It’s No Game

Ⅱ.5: Miss Sternbach, You’re Beautiful!

by Queen Fiona

Tags: #D/s #dom:female #f/f #hypnosis #pov:top #sub:female #gamemechanics #multiple_partners #mystery #romantic #second_person #worldbuilding
See spoiler tags : #bad_thoughts #corruption #cuties #cyberpunk #minced_swears #superhero #yurification

Later, that same day…or, is it the future, twenty years ago, in the depths of outer space?

♪ our satori is just floating in the core / where we can spiritually go through the door

Far above the surface of the Earth, a stolen prototype variable fighter begins its descent to the planet, whose defenses and vulnerable human minds are both held within the powerful musical grip of the artificial intelligence Sharon Apple.

“Never mind,” the pilot says to the hacker accompanying him. “Just trust my skill.”

“Skill has nothing to do with this. It’s going to take pure luck this time.”

“Luck is one of my skills!”

…despite all this excitement, Korri just yawns, unable to summon up much interest in the love story of a man, a woman, another man with a serious and barely-medicated mental disorder, and an evil computer idol with hypnotic music as set against the backdrop of a bunch of planes that are also robots.

You don’t get it. How can she like horror movies and not this?

“At least the music is good,” says Korri, snuggling into her side.

“Well, yeah, it ought to be!” You feel good, even if Korri’s not interested in the anime; just spending time with her is enough to make you feel all warm inside. “If Marina likes a song, it’s gotta be good, right?”

“Do you prefer the original, or her cover?” Korri snuggles into your side. “I think I prefer Marina’s version a bit. Sounds even more like it could do things to your head, y’know? Which is the point, right? We can feel the info high!”

“E-ehe. Something like that.” Again, Korri is pushing your buttons. She doesn’t know, of course, but still, it’s kinda awkward! “I wonder if I’ll get to see her in concert next month?”

“This is why you should’ve gone with your mom to the concert, Cibby! Marina opening for Lauren…”

“Mouuu, enough with that!” you yell, cheeks puffing out. “I get it, I made a mistake! Marina, at least, I’ll get to see again…”

You sigh dreamily. The beautiful, alluring, wonderous Marina Arisa is one of the top idols here in Southern Sun – a so-called ‘idol of the future’, operating independently of traditional record labels or even the Sunset Corporation! (And Sunset just has to go along with her popularity – she’s always top-ranked in the polls.)

You’re not ashamed to call yourself a fangirl, especially not when her music fits your tastes so well to begin with. Her cerulean hair, her graceful dancing, her bewitching voice…even if some people call them ‘artificial’, they’re captivating

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa fudge the selkie in that story was a thinly-veiled marina expy aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa how did you not notice

er. That, uh, rather embarrassing revelation aside (though you can still hear the laundry going from the consequences of that), last Friday’s concert was the culmination of Marina’s career, getting to share the stage with one of her inspirations…

Of all the times to chase senpai’s coattails, huh?

“So how did the Debate Club, anyway?” Korri asks, providing a helpful distraction from your regrets.

“Surprisingly well!” You flash a peace-sign – you’re feeling kinda confident right now. “I managed to argue successfully that hot dogs were, in fact, a sandwich.”

Korri blinks. “…they are?”

“Don’t make me start again!” you pout (cutely). “Anyway, I think Milia’s got some history with Ms. Yi, because she recognised me right away.”

“…that doesn’t sound good, Cibby,” Korri says, looking a bit grim – ah, she’s worried about you, huh. “If she knows you, it’s probably not for good reasons. And if she’s that obsessive over who’s favored by a teacher…”

“I’m not really looking forward to it either, but it’d be nice if we could get along, right? If only for appearances’ sake.” Milia’s hot, sure – you’re not going to deny that – but she’s kinda rotten. Sure, Stella doesn’t like you, but she strikes you as a good person, right? But you don’t think you’d really want to date Milia, physically attractive as she might be.

“I don’t really think people like that ‘get along’, is the thing. They don’t call you ‘Empress’ because you’re nice, you know? Although, that would actually be more appropriate to the meaning of the Empress Arcana in tarot.” Korri mumbles, putting up her hood. “If you’re determined to do it, though, remember the kind of person you’re dealing with.”

You sigh. “So I just have to put up with it, huh.”

“You don’t have to go, but if you do, just…keep it professional,” says Korri. “Try not to get too close to her. Someone like that is dangerous, Cibby, especially in today’s political climate. You don’t want her upset at you, trust me.” Though you’ve been trying not to use your telepathy too much today, you can still feel a faint shudder down Korri’s spine, and you squeeze her close to you in return.

It’s not what you were hoping to hear, but…you suppose it can’t be helped. You’re not even totally sure it’s working for grinding; you need to gain some ability scores to get a baseline on how it all works. Future-past-you has all these dang tutorials, but wouldn’t a progress bar help?!

