Episode 68

Laying out upon the cheap, motel single bed, Meredosia stares blankly up to the aged ceiling paint, and yellowed light glowing out from the dusty dome fixture. She adverts her crimson eyes away briefly to watch an advertisement on the old, outdated television. After recognizing the repetitious advertisement, she rest her long, gray haired head uneasily upon the single stiff pillow on the mattress, and winces with a slow breath through her gritting teeth. She gradually tosses and turns, and eventually presses her hands tightly upon her growling stomach. Hissing out her aggravation and frustration, she frowns harshly when reaches out and snatches her wallet off the lone nightstand in the small, simple motel room. Flipping open the billfold, she sorts out the meager amount of money upon the bed top, and stares unhappily as her mind runs the dismal calculations. With a saddened sigh, she grimaces and begins to put her funds back into the wallet. Then she cringes while wrapping her arm tightly around her gurgling, empty stomach, and clenches the money in the hands. In a surge of frustration, she curses out in a dialect of evuukian, stows away hold her billfold in her frayed blue jeans, and turns on the bed to stand up on the floor. Quickly slipping on her hoodie, she swiftly steps into her boots, and sweeps up the room key into her pockets. Mustering her determination, she exits out into the parking lot of the remote, rundown motel.

Meredosia slowly widens her narrowed eyes against the high noon sun. The dark circles under her eyes contrast her ivory skin and the bright ambient light. She wanders down the long sidewalk towards the nearby intersection and the small commercial buildings surrounding it. Concentrating on her mission, she keeps her gaze lowered upon the concrete walkway in front of her and hands in her hoodie pockets. Minutes later, she reaches an inlet to a small strip mall parking lot, and surveys the area. Searching the collection of store signs upon the different sections of the large, long building, she mentally sifts through the places that don’t interest her. After a few passes, she settles her intrigued gaze upon the simple lettering of “Fval Spice” and the blue and red “Open” sign light through the window front. The wind shifts and a breeze blows around Meredosia. She sniffs the air, and instinctively follows the alluring scent straight towards the small restaurant.

Opening the door, Meredosia steps cautiously in and looks over the setup. A few different, simple arrangements of tables and chairs comprise the majority of the seating in the front with a number of wall mounted benches. Gazing towards the back, a tastefully decorated counter sits between the short hallway to bathrooms and entry into the back kitchen. Meredosia hears activity in the back as sizzles of food fills the air and flashes of cooking flame light warmly glow out from the path to the kitchen. The aroma guides Meredosia’s hand to tightly grasp a menu and she lifts it open to her eager eyes. She analyzes the menu and sorts through the possibilities. After a few moments, her gaze concentrates upon a cheaper choice, and she deliberates while she stands in the middle of the front area.

An older Fvalian man, steps out from the back kitchen, hoists up two large paper sacks upon the counter, and narrows an unamused glance to the wall clock. Slowly shaking his head of short, graying hair, he mumbles out his confusion in fvalian while his short tail twitches. Pausing his thoughts, he notices Meredosia, perks up his furry ears, and dons a pleasant smile. “Oh! Pardon me. Sorry to keep you waiting. Dine in or carry out?”

Meredosia blinks back to awareness, meets the older Fvalian man’s gaze, and searches her mind a moment. Eyeing out the door and frowning briefly at the alternative, she glances around the front area. “Um... Dine in.”

With a delighted smile, the older fvalian waves his clawed hands out to all the seating, and slightly bows. “Of course. Sit wherever you like. Please.”

Meredosia fights through a bit of indecisiveness, but settles in a seat at a small table. The fvalian man quickly picks up an order pad and pen, and rushes over to Meredosia’s table. “What would you like to drink?”

With a meek, reserved tone, Meredosia simply replies. “Oh. Uh, just water right now.”

Nodding as he writes it on the pad, the older fvalian man tilts his head to the side curiously, and inquires. “Do you know what you want? Or, do you need a minute?”

Meredosia turns the menu towards the fvalian, points out to the cheaper option, and gazes up. “I think I’ll have this. Just as it comes.”

The fvalian nods happily, writes down the order, and presents an appreciative smile. “Yes. I will get your drink, and start cooking it.”

A slight smile appears on Meredosia’s face as the fvalian man hurries off to the back kitchen area. She folds up the menu, places it off to the side on her table, and settles into her chair. With a long sigh, her thoughts wander to the front of her mind, and she stares idly ahead at the table. Hearing the soft thud of a full glass of ice water upon the table, she stirs from the her stupor, nods to the fvalian man, and picks up the paper wrapped straw on her table. As she peels the wrapper off the straw, she notices the older fvalian man on an aetherphone, and focuses her attention upon this side of the call.

Lifting a mildly annoyed brow, the fvalian speaks to the other party. “Yes, this is Noyando. Where are you? Orders are coming in.”

