I was nervous for the first time in what seemed like decades. There wasn’t a lot that could affect me anymore, but sitting there in class waiting to hear the announcements was indeed inducing a strange amount of fear and anxiety within me. The weird thing, though, is I liked the feeling. Being nervous was a normal part of life. Normalcy was something I was willing to take in any form.
Hay and I glued our eyes and ears to the TV as it came on. Principal Groves, who’d probably wanted to smack me upside the head in the last iteration, looked like his usual self. Not that I didn’t expect it, but who really knew anymore.
Then, it came.
“I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday’s unfortunate events.”
“Whoa,” Hay whispered.
“See, I wasn’t crazy.”
“Hayley, Brendon, quiet,” Mrs. Chen scolded. Of course, we didn’t care about getting reprimanded. The instant we’d heard the word ‘unfortunate‘, our path for this iteration had been solidified. We’d proceed with the plan we’d engineered the night before.
When the bell rang for 2nd period, we’d begin. We couldn’t cause a commotion because we needed absolutely no attention drawn to us. That meant we had to sit through 1st period for 90 grueling minutes.
And it might sound crazy, but for the first time in probably 15 years of iterations, I actually paid attention to the lesson, raised my hand to answer questions, asked ridiculously difficult questions to try to stump Mrs. Chen. Literally anything to pass the time.
Hay snickered every time I raised my hand, like she couldn’t believe how into it I was. I probably deserved it, since I was being unusually difficult to Mrs. Chen, but it didn’t matter. At least she was getting some sort of entertainment value out of it. After all, she had to endure this class period as well.
When the bell rang, I practically jumped out of my desk. Hay would’ve normally laughed at such a spectacle since I was never in a hurry to do anything, but this iteration held significance. We immediately left Mrs. Chen’s classroom, ignoring Brent entirely. I didn’t even notice if he tried to talk to me.
We needed to get to the computer lab on the second floor. That, in and of itself, wasn’t a problem, but the lab was locked, and if anyone found us in there, our plans for the iteration would be shot and we’d have to try again next iteration.
The second floor of the school was, unsurprisingly, mostly classrooms, but the computer lab was nestled at the end of the hallway around a corner, right next to the library. It would be easy to not draw the attention of students, but it wasn’t like we cared about that anyway. The more difficult proposition was to not draw the attention of the librarians that oversaw the usage of the lab.
I knew that if we stood at the very end of the hall until the bell rang again, no one would bother us for at least a few minutes. That was where I sometimes stood while waiting to disperse myself into Hay’s class, since the hallways by the classrooms were all monitored by teachers.
We stood in that spot and waited, and as expected, the bell rang without any unusual fanfare. The hallway was empty, and the computer lab door was 10 feet away.
Hay’s plan to enter the lab was simple. We’d check the handle, and if it was locked like it was supposed to be, we’d have to do a little social engineering to get in. It would be somewhat difficult, but we couldn’t break down the door and we had no idea where the keys were kept.
I walked up to the door and twisted the knob, frowning as it barely gave. Locked, as it should’ve been. Crap. I mean, we expected it, but still, it was frustrating. Now we’d have to trick the librarians into letting us in, which, quite frankly, wouldn’t be easy.
Hay was better with this kind of stuff, so she led us into the library and up to one of the desks where a librarian sat. I stood beside her and watched as she smiled the most adorably fake smile I’d seen her express in quite some time.
“Hi there, can I help you?”
“Hello.” Bright and cheery, always convincing. Hay was incredible. “Mr. Randal asked us to come and get the computer lab key for this period. Is it available?”
“It is, but I will need to see a note from him.”
Of course, we expected something along those lines, so Hay dug into her bag and fished out one of the five different notes we’d written with Mr. Randal’s name forged at the bottom. It was the first time we’d ever tried something like this with a librarian, so we had literally no expectations on how it would go down. Despite how desperate we were for the plan to work, it was exciting to do something different where results were unknown.
Hay handed over the note, which the librarian glanced at very briefly. “Can you please let Mr. Randal know that we really need to be made aware ahead of time for computer lab usage? I’ll let it slide today, but in the future, it’s very important that we receive a heads up.”
