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Authors: Tracy Alexander

Hacked (5 page)

BOOK: Hacked
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By ten o’clock Sunday morning I was on a coach heading for a foreign country where every sentence goes up at the end. I sat on my own near the front. The back was noisy, and I wanted to sleep. It was a three-hour journey with one loo stop in the middle – that was when my peace was interrupted.

‘Can I sit here?’ said Ruby – a girl from the other class that I had never looked at, spoken to or sold stolen credit to.

‘Sure,’ I said.

‘I feel a bit sick.’

I budged right over and pressed myself against the window. Just kidding!

‘Don’t worry, I’ll aim for the aisle,’ she said.

‘Make sure you do.’

We sat in silence.

‘Look! A red kite,’ she said, leaning across me and pointing.

‘Sure it’s not a blackbird?’ I said, squinting. That was all it took to get us chatting.

‘I’m going to work outside – something to do with
wildlife, and never ever wear a suit. What about you?’

I shrugged. But as her face seemed to want an answer I said, ‘Game developer, maybe.’

‘You mean computer games?’

‘Well, I don’t mean Monopoly.’

‘I like Monopoly,’ she said.

We really had nothing in common. That didn’t stop us talking all the way to Cardigan Bay. We covered immigration, Britain’s Got Talent, coursework versus exams and favourite sandwich. (Me – bacon and cheese on white. Her – cheese, jam and lettuce. Yuck!)

Ruby was a good name for her because her hair was red, not post-box red obviously, but the colour they call red which is actually copper or maple or marmalade.

‘I heard about the phone thing,’ she said.

I blushed. Not because
I
cared, but because she obviously did.

‘I did it to be kind,’ I said, wondering why I was justifying myself. ‘To start with, at any rate.’

She made a disbelieving face.

I carried on, pathetically trying to convince her that I wasn’t the gangster she thought I was. (Forget Angel’s den for now.)

‘If you did it to be kind, why did you take a cut?’

‘I had to charge for my time,’ I said. I sounded vile even to myself.

‘Anyway, it doesn’t matter to me what you do,’ she said.

I hoped that wasn’t true because in the hour it took to get from Llllwyngogogcanwyn services, or whatever it was called, to the Riverside Centre, I’d fallen for her. I had two days to change her mind about me.

The gods were in my corner. Straight after lunch we were put into groups and yes, I was with Ruby. Even better, I had no rivals for her attention because we were with Aiden, Harry, Scarlett and Shula. Teachers are so predictable – sprinkle the idiots and terrorists in with the dull and the diligent and every group will get some sort of results and there won’t be any incidents. (Bear in mind, the teachers didn’t know about my extra-curricular talent – I scraped in as diligent.)

Ruby and I sorted out the work between us, and to be fair, the others were willing enough helpers, happy to not have to think. Scarlett produced the neatest table of results of all the groups although if you’d asked her she couldn’t have told you what any of it meant. I tried to win Ruby over by being polite, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, funny etc. By teatime she was sick of me.

‘Are you trying to impress me?’ she asked as I walked with her to the girls’ block.

‘No,’ I said, too quickly.

‘Only I’d prefer it if you were normal,’ she said.

‘I can be that,’ I said, smiling like a bad salesman.

‘And not a hacker.’ I didn’t like the face she made. Like I was a cheese and onion burp.

‘Hacker’s just a word,’ I said, not really knowing what I meant.

‘See you.’ She opened the door to her building and disappeared.

She sat at a different table from me for tea, was put in a different team for charades, and the next day all the groups had to split in two, one to experiment and the other to record observations. Some bright spark in our group decided to divide by gender. The boys got the job of wading around in the water, the girls did the timing and the distance. By lunch, Aiden, who is small and insignificant, was freezing.

‘I’ve got another fleece if you want it.’

‘Thanks, Dan,’ he said.

I was going to go and get it but he tagged along.

‘Do you think the results we’re getting are all right?’ he asked.

If I’d been with anyone else I’d have laughed.
Who cares?
But there was something about him shivering that brought out my previously unseen compassionate side.

‘Yes, they’re fine. The flow is bound to be faster …’ I reeled off the basics.

He had more questions – they lasted us all the way back to the canteen so I ended up sitting on my own with him, talking geography. Yippee! Two saddos together.

‘I really get it now,’ he said. ‘Thanks, and for this.’
He looked down at his own body, swamped by my black fleece.

‘It’s fine, Aiden.’ It wasn’t like people were queuing up to sit by me.

He was like a different person in the afternoon. Not only did he actually speak and laugh, but he volunteered for all the tasks.

‘What did you do to him at lunch?’ said Ruby while I was packing up the equipment.

I was going to say, ‘Gave him a legal high’ but managed to divert my tongue halfway through and say, ‘a little help.’

Mr Richards came over and interrupted us. Damn!

‘Dan, I noticed you giving Aiden a hand. Really good to see.’