Noyando listens to the response as the emotions on his face shift between a gamut of frustration, understanding, and disappointment. With a long groaning sigh, he shakes his head after the long explanation from the other party, and collects his thoughts while rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Okay. Try to come in for dinner deliveries, if you can. I will figure out lunch.”

He ends the call on the his phone, groans out his irritation, and mumbles a few choice phrases in fvalian. He lifts his head up, notices Meredosia gazing over, and bows apologetically. “Sorry. I did not mean to disturb you.”

Meredosia shakes her head slightly, and smiles politely. “Oh. No. It’s fine.”

She pauses a moment, fights off some hesitation, and carefully pries. “What’s wrong?”

Noyando tugs at the corner of his mouth, and shrugs his shoulders as he put his aetherphone away. “The usual delivery man for today... has a hangover. I don’t have others that can work Sundays.”

He thinks a moment, glances over to Meredosia with an examining stare, and poses a question to her. “You want to earn some money?”

Meredosia blinks to attention, searches her mind a moment, and uncertainly mulls over the idea. “Well, I could use the money. But... I just moved here. So, I’m not familiar with the area.”

With an encouragingly dismissive wave of his hand, Noyando explains the situation with calm tone. “It’s okay. These orders are nearby. You can walk to them easy. I’ll show you on a map, and write out directions. I just can’t leave the store right now. You deliver, you keep the delivery fee. If you want more work we’ll talk. I always need good help.”

As Meredosia starts to ponder the offer, her stomach growls loudly, and she glances around embarrassed as she presses her hands on her midsection. Noyando lifts an intrigued brow, and smirks enterprisingly towards Meredosia. “When you work for me, I’ll cook you free meals.”

Meredosia perks up and her long ears twitch reflexively at the notion. “I might be interested.”

Noyando smiles, nods appreciatively, and turns towards the kitchen. “Good. Let me cook, so you can eat first. What is your name?”

The faint trace of a hopeful smirk cracks in the corner of Meredosia’s face. “Um... Mera.”

Across the beautifully landscaped courtyard between a number of scenic resort structures, Chad leads Tassilda, Modoran, Trakenthin, and Deedri, with an excitable Veevi at this side. The team wanders loosely behind Chad, and each take in the layout of the resort grounds. Tassilda dons a sly smile, glances behind her towards Deedri, and points to building with a large “Spa Center” sign. Deedri notes the location, nods back to with a hopeful smirk, and curiously watches Modoran. As the group travels across the open space on the stone paver pathway, Modoran remains silent, and his dark blue eyes actively poll around to the different visible entrances into the area. With a rigid posture, he stiffly angles his head side to side with an uneasy expression sneaking out onto his dusky bluish gray face. After a few more seconds of observation, Deedri thoughtfully crosses her arms, perks her brow, and steps over closer to whisper to Modoran. “What are you looking for?”

Modoran shudders out from his previous state of mind, gazes down to Deedri, and attempts to nonchalantly shrug off suspicion. “Oh... Uh... Just making notes of the layout of this place. It’s one thing to see a map, but another to see it for yourself.”

Deedri narrows her unconvinced auburn eyes at Modoran, flicks her furry ears, and gradually wags her tail. “Okay. That makes sense. You just seemed uncomfortable for some reason.”

Summoning a wave of cool, confidence, Modoran presents a calm smile to Deedri, and dons an easy going tone. “Well, it’s a big job. And, there’s going to be a lot of Evuukian house members all in one place. A lot of really big names will be wandering around.”

Blinking at a realization, Deedri bites her lower lip as she contends with a surge of nervousness. “That’s right... I’d forgotten about that with getting everything prepared. I really need to review the guest list again, and try to get some familiarity with the politics.”

Modoran thinks a moment, presents a comforting smile to Deedri, and relaxes his body language as his attention shifts. “Yeah. I wouldn’t go too deep into all that. House politics change everyday, and there’s a tremendous amount of history behind everything. If you want, I could give you a quick overview of the current important bits.”

Deedri perks up, and gazes at Modoran with a delighted grin. “I’ll take all the help I can get. Gods, I thought medical literature was convoluted, then I just read up about one recent scandal.”

A humored smirk appears on Modoran face, and he chuckles lightly and lifts an intrigued eye brow toward Deedri. “Which one? There was at least three major ones last week and a few other minor ones.”

Widening her eyes in surprise, Deedri grits her teeth briefly, and brings out her aetherphone from her pocket. “Okay, where are you getting your information from. Because the news sites I visit didn’t mention anything else.”

Modoran peeks over Deedri’s shoulder, and starts instructing her on the more appropriate aethersites to visit. Tassilda stretches out her neck, rolls her her shoulders, and sighs as she ponders the tasks ahead. “It is ever a lovely resort here. Though, I doubt we’ll be able to enjoy it fully.”