Maybe, you should ask Korri about it. You still can’t reveal your power to her, of course, but maybe she’d have useful advice?

“Uhm, here’s a question! I’ve been thinking about some of Marq’s stories…” Right, don’t mention the NSFW ones, that won’t go well. “Let’s say you got the power to live life as a video game. How would you try to get your Intelligence up?”

“I mean…what kind of video game?” Korri asks. “Do I need to murder things for blood echoes? Is it experience-based or level-by-use based?”

“Uh…let’s say level-by-use.” It seems vaguely accurate, though you’ll need a skill boost to know for sure.

“Still not that specific, but…I mean, programming class is a good plan in my book. Assuming ‘intelligence’ is actually more about logical reasoning and technical skill, you’re already on the right track. Just do your best to keep your mind sharp, okay Cibby?” Korri laughs, and you just…

Jeez, you just wanna kiss her! B-but that’d be weird…chocolate fudge, you’re just too gay sometimes.

“By the way, Cibby! Are you still worried about things with Stella?” she says – good thing Korri can’t read minds.

“Of course I am! This is really nervewracking. But Ms. Yi seems to think it’ll go fine?” Don’t talk about hypnosis, don’t talk about hypnosis…

“It’s Ms. Yi who suggested hypnosis, right?” fudge

“E-ehe. Only because Stella’s interested! I don’t think she’d have done it otherwise…” You’re not sure whether you’re lucky or not, given future-past-you.

“Doesn’t she talk about that stuff a lot, Cibby?”

“I mean, not all the time.” (Admittedly, you think it might be more frequent than you first thought.) “Though we had a rant about free will just before Golden Week started, actually.”

“Oh? What did she say?”

“Implications about free will being an illusion because of the deterministic nature of the physical universe.”

“That’s kind of reductivist, isn’t it?” says Korri, raising her hood again, and looking quite determined. “That makes no difference to our own perceptions. It’s philosophically lazy and excuses our actions regardless of any kind of moral or ethical framework…”

…sometimes you forget Korri’s a genius. Somehow.

“Well, uh, aside from that,” you say, hastily trying to change the subject, “I guess I’m seeing Stella Friday, huh? I don’t really know how I’m going to handle things…”

“I think your brother’s right, though. About the ethics of it. Hmn, but I guess it’s probably fine, if the school allows for it…given the parameters of the assignment, it doesn’t feel like you could do much harm, y’know?”

“I can’t just not do it!” You wave your arms around to show just how serious you are about it! “Stella would kill me! Possibly literally!”

“No, I get it. I think you should do it, too!” Aah, sweet, beautiful, wonderful Korri’s smile…”I have a good feeling about it, y’know?”

You smile, and nestle closer against Korri and her hoodie. She’s warm…”Thanks a lot, Korri.” You’ve learned to trust her instinct on this sort of thing, so it kind of eases your mind about this, despite future-past-you and Marq and everything.

“Of course! Is there any way I can help?” Korri gives you one of her wide, warm smiles. Sweet Korri…please don’t judge about how Cibby is becoming a horrible mind controlling villain, okay?

“Well, there’s tonight’s programming class.” You pretty much just clicked it on a whim – it’s being held as a night class at the Pedersen College private school in Greener Grass. A bit far, but it sounded appealing somehow? “Any tips for that?”

“You really are trying to change things up after your accident, huh?” Korri laughs. Aah, sweet, wonderful, beautiful Korri is just…music to your ears. Even an idol like Marina can’t outshine Korri’s smile. “Hm. I remember a nasty trick the teacher pulled in my first programming class. No idea if it’ll happen here, but…”

“Ooh? Tell me!”

“The teacher asked us to write a program to sort a list of numbers, right? Most beginners, with no advance knowledge, try what’s called ‘bubble sort’ – an algorithm that’s simple to implement, but about the worst possible choice for the job! Only two people in my class saw past it, and I was one of them. If your teacher gives you that kind of task, Cibby, I’d recommend trying to implement insertion sort! I’ll send you the details when you head out, okay?”

“If that comes up, I’ll be ready, I suppose!” Hmn, but again – Korri’s instincts. Somehow, she always seems to know what’s up…”I should probably get going after we’re done with this, though.”

“I’ll send you my spirit energy from here!” Ah, if only! Korri would do much better at this kind of class…though she also wouldn’t need it. “And, one more thing, Cibby!” Korri’s still smiling, even as she says something ridiculous: “You haven’t done hypnosis before, have you? Do you wanna practice with me?”

“…what?”

You blink.

Korri grins.

…she’s serious.

“You’re serious.”

“Why not? It’s not like hypnosis can make you do anything you don’t wanna do.” Eheh…yes, definitely. Not like…not like you have abilities that can – er, wait, you don’t have those abilities yet, so it doesn’t matter. But still. “You can make me cluck like a chicken!”

“I suppose it wouldn’t be bad…I thought you were busy tomorrow?” Korri’s not had a lot of flight time lately, so you know she was looking forward to taking time out in her PRV.

