Fybertech: The De Novo Project, Part 8
Monday, February 6th, 2006
"Are you sure?" Fyber asked, his voice somewhat muffled as it zoomed through telephone lines and thin air before reaching Boris' cell phone.
Boris sat in his SUV, peering out of the corner of his eye at a car sitting across the college campus parking lot. "It's the same damn one." he replied, agitatedly. "Dark blue, squarish, probably an eighties model. I saw one just like it when I left to find lunch earlier. And yesterday when I was on the way back to school after dropping you off." The phone was then quiet as Boris waited for Fyber to say something helpful, which aside from a contemplative "hmmmm", never came. "We should tell Vito" continued Boris eventually.
Fyber just sighed quitely. "That's all I know to do. It's about that usual time we hear back from him anyway, so maybe he's got something useful, too. I'll give him a call."
Boris nodded, despite the phone not being able to convey the gesture. "Well I gotta get to class for now. Let me know how it goes." And with that, they both hung up, neither of which entirely satisfied with the circumstances, or with their inability to do anything about them.
Class was as boring ever. Boris didn't think anyone particularly liked the Computer Science class which he reluctantly sat in at that moment, no matter how great one's interest in the subject may have been. In fact, Boris was as much interested in technology and science as Fyber, though much more focused on the theory and academics behind it, where as Fyber was more driven with the practical aspects and experimentation. As far as he knew, Fyber had never even been inside a college. But either way, he would have preferred to be the one sitting at the conference table in the lab right now, sipping on too much caffeine, thinking up the "next big thing". Instead, he listened to Professor Almery prattle on about a particular chapter from 'Chaos and Fractals: New Frontiers of Science', a book they had just started on, which he doubted was even a subject Fyber knew or cared about.
Steadily the professor's monotonous voice faded out of Boris' attention as he flipped through the book, because despite the boring subject matter, the fractals themselves were rather intriguing to look at. Many were variations of generic fern patterns, while others were much more elaborate. Some were practically pieces of art, he thought, such as branches of a lonesome tree reaching up into the sky in a chaotic pattern, and what appeared to be a vibrantly colored dragon coiling around itself fiercely. One reminded him of what laid behind the wall panels at the lab, with its perfectly straight vertical and horizontal lines, forming what looked like circuit pathways and microchips. Though this only brought him back to his earlier thought of wishing he were elsewhere, and Almery's voice droned back into his head.
But then, finally, the voice ended, and the scuffling of papers and bookbags brought him out of his boredom-induced stupor, realizing class was over. Boris sighed briefly with relief, which he could have almost sworn he heard everyone else doing simultaneously as well, then gathered his books, haphazardly stuffing them in his backpack as he rushed out of the room, in case Almery took a notion to discuss yesterday's less-than-stellar test score with him. The last thing he wanted was to have tutoring suggested, or worse, insisted upon, considering everything else that had been going on lately.
Outside, the bright orange sun hung low, starting to descend behind the distant mountains, filling the sky with a pale reddish hue. Boris admired it for a moment as he stopped on the steps of the school building, adjusting his unbalanced backpack somewhat, which after his escape from Almery's room had been veering him gradually to the right through the hallways from the number of heavy books inside.
"Way to go blind." kidded a voice, as it moved around beside him, having noticed the direction of Boris' gaze. Boris turned to find his friend Jake, who stood with his thumbs hooked lazily through the front straps of his backpack, his eyes squinting heavily from the bright sunset.
"Anything to get out of class." Boris replied wittily. They both chuckled and marched down the many steps leading to the parking lot.
"Goin' to Cobblestone today?" Jake asked inquisitively, as they waited for a passing car to cruise by, music blaring atop overexcited shouts of the unruly students inside. Neither Jake nor Boris paid it much mind, since it was an unfortunate but commonplace occurance.
Boris shrugged. "Hadn't really planned on it." he replied. But he pondered the idea for a moment, figuring Jake was probably hinting at getting a ride there, since he had no car of his own. He didn't have much planned for the evening anyway, aside from homework and more homework, and after having just come from Professor Almery's class, he could use a break. "But maybe I'll drop by and see what's new." he added.
