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A note from argusthecat

Here's some more stuff happening!  This chapter is a bit more windup time, and a little bit of what I guess could be called 'casual dungeoneering'.  I've hit my fatigue limit for the day, though, and felt like this was at a good stopping point before the next part, which involves a significant uptick in desperate violence.

This chapter written to the tune of the new Monster Hunter song that Miracle of Sound did.

As always, thanks for reading, commenting, and generally being great.  Extra special thanks to those of your throwing money my way on Patreon.  I've been struggling financially for a couple months now, and every bit helps.

"Your manager, beyond a doubt, is absolutely doing this too." Anesh said.

 

He and James were currently spending their day before James went to work pushing a large flat cart around a Home Depot, and James hadn't stopped giggling to himself every time he looked down and saw what was on it. Their first pickup had been a hand truck, on Anesh's insistence that they should be doing more remodeling of their fortification by the door, and his further insistence that he'd be damned if he had to move another desk unassisted. So, while Anesh rambled, James just saw a cart on a cart, and was amused.

 

"Sorry, what? I wasn't really listening." James said. "Say all that again. But less paranoid this time."

 

Anesh just sighed as he added a replacement sledgehammer to their cart. "I said, I think that your manager is doing the same thing we are."

 

"Shopping at Home Depot?"

 

Anesh didn't even pause for the joke. "Going into the dungeon. It adds up, right? She's suspicious of you, you found another door so we know why we haven't seen her on Tuesday nights, and she has mysterious hobbies to cover up her injuries."

 

James took on an incredulous tone. "I know that it's not the most common thing, but rugby isn't 'mysterious'. As far as I understand, it's mostly an excuse to tackle people? I don't know, I'm not Australian. But it's not super suspicious. Also, she's showed up looking way worse since before the dungeon was there."

 

"How do you know? We only know when you found it, not when it started existing. Also, which brand of bolt cutters?" Anesh held up two sets of the industrial cutting tool for James to pick.

 

"Get the Tekton. Longer clippers, seems slightly more offensive." James shook his head at the rest of what Anesh said, though. "I guess that's a good point. But she doesn't seem like the adventurer type, you know?"

 

"She plays rugby!" Anesh snapped back, pushing the cart on down the cold concrete asile.

 

James took a second to check the signs before pointing them in the direction of what they were looking for. "I thought you didn't believe she played at all? Now I'm suspicious that you're just sports-racist or something."

 

He'd been poking fun at Anesh for a few days since he'd caught his roommate watching cricket in the living room. Personally, James didn't really care that much, but Anesh seemed so determined to be embarrassed about it, that James didn't feel like he had much choice but to make a few jokes every now and then.

 

"Okay, look, I just think you should talk to her about it. Since she *clearly already knows*, it's not sharing the secret to tell her, right?" Anesh emphasised that last part heavily, his English accent enunciating every word in a sharp tone. "Also, just because I like certain sports more does not make me a 'sports racist'..."

 

James sort of got what Anesh was doing, and as soon as he did, he felt like there was a set of reins on his mind, yanking his thoughts in a specific direction. *Stay silent* it said. *Keep the secret at all costs*, it made him think. James grit his teeth as part of his own mind rebelled against him, struggling to cut the reins off. And then, he realized something else. Instinctively and in the back of his mind, away from where the controls were sitting, he had a thought. "What if Anesh is right?" He imagined. His subconscious, with a light guiding touch from the rest of his persona, built a vivid picture of his boss.

 

Of course Theodora was a delver. She had to be. It was so simple, just like Anesh said. That was, of course, why she never sent anyone to fix the AC unit. It all added up! Not suspicious at all!

 

And just like that James grabbed control of the reins in his mind. The shackles were still there, he knew he couldn't go up to the clerk down the aisle and tell him about the dungeon. But he also knew he could talk to his boss. Not ask her, of course, because she already knew; beyond a shadow of a doubt. But have a normal conversation with her.

 

The human mind is remarkably well equipped for self deception.

 

"You know what? You're right." He said out loud to Anesh. It had been a couple minutes of mental gymnastics, and his feet had sort of autopiloted him to follow his friend and their cart. Anesh was currently in the process of stacking a trio of carboys on the platform, and also saying something, which James cut off with his own comment.

 

Anesh *thonked* the third large jug into place. "I'm glad you agree."

