The digital worlds of the nearby nodes were degraded as Lexel began to maneuver her way through the local connections. She had to move through tedious connections and narrow pathways to find her way around into the more familiar systems she was used to. At least the trouble meant that this virtual briar patch would also add a layer of protection; if she was having difficult navigating her way out then anyone else would have just as much trouble trying to track her back in.
Traffic pulsed around her in flashes of green that the wrecked terminal weakly wrestled with trying to translate for her sensory input. Lexel regretted the fact that the unit’s perception filter hardware must have been failing. She missed the higher resolution renderings of her old fully functional terminal. But she wasn’t here to enjoy the sights; she reminded herself of the importance of her task and punched forward.
A few more grid point jumps and she slid home into an old node she had drifted into once by accident, thankfully finding her backdoor still safely in place. The node itself wasn’t anything special to look at; it didn’t glimmer with the promise of a swarming data-haven or the shadowy draped tell-tell signs of a tar baby trap. No, she had made it a point to remember this little location because it made her instinctively perk up her ears.
Lexel had learned a lot in her nightly running through the nodes but most importantly she had learned to trust her own instincts. Her gut told her there was a connection here, a use that she could tap; this node was just to clean and placed neatly in plain sight. As she skillfully probed her way around she detected no traces of traffic of any kind, not even the typical clutter found on an empty place holder node. Curious she dug in a little deeper and began to look at what wasn’t there more than what was.
It wasn’t easy or quick, but slowly Lexel began to piece together a vague idea of what this node was used for. While it held no real information of its own, she soon establish a handful of others that directly received encrypted feeds from it that in turn rippled further. This little silent spot was a source; a broadcast point from what she could tell that had to be used for fight feeds. Lexel realized it was just a theory, but it was one that her intuition said felt right.
“Time to roll the dice,” she decided firmly and sent a pulse back from the passive node. Before she even had the time to worry about the possible danger of her plan a floating head of fuchsia appeared with a plain look of irritation upon it. The anonymous avatar stared into her, and as it did so she could feel scans already sweeping to probe the surroundings. Unless she wanted to be relegated as just another punk meddling with nodes for kicks Lexel judged she would have to seize the initiative here and now.
“Don’t bother asking how it was that I found you; it’s not important,” Lexel bluffed with all her might. “What is important though, is the fact that I have found a fighter the likes of which has never been seen before. And all he wants is entry into the games. Interested?” It was a gamble, trying to come off as some kind of hot shot but it was one Lexel hoped her limited hardware might actually help by not displaying more of her expressions. She was the first to admit that acting wasn’t her strong suit.
When the face finally spoke it did so in cold distorted tones that were anything but natural. “Another hopeful dreamer I see,” it proclaimed with a purr. “We shall see whether or not your fighter has the mettle for a match, but be warned; we do not take kindly to anyone foolishly wasting our time.” A series of coordinates were transmitted to Lexel as the face began to fade. “Be at this location by nightfall; we will see if your worth entry into the games with a little trial match,” it warned before the node itself went dark as well.
“Drama much,” Lexel joked before making her way back to jack out. Zero was hopefully still patiently waiting and it was beginning to look like they needed to get ready for a fight. A fight she had a feeling would not be easy in any shape or form. As she jacked herself back out into waiting reality she soon found a mild headache was already taking hold. Using a makeshift piece of hardware had its drawbacks, especially if its signal filters made the experience less than smooth on you.
Lexel paused briefly to close her eyes and rub at her forehead for a minute as she tried to compose her thoughts. Thankfully she found Zero had in fact faithfully stayed by her side the whole time. “How long was I plugged in for anyway,” she asked her stalwart sentinel who still stood guard. “You have been away for precisely 1 hour 27 minutes and 36.4 seconds,” Zero informed her. “Did you meet with success in your endeavor?”
Before answering that one Lexel had to take in a deep breath for a second. She found herself debating how to look at it. While she had managed to locate a connection that promised to potentially lead them to NaN’s underground arena, she didn’t have a guaranteed entry. “We have to pass a test first,” she finally decided to answer. “At nightfall we have to be at a location where a no doubt nasty street fight awaits us. If we survive it is implied that we will earn a shot at the arena games.”
“I have no prior experience with which to estimate our chances of success,” Zero began. “What do you think our odds of winning such a contest will be?” It was the same question she had been considering before she ever even jacked out. “Oh, we totally have this locked in; don’t worry,” she reassured him. Zero decided he trusted his friend and while he didn’t have any previous reference such fights he did have vast combat experience. How different could it really be?