Jake smile widely. "Awesome. Mind if I tag along?" he asked eagerly, despite having gone along every previous time he had asked to do so. Boris approved of course, and the two of them headed out through the busy parking lot for Boris' SUV.
Jake was a thin gangly fellow, which was particularly accentuated by his strides as he walked, along with his scruffy blond hair flapping about around his large glasses. He wore a black World of Warcraft t-shirt and gray cargo pants, each of the many pockets seemingly filled with unknown somethings as they swayed heavily with each stride. A number of keychains dangled from the zippers of his backpack, each representative of various video game or comic book characters. There was no mistaking the fellow's fondness for all things geek-worthy.
"I heard they have a new 'Silent and Swift' in. I definately have to check that out." Jake said excitedly, as he tossed his backpack into the floor of the SUV, which rattled from all the keychains like spilled coins, before climbing inside himself.
"Isn't that the one with the gu-" Boris started to ask. Though Jake had already begun to nod his head approvingly, interrupting with a detailed description of his own, giving Boris the impression he had memorized the official synopsis word for word as he described it devotedly. Boris was impressed as usual, but he had to admit, he was nowhere near the level of geekdom that his friend was. But despite his rather enthusiastic personality, Boris thought of him as a relatively cool guy overall.
A short ride later, Jake having discussed the entire time the similarities between two comics which Boris had never even read before, they arrived at Cobblestone Comics. It was a rather small building, part of a somewhat abandoned shopping center composed of just four conjoined stores, only two of which still in business. A couple of ladies stood outside the other shop, Styled & Sassy, a hair salon, giggling amongst themselves as they took short drags from their cigarettes in a prudish manner. The striped aprons over their clothes were indicative of employment at the salon, out on their break, Boris figured.
The SUV rolled through the fairly empty parking lot, which evidently had been cleared recently of snow, as mounds of the dirty white substance sat piled off to the sides of the lot. They took up a spot near the front and parked, already able to see inside the glass face of the brightly-lit comic shop. The outermost sides of the glass wall were plastered with posters of super heroes in grandiose poses, which Jake goggled at as they approached the store.
The two young men made their way out of the car and up to the cobblestone sidewalk, which had started to show signs of age in the pale worn rocks. Not to mention, it was actually missing a stone or two in spots, due to someone who, for whatever reason, apparently thought it'd be a good idea to pull them up and hide them over time. After all, Boris doubted their absence was likely the result of a strong breeze. In fact, there seemed to be another missing just since the last time they had been here. Soon, Cobbler's Corner, the name of the shopping center, might end up known as Cobbless Corner.
"Hey guys." greeted a voice, as the two slid through the heavy glass door of Cobblestone Comics, which had chimed as they opened it. To the right was Charles, a hefty dark-haired fellow around their age who sat behind the check-out counter of the store, piled onto a stool and propped on his chin lazily, with a comic book splayed open on the counter in front of him.
"Guess what I'vvvvve got?" he immediately teased, before they could return his greeting. He swished around the thin book in front of him, the staples of which scraped faintly across the polished white counter. Jake was immediately interested and headed that way, as if it were something shiny and solid gold gliding across the counter instead of a mere comic. Boris instead slowly eased over to one of the racks which stood near the entrance, his eyes searching across the titles of new arrivals as he listened.
Jake recognized the comic before even reaching the counter and laughed jealously. "How'd you get THAT?" he exclaimed, at which Boris turned his head to see what was so impressive. Charlie grinned widely and closed the comic, then lifted it up off the counter to display it proudly, looking at them both in turn as he flashed his eyebrows excitedly. Boris recognized the dark shape of The Punisher on the cover, alongside some character he didn't know, leaving him only somewhat interested, and went back to flipping through comics in the rack. Jake however was already reaching for it with glee in his eyes. The two of them instantly began discussing the apparently rare comic book, which Boris never did find out the name of from all their excitement, and uncaringly stepped away to peruse through the rest of the store.
