Chapter 5 – Cheaters Do Prosper (Part I)

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The dean made a long show of feigned disinterest as Frog and Elaine exited his office. Although he stared intently at the terminal on his desk, Elaine could tell that he kept his attention raptly on her as she walked away. Comparing his body language to previous encounters, she surmised that Frog would have hypothesized the dean felt a bit of buyer’s remorse about hiring her but held his comments in check. She couldn’t think of a reason why he should have any remorse about retaining her services; the dean was correct to hire her: she was indeed the best.

Elaine let Frog shut the door behind her, but walked with deliberate slowness away from the office. She signaled her friend to walk away with exaggerated steps into the hallway with a sharp repeated gesture. As Frog stomped away from the door—her footfalls thumping as she went—Elaine waited. A minute later, Frog returned on socking feet, her high-heeled boots in hand.

“Do you think it’s Tango?” Frog asked in a hushed voice, pointing at the makeup compact still in Elaine’s hand. “Zane is going to have a field day with that. The van outside his house, a bug in the dean’s office, and you get flagged for buying cell phones? We’ve walked into a spy novel.”

“The ARG he’s playing is a spy novel,” Elaine pointed out. She unclipped the Enoch handset with one hand and passed the compact to Frog. “Hold this.”

She pulled down her goggles and fired up the handset’s spellcode interface. Menu’s spiraled into her vision as she swept the phone at them with the grace of a conductor and her wand. Context interfaces blossomed and died as she navigated through them, graphing a branching design from code fragments and algorithms. As she worked, the high gain pickup on the phone listened to the sounds within the office—translating through the door, well below ordinary hearing threshold, the dean breathed a sigh of relief and tapped away idly at his computer. She expected he might stay a bit longer as not to be seen leaving with her, so she had more than a few moments to finish.

Eight lines of custom code later and she waited for the Enoch’s smartware to link the proper libraries. A timing spinner appeared on the screen, a single space invader in its 8-bit glory with a loading bar beneath. It took several long seconds for the linking and compilation to complete. The Enoch beeped softly upon completion and the screen turned from dark to an undulating surface of fluid luminescence. Elaine placed her thumb on it, picking up a bit of the phosphor and leaving behind a ridged silhouette of her print.

The screen blanked again, it spent a second thinking, and a green “Go” symbol appeared.

She pressed her finger gently against the door, leaving behind a luminous thumbprint. The Enoch’s screen switched back to the pixeled space invader and a bright green line ran down the screen followed by the words: “SCANNING. CONNECTING. DONE.” Elaine licked her lips as the screen switched her back to the primary context menu and gave the door a look over through her goggles. To the casual observer the door would look exactly the same—with the exception of a smudge where she’d pressed her thumb; but under the resolution of her goggles she could see the astral tendrils of the spellcode connecting the fibers of the door to the Enoch.

The wood of the door had once been alive, the deep cells of a tree, and although now they had been processed almost beyond recognition, the chemical structure of the cells still contained some light sensitivity. The spellcode would tap into that light sensitivity to create a single pixel aperture for each cell at the surface of the door as light diffused through the lacquer and varnish. Individually they wouldn’t process much information, but millions of such cells covered the entire surface and in aggregate they could process a fairly high quality image of what the door could “see.”

In a stroke of her own genius, Elaine had also included spellcode that would use the residual heat energy in the door to detect vibrations—translating sound waves from either side of the door into a stereo feed to her phone.

All tests returned as golden and she nodded to Frog. She pushed the goggles up onto her forehead, readjusted her spectacles, and they walked out of the room together in silence. Elaine noticed a conspiratorial grin light on her friend’s face as they passed into the hallway, moving as quietly as they could. After hours at ASU still had quite a few students wandering the campus, but the Engineering building stayed quiet as death. Not even janitors moved through the halls. Frog didn’t speak again until the outer glass doors closed behind them and they’d moved a safe distance from the building.

“I take it we’re bugging the dean’s office as well?” Frog said.

Elaine nodded. “Whoever placed this little critter,” she held out her hand and took the compact back from Frog, “will come looking for it when it fails to check in next. I want to be there when they do. Especially if it’s Tango. If the government thinks that I’m up to something and they’re suspicious enough to tag the dean of my college, there must be something much bigger going on than my bulk cell phone purchase. Misappropriation of college funds perhaps?”

“Do you think it’s tied to the cheating ring?”

“No.” Elaine pulled the paper with the student’s names from her pocket and unfolded it as they walked. “I don’t have enough evidence to make a connection plausible at this time. We will have to get the academic dossiers on these students. They must be connected to each other somehow and that connection will lead me to the source of their cheating.

“Why do people cheat anyway? It may free them from the academic test, but would put them into the practical position of displaying their talents, which they lack, and instead eventually fail on their merits.”

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