Fybertech: The De Novo Project, Part 11
By: FyberOptic
Sunday, April 16th, 2006

"He's too heavy" Jenny grunted exhaustedly, as both her and Fyber craned the soldier up onto the bumper of her car, barely able to hold his weight there. It had only been a few minutes since their unexpected visitors had left, and so the two of them had decided it was best to deal with their remaining guest as soon as possible. He was still unconscious, fortunately, because despite the extra bindings now placed on his legs, they didn't think it'd be quite as easy to stuff a bucking bull into the cramped trunk of Jenny's car.

"Forget it" huffed Fyber, and they dumped him back into a pile on the cavern floor. "All this junk is weighing him down." he concluded, gesturing across at all the thick protective garments strapped to the man's chest and limbs.

Jenny sighed through her heavy breaths and dropped to her knees, roughly jerking at straps connected to the vest which clung firmly to his chest. "Give me a hand." she grunted, as one of the connecters popped free, leaving the man's thick shoulder oozing outwards from it like a turtle poking a limb out from its shell. Fyber knelt as well and began tugging on the other side, feeling for the dark metal clasp which held the black strap across the shoulder.

"So where exactly are we taking him?" Jenny asked curiously, tossing him an upwards glance as she focused on one of the lower straps to the side of the man's mid-section now. Three of those on both sides clamped the front and back halves of the vest together around him.

"We?" Fyber countered, meeting her gaze with a very skeptical one of his own. They both stopped what they were doing and stared at one another. A nearly tangible amount of tension crackled between them for the next moment, until Jenny broke it by focusing back down at another strap, freeing it with a faint snapping sound.

"I'm quite sure you have no reasonable excuse for me not to come along" she said matter-of-factly. And upon undoing the last of the straps on her side of Thirteen's tree trunk of a chest, she snapped another look back up at Fyber. "Besides," she started, popping to her feet and pulling the dangling set of keys from the trunk lock, "you're not driving my car."

Fyber jerked the second of the straps free on his own side, and wrenched his head back up to meet hers. "And why is that??" he asked, in a very offended tone. "If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't even have those keys."

"Oh yes, I meant to thank you for bashing out my car window there a moment ago" she snapped, having emphasized the last few words with great sarcasm. "When you said you could get them for me, I didn't realize you meant ala caveman."

Her heated gaze snapped over to the small pool of glass under the driver's side door which still stood open, the little fragments still nestled along the rubber seal of the window frame looking like teeth in a gaping dragon's mouth.

A sardonic smile swept across her face, and she pivoted around on her heel gracefully, directing her arms up to indicate her surroundings. "Like a caveman, and in a cave, no less!"

Fyber started to retort, but to his own internal agony, he realized she was right. There was probably a good chance he could have gotten the car door open in a more intelligent manner, but that would have taken a lot of time. Time he wished to vest into researching the strange new H.E.A.T. he had acquired. So instead, he focused back on what he was doing, jerking the last strap free from Thirteen's vest much more forcibly than necessary. He could feel her satisfied smile of being right burn down onto him from above, and tried best to ignore it.

With the straps having relenquished their hold, the vest was now fully loosened, which allowed Fyber to pull the front half away. Underneath, the one-piece charcoal body suit ran up to his collar, leaving the man's once hulking chest now looking somewhat plain and less threatening from the lack of features now. Fyber tossed it aside, and rolled the body over enough to drag the other half out from under him, tossing it onto the pile of removed items, and started fishing out the strap to the hard shoulder pad next.

"Not to mention," Jenny began again, a bit quieter now, "you wrecked your last car."

Fyber's eyes flared. "Oh come on, that was not even my faul-" he started to bark, throwing her a cold glare, but she had the faintest trace of an accomplished grin on her face, as if she had just snuck the last cookie out of the jar ahead of him. An embarrassed hush fell over the cavern, and Fyber pulled the shoulder pad loose without another word. She was just baiting him, and he fell for it. Hook, line, and sucker.

Five minutes or so later, after Jenny had resumed helping, her delay in doing so undoubtedly meant to prolong any embarrassment, they had managed to strip the man of his extra bulk, resulting in a considerable pile of protective coverings on the floor now. None of them were particularly heavy by themselves, but Fyber assumed that wearing all of it combined might be an issue for someone without adequate training. He was glad now that he hadn't tried impersonating the guy as he had initially intended to do.

"Let's try again" Jenny suggested. They both postured themselves around his ends, and heaved him up onto the bumper first with one quick motion, which was noticably easier now. They completed the task by rolling their human potato sack up over the lip of the open trunk, which then promptly piled inside with a deep thunk, the car swaying from the sudden weight.

Fyber slammed the trunk, revealing the menacing glare from Jenny who already stood at the driver's side of the vehicle, drumming her fingers along the metal roof. "Yeah, yeah" he groaned, and huffed over to finish raking the remaining glass fragments from the window frame, using one of the newly acquired shoulder pads for the task.