The walls were lined with rack after rack of comic books, more than anyone could possibly ever read, or even know about them all for that matter. Boris assumed that if you left Jake inside with food and water, he'd never leave again. Or the same might be true even if you didn't leave those necessities, he thought, and chuckled to himself as he picked up an issue of JLA off the rack and began flipping through it casually for the next few minutes, noticing Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern giving Peppy his world tour, which Boris could only faintly remember reading at this point, perhaps a year ago. As he sat the back issue back onto the shelf, his eyes glimpsed another lesser known comic which portrayed some elaborately drawn character in bright blue, with goggles glinting across his face.
While the idea of super heroes seemed far-fetched to some, Boris was one of the few who knew that it was possible for such things to exist. He had never seen it with his own eyes, but he knew that there was a time when Fyber had equipped on his forearm the now nearly decrepit H.E.A.T, or Holographic Energy Appropriation Tool, which not only had the ability to encase him in a resilient suit of body armor via hard-light holograms, but provide weaponry as well, capable of turning the holographic energy into what most would generically classify as a "laser beam."
Boris knew that the latter part at least was probably some form of plasma, and could somewhat grasp the basic concepts of the device from what he knew about it to see the science behind how it might work, even if it was way out of his or any other human's league. But regardless, it would all make quite the comic, which Boris had in fact often thought about making on several occasions.
Though not only did his schoolwork keep him rather occupied, but he hadn't found an artist around campus capable of such work for what he could afford to pay, either. He was pretty sure the drawings that he spent many occasions making in Professor Almery's class weren't exactly of the same level as the countless comics resting on the shelf in front of him. He'd also want Fyber to tell him of adventures to write about, to make it as accurate as possible, even if the readers would be none the wiser to the truthfulness of a comic book. But he figured Fyber would disregard such a project, since he had said many times that a H.E.A.T. was as common among Zentaxian military as an M16 is to that of America's, downplaying any excitement of writing about it. Despite Boris' many attempts to pry out possible tales of adventure from those particular times in Fyber's life, he had never really succeeded. And while it all sounded infinitely interesting to Boris, he realized that maybe the person who actually lived such events never perceived them quite the same as others would. So for the time being, such a comic was on indefinite hold.
Boris eventually drew his eyes from the comic that induced his prior train of thought and turned back towards Jake, seeing both him and Charlie still enthralled over their discussion of the characters from the prized comic. But it was then that he noticed something else; a glinting of the sun from the front of the store which he hadn't noticed before. Upon directing his attention outside, a lump began to swell in his chest, and he swallowed hard. Out there, in rear of the parking lot, sat an ominous, blocky, navy blue sedan.
There was no mistaking it now that he had been followed. One simply doesn't see a car so similar this many times by coincidence. He swallowed again and started slowly back towards the counter, trying to think of excuses to go. It was getting dark, and the sooner they got out of there, the better.
On his way to the front, he spotted the newest 'Silent and Swift' sitting on the rack near the door, remembering that's what Jake had come for in the first place, and snatched up an issue, knowing it'd probably be another half hour before Jake ever got to it himself. "Weren't you looking for this?" Boris offered, laying it down in front of Jake as he approached the counter, distracting him from his conversation with Charlie. Jake eyed it curiously and started to ask what the rush was, but Boris continued speaking, answering before Jake could ask. "I totally just remembered I have to be somewhere, so we ought to take off." he said distractedly, his eyes peering back through the front glass again.
Jake sighed a bit and slid the comic he had wanted in front of Charlie before pulling out his wallet. "And they go on sale the day after tomorrow?" Jake confirmed, still talking about the other comic, as Charlie began punching buttons noisily on the cash register.
"Yeah, I can hold you one of course." he replied. Jake nodded appreciatively and handed Charlie a five dollar bill, who a moment later passed back his change, then stuffed the glossy-covered book and receipt into a small bag, which was covered in a cobblestone pattern, with the store logo nestled in the center of both sides.
"Catch you later." Boris said to Charlie, waving behind him as they both exited the store. Jake seemed slightly sullen at having to leave so abruptly, not saying anything on the way back to the car. Boris didn't pick up on this until they had reached the battered doors of the vehicle, for his gaze had been suspiciously swiveling over to the car sitting silently across the parking lot ever since he left the store.
