Chapter 6:

The Unveiling Sins

who I am is not who I want to be

December 2, 2017, marked a pivotal day in Zack's journey as he embarked on his first day of training at the prestigious Cyber Detectives organization. Karma, with her customary well-wishes, had bid him luck, and he returned home from his exhaustive training regimen at precisely 6:00 PM, eager to share the details of his day with his enigmatic friend.

As anticipated, Karma was waiting for him just outside his home, and without hesitation, they retreated to the familiarity of Zack's room. There, surrounded by screens and technology, they continued their relentless pursuit of vulnerabilities in the digital realm.

Amid their hacking endeavors, Karma's inquisitive nature led her to inquire about Zack's first day at the organization. Zack, brimming with enthusiasm, recounted his experiences in vivid detail. He spoke animatedly about the various departments, the expert trainers he had encountered, and the awe-inspiring knowledge that had already begun to fill his expanding repertoire.

Karma hung on to every word, her interest in Zack's training sessions palpable. She quizzed him about the intricacies of each class, the lessons learned, and the interactions he'd had with his fellow trainees and instructors. Her fascination with his experiences seemed boundless, and she displayed an uncanny ability to empathize with his journey.

With unwavering dedication, Zack continued to provide daily updates on his training sessions, offering a transparent window into his world. He divulged the knowledge he had gained, the challenges he had faced, and his evolving relationships with his peers. One particular day, he recounted an unsettling encounter—a physical altercation with an individual from the cyber forensics department named Saho.

Karma, without warning, abruptly powered down her laptop, her attention solely fixated on Zack. Her voice carried an unusual urgency as she demanded, "Tell me everything about what he did to you."

Taken aback by her intensity, Zack hesitated momentarily. However, compelled by a strange mixture of curiosity and apprehension, he eventually began, "Well, he just punched me in the face out of nowhere. Of course, I punched him back..."

Karma pressed him relentlessly for more details, including Saho's full name. Zack, puzzled by her fervor, reluctantly provided the information and described Saho as arrogant and generally unlikeable.

To Zack's surprise, Karma's reaction was far from what he had expected. She expressed profound outrage at Saho for daring to harm Zack, her protective instincts emerging like a fierce guardian. She even examined Zack's face attentively to ensure that he had not sustained any serious injuries during the altercation.

Unbeknownst to Zack, this incident marked the initial stages of Karma's subtle yet calculated manipulation. She had begun to cast a shroud of influence over his emotions, slowly sinking her claws into his vulnerabilities. With meticulous precision, she was unraveling his psyche, one thread at a time.

Karma had a distinct agenda—one she referred to as the "exploitation of vulnerable emotions." Unlike her previous targets, Zack had been under her observation for a prolonged period, lasting three months before she initiated direct contact. This extended surveillance allowed her to gain insights into his life through his younger sister, Rin.

Rin, a bright and enthusiastic girl, had attended a school in Kyoto where she often boasted about her elder brother's hacking prowess, despite Zack being no more than a "script kiddie" at the time. Among her classmates, Rin's tales had particularly captivated a young boy named Haru, who was profoundly inspired by her stories and aspired to become a hacker himself. However, his aspirations were stifled when he was forced to leave school due to financial constraints.

Haru, now working at a café named "Sunshine," had confided his dreams and struggles to a coworker. This coworker, a regular at the café who went by the pseudonym Akane Toru, had frequently overheard these conversations and learned about Zack through Haru's passionate stories. She had become privy to Zack's life, albeit through this indirect source.

Having acquired enough information about Haru and his connection to Zack, Akane Toru—Karma's online persona—decided to impersonate Zack in a text message to Haru. Haru had been elated at the prospect of being mentored by his idol, and their exchange had initially filled him with boundless enthusiasm. However, Akane's approach had evolved, and she soon conveyed to Haru that she would no longer offer her mentorship for free.

After days of contemplation, Haru eventually replied, expressing his disillusionment with what appeared to be Zack's sudden change of heart. This interaction unfolded exactly as Akane Toru had anticipated, for Zack was uniquely susceptible to the exploitation of vulnerable emotions.

While Akane had engaged in passive reconnaissance during the initial three months of her investigation, the subsequent two months saw her actively immerse herself in an online friendship with Zack. During this period, she meticulously gathered extensive information about Zack's personality, values, family dynamics, likes, and dislikes. Her relentless observation had equipped her with an arsenal of knowledge—a potent instrument she would wield in her manipulation of Zack's emotions.

As the pieces of the puzzle began to align, Karma's calculated moves hinted at a web of deceit and control, leaving Zack unwittingly entangled in her intricate game.