Nerd World

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Chapter 26 - Ken

In the cutthroat world of trivia, counterintelligence is a vital yet often overlooked element of overall strategy. When there are spies and saboteurs lurking around every corner, it is important to know of the enemy’s disposition so that one can devise means to counter and defeat their plans. This is doubly true for the honest competitor, who must be always on watch for the knife at his back.

Consider our own situation. Within the walls of this building, Aaron Bellamy’s eyes and ears are many. Between his paid confederates and the poor souls he has duped into doing his dirty work, there is little he doesn’t know. So is it truly cheating to try and peer into his world? I can only imagine what Paul would say in response to that. Even having seen the impressively creative act of counterintelligence he performed with the stolen question sheet, I can still imagine the show of sanctimony he would perform if I told him of my plan to monitor Aaron’s schemes. So, as with many of my operations, I had to conduct this one in secret.

As with most people who operate with a shortage of manpower, I opted to rely on electronic ears to perform my surveillance. The field of electronics is not among my specialties, but fortunately I have a contact who is. I know him only as “Fr33kWyzyrd,” the handle of a college dropout who turned his twelve credit hours of electrical engineering into a small digital empire. He is mostly sought out by people who wish to “jailbreak” various portable devices, but his skills run far deeper than that. In particular, he possesses ample knowledge on monitoring devices of all kinds. Being a black hat sort, I imagine that most of his clients use this knowledge for unsavory purposes, but in my case it was in the service of fairness and honesty, so I felt justified in seeking his aid.

Through my contact’s website, I obtained a tutorial on the construction of a basic listening device. His instructions called for a cellular phone for real–time monitoring, but I found a cheaper alternative – old tape recorders, nine of them, discarded by a clinic as they emptied their storage space. After that, it was merely a matter of performing a few key upgrades. Tinkering with the speakers to augment their sensitivity. Modifying the battery for extended life. A simple set of alterations, or at least simple for Mr. Fr33kWyzyrd. In my case, only one of the nine recorders survived the operation. For weeks I labored over my device, carefully crafting it in my hours between school and my trivia training. It was a nominal success, and not a pretty beast – held together as it was by copious amounts of duct tape, rubber bands and my own sincere wishes. But it held its shape, and it worked exactly as promised.

The next step took more finesse. I had been keeping tabs on Aaron’s movements and schedule since our encounter at the outset of this year’s trivia season. He is a wily individual and well–practiced in covering his tracks, but he still has certain habits that I was able to deduce from my studies. With that information and a bit of triangulation, I knew exactly where to place my bug to maximize my chances of overhearing his vile secrets. True, it would have been better if I could increase my coverage area with more bugs, but my analysis told me exactly where and when to monitor.

Then came the planting of the device. Leaving an anonymous piece of electronics around a school building is not an act to be undertaken lightly, even for a nerd in good standing. The timing was very important. I needed to prepare the device with haste and extract it swiftly, before any suspicious soul found it and sounded the alarm – and, for that matter, before Aaron discovered it and became more suspicious than he already was. I would have, at most, an hour before the risk became too great. There was only one time that would work – the fourth quarterfinal round, when all eyes would turn towards the competitors and Aaron would have free reign of the halls. This is when he would plan and execute his own plot, and I would have a record with which to expose or defeat it.

My own plan was foolproof. I simply failed to grasp the identity of the fiend. I had never predicted that I would overhear a scheme by Isabel Morelli and Jane Anders. As their voices emerged from the aged speakers, my first instinct was to discard the tape and forget that I had ever created the device. But as I listened on, it became clear that Paul needed to hear this. I knew it would hurt him, perhaps even devastate him, but I feared far more what might happen if this cruel plot was allowed to pass.

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