 

James coughed a bit, stumbling over words and suspicious of Anesh's sudden acceptance. "Wait, wait. What did I just agree to? I wasn't paying attention. And why are you getting these? There's cheaper ones at the grocery store."

 

"You literally just agreed that this was a good idea." Anesh palmed his forehead in frustration. "That is what I was talking about. You know what? I'm not explaining again. Trust me on this one." He stalked off, dragging the cart behind him.

 

James nodded enthusiastically. "Okay! That's worked out for me so far, so I'm fine with just blanket trusting you." Anesh's face flushed at the sudden praise, the tips of his ears going a deep orange that he hoped James wouldn't be able to see against his darker skin. Fortunately for him, James was already walking farther on down the aisle. "Come on, let’s find some pipe. I want to see if we can overclock a potato gun without killing ourselves."

 

Anesh let out a soft laugh to himself as James diffused the tension without even trying, and followed after his friend.

 

_____

 

The rest of Saturday afternoon was mostly unloading stuff into their apartment, and then breaking off to do their own thing for a while. James sequestering himself in his room to see how many times he could google "potato gun thermite launcher" before the FBI showed up at their door, and Anesh occupying their living room to prep for their friend group's D&D game that James was going to miss again.

 

A few hours later, James came out to grab a slice of pizza and say hi to his friends before leaving. The smell of greasy food wafted through the apartment from the kitchen, while in their living room, people clustered around the table.

 

Anesh sat at the head of the table, occupying the big comfy chair. On the couch with their backs to him as he came down the hallway, he spotted Alanna and JP, the former towering over the other, even as she was draped over the couch. And on the other side of the table, Dave, having pulled up a kitchen chair to make a space for himself. The table itself was covered in a large embellished city map, printed out on glossy poster paper. James smirked as he saw it; Anesh was getting real value out of the extra cash they were bringing in.

 

"Hey nerds." He announced himself as he walked in, getting a chorus of "heys", "yos", and "you read that thing I sent yous?" in response. James smiled, a pleasant feeling flowing in his chest. It was just a good scene for him; friends, games, and food. His own place, now a bit more secure in the rent. Well lit and warm and dry. The whole thing made him feel pretty happy. Of course, they didn't need to know that. They'd get smug and let it go to their heads. So, instead of sharing, he just asked, "what're you guys up to tonight while I'm imprisoned in cubicle hell?"

 

He saw Anesh straighten up a bit at the last couple words, before giving James a look. It was JP who answered first, though. "Character creation. We're switching to something new, since you're not here as much anymore because of work."

 

"That's cool. What system?" He asked, a little disappointed that he wasn't going to be involved, but not begrudging his friends a good time.

 

Anesh answered, "Shadowrun. Playing as devious criminals pilfering from the megacorps. I'm going to run it like a heist movie." He motioned to the table. "It takes place in slightly-future Seattle."

 

James groaned from around the pizza he'd shoved in his mouth. "That sounds awesome, why'd you wait for me to leave to do this? Also, wait, isn't this a little close to home?" He said without thinking.

 

From the strained look in Anesh's eyes, he'd clearly had the same thought already. "Your job isn't that bad." He covered for James with a half hearted joke.

 

"Your job isn't that *fun*." Dave chimed in, getting a laugh from the room.

 

"Alright guys, have fun storming the castle. I need to get to work. We still on for Tuesday, Anesh?" He asked, just making sure in case they didn't see each other before then.

 

His friend nodded. "Yeah, yeah. Now go, don't get fired."

 

"See ya kiddo." Alanna said as he made it to the door. "Now, Anesh, I'm thinking shark shaman." James just shook his head as he got a sympathizing look from Dave. Alanna called all of them by titles that were, fundamentally, wrong. Alanna was younger than James, but James got called kid. Dave got the less fortunate tag of "punchy", which was also something that better defined Alanna than himself, and also something that made new members of their friend group suspicious at first until they figured out the name pattern.

 

James shook his head at Dave, both of them sharing an eye roll as James opened up the door. "Alright guys, have fun." Was the last thing he said as he walked out into the winter night. The cold winds whipped around him as he walked to his car, but for some reason, he kept that warm feeling the whole way.

 

_____

 

The rest of James' night passed as a normal workday. He tried to find time to talk to his boss, but by the time he had a gap in the call log, she'd already gone home. The problem with everyone having offset schedules, aside from literally everything, was that no one was ever around when he needed them to be.

