Welcome | What's New? | The Mainframe | The Hall of Archives | The Infirmary | The Lounge | The Office

A Hacker By Any Other Name

By Starsong Lightwing

Ender glanced up as his visitor strode across the room and tossed a newspaper in front of him. There was a headline circled in red, and a particular paragraph as well.

The chip, whose initial planning predates the Invasion, is undergoing the final stages of development at the heavily guarded main base of the Puckworld Bureau of Military Intelligence. The prototype is under construction, but the chip is not expected to be used in guidance systems for several years yet, following extensive testing.

The redhead raised his gaze. Cutter grinned at him and lifted an eyebrow, but the gleam in his eye added an uncharacteristic air of anticipation to his normally carefree attitude. "Care to join me?"

Ender looked over the article, and looked up at Cutter. "Why?"

Cutter's grin went slightly dry. "Congratulations, Ender, I don't believe anyone has managed to so thoroughly take the wind out of my sails before."

Ender just looked at him. Cutter sighed. "Because we can." Ender looked vaguely confused.

Cutter silently wondered why he bothered. "Would you rather hang around here avoiding your ever-growing fan club?"

"When do we leave?"

*****

"So where is this place?" Shockwave looked excited. It'd been a while since they'd tried a heist this big. Cutter had a map spread out on his desk.

"Here," he pointed to a spot just outside a nearby city. "The base," he swept the map off the table and unrolled a rough floor plan in its place. "Is actually part training facility. The majority of the barracks," he pointed to a section on the floor plan, "are occupied by cadets; students. This is where the PMI trains its most promising cryptologists, strategists, and analysts. Most of them are buried too far in their books to pay much attention to anyone, as long as we blend in."

"How exactly are we going to do that?" Ender wanted to know. Cutter grinned.

"Patience, patience, one step at a time. Now, the professors stay over here," he pointed to another section, "And the actual military presence is mostly concentrated over on this end." He swept his hand over a broad area on the west end of the compound. "What we're going to do is come through the Academy grounds, and take the back door, as it were." He grinned at Shockwave. "And the PMI training institute is usually very well equipped, so..."

Shockwave's eyes lit up. "So we might be able to pick up some stuff on our way out?" he said hopefully.

"Exactly. Depending on how much of the hornet's nest we end up stirring up while we're after the chip." He gave Sparky a dry look. "In other words, if you swat any bugs, we don't get any new toys." Shockwave flushed a little, wondering if he was ever going to live that incident down.

"Won't they have thought of that?" Ender looked skeptical. Cutter made this sound too easy.

The older man shrugged and grinned sardonically. "They have, but they mostly rely on highly advanced security system for that area. They don't want the average grunts near there prized students, you see, there's a bit of the rivalry between the brains and the brawn. A meeting between the two usually ends up with the brains making smart remarks and being subsequently incapacitated by the brawn." Ender looked rather confused for a moment, but shrugged.

"If you say so."

"In any case, the Academy itself isn't generally easy to gain entry to, but," he grinned. "I think we'll find it a bit easier than most."

Both of the younger men glanced at him, one curious and one slightly suspicious. Cutter rolled the plans with a flourish and grinned. "Just give me a day to put together our supplies and refine the particulars, and all in all I think I can say that this will be the most entertaining job we've pulled in a good while."

*****

"Well, you wanted to know how we were going to blend in."

Ender blinked. Shockwave stared. Cutter grinned back at them, dressed from hat to boots in a military dress uniform. He plonked a hat on each of them--Shockwave's was cotton lined to keep it from rubbing his hair too badly--and handed them each uniforms of their own.

"Inspection at oh-eight-hundred, boys," he grinned. "Make sure you polish your boots."

"Where'd you get these?" Shockwave wanted to know. "And will they even fit?"

"They should," Cutter replied. "As for where I got them--I'm resourceful."

Shockwave grinned, mischief in his eyes. Ender looked doubtful. "We just waltz in through the academy guard?"

"Under it, actually," Cutter shrugged with a grin. "Through an old sewer outlet tube on the east side."

The two boys looked dubious. "Oh ye of little faith," Cutter sighed dramatically. "I assure you that it's completely possible and not even all that difficult." He grinned. "Just little known and very well hidden.

"So how do you know about it?" Sparky looked curious.

Cutter grinned was slightly wry. "Didn't I mention that this esteemed training facility is my dear alma mater? We used to use that tunnel to sneak out after curfew. It's in the cadets' best interests to keep it a secret, so unless someone has been uncommonly stupid, it should still be possible."

There were a few more questions, a few more answers, and Cutter sent the two on their respective ways.