"Sorry about that. Didn't realize what time it was." apologized Boris, promptly sticking the key in the ignition when they both sat down inside. He didn't exactly enjoy lying about why they were leaving, but at least he was honest about being sorry for doing so. He knew that reading comics and talking of comics and buying comics were about as important to Jake as oxygen, which he had almost seemed deprived of for a split second when Boris had told him they had to go.
But Jake just shook his head and smiled meekly. "Na don't worry about it, I'll be back in a couple days anyway, even if I have to walk on my hands to get here." he said assuredly. His sullen mood had apparently already disappeared, because he then broke off on a tangent about the villain from the new comic issue he held in his hands, which he had already started reading before they were out of the parking lot.
Boris directed his gaze into the rear-view mirror as he pulled out onto the road. The steadily fading sunlight was leaving the sedan an almost black-ish hue now as they pulled farther and farther away from it. But then to his dismay, its brake lights began to glow a bloody red, followed by a plume of exhaust and steam spilling out of the back into the cold evening air. The car creepily eased to the exit of the lot, at which point Boris hoped so very much that it would turn in the opposite direction and leave them be.
But it didn't. The car pulled out onto the road and headed in the same direction as they did, in a slow and foreboding manner. Boris accelerated somewhat, trying to distance them further from it, but the car held a watchful position, not trying to appear too obvious. Perhaps they didn't realize he had spotted them, he thought, as he too tried not to appear suspicious, and stayed under the speed limit.
Jake continued rattling on about the comic, oblivious to what was going on around him. Boris had almost completely tuned it out, trying to think of where to go to lose his unwanted tail. But he cursed silently, spotting the redlight at the intersection up ahead, which glared at him scornfully with its red eye. He let the SUV roll to a stop apprehensively, while the sedan eased to a halt behind him. He kept peering behind him via the mirror, trying to make out how many figures were in the car, but the tinted windows combined with the growing darkness didn't reveal anything. The sun was now fully set behind the hills and evening had taken hold, as most of the cars passing through the intersection had their headlights on now, which prompted Boris to flip on his own with a sharp flick of his hand. He sat frustrated at the light, which seemed to intentionally keep him sitting there as long as possible, cycling through all the various left turns just as soon as he thought it'd be his turn.
Finally the swaying yellow box gave in and turned green. It was then that Boris realized he had no idea which direction he should go in. The car in front of him was pulling out of the way, adding to his tension. Without wanting to seem odd to the follower by sitting in the middle of the road as he pondered a destination, he accelerated as well, and at the last moment, he turned right. He'd head towards the lab, for what good it would do, but it still gave him a small bit of comfort. He pulled his cellphone from his jacket pocket and hit the speed dial for the lab, eyeing behind him as the car turned onto the same road he had.
Jake suddenly looked up from the comic, realizing they weren't heading back towards the dorm. "Where are w-" he started, before Boris interrupted him.
"It's the car again." Boris said, shortly. Jake could hear a muffled voice through the phone, but of course couldn't make any of it out from the whoosh of the air across the exterior of the car. "Well, I'm headed your way. Maybe fifteen minutes out." Boris continued, with a slight hesitation. There was another pause as the voice on the other side said something else, possibly a bit more agitated from what Jake could make out. "I know that, but I sure wasn't going home. I've got Jake with me, too." Jake gradually became more curious, now that he was being mentioned.
"What's up?" he asked, a touch of worry to his voice.
Boris sighed fakely. "Just some pranksters." he lied, figuring Jake would never have to know otherwise if he could lose the tail. The road to the lab was long and narrow, and if they weren't trying to appear obvious, they wouldn't follow him onto it. The only reason another car would have to travel it would be to head to the next city over, and the new highway was a much better method of getting there than this old road.
But as Boris made his turn, so did the sedan. Though at this point, he had expected as much. He realized he still had the phone on, and put it back to his ear. "So yeah, I'm on West Ridge now. Still followin'." he informed, a bit more distressed now. The lack of street lights left this road darker than those in town, and the car following them suddenly flashed on its headlights, blinding Boris as he stared back at it.
