Fybertech: The De Novo Project, Part 7
Wednesday, February 1st, 2006
Vito sat parked in the dimly-lit alleyway behind the dry-cleaners. Pale white steam hissed slowly out of the manholes, adding to the foggy mist that shrouded the damp narrow roadway. Vito had been waiting here for what must have been twenty minutes, which was twenty minutes too long in his book, since this wasn't exactly the part of town you took a stroll through, even during the day.
Finally, a pair of bright headlights peered in from behind, as another car turned onto the alley and slowly crept up behind his own. A moment later the lights when dark, and the engine silent. Vito took a good look in his rear-view mirror to make sure there was only one person in the other car, then pulled open his door and eased his way out, while keeping a watchful eye around him.
The two men walked towards each other cautiously through the alley, meeting half-way. The man was a grungy-looking fellow, his hair uncombed, with several days of a reddish beard across his dirty face, making his wide blood-shot eyes stand out in the dark. His clothes were somewhat tattered and dirty, and he had the distinct smell of fish. Vito could explain the smell, at least, for he had met with the man a number of times in the past, mostly at the cannery which he worked for, to exchange information for cash. Usually it had been on the whereabouts of some low-brow scumbag, though considering what he had inquired about this time was a bit more substantial, he wasn't entirely surprised at the increased security precautions of meeting elsewhere.
"What you got for me, Lenny?" Vito asked, in a somewhat hushed voice. Lenny acted shifty, not quite standing still as he kept adjusting his unlaundered clothes and looking around behind him.
"Yeah hello to you too." griped Lenny sarcastically, as he unzipped his worn blue jacket and reached inside, pulling out a brown legal envelope, held shut with an elastic band. He passed it to Vito, immediately after which Vito detected an increase in shiftiness. Lenny noticed Vito peering at him through his brow, and drew his head back a bit. "It's cold out here." he said defensively.
Vito raised a brow as he eyed him, then lowered them down to the envelope, and slid the elastic band off its thick outer surface, before pulling it open and reaching inside to remove its contents. His face immediately turned to a scowl, which shot back up at Lenny, who was already easing backwards. "W-what can I say?" he stammered nervously. "They pay better."
At that moment, tires squealed up to both ends of the alleyway, sending a shrill echo into the night. Vito snapped his head around in a slowly growing panic to see four dark-suited individuals getting out of the blocky navy blue sedan at one end, which to his even further dismay, was the same sight his eyes found at the other end. He looked back at Lenny with a furrowed brow, his fist recoiling behind his back, and before Lenny's frightened face had a chance to react, Vito piled his knuckles across the traitor's jaw. Lenny's body recoiled violently, flailing backwards onto the hood of his own car, before falling off the side of it and onto the hard wet concrete. Vito threw the envelope and blank slips of paper that had been inside on Lenny's chest, and dashed towards the back door of the dry-cleaners, as the gang of men charged in his direction from both ends of the alley.
As far as luck goes, Vito seemed to have a pretty good amount of it. In this part of town, one would think folks would keep their back doors locked, especially ones that lead into dark alleys, but to Vito's fortune, not everyone was bright enough to do so. As soon as he passed through the door, the high-pitched shriek of a female voice attacked his ears. He squinted to block out the bright lights inside which flooded his eyes, attempting to peer around his unknown surroundings, and noticed the startled asian woman who was producing such a horrible sound backing up from the steam press she had been working at and flattening herself against the side wall. He politely tipped his hat and said "My apologies, ma'am.", then dashed across the back room, provoking similar reactions as other employees spotted him.
The rear door exploded open a moment later, and two hulking men stomped inside, one carrying a baseball bat, sending the women into even louder shrieks. Vito wasted no time and slid across the front counter and towards the front doors, but just as he had started to push them open, one of the cars careened in from around the corner and onto the sidewalk directly in front of him, with two of the goons jumping out from the passenger side before it hardly had a chance to stop. He pulled the doors back together, looking around impatiently, and upon noticing a mop bucket sitting off to the side, he grabbed the wooden mop handle resting inside and shoved it through the door handles of the twin glass doors, effectively locking it. He grinned and waved at them tauntingly as they attempted to yank it open, to no avail. But upon starting off in the other direction, he saw the other two storming through the rear towards him. The one with the bat got his attention in particular.
As the men surrounded him, he backed up towards the door, which the other individuals rattled violently in a crude attempt to get inside. The two in front of him grinned sinisterly, while the one with the bat smacked it down into his open palm in a menacing fashion.
"I don't s'pose you guys would be interested in a bribe, would you?" he asked nervously, faking a grin at them as they approached. The armed individual smashed the bat down against the counter, chipping off the edge of it, eyeing Vito formidably. Vito's grin diminished. "Maybe baseball cards, then?"