“Yes ma’am, of course.” God, her smile was perfect.
The librarian fished a key out of one of the desk drawers, then walked over to a small locker behind the desk. With the key from her pocket, she unlocked the locker, hunted through it for a moment, then produced another key.
“We’ll need this returned when the class leaves the lab, and please remember to observe the rules and cleanup after yourselves.”
“Absolutely, no problem. Thank you so much!”
We walked as casually as we could out of the library, then rushed as soon as we were out of sight to unlock the lab door.
Hay stood guard by the door as I rushed over to what I knew was the best computer in the room. Some number of iterations ago, I’d taught myself some computer skills by ripping apart my computer at home dozens of times and breaking into my neighbor’s LAN via their poorly-secured WiFi network and messing with their computers. For some reason that I couldn’t pinpoint, that type of stuff came naturally to me. It wasn’t much – I think the Internet referred to as “script-kiddie” stuff – but I had to hope it would suffice for getting this job done.
First, I needed administrator access to the workstation. From my backpack, I pulled out a thumb drive, stuck it into the computer, and rebooted. When the POST screen came up, I hit F12 to enter a boot menu, then chose the option to boot from the USB drive. The NTPasswordReset boot screen appeared, and the application loaded. I went through the steps, which were crude, but did the job extremely well. The Administrator account wasn’t disabled, so I used the application to rewrite the password hash with a new one of my choosing.
Bam, admin access.
I rebooted the computer again, but this time to Windows. When the login screen appeared, I typed in ‘Administrator’ and the password that I’d just chosen. While the desktop loaded, I swapped out thumb drives. This one had an application called mimikatz on it, which I’d watched videos on but only knew how to use in theory.
Breaking into a computer that I had physical access to, like the lab computer, was one thing, but breaking into a remote computer that used a domain for authentication was an entirely different thing. I didn’t have a way to test it at home, so as soon as mimikatz loaded, I was basically winging it.
I fumbled through the instructions and help menus, watched a couple more videos, and finally made a little progress. I didn’t know a lot of the terminology the application used, which was frustrating. Some of it was weirdly familiar, like maybe I’d read about it once, but either way, progress was slow. Dealing with this stuff might’ve come naturally to me, but it was still quite a difficult thing to pull off.
“Crap! The librarian is coming!”
I froze. There was no way to salvage today if we were caught.
“Did she see you?”
“Not sure, doesn’t matter anyway. She’s definitely coming.”
Ugh. This was immensely frustrating. I locked the workstation and slid the chair back. Hay sat down across the table from me and put her head on the desk with a deep sigh.
The door swung open and the librarian glared at me, her eyes narrowing as they met mine. “Mr. Randal informed me that he didn’t send any students to reserve the computer lab.”
“Oh, yeah.” I stared at her blankly, my eyes conveying no emotion. “We lied.”
“You’re going to see Principal Groves about this,” she said sternly.
Hay and I both stood up. Man, this sucked.
“Nah, we’ll just go home. Thanks for the offer, though.”
We approached the door, which she attempted to block.
“Excuse me? I don’t think so.” Her eyes were ablaze with fury. Honestly, I’d be furious too, but the librarian could never understand the predicament we were in. Neither of us had the energy to right the situation in any meaningful way, so we’d just let it reset.
Hay flashed the same smile from earlier, except the fakeness I saw in her eyes was replaced by raw, animal anger. It was terrifying, even to me. “Can you please move? I don’t want to push you.”
The librarian stood there for a second, her expression of anger now wavering. Hay never would’ve hurt this lady, but she could bluff extraordinarily well. The uncertainty of the situation finally took over the librarian’s face, and she stepped aside.
I nodded as we passed by her. “See you tomorrow.”
* * *
We knew where the key was, so there was no point in alerting a librarian by asking for it. Now, we could just take it. The issue was figuring out when. There was no point in going to first period, so we just flat out skipped it and went straight to the library.
