Quinn’s eyes flicked over the group, sitting around a table. Trendy clothes, leopard-spotted and tiger-striped hair, colorful contacts. The guys were built like surfers; the girls, cheerleaders. “This is gonna be bad,” she muttered.
“Not really,” Wes replied. “Al’s in a popular crowd, but he’s a hacker first, and hackers have their own social structure. We’ll be fine.” He sounded confident, but Sage wasn’t so sure.
“Oh, look, it’s the dup-lovers,” one girl sneered, confirming Sage’s suspicion.
Sage gave her a murderous glare, but Wes ignored her and approached Al, who was sitting on the far side from them.
Al was typing away on a hard PC, a thin one with a shiny metal case. He held up one finger, typed for about thirty seconds, then whacked the Enter key with a vengeance. “I’m in deep hack, Wes, with about a dozen eggs in the air. What’s up?”
‘Deep hack’ meant that he was in the middle of a particularly productive programming session; the reference to eggs meant that he was ‘juggling eggs’--keeping track of a lot of information in his head--so it wasn’t a great time to just stand around talking about the weather.
“I heard from Razorwire that you’ve got some security code I could use.”
“That little false-authentication patch? Sure, lemmie look it up for ya.” His fingers flew over the keyboard, windows popping open on-screen and reflecting off his shirt, which looked like it was made of pure mercury. “How’s she doing, anyway? I haven’t talked to her since last Defcon.”
“Korea suits her,” Wes replied, reaching into his bag. “Says all that stuff about it being a country of gamers is totally true--they have little tournaments every day during lunch break.” He pulled out his laptop--covered in duct tape and geeky stickers, with little bits of equipment attached to the outside and exposed wires running all over it--and the group around him immediately started snickering.
The same girl as before was foolish enough to speak. “Whassa matter, drop your computer and can’t afford another one?”
Wes and Al gave her identical looks of ‘I didn’t think something so abysmally stupid would know how to breathe’, but Al was the one who replied. “Jill, what kind of car does your dad drive?”
“A Mercedes,” this Jill creature said smugly. “He even knows how to use it on manual.”
“Okay,” Al said, fingers still dancing over the keys. “If your PC is like your dad’s Mercedes, mine would be a Porsche, and Wes’s would be a drag racer. It’s not a pretty machine, but it blows your bitty box out of the water.” Jill shut up, seemingly blindsided by the concept that one of her friends actually stood up for such a loser.
Wes caught Sage’s eye, somehow communicating an “I told you so” without actually speaking. And she realized he was right: Wes, with his duct-tape bag, his cobbled-together computer, his bizarre shirt that looked like a portal into a plaid universe, was considered an equal--maybe even a superior--by someone who, by any normal standards, completely outranked him in the high school caste system.
Al dropped a datacube on the his PC’s optical reader, then handed it to Wes, who set it on his for a couple seconds while it copied. “Thanks, man,” he said, handing the small, shiny crystal back.
“No problem. And call her Rachel--everyone does.”
Wes shook his head as he stuffed the PC back into his bag. “They’re all handles to me till I’ve met them in meatspace. Maybe Razorwire’ll become Rachel if I make it to the next Defcon. Happy hacking.”
“See ya,” Al replied, going back to his work.
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