They sped down the dark road quietly, which was more uneven than those in the city. Jake had closed his comic, which was a good indication that he too was worried, yet he hadn't said anything. He turned around in his seat and looked behind them. It was then that he spoke. "So they're both in on the prank?" he asked. Boris raised a brow, and made a sound to convey his confusion. "Both cars." Jake continued, to clarify.
Boris' heart sank as he peered in the mirror, past the first set of blinding headlights, to see another set close behind it. The light reflecting off the rear of the first car was enough to reveal an identical blocky front end of the second sedan. "Andddd there's two of'em." groaned Boris into the phone.
It was then that the second car swung up beside the first, into the oncoming lane, blocking the entire road behind them.
"Your friends are pretty dumb." Jake said rather plainly, still gawking backwards from his seat. Boris watched in the mirror without reply, and did the only thing he knew to do. He accelerated.
But the rolling barrier behind them did as well. And it was then that Boris realized why exactly they were doing what they were doing. Up ahead, sitting longways across the road, was a bread truck. His headlights glared an increasingly growing area of light off its shiny black exterior as they barreled towards it. And in front of that stood two men, in some sort of body armor, wielding weapons lowered directly at them. Boris' instincts told him to turn around and go the other way, like before, but obviously they had thought of that this time. He then considered veering off the road for a moment, but it was so dark that he was likely to tear straight into a tree. He also had Jake to consider this time, whose eyes were as wide as saucers in his head as he gawked at the roadblock ahead.
So Boris did the only thing he knew to do, and slowed, bringing the SUV to a hesitant stop. The cars behind him slowed as well in unison, keeping the road thoroughly blocked. The two armed individuals scurried outwards to the left and right, keeping their distance and their weapons trained on the vehicle, removing any remaining thoughts in Boris' mind of flooring it in either direction. Jake sat staring in horror at what was going on, the comic book sliding out of his lap and into the floor with a faint thud, causing him to jump. Boris couldn't say he was that far behind as far as trepidation went. But the men hadn't fired yet, unlike last time, so a bit of him clinged to some tiny hope that the situation might resolve itself. He remembered that it primarily seemed to have been Fyber they were targetting previously, and all they had done towards himself so far was follow him.
He remembered the phone which still lay in his lap, and started to ease his hand over to pick it up. It was then that his car door violently flew open, and to his utter astonishment, tore completely off the vehicle. Jake yelled at the sight, twisting around sideways and pressing himself flatly against his own door in panic as he watched. A man's muscular frame stepped into view, flinging the car door haphazardly across the road, the glass shattering instantly as it smashed into the pavement. He reached inside and grabbed Boris by the collar of his jacket, and effortlessly dragged him out of the car like a rag doll.
Boris was taken aback, but distinctly heard "It's the blond one we want" being yelled from near the truck which sat behind his suspended body. Another wrenching squeal tore into the night, and Jake yelled louder. Boris twisted his head around as far as possible as he dangled in the air to watch as another individual pulled Jake out of the SUV as well, wielding the passenger side car door as effortlessly in his free hand as he did the struggling body seized in the other.
As his weight shifted, Boris grasped the man's arm that held him in the air, to keep from strangling in his own clothing. He felt a cold underneath his fingers, which was smooth like glass, but hard like metal. The man the arm belonged to glared at him menacingly through narrowed white eyes, his rigid jaw silhouetted by the headlights of the sedans which sat with their doors open. Boris' eyes trailed downwards as best they could, seeing that the rest of the man appeared to be encased in this metal-like material as well, as was the man who held Jake, and the armed individuals who had now directed their weapons upwards in a more relaxed stance.
But when he turned his attention towards the vice-like hand which had a clamp on him, he saw something which sent a chill through his dangling spine. Something which was nearly enough to make him forget the circumstances of the moment as his mind began to overflow with thought. For etched in the strange metal on the man's forearm, he distinctly saw the letters H, E, A, and T.