Chad glances back over his shoulder as he continues to guide the team down a long pathway branching off the main route. “I wouldn’t say that yet. I mean, we are going to be busy.”

Trakenthin cocks his head to the side, eyes down towards Chad, and twists his mouth. “Busy doing what exactly? I understand our general purpose. Clarification would be appreciated for our daily activities.”

Sorting through the agenda in his mind, Chad lays down an explanation as the group travels further along the lone, stone walkway. “We’ll be serving both entertainment and security purposes here. Most of the time we’ll just be making appearances and hosting events for the guests. It turns out a lot Evuukian house members are big fans of the show. It seems like it will be like a small convention.”

He slyly smirks, shrugs his shoulders, and laughs. “As for security. Nothing too crazy. We'll be escorting some big players around, stand around at big gatherings, and just serve as a deterrents against the nobles acting out too much. Most probably don’t want to be caught being stupid in front of us and the cameras.”

A spark of foreboding mischief flickers in Veevi’s pink pupil eyes, and she grins devilishly towards Chad. Trakenthin grumbles with a dismissive eye roll, and slowly shakes his head. “I hope we have time to ourselves.”

Tassilda tosses her raven black hair back, brushes stray strands over her swirling horns, and nods in agreement. She puts her hands on her hips, contorts her gray skinned face, and stares her light blue on black eyes sternly ahead at Chad. “Again, I DO hope we get a chance to enjoy a little of this for ourselves. It’ll be quite torturous to be at such a place and forced to constantly babysit bratty nobility.”

Chad dons his trademark, bright white grin as he steps pass the end of the long path into a small courtyard, and presents a resort villa to the team. “We’ll be here til Saturday evening. And... the guests leave Friday. Until then, I think we’ll be able to enjoy ourselves a little in the off time.”

The rest of the group gawks in surprise and delight at the facilities before them, while camera crews off to the side record their reactions from different angles.

Late morning sun beams around the moderate cloud cover above, and projects large drifting shadows across the grass in the backyard behind the ranch style house. Bach reservedly judges the eager grin upon Sotalia’s face as he sits across from her at the large picnic table. Sotalia perks up, taps her long, thick black finger nails upon the wooden plank table top, and smiles expectantly. “So... What’s the first step in this lesson?”

Bach twists his face, searches the edges of his mind, and cautiously approaches the subject. “Well, first... Let’s see how well you can do the regular disintegration beam spell before we get too far ahead of ourselves.”

Narrowing a brief, incredulous stare at Bach, Sotalia draws a confident smirk across her lips, turns around on the bench seating, and stands up searching the vast open field. “Fair enough. Let’s see...”

Her gaze settles upon the battered, burnt, and blasted boulder, and she points out to the stone target. “I’ll use our favorite target.”

Bach rests his arms upon the table, weaves his fingers, and waits patiently. Sotalia stretches out her arms, rolls her shoulders, and settles her footing, swaying her hips. Closing her golden eyes, she releases a long, calming breath, and readies her hands in front of her. With careful motions of her gestures, she methodically speaks the incantations in sync, and ends with her hands in front her. Palms ahead and wrists touching, flows of magical energy stream out from her body, and swirl to condense in the middle of her outstretched fingers.

An orb of prismatic white noise grows briefly before a stream of sparkling, dull gray launches out. The beam quickly bridges the distance, and splatters upon the surface of the boulder. Plumes out powdered rock belch out from the impact point and glowing sparks puff out chaotically. As the seconds pass, Sotalia grimaces under the stain of the magical flows jetting around her into the beam. A few moments later, the beam fades out and the cloud of dust around the boulder drifts away with the gentle breeze. Sotalia grins triumphantly as the fading stone haze reveals a sizable, few centimeters deep bore hole into the giant rock’s surface. She pivots in place to face Bach with a drama flair, projects her confidence with a pose, and awaits recognition of her efforts. “I do believe that should demonstrate my expertise with the disintegration beam.”

Bach lifts his hands up from the table top, lightly taps both extended index fingers to his mouth contemplatively, and sneaks an amused smirk out of the corner of his mouth. “Yes. It does. Now... Can you curve the beam?”

Sotalia blinks blankly as she ponders the concept, rests her hands on her hips, and cocks her head to the side puzzling. “Curve it... as in... changing the direction it leaves the starting point?”

Raising a hand away from the other, Bach draws a circle in the air and smiles smugly at Sotalia. “Well, more like a circle.”

Lifting an intrigued brow, Sotalia steps back to the bench next to the wooden plank picnic table, and settles back onto her seat across from Bach. “Okay. Explain.”

Bach shrugs his shoulders, pantomimes the key concepts of the disintegration ball spell, and gazes at Sotalia to gauge her understanding. “Well, the D-Ball spell is basically bundles of high energy magical particle streams circling upon themselves into rings, that spin around.”

