When Angela Carvelli was almost in third grade, she started going to computer camp. It was technically a program for fourth-graders and up, but little technicalities like rules had never really held up against Ange's iron-willed determination. (When the camp counselors relented, Ange immediately stopped crying – an eight-year-old is really too old to have tantrums, eight-year-old Ange thought to herself – and began to smile, savoring the taste of her victory.)
Seventeen-year-old Ange looks back on this, and wonders if computer camp was really the start of the path that she's on now, or if maybe there had been something driving her from within all along.
“Marcus? Do you believe in fate?” she asked him one day, watching the news, watching for signs of life on the faces of the officials talking, impassioned, about the need for national security.
“Um. For me? Maybe.” Marcus looked nervous, as if he'd just remembered he'd left the stove on in the metaphysical apartment of his mind.
“Don't think too hard about it.” Ange remembered her stay in Gitmo-by-the-Bay, screaming her throat raw, remembered Marcus speaking in a flat tone about his experiences and shaking.
She remembered Darryl, still in the hospital, and shuddered: there but for the grace of God go I.
(The last time they'd visited, Darryl said nothing to her – understandable, since they hadn't really known each other before everything happened. What was more painful was watching him interact with Marcus. Darryl and Marcus had been close before Gitmo-by-the-Bay, but that wasn't at all obvious from the way they interacted. Marcus made an effort, and it seemed like Darryl did too, but the easy friendly intimacy they'd had was shattered. After that visit, Marcus had stared into space for a long time, and ended up writing a blog post calling for harsher penalties for the Department of Homeland Security, then deleting it before posting. That night, she'd held him as he cried, not for the first time.)
“What about for me?” she asked.
Marcus smiled, almost laughing. “You're a force of nature.”
“You're pretty effective yourself, you know.” Ange winked at Marcus, and raised her eyebrows in a faux-seductive way, leaning in to whisper. “If you know what I mean.” She winked again, broadly.
Marcus winked back, stretching and reaching for the drawer they kept the condoms in. “I think I might....”
When Angela Carvelli was almost in fourth grade, she met Jolu. Jolu had not been as enterprising as she, and it was his first year at computer camp. Jolu and Ange had something in common, though: a need to tinker, an urge to make something from nothing, to make things better.
Jolu and Ange had stayed fairly close, but they'd drifted apart a little after the Bay Bridge attack. Everyone's social circles had shrunk, it seemed, as the emotional energy required to take care of one's own had shot up in the aftermath, and there's only so much that one person can care or else it'll destroy them.
Ange remembered how she felt when Jolu sent the invite to the key-signing party where she'd first given Marcus a second look, where she'd started to consider dating Marcus: confused, and intrigued.
Marcus was cute, and he was at least as geeky as she was, which was a challenge not many people met. Plus, she hadn't known him since she was nine, and he'd never dated her sister.
>Jolu. Tell me about your friend Marcus, from the party
>What's there to tell?
>How do you know him? What's he like?
>We're pretty close, we used to play an ARG together, Harajuku Fun Madness.
He was our team leader, me and Van and Darryl
>Van? No wonder I don't know him
Anyway, water under the bridge
Is he a good guy?
Great with computers, always working on some project.
All you could ask for in a mate :P
>haha, very funny
But seriously. He's a decent person?
>That's another question entirely
Kind of oblivious, but you know, doesn't go around committing murder in his spare time
>So what does he do in his spare time, then? :P
>...not murder? What do you want from me?
>What are you hiding for him?
>yeah, right. what are you hiding?
>I can't tell you that
>I'll tell the world about how you proposed to my sister. The dandelions and everything
It's not mine to tell
>Look. I'm going to tell you something about me, so you know you can trust me.
Remember last year? The state testing?
>Yeah, the Board of Education was pissed. I still remember that politician, on TV - “TENS of MILLIONS of DOLLARS WASTED, we want JUSTICE”
why do you ask?
>Remember how they never found who leaked them?
>um, yeah? I mean I just quoted the guy....
>Do I have to spell it out for you
>oh my god
>I can't tell you about Marcus, though
it's none of your business
>Look. Jolu. I like Marcus. I mean, I /like/ him. I can see myself with him.
But I don't want to date him if you're hiding that he's some kind of crazy rapist psychopath
There are not-murder things that are bad too, you know
>You have no reason to get this worked up about it
It's not bad
>so what is it, then?
>Ange, don't do this to me
You know Xnet?
>no, I am literally just mashing random buttons and praying my message gets across to you
>You heard of M1k3y, then?
>yeah, of course I have
>Well. Meet my friend Marcus Yallow, founder of Xnet.
When Angela Carvelli was in the tenth grade, boys started to take an interest in her, for reasons that she understood had everything to do with her chest and nothing to do with her feelings on the matter. After the first one who took an interest in her, Ryan, texted “pix plz” and received a botnet attack so bad he had to factory reset his phone, she didn't get nearly as many boys taking an interest in her. Most of the ones she met at parties had heard of Ryan, and she went to a girls' school, anyway. She'd learned the hard way, through an unfortunate experience with a classmate in the eighth grade, that dating girls lead to more trouble than it was worth. (They'd kissed once, and been caught by one of the school monitors. Which didn't bother Ange or Van, until the monitor sent messages home to their parents. Ange's mom didn't mind, but Van broke up with her after a week, and loudly began declaring her affection for some boy at Chavez High. Ange kept a low profile for a while longer, stung by Van's quick and seemingly effortless rebound.)
“You did what with Van?” Ange asked, incredulously, to Marcus.
“She kissed me. Once. I'm sorry. I thought it would be better to tell you sooner rather than live in fear that you'd find out.”
“I can't believe you! I can't believe her! She should know better!”
“Just wondering, and please don't take this the wrong way. Why do you hate Van so much?”
“It's a long story.”
“We've got time.”
“I lied, it's not a long story. I just don't want to tell you, especially after you pull shit like this.”
“It was reflex! It was accident!” Marcus paused, taking a deep breath. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have kissed her. You're right. Please, tell me what's wrong.”
“Van and I dated for a week and a half in the eighth grade. It ended poorly. She dumped me.”
Marcus started laughing, incredulously, which only made Ange want to kill him as well as Van. She glared at him, and took out her capsaicin spray and started playing with it. Marcus noticed this, and stopped laughing, and winced.
“I'm sorry. I just thought that you, of all people, would be the dump-er, and not the dump-ee. And Van, of all people? She told me she'd had a crush on me for years. At least I can say she had good taste!”
Ange glared at him again.
“I mean, you are fantastic, Ange, and I love you, and I can't imagine why anyone would want to leave you.”
“That's a better way of phrasing it.” Ange relented, and leaned in for a kiss.
When Angela Carvelli was in the eleventh grade, she walked past her school principal's office and saw the state exams there, lying in an open safe, unguarded. She knew the laws on exams, but little technicalities like rules had never really held up against Ange's iron-willed determination. (After checking for bystanders and security cameras, she carefully nestled the exam copy in her backpack between a notebook and the library's copy of Applied Cryptography, and walked away towards her fate.)
Looking back on it, seventeen-year-old Ange isn't really surprised at all by her involvement with the Xnet, or with Marcus. After all, even with a target on your back, isn't being afraid to act the beginning of the end?