-Ai~ Before we’re handed the punishment, can you let them figure out what happened?
-The request is acceptable. It shall be granted.
-Wait just a second, how is it possible that everyone failed? Not even Kyel passed?
-What, never heard of “No one left behind”? If one goes down, everyone goes down!
Both Natalya and Kate didn’t seem to care, while Arthur’s dark expression was the same one he held during the morning, but it could’ve been an aftereffect of the lack of sleep. Those that went out of their way to complain were the remaining members of Arthur’s group, now broken into pieces.
The one most shocked about the outcome was the kid who survived the trial. He stared at Kyel for a long moment, silent tears flowing down as he hid his face from the others. Kyel waved a hand at him briefly before watching the spectacle of the adults, who gathered courage from God knows where to impose themselves on him.
It quickly got boring, though.
-You’re a teeny weeny bit smart – Kyel turned to Seven and made a gesture as if pinching a small bug - You should be able to figure it out, hehehe...
A flash of ruthlessness glowed in his eyes as he resumed laughing, but regarding Seven it fell on deaf ears. The moment the announcement was given, his mind wandered far away to understand what occurred. He tried to remember every detail, no matter how useless it seemed to be, and caught a thread of the logic behind everything.
“Kyel’s group was arranged on a 3x4 grid at the very front. If the people at the first two or three rows changed places, it wouldn’t be obvious unless someone paid them close attention, and if done early in the last row, it wouldn’t be too strange either.”
However, on the first hour, it was to be assumed that everyone would be focused on reading through the recipes, searching the boxes for ingredients and familiarizing themselves with the kitchen utensils, not to say about the view from the skies.
“If Kyel was to choose a random recipe that didn’t appear to take much time and told everyone to do it, and in such an orderly manner that even the position of the ingredients in their stands didn’t look too far off from each other, his group would be finished way before the others even chose their recipes. It should be enough time to make the dishes and swap places”
He could imagine Natalya noticing the subtle changes, but would she care about anything Kyel was capable of doing? Even if someone were to point out the strange behavior in their group, it would end at that – a strange behavior – because to gain an advantage or at least avoid taking punishment in this activity, they couldn’t waste time with Kyel’s completely random musings. If everyone failing was a possibility, they could only imagine it as a product of disastrous cooking.
“If that is so, it is also possible that they all tried the dishes on their tables, and did the same once they swapped places. Ai mentioned only a taste of the dish was needed, so it wouldn’t look suspicious. After all, taste-testing is expected when cooking anything. That way, once they did the exchanges outside of their circle, their actions wouldn’t count because the limit is 2 dishes... But not all of them did that.”
If everything was like Seven imagined, there was still a likelihood of a random person passing the test, even if all actions were to be coordinated with the spy.
"Some of the people who swapped places didn't do the taste-testing, waiting to see how the exchanges would go"
Summing up everything, most of Kyel’s votes were “null”, and the valid ones were wasted in people that wouldn't pass the test no matter what. Finishing early and approaching the lone spy implanted in the remaining 9 would also create a sense of haste in those who have been in contact with Kyel, making them more eager to make the exchange.
“It’s possible that Kyel set for others a first come, first serve rule.”
That thought was backed by the fact no one had contacted Seven after he finished his dish.
If that was truly what happened, Seven had greatly underestimated Kyel’s craftiness. To figure out all the flaws in the rules, creating a plan and putting it into action at the same time with such speed was something he was currently incapable of doing.
“Still... Natalya, Kate, Arthur... At least four of us he didn’t have a grasp on... Did he predict each of our actions?”
Prompted by Ai and those who couldn’t understand what happened, Seven explained his theory and a strange uncertainty reigned over the room, tainted only by the ramblings of a lunatic.
-You get full marks! Well, almost, hehehe... You see, isn’t it a more interesting outcome? At the very least you should understand me, number bro!
“... He’s not wrong”
Seven did think that everyone losing was a good development, and although those that were fooled looked abnormal, it wasn’t to the point of despair. The punishment wouldn’t be life-threatening after all.
“Rather, they seem upset for another reason...”
It was easy to see that none of those who complained loudly dared look at Arthur’s face.
“I cannot sympathize, playing for their interests seems perfectly fine to me... But I suppose the guilt of betraying someone, no matter how trivial the situation might appear, is still there for them, and since they didn’t even get what they wanted in the end, it was a shot in the foot”
Arthur neither forgave nor blamed them, an awkward silence reigned between his former comrades.
Seven cast his eyes downwards in thought.
“It's only the 6th day we've been together, but the circumstances should be good enough for bonds to be established..."
Seven couldn’t understand how easily they gave away Arthur. Rather, he couldn’t understand how Kyel, the youngest out of all of them, so easily accomplished this feat beneath their noses.
“The weakest link indeed makes the whole structure collapse”
-Since the issue has been resolved, I will proceed with the punishment game. Starting from now, every subject will receive a paper with a written number, from 1 to 21. The subject with the number 1 must come forward and your data will be retrieved, revealing a piece of information considered most relevant by the Main System and a memory of great importance to the subject, in that order. Unless the data is currently inaccessible to the subject’s brain, he must come forward and elaborate on the information himself, otherwise, it will be summarized by me. If the subject lies or hides information, he will be warned once and if such a mistake happens again, face termination. Afterward, the subject with the number 2 must step up and the game will continue down to the last number.
Immediately after, slits of paper materialized in front of each person and they eagerly grabbed it.
“19th... A suitable number”
Seven had no interest in whatever Ai revealed of him, but it was nice to know he would learn about others first.