He then theatrically gestured for her to enter with a bow and sweeping of his arms. "I hope this suits you, your highness."

She smirked and nodded just as sarcastically and slid past him into the car seat, barely having positioned herself at the wheel before Fyber slammed the door behind her. He then made his own way over to the passenger side, which, of course, was locked. He rapped on the glass with his knuckle impatiently until the door finally clacked in acknowledgement.

"Didn't realize it was locked." she commented, unconvincingly, as he dropped into the seat. Fyber simply gave her an equally unconvinced "uh huh", and after a fleeting grin, she started the car, positioned the gray manual shifter between the seats into reverse, and they headed out through the shimmery false barrier.

- - -

Boris awoke to a dull ache in his jaw. For a moment he thought he had fallen out of his bed, and groggily started to push himself back up, reaching blindly around for the edge of his bed. But a chill on the surface beneath his hands lead him to realize that this wasn't his comfortably carpeted dorm floor. Nor was the safety of his bed and warmth of his covers sitting there awaiting his return. The shiver that followed down his spine rewoke the heavy presence of dread in his gut as the realization of his predicament came back to him in a jagged array of memory fragments.

He remembered being followed by the menacing navy blue sedans. He remembered a man with a machine gun trained on them, forcing their stoppage. Then the vision of his car door being torn clear off suddenly played back in his mind, more than once, but it seemed too much like a dream to be real. Maybe he had just dreamed that part of it? He rubbed his throat, which felt sore and swollen, while more of the night's events came back, such as the helpless sensation of dangling by one's own neck. Anyone with the strength needed to lift a person off their feet so effortlessly may in fact have been capable of moving silly obstacles like car doors, he thought. He didn't particularly like that thought.

And then the most important piece of the puzzle fell into place, which was the remembrance of those four letters etched into the human forklift's arm: H, E, A, and T. He knew what those letters meant, but not how they would ever come to be used against himself. The only other person he was aware of who knew those letters was Fyber, and that was because Fyber was the one who told him about it in the first place.

The last memory followed, which was of the fist responsible for his aching face, the last thing he remembered after having been dragged out of his car and muscled towards another. He couldn't remember fighting back, but perhaps he had, once the powerful grip on his throat had been released. He hoped he had fought back, anyway, because at least then it'd have made his jaw worth it.

But now, as his eyes adjusted to the vibrant white light of the room he was in, he realized he didn't know where he was, either. He rolled over onto his rump and sat somewhat upright, propped on one hand, surveying his surroundings. He was in the floor of a fairly small room, with one side about double the length of its adjacent ones, and overall about the size of a jail cell Boris thought uncomfortably. But unlike a cell, it had pleasantly rounded corners, and a very clean white interior. This explained why it seemed so bright, he realized, because the stubby cylindrical fixture protruding from the ceiling was bouncing its brilliance off of the high-gloss walls and floor.

There was a bench extending along the wall to his left, covered in an equally white cushion, resembling a layer of perfectly spread frosting on top of a perfectly made sheet cake. It looked rather comfortable, as a matter of fact, and Boris pulled himself off of the hard cool floor and sank onto the cushion, which despite its slender height, was much more comfortable than expected, having molded quickly and quietly to his shape.

The opposing wall was lined with square-shaped panels starting at about thigh height, each about three or four feet across, and gave the distinct appearance that they were capable of being moved in some way. Or possibly removed altogether. He couldn't tell, and wasn't keen to mess with them just yet.

What was odd though was the lack of an entrance, he suddenly noticed. He considered the panels again, but they didn't reach down to floor level, so they probably weren't meant for ingress. He pondered the situation for a moment, but was interrupted by a surprisingly calm voice, which seemed to come at him from all directions.

"Good evening, Mr. Grant. Or can I call you Boris?" it asked, smoothly and politely.

Shocked, not only by the lack of seeing the source of the voice, but also of the fact that whoever it was apparently knew him already. A luxury he apparently didn't have. After a moment of startled silence, the man continued.

"Mr. Gregors refers to you as Boris, so we'll go with that."

Boris' brain processed the voice more quickly this time, realizing he had completely forgotten about- "Jake? Where is he?" he asked, not quite as calmly as he had intended, but to the point nonetheless.

"Oh he's fine for now, don't worry about that" the voice continued, as calm as ever. And as suddenly as the words ended, one of the large square wall panels in front of him instantly changed to not being a wall at all, but into a display screen of sorts, upon which showed an angled-down view of another location, as if from a security camera. And there sat Jake, in a room which resembled an ordinary office, roughly the same size as the room Boris was in. He seemed perfectly relaxed, reading a magazine while leaning back in a wooden chair, his feet propped on an oak desk he sat opposite of.

