Im a senior at Cesar Chavez, High in San Franciscos sunny Mission district, and that makes me one of the most surveilled people in the world. My name is Marcus Yallow, but back when this story starts, I was going by w1n5t0n. Pronounced "Winston."
Not pronounced "Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn" unless youre a clueless disciplinary officer whos far enough behind the curve that you still call the Internet "the information superhighway."
I know just such a clueless person, and his name is Fred Benson, one of three vice-principals at Cesar Chavez. Hes a sucking chest wound of a human being. But if youre going to have a jailer, better a clueless one than one whos really on the ball.
"Marcus Yallow," he said over the PA one Friday morning. The PA isnt very good to begin with, and when you combine that with Bensons habitual mumble, you get something that sounds more like someone struggling to digest a bad burrito than a school announcement. But human beings are good at picking their names out of audio confusionits a survival trait.
I grabbed my bag and folded my laptop three-quarters shutI didnt want to blow my downloadsand got ready for
"Report to the administration office immediately."
My social studies teacher, Ms. Galvez, rolled her eyes at me and I rolled my eyes back at her. The Man was always coming down on me, just because I go through school firewalls like wet kleenex, spoof the gait-recognition software, and nuke the snitch chips they track us with. Galvez is a good type, anyway, never holds that against me (especially when Im helping get with her webmail so she can talk to her brother whos stationed in Iraq).
My boy Darryl gave me a smack on the ass as I walked past. Ive known Darryl since we were still in diapers and escaping from play-school, and Ive been getting him into and out of trouble the whole time. I raised my arms over my head like a prizefighter and made my exit from Social Studies and began the perp-walk to the office.
I was halfway there when my phone went. That was another no-nophones are muy prohibido at Chavez Highbut why should that stop me? I ducked into the toilet and shut myself in the middle stall (the farthest stall is always grossest because so many people head straight for it, hoping to escape the smell and the squickthe smart money and good hygiene is down the middle). I checked the phonemy home PC had sent it an email to tell it that there was something new up on Harajuku Fun Madness, which happens to be the best game ever invented.
I grinned. Spending Fridays at school was teh suck anyway, and I was glad of the excuse to make my escape.
I ambled the rest of the way to Bensons office and tossed him a wave as I sailed through the door.
"If it isnt Double-you-one-enn-five-tee-zero-enn," he said. Fredrick BensonSocial Security number 545–03–2343, date of birth August 15 1962, mothers maiden name Di Bona, hometown Petalumais a lot taller than me. Im a runty 5'8", while he stands 6'7", and his college basketball days are far enough behind him that his chest muscles have turned into saggy man-boobs that were painfully obvious through his freebie dot-com polo shirts. He always looks like hes about to slam-dunk your ass, and hes really into raising his voice for dramatic effect. Both these start to lose their efficacy with repeated application.
"Sorry, nope," I said. "I never heard of this R2D2 character of yours."
"W1n5t0n," he said, spelling it out again. He gave me a hairy eyeball and waited for me to wilt. Of course it was my handle, and had been for years. It was the identity I used when I was posting on message boards where I was making my contributions to the field of applied security research. You know, like sneaking out of school and disabling the minder-tracer on my phone. But he didnt know that this was my handle. Only a small number of people did, and I trusted them all to the end of the earth.
"Um, not ringing any bells," I said. Id done some pretty cool stuff around school using that handleI was very proud of my work on snitch-tag killersand if he could link the two identities, Id be in trouble. No one at school ever called me w1n5t0n or even Winston. Not even my pals. It was Marcus or nothing.
Benson settled down behind his desk and tapped his class ring nervously on his blotter. He did this whenever things started to go bad for him. Poker players call stuff like this a "tell" something that lets you know whats going on in the other guys head. I knew Bensons tells backwards and forwards.
"Marcus, I hope you realize how serious this is."
"I will just as soon as you explain what this is, sir." I always say "sir" to authority figures when Im messing with them. Its my own tell.
He shook his head at me and looked down, another tell. Any second now, he was going to start shouting at me. "Listen, kiddo! Its time you came to grips with the fact that we know about what youve been doing, and that were not going to be lenient about it. Youre going to be lucky if youre not expelled before this meeting is through. Do you want to graduate?"
"Mr. Benson, you still havent explained what the problem is"
He slammed his hand down on the desk and then pointed his finger at me. "The problem, Mr. Yallow, is that youve been engaged in criminal conspiracy to subvert this schools security system, and you have supplied security countermeasures to your fellow students. You know that we expelled Graciella Uriarte last week for using one of your devices." Uriarte had gotten a bad rap. Shed bought a radio-jammer from a head shop near the 16th Street BART station and it had set off the countermeasures in the school hallway. Not my doing, but I felt for her.
"And you think Im involved in that?"
"We have reliable intelligence indicating that you are w1n5t0n"again, he spelled it out, and I began to wonder if he hadnt figured out that the 1 was an I and the 5 was an S. "We know that this w1n5t0n character is responsible for the theft of last years standardized tests." That actually hadnt been me, but it was a sweet hack, and it was kind of flattering to hear it attributed to me. "And therefore liable for several years in prison unless you cooperate with me."
"You have ‘reliable intelligence? Id like to see it."
He glowered at me. "Your attitude isnt going to help you."
"If theres evidence, sir, I think you should call the police and turn it over to them. It sounds like this is a very serious matter, and I wouldnt want to stand in the way of a proper investigation by the duly constituted authorities."
"You want me to call the police."
"And my parents, I think. That would be for the best."
We stared at each other across the desk. Hed clearly expected me to fold the second he dropped the bomb on me. I dont fold. I have a trick for staring down people like Benson. I look slightly to the left of their heads, and think about the lyrics to old Irish folk songs, the kind with three hundred verses. It makes me look perfectly composed and unworried.
And the wing was on the bird and the bird was on the egg and the egg was in the nest and the nest was on the leaf and the leaf was on the twig and the twig was on the branch and the branch was on the limb and the limb was in the tree and the tree was in the bogthe bog down in the valley-oh! Hi