-Ayy! I’m the first one! I’m so~ excited! Hehehe...
Kyel jumped out of the table while throwing away the coconut, rushing to Ai’s side.
-Go, go, go!
Ai’s movements stopped altogether as her eyes glowed a cyan blue, projecting a rectangular screen that coursed by Kyel’s skin and enveloped his whole body, going back and forth as the retinae produced countless lines of numbers.
-Data retrieved: Kyel Prajna, 6th Research Station: WHISPER’s Ultimate Survivor. Explanation required.
-Hahahaha! So obvious!
Kyel turned around and, taking note of the unusual reactions, he was filled with a great sense of satisfaction.
Seven bit on his finger, a strange feeling sprouting inside of him. It was the same one he felt when he noticed Natalya’s charm as main character material for his story. As his thoughts accelerated at the prospect of a new chapter he ignored the blood flowing from his lips and the chunk of unattached skin he was currently gnawing at, his eyes wide open and mouth curving into an ugly grin.
“Interesting... Very interesting!”
He didn’t expect that someone else other than Natalya would’ve come from another laboratory, taking part in the test of a different area.
“This can’t be a coincidence, what are these guys from other stations looking for?”
-Ahh, okay, now I’ll have to explain it to you dummies! Tsk, so troublesome! There are in total 7 Research Stations. From 1st to 7th, they are: EDGE, PLUS, HEART, DOOM, RAIN, WHISPER, and HOPE.
Although Seven already knew of such information, it was novelty for more than half of them. Everyone knew of the existence of the research station, but most didn’t know how many of them existed, their names or even their purpose.
-Each Research Station has a different Control Room that is locked by a centipede long password, and different tutorials are happening near their locations. Of course, I know the specialty of each station, but~ I only need to share info on WHISPER, ri~ght?
-That is correct.
-Ehem! The 6th Research Station’s specialty is information gathering. Our Tutorial: Lesson 2’s main objective is to discover the Ultimate Survivor of each station and help them crack the password to the Control Room, which great me here already did! Hehe! Should I talk about the Ultimate Survivor, too?
-If you don’t, you will receive a warning.
-You’re no fun... - Kyel pouted – I planned to explain it from the very beginning, anyway!
Kyel climbed the tall balcony with a bit of effort and made a victorious pose, opening his arms wide and pointing his thumbs towards himself.
-This daddy here is the top dog of the information network running in this hell, you can start calling me Supreme Leader if you want, but don’t say it too fervently or it’ll make me blush...
Seven perked his ears when Kyel jumped off the balcony and assumed a serious tone.
-I am an Ultimate Survivor, the best seed that managed to last for long enough to get inside the Control Room and awaken his abilities. I don’t know about other Ultimates, though, so how to best use the information in the Control Room might not be as obvious to them as it was to me.
Kyel stopped talking and directed his gaze to Seven. With a gasp, he fidgeted as his cheeks were painted a rosy color.
-If you look at me with such ardent eyes... I... I... Oh, who am I kidding, stop glaring at me like that, you fucking weirdo. Yikes!
Seven didn’t mind his comment and kept looking.
Following that, Ai provided an important memory regarding Kyel.
-Accused of cheating on a test in University, with extensive proof.
At that moment, Seven imagined question marks plaguing the heads of each person inside the room, just like NPCs with available missions. He, too, had such a thing floating above him.
“How is that information relevant to Kyel?”
Retracting his thoughts, he focused on Kyel’s expression and, although he was all smiles, the aloofness of his eyes was undeniable as if he was suddenly robbed of his vision. Three minutes passed like this, with people whispering each other and looking at him from time to time.
-A warning was issued to subject QTSA-0665: Kyel Prajna, for inactivity. The subject will be terminated in five minutes.
Nathan sighed and went forward, slapping Kyel’s cheek lightly but still making a point of leaving a shallow mark.
-Moron. Pay attention.
Kyel blinked twice and gazed at Nathan, clearly confused. His innocent face looked like that of a common teenager for a second.
-Cheating on a test, explain it before that thing kills you. Unless that’s what you’re going for.
Kyel’s eyes once again went astray as he pondered how much he needed to talk about it, but he didn’t want to think too hard. The more he tried to make sense of it, the more he felt his identity at risk.
-I was accepted into Grey Orchard when I was twelve. For those that don’t know, it’s the best University in my country, with worldwide recognition. Attending that place is an achievement in itself... In my third semester, people accused me of cheating on a test and had “proof” to back their claims. Truth or not, such accusations are taken very seriously there, and a complete investigation followed after. The conclusion: I was deemed guilty of the claims and expelled, taking compulsory education with other children of my age...
A bitter tale, and a strange one.
“Would anyone be able to plot against Kyel?”
Seven knew of the name Grey Orchard. Even people who would be recognized as geniuses in other places were quite common there, so for Kyel to be accepted at such a young age was an astounding feat. Why would such a person need to cheat? Anyone could tell there was something fishy in there. Why would Grey Orchard let go of him that easily? And for something that big to happen, it would evoke huge repercussions – how could he not remember such a thing?
There were many holes in the story, but Ai didn’t prompt the youngster for a deeper explanation, since the keypoints were conveyed without fail.
“The story runs deeper than that, but the memory he considers most important is that one...”
For a moment, Seven wanted to grab his pen and write a side-story. The mysterious past of the tragic genius, Kyel.
The awkward silence was broken once again by Ai’s unfeeling voice.
-Next subject, come forward.