37

“Can I make you some tea?” Cindy asked.

“It’s kind of late,” Madison said, following Cindy into her room, “The caffeine… whoa!”

Cindy turned to see Madison’s shocked expression and smiled. “It’s herbal tea, silly. Pumpkin spice! I know that’s such a cliché, but I love it.”

Madison stood in the doorway, her jaw slack. “What the?” was all she managed to say.

Cindy turned on an electric kettle on her vanity and then turned to Madison. “Oh, stop. It’s not all that. You can sit on the bed if you want.”

Madison walked in and sat on the bed, and Cindy swept behind her to close the door. There was so much to take in. One wall was mostly taken up with a bookshelf system, but there were no books. Instead, there was a drone, two VR headsets, and a plethora of electronic gadgets Madison could not identify. Cindy’s desk was topped with three giant monitors, and behind them there was a large video camera on a tripod, pointed down at a really nice office chair. The computer next to her desk had a clear Plexiglas cover, and the parts inside all glowed in a continuously changing rainbow of lights. Her vanity had a full size makeup mirror on top, with lights all around, and there was a whole cosmetics counter worth of makeup.

“What the hell?” Madison asked again, as Cindy handed her the tea. “How can you afford all this stuff?”

Cindy giggled. “I’m a ‘gamer girl’ on Twitch,” she said, making air quotes with her fingers. “People pay me a monthly subscription to watch me play video games.”

“They do not!” Madison protested.

“They do. I do a lot a my own mods. One of my most popular is a version of Call of Duty where I shoot reality TV stars.” She grinned.

Madison had never noticed it before that moment, but Cindy was quite attractive. She imagined what she might look like all made up. “How much do you make?” she asked.

“Like five or ten a month, usually. Between the subscriptions and ads on my YouTube channel.”

“Five or ten what?” Madison asked, confused.

“Thousand, silly. I cake on a ton of makeup, play my games, sometimes I take my shirt off.”

“Cindy!”

“Free the nipple, right?” Cindy said with a laugh.

“Oh my God! You do not!”

“No, I’m just messing with you. Nipples get you banned. I leave my bra on. But guys go nuts for a little cleavage or a bare shoulder. I’m like the tamest sex worker ever,” Cindy joked.

“This is crazy. I had no idea,” Madison said.

“Well, I don’t exactly advertise it at school. That could get weird.”

“Cindy, this… this is weird.”

“Pays the bill, amiright?” Cindy said. “I put most of it in my 529 plan for college. I’m hoping for MIT or CMU. I heard you’re going to Northwestern?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. How’d you hear about that?” Madison asked.

“I don’t know. Word gets around. So should we get to work?” Cindy asked. “You should try that tea, it’s really good.”

Madison tried the tea. It warmed her from the inside and brought a feeling of calm over her. “Ooh. I like this a lot,” she said.

Cindy sat at her desk and turned on her monitors. She tapped a remote on the desk and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons started playing from everywhere, as far as Madison could tell. She looked around for the speakers but couldn’t figure out which of the many devices they might be.

Cindy started working at the keyboard. “Alright, so the router is running BSD on x86,” she said. “I’ve got an SSH into it, so I’ll install a port scanner to see where we can get from there.”

“Am I supposed to pretend I know what any of that means?” Madison asked.

Cindy laughed. “Yeah. Just say like ‘uh huh’ and ‘good idea’,” she suggested.

“Uh huh,” Madison replied.

After several more keystrokes, Cindy said, “Lots and lots of IoT devices. Probably easy to hack, but it’s not like we need a botnet, right?”

“Good idea?” Madison said.

Cindy laughed. “I see what you did there. Oh! There’s something running XP. Dollars to donuts that isn’t patched.”

Madison didn’t bother responding.

“I’ll try Metasploit,” Cindy said. She typed awhile. Madison tried to follow what was happening on the large screens, but it was hopeless.

“Wait! Is that a cow?” Madison asked.

Cindy laughed. “Yeah, it starts up with an ASCII art cow. I have no idea why. Anyway, we’re in.”

“What does that mean? To be in?”

Cindy didn’t respond but kept typing. “Okay, there are all these log files. I think… Yeah, I think this must be the computer that operates the door locks. It logs any time someone swipes their card. That’s probably why it’s unpatched. People forget to install patches on the computers that run the infrastructure, you know? It’s not like someone is sitting there getting a ‘update available’ message every day.”

“Uh huh,” Madison replied.

Cindy glanced at Madison and then looked back at the screen. “Okay, so this computer appears to be a laptop. That’s good news.”

“Why?” Madison asked.

“Because laptops have…” Cindy typed furiously, and then a browser window popped open on one of the side monitors, “Webcams!” she announced triumphantly.

The browser showed a video feed of the inside of the office. “Oh! There’s Miss Violet!” Madison blurted out.

Cindy spun her chair to face Madison. “Who?”

“She’s in charge of groceries,” Madison replied. “Is there sound?”

“Of course,” Cindy said. She pressed a button on the remote and in place of Vivaldi, a conversation filled the room. Madison could hear everything as plain as if she were sitting in the office.

“Holy shit. This is amazing! Can we get caught?” Madison asked.

“Nah,” Cindy said. “I turned off the camera-on light—”

“You can do that?” Madison interrupted.

“Of course. And I’m bouncing the feed off a streamer site in Poland. Even if they notice the traffic, it’ll take them forever to figure out which computer it’s coming from. And they probably won’t notice it. This isn’t exactly a high-def feed.”

“And they can’t trace it back to you?”

Cindy laughed. “No fucking way. I’m no script kiddie.”

The two young women watched the feed for a minute. “This is like really boring TV,” Cindy said.

“Yeah, so how’s this work? Am I going to have to come here to watch this?” Madison asked.

Cindy laughed. “No, silly. That’s just a web browser. I’ll give you the RTSP address. You type it into your browser at home, or your phone for that matter. You can watch this boring shit from anywhere.”

“Oh my God, Cindy. You are amazing. I can’t thank you enough for this.”

“It’s nothing. Hey, don’t tell anyone at school about my side hustle, okay?”

“You mean the gamer girl thing?” Madison asked.

“Yeah. I wear these chunky Clark Kent glasses and no makeup for a reason. School is for school, and home is for life, you feel me?”

“Totally.”

“What’s your number? I’ll text you the RTSP address,” Cindy said.

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