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The Kryptonian Encryption

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After the third time Leonard entered his password without success, he knew that he’d been sabotaged.  Someone other than himself had signed onto his computer, had swooped into his control panel and made an unauthorized change to his system’s registry.  More specifically, they had changed his password, leaving Leonard to stare at his login screen as the cursor blinked sullenly and signaled the inevitable downfall of his technologically savvy reputation.  

“No,” he moaned out loud, thinking: oh no, no, no, no, come on.

Typing fitfully, he tried to ignore the sweat dampening his collar, but the truth of the matter was that he couldn’t even access recovery mode to reverse the probable damage to his account.  Every keystroke he made was a root directory lockdown waiting to happen.  Every hotkey he pressed was a digital deathtrap coded to reveal his final words.

“'And thus was the Last Son of Krypton defeated by the scourge of his insecure password protocol,'” a voice read over his shoulder.

With a shout of surprise, Leonard slammed his laptop shut as Sheldon tsked behind him.

“My, my,” Sheldon drawled. “What an untimely and yet perfectly preventable demise.”

For a moment, all Leonard could do was stare at his good-as-dead laptop and feel righteous anger gnarl deep inside his chest. “You,” he ground out, spinning around.

Sheldon smirked and Leonard silently cursed himself for not predicting this would happen.

“No, not me,” Sheldon said. “Your insecure password protocol, hence the blame falls on your shoulders, ‘Kal-El’."

“Gee.” Leonard glared. “Except you’re the one who hacked my computer, ‘Brainiac’!"

Sheldon made a dismissive gesture with his hands. “Oh, please. I choose much better passwords than that.” As if to prove his point, Sheldon took a seat at his own desk, opened his laptop, and smugly proceeded to enter a password chain longer than typing ‘Mississippi’. “Besides, I wouldn’t call it ‘hacking’ when you were practically inviting people to compromise your system. Didn’t you know that using the same password for everything increases your risk of multiple account breaches by 240%?”

“Oh, is that all?” Leonard sneered, but he didn’t try to dispute the point. Even after Sheldon had hacked his Facebook account, Leonard foolishly hadn’t thought to change his other logins. “So what is this?” he demanded. Snapping his laptop open again, Leonard jabbed accusingly at the screen. “Some kind of punishment?” he asked. “Some kind of payback for not meeting your gold standard in password security?”

With a twist of his lips, Sheldon leaned back and swiveled in his chair to face him. “I prefer to think of it as your chance at redemption, Leonard.”  

“My what,” said Leonard flatly.

“Your opportunity to prove yourself worthy of using your machine again of course.”  

Before Leonard could catch the mischievous gleam in Sheldon’s eyes, Sheldon had pressed a key on his laptop, which in turn shut off Leonard’s.

“Hey!”

“Well, go on, then,” Sheldon said. “Show me you can be your own hero, unless of course you’ve just been using Superman’s Kryptonian name as a charade.”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” Leonard cried. “Sheldon, this is ridiculous!”

“I know it is,” came Sheldon’s matter-of-fact reply.  “Superman would never whine like such a ninny.”

Leonard had to hold back the urge to lift his head and scream his frustration to whichever deity or upstairs neighbor would listen. “Goddammit, Sheldon!” he shouted, but then he heard it, the telltale chime.  His login screen had cycled on again.

“Would you look at that.” Sheldon’s voice managed a perfect blend of amusement and false surprise. “I guess you’d better get hacking, Leonard. Lord knows your programs and files aren’t going to save themselves anytime soon.”  

At this point, Leonard wasn’t sure he was going to save his own sanity, but he sure as hell wasn’t about to let Sheldon think that he had won. “All right,” he said through his teeth. “So this is how you want to play it, huh?”  

Sheldon steepled his fingers together like a Machiavellian villain. “Game, set, still waiting.” He smirked.

It was more than Leonard could stand.

Grabbing his laptop, he fixed Sheldon with a withering glare as he cracked his knuckles above the keyboard. “Fine,” he spat out. “Consider this rescue mission officially on.”

It couldn’t be that freaking difficult. The password couldn’t be that hard to guess, not if this was anything like the times that Sheldon had tried to keep Penny from using their wi-fi.

Squaring his shoulders, Leonard set his jaws in determination before bringing his wrath down on the keys.

leonardchangeyourpassword, he typed furiously, but his computer remained unmoved by his attempt.

leonardneedsanewpassword, he tried. leonardspasswordisstupid

Sheldon snorted. “Oh, dear Lord. It’s true, but no.” He was monitoring Leonard’s lack of progress from his own laptop as if he were preening before a mirror, as if undermining Leonard’s productivity for the day was hitting the right spot. The damned narcissist.

Sheldon’s smile broadened as Leonard clenched his teeth together.

“Try again, Supes,” he said in a smug tone.

Enraged, Leonard scowled at Sheldon over the rims of his glasses. “Yeah? Well, gladly!” he shot back. He whipped through password after password, trying numerous combinations of Sheldon’s insults and criticisms. They came to mind pathetically fast, not that Leonard was letting it get to him when he was forging ahead, owning each guess, a champion of his own destiny.  

123wouldbeabetterpassword

“In what universe?” scoffed Sheldon.

“Arrgh!” Leonard made an undignified noise in his throat.

sheldoncooperisaninsufferablebagofdicks!!!!