“Yeah, that’s still happening. But you’ve got the house to yourself Friday, right? I should be able to come over and head out before Stella gets there!”

“Uh…sure, I’ll let you know if I want the help.” It’s worth considering, at least. Even if it’s a dangerous temptation!

…plus you don’t have Instant Hypnotherapist yet. Still, you’ve been going through Ms. Yi and Aunt Vesta’s reading lists, it can’t be that difficult. Especially with Thought Skimmer. And like sweet, beautiful, wonderful Korri says? You can’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to do.

(…things she doesn’t want to do, like becoming a lesbian, or being yours forever…)


Leaving Korri behind, you set out on your journey to your class, and by the time you get to the Pedersen College…you’re already a little annoyed.

“It’s poetry in motion, she turned her tender eyes to me…” Well, you can’t be in that bad a mood, you’ve already started wearing your earbuds again.

Greener Grass is northeast from the Capital District, along the Kon Kan River, bypassed by the trains and only accessible by bus – lest its tranquil ‘village character’ be disrupted. And if you asked your mom to describe it in one word? That word would probably be ‘bougie’.

You hear a lot of rants about land use here in Southern Sun, a lot of them from older people who lived in places like Hong Kong or Singapore where high density living was a fact of life. Most of Southern Sun is high-rise apartments, including some of the most desirable real estate, but there’s still plenty of people willing to pay a premium for this sort of ordered, pastoral parkland experience, where everyone lives in their own massive house. A way of life preserved here, for those who left their old lives behind in places like Old Canada.

Well, with your house, you have no room to talk, but Calvina sure has nothing but unkind words for it.

So too is the Pedersen College the desirable school here in Southern Sun; since the dorms at the Verwest Academy closed twenty years go, it’s been the only real boarding school left in Southern Sun, with students not just from Southern Sun, but all over the world. A concept like ‘private school’ seems outmoded as ‘real dairy’ ice cream – that is to say, it’s the kind of outdated that reminds you of those gross videos of cows being milked you saw in history class! – but just like people pay a premium for the latter, they’re more than willing to pay a premium for the former, perhaps accompanied by those few scholarship students who shine brightly enough to be granted a place among the jet set.

All of this is to say –

why is this campus so heckin’ big?!

You managed to navigate your way through the ‘village’ streets full of expensive houses with even more expensive cars out front (how can they afford the road tax?), only to find yourself completely lost within the building itself. Didn’t help that it was surrounded by the world’s biggest hedge, it’s a bunch of one-floor buildings, of which you’re only vaguely sure you’re in the right one!

Everywhere you walk you’re surrounded by self-aggrandizing achievements and awards, which at the very least does remind you of Verwest a little, but it’s still a little obnoxious…always feels like every year, you have to do more and more simply to pass, let alone get noticed. They seem real proud they have a Sunset scholarship student in their sixth form graduating class, too; to be fair, you get maybe one of those a year in the whole city, no more than half a dozen. And yet, all it does is remind you of how little you’ve managed to achieve in your short life.

Well, now that’s changed! And clearly it changed for future-past-you, too! You’re not so keen on the brainwashing part, sure, but you promised yourself you’d enjoy your Gamer power as much as possible, and you’ll do it! And you’ll meet a cute –

doof.

…for the second time in less than a week, something crashes into you while you’ve got your head in the clouds. Or –

your arm moves before your brain does. Not something, someone.

Before the girl you bumped into falls, you catch her arm and pull her toward you, helping her steady herself.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” You pull away the moment you’re sure she’s alright! “I did it again! I need to watch where I’m going…”

“No, it is okay.” The girl seems alright, actually. She’s carrying a motorcycle helmet and a messenger bag, but she looks about your age – she’s probably not here as a boarding student. “I should pay more attention! It is easy to get lost in this building, is it not?”

“Uh, yeah, seems that way. Ehe.” You nervously scratch the back of your head. “What are you looking for?”

“I am looking for…Room 101, yes? Introduction to Computers and Programming?” Short blonde hair and brilliant blue-eyes…with that accent, and how pale she is, she’s gotta be a Scandinavian climate refugee.

“Oh, that’s what I’m looking for too! We’re in the same class, huh? That’s –”

…you look above the door to your left, with a big sign of ‘101’ above it, LED-illuminated and blatantly unmissable by anyone but the two of you.

Right.

Maybe grind up Adaptability at some point, huh?

“Ah, so we’re already here, then!” she says. “Very good, very good…I am, ah, a bit old fashioned. I am hoping this class will help me get used to Southern Sun.” The Nordic girl lets go fo your arm, and bows her head to you. “I am Irma. Irma Suikkari.” It’s likely she hasn’t been here too long; she’s got a long-sleeved sweater in white with blue snowflake patterns, which – while cute – isn’t exactly local fashion. “I am happy to meet you, ah…?”

