The Willow Society

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Chapter 11

Chapter 11

Taylor finished recalling what had led him to where he now was, seated before Headmaster Ballard's computer, in the pearly mid-evening of a Friday night.

Still trying to dispel the strange sounds Taylor tried to focus on his anger. His plan seemed laughable now. Changing grades had worked in Channelview as revenge, but would it work here? He was sure he could do it, was already inside the system the school used, already had access as if he were the Headmaster himself. But Taylor had doubts. Nothing he did tonight would get his mother's job back. And the people he was trying to punish had more money than Taylor would ever see; what will a semester of failing grades really mean to them? If Taylor followed through, altered their grades from years previous, it would affect their college choices, but as he thought it out more, they could likely smooth it over easily enough. Or have their parents do it Money was like that. Taylor's head drooped in annoyed despair.

He had felt so empowered only minutes before and now he felt weak, defenseless, toothless.

A thought occurred to him. There was something he could do, something even money couldn't buy off so easily. Smiling at the monitor, Taylor ran a search and loaded up the database which popped up as a result. Running a query he found what he was looking for. He scribbled down the information, ran two more queries and wrote that information down as well. He logged out of the Headmaster's machine and looked down at his watch. It was eight thirty-nine P.M.

If I'm fast I can do it.

Sprinting out of Ballard's office, after making sure he had put everything back as he'd found it, Taylor flew through the darkened hallways towards the Crypto classroom occasionally sliding over recently waxed floors, his sneakers making a loud squeak which startled him every time. The door to Tate's classroom was unlocked and ajar, as was every classroom door he had seen.

Maybe the cleaning staff left them that way.

Taylor went in, but did not go to his normal workstation, instead he sat down where Parker and Lil J usually sat. Turned on Parker's machine. He loaded his thumbdrive and spent exactly six and a half minutes cracking Parker's Willow Prep login, which gave him full access to Parker's Willow Prep account. Taylor loaded another program from his thumbdrive and entered an IP he knew to be a classified government server, using a terminal emulator. The IP was a highly protected, highly restricted server which hackers on were always bragging about knowing how to bust, without ever actually proving they could. Taylor had never tried, the risks were not worth the reward and he wasn't an anarchist hacker, but he had memorized the IP address. For him hacking had to have purpose, otherwise it was just bullying, and he hated bullies. Setting the program to run in the background unseen, as though it were a system process, Taylor scrubbed the machine of his presence, after he made sure the process would restart itself every time Parker's login was active.

It would not be difficult to find the program, if you knew to look, but Taylor didn't want it to be difficult. He wanted it to look ham-handed, amateur. But you would have to know to look for it, and Taylor was certain Parker would not look on his own.

Taylor got up and repeated the process on Philomena's machine, using NSA, and classified military servers this time. But on a hunch he hid the program much deeper, disguising it as a system kernel. He had no doubt Philomena could find it, she was very good, and he also suspected she was the kind of programmer to routinely check her machine, simply out of suspicious habit. Something in the way she looked at others made Taylor think of her so. When he was done he looked down at his watch, saw the time, nine twenty-six P.M.

He was just about to leave when a network message popped up on the screen of Philomena's machine. The message was system generated, in of itself unusual. This was the kind of message a network administrator would see, not an end-user like Philomena. Worse, it indicated an interrupted search had been completed and advised him to access a secure folder in order to review the results.

Why is Philomena Behrstable getting sysadmin messages?

Taylor looked at his watch. He needed to leave, but he couldn't resist. What is she up to? He found the secured folder and began surfing through the documents. It was mostly keylogs and took a few minutes of looking for Taylor to realize Philomena was keylogging Tate! Why is Philomena Behrstable keylogging the teacher? But his answer appeared before him when he opened one of the few text documents which wasn't a keylog. It was labeled TOP SECRET. Taylor's breath caught.

What i PATE doing with TOP SECRET clearance documents?

But that was not the most daunting of the revelations. The document talked about a satellite network the military had just finished, contracted by a firm called TwinStar. A network to connect all military agencies, intelligence agencies, the NSA, the FBI, all of them. Interconnected into one complete interface, meant to be available to the top brass, the Joint Chiefs, the NSC Director, the CIA Director, and the President, the people with the highest clearance possible. The interface was called the CCOM Panel. Taylor closed the document and opened another. It contained schematics for some of the military's latest research and development projects, including, a mind-reading helmet of all things. Quickly closing that document, Taylor surfed through others; Tate had gathered all kinds of R&D documents from somewhere within the military and/or spy agencies. And unless Taylor missed his guess, judging by some of the keylogged documents, Tate was trying to acquire the CCOM panel and the SatSig codes necessary to operate it. It was mind blowing.

But then Taylor remembered that this was all on Philomena's computer, she had executed the search of what Tate was doing, a major achievement. Tate was a top-shelf computer guy, the kind who gave all the hallmarks of being a reformed hacker, the kind recruited by the government after they discovered him eating Hot Pockets while rooting around in the personnel files of 4-star generals while watching reruns of Star Trek.

How had Philomena done it, and done it so Tate was unaware? How had she known it was worth doing in the first place?

She couldn't have just guessed what Tate was up to, that was ludicrous. She must have known, somehow.

Taylor looked down at his watch.

Nine fifty-three P.M. Taylor swore. Copying all the files to his thumbdrive, Taylor set about reloading the network message, so when Philomena started up her machine on Monday she would still receive it and it would seem original. If she suspected anything she clearly would act. Taylor shivered with fear. He had never been actively, physically afraid of another hacker before, but he was now.

Philomena is dangerous.

Turning her computer off, Taylor ran out of the Crypto classroom and skulked his way off the grounds, leaving the way he entered and thankfully saw no one around. As exited the school he looked back once, thought he saw the beam of an LED flashlight wink off.

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