The Willow Society

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Chapter 19

Chapter 19

“Someone has broken through our security layer again. “ Myth said frowning and chewing her lip in frustration. Lou watched from a few feet away, paying attention as best she could, but utterly confused by the geekspeak. Isabel and Mrs. Jones were not around, but Izzy and Sue-Ann were. Sue-Ann stood behind Myth, leaning down over the diminutive freshman girl who worked at one of the three workstations in the newly redone room at Chatham House the girls had labeled simply “HQ.“

Three large television screens hung on the walls flanking four workstations. On one of the televisions a blinking green dot was surrounded by a black ring of dots, a ring of white squares, and a space of yellow dots. The dots were steadily being hammered by little blue arrows, like missiles in an 80's Atari game. Myth had a smaller view of the same screen in a window on her machine's middle monitor, one of three monitors at her station. The other two had numerous windows filled with black screens and scrolling white text. Lou was mystified.

“I can't stop them all!“ Myth wailed. She was only fourteen years old. For all her prowess with computers and her loud fashions and personality, she was socially quite shy, reserved. Particularly around older teen girls. It was less noticeable to Lou when Myth was around her and Izzy, but it was not gone.

In the three months since joining the Willow Society Myth had expressed a desire to move beyond computers, she readily admitted she was only sort of talented with them. She actually hungered to be a lab chemist and an experimental physicist, as well as an electronics developer. Lou had discovered Myth was crazy talented in those areas. She could unlock a smartphone in minutes, fix an iPod in less than twenty minutes and repair a television sometimes in less than fifteen. Lou had seen her do all those things. Myth also made cosmetics at home: facial lotions, shampoos, perfumes, soaps which were so fantastic not only did Isabel and Sue-Ann themselves use them, they had invested half a million dollars into producing the products for sale on the Internet. Both women had taken a quick liking to Myth, as much as Lou and Izzy had. But now Myth was frustrated by her limits with cybersecurity. Lou sighed, pushed away from the desk and stood up.

“This isn't working.“ she said, but her tone was as neutral and even as it always was.

“You can do it, Myth. Keep trying.“ Izzy said encouragingly. Which was very like Izzy. She tended to believe her friends more capable than they were. She had suggested several times that Lou could beat much older men at MMA fighting. While Lou liked the praise, she was more of a realist and Izzy's attitude at times seemed like blind flattery. Lou saw Sue-Ann's reaction as she observed Myth. The woman frowned deeply.

Part of Izzy's problem was she knew almost as little about the mechanics of what Myth was doing, of what she was up against, as Lou. While Izzy was a wunderkind on social media, she was the only teenager Lou had ever heard of with half a million followers on Twitter who wasn't a star already, Lou knew social media tools to Izzy, not puzzles as they were to someone like Myth. Truth be told, Lou hated computers. She understood them to be necessary and like fighting a much larger opponent, something she could not be afraid of trying, but it didn't make her like them.

Myth's face fell. Lou saw the defeat there. She had seen it on the faces of many of the girls and boys she had beaten in MMA fights. Myth was done, ready to tap out. It was time to through in the towel, to look at other options. Lou was just about to try and say such when Sue-Ann inclined her head as if she had reached a decision.

Sue-Ann turned towards Myth and said, calmly, without anger judgment or heat,. “Shut it down, Myth, you're done.“

Lou who could see Sue-Ann's face, knew the woman's tone belied her true feelings. If she was anything like Lou, whose face also rarely showed her true emotions, Sue-Ann was mad as hell. Maybe even a little afraid. These attacks were becoming quite serious, billions of dollars were at stake and a lot of secret corporate technology.

Something had to be done. Sue-Ann was not a woman to embrace failure. Lou understood that. Izzy blurted out, “No! We can't....“ but she realized who she was talking to and she closed her mouth, swallowed hard. “I meant, we shouldn't....“

“I know what you meant, Isadore Chatham.“ Sue-Ann said gruffly. “Myth you have my orders. Shut. It. Down.“ Sue-Ann sighed and walked away, not bothering to see if her orders were carried out. She knew they would be.

“Izzy you know she can't handle this.“ Lou said for the tenth time. It was becoming a worn argument. “I never should have suggested her. I mean, she's great. I like her. And she's amazing in the lab, I can only imagine what she can do if Sue-Ann and Isabel agree to build the lab she wants, but—without a way to keep these attacks from breaking us... what's the point?“ Lou had learned a great deal in the past months about the resources of the Society, about where the money went, what technological areas they controlled and why people might want to steal or subvert them. Her involvement in the Society had changed, she felt the mission more keenly now she understood just what was at stake. Thousands of people could die if some of these techs were to fall into the wrong hands. The government might even have them all killed to cover it up. At least Lou assumed they might.