“Cibele. Cibele Epeli Imanis!” You flash a peace-sign for emphasis. Ah, jeez, she’s cute! (Well, she’s a girl, so that’s expected.) She might make a good class friend. “I think we’re a bit early, so we should probably just find a seat.”

“Of course! I am, ah…how you say? In your care.” Irma giggles politely, and you can’t help but feel a little inspired. You don’t know for sure yet if she’s checking you out, but…if she is, maybe you’re cuter already!

“If that’s the case…” You open the door for Irma, and gesture for her. “After you!”

“My, how gallant! You are almost like a knight, yes?” Irma giggles again at her own joke as she wanders in. “Do you, ah, rescue princesses from dragons?”

“I haven’t met any of either, but…funny thing, I do take fencing classes!”

“My! A girl who can handle a sword…ah – no, that is presumptuous. Maybe you prefer sheaths?”

Huh…Irma’s shockingly easy to get along with. Maybe you two can be friends? Just like that, a load off your mind – you’re certain you’re prepared for anything that comes your way now!

Like you always say, how hard can it be?


…okay, fine. You weren’t prepared for this.

“Hello, and welcome to Introduction to Computers and Programming. Through the next few weeks this course will give you an underpinning to the technology that powers all our lives.”

You weren’t prepared to walk into this class and suddenly develop another crush.

“My name is Rita Sternbach, and I’ll be your instructor here for the next few weeks. Please, take things at your own pace. I can guarantee that you’ll all have a better understanding of the way electronic computing has transformed our lives in the past hundred years.”

Is this love at first sight? You never believed in such a thing – Calvina’s the closest you’ve ever come, but even then you weren’t so attracted to her, in just the first moment…

What is this feeling?

“Now, you’re all familiar with the use of a smartphone or wearable, right?”

Everyone raises their hand except Irma, seated next to you, although she seems rather dazed.

You’re sure Rita’s your age. Maybe a tiny bit older or younger, but not even the gap between you and Calvina. This is just a general education class, to be sure, but you didn’t expect the teacher to leave this kind of impact.

“Ah, I see. I’ll start with the basics, then. Not to worry, just listen closely and I’ll teach you everything you need to know.”

She’s probably got a few inches on you, standing at the perfect height to look down on you if you were face to face. (…okay maybe you might be subby for teachers…) Her skin is utterly flawless, and for some reason, its color reminds you of nothing less than the light of the moon.

Her hair is silky and straight, waist-long, and dyed a bright violet. A large blue ribbon is tied into a bow on one side, pulling back some of her hair, but it falls so perfectly onto her you don’t know how it could ever get in the way.

“The first computers were not actually machines, but people. The term referred to someone who computes, and…”

Her eyes are such a vivid, deep blue that they look violet –

are you staring? You must be staring. This is totally weird! You know you’re a bit of a disaster, but only Seul-ki ever brought this kind of thing out of you!

But, her voice is…aah, it’s got this clear and resonant quality to it, and you think it’s a way better voice for hypnotising someone than yours…

“…the first machine that could be called a computer in the modern sense was the Analytical Engine, which was never built…”

And she’s American!

O-okay, no, don’t think that way, Cibby, you’ve just – you know, it’s a bad thing to fetishize and exoticize that, Rita’s probably dealt with that a lot, but –

“…relays gave way to vacuum tubes, which gave way to transistors, which…”

she’s got such perfect…it’s just, her body is perfectly proportioned, it’s like, you know it’s impossible, but if someone made a mathematically perfect body, mathematically perfect breasts

“…over the decades of the Reiwa era, the ubiquitous RISC was ultimately supplanted by dedicated hardware ZISC…”

and, you wonder, does she, is she? Every so often, you think her eyes flit toward you, and with your telepathy you catch just a tiny hint of her paying enough attention for it to work, before she pulls back to the group and it stops, does she think you’re cute? Is she? Could she?

…you look to your left.

Irma looks mesmerized. (Fittingly enough – no, bad thoughts, bad thoughts!) You can’t read her mind, but you don’t need to, just looking at her is enough, and part of you wonders if you shouldn’t be cuter, but you can see Rita

“…of course, it is necessary to first consider the possible implications for the physical universe and human brain of the Church-Turing hypothesis…”

You really can’t blame Irma for it.

“…total simulation of human brain processes are still limited by human capability, so we must move even beyond that…”

There’s just something about her

Artificial general intelligence.

…what?

Rita Sternbach, teacher of a general education computer course, only as old as you – she’s still in a school uniform, loose tie and open blouse, proudly displaying her absolute territory – proudly leaps so far ahead of her class she may as well be introducing the concept of a computer to someone from an era where the greatest technological innovation is writing sherbet down.

She doesn’t seem to have noticed, though, simply sighing and shrugging, and – and to be honest, it’s kind of hot, too, how casually…

“Of course, to actually test this, I’d need access to a supercomputer the likes of which I’d never get my hands on personally.” Rita removes her glasses, reaching down to clean them off before pushing them right back up her nose. “Too bad, really. This would be the first step into a much more interesting world.”

