The Feather Fairy

Geraldton Guardian

Sophia Whettingsteel’s winning Middle Secondary Prose entry in the Geraldton Regional Library’s 2016 Randolph Stow Young Writers’ Awards. Sophia is a distance education student.

I was named Malware Melody.

Children get named when they turn 13, it relates to a skill the child displays and then, as people did in the olden days, a name they like.

My parents named me Malware Melody because of my affinity with computers and hacking.

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My alias is the Feather Fairy,

I got it because of my light touch with firewalls and my ability to slip into any computer.

The only trace of me they can ever find is the feather I leave in the corner of their screen.

I hack for a living.

I go into a shady politician’s server and leave behind software I designed myself that monitors their digital movements and copies any documents they open.

Then I release what I find into the public.

It was an average day for me; I logged on to my laptop and started looking at conspiracy websites to see what rumours were drifting around about politicians. I saw one, particularly interesting, that could be credible about the Minister of Commerce, Andrew Broadstone. The site was ranting about how he was taking money out of the budget that goes back into the community and putting it into weapons and then selling those weapons to gangs in Africa.

It had evidence showing how Australia losing money and the rise in gun violence in Africa coincided exactly. And every six months, Australia would go down further and violence would go up higher in Africa.

The next thing I do is hack into Andrew Broadstone’s computer sending out tendrils. Each tendril is coded to search for keywords and decode anything that is encrypted.

This is my routine. Not every lead amounts to something and I don’t release any personal information I find when looking.

I was searching through the information my tendrils had brought back when suddenly there was my alarm blaring on my laptop.

It was a warning that let me know when someone had managed to follow a trace back to my laptop and that I had about 15 minutes until they broke through my security completely.

This has never happened before; no one has ever managed to make it this far. When I hear the alarm I go into shock and I freeze.

My mind blanks.

I don’t know what to do. I look at the counter, the one that used to say 15.00 minutes but is now at 11.27 minutes and counting.

And suddenly I go into overdrive; I rush around my apartment gathering any supplies I’ll need, mentally running through the checklist I made for a situation like this:

1. I’ll have to leave my laptop here. I need to erase all the files on it.

2. When it’s done I grab the sledgehammer I keep under the desk and bring it down on the laptop three times as hard as I can, there is no time for more.

3. I grab my back up hard drive, go to the kitchen and open the dishwasher. It’s where I keep a duffel bag full of things that I would need on the run, including a computer bag with a spare laptop contained inside it; that I shove my hard drive into.

I look back at the counter and I am down to 4.33 minutes before they can get my location. I wonder how I am going to get out of the building. I need to be quick. I decide to risk going out the front.

I exit my apartment, locking the door on my way out. I’m on the fourth floor and I choose to use the stairs instead of the elevator, they can be hacked into.

As I go down the stairs I reach into my bag, pulling out a brunette wig that I hold momentarily between my teeth as I rip off my jumper and shove it into the bag, leaving me in a yellow long-sleeved shirt. I hope that by doing this, if the people who found me get security footage of me leaving the apartment they won’t recognise me by my clothes.

With the wig still held in my mouth, I scrunch up my hair and sloppily pull the wig on, shoving any stray hairs that escaped back in the cap and pulling the wig down a bit more.

I rush down the stairs as quickly as I can, knowing that by now, whoever “they” were, they would be here soon.

I’m at ground level quickly, I smooth down my wig and tuck in any real hair that I can find and slowly peek out the door. I can’t see anything suspicious, so I slowly come out of the stairwell exit. I walk as normally as I can to the door, trying not to constantly look over my shoulder.

I make it outside and look around. I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for but I’m hoping I’ll know when I see it.

And I do. There are men and women that I see from the corner of my eye who aren’t moving with the rest of the foot traffic. I quickly turn away from them and start to walk away.

As I go my stomach clenches with nerves and I’m doing that weird thing when I’m kind of crouching down and walking really fast, skipping every few steps that I do when I’m scared.

I tell myself to calm down and start walking normally.

I’m going to the train station. I know some people that live near there.

I’m at the station and by now I can tell that there are people following me. I enter the station, trying to get lost in the crowd. I’m not sure how I do but when I see a bench I sit down and take my laptop out, it’s time to make a distraction.

I hack into the stations network and get control of the lights and sirens. I set in place a program that makes them go haywire. Flashing on and off, different colours only meant for alarms being used in tandem with a siren. People are shoving and yelling over each other, trying to find out what is going on.

In the mayhem I move to the edge of the track and slip onto the rails. I don’t know when the next train will come so I need to be quick. I start walking into the tunnel but hastily move into a jog.

As I travel further into the tunnel it gets darker and darker, until it’s pitch black and I can’t see anything.

I now walk along the edge of the track, my hand tracing the side of the wall, waiting for the moment I know it will catch on a door.

A minute later I finally feel the telltale indent that runs along the wall, only familiar to people in my line of work.

I dig my fingers into it and tap a rhythm. Tap, tap tap, tap.

It slides open to reveal a retinal scanner. I look in to it and the door slides open thirty centimeters, just enough to slip through.

I shove my bags through the gap before me and squeeze through the door after them. I reach down to pick up my bags and on my way up, I look up and what I see amazes me.

The room is huge, covering so much more ground than the station does and filling it, is technology ahead of its time, with people running all sorts of different programs. Some are hacking, some are playing games and some are talking to fellow hackers from around the world.

This place is a sanctuary for hackers who have been detected and need to hide.

For now, this is where I will stay. This is where I’ll be safe.

Sophia Whettingsteel won the Geraldton Newspapers Perpetual Award for Middle Secondary Prose.

* Copies of the 2016 winners booklet can be purchased from Geraldton Regional Library for $12.

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