There were two things we could try from here. The first was to sneak in, hopefully unseen, and try to just steal the key. Probably easier said than done, but we had no clue if the librarians ever left or always stayed at or around their desks. The second thing we could try was less attractive, as it was basically a (slightly safer?) variant of what we’d done and failed with yesterday. Hay could distract the librarians while I stole the key, then I would go do what I needed to do by myself while Hay got reprimanded for skipping class or whatever.
This iteration, we’d try option number one.
We stood outside of the library, crouched below the glass so we could peek inside. One librarian was arranging books on the far end of the library, nowhere near the desks. The other librarian – the one we’d had our run in with during the last iteration – was sitting at her desk scribbling on something. Not exactly ideal.
“How long do we wait before going with Plan B?”
There was no right answer. “I dunno. 15 minutes? How patient are you feeling?”
“Absolutely 200% impatient.”
“So, five minutes?”
Hay sighed. “I guess. I dunno. Let’s just see how it goes.”
I didn’t know either of the librarians’ names. I didn’t bother finding out yesterday, and I probably never would. But in my head, I’d nicknamed the librarian from yesterday ‘Deskie.’ The other one would be ‘Bookie,’ since she literally had done nothing but touch books for the first five minutes we spied on them. As you might be able to tell, you probably don’t want to rely on me for coming up with a creative nickname for you.
Just when we were about to give up and reevaluate the plan, Deskie got up and walked over to Bookie. She said something we couldn’t hear, then turned and began walking toward the door we were standing next to.
“Look, she’s leaving!”
“Yeah, that’s great and all, but she’ll catch us.”
We frantically looked around for a place to hide, but it was just a school hallway. There wasn’t anything that convenient unless we ran downstairs, at which point someone else would probably catch us.
“Wait, the lockers!”
Hay crawled away from the window, stood up, and pulled the nearest locker open.
“The tall ones aren’t locked because the janitors sometimes use them.” She pulled the next closest tall locker open. “Get in.”
Could this work? I mean, in high school movies, bullies shoved kids into lockers. But were they actually big enough to fit an almost-adult body? Neither of us was fat or anything, but we also weren’t particularly short or rail-thin like the nerdy kids in the movies that usually got stuffed into lockers.
There was really no time to stew over it, though. It was do or…repeat, I guess.
Hay ducked inside of the first locker and twisted her body enough to fit vertically, then tried to wiggle her lower half into the tiny space. She was taking too long, so I put my hand on her hip and pushed. She finally popped completely in, so I closed the door and rushed over to the other tall locker.
Now there was very little time for myself, but I didn’t have to struggle much. I was taller, so I had to duck more, but I fit in a bit easier since I didn’t have female hips to worry about. I reached out and closed the door from the inside, contorting my arm in a way that I didn’t know was possible, but I was in. And very uncomfortable.
But the important part was that we were hidden, and just in the nick of time. The library door almost immediately creaked open, and Deskie’s footsteps clapped on the linoleum floor outside the lockers. My mind raced, quickly calculating about how much time we’d have. The faculty bathrooms were by the teacher’s lounge on the first floor, and if I had to guess, that’s exactly where Deskie was heading. If I was correct, we had at least a five-minute window, possibly a good bit more. And if I was wrong, well, we’d find out the hard way.
I pushed the locker door open and quickly stretched my legs and arms. Having to hide in that locker was definitely a good reason to not have to repeat this process, so we needed to get this correct on the first try.
Hay’s locker door opened, and I watched as she flailed a bit trying to get out. Curious, I walked over and stared at her, a smile spreading quickly across my face.
“Are you stuck in there?”
“You’re stuck in there.” I snorted.
“Don’t you dare make any jokes about my butt.”
“I don’t really think I have to.”
She glared at me. “Help me out you jerk.”
In fairness, the lockers weren’t exactly meant to house the human body, but it was still hilarious.
I grabbed her hand and pulled, and she fairly easily popped out of her tiny metal prison. From the way that her arms were contorted inside the locker, she just couldn’t get the leverage to do it herself.
“You’re awful,” she pouted.