Only then did he turn and look in the mirror. Looked for a moment into the eyes of the man he could have become. There was something grim about him, something hard and unforgiving.

He turned and took off the coat and hat, smoothing back his hair. He looked back to the mirror, and there was the familiar face of the annoyingly unflappable hacker. The darker, colder version was gone, as if it were part of the uniform.

Cutter chose to believe it was.

*****

They left in the morning, pressed and polished.

"Where do you supposed they're going dressed like that?" Jedar wondered, watching their approach.

"I wish I knew," Nylessa replied, giving the elder two uniformed drakes an appreciative look. Cutter winked and tossed a jaunty salute as they passed.

Jedar's response was inaudible and very likely unrepeatable.

*****

They travelled the better part of the day, and arrived just after nightfall.

"Minor snag," Ender commented as they reached the mouth of the tunnel that was to be their entrance point. A row of heavy metal vertical bars were welded the mouth. "Someone most have been uncommonly stupid."

Cutter ignored that statement and delivered a sharp kick to the center pole. It flew inward, clattering to the ground of the fortunately unused pipe. Cutter slipped between the remaining bars. "Whatever you do, don't get those uniforms dirty. It'll defeat the whole purpose of wearing them. And watch your hat, Sparky, the ceiling's kind of low here." Cutter waited until both of his companions were in the tunnel, and then worked the pipe, which they could now see had been cut through at the top and bottom, back into place. "Ah, the memories," he sighed with a grin. "On we go."

He led them through the tunnel, glad of the relative darkness. He'd never been given to nostalgia, but he couldn't help looking a little distant as he remembered all the times he'd snuck through this very pipe with his--well, friends was probably too strong a word. Classmates, then.

He shook off the memories as they neared their destination, concentrating on the mission at hand. He grinned slowly.

This was going to be fun.

*****

So far, everything was going according to plan. They weren't stopped as they passed, or even questioned.

Cutter stopped, well before they reached the partition that seperated the Acadamey from the purely military section of the compound. "Wait here," Cutter told his companions as he bypassed the access system.

"Wha--"

"Just look like you're guarding the place, I'll be right back." Cutter slipped inside, leaving Ender and Sparky to wonder as they took up a guard formation and scanned the hallway.

Cutter was, probably for the first time, thankful for the Academy's efficiency and attention to detail. It took him moments to find his quarry. The file was rather thick, he noted, half with pride and half with embarassment. Some of his earliest triumphs were contained in that file. All his greatest failures also lay between the smooth manilla flaps.

It was also the only remaining hardcopy record with his real name listed on it. All his electronic files had long ago been hacked and altered to read only "Andrews, J." He'd taken most of his records from his home and destroyed them when he left, and over the years he'd managed to steal every piece of paper that listed that hated name. Since he was here anyway, he figured he might as well get rid of the last shred of remaining evidence. He snapped a small device on the smoke detector. He glanced around, and found a metal wastepaper basket. He dumped the contents out on the floor, and dropped the file into it. He took a matchbook out of his pocket and struck a light, touching it to the paper. The flame licked at the file, blackening and curling the edge, and slowly it grew, creeping down the hated paper and swallowing the hateful information it contained. Cutter watched with satisfaction for a moment, and then turned to go.

Ender gave him an odd look when he came out empty handed. "What was that all about?"

"No time for questions." Cutter flashed him a grin and set off at a brisk pace down the corridor. "We've got a job to do." Ender looked at Shockwave, who shrugged.

*****

"Private!" A rumbling voice called down the hallway, and Cutter froze for just an instant.

"Sir!" He snapped a salute. Ender and Shockwave followed suit, just as they'd been told.

"At ease."

Cutter slipped into that position as easily as he had the first. The familiarity of it all rather annoyed him. He kept his gaze focused directly forward. As he'd rather expected, the owner of the rumbling voice got right in his face. Military types are so predictable.

His heart nearly stopped as he realized just how familiar that face was. He kept the shock and the recognition out of his face, however, maintaining a proper and uncharictaristically sober expression.

"What are these two doing out after curfew?" The General demanded.

Cutter guessed by the fact that he was still standing and in full possession of his hearing that the man hadn't recognized him.

"Getting caught, sir," Cutter replied without a hint of humor. The General grinned slowly, and stepped away from him, walking in front of the two 'cadets' with a rather smug air. As if he'd caught them himself, Cutter thought with a mild disgust that he wasn't about to let show.

"Good work, soldier. They're to be penalized?"