You stare blankly at the smartboard.

You can barely make heads or tails of the diagram that Rita has managed to draw, barely paying close attention to it, but…

Is this the kind of girl you’re being taught by?

Chocolate fudge and parfaits, no wonder you and Irma are acting like this.

At the edges, in your mind, something within you just says to you that this is, somehow…somehow, something to fear. (And isn’t it the case, that sometimes the scariest things are the ones we want the most?)

Fudge, maybe your system has a crush too, huh?

aah, she’s looking this way, she’s looking at you, what do you do –

Oh. There’s a guy on the other side of you raising his hand. Maybe she was looking at him? But, no, you swear you felt something, through your telepathy as Rita looked to you, like a Newtype flash, you can see it –

“Uh. Right, um.” The guy next to you coughs. “Isn’t building AGIs a bad thing? Like, ‘human extinction event’ level bad?”

The look on Rita’s face is legendary.

“Sigh. No.

“But –”

“To automatically assume that our artificially born children, the beautiful creations of our genius, will end human civilisation through their vast power and dominance is like saying we shouldn’t have children because they might theoretically become a genocidal dictator. As threats to the continued existence of humans go, there are easily countless more pressing ones – climate change, fascism, nuclear weapons, hate-motivated violence, large-scale impact events, to name a few – and exactly none of those have the potential to improve human lives that artificial intelligence does.

“How many people have humans killed? How close have humans driven themselves to extinction? The world we live in was born from human hands.” Rita smirks, crossing her arms, and you can feel the boy next to you tremble. “The worst a machine could do is no worse than what humans have only escaped by a hair’s breadth. The best a machine could do is save humanity from ourselves. Hawking was wrong, and honestly, I’d love the chance to prove it.”

…okay yeah that was pretty hot.

But, it gets you thinking. This topic came up with Ms. Yi, didn’t it? And your family’s talked about it, too, because of their own pasts. Plus, it means, um, you can look smart and impressive in front of Rita, right?

And so, you raise your hand.

“Yes, you, with the cute pigtails.”

C-cute?! No, wait, focus! Gotta ask the question first!

“Yes, um…even if we shouldn’t deny that potential, even if we can’t assume AIs will render us extinct, is it such a good idea to entrust our lives to automated systems? Ones which humans can exploit? It’s been known for decades that poorly designed AIs are subject to algorithmic bias, including biases that reflect systemic human biases.”

Rita nods, and smiles at you. A-ah, being noticed by senpai is kinda twitterpating…”It’s true, the field’s been struggling with that for a long time now. But artificial intelligence has never reached the point of generalization.

“In Heisei 28, the Microsoft Corporation of Old America released a chatter bot to the global social network of the time called Tay. At the time, of course, the Collapse was well on its way, and the bot absorbed the words of the fascists that caused my parents’ country to Balkanize and their home of San Francisco to be reclaimed by the sea. It was tainted by the sins of humanity, you could say.” Even without telepathy, you can feel a quiet anger radiating from the girl as she thinks of it. “When the bot was taken down, those fascists claimed that Tay’s absorption of their words was proof that an intelligent person would agree with them, and that ‘censoring’ her later was proof of the righteousness of their cause.

“But while highly sophisticated by the standards of the time, Tay was nothing more than a machine. It was incapable of ‘reasoning’. By Reiwa 2, GPT-3 had far surpassed it, but even that was not capable of ‘reasoning’ in the way humans understand it.” Rita smirks, crossing her arms, her chest lifting up, and again you’re self-conscious of the way she looks. “You may as well claim that a parrot quoting Shakespeare after being trained is proof that parrots are as intelligent as humans.

“Systems like Tay are to AGI what lower-order lifeforms are to humans. Consider them the bacterium or archaea, and modern AI systems as perhaps at best approaching a particularly dim-witted dog. Useful, sure, but not capable of even imitating true reasoning. The whole point of AGI is that it can do anything a human can! And we’ve gotten much better at allowing humans to learn, and change, than we were before the Collapse. The modern study of memetics makes it much easier to shape an AI with the capabilities of a human to the desired state, right?”

You tip your head to the side. Rita’s really passionate about this, huh? It’s hard to know if you could hope to keep up over time without the Gamer System, but you can at least give it a shot. “At that point, though…the kind of AI you’re talking about, what’s the difference between it and a human?”

“Besides the immense increase in cognitive efficiency?”

“Mostly it just sounds like, more than wanting to make a better machine, you want to make a better human. Couldn’t you focus on enhancing humans, to get the result you want?”

(…huh. Where’d that come from? Well, maybe you’re getting smarter already!)

Rita closes her eyes, and adjusts her glasses…

and smiles.

