Starlequin stumbled out of his pod and staggered to his terminal chair. Physically he was fit as a fiddle, same as before he'd jacked in, but mentally and emotionally, he was beyond drained. His last run through VR had been grueling, to say the least. With a shaking hand he reached into a deep desk drawer and plucked out a room-temperature BlueMoose energy drink from its hiding spot and rolled the cool metal against his forehead. 'Okay, maybe tackling the problem through VR wasn't such a bright idea,' Star thought. He popped the can's tab and grimaced a bit as the caffeinated syrup coated his tongue and reflected on his sojourn toward salvation.
After compressing and dumping all of Bigglesworth's information into his own terminal, Starlequin had entered VR as usual, but this time he initiated the jump with a tether program to allow him to call up files from his terminal while in cyberspace. Upon instantiating atop one of the tallest buildings in Chiba City he immediately accessed his personal debug menu and began modifying cortical processor values, increasing the speeds at which his mind could accept and react to information while operating within the virtual environment. Sorting through and reconstituting Bigglesworth's data would take years for a brain working in meatspace, but in VR that time could be reduced by several decimal points. Star just hoped that his mind could handle the strain of working at literal light speed.
Company rules generally forbade engineers from using the system the way Starlequin was doing, but what were they going to do? Fire him? He was easily one of the best programmers they had, and he serioiusly doubted the legal or HR departments would kick up much fuss against him trying to rescue a fellow employee. Besides, it was beginning to work. He could feel it. Months passed in VR relative to Star's altered thinking speed, and he was sure he was getting close to finding an answer on how to reconstruct their colleague. It was becoming almost an obsession now, not only for Mr. B's sake but for the whole company. If anything like this ever happened to a client, heads would probably literally roll if there wasn't some way of recovering lost minds. If it could be done once, it could done again. The trick was just doing it once.
Star worked tirelessly for weeks at a time, unhampered by such trivialities as sleep or hunger. But even working at superhuman speeds, his mind still wandered now and again and every once in a while he would grow bored and venture into the City for a little break. Many of the games offered by the City's inhabitants became laughably easy when pitted against his heightened intellect, and privately he resolved to limit the range in which normal clients would be able to alter their own reaction times as a means of ensuring a semblance of order in VR. The system's simulated pleasures, however, were still thoroughly enjoyable, and Star spent several days basking in the sensory feasts on offer.
However, after a few hours in realtime he began to feel the effects of his debugging. The human brain simply wasn't equipped to operate at such high speeds for long periods of time, and his safety protocols were informing him his cranial temperature was approaching critical. If he stayed at such speeds much longer, his brain would cook inside his skull. He doubted anyone would be in a rush to clean up that mess. Star dialed back the processing speeds and allowed himself a few 'hours' to re-acclimate to normal speed, then logged back out into realspace.
And almost instantly wished he hadn't. From the sound of things, another engineer had gone mushminded, this time...That Girl Analise. Starlequin's eyes narrowed as he watched the others hover around her pod, pangs of regret shooting through him laced with a deep and unforgiving paranoia. Damn. So he'd been wrong to suspect her earlier; not only had she been innocent, but she'd been as vital a member of their team as he himself. Well, a tragedy, to be certain...but if he could manage to bring back Bigglesworth, they could bring Analise back too. He just had to keep working the problem. But part of him wondered...had he voiced his suspicions to anyone earlier? Had he let slip that he hadn't trusted Analise, and had whoever he'd mentioned it to used his speaking out against her as a means of drawing suspicion down on him? It would kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. But no...he hadn't spoken to anyone, he was sure. No doubt he was letting his fear get the better of him.
And from the look of things, he wasn't the only one. Names and accusations were being flung through the air with the frequency of poo at a chimp exhibit, and Star grit his teeth when he heard his own among them. He spun his chair around to face Ryven and locked eyes with the man, pausing for another slurp of 'Moose juice before he spoke. "Well, you're half right, pal; your character judgement sucks. Yeah, I'm as good a guess as any, but I'm a little worse than some. Maybe you should stick to playing with your cables while the big kids work on the real problems, hm?" He said coolly.
Star listened to the others' votes, or at least those that voiced them, and kicked his feet up on his desk with another sip from the can. Just like before, there were a few names that buzzed around his brain a little longer than others, but he was a lot less eager to pursue any of those trains of thought this time. He knew he probably came off as a bit of a bastard to some of the others, and it might even have been (okay, it definitely was) so, but he still didn't want to risk blaming another innocent coworker. He felt kind of rotten about what had happened to Yugi, and he hadn't even really suspected the guy. Well, much. But Yugi was at least free and safe to find another job. So, he reasoned, it had to be better to get a good programmer fired than to let another get hurt. Star spun back around and faced the group again.
"I'd like to say I hope you don't think too badly of me for this, Kythia, but honestly I don't really give a damn if you do or not. You've proven to be one hell of a codeslinger, and I was really looking forward to working with you on a few new aspects of the project I've been toying with. But now I'm starting to think you need to pack your shit and get out of here. If it turns out you're on the level, I'll do my best to help you keep your credit and any royalties the project earns you. But for now, better safe than sorry, and one way or another, you just ain't safe around here."
He turned back to his terminal as he finished speaking and brought up his personal mail server. It looked like the time for cowboying off on his own was over. He needed to start reaching out to a few of the others, try to learn who to trust. Too bad he had no real idea where to start. After clearing through a few memos and spam messages (including a rather personalized routing scam with the DrallTech logo and everything; those damn Nigerians were getting cleverer by the day) he called up the development team directory and scanned the names several times, looking for his first real allies. 'Oh, hell with it; gotta start somewhere. Eeny, meenie, miney...'