Ada and Script Kid
By Jaqueline Kharouf
Ada first met ScriptKid in person after he’d unlatched the padlock inside room 21 of the motel at 8th and Kalamath. He was older than she’d expected—one of those late thirty year olds still trying to pass for a hip twenty something skateboarder—and he was sort of dangerously thin, which she liked. He wore a black knit cap over dirty-blondish hair that fell straight around his ears and the back of his neck, sagging skinny jeans (black), skater shoes (also black), and a bulky blue sweater that smelled like weed and B.O. She could tell his age from the wrinkles around his eyes, which made his stare hollow and cinematically world-weary. Standing in the open doorway, the traffic on 8th suspended behind the pins and needles jolting of a siren, Ada held her breath.
This motel, ScriptKid explained as he closed the door behind her, was his rally point, his ground zero. Tucked far enough away from downtown that it wasn’t obvious and close enough to Colfax Avenue that it was just the sort of place people who call the police would avoid, the motel featured mauve, low-pile carpeting streaked in mud or grease or other stains that formed a crosshatch pattern around the holed and smelly chairs on either side of the lumpy double. The coverlet on the bed was crusted and stained, possibly side-swiped by greased hands and dowsed in bright sugary drinks or other gunk. A cracked plastic sign on the nightstand boasted “Free Wi-Fi!” Fake flowers stood in a chipped vase.
For this first meeting Ada had decided to play down the sexy animé character look she’d been working recently and, instead, chose her favorite dark green hooded sweatshirt, combed and lightly gelled her short-short dark purple hair behind her ears, and laced up her bulkiest pair of swastika-black combat boots—the pair her brother bought in a D.C. pawnshop for her birthday last year. She had just finished her bachelor’s at a technical college in north Denver and she was having a tough year.
Ada sunk into the broken seat of the chair astride the gummy coffee table and ScriptKid asked her why she was doing this and whether or not she’d considered what would happen if she got caught.
Ada opened her laptop and balanced it on her lap. She didn’t want to chalk it up to being an angry, dissatisfied college drop-out who finished her degree in computer science programming a couple months ago at a technical institute, or to the fact that she was now so depressed and anxiety ridden she needed a steady diet of anti-anxiety medication to function and not feel like she wanted to crawl out of her skin any second she could—but really, it boiled down to her brother’s death in Afghanistan a year ago (only a little while after he shipped those boots) and the unfairness she still wasn’t prepared to handle. She moved west, finished her degree here in Denver (instead of MIT), and to pay the rent she got a job at an oil and gas company that—only last month—had a spill they didn’t want anyone to know about. Ada wanted ScriptKid’s help to change that. She didn’t want money. Her reason for exposing the company was purer than that. Simpler. She wanted revenge.
Ada clicked around on her desktop.
“I don’t want Vapide Oil & Gas to get away unscathed,” she said. The company’s largest asset—the Trans-Canadian Oil Pipeline (or T-Cop, as her boss called it)—had burst and spilled across the Northern Canadian tundra, flooding the permafrost, lining the gills of salmon, trout, and other river life, fumigating the nostrils of gently grazing, procreating caribou. The spill had irrefutably damaged the ecosystem forever.
“Do you want money?” ScriptKid asked.
Ada shook her head. “I want accountability.”
ScriptKid nodded, blinking his tired, slightly foggy eyes. He wanted to get some attention for his hacking, he explained. Not enough attention that he’d get caught, but enough that people would notice and (ideally) listen. Current hacker forum speculation listed ScriptKid as top mastermind behind the Bank One DDOS of ’05.
“I want to shake things up,” he said as he unzipped his bag, opened his laptop, pulled out the rickety modem that sparked when he plugged it into the wall. “We’re going to break this company down, release all its sensitive data to the ether, decimate their secure servers.”
“And leave all the employees a condemning message,” Ada added. She retrieved that message from her word documents. She’d been over it again and again, but still couldn’t decide if it sounded better to begin with “NUMB UNFEELING SCUM,” or just, “UNFEELING SCUM.” Were three “U”s one too many? She checked with ScriptKid. “I mean,” she said, “‘numb’ and ‘scum’ sound like the same word. Then there’s ‘unfeeling’—which is still that ‘uh’ sound and how scary is that? Uh—uh—uh?”
