3.1: Countermeasures

“I told you to contact Crata, but now because of your moronic pride, we’re staring down an entire army!” Zathony barks.

     “My pride did not conjure an army,” Tameri refutes. “Their attack has been underway far longer than I’ve been in charge. Or do you plan to blame Neth next?”

     “We both know that without a coma in the mix that Neth would’ve contacted every law enforcement precinct within two hours of this campus! His overprotective nature would’ve been more beneficial than your corrosive stubbornness!”

     Tameri leers crossly at Zathony, heated enough to continue arguing, but moves on to a more pressing subject. “You’ve voiced your criticisms, now shelve them or discard them. If you can’t do either, then leave. This meeting is about options moving forward.” She looks to her other contemporaries. “I’ve already made two.”

     “We’re listening,” Cwen says, nervously adjusting her glasses.

     Tameri moves the paperweights on the right end of the desk and uses them to anchor a map of the campus she unrolls. She points to the section of the campus that houses the four main dormitories for the students.

     “I’ve asked Roark to coordinate teams to move into the freshman rooms of each of our houses. Still unsure on if the reroute was a plant from inhouse, he recommended grouping the teams of guards from our original pool with officers that Crata sent.”

     “If you don’t trust them, then why place them closer to the students?” Professor Lynald inquires.

     “Because if they aren’t traitors, it’s good to have security in place for the students. If they are, then we’ve eliminated the ability to mobilize as one unit. Also, it means they’re not able to interfere with Roark and his core team, and remain ignorant to the status of his removal of the reroute.”

     Zathony raises his head slowly, approving of Tameri’s reasoning. “And the removal? How’s it fairing?”

     Tameri lowers a tablet onto the map and rotates it for all to see as she dials up Roark. She hesitates to tap the screen since the contact is still registered as Stark. Roark answers after the first ring, and the feed shows him racing back to a larger screen covered in digital code.

     “Keep it quick if you can, Tameri. Stark made sure her system was damn near tamper proof. I have to type in the malware removal command in less than four seconds to dispel just one byte of data, and the reroute is seven gigabytes of data with just it’s lock-in code. Even working without sleep, this is a tall order. No one here but me can type that fast and I’m only successful approximately eighteen percent of the time.”

     “You can’t use any other- better– malware erasing programs?”

     Roark opens the window to enter the code and types as fast as he can on a wireless keyboard, just barely beating the four-second countdown. He lifts an open cybersecurity manual and points out another, even longer erasure code. “This code here is stronger and more effective, but it has the same four-second window for entry. The one I’m inputting now is our best shot.”

     “At your current rate of success, how long would it take to remove it all?” Tameri asks.

     “Optimistically and with no sleep, maybe the night before the attack. Realistically, it’s a dead-end.”

     Tameri sighs gustily with her eyes open. Lately, when she closes them, all she sees is Rum’s demise. “Then abort that mission. What of our other two objectives?”

     “Start with the most important,” Zathony urges.

     Roark steps away from the large screen. “Nuria’s blood was on the ribbon, that’s a fact,” he says solemnly. “Stark’s and Shuri’s were also present, alongside three other sources we couldn’t identify.”

     “Three?” Zathony asks.

     “With our limited resources, all we can tell is that two of the unidentified sources are Ibri and the third is Vanusi. We only have Stark’s and Shuri’s because of Neth’s request, and Nuria’s from her blood test early last year. But something else was off.” Roark sits at the head of security’s desk. He raises a bloody ribbon sealed inside an evidence bag. “The blood stains don’t follow a logical pattern.”

     “How do you mean?” Tameri asks.

     Roark points to the largest pooled blood stain in the middle. “Based on how Zathony told me Nuria wears the ribbon, for her blood to pool like this, her skull would have to be split from behind. But if that were the case, there’d be no room for other blood sources to be present. It would be covered in Nuria’s and only Nuria’s.”

     Tameri doesn’t allow herself to have hope yet. “What if they were all standing in a huddle? Aurum and Reddic are both Ibri.”

     “They’d have to be positioned diagonally from Nuria, meaning they’d see her attacker approach. And if Reddic is who Stark believes, then he’d be impossible to sneak up on.”

     “Who did she believe he was?”

     “The one who planted Halko’s Notes for Nuria to find.”

     Tameri reflects the shock her fellow professors feel to Roark. She gets a grip quick. “Did Neth know?”

     “He does.”

     Tameri runs a hand through her raven locks. “It would seem our communication was off before the reroute was even placed. If I’d known that, I never would have let Aurum and the others go with them.”

