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Wesley or, Ciphers and Cons
by Lyle Terry

“I swear to ya, Wes, these dang cell phone bills are wearing me right thin, you know. Dang thing was $170 more than usual this month,” Cedric muttered as he parked the car in front of the ice cream/coffee shop. “That’s not because of me, is it?” I asked. “I surely hope not. Ah well. I scrubbed that thing clean last night so it don’t matter no way. Besides, you can live without that dang phone, even if it’s just two days.” “I know, Ced,” I said, pulling the car door open. I loved my brother for sure but he could get a bit preachy on occasion. “Good luck on your date!” “Thank you, Wesley,” he replied, closing the door behind me. A little while later, he zoomed off in the yellow Viper, leaving a lemon trail behind him. I unzipped my messenger bag and pulled my computer out, walking into the B&C all the while. It wasn’t a terribly powerful laptop, but I loved it to death anyway because heck if that thing was not fast. I set it up on the counter and waved for one of the workers to make an order. My usual server came a few moments later. His name was Bartholomew, and most people thought he was lazy (to an extent he was) but for some reason he was always real good with me around. Perhaps I had an odd way of getting into his head or something. With a flash, my computer was up and running, the entire world at my fingertips. I loved that thing-- my laptop was more or less my home away from home, but everywhere. My homepage was loaded with news and opinions about a jewel thief that took a big emerald from a hotel the weekend before. They called him Elan Reddy. Some folks thought Elan was a hero for bringing the jewel to the Greyson Museum of Natural Science, while others thought he was a criminal and needed to be punished for taking it out of the Overton. I was on the fence about it. Sure, Reddy may have taken it, but what was the

hotel even doing with a big green rock anyway? I pulled myself up from the computer for a bit as I saw Bart come back around from the magic land behind the counter. “One Ice Bean for Wesley-- aaah!” Bart tripped over his shoelace and the pink B&C cup holding my drink fell out of his hand with a whoosh as it headed toward me. “Whoa!” I yelled, reaching a hand out. I wobbled a little and felt the contents of my pockets loosening as I tried to keep my Ice Bean from falling over onto the keyboard of my laptop. A few drops fell from the milkshake, but ultimately none made their way past the walls of the “ASDF” row.

Phew. I let out a sigh of relief.
Bartholomew was frazzled as he pulled himself up from the ground. “Oh god, I’m sorry. Do you need a new one, Mr. Brown?” he asked, clearly hoping that I wouldn’t go bonkers and make him lose his job. Luckily for him, I wasn’t that evil. “Oh, no, Bart, it’s fine, I’m alright,” I said as I got up from my chair to reclaim my other belongings. As I scrambled for my change, I noticed a bright object settled next to one of my dimes. Thinking it might’ve been something of mine, I picked it up out of impulsive possessiveness, but I didn’t recognize it at all. T’was a blue flash drive, a portable memory stick for a computer not terribly unlike a couple of some I’d owned and lost. It wasn’t a particularly interesting flash drive on the outside-- just one of the simple sticks one could find at their local Straight Shot store-- but the things that caught my eye were the label on the side and the tag attached to the keychain hole. The label read “pand0ra”, with a zero in place of the O. Somebody must’ve been a internetty kind of dude. Or girl. I didn’t know. The tag wasn’t nearly as simplistic though. The front side had total gibberish on it,

gur cnffjbeq vf "4atry1a3" KQ and the back side wasn’t exactly clear about anything either. off by 13

Off by 13? What was that supposed to mean? I twiddled my thumbs on the counter and
rattled my brain for a little bit, but the answer didn’t seem to come up at all. I was just about ready to give up the quest entirely until I noticed that “off by 13” was an equation. Sort of. Basically, if you took the alphabet and put the whole thing on a wheel, then put another wheel inside that one, it outputs a code that can be used to hide text. For example, if you made the wheels have a difference of 1 letter, A would become B, B would become C, C would become D, and so on up until Z would become A. The wheel I was dealing with had been shifted by 13-half the alphabet. This was called a historical cipher, because a cipher is a way to hide information, and this particular type of cipher had been used since Jefferson invented it in the late 1700s. I dabbled in historical ciphers on occasion. Nowadays it almost seemed mundane for one to be considered a real way of encryption (everyone can shift the letters in the alphabet) but they were still fun. I remembered my childhood pastime of acting like a spy and encrypting everything in my secret codes, and it made me feel like I was soooo cooool cuz nobody was able to figure out what I was writing except the ones that knew the code-- the only folks I trusted with it, my friends. Needless to say I was a bit of an odd duck in middle school. I typed out the code’s end result from the front of the tag onto my computer once I decrypted the text. the password is “4ngel1n3” XD Well, now that that was cleared up, I figured whoever dropped the drive definitely wanted me to see what was inside. I found it a bit strange for it to be so, well, open, but then again, not everyone would even bother going through the trouble of even decoding the text on