 

The good news was that a few of the new employees had finished their training, and for the next few weeks until the company decided to fire half their staff, James didn't have to deal with quite so many people who were furious at waiting for two hours on hold. The bad news was, well, now he had random firings to look forward to.

 

Still, he got through with no real problems. Though at a certain point, he became acutely aware of the ceiling above him, and every small noise from the building's AC unit made him glance up in anticipation. Kind of hard to focus on work when you feel like something is watching you the whole time.

 

And then it was his weekend. His classes didn't start until next week, Anesh was doing some kind of school function for most of Saturday, and then actual school on Monday, and so James was more or less left to his own devices for the whole weekend. No responsibilities or opportunities.

 

As he sat in his room, in a chair that was orders of magnitude more comfortable than the one at work, he considered spending time this weekend just going out looking for trouble. Patrolling around and stopping crimes was probably the fantasy of everyone who'd ever heard of Batman; but James wasn't sure he was at all prepared to actually face down an armed human.

 

James also wasn't sure if there was even enough crime in his town to warrant it. It wasn't like he'd be "cleaning up the streets", he lived in what was a modestly suburban place with a murder rate of .25 people a year. If he decided to spend his weekend doing the caped crusader thing, he'd most likely get arrested before he stopped a single crime of any importance.

 

Also, it would cut into the precious free time he had set aside for eating chips and playing video games.

 

So that was right out.

 

Instead, he spent Sunday just relaxing. Like a day long sigh, he just kicked around the apartment. Didn't get out of bed until he'd slept for ten hours. Got through half of his replay of Dark Cloud 2. At a certain point, realized that humans actually needed some food to live, and walked to a local burger place a couple blocks from their apartment. The gaps, he filled with doing some mild chores, and felt a sense of self-satisfaction at just doing the dishes.

 

Overall, he reveled in his own motivation. He knew it wouldn't last. This level of enjoyment in his life never lasted. But while it was here, he was damn well going to enjoy having vacuumed, and lounged around for a full day.

 

Monday, he actually managed to get himself out of the house for more than a food run, and took a couple hours at the gym. But beyond getting a workout in, his day was more or less the same. He still didn't catch sight of Anesh, and by the time he heard the front door open and close, he was already exhausted and too comfortable in his bed to say hi.

 

_____

 

Tuesday.

 

How easily James had let his life be transformed, he thought as he walked into work.

 

Once a week, through a process he didn't fully understand, the front door of his office suddenly looked inviting instead of mundane. The security desk, instead of being a common hassle, was a threat to his ability to really start profiting. The calls were... well, actually, the customers weren't any different.

 

He said a short greeting to his boss as he walked in, though didn’t get a chance to say much before he had to clock in. He spent a slightly longer time trying to have a conversation with one of the few coworkers he still shared the night shift with when he got bored on break, but gave up when he realized that they shared literally nothing in common.

 

By the time Anesh showed up, James was pretty sick of the whole “being at work” thing. "No, sir. There isn't an easy way to remove someone from the internet. There isn't a way to do it at all, actually. No, sir, bribes aren't going to help. That won't help either. Uh huh. Uh huh. I see." James nodded at Anesh as he walked up to the cubicle, mouthing a silent 'kill me' at his friend. "Sir, I'm sorry you don't like the comments section, but we don't own YouTube. We don't have jurisdiction there. Might I recommend you call Google? I can get you the number."

 

By the time that call was done, James was ready to throw his head back and let out a low scream. "Did that guy seriously offer you money to ban someone from Youtube?" Anesh asked as they headed to the break room so James could clock out.

 

"Yeah. Then he kept trying to find more convoluted ways to bribe me, instead of listening when I told him I didn't have that power. God, if I could ban people from YouTube, there wouldn't be anyone left to comment." James rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands as they sat at one of the low tables. "Okay, six minutes left. Where'd you leave the hand cart?"

 

"By the stairwell. I figured it'd be less suspicious. Did you talk to your boss?" Anesh asked back as he handed James one of the travel mugs full of coffee.

 

James went to take a sip, but Anesh put a hand over the cup, glaring at him for jumping the gun. "Sorry, right. Forgot. And also forgot to talk to Theo. She was busy today, and so was I, honestly."

 

"Busy looting, eh?" Anesh elbowed James as they walked out.

 

This got an exasperated look in response. "Yes, sure. Looting customer accounts. You get that even if she's a delver, we both still actually work here and have a job to do?"

 

"I don't understand." Was the flat response as they approached the stairwell and Anesh checked his phone's clock.