Boris rumpled his brow, rewinding the man's statement in his head. He didn't quite like the sound of it, despite its seemingly innocent delivery. "For now?"

"Let's just say, his comfort level will be adjusted based upon your level of cooperation."

And with that, the image of Jake vanished, instantaneously replaced by a high-resolution satellite map, partitioned off in grids, each identified with a letter and a number. Before Boris could fully survey it, the location labeled 'L2' blinked, and then enlarged animatedly until it filled the screen. It was mostly a sea of green now, with some hills spreading up towards the top right, distinguishing themselves from the mass of trees and grassy field by their rocky crowns. It didn't look particularly familiar to him. "What am I-" he started, only to be interrupted by the casual voice as if he had never even tried to speak.

"This is a recent satellite map of a section of undeveloped property just outside of Ridge Valley. The area identified on the map-", and as he spoke, a bright red outline drew in around a large portion of the visible area, "is belonging to a Richard Bowman. Father of Jeffrey Bowman, with whom I believe you're acquainted."

Boris still didn't particularly recognize the land, having never seen it from a topographic view like this, but the lone, mostly horizontal road which split the screen and behaved as the red area's southern border was presumably West Ridge, the very same road he had been abducted on. And he knew that the land Fyber built his lab on was family-owned, so that part kind of fit as well. He decided to keep his response shorter this time, to avoid incriminating himself or Fyber of anything. And also to avoid being interrupted again. "And?"

"And we'd like you to ever so kindly to provide us, in great detail, the location and capabilities of the compound concealed inside this property, as well as any defensive or offensive constructs in the area. That and, of course, your affiliation with the persons and places in question."

Boris felt his sore jaw drop open as the words passed through his ears. Affiliation with persons and places? Offensive and defensive constructs? Concealed compound? It sounded like he was asking about a military base. It took him a moment to realize that it was Fyber's lab in question, and much to his dismay, since he was being asked to reveal it. He had kind of assumed prior to now that whoever had been after them surely knew they were taking refuge somewhere in those woods. But how did they know of the lab?

Not particularly fond of this line of questioning, he decided to ask some of his own. "Who is this? And where the hell am I?" he demanded.

For the first time, the voice spoke in something other than its normal calm composure. "I'm afraid that's not how this works." replied the voice, partially amused. The map was replaced by the footage of Jake again, still propped on the desk from his chair, reading. "Your friend's casual attitude is associated with his belief of being at a police station, waiting to be driven back to his dorm after a particularly elaborate practical joke played upon yourself was interrupted by a highway patrolman. This was his initial assumption for whatever reason, so we happily worked with it."

Then, to Boris' complete astonishment, the chair Jake was sitting in vanished as quickly as the map had, and Jake dropped to the floor like an unsuspecting rock, the magazine to follow, ending up splayed out across his upturned chest. Jake immediately jerked himself up to his elbows, eyeing the room anxiously, his eyes even wider than Boris'. The chair had reappeared a few feet behind Jake as he fell, now laying on its side, as if it had fallen over. Jake composed himself and looked around the room, hesitantly sitting the chair upright again as he considered the situation. He looked it over, possibly checking for defects to account for what had happened, then looked around the room again. A few moments later, he shrugged to himself, and carefully pulled the chair back to where it had been and sat down gingerly. Satisfied it wasn't going to give a repeat performance, he picked his magazine back out of the floor, and eventually started reading again.

The image changed back to the map, and the voice spoke again, in its original placidity. "Now, if you could just give us those locations, Mr. Gregors will be allowed to leave, none the wiser of the actual circumstances of his detainment, and sparing him from any further.. incidents."

Boris knew the first letter of H.E.A.T. was for hologram, and based on what he had already experienced, and just now seen, these people had a capable grasp on their concept and implementation. He even wondered if the entire room Jake sat in so unsuspectingly was projected. Perhaps it looked more like his own did by default. Or maybe his own room was being projected as well? The wall had certainly changed to a display in a way he had never seen before, after all. And he doubted disappearing chairs was the least of his worries if these people were capable of manipulating hard-light holograms.

He scowled and sighed frustratedly, relunctantly bringing himself forward on the padded bench seat, which he couldn't even be sure was real now, to more closely observe the map on the wall in front of him.

- - -

"A foul character, isn't he?" commented Vito, who stood staring down at the man laying bound in the trunk of Jenny's car, who was now quite awake and looking particularly angry. He'd probably be rather vocal about his situation by now, too, if Vito hadn't stuffed his pocket puff into the man's mouth a few moments prior, but not before it forced a few expletives on the three of them that they dare not repeat in front of pleasant company. Fortunately, there was no other pleasant company, since they were standing in a dank alleyway in the middle of the night. But this one was behind the Moondance, at Vito's recommendation, so they felt relatively comfortable about the location.

