes and alloys to slip his way, without paying as much or any of the standard fee. In return, Fyber would give the man homemade cassette tapes of various country music he had shown interest in. "Gotta love that Hank Williams" the aging man would often mutter, turning up the volume of his outdated tape deck to howl along with the songs, of which the man seemed to know every word by heart.
And of course, Fyber would fix the occasional gadget or piece of machinery that was misbehaving for him, which generally wasn't very hard work. It also introduced him to the inner workings of various machinery, which came to be of benefit for the construction of his lab. It was all a suitable trade-off, Fyber thought. And if he needed anything in particular, the man usually knew where to tell him to look for it.
Though strangely, he was pretty sure that neither of them knew the other's name. Perhaps it was for the best that way.
Some of the scraps were thick, taking all of Fyber's strength to drag them out of the truck. He could use such pieces for subfloor or inner wall covers, since their exact size and appearance didn't really matter. He often found himself fitting them together like puzzle pieces across the cavern walls and floor, in places where its surface was too jagged or random to mount things into directly.
The smaller thinner pieces he could cut into shape if need be, often polishing them up to use as outer wall panels or floor covers. They would be suspended by a metal framework underneath, attached to either the thicker plates or directly into the stone. The space between allowed for the computers and electrical connections to be nestled cleanly within.
Half an hour or so later he had finished unloading the truck, having stacked all the pieces against the cave wall, arranged by size and type. After wiping the sweat from his forehead, he reached into the truck to pull a tattered notepad off the dash, scribbling some notes about his inventory on one of the empty pages, before tossing it haphazardly back inside.
He had to do any welding or cutting during the day, for fear of passing planes or helicopters spotting his sparks at night and thinking there was possibly a forest fire. The only place spacious enough to work on some of those large metal sheets was here in the "garage" area of his lab, so sparks would often jump outside the cave entrance. And the cave was half-way up one of the taller hills around this valley, making the red embers no doubt easier to spot.
He had considered that he might just be paranoid about having his lab discovered, but decided that being overly cautious was probably better than trying to explain everything he had inside to a police officer. Or worse, to Homeland Security.
One trick he had found though was pulling the truck longways across the cave entrance before starting any work; not only did that get it out of his workspace, but it helped to shield against those stray sparks he was wary about.
The news report blaring from inside the lab had changed to a man's voice a few minutes previous, who was now excitedly describing every detail of a car chase happening live in California. Fyber chuckled to himself as he jerked open the door of the truck, imagining it trying to outrun anything at all without falling apart. Not bothering to pull the door to, he slid around far enough in the seat to operate the gas and clutch, and turned the key over.
Nothing. The truck remained silent, aside from the click of the ignition switch.
After another couple of tries, Fyber sighed depressingly, laying his arm across the wheel and his forehead against his arm, before reaching over blindly with his left hand to feel for the lights control. It confirmed his suspicion: he had left the headlights on the night before when falling asleep.