Chapter Twelve

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Minutes later—three, thirty, eighty?—I come up with a shiver. My screen awash in commands and variable names. Random comments I have no recollection of writing pepper the code—required to decrement here instead of increment, why?!?—and maybe four-fifths of the interface is complete. A single conviction dominates my thoughts: I must get eyes inside their van.

A secondary thought, tactical: Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt is coming with.

All my little pals are meaningful to me—the Hotwheels, the buggy dragonflies, Raven of course—but Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt claims a special place in my heart. She was my first, built back at MIT for a battle bot competition. A protest entry, she had only soft-springy spikes off a bike helmet—her "quills"—for weaponry. The chassis is an old toy tank whose plastic treads limit her to sub-snail pace. She makes flatulent noises whenever her fan spins, and she has zero longterm memory. Literally zero: her hard disk cracked during a prank at Google and I never bothered replacing it.

What the ole girl does have, though, is input/output. A keyboard and screen. Tiny ancient ones that flex across her back—awful to type/read on, but without my phone, she's all I've got.

I pull on my hoodie and carry her overhand to the elevators, quills between my knuckles. Elite tech-hunk Graham is consulting with Jared and team. He crimps his brow at me.

"Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt," I call over.

Graham strokes his stubble and I hear the word, Naturally without seeing his lips move. I keep walking. Back onto the elevator, down again.

Off at B1.

I creep through the garage, hugging the concrete wall towards the van. An asphalt smell lingers, possibly sense-memory from being dragged over it, and street noise sounds far away like voices from the bottom of a swimming pool. I move through a path of dark, unused spots. The cage LEDs don't reach here, recessed beyond the pillars. I pick steps carefully, wincing each time my sandal tread contacts the ground.

I reach the fire extinguishers. Peer around a canister, past the van's dark tailgate, and see Matthew—mute Matthew—at his post.

He is twenty feet away. If I keep to the passenger side of the van, he won't be able to see me. But will he hear, if I have to smash a window or destroy a door handle? There is still that chugging, which this near the wheel well has a high, rhythmic quality—a spinning belt?—that might camouflage a minor ruckus.

I approach the van with squatting steps. Its windows are nearly opaque but I do make out pillbox-shaped devices attached to the inner glass. Each is near a door frame and pulses red.

Meaning, ARMED.

No surprise there. Elite's security is going to be state of the art ... but that is not necessarily bad. Sitting cross-legged on the cold floor, I prop Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt in my lap and peck out a WiFi scan on her concave keys. I then have to spin her around to check the 2" x 3" monochrome display. (A rectangular cutout in her left quills houses the keyboard; a similar cutout in the right, the screen.)

The scan runs ... runs ... runs some more ... Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt sports a chip roughly 8 generations obsolete ... and finally returns 1 secured and 5 unsecured networks. One of the unsecured is ELT_AUTO728.

Gotcha.

I select it with an eager tap and transmit several stray messages, generic unlock codes like 001, 999, 009. One causes the closest pillbox to blink faster, and I have a premonition of alarms blowing out my eardrums. Hurriedly I repeat the code.

The pulse-beat returns to normal.

I exhale. My palms press Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt's nubby-rubber quills for calm. No worries. Nicked the alarm code, that's all.

Since 009 was significant, I try varying the first digit, shifting by 1, transposing. Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt does not receive regular compressed-air cleanings, and her keys stick—I have to retype often.

Transposing does the trick. I enter 901 and the pillbox shines green.

DISARMED.

I grip the van's handle, gulping. My first break-in in a decade. My thumb quivers against the door as my forefinger pulls ever so gently. No alarm sounds. I support the door's weight with both hands, keeping it light in its track, quiet. It slides open. The smell is the first thing I register, and it's terrific.

Steel, gas, Kevlar.

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