Izzy nodded resigned. She knew the stakes as well, maybe better than Lou, though she wasn't as driven by the Society's mission as Lou was. But that was Izzy. She did everything very well, always enough to be notable, but she was never the best at anything always just good enough to be in the top level, aside from her social media exploits. It seemed to Lou like settling. “You aren't suggesting she leave the Society are you?“ From her tone it sounded Izzy had such thoughts and was probing Lou to see how she felt, rather than coming out and just asking. After all Izzy knew Lou and Myth were fairly close now, as close as Lou knew how to be, which really wasn't all that close. Lou kept her walls up, even with the Society.

“Myth...“ Izzy said, “It's not what you think!“

Lou just stared at Myth until the girl wiped her eyes and nodded. "You're not going anywhere, Myth.“ Myth nodded reluctantly and wiped her eyes. Izzy rushed over to hug the small dark girl. They talked for a few more minutes about the attacks and the Society's inability to prevent them. Their own system had not yet been compromised but with the way someone was sniffing into their resources, into the myriad web of companies the Society owned, it was only a matter of time.

“What are we going to do?“ Myth said, half wailing. It was easy to forget sometimes she was a fourteen year old freshman. That she was from a single-father household of a moderately wealthy man, one who doted on her, spoiled her with every convenience, ever gadget she desired, had even built a lab for her. For all her knowledge Myth was a very sheltered girl, tender girl. Lou had experienced this side of Myth before, but it had become much rarer. Izzy had not experienced it. She frowned, embarrassed and annoyed by the girl's continued petulance. That was also Izzy's way. Lots of hugs when you were upset, understanding when you messed up, but all of it only to a point. She could become easily annoyed.

“What we need is a hacker.“ Myth said, sniffling. Lou stopped and thought about that. Myth is on to something. The only way to fight fire was with fire is with a bigger fire.

Izzy looked doubtful, but Myth was captivated by her own idea”Yes! If we can find someone who can do the same thing the attackers are doing, maybe they can figure out how to stop it, block it!“

Lou didn't smile, but part of her wanted to. “She's on to something.“

She waited for Izzy to agree, certain the other girl would, also certain it was necessary to have Izzy agree in order to sway Isabel and Sue-Ann. A whole minute ticked by with Myth bouncing on her toes, but also on the edge of whining again. Lou felt strangely exposed before Izzy nodded, grudgingly, with a sigh. Still it was agreement.

“But who?“ Izzy asked.

“Winston Fillmore.” Myth said quickly.

“A boy?“ Izzy said, obviously unsure.

“He's one of the smartest hackers in my class. Even Tate thinks so. Aside from the Behrstable or Parker. And we don't want either of them!“ Myth said. Lou watched Izzy's face, trying to read the other girl. Myth's suggestion was not just good, it was likely the only real option they had.

“How do you know he's a hacker? Tate doesn't teach hacking.“ Lou said. She wasn't entirely familiar with every course Tate taught, as he taught several. But she was familiar with the little speech Tate liked to give at the start of term where he denounced hacking in a way that all but invited curious programmers to try doing it. Still nobody was about to just announce they were a hacker in Tate's class, the teacher would not take that very well.

It was key they agreed among themselves. Looked at it from as many angles as possible, since Sue-Ann and Isabel definitely would investigate anyone they suggested, a boy even more so, a hacker triply so.

“He's also descended from a President!“ Myth blurted out and blushed as the same time. Lou sighed. She has a crush on him. That presented a wholly different set of problems, none of which were easy to deal with. Perhaps this is why Sue-Ann and Isabel preferred only girls. “But seriously, no one in the class slices into code like he does, well except for Philomena Behrstable, but we've ruled her out. Either way, I can't match him.“ This was standard Myth, unlike most people as brilliant as the small girl was, she was quite free with admitting and recognizing people who could out perform her. Lou hadn't really met anyone who could outfight herself yet. But she liked to believe she would admit it if she had. Maybe I would. Perhaps I haven't been looking hard enough. Her fists balled up instinctively.

“Fine. Let's bring it to Sue-Ann and Isabel.“ Izzy said, reluctantly.

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