 

"It's what happens when you finish college."

 

"Sudden and perpetual wealth?" Anesh said with puppy dog eyes, and James didn't know whether to burst out laughing or give his friend a consolation hug. And then it was time. "Unto the gates of hell" Anesh muttered, as James pushed the door open. Anesh grabbed the hand cart with the carboys on it and followed him in.

 

The inside was pretty much exactly as they left it. Their fort was still up, their gear still scattered around on the desks they'd set up. "Oh fuck, right, replacement armor!" James exclaimed as they walked in. "I actually forgot that one."

 

"It's fine," Anesh said, "I didn't lose any of mine."

 

"Dick." James muttered.

 

"Jerrrrrrrrrkkkk!" Howled through the air near them. James nearly jumped out of his skin at the otherworldly wail, the thermos of coffee flying out of his hand and flipping over once before he caught it. Anesh had already dropped the duffel bag he was carrying and snapped up one of the axes off the table, both men whipping their heads around looking for the source.

 

James leaned over and whispered to Anesh, "Where is it?"

 

"Can't tell, let it say something else." His friend replied.

 

"Smeelllllll cooffffeeeeeee...." Mournfully sang the voice. It sounded like it was coming from above them. They looked up, but saw only their improvised roof. Stepping carefully out of the cubicle fort, James nearly died with relief. There, strung up around the outside of their fortification, were dozens of paperclip webs; they wound around the outsides of the walls, but also hung in draping ropes from the ceiling. And it was in a pair of these hanging nets that hung a bright paper mask.

 

The lines on its face almost looked inked with how crisp the folds were, and the mane of pink sticky notes radiating out behind it gave the impression of energetic fire. None of that helped it, though, as it thrashed in the web, several of the clips impaling its thin 'flesh'. Just above it, Rufus hung, suspended by a single stretched paperclip, frontal legs reaching down to strike at the mask that twitched every time the stapler got too near.

 

"I have no idea how to process this." James said simply.

 

"Laaayyyyy offffffs!" The mask screamed as Rufus lunged forward to bite down on a chunk of its forehead and tear it off.

 

James and Anesh watched in fascinated horror as, bit by bit, Rufus dismantled the mask, shredding it even as it screamed. The paper skin, James knew from experience, was harder than you'd expect, but Rufus went through it like butter. Just how strong was that little guy? Could he go through bone? James wasn't sure, and didn't want to test it, but he was pretty sure Rufus would have to be an order of magnitude stronger than all the common stapler-crabs they encountered.

 

Then, above them, the mask had a piece torn off its left side, and suddenly found that it was no longer trapped. Howling in delight, it fluttered away, and Anesh made to throw his axe to stop it as he saw the boney fangs jut out of the mask's inside. But before either he or James could take action, there was a furious buzzing, and Ganesh struck. Half covered by webs, neither the guys on the ground or the mask had seen the disguised drone, and the little stirge leapt on the wounded mask with a surprising fury.

 

The glass needle on Ganesh's front drilled into their prey over and over. Every time the mask tried to flee, the drone was there already, making another strike and pushing it further back into the webbed zone. And then the mask made a slip, struck another web, and Rufus was there waiting.

 

Thirty seconds later, a flutter of pink sticky notes dusted away into the office, like cherry blossoms in the wind, and Rufus held a decent sized golden orb in his mouth.

 

"Holy shit." James and Anesh spoke together. Spotting Anesh on the ground, Ganesh gave a happy sounding hum and buzzed down to his... owner seemed like the wrong word, James thought. Either way, the drone seemed happy to see Anesh again, and for all that he claimed he hated bugs, Anesh didn't seem too displeased himself.

 

"Hey, this reminds me," James said as he held up a hand for Rufus to climb into. "Did you bring Lilly? We should put her back here with these two."

 

Anesh glared at him as he walked back into the fort to deposit Ganesh and his axe. "No, and if you think about that question, I think you'll figure out why."

 

"Okay, okay. Well, good job Rufus! You two really fucked that thing up! Good little viscious killing machine! Who's a good horrifying spider monster? It's you!" Rufus, sitting in the palm of James's hand, made a delighted little hissing noise, the orb rolling out of his mouth as he did so. James caught the errant skill orb, and set Rufus down on one of the desks, the stapler looking at him with hesitation. A second later, he grinned and put the orb down there too. "Yeah, you guys earned this one. Share with your friend, yeah?" Rufus hissed again, before consuming the entire orb in one go. "Well, so much for that." James laughed.

