The sky above the Yard was the color of a crumpled problem set, marked down and thrown in a bin.
“It’s not like I’m at Lamont,” I heard someone say. “It’s like my body’s developed this massive Lamont deficiency.” It was a freshman voice and a freshman joke. The Queen’s Head was a pub for professional liberal artists; you could drink there for a week and learn about anything you wanted to, except how to fix the air conditioner that had been sitting dormant in the corner for weeks.
The bartender slid my sushi across the counter. It tasted like it had been sitting out for days. As I forced down the first bite I sensed someone big fill the spot just behind me. A heavy paw fell on my shoulder. “What’s this, then?” I asked, reaching for another piece.
“You’re under arrest,” the voice growled behind me.
I rolled my eyes. “He says you’re under arrest,” the bartender parroted.
“I’m eating,” I said, stuffing another bite into my mouth.
“Captain Catalano gave the order himself,” the voice said, its hand tightening.
“Catalano, eh?” I sighed, and pushed the sushi away. Alright, let’s see what the man has to say.
The chief gave me an ear to ear grin as I walked in. I always hated his smile. “Catalano,” I tipped my head.
“You wouldn’t have come if I’d just asked you to,” the chief shrugged. I lingered. “Come on, don’t be an asshole. I’ve got an assignment from the President themself.” I sat. The President? That was big. It had been a tumultuous and scandalous 10 years, after Faust had given the reins to—wait, you know the story. I’ll stop boring you. The chief poured us both a whiskey. “Son of one of our major donors, and I mean major, just failed a class.”
“Embarrassing.” I knocked mine back.
“No, not embarrassing, because no one’s ever going to find out. You’re hacking into my.harvard.edu before midnight tonight and changing the grade.”
“I don’t work here anymore.” I stood up to leave. The whiskey had been nice, but this was a waste of my time.
“Stop right where you are!” The chief boomed. “You know the score, pal? If you’re not HUPD, you’re a student.”
I stopped. “No choice, huh?”
“No choice, pal.” That smile again. I drank the other whiskey.
If I was going to make a run on my.harvard.edu I was going to need backup. I stopped by one of the 12 CVS’s in the square, made a few purchases, and headed to the Science Center. Just in time for Hackathon 2029: Fix The Flickering Light In SC106. They had given up a long time ago on trying to solve world hunger or war or disease or anything of relevance. Of course, this was their third year working on the lightbulb in 106, so they weren’t much more effective on the small scale.
A lean startup-type was blocking my way into the building, but I slipped him a few Five Hour Energies from CVS and he let me by, eyes wide with excitement. How else are they gonna waste their entire night trying to code a robot that can both fix a lightbulb and have a soul? I pushed through the crowd of fold-up tables to their leader, who was lording over them from a cheap podium. David J. Malan, Professor of Overproduction. Or something like him, anyway. The real Malan had been killed after an errant vinyl had slipped free of its turntable and ricocheted about Sanders. Luckily they had already uploaded his consciousness to a USB stick, so he could live on. He taught CS5000 these days. It’s like CS50, but with more inflation and less coding.
“Hey, Davie,” I smiled, sliding up next to him. His USB stick was stuck into a cheap bust with a speaker grille instead of a mouth and a Burger King cardboard crown on top.
The grille spat static. I assumed it was a deep sigh. “What do you want?”
“I’m gearing up for a run on my.harvard. Gotta change some preppy’s grade before papa finds out. You in?”
“You know I would, but I’ve gotta make sure things are running smoothly around here. We’ve got some great ideas bouncing around! That team over there is proposing cutting power to the whole building. No more flickering then!”
“Alright, hold on, Davie.” I walked to the other side of the room, kicked a coder out of his chair, and stood on it to get at the fixture. I pulled the other CVS purchase out of my bag–a new bulb—and swapped it in.
Malan spat disapproving static. “You know your problem? No imagination.”
I unplugged him and dropped him in my bag. “You sound just like my mother.”
Back in my room I plugged Malan into my iPhone 24. The iPhone kept getting bigger and the MacBook smaller, until they switched roles sometime in the mid 2020s. I settled into my chair, placed the electrodes on my forehead, and jacked in. There’s nothing quite like cyberspace. My.harvard.edu spread out around me, columns of data towering over me like skyscrapers, the cheap glow of Canvas sites beneath me, and high above, the smooth data-spheres of the transcripts.
“That you, cowboy? 11:50 p.m., we gotta hurry if we’re gonna get this done before midnight.” Malan’s disembodied voice came from somewhere over my shoulder. “What’s the class and who’s the kid?”
I checked the assignment. “Tanner Dustin Bailey III, Hebrew Bible.”
“Which one, hotshot?”
“Good question.” I punched over to the class logs and checked for our boy Bailey III. He wasn’t in Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Bible 2: “2 Hebrew 2 Bible,” or Hebrew Bible 3: “Jerusalem Drift.” I found his name in Hebrew Bible 4: “This One’s For Athletes, Get It?” “Four,” I told the construct. “Get us in.”
I felt Malan smile, and then cyberspace blurred as we sped upwards towards the transcripts. My iPhone 24 was loaded with a Mumps virus, a nasty piece of technology I had bought off a member of the PSK last fall. With Malan at the wheel, it made short work of the HUIT defenses. A digital Khurana was HUIT’s last stand, waving a pixilated copy of the Honor Code at us before Malan gleefully cut it in half with the sharp end of the Mump.
I checked the clock. 11:58 p.m. Cutting it close, but we had done it. I punched over to Hebrew Bible 4, and accessed the transcript.
My vision filled with the Harvard crest. “Choose an authentication method,” a tranquil voice intoned.
“Son of a bitch!” I yelled. Two-Step! Those HUIT bastards!
Malan crackled over my shoulder. “Use Duo-Push! It’s recommended!”
“Christ, I know! Duo-Push! Send the damn thing!” I screamed at Two-Step.
“Pushed a login request to your device…” Two-Step sang, cheerfully.
I jacked out and ripped the ‘trodes off my head. 11:59 p.m. I spun around my room. Where the hell was my MacBook? I dove under a pile of dirty laundry, searching. There, in the pocket of my jeans! I pulled it out, my hands shaking as Duo Mobile loaded. Then, there, yes! Approve! I sprinted back to my desk, slapped the ‘trodes on, and jacked back in.
Two-Step was gone, but here was another page. “There are several known kinds of login errors—” I stopped reading. It had been over a decade! How had they not fixed this?
“Hit refresh!” The construct screeched.
I growled, and did as he said. my.harvard froze, then went white, then reloaded. I had done it! I was past HUIT. Now to change the trans—
“Midnight, hotshot,” Malan said. I blinked. my.harvard was empty. The transcripts were gone, whisked away to admin. We had been too slow. “Oh well, guess you weren’t good enough.”
“You’re a great teacher, anyone ever tell you that?” I jacked out and unplugged Malan.
It all worked out for the best. The chief was on my ass for a few weeks, but eased up when Papa Bailey donated something to the University in the tune of millions of dollars to get the grade changed the ol’ fashioned way. Malan went back to his Hackathons. I hear they’re gonna fix the basement water fountain next year. Lofty goal, but maybe they’ll pull it off. And me? I learned a valuable lesson. Never tussle with Two-Step: it’s not a dance you can win.