It was at that moment when a deep hollow thunk rang out, and one of the men growled in pain, dropping the bat. An older asian woman, who couldn't have been any more than five feet tall, began chatterly wildly from behind them in what sounded like Korean, swinging a rolling pin at both of the assailants' heads. The large men cowered away from her, raising their arms in defense, the one still somewhat dazed by the blow. She seemed rather angry about the counter they had broken, flailing her free arm around wildly and pointing at it as she verbally assaulted them. She then threw an angry gaze in Vito's direction as well, which he responded to with a wink and a slight tip of his hat, taking advantage of this bit of luck by running past her before she got the opportunity to use her rolling pin on him as well.
Giving the guys around front of the store no time to get behind it again, he rocketed through the back room and out the exit, slamming the door open widely, which, adding to his streak of luck, smashed directly into the face of one of the lackies standing guard, knocking him flat on his back, none of which Vito even noticed. Two more stood outside their car at the only end of the alley still blocked, who suddenly appeared startled at the sight of Vito and one of their own hitting the ground. Despite the initial confusion, the thinner of the two started running his way, while the other swung back into the car, starting it up with a roar. This put a bit of a boost into Vito's stride as he ran to his own car, yanking open the door and throwing himself into the vinyl seat with gusto. He turned over the key, which he just so happened to have left in the ignition, and promptly stomped the gas, throwing up a cloud of burnt rubber and asphalt before the car sped off down the alley.
The hulking sedan growled closer behind him, tearing down trashcans and anything else sitting out in the alleyway, just as Vito reached the turn onto the side road, which he barreled around recklessly, his fender scraping the pavement from the sudden change in elevation as he headed in the opposite direction of the dry-cleaners. The other sedan from the front of the store swung around the other corner farther back and proceeded onto the side road he was now on, charging along after his tail. It was then that Vito heard the sound of brakes squealing behind him, as the car from the alley futilely attempted to stop, instantly t-boning the other one that had been coming from around front with a loud crunch. Vito eyed the accident in his mirror, seeing the driver slamming his hands frustratedly against the wheel, yelling what was probably a string of words no mother should hear. A sly grin swept across his own face as he sped off into the night, with lady luck by his side.
- - -
Unlike Vito, Fyber's current mode of transportation was limited to whenever Boris got the opportunity to come by in his battered SUV, which Boris had at least gotten the opportunity to have the windshield and side windows replaced on during the uneventful last few days. Though he had settled for using bondo on the bullet holes, since they would have been a bit harder to explain than the "Baseballs, lots of baseballs" excuse he had used for the broken glass.
But Fyber's goal of self-sufficiency, as evidenced by his lab, was leaving him frustrated with having to depend on someone else for transportation. So that day he found himself knelt down in his workshop, hovering over the old motorcycle which sat leaning in disrepair against the rockface. He had never even ridden it before; it had just come along with a pile of scrap he had talked a man into trading him for once in exchange for a band saw which needed work. Fyber had never found himself in need of a cumbersome band saw anyway, and the scrap contained a number of iron bars which he had later used as support frames. The motorcycle had come in handy somewhat, as well, or at least the spark plugs and ignition coil had.
He spent the afternoon making a list of what was missing, needed replacing, or was fixable. Unfortunately, the list grew a bit longer than expected, spanning two pages of his notepad. He'd rather have his truck, but he couldn't fix it in all this snow, and he'd need Boris to try and drag it up the hill anyway so that he could work on it, which again, isn't something he'd want to try in all the snow. He didn't even know at this point if it was fixable. So his options were obviously somewhat limited.
Fyber took his list back into the control room, settled down at one of the terminals behind the conference table, and began looking up parts prices on the internet, his chin parked in his palm as he browsed reluctantly. Reconditioned off-brands were the gems to his eyes. Though his face gradually cringed more and more as the total price increased, which by normal standards wasn't all that much, all things considered, but in his case, money spent is money lost.
He paced through the lab for the next hour, a cup of coffee gradually diminishing in his hand as he pondered making the purchase, as he did many such things these days. He thought maybe if he took some time to think about it, he might change his mind, or come up with a better option. But aside from asking for a lift from Jenny, with whom he could only imagine her reaction from the very idea, he knew there weren't really any other options, which lead him back over to the console again once the cup in his hand was empty. After hesitating for a moment, he clicked the Purchase button, knowing his bank account must be crying all the way across the internet. A reluctant sigh later, he sat the coffee cup on the table, and headed back into the workshop to get started on what he could fix in the time being, hoping he wouldn't end up regretting it tomorrow.
- - -
Later that afternoon, during Boris' break in classes before drudging through an hour of Computer Science, he had picked up Fyber and the two of them went into town, meeting up with some of Boris' classmates at the mall. Fyber had met them before, but barely knew any of them, and was a bit older as well, leaving him feeling somewhat out of place.