Sotalia furrows her brow curiously, leans over the table slightly after she tosses her fiery orange hair back, and watches Bach expectantly with her golden eyes. “Okay... I think I know what you are saying, but an example could help.”

Bach nods in agreement, lifts his hands up in between Sotalia and himself, and blinks his eyes to a glowing blue. A single tiny, prismatic point hovers in between Bach’s palms. The particle moves around in a fast circle, and soon other spots form to fly in the same ring path. A few seconds, a blurry ring of fast moving magical energy pivots around a center axis. As the rotation speeds up, the ring turns into the illusion of a flickering, transparent orb. Sotalia watches in utter fascination, and studies the display of magic attentively. After a minute, Bach releases the flows of magical energy and the particles harmlessly dissipate into the air. Watching the miasma float away in the wind, Sotalia directs her attention upon Bach, and cracks a sly smile. “I think I get it now. I was curious what the secret trick to it was.”

Bach cracks a humored grin, tilts his head to the side, and nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders briefly gazing away. “Oh yeah. The fundamentals are simple. The execution is the hard part. I mean all you have to do is create nearly solid rings of thread thin, highly destructive magical particles. Then, you need to spin the rings in counter rotations of each other along the same center point, as you build layer upon layer to form an orb that wants to spin apart... and shred you to pieces.”

The confidence fades away in Sotalia’s face and an awkward unease sneaks out during the idle stare at Bach. “Yeah... I think I might practice with harmless magical particles first. Just to be on the safe side.”

Nodding at the idea, Bach chuckles lightly to himself and crosses his arms. “That’s probably a good idea. I don’t think Aristespha wants to have to stitch up hands or reattach fingers today.”

Sotalia rolls her eyes with a humored snort, and readies her hands in front of her. Over the minutes, Sotalia grits her teeth, grimaces, cringes, and strains with each attempt to finely control the small speck of magical energy in the space between her hands. Bach patiently watches with his blue illuminated eyes, and waits for lulls in Sotalia’s frustrated pride to calmly suggest alternative methods to approach the problem. With a few more stubborn failing attempts, Sotalia adopts the recommendations to gradually alter her technique to a more viable method. Powered by her sheer determination and unyielding pride, Sotalia manages, after dozens of gradually less unsuccessful attempts, to form a crude, slow ring of magical energy particles. A spark of joy lights up her golden eyes, and she hoists the successful manifestation of her labor towards Bach, beaming with pride. “Yes! Oh, I’ll have this figured out soon enough. Take a look!”

Bach blinks back to awareness, gazes over from his own magical creation, and examines Sotalia’s efforts with a smile. “Yeah. That’s pretty good progress.”

Sotalia’s attention shifts over to the complicated, complex molded streams of different shapes and figures hovering in the air between Bach hands. For a moment, her prideful front wanes into a unamused pout as her eyes compare the difference between her magical craft and Bach’s. Focusing her defensive stare at Bach, her gaze softens watching him study her creation and lightens to a smile as he moves his hands to close to hers. Bach looks over, and puzzles a moment. “Hey, you okay?”

Sotalia blinks back her usual confident grin. “Of course. What are you going to do?”

Bach motions his head towards Sotalia’s energy ring, and squints at the details with his blue illuminated eyes. “Well, if you don’t mind, I can show you some tweaks you can do. You should be able to feel them if you pay attention.”

With a simple nod, Sotalia perks up, smiles excitedly, and waits eagerly. “Go right ahead.”

Out from a large, tall brick building, Dr. Dawkins steps out a set of double doors into the surrounding parking lot. Behind him, Harvos and Nash walk up to either side of Dr. Dawkins, and lead a small gathering of graduate students a few steps behind. Nash leans over towards Dr. Dawkins with a smirk, and jokes with a curious tinge. “Hey, I appreciate you offering to pay for our lunches, but you sure you want to pay for all the graduate students? I mean I know Grand Library retirement is good, but I don’t want to take advantage of an old man. I could help out with the bill.”

Dr. Dawkins laughs as he slowly walks towards his old sedan in a nearby parking spot, and dismisses the notion with a casual wave of his hand. “Oh, nonsense. I can’t take it with me, so I figured I might as well enjoy it with others.”

Harvos slightly nods his head of short, bright brown hair and large upright horns, and presents an appreciative smile. “Well, thank you, very much, Dr. Dawkins. We all appreciate your generosity. Especially, my graduate students.”

A satisfied smirk graces Dr. Dawkins face, and he flashes a grin with a wink towards Harvos. “They were looking a little hungry. I always found filling stomachs was a great way to keep the morale up during the long stretches of research.”

