Chapter 2

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"Are we in?"

Torin Porter keyed in the final HTML code, his fingers flying against the virtual keyboard as the last sixteen digits blinked before him on the system's holostation. He lifted his hands and swiped his index and middle fingers across the air to make contact with the virtual screen.

As he scrolled through the numerous pages of code he'd written, he realized it was probably best to review it line by line. His successful hacks up to this point included TCP ports 21 and 25, but TCP port 22 was giving him some trouble. After so many attempts, errors tended to blur together, making them almost impossible to spot.

Halfway through the review, his vision grew fuzzy. Torin closed his eyes and shook his head in an attempt to refocus, but it was no use. The numbers and letters swirled together. He may as well just launch the program, errors and all.

With his index finger, Torin pressed the INITIATE button. The system beeped as hundreds of database screens appeared. He could only hope that he'd be granted access into each one. That last firewall was hard to beat.

"Porter, did you hear me?"

Torin swiveled around in his holopod, the rotation smooth and fluid, even though he was suspended about three feet in the air. He'd almost forgotten that someone else was in the room with him. His eyes locked on the one man he wasn't prepared to face just yet.

The Commander.

"I heard you, sir. I'm almost in." He spun away from the Commander's unnerving stare, the scar on his left cheek more prominent than the last time Torin had seen him. The history of the scar was a mystery, but everyone, including him, was too afraid to ask. So, he continued to walk on eggshells, just like every other employee in the building.

Torin diverted his attention back to the horde of flashing images as the final firewall for TCP Port 22 appeared. He shifted his pod closer to the screen. "This is it," he muttered under his breath.

He knew not to get his hopes up with all the failures he'd experienced recently. Breaking into the Federal Commonwealth's mainframe was a top priority for the Seventh Sanctum and, of course, he'd been the one tasked with the nearly impossible assignment. Although Torin was new to the organization, his credentials in "hackerdom" and holotechnology made him a prime candidate for this sort of work. So was the burden of being inherently tech-savvy.

Torin watched dejectedly as bright red letters appeared on the screen. ACCESS DENIED.

He clenched his jaw, his hands curling into fists. I really thought I had it this time. Sadly, the result wasn't all that surprising. Another attempt. Another failure.

The Commander sighed as he headed back toward the sliding glass doors. "We're running out of time. I don't know how many times I have to tell you-you're the best there is, but I'm starting to lose faith. You need to figure this out, and quick, before we lose our window of opportunity."

Torin lowered his head, hoping his shaggy chestnut hair would hide the defeat in his eyes. "Understood, sir."

"Let me know when you have something worth reporting."

The Commander stormed out of the room, leaving Torin to mull over his failure in silence. He gazed around at the stark white walls. Government institution or mental asylum? Lately, it'd started to feel like the latter.

Of course, with every failure came an inescapable time for self-reflection. The burning question he could never seem to answer? Why he'd joined the Seventh Sanctum in

the first place.

Torin had been recruited four years ago, while he was still in middle school. Still a child. His real name was actually Sam Moore. His biological parents had given him up for adoption before he was even a year old. He'd transferred in and out of different orphanages, but at the lucky age of seven, his foster parents, the Porters, had adopted him. And so he became Sam Porter.

From that point forward, he was immersed in a world of luxury and technology-very different from the used toys and raggedy hand-me-down clothes at the orphanages. His parents loved him, but time never seemed to be on his side. They were always jet-setting off to another continent. With an empty house and a babysitter that didn't care, Torin taught himself how to use the one thing he never had access to in the orphanage. Computers. Or, more specifically, how to hack into computers.

He'd started with the basics-websites and small shop security systems-his knowledge only growing the more his parents were away. Then, on his tenth birthday, he'd received news that turned his entire world upside down. His parents' plane had crashed. And there were no survivors.

As a minor, he should have been placed back into foster care, but Torin didn't want to go back. He hacked into all of the government databases and erased any trace of Sam Moore and Sam Porter, then gave himself a new

identity with a new name: Torin Porter.

He'd considered changing his last name for security reasons, but keeping alive the memory of his foster parents was more important. He couldn't give up hacking, not at a time like that, so instead of starting high school like everyone else, he found a job with the Seventh Sanctum. Torin started as a low-level hacker, but after proving himself time and time again, he quickly moved his way up the ranks to Corporal. His latest assignment required him to break into the Federal Commonwealth's mainframe and pull some information that would contribute to another segment of the mission. That was all he'd been told.

At first, it seemed as though he was just a pawn in a larger game, until one afternoon when he'd overheard a discussion between the higher-ups. Well, not so much overheard as hacked into. It was tough working day in and day out, not knowing if what he was doing would contribute to something worthwhile in the long run. Fortunately, his concerns were put to rest.

The discussion he'd eavesdropped on was one between the Commander and his subordinates. The military jargon was difficult to understand, but the overall message was clear: people were trapped and it was 7S's responsibility to get them out.

Where these people were trapped, Torin had not the slightest idea. Why they were trapped-well, that was an even bigger mystery. But at least his thirty-seven failed attempts weren't wasted on nothing. These people, whoever and wherever they were, needed him, and he wasn't going to give up that easily.

Torin cracked his knuckles and rolled his neck as a blank template appeared on the screen. Back to square one. He took a deep breath, hoping that maybe he would get it right this time around.

Thirty-eighthtime's a charm, right?


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