“Nice work, Agent McGee.”
Tim looked up at the catwalk to see the director leaning against the railing, his gaze fixed on the young agent standing near his desk on the level below.
“Thank you, sir.”
Vance gave him a rare smile and walked off, soon disappearing into his office. When he was sure the director was gone, McGee sank into his chair and put his head in his hands. It had taken most of the previous night, but he had tracked down the source of several recent network attacks and back-tracked the hacker to his location. Tim had directed the rest of the team to a house in the suburbs, and they had cornered the perpetrator just as he was preparing another attack against the Pentagon.
The recovered computers had been brought back to the lab, and he and Abby had dissected the hard drives in an attempt to discover the man’s true motive. A rather simple but effective maneuver had allowed McGee to find a link between the suspect and a small terrorist cell, and the group’s location had been revealed. The team, accompanied by agents from the FBI and Homeland Security, had captured the members of the cell and destroyed their means of communication with other groups. Homeland Security was busy rounding up the rest of the associated members, and, after recovering and reviewing more of the well hidden network logs, McGee had discovered another planned attack, one which would have used bombs planted at Pax River Naval Air Base. The base authorities had been alerted, and they had just received word that the threat had been neutralized.
Startled, he looked up to find Gibbs leaning over his desk.
“Sorry, Boss, I…” He paused when he saw Gibbs’ smirk.
“Good job, McGee.”
“Go home. You’ve earned it.”
McGee smiled. It still surprised him how those rare words could make him feel better, despite the exhaustion that usually accompanied their bestowment. He pulled his backpack from under his desk and stood, catching a glimpse of his partner as he did so. The expression on Tony’s face surprised him.
“Tony? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, Probie. That was…damn impressive.”
Tim’s eyes widened. Tony rarely complimented him directly. “Thanks.”
“You have been holding back on us, McGee,” said Ziva as she leaned over her desk. “Where did you learn such skills?”
Tim waited for the teasing that soon followed any mention of his talents, but both seemed genuinely curious.
“I’ve, uh, been learning ever since I started college, picking up a few tricks here and there. And I had a really good teacher.”
“Well, that’s kind of a long story…”
*Cambridge, MA, 1996*
“Come on, Tim, you have to try this!”
Tim gave his roommate a dubious look. This particular section of the campus network was off limits to students, and while he sometimes succumbed to the thrill associated with poking around in forbidden files, this one seemed a little too risky for his tastes.
“Forget it, Andy. We’re gonna get caught.”
“Are you kidding? That’s part of the fun! We show just tell them we were testing for their security flaws, and that we were actually doing them a favor. Cary and Ted have been doing this for months.”
“Cary and Ted are seniors.”
“So they have plenty of professor friends willing to bail them out. We don’t.”
“Where’s your sense of adventure, Tim? Besides, you don’t learn this stuff from reading books. You learn by…doing.”
“By hacking, you mean, which will really not look good on my application to be a federal agent.”
“You think the feds never hack? They’ll admire your initiative.”
“I seriously doubt that.”
“Come on, Tim. Just once. It will be fun.”
Tim looked up at his roommate’s expectant grin and sighed. “Fine. Just this once. But if we get caught…”
“We won’t get caught. Trust me. Let me know when you get in.” Andy left, and Tim stared at the screen, mentally preparing himself.
“Here goes nothing.” Tim started to type, working his way through the maze of connections and information that would lead him to the prize: a database of research projects that the Institute maintained, the content of which was not for public consumption. After nearly an hour of tip-toeing through cyberspace, he came upon what was equivalent to a brick wall across his path. He sat and debated how to work around it when his screen suddenly went blank.
A dialogue box suddenly appeared on the screen.
You’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, Alice. Can you find your way out before the Red Queen finds her axe?
What do you mean? Tim typed.
They know you’re here. Better get out before they find you.
Tim tried to back out of the connection he had made, only to find it blocked. Suddenly he saw a tracer program had been activated.
“Damn it! I’ve got to get out of here.”
Tim pulled up everything he knew from his memory and used it to block the tracer, but it was slowly catching up to him.
You’re going to have to do better than that, Alice.