Dr. Dawkins notices Nash turning towards his car, and motions him over. “Let’s take my car. It’s quite the enjoyable ride, and I rarely get to drive anyone else around these days.”

Nash pauses a moment, glances down at the car keys in his hand, and shrugs as he puts them away in his shorts pocket. “Yeah, probably a good plan. My car isn’t... um... set up for passengers anyway.”

Harvos rolls his bright brown on black eyes, and slowly shakes his head with a snort. “You mean it’s completely filled with junk mail and empty drink cups. Again?”

Nash holds his hands out to the side in a display of mock offense, and twists his mouth with a sarcastic color. “Oh, passing judgment are we? I’m sorry, not all of us have to keep up appearances just in case Malva calls up.”

A flash of embarrassed red highlights Harvos’s cheeks, and he aims a mildly annoyed glare at Nash. “Gods dammit, not in front of the graduate students.”

Nash stops, pivots slowly around, and gazes back to Harvos with a wide, dramatic wave of hand showcasing that no graduate students remain in the parking lot. “Dude. They are gone. At this rate, they be through the first plate before we even get to the door.”

Dr. Dawkins chuckles happily as he unlocks his car, and shakes his head with a smile. “Gods. It is ever good to know that some things don’t change. Reminds me of my youth scavenging for free food scraps after faculty events.”

He opens the door, hits the switch, and unlocks the other doors. Pausing a moment, he retrieves a cheap looking aetherphone, sorts through a few menus, and taps out a very quick message before slipping it back in his pants pocket. As Harvos gets in the front passenger's side and Nash gets in the back, Dr. Dawkins addresses the two when he settles in his seat. “I figure we’ll get into more detail after lunch, but I must ask... What exactly has been going on with the higher ups as of late?”

Nash averts his gaze as he momentarily grits his teeth, and shakes his head as he closes the door. “Yeah... We’ll definitely have to save a bunch of that after lunch. But, to say the least, the powers-that-be are well... scared shitless?”

Dr. Dawkins eyes over to Harvos with an inquiring glance, as he starts up the car. “Really?”

Harvos exhales slowly with an uncertain grumble, and rocks his head carefully side to side while mulls over the sentiment. “Truthfully, scared shitless is the nice way to put it.”

The old sedan slowly backs out of the parking spot, turns out into the main road, and rolls off towards a campus exit.

With a casual stride, Issac rounds the walkway around the corner of another nearby building, and maintains a cautious survey of the area. Slowly changing his direction using sidewalks and crosswalks, he eventually maneuvers over to the large, tall brick building and stands in front of the double doors. Glancing around briefly, he nonchalantly pulls open one side of the entrance, and walks on inside.

Presenting a facade of purpose, Isaac searches for landmarks, signs, and other bits of positional information along the walls. Eventually, a number of departmental directories and hallway arrow stripes lead him towards a doorway and down a dark stairwell. Climbing cautiously down the stairs, Isaac reaches the dimly lit, disused basement floor. Quickly scanning the area, he retrieves a cheap aetherphone from his pocket, and wraps up his blue scarf over his lower face. He studies a picture of a map on the screen, analyzes the structure of the basement hallway, and slowly nods as he recognizes a particular door down near the end of the hallway. Quietly stepping forward, Isaac peeks through small windows in the other doors to darkly lit rooms of technological towers of flickering lights, and listens to the droning mix of muffled fans and air conditioning duct work.

Reaching the door, Isaac inspects the doorway carefully, and searches for anything out of the ordinary. After checking the high corners of the hallway for monitoring devices, Isaac trains his focus upon the door, and begins to gesture out an incantation. Flows of prismatic energy flow out from his gloved hands upon the door knob and jam. After the magical miasma seeps into the mechanisms, Isaac halts, narrows a puzzled stare at the door knob, and unceremoniously grabs hold of it. With a simple twist, the door opens without any issue. Blinking in annoyed astonishment, Isaac rolls his gray eyes, grumbles to himself, and slowly shakes his head. He notices the stark contrast of ambient dust against the recently disturbed door knob, and inspects the coating of funk upon his glove. Twisting his mouth under the scarf, he wipes the excess off his hand onto his pants, and enters the room, closing the door behind.

Checking the map on the aetherphone, Isaac navigates aisles of server racks, webs of cabling, and blockades of old junk piles. Eventually, through the dimly lit labyrinth, Isaac ends up against the opposite wall near a corner area of the oldest computing equipment cabinets. Surveying the area and comparing the layout against the map, Isaac ascertains his location and guides his pointing hand towards the target destination. He looks up from the cheap aetherphone, and grimaces at the sight of boxes upon boxes of old equipment, paperwork, and literature piled up over the area. Putting away the phone, he sighs deeply, shakes his head, and stretches his arms out with a resolute grumble. “It’s never easy...”