ScriptKid bit his lip. His eyes were focused on the screen of his laptop and his hands were like claws over his keys. Ready to pounce. He tugged off his knit cap.
She sent the doc. to ScriptKid. “We can still change it,” she said.
ScriptKid tossed her a cable to hook up to his modem and explained the path of the hack. He routed their IP addresses to several password-locked computers at the Ross-Barnum branch of the public library down the block. Their connection continued through several more computers in the basement of the warehouse where ScriptKid worked nights, stuffing newspapers into blue plastic baggies. And, after a series of other clustered computer connections, dummy modems, and nefarious servers, the path led back to this room.
In an hour, Ada had hacked Vapide’s email network by bypassing several low-security firewalls and a few swatches of uncomplicated HTML.
The metallic clang of synthesized laughter trickled into the room.
ScriptKid grinned, tapped a key, and the hollow, forced laughter echoed through Ada’s speakers too.
“When do they hear this?” she asked.
ScriptKid clenched his hands and cracked his knuckles. “As soon as they login—or try to login—to their email.”
To get the codes they needed to hack the system, Ada only had to smile at the IT guy who worked exclusively in the records department. He’d been showing off and blurted the sixteen digit security code like she didn’t have a head for numbers too. The IT guy—she’d missed his real name when he’d introduced himself on her first day—was actually pretty cute and friendly. He sat with her at lunch, sent her memes over interoffice IM, and—more than once—highlighted the fact that he hadn’t been on a date in, like, forever. He had asked her about the photograph of her brother that she’d set as the background image on her desktop. And when she’d explained that he was dead, the IT guy had seemed genuinely sorry.
But now, Ada thought of the IT guy as collateral damage—a means to a necessary end—and she figured that if the hack didn’t link back to him, he’d never know how she’d used what he unknowingly gave her.
Ada resumed typing. One hand scratching the buzzed hair on the back of her head, the other making spidery steps across the keyboard. She spun out new code, letting all that restrained spam flood back in like sewage.
The next morning, Ada swiped her badge to unlock the front office door and wondered if the IT guy noticed that she scrubbed the hard drive of her work computer clean before she left last Friday. She deleted the cookies from her latest Internet investigations of the firewall programs a small company like Vapide would use to block its interface and saved all her other work to a separate jump drive which she hid in a locked desk drawer. Ada was only a temp at the Vapide Records Center, which was housed in an off-site warehouse away from the main offices downtown. Eight hours a day, she filed papers to hundreds of wells in a number of counties and drilling fields. She’d been date stamping, hole-punching, and making copies for three months now—leases, mineral deeds, pooling agreements, death certificates, and other curative documents that refer to interest owners—but if she wasn’t doing that, she was surfing the Internet and pretending to be updating the excel spreadsheet of her work metrics.
After Ada turned on her computer, she clicked on the small yellow orb icon of her email service, typed in her password, and hit enter. Her screen faded to black and the familiar ring of tinny, warped laughter filled her cubicle.
The message scrolled across the screen as the laughing voice narrated:
“YOUR GREED KNOWS NO BOUNDS! EVERY MEMBER OF VAPIDE OIL AND GAS COMPANY—FROM THE LOWLIEST PAPER PUSHING DATA TECHNICIAN TO THE CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER—IS GUILTY! YOUR COVER-UP OF THE TRANS-CANADIAN OIL PIPELINE SPILL MAY HAVE BEEN WORTH $6.7 BILLION, BUT THE EXTENT OF YOUR SELF SERVING GREED CAN BE SEEN FROM OUTER SPACE.”
The narration paused as the screen faded into an aerial shot of North America. A dark blackish-brown smudge seeped from Alaska’s Canadian border to the middle of western Canada. Little arms and threads of the color webbed across the terrain, but the most concentrated splotch pooled over several designated national forests, hundreds of acres of permafrost, and the habitats of over 170 different species of birds and 34 different types of fish. Ada knew these statistics—everyone at Vapide knew them—because this information was proudly posted under the “Environment Awareness” tab of the main website.