It wasn't like Fyber intentionally didn't have friends around town of his own, though; it would actually have been to his advantage to have some nearby as of late due to the transportation situation alone. It was more just a matter of having not met any yet. It was almost an hour's ride back to the town he grew up in, so the closer city, Ridge Valley, which he spent his free time in these days, was still somewhat new to him, despite having been around for what must have been a year or so now. Having a secret underground lab wasn't exactly the key to making new friends, either. So he figured it was a nice enough change of pace to hang around with a group of people who didn't actually want to run him over, and tried to enjoy himself.
The merry troop spent the next hour primarily at the arcade, which bustled with youngsters ganged around all the exciting new games up front, while Fyber spent most of the time playing the untouched cabinets towards the back, such as Galaga, Donkey Kong, and an original version of Street Fighter 2, which Fyber pointed out was before they had started tacking turbo and super and every other word onto the end of them.
"Fifty cents." griped Fyber, after everyone had spent probably too many of their quarters and were heading out. "I'm gonna have to go home and emulate Galaga as many times as I played it there in order to get my money's worth." While his complaint was real, it still got a chuckle out of Boris' remaining pals. "Don't mind him, he's always like that." Boris explained in jest. One of them shot out an "O RLY?", which prompted everyone in the group to start mimicking internet memes for the next fifteen minutes, some of which Fyber was proud enough to know as well. Passers-by gave them strange looks as if the whole lot of them were mental, however.
The group slowly diminished as they aimlessly strolled through the large Ridge Valley Mall, since some of them had classes soon. "Still got an hour." Boris commented, glancing down at his watch. The two of them, along with a couple others who apparently were done with classes for the day, made their way through Radio Shack. Boris spent a while in the back, pouring over the walls covered in tiny parts of all kinds, while Fyber looked over the already assembled robotic arms, which had always fascinated him since he was a boy.
"Anything I can do for you today?" asked a voice from behind, as a well-groomed store employee floated up beside him, who smiled widely as his pearly eyes lit up from the possibility of a sale. Fyber sighed inwardly, but politely smiled to the man. "Just looking for today." he replied pleasantly, which uncurled the man's smug grin somewhat. "Let me know if you need anything, then." he said, and floated away to pester one of Boris' pals. Fyber rolled his eyes and found his way over to Boris in the back.
"I hate the employees here." Fyber said plainly, turning around to eye the man who seemed to be annoyed upon finding that neither of Boris' other friends seemed interested in buying anything either. "Makin' more robots?" Fyber continued, changing the subject. Boris nodded curtly. "My last one walked off the table. Luckily it had already earned me an A in class before deciding to violently destroy itself." Fyber chuckled. "He had nothing left to live for." he joked, which Boris snorted to in response.
Boris dug through the shelf for another ten minutes, while the uptight employee eyed them suspiciously, as if they might pocket a three cent capacitor or resistor out of the container of loose components on the wall. Eventually Boris dumped some packages in Fyber's arms as he grabbed some more off the shelf to fill his own hands, having found the particular items he was looking for, and they headed for the front.
"You know," Fyber started, pouring them down onto the shiny marble check-out counter, "we could order these in bulk for like a fourth of the price." The snobbish man apparently heard the recommendation as he pranced back over to the register, and seemed to smirk at the very idea, but threw a fake grin at the only one of them willing to buy anything, and started ringing up Boris' pile of components. "Yeah but I need'em by next week." Boris replied earnestly, somewhat to the delight of the cashier. Fyber eyed him crossly, and walked on out of the store to wait.
Thirty-some dollars later, Boris carried his small bag of robot guts out of the store, glancing down at his watch. "We better get going." he commented, and waved goodbye to the other two buddies who decided to go spend the rest of their afternoon at the pizza joint.
Pizza sounded good to Fyber right about now, but he had other things to pick up before Boris had to get back to school. They pulled up to the AutoZone on the way back to the lab, which seemed to be a place they had visited regularly in the past, so it came as no surprise to Boris. Fyber spent less than ten minutes inside before clumsily carrying out a series of boxes under his arms and hands, and poured them through the window of the SUV before getting back inside, noticing Boris giving them a skeptical and disapproving glance. "You'll never get that wreck running again." he commented.
Fyber started to correct Boris' assumption that they were for the truck, realizing he hadn't told him yet about his plans to restore the bike, but then decided against it. What did Fyber need with a motorcycle, after all, other than to poke around places he didn't belong? They were paying Vito heftily to do that. But considering after all this time that they had only seen Vito the same number of times Fyber had almost been killed, he was growing impatient with the progress. As soon as he had wheels, he was heading back to that scrap yard.