 

But then, the stapler shuddered for a minute, and a golden smoke started to form around it. James watched, speechless, as in about fifteen seconds, it coalesced into a solid looking skill orb. A pair of them, actually. One of which, Rufus grabbed, and ran off with over to the other desk that Ganesh was sitting on.

 

"Well shit. Did you see that?" James asked Anesh, who was unloading their new gear.

 

"No, what?" He asked, pulling the oversized potato gun out of the bag and assembling it.

 

James stared down at the skill orb that was left behind, presumably for him. "Rufus just... extruded? A skill orb. Just made it. I think he ate the big one, and broke it into pieces, but still, that's cool."

 

"How?" Anesh asked, coming over and looking at the orb in James' hand. "Did he do anything special? I mean, anything that we could replicate? Because if *we* could extrude skill orbs, that would... actually solve no real problems, would it?" He laughed at his own train of thought.

 

James chuckled along with him. "Not unless we get into a really contrived movie moment where one of us is trapped but the other person needs to know how to, I dunno, disarm a bomb or something."

 

"I don't think I look forward to that."

 

"Yeah, this isn't Hollywood. Anyway, what's on the agenda today?"

 

James put on a pompous, overblown British accent. "Adventure, my good man!"

 

Anesh just snorted and started pulling on pieces of armor. "Right, but really." He said as he strapped on his arm guards.

 

"Well, we're currently short on team funds. So, I figure we take today to do some heavy looting of this outer area, and then after a couple hour of just stripping it of everything that isn’t nailed down or on fire, we do a bit of exploration farther in. Maybe go check out that wall formation you found last time?” James suggested.

 

His friend nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay with that. We should get some more fortification in here first, though. I want to reinforce the walls; I know that these things are strangely durable, but if we get chased back here by something the size of a truck, I want it to at least buy us one hit worth of time.”

 

James thought it might be a little paranoid, but then again, he was absolutely certain they hadn’t seen everything of note in here. So, he agreed, and he and Anesh spent the next twenty minutes or so using the hand truck to bring back the solid wood and metal desks, as well as a few filing cabinets that Anesh wanted for storage purposes.

 

“I just like being organized.” He explained as James griped about being sent out for the third cabinet while Anesh neatly fit their stockpile of food, water, and extra medical supplies into the metal drawers. James just rolled his eyes, and made a promise that the next stapler that ambushed him during one of Anesh’s errands, he wasn’t going to kill, but lob at Anesh’s head

 

The next half hour was the two of them sweeping the outer edge of cubicles for anything and everything. The large open space between the outer wall - the actual wall not a cube wall - and the first row of cubes and desks seemed to stretch on forever. As far as they knew, it might actually be. The grey walls seemed to have a curve to them, so that as far away as they could see down the outer line of the space here, there was only a blank nothingness, like fog, but more boring.

 

After the first half dozen outer cubes of their looting run, Anesh spoke up. “Hey, we’ve got radios. And there’s nothing huge out here on the fringe, right? I’m gonna go the other way, and we can meet up when we’re done. Cover more ground, right?”

 

“Right.” James said. “Or meet on the other side. You see the curve, right? This is starting to feel like a giant ring.”

 

“That’d take hours. It must be at least a mile to the artificial horizon here, that maths out to about an eighty klick loop? Yeah, that sounds about right.” Anesh grabbed some scrap paper and a pen from the cube near him and started writing numbers. “Ninety eight kilometers, yeah. Oh, that’s a bit over sixty miles because...”

 

James snorted. “I’m American, not stupid. I know how long a kilometer is. Okay, so we’re not meeting up on the other side. Probably a terrible idea anyway. Oh, *this* is what we need bikes for!” He exclaimed excitedly as the thought struck him. “Alright. Go cover clockwise. I’ll keep going this way. Stay in touch if you find anything, head back in an hour, and then we can rest for a bit before we go deeper?”

 

“Got it.” The two friends shared a casual high five as they crossed paths and walked in opposed directions, before James ruined the moment by having to turn around and grab the backpack he forgot to pick up.

 

James moved on alone, feeling the strange texture of the silence in here. Without Anesh, he didn’t have anyone to banter with, or watch his back. He knew that out here, the worst he was going to find was a bad stapler infestation, but now it felt a lot more tense. The air was too still, the words he’d found so easy with a partner just sat in the back of his throat, wisecracks unused. The strange mixed scent of cleaning solution and despair that made up every office environment he’d ever worked in filled the air with a harsh chill.