He walked back to the block with me.

For the teambuilding quiz in the evening they picked the names out of a hat (except it was a bucket) – no luck there. Shame, I was hoping to build on the tiny bit of goodwill I’d detected from Ruby. Instead I concentrated on winning, which we did.

The coach ride home was my last chance. I got on early and chose a seat near the front but Ruby sat with Amelia, two seats ahead on the opposite side. I studied her (while talking to Aiden – my new BFF). It’s weird what attracts you to one person and not another. She kept tucking her hair (which, unlike all the other girls’, stopped at her shoulder, not her bum) behind her ear and letting it slip through her fingers, and tilting her
head a lot. Her sleeves were too long – that looked cute, even though she picked her nails.

It would have been over before it had begun, but the bus arrived back as school was chucking out so I confided in Joe and Ty (who’d come in for a half day).

‘No chance,’ said Ty. ‘She’s not the sort to go out with someone like you.’

The head injury hadn’t made him any nicer.

‘Meaning?’

‘You’re bad news, Dan.’

‘You could ask her to go for hot chocolate and explain,’ said Joe.

‘Explain that I stole lots of dosh by hacking?’

‘Explain that you don’t do it any more, because it was wrong. You’ve seen the error of your ways. You’re a new, and better, version.’

As if that was going to work …

 

The next day, when I spotted Ruby in the corridor outside her classroom, I gave it a go anyway.

‘Come with me for a hot chocolate after school … or a milkshake. I want to explain about the phone thing. Please.’

‘Get lost,’ said Amelia.

‘I will, if Ruby tells me too.’

I wanted to make my eyes huge and sad like the cat in
Shrek
but she’d said she liked me normal so I didn’t.

‘All right,’ she said. ‘To shut you up.’

Now I wanted to make my eyes mean and squinty
to frighten Amelia, but I didn’t do that either. I did, however, do an involuntary skip after I turned the corner. I was turning into someone from
Mary Poppins.

 

The thing with Ruby could have saved me. I wanted to be with her. She didn’t want me to be involved with anything illegal. Ergo, stop the hacking, get the girl. And that was how it was for a while. (Almost.)

For our first proper date we went out with the Wildlife Trust. (Yes, I became a ‘friend of the planet’.)

Sunday mornings in Ruby’s world meant volunteering. I wanted to see her and that was what she was doing so I went too. We all met at a courtyard on Jacobs Wells Road. It was an odd group, about twenty people, of which we were the youngest and the oldest was as old as Gandalf.

‘Who’s this you’ve brought with you, Ruby?’ said an old man, who turned out to be called Ted.

‘It’s’er fella,’ said an old woman, name of Dot.

‘Has he got a name?’ said Ted.

‘He’s called Fella,’ said Ruby.

They all laughed, and called me ‘Fella’ all that day (and forever after).

‘When we get there, look out for the snipe and redshank,’ said Ted’s pal, Isaac, tapping my shoulder on the bus.

‘Will do,’ I said, with no idea what either of them looked like.

‘Fella’s got his own bird to gawp at,’ said Ted, starting
a laugh that turned into a cough.

Ruby winked at me.

That day’s job was on the moor, patching up the bird hide and clearing the access. I worked beside Ruby, who’d brought some gloves for both of us. She was cutting back the overgrowth and I was tidying the edge of the track.

‘I like these long-handled sideways scissors,’ I said.

‘They’re called lawn shears, Fella,’ said Ted. His role seemed to be onlooker.

‘We could do with one of those petrol-driven strimmers,’ said Isaac.

‘Don’t need petrol when you’ve got a young ’un like that,’ said Dot with a big belly laugh.

‘Actually, he’s solar powered,’ said Ruby. ‘Works fine as long as I keep him outside.’

‘I thought he was a wind-up,’ said Ted.

Everyone laughed again.

‘Leave the lad alone,’ said Isaac. ‘The poor boy’s not a radio, he’s —’

Ruby interrupted. ‘Nothing like as useful as that.’

I’m not saying it was the wittiest banter, but it was nice. They really liked her, and she liked them.

Ruby had made us a picnic – peanut butter sandwiches, salt and vinegar crisps, apples and Ribena. It was like days out with my gran and grandad, sitting in the fresh air, wrapped up warm, fiddling with sticks and chatting.

‘What is it this week, then, Ruby? Black Forest gateau?’ asked Ted.


You’re
the wind-up merchant,’ said Dot. ‘You shouldn’t take things for granted. She might not bring one, one day.’

Ruby had already reached into her rucksack and brought out a tupperware.

‘She’s a wonderful girl,’ whispered Isaac. ‘Always brings a cake.’

‘Always a Victoria sponge,’ said Ruby. ‘I don’t know how to make anything else.’

‘You can’t beat jam and cream,’ said Dot.

‘I didn’t know you could bake,’ I said.

‘Nothing our Ruby can’t do,’ said Ted, taking a huge bite and losing most of it.

