Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Company in the College

Bored. Bored, bored, bored. Austin knew he shouldn't be, but dammit he was bored. When he got accepted to CIT, short for Chicago Institute of Technology, he expected it to be a bit more challenging. And, he had to admit, in some areas it was. He was even lucky enough to be rooming with Andy, his best friend since middle school. But Austin was finished early, and Andy was in a different class, and he was bored.

Trying to divert himself, Austin thought back to his first day of college. His entire family drove up with him; his mom, his dad, his step-mom Marian, and his little sister Ellie. Ellie was a small few years younger than him, and she was looking forward to going to college for herself sooner than their mother would like to admit. She had bounced along beside him eagerly, taking in all she could. "Man, that is a lot of grey."

Austin had toured the college with his dad, post applying and pre acceptance. They had noticed almost immediately that every building was made out of the same grey brick. It made the whole campus almost labyrinth-like. The tour guide, endowed with the typical annoyingly perky enthusiasm of their breed, had asked if anyone had noticed an architectural theme. Austin's dad, with a completely straight face, called out, "Grey."

The tour guide had not been amused.

Reflecting on the memory had kept Austin amused for a total of about five minutes. He flopped his head back and puffed out a large sigh. He sat back up and looked around his Computer Security class. The monitor of his professor's computer caught his eye. Austin wondered how good the security on his professor's computer would be. Idly, Austin ran his fingers over the keyboard of his laptop. This was a horrible idea... He could get expelled for this...

Before he had really processed what he was doing, Austin was typing. He glanced at his target discretely out of the corner of his eye. His main focus remained on the scrolling code flashing down the monitor in front of him. He was good at Computer Security. Each time the students tested each other's work, his held up well. And he had yet to meet a security system created by one of his peers that he couldn't break. Austin hoped his professor's computer would be more of a challenge.

Austin was not disappointed. It seemed he found a new frustration at every turn. There were firewalls protecting firewalls. False paths of codes. The computer was a labyrinth. Austin was thrilled. He had no real interest in the contents of his professor's computer; he just wanted the challenge of it. He almost hoped he wouldn't break through. Not today, at least.

But he did.

Just for the novelty of it, Austin started clicking through files. He was looking for his grade. He already had access to it on his own computer, but finding it on his professor's would give him a sense of accomplishment somehow. His scrolling stopped abruptly. There was a folder labeled, "CLASSIFIED". It was practically begging Austin to open it. So he did, finding all of the documents inside were encrypted.


A quick glance at the clock told Austin he was running out of time. He began downloading the files to his computer so he could decode them later in the semi-privacy of his dorm room. The bell rang sooner than he would've liked. He only had about half of the files downloaded, but Austin closed off his computer anyway. It wouldn't do to draw suspicion, and it wasn't as if he had actually been looking for anything. His curiosity had merely been ignited.

Eager to start the decryption process, Austin hurried back to his dorm. He did stop to grab some lunch on the way. Ellie had texted him every day in his first week of college to make sure he had eaten. It had gotten him into the habit, thankfully. Andy still had to remind him to put down his computer and pick up a sandwich upon occasion, but Austin could honestly say he was functioning.

Thankfully, the dorm was empty when Austin got back. Andy still had two more classes for the day. Austin would've trusted Andy, obviously, but he would rather see what the contents of the stolen documents were before sharing with anyone else. Austin didn't mind gathering information for himself, but he wasn't going to spread a massive invasion of privacy without due cause.

Austin decided to decode the titles of the documents first, so he could divine which would be the most interesting to begin with. He put in the decryption codes and watched as the names sorted themselves out, assisting when necessary. His lips quirked upwards in amusement as the titles revealed themselves. They were on things like Watergate and Operation Red Team. That was the big secret? His Computer Security professor was somewhat of a conspiracy theorist?

His amused smirk fell, however, as the titles continued to reveal themselves. These were things he had never heard of before. And Austin himself had dabbled in conspiracy theories. His concern grew as the files became relevant to his classes. His classmates. The last file he had collected was the most disquieting.

The title was his name.

Trying exceptionally hard not to become frenzied, Austin clicked on the file. He waited impatiently while his decryption code worked. He had perfected it, and there was nothing left for him to do but wait. The waiting was maddening.

He got up. He paced. He grabbed a Coke. He sat down. He chugged it. He got up. He paced some more.

Finally, mercifully, his computer made a noise at him, signifying the completion of its task. Bracing himself for what the screen might reveal, Austin sat back down in front of his computer. His file was only a page, but it didn't seem to have any academic relevance at all. He skimmed the page of notes on himself, most pertaining to his habits and character.

Isolated from the majority of his classmates...

Cold, distant, calculating...

Unexpectedly courteous and helpful...

Borderline sociopathic tendencies...


Driven when challenged...

Recruitment: Likely.

Recruitment likely.

That final line very nearly stopped Austin's heart. Recruitment? Recruitment for what? He thought back to the names of the other files. Was his professor a C.I.A. agent planning on recruiting him? It seemed ridiculous. It seemed plausible. Maybe it was a trick. Maybe he was dreaming. It would be far from the craziest dream he ever had.

Austin pulled out his phone and stared at his contacts. He needed to talk to someone. He needed someone to tell him he was being crazy. And he needed someone who wouldn't keep pushing him for answers when he said to stop, because he wasn't sure how much he could say. There was only one person who would do that. He texted Ellie.

A knock sounded at Austin's door. He jumped and slammed his laptop shut. Then he chastised himself for his actions. Andy probably forgot his key again. It wasn't exactly an uncommon occurrence. Andy still wasn't quite used to grabbing his keys when he wasn't driving. Austin composed himself and opened the door for his friend.

It wasn't Andy.

Standing outside the door, flanked by two somewhat burly black-suited men, was Austin's Computer Security professor. He looked anything but amused, but Austin somehow succeeded in keeping his composure. His professor and the men took a collective step in the door. Austin stood his ground, but he wasn't close enough to keep them from entering.

The door clicked shut and locked with an air of foreboding finality. "I think we need to have a little talk, Mr. Bryer."

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