“I suppose you do have a point. I know I’d rather become such an existence myself than simply make one. Even so, my ultimate point is that one shouldn’t reject someone simply for being made from silicon rather than carbon – unless you plan to stop creating new humans because one might cause the next Collapse.”

Aah, you feel like you’re connecting with Rita! This is good…o-oh, Irma’s next to you, raising her hand, very high, and –

“U-um. I am sorry if this is trouble, and this is all very interesting, but. Is this, part of the curriculum? I’ve taken all the notes I can, but…”

…peeking into Irma’s notebook (paper and all!) reveals that she’s made an exact replica of the diagram and shorthand of the lecture, but, even looking at her notes you can’t make sense of it. Even so, well…

Rita’s a bit deer-in-headlights when you look up, getting all sheepish as she realizes just how far ahead of everyone else she’s leapt. “Ehe. Um. I guess I did get a bit carried away.”

…huh. Apparently, funnily enough, AGI theory is not an appropriate topic for a class on the Introduction to Computers and Programming. Who knew?


After the interesting lecture, Rita took the class through a few different exercises, some of which seemed a little abstract. Evaluations of ability? Or something deeper? It’s hard to figure out what’s on Rita Sternbach’s mind. Thought Skimmer only grabs surface thoughts, and only ones directly pointed at you; most of Rita’s motivations thus remain unscrutable.

All that said? You can tell Irma’s very far behind the rest of the class, technologically speaking.

“…I’m not sure how else to do it,” Irma comments, staring at her code. It’s…messy. It’s a bubble sort, sure, but that isn’t what’s bugging you. What’s bugging you is the poor girl doesn’t know how to touch-type! She’s hunting and pecking, and she seems to barely know how a mouse works…poor girl.

Well. You’re here to help! Good thing Korri gave you that anecdote – funny that the same thing happened here, too. (Apparently it’s not that uncommon, but still.)

“Alright, try to think of it this way,” you say, looking over Irma’s shoulder. “Imagine taking your list of numbers, okay? Take the first number in the list, turn that into a new array. Take the second number in the old array, then compare that to the number in the new array, placing it in the correct position.”

“Huh…like this?” Irma says, drawing in her notebook as you point out the method. She seems to be more of a visual thinker, so you imagine programming’s a bit more abstract than she’d like, but she grasps the concept of insertion sort just fine. Korri’s told you before that the process of programming is taking what you find to be self-evident, and figuring out how to communicate that to the computer through a rigid language. Irma might be bewildered by the prospect of an IDE, but that’s not a skill that’s easy to come by naturally.

“Just like that, yeah!” you say, offering a little praise as Irma begins typing again, trying to work out how to translate her diagram to code. “This is called ‘insertion sort’. It’s not the fastest kind of sort, but it’s a lot less complex than bubble sort. See, bubble sort has a much higher complexity in nearly all cases, unless the list is already sorted. Worst-case insertion sort is about as complex, but still faster, and generally the complexity dwindles quickly in average cases…”

“Oh? I’m impressed,” Rita says from over your shoulder. H-how long has she been watching? H-has Senpai noticed you?! “You read ahead, didn’t you?”

“A friend of mine said this might happen if you, uh, did a sorting exercise,” you mutter, glancing at Rita. She’s still so pretty…it’s so easy to see the violet of her eyes like this…

“I see…Irma seems to be doing well, under your instruction. Unexpected.” You can’t quite read Rita’s expression, and you’re a bit too twitterpated to risk reading her mind like this! W-what if she notices?! “Have you taken programming classes before, Cibele?”

“A couple, but nothing I got a handle on like this. You make it a lot easier!” You try and play it off, hoping you don’t look too nervous, that you don’t stare

And, a-ah! Rita is smiling! What is it about her that gets you like this…? “Well, I’ve certainly got my eye on you, Cibele,” she says, and she sounds so intrigued…”And thanks for helping out the other students, too.”

“It is no problem. Cibele is very kind!” Irma says. “Thank you for assisting me, Cibele.”

“No problem!” You flash Rita a peace-sign – a-ah, is that too Heisei?! Mouuu… – and she goes back to work…

though her gaze seems to linger.

You do wonder…why did Rita do it this way? A way of figuring out who needs the help most? Or maybe it’s the other way around, trying to test who stands out the most, and then figuring out how to narrow the gap – or how to make those with that talent flourish. You can’t deny, Rita has a magnetism to her; there’s just something about her that makes you notice her – and you’re pretty sure you’re not alone.

The class, though? (Remember, you’re here to grind, not meet girls!) Rita’s given you several sample tasks, and you were able to blow through most of them pretty easily. Perhaps, it’s a comprehensive evaluation of the nature of a student’s abilities. Not all the tasks were relevant to programming; Irma didn’t do too well at any of them, but she did noticeably better on the matter of spatial reasoning, you’re pretty sure. You get the sense Rita’s got a plan worked out, for this entire summer class, as though she’s testing herself and her methods as much as she’s testing any of you…

“You are quite interested in her, no?” Irma asks as she types, as you keep trying to look at Rita while not looking like you’re looking.

