Young Adult Science Fiction by Liberty Gilmore
Your first Hack is always the Appearance Patch. Do it any other way and you’re dead.
That’s the first thing a Hacker will teach you, if you manage to track one down. Not easy, but I managed. I was eleven years old. I had less than twelve months to master a Patch if I wanted to be a Hacker. I did it in three weeks.
Link, my mentor, said it was some kind of record. He gave me my codename because of it. Blitz. The fastest Hacker since Scope set the bar three years before. Scope the most powerful Hacker in the world. Scope who a year ago stopped using a Patch and revealed his true face to world, too powerful now for even the White Hats to touch.
Scope who I’d been in love with since I was twelve.
Today I was going to meet him at last.
It was a risky strategy, crashing the party. The White Hats couldn’t touch Scope, but they would be crawling all over it, looking for smaller fish.
I was a smaller fish, but not the smallest. I figured the sheer amount of Hackers trying to get close to Scope would protect me, should something kick off. It was simple mathematics. Probability was in my favour, along with the fact that some of the Patches were so badly coded an Admin Officer could have spotted them.
‘There are a lot of players here,’ Zapper said.
He was viewing the crowd with a mix of admiration and apprehension, a frown creasing the brow of his Patch in a way that was achingly familiar. Zapper’s coding was good, but it lacked subtlety. Every time he frowned or smirked it was like I was looking straight at the Real him.
‘Good,’ I said. ‘Keeps us anonymous.’
‘You sure this is a good plan, B?’
I wasn’t. But it was the only plan I had. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to meet my idol.
‘It’s just a party, what could possibly go wrong?’
‘I kinda hoped you wouldn’t say that. That’s like inviting God to prove a point.’
‘No God in here,’ I said. ‘Just Programmers.’
‘But who controls the fate of the Programmers?’ Zapper asked, raising his eyebrows so high on his head I thought his eyes might pop out.
‘Whatever, Zap, let’s just get moving. Don’t want to miss the party.’
Zapper looked momentarily unwilling, but after a second he shrugged and got to his feet, holding out a hand to help me. I took it and pulled myself up beside him. His hand felt rough and warm in mine, its shape as familiar and unfamiliar as it was possible for one object to be.
I inclined my head towards the building. Zapper nodded and we set off towards the music.
Scope’s house was at the top of a gentle incline that raised it above the rest of the world in a way that said: look at me. The grass circled the hill in bands of rainbow colours and the building itself shone like Aztec gold. Balls of light illuminated the grounds. I thought they were just free-floating lamps, but closer inspection revealed them to be miniature suns, working models of nuclear fusion that gave out light and heat. An impressive piece of coding. I had to marvel at the brazenness of it.
As we progressed up the path from purple grass, to blue, green, yellow, orange – each colour bringing us closer to the house until we reached red, which bordered the high wall that separated the inner gardens of the house from the wider grounds – the music beat down on us, louder and louder. The thud of bass echoed in my head, so loud it almost drowned out the rest of the tune. I liked my music that way – vibrating inside your whole body so you could feel the rhythm in every cell. I scanned the air for its source and saw drifts of code illuminated in the night sky.
‘What music can you hear?’ I called to Zapper.
‘Electro,’ Zapper said, working some invisible deck, ‘my favourite. Guy’s got taste, I’ll give him that.’
I shook my head and laughed, delighted. ‘No!’ I called. ‘He’s got skill.’ I pointed to the sky. ‘Look at the algorithm – he’s coded the music to draw from our own minds. We’re all hearing our favourite tunes.’
Any reservations Zapper might have had about attending the party fell away.
‘Dude,’ he said, filling that single syllable with meaning in the way that only a certain sort of guy can. ‘That’s cool.’
‘I told you we had to hit this party.’
‘Okay, you were right. Just a shame everybody else had the same idea. We might have some trouble getting within a hundred yards of the Big Man, never mind close enough to drool on him.’
‘Shut up!’ I said, face flushing dark red.
Zapper punched my arm then grabbed my hand and dragged me through the gates.
‘Come on,’ he said. ‘I’m sure with your skills you can cook up something to get his attention.’
‘I doubt it,’ I said.
Zapper gave me The Look. The same look he gave me whenever I downplayed my Hacking abilities.
‘B, you could see the music,’ he said, touching my cheek in an affectionate, brotherly way. ‘That puts you way above most of the morons here.’
‘You saw it,’ I said.
Zapper drew up close to me, like we were dancing together, and whispered into my ear.
‘Only when you pointed it out, B, I’d been looking for it for a few minutes before.’
His breath was warm on my neck, his lips pressed against my ear soft. He smelt musky – of skin and a faint hint of body spray. I closed my eyes and soaked him in, because when I opened them I could see the numbers that made him that way far too easily. With my eyes closed, with Zapper, I could almost believe it was real. We’d danced like this in the Real world, which helped. Even though the Patches made our bodies different sizes, different colours, different shapes, we were still Zap and Blitz, Marshall and Keira. I could let myself believe it was the same thing.
And tonight I wanted to believe the illusion, live it. Because it was as close as I would ever get to the real Scope.