“WITH NORTH AMERICA’S UNENDING PASSION FOR CRUDE OIL, NATURAL GAS, AND FOSSIL FUELS, IT’S NO WONDER LOBBYISTS AND ELECTED POLITICIANS SPEND SO MUCH TIME, ENERGY, AND MONEY KEEPING YOU FINANCIALLY VIABLE, EVEN WHEN YOU MANAGE TO KILL SO MUCH WILDLIFE! WE SEE WHAT YOU HAVE DONE! WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN YOUR CONCRETE HALLS! WE ARE ALWAYS WATCHING AND WE WILL NEVER LET YOU FORGET! WE ARE THE NARCS—WE ARE EVERYONE AND WE ARE NO ONE.”
The voice laughed again and the words “Operation Kill the Caribou” flashed in red across the screen, one word at a time.
Ada’s phone buzzed in the pocket of her dress pants. She had a text.
Ada spun in her chair so that she could lean out from the open doorway of her cubicle.
Snatches of the manic laughter and message warbled down the aisles. The woman in the cubicle
next to Ada murmured a trembling, “Oh my God.”
Ada texted back: Mission accomplished.
ScriptKid replied with a smiley face and about a hundred exclamation points.
Ada spent the day in an emergency all staff and temps meeting followed by a conference call from downtown corporate headquarters. The head of public relations announced that the hackers, the Narcs, had broken the secure firewall and had leaked hundreds of sensitive documents to the Internet, plus blocked all access to email, the Vapide Oil and Gas Co. servers, and stalled basic functionality of the record databases. The video had also been posted on YouTube and, at the moment, had about 50,000 hits.
Everyone on staff took turns staring at the IT guy, who only exhibited a mute, dull-eyed expression like he’d been water boarded and told that in either a couple minutes or a couple days the intense splashing-gag-electroshock routine would start all over again. His gaping face and eyes were enough to make Ada squirm in her chair and take frequent scans of her co-workers’ faces. The IT guy was probably just trying to make a living, pay his rent, finally pay off his credit card and she’d just brought all that to a crushing halt. His face, more than anything, was the one thing that was keeping her from licking her chops or sicking ScriptKid on the bandwidth again.
When she complained about her job to ScriptKid all those months ago, she didn’t expect anything to come out of it. Mostly, she was feeling lethargic from her medication and scanning the chat conversations of a hacker message board for anyone interesting. She liked his alias and he liked hers. He told her female hackers were sexy.
Ada: how do you know im female?
ScriptKid: i dont, but you chose to name yourself after the great computer programmer Ada Lovelace and thats sexy.
She’d let the LOL escape even though she thought it was so 2003, so pre-recession “la-di-da-ness” it made her stomach tighten. Still, he had to appreciate the understatement.
They chatted more and often, convening for several hours before he had to sign off and go to his night job.
ScriptKid: Ada, Ada … some nights i don’t go to work some nights i just go out and … prowl
Ada: ah, what do you prowl for?
ScriptKid: for smooth surfaces
ScriptKid: i do graffiti. street art. have you ever seen the black roses?
Ada had. She had even taken pictures of a few of them on her phone. She’d find the rose on the frame of an outside metal doorway, or along the edge of a low balcony. The roses were large, inversely spray painted so that the petals took the color of the canvas (the brick, or dumpster, or wall) while the outline was all black, a black cloud around the opening rose and the thorny stem. Sometimes the thorns dripped white droplets of blood. Ada uploaded one of her photos to the chat window.
ScriptKid: we should work together on something even bigger
Ada: like what?
ScriptKid: something that will make a difference. id love your help.
Ada: why me?
ScriptKid: what else do you do, Ada?
And that’s when she vented all her frustrations about date stamping and sorting, making copies, and organizing everything in alphabetical order. On any given day, she had fifteen copier paper boxes of loose filing to process and all for wells and drilling sites that were pumping out thousands of dollars by the barrel. She vented about how other people got rich while she shuffled job to job, day to day wanting her brother back and, at the same time, hating that the person she was or could be would always be stacked against how well she adhered to the rules, followed the system, performed her civic duties.
Ada: So, yeah. YEAH.
After work, Ada called ScriptKid and told him she thought it was about time they shared their real names.
“We did it,” she said, shaking her fist in the air even though she knew he couldn’t see her.
ScriptKid stayed quiet at the other end. She figured he was probably tugging on his cap.
“My name’s not Ada.”
“STOP!” he said.
“You don’t have to worry. I’m not going to tell Vapide.”