"As per Academy regulations," Cutter replied perfectly. He shot a dark glance at the two. "Plus an extra shift of KP for talking back." Ender and Sparky turned their heads to look at them, the 'Aren't you laying it on a little thick?' looks passing very well for the expressions of disgruntled cadets.

"Don't I know you?" Mallory's eyes narrowed suspiciously as she peered into Cutter's face. His eyes flicked to her and back forward again as his mouth twitched in what might have been amusement.

"We served together in the Resistance, briefly. I hit on you once; you threw me into a table."

Mallory snorted. "Yeah, that's probably it."

You better thank your lucky stars she bought that, Nosedive . Fortunately, he hadn't spent all that much time in "Melanie's" company. Although he'd rather hoped he was more memorable than that.

The fact that he wasn't running for his life was ample comfort for his wounded pride.

"You're dismissed, Private," General Andrews rumbled. "Carry on."

The three thieves beat a dignified but definately hasty retreat.

"Glad she didn't look too hard at you two," Cutter commented after they rounded the corner. "Damn. I hadn't expected them to be here." He seemed uncharictaristically agitated. Ender shrugged, but gave his companion a piercing look.

"Why does it matter?"

The frown disappeared off Cutter's face in the blink of an eye, replaced with his typical grin. "It doesn't. So far our little plot is succeeding beautifully. Now, on to phase two."

*****

Cutter was right, there were no live personnel guarding the connection between the military ops part of the base, and the training center. The security systems were complex and by no means easy to crack, but Cutter and Sparky managed it--mostly thanks to Shockwave's quick thinking.

"Good work," Cutter congratulated as the doors finally slid silently open. They made their way quickly down the corridor, being far more careful this time. Cadets weren't allowed in this part of the base; their uniforms would do little to no good if they ran into someone. This was the delicate part of the operation, where things were most likely to go wrong.

But that was what made things so interesting.

"Ender, watch the corner," Cutter pointed him down the hallway. "Sparky, take the lock."

The boy's eyes went wide. "Me?"

"You did well enough on the other one. Go ahead and try your luck."

Shockwave broke into a grin, and knelt down by the panel. Cutter stood behind him, watching but not interfering. Sparky muttered to himself as he worked, and before long the lock was dismantled, and once more the door slid open with nothing more than a quiet hiss. Cutter waved for Ender to follow, and followed his apprentice inside.

They entered what seemed to be a sophisticated storeroom, full of cases and armed to the teeth with security protocols and alarms.

"Wow," Shockwave looked around. "Look at all this stuff." He bent to examine what looked almost like a VR setup, careful not to touch anything near it. Cutter glanced around, and found what he was after. Grinning, he got out his tools and went to a wall panel. He went about hooking in his palmtop with a growing sense of glee.

Ender began idly looking around at the equipment, though he wasn't particularly interested in any of it. Shockwave went to the case holding the chip, looking it over from a distance. He glanced over at Cutter wistfully, wondering if he was going to be given a chance at cracking it. It didn't look all that difficult...he started to take another step towards the case.

"Stop right there." He froze, turning his head slowly to glance over his shoulder. The General that had stopped them earlier was holding a gun to his head.

The General looked over at Ender. "Put your hands up and step over here." Ender spread his hands and did as he was told, expressionless. His eyes were calculating, looking for a way out.

The wall panel Cutter had been working on was already half in shadow, and the experianced thief had melted into them at the first word. He slunk along the back wall, his contempt for the man growing with each step. Couldn't stand to let anyone else get the glory, could you, had to wait until you were alone and could take all the credit. Never mind that you've barely seen any worthwhile combat, that you got where you are through little schemes like this that you somehow, against all odds, managed to get right. Not this time...The man's back was to the wall, a fact that Cutter was certain was more luck than careful planning. Still, Cutter edged along the wall unseen, step by careful step.

"You're both under arrest," the General snarled with satisfaction.

"I'm afraid not," Cutter's grin was cold as he clicked the safety off his own weapon, and moved to stand near his apprentice, just a foot from the General. "Put the gun down, Dad." The second the last word was out of his mouth, Cutter regretted it--he hadn't intended to say it. For a fleeting instant he hoped that it had gone unnoticed, but recognition finally made it's way onto his father's face.

"Juliet??"

Cutter winced, and his expression became visibly pained. "I've asked you to just call me Jay, Dad."

"Juliet was my mother's name," the bigger man growled. "You will wear it with honor and like it."

"Yes," Cutter commented in a rather exasperated tone, "I seem to recall that's what you said at the time. I had rather hoped that, as I'm holding a dangerous and loaded weapon, you might be willing to compromise for once."

"You won't kill me," he all but sneered.