Vito hadn't forgotten his last venture into an alley; it was still fresh in his mind, in fact. But despite it being related to their case, he decided not to worry his present company with such tales. Scaring off customers wasn't good for business. Then again, neither was dying, so he kept a watchful eye out without drawing their suspicion.

Fyber stood with a hand propped on the open trunk lid, giving the scowling man an equally distasteful look. "I came to a similar conclusion about his character when he decided to revoke my oxygen supply earlier."

Jenny was hanging back at a safer distance behind them both, not looking exceptionally happy. "So now that we've concluded that he's not very pleasant, what are we going to do with him?" she asked impatiently, scrunching up her nose when the man tossed her a dirty look as well.

Fyber also looked to Vito expectantly at this, for he wasn't looking forward to hauling the guy around anymore than Jenny seemed to be.

"Well honey," Vito started, pausing to sigh a bit as he considered, "I have friends in not-quite-high places with whom I should be able to cash in a favor." He paused again carefully before continuing. "It'll cost you extra, though."

"Extra? How much??" Fyber insisted dejectedly, his hand instinctively pulling itself from the trunk lid and finding its way into his empty left pocket. It felt very similar to the pocket his right hand was nestled in.

Vito mirrored Fyber's previous position, now resting his own hand against the lid and leaning his weight to one side, facing Fyber. "An even four hundred ought to do it."

Fyber's eyes widened despite his attempts at remaining professional. A part of him selfishly wished Boris were there, since his pockets were usually less empty than his own. He flashed a half-embarassed look at Jenny, but wasn't able to bring himself to ask her for it, quickly turning back to the unhappy passenger to his left, who still squirmed unsucessfully to break his bindings, apparently ignoring them now.

"I'll have to owe you" Fyber said finally.

"Doesn't work that way, friend. People don't tend to do favors for free these days, even if they do still owe you one." Vito's tone seemed to signify his dislike of the modern favor trade.

"They certainly don't" Jenny added pointedly, at which Vito flashed his brow in contempt at the obvious jab towards himself. Fyber suppressed a grin, just now realizing she had taken to being called 'honey' with about the same grace as she would have any of the four-letter proclamations from their unsympathetic passenger. She left her heated gaze on him long enough to leave her branding of disapproval, then traipsed back around to the open car door, dropping herself down on the seat with a huff.

"No amount of money will help you figure out dames like that" Vito whispered wisely, grinning faintly and nodding towards Jenny's direction as the pair of them stood hidden behind the trunk lid. Fyber chuckled with a nod of agreement.

"Date not go so well?" he asked candidly, apparently having come to the same conclusion Fyber initially had based on her gussied up appearance, which she still sustained surprisingly well despite their bout earlier that evening.

Fyber heightened his brows, recalling her murmuration of "like some kind of donkey" when having referred to her evening, which at this point in time seemed more amusing than it had earlier, spurting out a chuckle as he imagined her suitor as an actual donkey sporting an unkempt tuxedo, eating noisily off of a fancy plate in a fancy restaurant, all to her severe embarrassment. He decided not to share this image with Vito however, who eyed him curiously during his momentary outburst, and merely replied with "No, I don't think it did."

Fyber figured reading people so casually as he had with Jenny, without ever actually seeming to have looked at her for very long, was just part of the job description for a detective. Part of him wondered what kind of signs his own much sloppier appearance offered, from the overgrown hair that persistently fell in his face everytime he leaned forwards, to the wrinkled gray t-shirt splayed across his chest which bore a streak of dirt from his own tussle, partially obscured by an unbuttoned flannel overshirt, with his unzipped jacket layered over that. He realized that he would have stood out just as badly as the donkey would have in a restaurant as fancy as the one he had imagined a moment ago.

Jenny returned a moment later with her billfold in hand, thumbing through the mass of crisp green bills inside. "Highway robbery" she murmured, counting out four hundred dollars worth and flinging her hand out exasperatedly to Vito.

He slid the fee from her casually, and tucked it into the shirt pocket concealed behind his trenchcoat. "Thanks sweetie."

Fyber could swear he saw her eyes flare as soon as the words passed Vito's lips, but she had already spun around gracefully on the ball of her foot, her auburn locks lashing outwards spitefully as she headed back to the car to return her billfold. Vito seemed uninfluenced and headed back to his own car parked behind Jenny's, fishing a set of jingly keys from his pocket as he approached the trunk, which he opened before returning.

The pair of them heaved their uncooperative guest from Jenny's trunk to Vito's, who bucked and twisted like a stubborn mule the whole way, despite the fact he'd be unable to go anywhere even if they had let go. After unsympathetically dropping him inside and slamming the lid closed, further muffling his already indistinct swears, Vito smacked his hands together to free them of non-existant dirt and smiled coyly. "I'll let you know where he ends up."

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