Dr. Dawkins, Nash, and Harvos sit around a booth table in the busy buffet restaurant, and pause a moment to watch the graduate students leave in wave towards the food lines. Nash tilts his head to the side, glances down at his second plate, and slowly turns to face towards Harvos and Dr. Dawkins. “Damn... I guess we’re really not paying them enough these days. I think a few of them are on their third plate already.”

Harvos shakes his head, smirks to Nash, and chuckles. “You need to be careful. If you fall too far behind, they might feel ready to challenge you for leadership.”

With a reflexive laugh, Nash rolls his eyes, and twists his mouth with a long groan. “I don’t have to worry about THAT. They only know half the bullshit I have to deal with, and none of them want to deal with even that much. I couldn’t give this job away.”

He snarls his upper lip, and eases out a sigh. “Especially with the recent drama...”

Dr. Dawkins gradually nods as he idly stirs the remnants of food on his plate with a fork, and narrows an inquisitive stare at Nash. “Indeed... So, they really are that deadlocked as to what to do?”

Nash nods with a frustrated frown, and grumbles as he summarizes the situation. “They’re afraid to get too involved. They don’t want to draw attention and disturb what Aristespha’s group has been doing. They don’t want to report it to the many authorities for fear of multiple governments digging into Grand Library affairs, with legitimate reasons to do so.”

Harvos slowly shakes his head, settles back in his spot in the booth, and crosses his muscular arms with hints of irritation. “In other words, until their hand is forced, they are NOT doing anything until they absolutely have to. Until then, they are trying to keep it all hidden.”

A saddened frown grows on Dr. Dawkins’s face, and he regretfully nods as the actions sound unnervingly familiar to him. “I believe I’m partly responsible for that policy. It does seem like they’ve taken an exception to the rules and made it the rule for all exceptions.”

Presenting a sympathetic smirk, Harvos shrugs his shoulders and eyes at over at the full plates of food the graduates return with. “Maybe. But, I tend to think it’s more of the fault of the current board not having any experience at handling something like this. They seem more prone to inaction than action.”

An electronic chirp rings out from Nash’s shorts pocket and he fumbles around to bring his aetherphone into view. “The hell?”

Dr. Dawkins’s perks his brow, and shifts his attention towards Nash. “Something wrong?”

Puzzling at the messages the phone screen, Nash hums in thought, scrolls through the list alerts, and contorts his confused face. “Yeah... But, it doesn’t seem like anything too high priority. Looks like the network links to a few old servers in the basement farms went down.”

Flitting his eyes wide, Dr. Dawkins stealthily pulls the cheap phone from his pants pocket out, briefly diverts his gaze towards the screen, and navigates to the audio messenger app. Drawing a breath to speak, he taps his finger on the record button, and inquiries curiously. “So, whatever would cause these servers to lose their network connections?”

Nash’s eyes sift through the information streaming upon the small display, and he shrugs nonchalantly with a calm attitude. “Well, more than likely the network cables have backed out over the years from all the vibrations working on them over time. Maybe someone tripped over a cable, and it unseated just enough? Or, it could be the old software on the thing just stalled out.”

He puts his aetherphone on the table, picks up his fork, and readies to finish up the rest of the platter before him. “Meh. It’s just a bunch of old archive data that’s got redundant duplicates elsewhere. If they don’t come back online after a few minutes, I’ll need to get back to check on them.”

Maintaining a cool, collected exterior, Dr. Dawkin’s secretly taps a series of onscreen buttons, and glances down to notice the “Message Sent” prompt. “Well, let’s hope it’s just a temporary glitch. It would be a shame to hurry our nice lunch.”

Sliding a heavy box over with a shove of his boot, Isaac stands in front of the cleared floor, and slowly pants. In contrast to the ambient drone of ventilation fans from stacks of computing equipment around him, a high pitched chirp sounds out from Isaac’s pocket. He quickly retrieves the cheap aetherphone, notices a new message, and navigates through the menus. Lifting his eye brow, he momentarily puzzles at the contents of the message, taps a play button, and puts the phone to his ear. “The hell? An audio recording?”

Isaac focuses upon the playback, and grimaces as he tries to divine the purpose. His eyes spring wide open, and he spins around in panic, and searches the area after he puts away his aetherphone. Locking his attention to a few nearby tall racks of blinking equipment, Isaac hunts frantically for cable connections. Tracking the routes of wiring on the floor and comparing the different colors of indicator lights between similar machines, he eventually narrows down his search to a few rack mounted servers. Fumbling around, he pushes his hands inside the mass of plastic coated wiring, parts a chaotic waterfall of electronic cabling, and finds a few lights completely dark above network jacks. Quickly he grabs hold of each plug, presses it firmly in, and listens to a reassuring click each time. Seconds later, indicators blink back to life. Isaac stands back, carefully examines the nearby racks for other possible issues. Eventually, he settles down and releases a long sigh of tentative relief. “Good gods... Hope that’ll fix it...”