It tasted delicious. Everything did that day.

In the afternoon I helped Isaac cut back some of the trees and bushes while Ruby did some bramble bashing. She was wearing a faded grey fleece and old jeans and walking boots, but she didn’t look drab because her cheeks were pink and her freckles orange and her hair shining, and her smile …

‘We’re very fond of Ruby,’ said Isaac.

I felt like I was talking to her dad, asking for her hand in marriage.

‘I am too.’

He nodded – I think I’d passed the first test.

On the way home, listening to them all going on, I was a tiny bit flummoxed by how much I’d enjoyed the day, and how much I really did like her and how much I wanted all the oldies to like
me
. It wasn’t a typical date,
but that was the thing with Ruby. It wasn’t like being with anyone else.

The first week we hung out between lessons, went to the café and ate cake after school, and, on Friday, went to the cinema. In the dark I finally got round to kissing her – it was so different from Soraya’s sticky pink lips. Ruby’s mouth was simply a better fit all round. She came over to my house the second week and stayed to eat, and as that went surprisingly well, she came a lot more. I went to hers once, straight from school. Never again.

Her mum came into the hall to say hello.

‘You must be Dan,’ she said. No handshake. No smile.

‘Hello,’ I said. And then, because it was a bit awkward, ‘Pleased to meet you.’

‘And you,’ she said. Tight lips. Nasty blue dress.

She managed to look
only
at Ruby, which was clever given how close to each other we were standing, and say, ‘Supper’s at six-thirty so …’

‘Dan’ll be gone by then.’

Ruby turned to go up the stairs.

‘Stay downstairs, please, Ruby,’ she said.

Did I look like a rabid animal about to attack her daughter?

‘Mum!’

Ruby’s mum made a face that looked like constipation to me but presumably meant something to Ruby, who took my hand and led me into the room with the funny frosted glass door.

‘Am I the first boy you’ve brought home?’ I asked.

‘Yes, and I won’t be tempted again,’ she said.

We watched telly, with Ruby’s mum popping her head in every few minutes.

‘Is she always like this?’ I asked.

‘You mean like a guard dog?’ said Ruby, making her hands pretend to be cocked ears. That made me laugh. A lot of things she did made me laugh.

‘Overprotective,’ I said, trying to be diplomatic.

‘Only child in a single-parent family, what hope is there?’ said Ruby.

She gave me the shorthand version of how her dad ended up living in Scotland.

‘… Dad couldn’t breathe without asking Mum first, and she’s a bit the same with me.’ Ruby shrugged. ‘She’s basically not that happy about me seeing you.’

 

My mum and dad were the opposite – delighted to see me in a relationship because it meant I wasn’t spending all my time in my room on my own. (Yippee – sixteen, not medicated and not a recluse.) (It also meant Dad gave up on our nine o’clock bonding sessions – more yippees.) The fact that Ruby had no piercings and wanted to work with nature was the chocolate topping on the parents’ cupcake. El was pleased too, because after years of gymnastic failure, Ruby managed to teach her how to do a cartwheel. All good.

Now for the not so good.

* * *

Backtrack to the café, me trying to drink the
cream-topped
hot chocolate without looking silly (she had no issues with her cocoa moustache), while explaining the rise and fall of my Pay As You Go scheme. On that day, I pledged to never do
it
again, insisting I was only really interested in gaming. She seemed to believe me, and there hadn’t been any cause to mention
it
since.

However, my online life carried on. The hours I put in were drastically reduced, but most nights I joined in the live messaging on IRC with Angel’s mob. Later on, when men in suits asked me why, I didn’t have a good reason. But they pressed me, so I said I was interested in what they were up to – that was my best answer.

Ruby didn’t know and didn’t ask.

 

All this waffle is to explain that there were a few weeks of calm before the storm. A few weeks where I was still ordinary, happy, in fact. The only incident of any relevance, that happened somewhere in the middle, was a night-time chat with Angel’s crew. We were talking about my spying activity, which had included:

– people leaving the Kremlin in big coats

– drunks leaving The Cambridge Arms

– watching the queue outside the Kellaway chip shop

– Tokyo rush hour

– Arizona (the land of nothing)

– tourists at the Great Wall of China

and loads of other random locations.

Angel typed:

do something with it – don’t just watch

like what?
   – that was me.

track a celebrity and sell the photo

catch a royal having an affair

spy on the US forces with their own cameras

hack a drone and fly it

could you do that KP?
   – that was Angel.

if I wanted to be blacklisted by the most powerful country on the planet I could
   – me.

China is most powerful

They went off in another direction, arguing about wealth, population, and the fact that all the clever kids are Chinese. I followed the chat while playing
Counter Strike
on my laptop. It took an unexpected turn.

thats your challenge KP – hack a drone
   – typed Angel.

He went offline, and so did I. But his words stayed on my mind.

BOOK: Hacked
6.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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