Fybertech: The De Novo Project, Part 2|
Tuesday, January 24th, 2006
Several weeks came and went, bringing winter upon the land. It was early January, and a few flurries of snow flittered across the sky as Fyber pulled up at his den, the same bruised S10 having managed to stay in one piece, despite an obvious miss in the engine now, possibly brought on by the change in temperature.
The winter deadline had prompted an increased work rate, which was evidenced by a newly installed battery charging device hanging from the cavern wall in front of the parked truck. Upon exiting the vehicle, Fyber attached a coiled yellow cord hanging from it to a connector in the truck's dirty grill. A green status light awoke on the device, indicating that it was charging.
In the previous weeks, the truck's battery had proven to no longer hold a charge for any extended period. Despite his attempts to recycle it, anodic corrosion had ruined most of the plates inside, forcing Fyber to use a more inventive solution, involving one of the cells similar to those used to power equipment in the lab. As a consequence, it required daily charging, but it was a minor inconvenience. A small part of him even enjoyed the idea of plugging in a vehicle, making it seem a bit more sophisticated than it really was. But best of all, it meant no more trips to the gas station, which Fyber's wallet appreciated.
Other indications of work were also noticable out here, such as the indentation in the wall that previously had wires sticking out through the center was now capped off with a metal plate, to keep out the cold air at least until he actually got around to installing what went there. All of the spare panels that had been stacked against the walls were missing now as well, making the outer cavern feel a bit more spacious.
Fyber tapped in the unlock code on the door's control pad, revealing yet another finished project, as the door obediently slid open into its pocket with a mechanical hum. The lights also automatically clicked on upon entering, followed by the door closing and locking itself behind him after a certain interval.
He strolled down the corridor into the main room, which was a bit cleaner now than before. The center table still had an assemblage of tools and parts on it, but they were more neatly laid out and organized. He walked past the water controls, which now showed a much more appropriate 140 degrees, resulting in no more record-settingly-short showers. Panel covers that had previously been open were now closed, while others were open in their place, their smooth covers leaning in the floor against the wall as the others had once been.
He headed rightward through the lab to the second hallway, which was still ominously dim. The sound of electronics gradually faded, replaced by a faint cavernous echo up ahead. As the passage curved around to the left, it became increasingly dark, but Fyber reached out his hand at the sight of a rectangular silhouette on the wall, feeling around it for a moment until he flipped up a standard electrical light switch, jolting to life several light fixtures dangling from the ceiling of the large room he had entered.
It wasn't so much an actual room, though, since the walls and floor were still made entirely of rock. But this space was much larger than the main room, perhaps twice as wide and deep, but roughly the same height. Inside sat all of his unused metal panels, resting neatly up against the walls, helping to refract the light of this area which was much dimmer than the other rooms. Off to the side sat an oxy-acetylene rig with torch hanging off the handle, as well as a face shield and breathing apparatus draped over the nozzles at the top. In the floor next to it laid a sheet of metal, having been carefully cut to size, but seemingly in need of having the edges smoothed before being usable.
Fyber stepped further inside, past the large, wheeled exhaust fan, past the hand truck, past the upright red toolbox, past the somewhat stripped motorcycle that leaned against the wall, past the bin of mixed nails, screws, springs, and nuts, until in the shadows ahead, he found what he was seeking.
Covered in a layer of dirt and white dust sat a gas-powered generator against the back wall. Fyber knelt down beside it, brushing it off a little as he checked some of its components.
"Time to go, buddy" he told it, patting its air filter as if it were a departing guest. He rolled over the hand truck, scooped the heavy piece of machinery up with a grunt, and wheeled it back towards the hallway. An elbow was enough to toggle the light switch on the way out.
Emerging from the dark tunnel and into the main room, he clumsily guided his cargo between the center table and the dislocated wall panels that leaned outwards along the ground. He may have mastered electronics, but he had never quite mastered the hand truck, and knocked one of the panels over with a loud echoing clank as it smacked into the metal floor.
Part of him somewhat regretted the idea of parting with the generator as he heaved the machine up onto the tailgate of his pickup, using the hand truck as a makeshift ramp. It had served him well in the past, having powered the lights and tools which allowed him to lay the initial flooring and power connections, which otherwise would have been impossible in the murky depths of the cave, especially after nightfall, which was in fact when he had done a lot of the work. It also came in handy during the countless power failures he encountered throughout the initial months, until he had implemented the battery backup systems. Nostalgia put second thoughts into his head for only a moment however, until he slammed the tailgate shut with a deep clank that forcibly bounced off the cavern walls.
