Chapter 1

Ætherglow #25

“Ana.” You direct your voice at it and it alone. “Can you access any of our implant readings in here?”

“What? Yes, pretty easily. And as a medical employee of TLA I do have the contractual authority to do it in an emergency situation. Why?”

“Check K, check for a neuromuscular stimulant in his blood,” you say.

“Why K?”

“I saw something very suspicious. Just do it, hurry!” you say.

“Okay.” You see it examine his avatar. It doesn’t take long for him to notice he’s being watched from the inside. He pulls back from the console and freezes in place.

“What are you doing?” he says. “Analyzing our blood without our consent?”

Ana suddenly has a serious look, and its body glows with a crimson aura as it begins to manifest some kind of technopathy unfamiliar to you. “Just you. You know, neuromuscular stimulants are a big special interest of mine, especially combinations that might enable a human body to survive lethal G forces. And what I saw from your implants before you shut me out was very interesting to me.”

Synth floats back away from the console, putting some space between them and K. The color of their eyes turns bright green, and the label on their head changes: Synthesis-05 Bright blue flames engulf their hands as they prepare a program of their own. “What about it, technician?”

K slowly turns his metallic form around to face Ana. “I take it for a medical condition, without it I could not survive the higher gravity of TLA, it’s a common Lunar condition, don’t you know that? My medical records will confirm this.”

“Your medical records would settle that, once we are back in connection with the broader æther. But conveniently, we have no way of looking them up for the next six hours,” Ana says.

“Convenient… The ship’s hidden log should tell us something about your access history, though.” Synth returns to the monitor and runs another search on the log data. “What--you’re entirely absent.”

“Well, then will you tell this inquisitor to stand down?” K says.

“You’re telling me you, a technopath engineer, who worked on light transport craft just like this, who had military training and experience under pressure, you did not even access the shuttle when we were in potentially fatal danger?” Synth says. “You were not even curious what the hell was killing us?”

They raise their blue flames again, floating just a meter away from his avatar. “Is this story about a hidden log even true? Or, what is this directory you’ve led us to actually for, I wonder?” They look to another one of the students, one older than you. “You. Look through this with me. Ana, don’t take your eyes off him.”

“Okay.” The girl they called on comes over to see. The two of them look through the data until Synth shakes their head and turns away from it.

“Other than the log file, a near-exact copy of the surface-level one, the contents of this directory are incomprehensible. I don’t mean they’re encrypted, I mean I have no fucking idea what this code does. Which isn’t the kind of thing you’d expect to find in the operational systems of a shuttle, is it?” they say.

“It’s very suspicious. Especially considering K was the one who led us here. I think we should return to the surface and restrain this one from entering the æther again.”

“I agree. You first years, go up first, we’ll bring K along,” Synth says.

“Got it,” Vik says. You and them look back to find the portal you came from, but its outline no longer glows on the wall behind you.

“Oh, you don’t know how, right,” one of the older students says. She motions like she is opening a door, but nothing is accomplished. “Huh?” She tries it again. Nothing.

Synth attempts the same, to no effect. “We’ve all been ætherlocked!”

“What have you done?” Ana says, as the aura surrounding it sharpens into a point directed toward K.

“What could I have done with you watching my every thought?” K says.

“He must have done it as soon as we got here,” Ana says.

“The simplest of programs will trace the source of the ætherlock,” K says.

Synth examines the space around them, and a thousand points of blue light spiral in toward their eyes from all directions. “Ana cast the ætherlock?!”

“What?!” Ana says.

“Now it all adds up, why you suddenly accused me, setting up an innocent person!” K says. He raises his mechanical arms and green arcs of electricity appear between his fingers.

“I-it’s an echo, an illusion, it has to be, it’s not true!” Ana says, keeping her program ready.

“Great, it’s your word against his…” Synth says, shaking their head.

“You two.” Synth speaks directly to you now. Vik also reacts to this. “You first years don’t have interface implants, there’s an exploit to get you, and only you, out of the ætherlock, if I can reach out and hard reset your interface collars. A fail-safe all these student collars have. I had to do it to myself once. Will you go up?”

“What do you want us to do?” Vik says.

“Get Ana’s hypospray and hit both it and K for a second dose. It should fully anesthetize them, then we’ll all feel a lot safer in here and we can get ourselves out of this ætherlock. I won’t lie, it’s risky to pull out of the æther so suddenly, and you’ll be very disoriented from the ongoing effects of the drug it gave you, but it’s still the best idea I have.

“Will you do it?”

1) "I'll do it if you will, Vik.": 100 (100.0%)
2) "I'll do it, but only me, you don't have to take that risk, Vik.": 0 (0.0%)
3) "It sounds too dangerous, isn't there any other way?": 0 (0.0%)
4) "Why should we trust you? What if this plan of yours is all part of whatever is going on here?": 0 (0.0%)
Expired 2 years ago (2022-01-22 01:23:00)

NOTICE: this poll was conducted on Ætherglow's previous home site. After total loss of the server, we only had records of which results won, not exact vote totals.