"Probably not," Cutter replied easily, shrugging. "But I will shoot you."

"I am your father," the General thundered, furious. As if that title demanded Cutter's obediance.

Not this time.

Cutter's control snapped for just an instant. His face went grim, and his voice turned to steel. "That matters to me," he growled, "about as much as it mattered to you that I was your son. Stand down, General."

For a long moment it was a standoff. Cutter's finger rubbed the trigger anxiously, the only movement he made for the eternity they seemed to stand there. He wasn't entirely sure he could shoot his father, in spite of all that had happened--and it wasn't a decision he was anxious to make. He didn't know which result would be worse.

The door flew open, catching the attention of everyone in the room.

Everyone, except for Ender. He moved so fast that Cutter didn't even have time to see what he did. All he knew was that when he looked back a heartbeat later, his father was disarmed and unconscious. Cutter froze momentarily, but his attention was demanded by the General's backup, and he quickly got his saber out and put it to good use.

"Move," he barked, shoving Shockwave toward the door and over the now-unconscious guards. The three thieves took off down the corridor, weaving through the maze in the kind of frenzied but organized rush only professional thieves--or professional soldiers--could master.

Finally, they made it into the tunnel, and from there out into the cool Puckworld night. Sirens blared in the base, and lights flared on, but the three thieves had a head start, and were used to manuevering the dark. By the time everything had been figured out and search parties organized, they'd be long gone.

"Well," Cutter commented as he managed to catch his breath. "Wasn't quite the evening I'd planned, was it."

"We didn't even get the chip," Sparky said mournfully.

"Oh ye of little faith," Cutter chuckled, producing a small glass case, apparently from thin air. He tossed it to the younger man with a grin. Shockwave's eyes went wide.

"You got it? How??"

Cutter shrugged. "My father was never particularly observant."

"Oh..." Sparky looked at the chip for a moment, and then broke into a sudden grin. Apparently, Ender remembered at about the same time, because he--almost--smiled. Shockwave started snickering. Cutter gave them both a dark look, which had very little effect.

"Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo," Ender muttered under his breath, the nearly-smile becoming a smirk. Shockwave cracked up.

They both found themselves staring down the barrel of Cutter's pucklauncher. "Are you suggesting," he asked with a cool smile, "that there's something wrong with my grandmother's name?"

"No, no, not at all," Ender raised his hands as if in surrender, still smirking. Shockwave made a half-hearted attempt to control his laughter.

Cutter sighed and turned. "Happens every time. No respect." He headed off, his two highly amused companions trailing behind. After a moment, Ender caught up with him.

"He'll be okay," the assassin told him quietly. "I just knocked him out." Cutter shrugged as if it weren't that important.

*****

The ride back was relatively silent, with the exception of Shockwave's occasional burst of snickering. Cutter rolled his eyes and did his best to ignore it. It wasn't all that hard--his mind seemed determined to wander, dredging up far too many memories for his liking.

"He's lazy, disrespectful--"

"He's just a kid--"

"He's my son and he had damn well better straighten out or his sorry tail will be out on the street the second it's legal!"

Jay couldn't stand it anymore, he reached over and gave his stereo's volume control knob a viscious twist. The music drowned the voices out, but it was small comfort. He knew it was still going on, and his imagination was just as cruel as his father, and far more creative.

He wished he knew how to lie. He wished he could at least pretend to want to make the old bastard happy. He couldn't help it, though, the best he could do was a surly, forced acceptance. Drake forbid he have a mind of his own. He wasn't even allowed to choose what he liked or disliked!

Hot tears sprang to his eyes, and he squeezed them shut, ashamed, angry. He breathed through his teeth, forcing air down his closed-up throat and willing the tears away--willing the world away.

Cutter sighed slightly. It was going to be a long drive home.

*****

"Well, gentlemen," Cutter sighed as he set the chip on his workbench. "I don't know about you, but I'm in for a well-deserved rest." Shockwave punctuated that statement by yawning widely. Cutter shoved him towards the door. "Go, before you collapse on my floor." Shockwave went, with Ender trailing after him.

Ender paused at the door and looked back, as if he were trying to decide whether or not to say something. Cutter's grin didn't look in the least bit forced.

"By the way," the older man commented casually after a moment, "If you tell anyone any of what you heard tonight, or if I ever hear that word repeated under any circumstances, I will kill you." He smiled pleasantly and tossed Ender a chocolate bar.

"Well, you were right," Ender smirked slightly. "That was definately one of the most entertaining heists I've been on lately."

He ducked out the door just in time to avoid the torque wrench thathad gone unexpectedly airborn.

 

Return to the Library...