“We could be more like actual friends, who hang out or do stuff other than hacking.”
“This is a protest. We can’t just quit. Did you see the news today? We’re ‘hacktivists’! We could go global, really shake things up.”
What would they shake up, exactly? He didn’t see it like she did. He was being idealistic, noble maybe, and she knew that idealism wasn’t enough because her brother had died trying to maintain it and she’d never get him back, no matter how big and beautiful (and safer?) he’d left the world. She couldn’t wrap her head around it—her brother’s death felt so pointless—and, yes, she admitted she was angry about it, but she also wanted to be calculating with her recklessness. She could spend years adhering to a system, but ScriptKid was an anarchist. He wanted utopia and the clamor of their dissent would only be loud enough to get them caught.
“Yeah,” she said, shrugging. “We can build an angry anonymous community.”
“Well,” he said. “I can’t do it alone.”
Ada knew the IT guy was only a little older than her, but maybe he was old enough that he’d already been married once and divorced. She thought back to how she’d wheedled him into telling her the codes by asking him how the email networks, databases, and website connected to the servers. She’d even asked what a “server” was and pretended she didn’t understand but that she found it all really “cool.” The IT guy had let her sit in his desk chair while he operated the mouse from over her shoulder and—she remembered—his cologne had overpowered the space between his body and hers. She thought about how remorselessly she used the information he stupidly gave her, but now she couldn’t decide which was worse: that he gave it to her, or that she abused it to the fullest of her capabilities.
He was going to lose his job. He wore this knowledge like one of his Monday ties—a rose-pink silken flag tied around his neck, dangerous as it cinched around his windpipe, his Adam’s apple—and she saw it like everyone else at work saw it. The guy reeked of it. He was dying with each stuttered keystroke as he tried to fix ScriptKid’s masterpiece. Ada kept working like nothing was wrong because she wasn’t sorry enough to say anything or to lie down and take the blame. She watched him as if he was in a car crushing into an exit ramp median. She imagined the horrifying spectacle of his body ricocheting inside, his head thrusting through the windshield, and all the while she held her breath and kept driving. She liked the IT guy. She liked how he spoke to her. Unlike ScriptKid, he asked her opinion on books and movies and listened intently as she commented on cinematic violence, cliché dialogue, and female leads she could do without. She liked how he knew so much, but didn’t rub it in anyone’s face. The IT guy—this one—was rare, as compared to the IT guys she’d known.
She thought to tell him what she did. She thought enough of him that maybe he wouldn’t give her up right away. But by the end of the week, Ada still hadn’t spoken to the IT guy. She wasn’t talking to ScriptKid either, but she could barely focus on her office tasks. She concentrated on lying low and even re-dyed her hair to her original chestnutty-brown. That Friday, Vapide issued a statement to the local news, which had investigated the oil spill and broke the cover-up on Thursday, with details on the full extent of the environmental damages. Vapide also pleaded with law enforcement to persecute the Narcs and the FBI’s Internet Crimes Division set trace programs on the source of the hack. The local news said the FBI had managed to get as far as the library, but then claimed the path went cold. Meanwhile, Ada and ScriptKid’s video had gone viral, and even—ScriptKid had stuttered with glee leaving Ada a voicemail message—made the national news, Brian Williams, and a catchy headline on the The Daily Show: “Operation: Kill Capitalism.”
That Friday, after everyone at work crowded around the television in the break room to watch Vapide’s CFO deliver an official statement regarding the T-Cop catastrophe, ScriptKid called Ada during her lunch break to ask for her help distributing a sound file.
“Hey,” he said. “I need your codes.”
Working alone, ScriptKid had hacked a phone conference between the FBI and Vapide. Ada was about to explain that she couldn’t ask for them again, that even if she could get ScriptKid the new security codes the trace programs would pick up the unauthorized movements from an exterior source, when an interoffice instant message from the IT guy blipped on her screen.
IT@VRC: Tomorrow’s my last day.
Ada pinned the phone between her ear and shoulder and replied back to the IM.
Temp017: Sorry to hear that.
As she typed, she spoke into the phone. “Everyone is on high-alert. I can’t talk about this right now.”
IT@VRC: There’s something I need to tell you.
ScriptKid spoke into her ear. “Do you think they’ve traced each hard drive?” he asked.