He returns his attention to the cleared section the tiled floor, steps over, and kneels down for further investigation. “But... If not... Have to find-”

The distant, muffled sound of a door opening peaks above the dull drone of the server room. Isaac’s gray eyes flit wide open in surprise. Quickly scanning the area, he hops over behind a low wall of stacked boxes, and slinks low in the shadowy cubby. Listening attentively, Isaac aims his ears at the reflective walls and ceiling. Above the sound of footsteps, a male voice confidently speaks out. “See. I told you this was the perfect place to go. No one has been here in ages. No one is going to bother us.”

The noises of movement grow closer to Isaac, and a female voice giggles excitedly. “You were right. Oh, over there.”

The male voice dons a curious tone. “The stack of boxes?”

Isaac winces and slowly shakes his head while silently mouthing. “No. Somewhere else...”

The female laughs with a sly tinge. “No, that table over there.”

Quickly peaking out from behind the stealthy cover, Isaac’s eyes survey the area, and a wave of relief flows over him as he notices the table meters away from his position. Slipping back into hiding, he continues to listen in on the conversation. The man chuckles and lowers his voice. “Well... We got the place to ourselves... What ever shall we do now?”

After sounds of shuffling upon the table rise into the soundscape, the woman eagerly giggles with a seductive tone. “Oh... I don’t know. Maybe-”

Isaac pauses a moment as he searches for the conversation with a hand to his ear. Seconds later, the developing carnal chorus of excited movement, aroused breathing, and passionate noises mix with the muted squeaks of an old table. Isaac rolls his eyes in disgusted annoyance, and drops his frustrated stare to the ground. As he rubs his eyes to a pinch of the bridge of nose, he slowly shakes his head and mutters near silently. “Of fucking course... Couldn’t wait for any other time...”

In a lull of intimate rhythm, the male voice hopefully approaches a request. “Hey... Could you do that thing with your tail?”

Isaac blinks blankly as curiosity knocks the irritation out of his expression. The young woman lets loose an aggressively eager giggle, and growls happily. “Oh, yes. But ONLY if you let me guide you down by the horns.”

Underneath his scarf, Isaac’s jaw hangs opens, and he puzzles in a bewildered stupor, while the sounds of carnal gymnastics overtake the ambient drone.

Nash settles back into the booth seat, pats his stomach, and gazes down another empty plate on the table. “Well, I don’t think I could fit another thing if I tried.”

The aetherphone on the table in front of Nash chirps out a few notification tones. Slowly leaning forward, Nash picks up the phone, and squints at the text on the screen. He releases a sigh of relief and puts the phone back in his shorts pocket with a smirk. “Welp! Disaster averted from the looks of it. Those systems are back online.”

Glancing up to Nash from checking the cheap aetherphone on his lap, Dr. Dawkins quickly works the worried grimace off his face, and calmly nods. “Well, that’s good to hear. Just a glitch, then?”

Nash finishes taking a long sip of his glass of iced tea, pauses in thought a moment, and casually smirks. “It’s old equipment. I eventually need to get around to migrating the contents to our new data arrays. But, I’ll task my graduate students to check them later. Just to make sure.”

He turns his head towards the nearby table and the overfed graduate students lounging lazily in chairs. “Speaking of which, I think they’re more than done at this point.”

Harvos snorts at the lethargic gathering of students at the table, shakes his head, and grins humored at Nash and Dr. Dawkins. “Well, we need to head back. If only to make sure they don’t fall asleep here.”

A bit of worry creeps into Dr. Dawkins demeanor as he reads the latest message on his aetherphone and overhears the comments between Nash and Harvos. Summoning a calm, interested facade, he hums contemplatively and addresses Nash and Harvos, while secretly tapping the record button on his phone. “That’s understandable. I doubt they’ll be doing much for a while. By the way, I was thinking... Could I pester you, Harvos, for a tour of the old department?”

Harvos’s bright brown eyes search his mind and he scratches his short brown hair. “Certainly. We actually have few new exhibits that you want to take a look at.”

Dr. Dawkins grins with an eager tint, nods appreciatively, and perks his brow. “Excellent. I’ve been curious how the old department has been, and just wanted to see the direction it has gone.”

He glances over towards Nash, and politely poses a request. “I hope it wouldn’t be too inconvenient for you if I drove over there first, Nash?”

Nash shrugs his shoulder with a neutral attitude, and motions his head over towards the graduates in the early stages of calorie comas. “Not a problem. It’s not like I’m going to get any work done for the next few hours with these kids.”

Lifting an intrigued eyebrow, he smirks towards Dr. Dawkins and Harvos. “Plus, it might be a good thing to do while we dig more into the latest drama.”