Finally Tim found a place to double back and managed to lose the tracer. He breathed a sigh of relief. The dialogue box was still on his screen. He paused for a moment before typing a question.
Who are you?
The words disappeared and were soon replaced with the image of what looked like a clown, balancing a spinning globe on one finger. Tim looked closer and realized it wasn’t a clown. It was a mime.
I’m not a newbie.
Sure looked like it to me.
And how would you know?
Mime knows all, young Skywalker.
Tim sighed. At least that’s better than ‘Alice’.
Timothy no-middle-initial McGee. Born in Bethesda Naval hospital, September 13, 1978. One sister, Sarah. Father is Admiral Joseph McGee. Tsk, tsk, he’s not going to be happy with you, wasting that fine MIT education by trying to hack the school’s network.
Tim stared in shock. How…?
That enough, or should I pull up your elementary school records and high school transcripts? A 1600 SAT score won’t mean jack if the feds toss you in the pokey.
Why are you doing this?
Because I can. Why did you try to hack that database?
Tim hesitated, and finally decided to be honest.
To see if I could, I guess.
Well you couldn’t. Your attempts to gain access were amateurish and sloppy.
“Bastard,” McGee muttered. “Geek bastard.”
But if you would like to learn…
Tim’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. Was this “Mime” offering what Tim thought he was offering?
Why would you want to teach me?
Maybe I like corrupting young minds. Or maybe I admire someone with the guts to defy generations of family tradition, or maybe… maybe I want a partner in crime.
No. I don’t want to be your partner. I want to *stop* crime.
Who better to stop crime than the criminals? And who is to say the criminals are the only ones committing the crimes?
I don’t understand.
Suddenly another dialogue box popped up, but this one contained a large amount of text. Tim scrolled up through it and began to read. It was a document from a company called Biodyne. Tim had herd of it, as the CEO had made quite a stir in the computing world, but he hadn’t been familiar with the details of the “incident” that had led to the company’s near collapse a few months before. As he continued to read, and started to comprehend what he was reading, he felt a chill down his spine. He was almost unable to believe the narrow escape the human race had made. This time.
How did you get this?
I have my ways. The real criminals are not always the ones on the street. Sometimes they hide in big fancy offices, pushing their poison on the unsuspecting, causing sickness and death. They need to be stopped, too.
What can I do to help?
Use what I teach you, when and where it’s needed, even if what you may learn at times will terrify you. Do you agree?
Tim thought for a moment. What was he really agreeing to do?
Can I trust you?
Can I trust *you*?
Yes. But I don’t know if I want to cross that line.
The screened cleared and remained blank for several moments. Finally a single phrase appeared.
What would Penny do?
Tim gasped. His grandmother. How did he know about…? And then he thought of the question itself. What would she do? He already knew the answer, and knew what his would be as well.
Alright, I’ll do it. I’m ready to learn.
Good. Let’s get started.
“Aw come on, Probie, don’t keep us in suspense. Tell us.”
Tim smiled. “Someone I met online. He taught me pretty much everything I couldn’t learn from books.”
“That is not a very long story,” observed Ziva. “What are you not telling us?”
“That’s the truth. The rest…I doubt you’d believe me.”
“So, does this mysterious teacher have a name?”
“Mime? What kind of a name is that?”
“That’s what he told me to call him, Tony.”
“Huh. Sounds like something out of a movie. Not one I’ve seen, though…” He looked at Tim and grinned. “You made that up, didn’t you?”
Tim chuckled. “No, I really didn’t. I told you that you’d never believe me.”
“Whatever, Probie. Now, I think it’s time to celebrate the end to a very bad case. Come on, I’ll buy the first round.”
“No thanks, Tony. I’m going to go home and catch up on some sleep. See you tomorrow.”
Tim waved as he headed for the elevator, happy to finally be on his way.
Half-an-hour later, he stepped through the door of his apartment and closed it behind him. He walked over to his computer, sat down, and logged on. He only waited for about a minute before a familiar image, sporting a much more modern look, appeared on his screen. He smiled and started to type.
I did. The force is strong within you, young Padawan, but you still have much to learn. Are you ready?
“Geek Bastard,” Tim muttered as he typed his reply, flexed his fingers, and grinned as he prepared for his next lesson.