Chapter 6

Ætherglow #100

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2254-07-18 (Lunar Traditional Calendar™)

A month has passed since your æthereal encounter with Unas, NULL, and its unidentified host. Through the best efforts of Zeta, Akiko, and yourself, you are still no closer to identifying either of the technopaths involved, though you hope to learn more at your next meeting after class today. Meanwhile you have all been preparing for your upcoming midterm exam. The cryptic nature of this test is troubling--no professor will reveal anything about it. Even Akiko tells you that nothing she says could help you, and you must be ready to face it unprepared.

You keep this in your mind today in Cybersecurity class. You’ve been paired against a familiar opponent today, 7 Star. In four months of this class you have failed to overpower her even once. Today is going no differently.

You are running a simple practice scenario that requires simultaneous offense and defense. Each of you has been given a file that must be protected from the other’s sight, while both try to penetrate the other’s defenses. But 7 has you completely on the defensive at the moment. You’ve tried hiding the encrypted data in a sea of noise, you’ve tried laying traps with false data, you’ve tried shielding it by brute force, but 7 seems prepared to counter every school of technopathy you can execute.

You only now realize you’ve allowed her to lead you astray with a construct, and now she has you thoroughly trapped in a corner. You put all the focus you have left into your mental shield, but she pushes back against it with such pressure that you can almost see the cracks forming on your barrier even here on the surface. As her magenta eyes make contact with yours, her stare is like a mental blow that shatters your defenses, allowing her to take the encryption key freely and vanish again into the depths of your consciousness. You feel light-headed, and the world starts spinning around you.

You are on the floor, with a few other students around you, looking concerned.

“Still with us?” your classmate Ida says, a colonial girl you don’t know well.

“I’m okay,” you say, quite unsure of the truth of your words. You look up and see 7 still on her feet, not even so much as looking your way.

“So cold…” Ida says.

“Ah, she probably knows I’m fine, she’s very precise and never causes real damage in class,” you say. “But what a brutal opponent…I haven’t once beaten her.”

“Be careful around her, Aydan, you know what they say about 7.”

1) "What do they say?": 100 (100.0%)
2) "Rumors and gossip won't help me overpower her.": 0 (0.0%)
Expired 1 years ago (2022-06-03 14:34:00)