A delighted smile appears on Dr. Dawkins, and he sneakily presses the send button of the aetherphone as he puts it up. “Sounds like a plan. Allow me to settle the tab, and we shall be off.”

Listening quietly with the phone pressed to his ear, Isaac nods understandingly at the audio playback, and sneaks a soft sigh of relief. His attention shifts over to the sounds of giggles and chuckling. A young man’s voice snorts. “Wow... That was a bit intense.”

The young woman snickers and stifles a few laughs. “Gods almighty, it went everywhere. I’ll have to remember that magic trick.”

With an awkward cadence, the man wanders over to another topic. “Yeah... Oh... Crap... We probably need to get back before the boss gets back from his lunch.”

A bit of concern colors the woman’s tone. “Um... Should we try to clean this up?”

Sounds of shuffling, movement, and table squeaks punctuate the man’s commentary. “Ah, we’ll come back later. Don’t think anyone is going to notice this any time soon.”

As the activity moves away from Isaac, the young woman barely holds back a giggle. “I don't know, we might get distracted.”

Distantly, the two snicker as the door opens, and then promptly closes. The faint sounds of fast footsteps up a flight of stairs echo from the other side. Isaac cautiously stands up, slowly inspects the vicinity, and softly steps out from his hiding spot. Keeping alert, he walks towards an intersection of the different aisles, studies the pathway leading to the exit door, and observes. After a minute, he relaxes his shoulders, growls out his annoyance, and shakes his head. “By the gods! Let me get this ONE THING done...”

He pivots around, halts mid step, and catches sight of the old, squeaky table. His eyes open wide and his expression blends up fascination, puzzlement, and disgust as he studies the scene before him. Dropping his analytical stare downwards to the floor, he traces the carnal leftovers up the table, and squints bewildered at the wall. Glancing upwards, he pauses dumbfounded, blinks blankly, and hangs his jaw open under his scarf, slowly shaking his head in disbelief. Recollecting his sanity, he quickly walks away from the scene, kneels back down in front of the cleared section of floor, and examines the tiling. Feeling along the ground for suspicious grooves, he taps upon the different sections and listens for the contrasts of sounds. Quickly, he finds an odd spot, swiftly gestures out a spell, and flows magical energy into the crevices. With a lift of his hand, a section of floor rises up to reveal an large, unused conduit junction box with a tight, sealed package filling the space inside.

Isaac grins happily as he removes the hefty parcel from the space. Carefully, he replaces the section of floor, scoops up the package under an arm, and stands up with renewed vigor. Thinking a moment, he slides over a few stacks of old equipment and books over the section of floor, and camouflages the hidden spot. With a content sigh, he begins to step away towards the door, reaches the aisle intersection, and stops. The outline of a sly smirk appears under his blue scarf, and he wills flows of magical energy towards two choice targets near the table. A used condom hovers through the air, glides down the aisle, and rests upon network cables going to previously loose plugs. Following close behind, an incriminating pair of panties hangs itself upon top corner of a nearby server rack. Isaac barely contains his cackle as he takes off quickly out of the server area through the door.

Dr. Dawkins bids both Harvos and Nash goodbye with a wave out his open driver’s window, and calls out to them. “Do not forget to keep me updated!”

Harvos grants a confirming nod, and Nash gives Dr. Dawkins a thumbs up. The two walk through the double doors back into the tall, large brick building. Dr. Dawkins drives his sedan away, and calmly cruises through the campus proper. Exiting onto the surrounding city streets, he keeps an ongoing watch of the area, and eyes his rear view mirror, while hints of paranoia slips into his face. He slows to stop at a red light, checks the latest message on the cheap aetherphone, and nods to himself. The sedan continues to navigate the roads. After a few minutes of traffic and turns, he rolls to a stop in a back alley behind an old strip mall, and waits patiently.

Moments later, Isaac appears without his face covered from hiding behind a row of dumpsters, swiftly moves around Dr. Dawkins’s car, and hops into the front passengers seat. He closes the door, pats the tightly sealed packaged on his lap, and pulls his seat belt on. “Despite the lewd comedy fate tried to make of it, the mission was a success.”

Dr. Dawkins puts the sedan in gear, turns the steering wheel, and shakes his head with a relieved smirk. “I must say, I can not shake the feeling that greater powers were conspiring against us in the most awkward fashion.”

Isaac snorts and rolls his eyes with a disgusted tone. “You do NOT know the half of it.”

Twisting his mouth, Dr. Dawkins glances over with a lift of the eye brow. “I get the distinct impression that your messages did not quite impart the situation fully.”

Grumbling out the amusement at his expense, Isaac sighs as he settles into the leather car seat. “Yes. You could say that. I must say, I’m not exactly familiar with the proper terms to describe what happened. And... Honestly... I am bit wary to search for them.”