Ada shrugged while holding the phone with one hand. “They won’t—they haven’t,” she told ScriptKid. With her other hand, Ada typed a reply to the IT guy.
ScriptKid lowered his voice. “Maybe they have. If it’s internal, they wouldn’t want that information to get out.”
IT@VRC: I noticed that the day before the hack you were the only person to back up your files and clean up your hard drive.
Ada lowered her hands into her lap, “Oh yeah,” she said to ScriptKid. She typed again.
Temp017: Lucky timing, I guess.
ScriptKid babbled. “I’ll have to complicate the connections even more this time,” he said. “I’ve got the FBI and Vapide discussing the Narcs for fifteen minutes!”
IT@VRC: Vapide told me that if I quit they wouldn’t tell the press.
Ada typed back.
Temp017: That’s great! It shows that they don’t think it was you.
She tapped enter and spoke again into the phone, “Aren’t you worried you’ll get caught?”
“We could be in Singapore for all they know,” ScriptKid said and laughed.
IT@VRC: Exactly. They know it wasn’t me — that in 5 years of excellent work they know I wouldn’t suddenly shut down the company — whereas someone who’s only been here a few months … might not be as loyal.
Ada paused again. She didn’t want to type too much, or too little.
ScriptKid’s voice flooded back in. “Do you want to help me tomorrow?”
Ada sighed. “Actually….”
She pinned the phone against her ear again.
Temp017: What does that mean for the rest of us?
The IT guy typed more quickly now. ScriptKid breathed into the ear piece, waiting, or (probably) pacing room 21 back at the motel. Ada leaned toward the computer screen.
IT@VRC: Vapide is still financially viable. The stock suffered a little from
the news, but wells will still produce. Owners still want to collect interest.
Temp017: so youre saying it was a little pointless?
IT@VRC: from the narcs’ perspective … yes.
He knew, she thought. He was giving her a chance to admit it. She thought about Cole, about the last time she saw him. She’d driven up to New York to meet him at West Point, where he was studying. They ate dinner at a blah pizza joint. She’d asked him if he was scared.
Cole wiped his mouth with the back of his hand—a bad habit he’d had, ever since he was a kid—and asked her why she was asking him that question.
“Because there are too many ‘what if’s about what you’re doing,” she’d said. Her hair was long, past her shoulders, straight and brown, neatly combed. She could remember what he’d worn that day—jeans and blue sneakers and a dark green t-shirt with a small hole near the collar, his brown hair so short it was like a shadow spreading from his temples—and how he hugged her and said her name when she left.
He had nodded, sipped his soda. “I can’t give you any certainty,” he said.
“Why are you fighting?” she asked. “Why are you even getting involved at all?”
She folded the paper sleeve for her straw in half and half and half again until it looked like a little paper accordion, one end wrinkled and ruined where she’d opened it.
“I want to do something good,” he said. He smiled. “You don’t like that answer?”
She pressed the paper accordion flat to the table with one finger. “You’re brave,” she said. “You go far away and you risk everything and all I can think is how much I want you to stay.” She swallowed. “I’m so afraid.”
In her ear, ScriptKid cleared his throat. “You there?”
The IT guy’s status clicked from the neon green illuminated “available” to the faded silver “away.”
Ada closed her eyes. “He knows.”
A draft slithered across her neck.
“Excuse me, Lauren?”
Ada turned her chair. Her boss, who was the head coordinator of the Vapide Records Center, and the IT guy stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway of her cubicle.
On the phone there was a pause and then the line went dead.
About the author:
Jacqueline Kharouf holds an MFA in creative writing, fiction, from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. A native of Rapid City, SD, Jacqueline lives, writes, and maintains daytime employment in Denver, CO. Her work has appeared in South Dakota Review, Fiction Vortex, Otis Nebula, NANO Fiction, and Numéro Cinq Magazine. In 2011, she won third place in H.O.W. Journal’s Fiction contest (judged by Mary Gaitskill) and in 2009 and 2010, she earned honorable mention and third place (respectively) in the Denver Woman’s Press Club Unknown Writer’s Contest. Jacqueline blogs at: jacquelinekharouf.wordpress.com; tweets: @writejacqueline; and maintains her Facebook professional page at: Jacqueline Kharouf, writer