“Yeah, I know. But we gotta hurry, so come on.”
Bookie was still messing with books, so if we could be quiet and stay ducked behind the numerous tables and shelves between Bookie and the librarians’ desks, it may just be possible to steal the key without ever being noticed.
“Should we both go?”
“No, double the chance to make noise, double the chance to be seen. This is a one-person job.”
“You want me to-”
“No. Let me. If Deskie comes back, distract her. You’re much better at that than I am. That way we still have a backup plan.”
“The librarian from yesterday.”
“Yeah, I got that from the context clues…”
“Is this really the time to criticize my nicknames?”
“I think you probably deserve it.”
I rolled my eyes. “Alright, fine. How’s the plan sound though?”
“Good, let’s do it.”
I crawled below the glass, peeked to make sure Bookie wasn’t looking, then slowly and carefully pulled the library door open. I winced as it made a slight creak, but Bookie didn’t notice. Between the door and the first row of tables, there was nothing to hide behind, so I got on my hands and knees and crawled as quickly as I could until I had some cover.
I followed the tables, careful to be light on my feet, then ducked behind a shelf, then more tables, then another shelf. Bookie still had no idea, and the desks were right in front of me. I carefully crept around, slid out the drawer that Deskie had pulled the key from, and rummaged through it.
Amongst the numerous office supplies, a bag of potato chips, and a neck pillow, I managed to produce two keys. One of them had to be the right key, so at most, I’d have to try twice without being seen. Not the worst odds, I suppose, but the key locker was in plain sight, so I would be in plain sight while attempting to unlock it.
I peeked above the desk, confirmed that Bookie was still absorbed in her task, then popped up and tried the first key. It inserted, but didn’t turn, because of course I wouldn’t pick the right key on the first try.
Without hesitating, I ducked back behind the desk just to wait for what felt like the right time to try the second key. As soon as Bookie picked up another stack of books off the cart, I went for it. The second key slid into the keyhole just as easily as the first, but this one turned, which made me breathe a sigh of relief even though I was pretty sure it was the right key.
Opening the key locker was another issue entirely, though. There were three rows, each with five columns, each with a set of keys hanging there, practically mocking me.
Should I just try to grab them all? There’s no way I could hold that many, and they’d jingle in my pocket, which was the last thing I wanted. Of course this couldn’t have gone smoothly.
The keys were each labeled with a letter and a number, so at the very least, once I found the right key, I would know which one unlocked the lab from there on out, but finding the right one in the first place was the challenge.
I’d have to just grab as many as I could and try with those. I didn’t see another option, and I couldn’t just crouch there all day. Bookie was still engrossed in organizing books, so I popped up, grabbed the first row of keys, and stealthily snuck back to the door.
I grabbed the handle to exit, when suddenly I heard a voice from behind me. “Hey, what are you doing in here?”
Bookie had seen me. There was no time to think.
I opened the door, grabbed Hay and showed her the handful of keys. “She saw me, I have five keys to try. Just keep her away from me, and when I give the signal, run.”
Hay nodded and propped herself up against the library door. I was very glad at that moment that Hay was quick on her feet.
I ran across the hall and immediately began jamming keys in the door. The first one didn’t go in at all. The second one inserted but didn’t turn, as did the third. The fourth one didn’t go in, and the fifth didn’t turn.
“Hey, I can’t hold this for much longer.” I looked over and saw that Hay was losing ground. Bookie was taller and bigger than Hay, so it made sense that she’d be winning their contest.
I began inserting the keys again, just to make sure. They definitely didn’t work. I quickly noted the number and letter combination on each. 1A through 1E. Of course librarians would be well-organized. Tomorrow’s iteration, we’d have to try 2A through 2E, and if none of those worked, we’d have narrowed it down to the correct row – 3A through 3E. But for now, we’d lost. The rest of the iteration was shot.
I threw the keys down and ran over to Hay. The door was open a few inches, so I reared back and pushed myself into it. Bookie got knocked back a few steps, and while she was disoriented, I grabbed Hay.
“Let’s get out of here.”