 

In short, he was on edge almost instantly.

 

Of course, this didn’t stop him from looting. Anesh was a lot more ambitious, and James was aware that his friend had taken the hand truck with him. He really hoped the guy didn’t try to convince him to carry one of these desks down the stairs. But even with that, they’d come up with a plan to maximize value, mostly at Anesh’s insistence.

 

Drawers first, then the cabinets if possible. Candy? Grab it. Novelty candy was just the tip of the iceberg, but it was still something they’d both come to love. And James sure as hell wasn’t going to pass up Double Double Blastos. Money? Obviously. Food? Eat if you’re hungry; they were going to be here a while, and dealing with that without having to eat one of the MREs was generally a good plan, as far as James was concerned. Next, check anything obvious on the desk; information gathering was, so far, totally useless, but they might get something, and they only needed to look for non-random information.

 

One stack of papers that just had nonsensical technical details on them later, James was done with that. He checked the computer, and found it to be functional, if bizarrely formatted. He poked at what he thought were some programs, and got… a lot of runtime errors. Okay, so it wasn’t alien architecture, it was just *bad* architecture. Well, the insides still worked, and so, next step; open it up and grab the most useful parts. RAM was the best size-to-value ratio, and the CPU went into a separate bag, with it and the video card.

 

Final step, anything else obvious. Consumer electronics, like the pair of headphone James nabbed. Value items, though nothing stood out to him here. Any kind of clothing, usually coats though also fresh dry cleaning, could also be folded up and stacked outside, and taken on the way back. If nothing else, there were enough coats here to make sure that no one in this city ever had to go cold. That, or selling them off on Craigslist.

 

Opening up the computer was probably the most profitable part, since James only found $12 otherwise, but it also took the longest. Still, without interruption, it only took him about ten minutes. He could get another five done before turning around.

 

It was when he was midway into his fourth loot box of the day, as he’d started calling them in his head, when the walkie talkie he had on his belt scratched to life. “James, you there?”

 

“You need to say ‘over’ at the end, man. Over.” James said as he tried to open the network shared documents folder on the computer.

 

There was a brief pause, before, “Just letting you know, after a certain distance down the line, the lamps get a bit hostile.” Another beat, and then, “Over. Jack..”

 

James chuckled, then realized what Anesh has actually said. “The lamps? Over.” He said as he clicked through connection menus.

 

“The lamps.” Anesh confirmed. “Any little desk lamp, specifically ones that clamp to the side of the desk. They go briefly nuclear, and then…” The radio cut out.

 

After a couple seconds, James pushed the button. “Anesh? You there? Over.” He suddenly felt a surge of curiosity that drowned out his worry, though, as he noticed that there was currently a single text file in the shared documents folder. Without thinking, he opened it up, ‘XKUT.txt’.

 

“Empty. Damn. I was hoping for a survivor note, or some kind of supernatural document.” He blinked, and a second later, the document had words in it. “The hell?” James muttered, reading. “Dean, Castiel, these are character bios for Supernatural characters… Wait, hang the fuck on. Um… Farscape.” He intoned, looking at the screen. An instant later, all the words on screen changed, now listing out the plot synopsis of James’ favorite Australian science fiction series. “This is the dumbest thing. I’m kind of angry this is wasting my time when I should be… oh shit, Anesh!” He thumbed the radio. “Anesh, you alive? Over.”

 

“Yes, I’m alive. Also ouch, also I’m claiming the orbs I’ve found by right of victory.” Was the staticed reply.

 

“Fair. Also over.” James said. “Also, undo that over. I found a magical text document? What should I do with it? I didn’t bring a USB stick, for obvious reasons.”

 

“What’s it do?” Anesh asked. And then, as James waited, just reading his own personal Farscape wiki, a minute later he added “Over.”

 

James laughed quietly. This was filling his emotional yearning for sass. “It gives you the information on whatever television show you speak in front of it. Over.”

 

“Have you tried saying things that aren’t shows? Over.” Anesh asked back.

 

This caused a moment of head slapping as James realized that he hadn’t really tested this fully. Right, okay. Easily fixed. “The Warded Man. The Bible. King Kong.” He started off listing fiction that wasn’t TV series. Nothing. “Random wiki page? Oh! Google!” Nothing, damn. That last one would have been great. “Okay, yeah, I’m not finding anything else to yell at it. Over.” He sent to Anesh.

