Starlequin stood silent on the roof, gazing out over the cityscape, one hand cupping a half-finished Pall Mall, its dwindling flame shielded from the evening rain. He paid the weather almost no attention, save for grimly noting how it mirrored his feelings. How many of them were gone, now? Biggles. Standing. Analise. Yugi. Niferbelle ('No great loss there,' he thought darkly). And now Remiel. He couldn't believe what he was thinking, and if anyone ever asked he'd deny it to his dying day...but this project was becoming more trouble than it was worth. And after what they'd done to Nifer, he was definitely not looking forward to spending any more time in VR for a while. 'Yeah, there was a great idea; let's take one of the most dangerous hackers we've ever encountered and lock her in a giant virtual universe we have to work in every friggin' day! What could possibly go wrong with that?'
The patter of rain drops against the metal roof door brought him back out of himself. Star dropped the cig, crushed it under his boot and headed back downstairs. He walked slow, giving his clothes time to dry in the cool stairwell, and re-entered the testing office just as James voiced his suspicion against persephone325, something Starlequin felt was not entirely unreasonable. But she seemed so...mousy. 'Yeah, and Nifer was so obvious,' he thought, rolling his eyes at his own stupidity. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to take a little peek at her terminal the next time he got a chance. 'Hell...maybe a few terminals...'
His train of thought derailed, however, when Kythia broke into hysterics so canned they belonged in a FEMA shelter. One eyebrow rose in bemused disbelief as Star watched the performance, wishing for a bag of popcorn to more fully enjoy the moment. Still, he couldn't help flinching a little as her accusing finger waved over them all; he'd already been on the receiving end of one deluded hellbitch's psychoses, and he was still paying alimony.
"Chill out, Cleopatra; Remi ain't dead. He's just...stuck...in a...vast, everchanging digital universe, and...possibly cognitively disintegrated," Starlequin said, trailing off as he realized the picture he was painting wasn't exactly a Rembrandt of reassurance. Still, he was certain it would be possible to get them all back, and he had made such progress already. He suspected a few of the others had started working on a retrieval plan as well. Well, as many minds as it took; they only had to solve the problem once, after all.
A sigh escaped him as Sasha began to berate Kythia, who raced out of the room to who knew where. 'Kids,' Star thought without a trace of irony, despite being far from the oldest guy in the room. Then again...he ran a quick head count of the engineers on the project and felt a little queasy; holy shit, he probably was the oldest guy on the team. He slipped around the others toward Rem's desk and scrounged in one of the bottom drawers for the bottle of rum he'd once spied hidden away.
"Ah, good old Remiel," he muttered as his fingers clasped around the long neck, "hope you don't mind, mate, but I think my crisis just got worse than yours at the moment." Starlequin moved back to his own terminal and fell back into his chair, stealing a swig from the bottle and once again staring out at the rest of the team. There were a few more he could check off his suspect list; thankfully, the emails he'd sent out had put him in touch with people that felt trustworthy. But there was a big difference in knowing who to trust and who to distrust, one that still left him looking out on a sizable pool of unfriendlies. He'd already picked wrong three times, now. And this was too important to leave to a few simple RNG algorithms. Starlequin leaned one elbow on his desk and watched patiently, deciding to wait a little longer and see where the others' loyalties lay.