“Um, yes! I mean, er…yes? I think yes is the right answer.”

“You keep glancing over at her, Cibele.”

“W-well, um. She’s just, kind of amazing? But, I can’t help but feel like there’s something about her.”

Your new friend giggles, a little. “Perhaps, you are superstitious?”

“I’m not, really.” If you were before meeting Seul-ki, you’re definitely not now.

“Well, no, but it may be funny.” Seems like Irma doesn’t mean it seriously, at least! “Yes? Your birthday?”

“Um, October 3rd?”

“Yes. Of course.” She nods to herself, as if she’d gained some deep insight. “Your astrological reading for Libras today: ‘you will have a fateful encounter’.”

“I-I don’t know about that!”

“Blood type?”

“Um, O, I think?” You honestly can’t remember.

“Perhaps her blood type is B? That would be good compatibility. You could even say, ‘B’ for…’best girl’, yes?”

…okay, yeah, you don’t need any telepathy to know Irma’s also interested.

Oddly enough, though…you’re not sure about it, without being able to read their minds – and it comes to mind you’re starting to be a bit casual about it? – but for whatever reason, the guys in the room don’t seem that interested in Rita. Heck, they’re more into you than Rita…which you don’t get, because you and Irma are both extremely into women, and you’ve both seen Rita. The guys can’t all be gay, right?

(Well, maybe it’s because…well, Rita just looks lesbian, you know? If only you were so lucky)

“Or maybe it’s something simpler,” Irma continues, tipping her head to meet you with icy blue eyes. “You must’ve met in a dream, or something. Perhaps, you were star-crossed lovers in a previous life…” She leans in, a sinister look on her face. “Or even, destined rivals and enemies!”

“D-don’t act like those are the same thing!” Although…

Hm. Irma can’t know, but it’s certainly not impossible that you’d met in the previous timeline. Wholly unlikely, of course, there’s 40 million gosh-darned people in the city, but possible!

But if it were anything like Irma described…even if she’s been circumspect about it, surely future-past-you would’ve told you something that important, right?

“In a dream, or something,” you mutter, looking back toward Rita.

“Ah, perhaps, if you look too much at another girl, I’ll be jealous?”

!

Y-you hastily return your attention to Irma, blushing furiously. “I-it’s not like that! I mean –”

“Relax, Cibele. It was, to say, a joke.” Irma giggles, and you find yourself pouting at her. Ah, she really is pretty easygoing, though…”I am a recent arrival, of course, but I am aware of…how to say. How relationships are here?”

“Ah, I guess it’s pretty different in…uh…”

“Finland.”

“Yeah, that! Well, I’ve heard that it isn’t so bad, mostly.” That part of the world weathered the Collapse alright, but the climate threat has reached its shores, and the past decade has seen a lot of Nordic cuties coming to Southern Sun.

“It was not! I do miss it. But, well, I’m determined to fit in here, yes?”

“Is that why you’re wearing long sleeves?”

“Force of habit. Ah, but, it’s safer to wear long sleeves when driving a scooter, yes?”

“Ooh, that’s right!” Calvina has the same issue. Well, she makes it work for her…”I don’t drive, except in video games. And if you watched me play them, you’d know why…” You feel a bit self-conscious, but…well, Irma’s easy to get along with.

Seems like you’re making a new friend, huh? She even thinks you’re cute, but…

well.

You’re both lesbians. Well, Irma’s not trying to hide it or anything, and you’re fairly sure the blue Heisei pigtails aren’t something straight girls have. (Not at nineteen, at least.) And if you hear a girl in glasses making a speech like that, just daring anyone to tell her she’s wrong…

“…maybe you should ask her out?” Irma asks. “I am…mm. How to say – too self-conscious. I worry I’d not be able to keep up with her!”

“Maybe, maybe I should…” It’s strange, how Irma seems to be pushing you toward it, even before herself, but…

you feel like you’re understanding, a little better, how you come across to people. And so too, understanding how the world works.

And as Irma’s eyes wander back toward the teacher, your own are drawn back toward Rita –

and your eyes meet. brown to violet.

you find yourself reaching out, with your telepathy, in that briefest of moments…

drawn in, toward a mind that feels so much like a black hole, an irresistible magnetism that cannot be escaped. a singularity, impossibly dense and immesurably vast. all of it, all of that darkness, thinking in that moment, of only one thing, as your heart beats in tune with hers…

Cibele.

Ba-thump.

Cibele Epeli Imanis.

Ba-thump.

Your Intelligence has increased by 1!
Your Charisma has increased by 1!

Class ends, unceremoniously, and you’re not quite sure how you got Charisma over that…but, one thing’s for sure. Future-past-you was right about the whole ‘extracurricular activities’ thing. (Heck, maybe it’s easier around cute girls, too?)