     Tameri nearly loses herself again in the grief of Aurum’s fate until Marmagar lays a hand on her shoulder. He double taps his chest then lowers his hand slowly. It takes her a moment to block the images of Aurum, Nuria, and Shuri dead on top of each other, but she succeeds.

     “And the second objective?”

     Roark smiles bittersweet. “We’re ending on good news. Liamria was correct; they have no intention of hiding. Our perimeter cameras caught almost all of their forces clearly. I used Stark’s password to access the Jupiter City criminal database and we’ve identified at least 200 of their army thus far. We’re working up full profiles now. Names, dates of birth, powers, the whole nine yards.”

     “Can the other officers handle that in your stead?”

     “Of course. You have another idea?”

     “Yes…but it’s dangerous.”

     “Any move we make will be so from now on. Hit me with it.”

     “I need you to try and navigate around Liamria’s camp and bring back the calvary.”

     “From Jupiter City?”

     Tameri shakes her head. “We’ve confirmed the bulk of their forces are from JC, so it stands to reason they’d have every route from here to there protected. Our smartest move is to avoid those routes. I need you to go to Vanis Town instead.”

     The raven-haired professor is stunned by the officer’s sharp expression. “Tell me that your distrust of Stark or Crata isn’t a factor in that determination.”

     Tameri locks gazes with Roark but feels the eyes of her colleagues looking through to her very soul. Her opinion of Stark is no secret and it has only gotten worse, even after learning of her potential demise. The real reason, the one she hasn’t shared with anyone, is that she came to see Stark as a reflection of her greatest weakness.

     She imagines Stark didn’t have a charming childhood given the mental state of her mother, but Tameri’s childhood was in a league of its own. When she finally escaped the compound she was born in, she couldn’t bring herself to leave her parents behind. All the things they did to her, to Jojen and the others, and she couldn’t let them burn. She can’t help but think that perhaps Stark suffers that same weakness. And if the young officer is dead, Tameri hates to think that that weakness got her killed.

     Tameri slowly says, “It is not a factor. Without help, Four Hearts Academy will fall, and Jupiter City is too far and too close to our adversaries. Also, in case a retreat is necessary, we’ll be more fortified in Vanis Town.”

     An oversight to correct if we survive!

     Roark nods gradually. “When do I leave?”

     “Tonight, right as the sun’s going down.”

     “I’ll get ready then. I’ll alert you right before I leave.”

     Tameri terminates the call there. “We should all get a move on, too. I don’t want our lack of presence to worry the students more than they already are. Go, check in on them, and keep your eyes open.”

     Professors Lynald, Cwen, and Zathony vacate the office promptly. Marmagar grips Tameri’s shoulder firmly, looking down at her with a tender expression. She finally smiles as she rises, kissing him on the cheek. “I’ll be fine, dear. We have others who need us more than ever. They’ve no clue the terrors of this world; not like we do.” She delicately massages his throat scar. “If we do our jobs, that doesn’t change.”


     Tameri softly knocks twice against the sophman door. Pan’s “DO NOT DISTURB” is front and center. She hears the creak of soft footsteps scurry about before Aven peers through a crack in the door.

     “Oh, it’s you,” Aven says, a delicate touch of disappointment in his tone. Tameri’s advance inside is halted by Aven’s open palm. “One second.” He takes a step back. “Come down, Roy. It’s just Professor Tameri.”

     Roy hops down from somewhere above the door, nods tightly to Aven, them moves to a bed on the side of the room.

     “May I come in?”

     “That’s not my call.”

     Aven steps aside, creating a lane for Tameri and Pan to view one another. The young archer is posted behind the desk she uses for streaming, her recurve bow leveled to fire straight into the doorway. Pan flinches as her steady eyes suddenly spring tears. She releases her bow and whirls in her chair.


     “How long?” Pan shrieks. “How long have you known they killed Rum? Were you ever gonna tell us? Did you not think that maybe I- WE deserved to know! He’s…I…” She loses the strength to continue the rant that was intermittent with voice breaks and lets her pain flow unabated.

     Tameri looks to Roy next. He keeps his gaze on his hand claws, constantly fiddling with the constraints and handles. His pain isn’t as intense as Pan’s, but his refusal to make eye contact with her is just as telling.

     Finally, she faces Aven. “I can see you have things under control here. If you need me, make a noise I can’t ignore.”

     “Do you need help?”

     Tameri ceases her retreat and peers over her shoulder. She has recognized Aven always keeps a cool head under pressure and she sees that even now, he commands the respect of his peers and uses it to get them to act. More than she’s capable of at the moment. She’s glimpsed the trauma he expresses on occasion and determines he’s made it a strength.

     Tameri asks, “What did you have in mind?”

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