- - -
Twenty minutes or so later Fyber arrived at the familiar scrap yard. The sound of heavy machinery crunching and chewing on junk metal filled the air as he pulled in along the dirt-covered road leading up to the front gate.
The old man who normally sat hunched in the booth listening to his country music was out in the yard today, talking to a few gentlemen in black dress suits. The gate was already open, as it usually was, so Fyber guided the truck on inside and out of the way of the entrance, parking just off to the right, along the fence.
As the truck shut off, the momentary squeal of a worn belt under the hood caught the man's attention, who waved over at Fyber. Fyber waved back after clamoring out of the stiff door, but noticed the man had already turned his attention back to his conversation. Oh well. He made his way around behind the truck, dropped the tailgate down with a thunderous clank, and pulled out the hand truck, again using it as a makeshift ramp to heave the generator from the truck bed.
He tiredly wheeled it over towards the old man, who wore the usual faded blue-and-white striped coveralls, with the worn indecipherable nametag on front, which was almost the same shade of off-white as the man's hair. Fyber noticed that he seemed to be rather involved in his conversation with one of the classier-looking fellows. He slowed as he approached, trying not to interrupt too crassly.
One of the men turned his gaze to look at Fyber, at which Fyber nodded politely, but only received somewhat of a scowl in return. The old man noticed the suited man's distraction and turned, again greeting Fyber, but not quite as cheerily as usual Fyber noticed.
"Over by the press." the old man instructed, pointing off a few yards away with a crooked finger, to a man in denim overalls standing near a pickup of his own, who appeared occupied with writing something down on a clipboard.
Fyber briefly thanked the old man and moved away, not wanting to waste too much of his time with pleasantries, since he seemed to be distracted with the suits.
Hearing the hand truck squeak along under the weight of the generator, the other fellow in overalls turned as Fyber approached.
"Ah, you must be the guy." he said, laying the clipboard down on the roof of his truck before walking over towards Fyber, his hand outstretched. He was a good-sized fellow, with dark curly hair, though a bit balding in the center, along with somewhat of a beard lining his full face. His cheeks were a rosy red from the cold nipping air, which Fyber could only assume his own to be, as well. The truck the man stood in front of had a company logo on the door, a vivid blue W overlayed on top of a basic representation of a house being built.
Fyber eased the hand truck onto its base and nodded. "That'd be me." he acknowledged, offering a smile and a shake of hands. It was a firm grip, which Fyber had come to discover was common for many individuals in this sort of business. He didn't know if it was a test of character or simply just strong hands, but he always tried to meet a person's grip, regardless of the reasoning behind it.
They exchanged pleasantries for a moment, which was another thing Fyber had come to find was possibly a part of doing business around here. These were generally busy fellows, having work sites and contracts to deal with. And yet while pleasantries served no real purpose other than being polite, Fyber preferred dealing with someone who took the time to do it before getting to business. He had a feeling the opposite was true as well, but could never say for sure. Besides, being cooped up in the mountains for days at a time sometimes left one enjoying the simple act of "shooting the shit."
But now it was time for business.
"Put new plugs in a couple months back." Fyber informed the man, who was now hunched down beside the generator, inspecting it visually. He pulled one of the distributor wires loose, noticing the fairly clean, white glassy spark plug, which seemed to please him, as he replied with an "mmhmm, mmhmm."
"New head gasket too." Fyber continued. The man ran his finger along the rim of the cylinder head, then rubbed his fingers together, and so far seemed satisfied, responding with another "mmhmm."
He stood up again, positioned a foot on the side of it, gripped the cord firmly, then jerked it outwards with a sudden burst of strength. The generator sprung to life, purring loudly over top of all the machinery in the background. Fyber was the one pleased this time, due to the fact it had started on one pull, unlike usual. The man seemed equally pleased.
"Looks to be in good shape!" he exlaimed certifiably, watching it for a moment before flicking the engine back off again.
He directed Fyber over to the bed of his truck, reaching down to pick up one of the long boxes that lay inside, fumbled open the end, and slid out a flourescent light fixture. He passed it to Fyber, who looked it over thoroughly.
"What's the color temperature?" Fyber inquired, not looking up as he turned the item upside down to read a tag on the bottom.
"Five K" the man replied curtly. "Commercial grade, side-mount, bulbs included." he added in yet more brief but to the point descriptions, at which Fyber nodded approvingly, realizing the man was probably in a hurry to get back to a job site.
"Well it seems to be just what I'm looking for." Fyber said, which provoked a cheery grin from the man.
They slid the fixture back into the box, and the man promptly shook his hand. "Then it's a deal."