Sheldon’s eyes snapped up from his laptop and narrowed. “Excuse me, but I happen to be doing you a favor, you know.”

Leonard gaped wordlessly. He sputtered. WHAT, he started, but not even capslock could convey the profound depths of his incredulity. “What favor!” The words all but jolted out of him. “Explain to me how any of this has been a favor, Sheldon!”

With an exasperated sigh, Sheldon twisted around in his chair to meet Leonard’s glare head-on. “In case you haven’t noticed, which you haven’t,” Sheldon added, “I’ve been graciously going above and beyond for your benefit here.”

Leonard stared at him.  He was too flabbergasted to speak.  

“Of course you would’ve realized that on your own had you been putting the slightest amount of effort into deciphering your new password.”  

“Buddy,” Leonard said drily, “I’m still trying to decipher your train of thought.” He frowned as he turned Sheldon’s words over. “And what did you mean by ‘decipher’ exactly?”

“Oh, good heavens,” Sheldon snapped. He swiveled back to his laptop, hands moving at Mach 1 as soon as they hit the keyboard.  

Kal-El
Last Son of Krypton
Superman
Supes

The names popped up in a dialogue box centered on Leonard’s screen.

“Huh?” Leonard’s frown deepened.  

Sheldon rolled his eyes. “To decipher, for goodness’ sake, Leonard. To decode, as in what you haven’t done with a single one of my hints yet. Hint hint,” he said impatiently, nodding towards the list.

Frustrated, Leonard scanned the contents of the dialogue box again if only to appease him. “They’re all names for Superman, so what?” he said, choosing not to point out that Sheldon hadn’t hinted so much as he had mocked him with each name. “What are you trying to get at here, Sheldon? That this new password is just another alias for Kal-El?”

“Boy, faster than a speeding bullet you are,” Sheldon said, but Leonard willfully ignored the sarcasm.  

He pursed his lips together, eyes on Sheldon as his own hands poised eagerly above the keys.  

 “Is it ‘Man of Steel’?” he asked in challenge.

You?  The Man of Steel?” Sheldon huffed a breathy laugh.

“Well, then how about the Man of Tomorrow?” Leonard said defensively. “I’m a man of science, after all. You know, testing new hypotheses, always looking towards the future…”

“Oh, please be serious.”

Leonard threw his hands up in the air and groaned.  

“I don’t know, Sheldon!” he said. “Is it the Big Blue Boy Scout?”

Sheldon didn’t have anything to say to that. He just gave Leonard a sharp look of disappointment before turning towards his laptop and typing, Is this Bizarro World, Smallville?  “Hmm?” He raised his eyebrows.

“I’m in hell,” Leonard grumbled, but he stared at the bolded text on his screen regardless.  

And then he squinted, brow furrowing as he bolted upright in his seat.

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute,” he said. “Smallville isn’t a name for Superman. It isn’t even an alias. It’s—"

“Yes?”

Sheldon wheeled beside him, almost conspiratorial in the way he leaned closer.

“It’s Lois’ nickname for Clark,” Leonard finished. His eyes widened as he connected the dots. Clark, the mild-mannered civilian. The everyday citizen. The nearsighted, 9 to 5 alter ego of Kal-El.

He didn’t even wait for Sheldon’s confirmation before his fingers flew over the keyboard.

clarkkent, he typed frantically. His computer flickered to life again, loading as though Sheldon had never once tampered with his machine.

“Bravo, you little problem-solver, you.” Sheldon gave Leonard a playful nudge with his elbow, which Leonard couldn’t even begin to process.

 “I’m actually in,” Leonard said, blinking at his computer. He slid his gaze to Sheldon, who leaned over with a sly grin on his face.

“Oh, I’ll do you one better, Leonard. You’re not only in.” He paused, then grinned wider. “You’re incognito, you see.”

“Um,” said Leonard, but he wasn’t sure how to reply. He never thought it possible for Sheldon to want to help him through the problem he created in the first place. “I mean… that’s not…” There was an edge of awkwardness in Leonard’s voice as he tried to hold onto his anger. “Sheldon,” he said finally, “there’s nothing incognito about any of this. You hacked my computer. You know what the password is.”

Sheldon nodded along with a tangible air of pride. “Indeed,” he said. “And rest assured that I’m honor-bound to protect the confidentiality of said password.”

“You’re honor-bound to protect it?” Leonard repeated skeptically. “Uh, since when can you keep a secret, period?”

Sheldon scoffed. “Trust me,” he said. “There isn’t a soul alive who’d care enough to ask me about the contents of that laptop. But more importantly,” he produced his Justice League membership card, which he brandished for Leonard’s inspection. “I would never reveal Superman’s alter ego under JLA oath, Leonard.”

Leonard blinked at him, his own brow creasing, but the expression on Sheldon’s face remained as solemn as ever.

“Huh,” Leonard said faintly.  

Sheldon pocketed his card again.

“So…” Leonard grinned. “I’m your Clark Kent, am I?”

He meant it as a joke, but Sheldon pressed his lips together like he was actually considering Leonard’s question. “Well,” he said after a long moment, “in this instance, yes.”

Leonard was speechless again. He was also embarrassed to find that he no longer wanted to change his new password. “Really?” he asked.

He smiled despite himself, fidgeting with his hands as Sheldon nodded his confirmation.

“Don’t worry, Leonard,” he said with a smirk. “Your secret’s safe with me.”