Luke O'Neil walked to his friend, Tom Simmons' house one mid-spring day after school. Both boys were almost finished with their sophomore year of high school, and working hard so they could make good grades on their finals. Luke was especially interested in high marks, because he knew that a scholarship was the only hope he had of going to college, and he was hopeless at every sport the school offered. But they didn't drudge all the time. Today, Tom and Luke were meeting strictly for fun. Mrs. Simmons welcomed Luke into the house when he arrived, and said that Tom was already down in the basement. Luke descended the creaky steps into the cold dark space beneath the house. When they'd been little, he and Tom used to make up stories about zombies living down here, and sometimes the stairwell still creeped Luke out just a little. He stepped off the last stair and saw his friend already seated in front of an old television his parents allowed him to use for video games.
"What took you so long?" Tom asked with a good-natured impatience as Luke set his backpack on the floor, "I thought you wouldn't ever get here!"
"Sorry," Luke said sheepishly, "I forgot I'd promised to help Ms. Biddle move some boxes out of her storage closet after school.
"Boxes?" Tom asked, "Of what?"
"I don't know," Luke shrugged, "I didn't ask what was in them. They were just cardboard boxes full of something heavy. She asked yesterday if someone would take them to her car for her. I guess I was the only one who volunteered."
"Must be hard, being such a gentleman." Tom commented sarcastically.
"An absolute trial." Luke agreed, fighting to keep a grin off his face. "But enough about this, Mom wants me home at eight. Let's get started."
After playing video games for a few hours, they were both ready for a change of pace. Tom fired up his computer and began checking his email.
"Hey, I thought you said you're parents didn't want to get wireless," Luke said, looking over his friend's shoulder at a memo from one of their teachers. "Something about it being too expensive?"
"Yeah, but one of our neighbors has an unsecure connection. I log onto his like all the time. Unfortunately, the connection comes and goes sometimes." He tried to open an email, but got an error message instead, "Like now. But hopefully if I get a job this summer, I can buy a modem myself, and won't have to deal with this all the time."
"Yeah, I'm glad we have it," Luke said, "It's nice for me to be able to do research for term papers while Dad's doing work stuff."
Tom finished checking his email, and hovered his cursor over the red 'x' in the screen's upper right hand corner. Just before he clicked out of the browser he turned to Luke, "Hey, remember when Mr. Clary was telling us how he used to hack into other people's computers at Starbucks, and just move stuff around to mess with them?"
Luke was more than a little confused about what brought on that question, but nodded anyway, "Yeah, so?"
"Why don't we see if it'll work on here?" Tom was grinning.
Luke frowned, "Uh isn't that illegal?"
"We aren't going to hurt anything, just you know, maybe rearrange a few icons on the desktop, draw a mustache on his dog's picture, nothing harmful. Come on it'll be fun. Besides, don't you want to be a programmer when you get out of college?"
"Yeah, but that's different."
"We'll just call it a penetration test then." Tom waved his hand as if whisking away Luke's worries. "I think if we open remote desktop…" he clicked a few buttons, and another screen popped up. "Computer name…?" after several combinations of characters failed, he scowled.
Luke was still uncomfortable with this, "Hey look, Tom it's almost time for me to go home, I'd better go tell your mom bye." Without waiting for a reply, he collected his sneakers and backpack and trotted up the stairs.
The next day at school Tom met Luke in the hallway between first and second period. "Guess what!" Tom said eagerly, "I got in last night!"
"Got in to what?" Luke asked, confused.
"My neighbor's computer!"
"So did you do anything?" Despite his nervousness regarding the invasion, Luke was terribly curious how it worked.
"No, I had to go to bed right after that, but I want to go back this afternoon and browse around. Want to come over and do it with me?"
Luke only hesitated for a moment. After all, what could it really hurt? "Sure, Tom."
"You don't have to move any boxes first, do you?"
Luke laughed, "Not that I'm aware of."
"Good. I'll see you around four then."
That afternoon Luke hurried downstairs after a quick hello to Mrs. Simmons. He really was interested in computer programming, and had always wondered how hacking worked, but wasn't brave enough to try it himself. Tom had already pulled up remote desktop connection and was entering his 'credentials' "So, what do you think we should do?" He asked Luke over his shoulder. "Do we want it to be obvious that we've been there, or just let him think his mind's playing tricks on him?"
"You keep saying him," Luke said, "Do you actually know who it is?"
"I'm about ninety-eight percent certain the computer belongs to Mr. Whitlow two houses over. If you're still worried, you can stop. He wouldn't mind us messing around like this so long as we aren't doing anything bad."
Somewhat reassured, Luke relaxed, "I don't know. Maybe just shuffle some of the icons, and see if they're moved back later. Maybe after a few times we might change the desktop picture to something really random.
Tom grinned, "Sounds like fun." The desktop of another computer flashed onto the screen. "Okay, here we go. Recycle bin. Currently in upper left hand corner. Move to center." He dragged the recycle bin icon to the middle oft the screen. "Browser. Currently about halfway up the left hand side. Move to upper right hand corner. My documents, move diagonally across screen. Solitaire. Move to halfway between start menu and clock. And- hello, what's this. Top Secret Files?" he clicked into the folder. About a dozen picture icons appeared. Tom opened one. It was a picture of text. He read it aloud, "Drop off tonight at twelve forty-seven. Take green van. What on earth does that mean?"
"Does Mr. Whitlow drive a green van?" Luke asked, "Maybe he's supposed to take someone to the airport. That would explain the ridiculous time."
"No, he drive's a blue Ford sedan." Tom clicked to the next photo. "Drop off tomorrow at five-fifteen. Take black truck." They scrolled through several more pictures. All of them began with the words "drop off" and then specified a time and a vehicle to be used. "Weird." Tom muttered.
"Very much so," Luke agreed. He chanced to look at the clock in the lower left hand corner of the screen. "Rats. I've got to leave now."
"Maybe we can look at this some other time." Tom suggested.
"Sure thing." Luke agreed, "But not tomorrow. I've got the geometry final on Friday and if I don't study tomorrow night, I'll probably flunk."