 

“Just delete it then. See if you get an orb.” Anesh said. James didn’t even mind the lack of an over this time, and grinned as he dramatically applied the delete key to the silly little enchantment. A second later, a small fingernail sized blue orb appeared, floating steadily just above the keyboard.

 

“It worked!” He yelped, forgetting both the radio, and also the presence of stapler-crabs. The former, he moved to rectify, reaching out to call back Anesh. The latter, he didn’t only just noticed sneaking up, and jerked his hand away as it lunged forward and chunked a metal shard into the desk. “Son of a…!” He cried as it moved again, lunging forward to go for his arm.

 

James leaned forward, smashing it flat by applying pressure from his armored forearm. As its legs tried to find purchase while held pinned, he grabbed the back half with his gloved hand, and then quickly flipped his grip and pulled it in half.

 

“I think this is getting a little too easy…” He muttered to himself as he grabbed the two different colored orbs in his thin, spidery fingers. “Well, Anesh got some, only fair I have these to myself.” He thought as he cracked into his prize.

 

[Problem Solved : Reorganized]
[+1 Skill Rank : Medical - Pathogens]
[+1 Skill Rank : Gambling - Card Counting]

 

“Reorganized? Wait, why am I asking, these have been consistently confusing and no one ever answers me.” James did a quick check, but could not find anything amiss on his person. Shrugging, he decided to loot one or two more cubicles, specifically looking for cash before heading back. Standing up, he grabbed for the loot duffel, and stumbled as he realized that it was devoid of weight.

 

Unzipping it, he found it empty. “Fucking dammit, did the orb put everything back where I found it? That’s not a problem solved, you fucking fuckers!” He swore under his breath. Angry and frustrated, he radioed Anesh and told him he was heading back, then started the quarter hour stroll along the wall to get to the door fort.

 

He got back just after Anesh did, and found his friend standing over the desks unloading his bag. “Hey. What’d you get?”

 

“Lots of stuff. More than you, it seems.” Anesh said smugly. He dragged a hand through his shaggy black hair. “Tell me my wealth makes me beautiful.”

 

James scowled at him. “Yeah, well, I didn’t get anything because of the stupid blue orb.” He muttered as he lobbed his bag onto the floor.

 

“Wait, what?” Anesh looked puzzled. “I thought you already dropped off your loot. What’s all that stuff?” He pointed over at a desk, where neat rows of computer hardware, clothing, food, and electronics were arranged.

 

“Oh.” James said. And then a wave of relief went through him, the sour taste in his mouth and chest banished by the sight of what he’d been working on. “Oh! Okay, so that’s what it did! I thought it just stole everything back!”

 

“Doesn’t matter, still got more.” Anesh said, unloading bankers boxes full of keyboards and monitors from the hand truck he’d taken.

 

James sighed. “Dude, how are we supposed to get those out? Much less sell them off.”

 

“Easy,” Anesh said, “just stash the box under your desk, and take one or two a day in your bag. No one will suspect anything.”

“Except the janitors, or the people who use that desk on other shifts. Anyway. You ready to go head out for some exploration?” James made sure his bag was empty except for a bottle of water, and some duct tape and rope. Never knew when you might need duct tape. He’d had the axe on his belt already in its holster, and he picked up the potato gun that he and Anesh had built over the week and brandished it, hoping he looked like an action movie poster.

 

“Wait, hang on. You don’t have personal desks?” Anesh looked insulted as he hoisted the sledgehammer into a comfortable carrying position, set Ganesh down on his shoulder, and moved out the door to give James room.

 

James shook his helmeted head. “Nope.” Fitting the gun through the door was difficult. Six feet of thick PVC pipe, with a larger folding mount beneath it if they needed to set it down somewhere and still have access to it. Instead of hairspray, the two had opted for a compact propane tank to use as fuel, and Anesh had built an ignition trigger that looked a lot more professional than he felt.

“You should really consider looking for a new job.” He told James, as the two of them struck out down Hallway One, fluorescent lights burning overhead.

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argusthecat

Bio: I write stuff, and have a lot of thoughts about narrative structure and tropes. Some of the stuff I write is here, the rest can be found over on Reddit on my r/hfy author page. Feel free to message me if you want to talk about ideas, or just have questions about anything I made!

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