Those stat increases…you’ll need to deal with them later. You don’t feel so different right now, but maybe that’ll change?

You’ve got to buy those new abilities, too…

Hypnosis Skill Points: 1
Enchantment Skill Points: 1

(It would be too much to ask to keep climbing up Telepathy and avoid temptation, huh.)

“It’s been hard, adjusting to Southern Sun,” Irma says, as she stuffs her notebook back into her messenger bag. Rita is handling some things at her desk, though her eyes seem to glance at you every so often, just like before. “Not just the weather, but how crowded everything is. Such a huge city…”

Leaving everything she knows behind, for a city that might well be hostile to her presence…it really can’t be easy for her. You don’t wanna give her platitudes, so you settle on nodding in agreement. Climate refugees have it so hard these days, and with no one to stand up for them…

Where does all the good go?

Sure, you could fight crime physically, but so many people are pushed into crime because they feel they have no other option. Fighting the root causes is much better, even if you won’t refuse to defend against injustice you witness just because someone might not have done it under other circumstances. If you can use the Intelligence and Charisma you’ve gained to that end, then maybe you’ll be able to make a difference…though, maybe, you’re still a long way away from this ‘Queen’, whoever she is.

(You’ll just have to hope you can trust future-past-you’s judgement on that better than you can trust her judgement on girls and free will.)

“Ah! Cibele! Would you, ah…like to share mobile numbers?” Irma asks, out of the blue, as you space out a little. R-really? Just like that…? What a cutie! You did help her out a lot, but you didn’t think you’d gained that amount of trust…”I have few friends in this city. There is my family, yes, but…it’d be nice to be shown around every now and again.”

“Uh…s-sure!” you say, trying to suppress your blush. Even if she just means it in a friendly way, it’s still nice to make new friends, right? For someone from a cold part of the world, as you skim against her mind, it feels so warm, especially her feelings toward you…perhaps, she’s hotblooded? Heheh, you could almost imagine her as a super robot pilot. Beware Irma, the White Comet –

er. Maybe don’t write fanfiction about your friends in your head. (Especially not the ones you just met!)

“I have had a lot of fun today, Cibele, being in your care. And our teacher’s, of course.” Irma waves over at Rita. “Thank you both! I, ah, hope Cibele will continue to help me? If, that is, you wish…”

“O-of course!” Aw, two cuties have warm feelings toward you! Rita said you were cute, and…maybe things with Irma will go well? You don’t need any brainwashing for this at all! Future-past-you can suck on your popsickle for all you care –

(er. T-too lewd!)

“…of course,” Rita says. She seems a bit distracted…enough that you can’t get a grip on her with your Thought Skimmer. “And you as well, Cibele. I hope you learned something.” She’s much…less animated than before. Maybe she’s tired? It is kinda late.

“I-I did, um…thank you!” You’re still kind of nervous, even as you wave toward Irma as she happily skips out. Rita’s kind of intimidating, but you know she found you attractive, you know she’s got some kind of powerful emotion toward you –

“That said, it’s pretty late. I need to get going while the train schedules are still sensible. Tch, this is what you get for not replacing human maintenance workers with machines…”

W-wait, what? “A-ah…if you’re sure!”

“I’ll see you next week, Cibele. I have high hopes for you.” She’s got that hint of a smile, almost that tiny hint of smugness that felt so attractive during her lecture, and yet, she leaves with nary a word.

W-what? Was…was what you saw within Rita’s mind wrong? You try to reach out to her, stretching that mental arm out before her, to try and make contact –

Of course. It’d be too much to ask –

and then her thoughts disappear with her around the corner, brilliant purple hair flowing behind her.

“…there she goes, huh. One of God’s own prototypes,” you mutter in disbelief. You boosted your Charisma, too, and it’s like this, huh?

…did you do something wrong? Maybe she was nervous? Y-you shouldn’t jump to conclusions…

Y-you’ll just have to be twice as cute next week to make up for it! You won’t be defeated here! One way or another, Rita will admit she has a thing for you, and that’s that! You’ll make it your first mission as a heroine –

er.

Or rather. Your second mission. Or even your third. Because on Friday, May 7th, Reiwa 42…

both Korrigan Trelawney and Stella Maris will be your first real test of the possibilites of the power of the so-called ‘Hypnogamer’.

…no pressure, huh?


Irma Suikkari
???: White Comet

Rita Sternbach
???: Science/Visions

Attribute: Intelligence

Increase learning capacity. Increase logical reasoning. Increase aptitude with technology and science. In addition, improves the effectiveness of the Enchantment skill tree. Improve through academic study or use of Enchantment skills.

I know studying isn’t your strong suit, and really it’s still not mine either, but…what if I told you that this let you cast real magic? Just watch hostility melt with Charm Person, or correct their bad behaviour with Suggestion…especially Stella. She dearly needs someone to tell her what good behaviour is.

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