Fyber helped the man get the generator into the truck, which was bigger and sat a bit higher than his own, after which the man helped Fyber load the boxes of lights onto the hand truck, completing the transaction. The man hoisted himself back into his truck and started the big-block engine with a roar, while Fyber rolled his cargo back towards his much more meager vehicle.
Along the way, the man pulled up alongside him, and handed a card out the window. "If you're in the business for more, just gimme a holler!" he said with a toothy grin, then waved as he pulled hurriedly out of the scrap yard, leaving a trail of dust.
He seemed like a pretty decent fellow, Fyber thought. He had dealt with guys like him before, usually involved in the construction business, who often traded surplus of one thing for another to cut building costs. It was usually what appeared to be contractors that he dealt with, but once in a while it'd be somebody he wasn't too sure about: either the person, or the goods they came to trade. But beggars can't be choosers, and asking someone if they stole something wasn't exactly the best way of doing business.
It was the man who ran the scrap yard that had passed along the word of what Fyber was looking for, seeming to know anyone who needed anything at any particular time. It wasn't the first time he had arranged a swap for him, either. Fyber felt lucky to have befriended someone with such connections.
At the moment, however, the old man was still involved with the smug businessmen, one of which overtly eyeing Fyber as he unloaded the lights into the pickup.
Fyber tried not to seem interested in their business, finished loading the lights, and shoved the hand truck up into the bed beside the plain white boxes before slamming the tailgate. The old man turned at the sound and gave a brief wave, but nervously turned back to the other individuals before Fyber could respond.
Fyber couldn't say he liked the situation he observed very much. All he could do though was give the group one last lookover, particularly the fellow who continued to eye him, who made no effort to look away. He had seen other suspicious characters around the place before, though he couldn't say he saw many in suits. Or any at all for that matter. But it wasn't his business, and he shrugged to himself as he climbed inside.
A moment later he pulled gently out of the scrap yard, with his delicate cargo in tow, the thought of which nudged away that last bit of regret he had of parting with the generator.
The lights he bartered for were to line the ceiling of his storage room, in place of those dreadful dangling incandescent ones, which had only managed to make it feel like a gloomy basement. It would eventually become a much better suited workshop, which he was very much in need of now that it was winter and much too cold to continue working outside for any extended period.
Fyber pictured in his mind how he would arrange everything as the truck bounced along the road, imagining the jagged stone walls covered in smooth aluminum plating, brightly lit from above. Tools mounted cleanly across the walls. Tables with plenty of workspace, equipped with outlets to power his tools. Cabinets for storage. That would be pretty nice, he thought.
But the occasional unexpected pothole or bump sent a chill through Fyber. Each time, his ears perked in fear of hearing shattering glass behind him. He didn't want to have to buy any new bulbs for quite a while if he could help it, since his wallet was feeling especially thin lately. But so far, so good.
Fyber whistled some tune he couldn't recall the name of as he approached the almost indiscernible turn-in, taking a glance in the rear-view mirror before swinging the truck off the road. Checking for possible traffic was something he often found himself doing without thinking as of late, after having nearly been spotted going off-road by a county police car a couple of weeks prior. Going there wasn't illegal of course, especially since it was family property, but he didn't want to have to explain why he was hauling a load of something like light fixtures into the woods.
As the truck started jostling from the unlevel earth beneath him, he let off the gas a bit more, steering onwards into the parted forest around the trail.
Letting off the gas didn't slow him quite enough though, he thought, as he tapped on the brake to prevent the dreaded sound of breaking glass. But his whistling faded as he pressed it a few more times, with the truck only increasing in speed down the gradual slope. The frame started to rattle and shudder as he heard a light bulb crack in its box behind him, but the dread that had overcome him had nothing to do with light fixtures.
Bouncing and swaying in his worn springy seat, his knuckles turned white as he steered helplessly between the trees, which seemed much closer together to him now than in the past, for the ability to stop had always been something he had rightfully taken for granted. But just then, the truck lurched into a dip in the ground, the impact of which snapped the tie rod under the wheel closest to him. The tire caved inwards, jamming against the wheel well with a squelching grunt, further ruining his day by locking up the steering. But Fyber never got a chance to fully realize the last bit of bad news, for the truck promptly veered itself too far to the left, and directly into a thick pine tree, stopping suddenly with a sickening crunch.
Fyber laid hunched across the steering wheel, unconscious, while the horn blared uselessly into the empty woods. Pine needles fluttered down through the broken windshield, as ghostly smoke spiraled up from underneath the hood. A little less obvious though was beneath the truck, where a murky amber liquid dripped onto the scratched soil, forming a small glistening pool beneath the cleanly cut brake line.