the front of the tag. I hooked the flash drive up and typed “4ngel1n3” into the password box. A file window popped up with a couple of folders and an image file. I opened the image, which was named “list.png”. Surely enough, the next instant I saw a spreadsheet of names, with their telephone numbers, addresses, and emails displayed adjacent to each. The column that interested me the most though was simply labeled with a dollar sign at the top and a number on every row below it. I shuffled through each of the names, looking for anyone I might’ve known at all. There had to be some meaning to it. Suddenly, after about 35 or so names, one caught my eye. Cedric Brown, 5732 Cricklewood Avenue, Parkview [email protected] $170 $170. Cedric did say something about getting a weird charge on the phone bill for that exact amount that month not too long before. What if the organizer of this list, whoever they might be, was the one who made that weird charge? It was all a little too suspicious for me to keep in for too long. I had to tell Cedric, but how? He’d already cancelled our Griffin account, so neither my phone nor his was going to work. There was only really one other way to go about doing things: I had to crash his date. Groaning a little, I shut my laptop and slid it into my messenger bag, walking out of the Beanery and Creamery briskly with my milkshake in hand. Ced’s date was set in the rich side of Greyson City, Beckman’s Grove. All of the big swanky restaurants and hotspots were over there, with the granddaddy of them all being the Overton Hotel, a ritzy lodge for Greyson’s visiting (and, in some cases, permanent) elite, which just so happened to include Alise and her family at that time. I barely even remember Alise, to be honest. Then again, that’s another thing about Ced: dude goes through girlfriends like I go through historical ciphers.

Anyway, I was headed over to the Overton (hee) for my chit-chat with Ced, and for the most part I didn’t find much trouble on the way at first. Some people looked at me funny since I was walking rather than riding on a Segway, but I didn’t care much. Once I got to the hotel, though, I knew something was a little... off. The security measures at the hotel had been at an all-time high then since there had been a robbery just a few nights before, but surely they couldn’t have thought of me as anything. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but as I navigated my way to the O’s O1 restaurant I felt almost as if there was some reason I shouldn’t have headed there that day.

“What’s your name?” “Wesley.” “Well, Wes, we better get a move on if you want to live. Now come on!” She grabbed me by my left arm and made me weave through the crowd. I turned around to find the thugs bulldozing their way through the Segways, and I choked on my breath a bit as she nearly detaches my hand from my elbow. I jerked my arm away from her. “I think following you will suffice,” I say. “As long as you can keep up, man!” And in a flash, she’s gone. I pick up the pace a little as I try catching up. The crowd was too slow for this, though, and I was stuck in a jog up until I felt a familiar arm tug from an alley. “Get on,” she whispers before fading back into the alley. I was confused for a bit, but everything became clear once the alley lit up with the golden color of two headlights. I mounted the scooter behind her as she dunked a helmet over her head. “What, I don’t get one?” “I didn’t pack extras,” she said with a wink, putting the screen over her head. “Sorry.” She revs the engine up... one, two, three... and we’re off.

“So what’s your name?” I ask, wind blowing my hair all kinds of directions. “Pandora,” she says. “That can’t be your real name.” “It is, as far as you know,” she mutters, ending the conversation. The scooter took the two of us out of Beckman’s Grove, far, far away from the Overton, and into Downtown, the heart of Greyson itself. She parked it in a garage on Hildreth Avenue and 22nd Street and motioned for me to follow her. “Where are we going, exactly?” “A friend’s house,” she said, the helmet still muffling her speech a bit. A couple of blocks and 13 floors later, she brought me to Apartment 23 on 2513 Hildreth. It’s one of those classy penthouses, with a big window filling the outermost wall and a golden railing adorning each side of the stairs. Strangely enough though, there’s no butler, and Bruce Wayne isn’t standing in the living room. In fact, besides myself and Pandora, nobody was there. I was wondering what stunt she was trying to pull up until I heard the voice. “Did it work, Erica?” “Yeah. I think we may have found our guy,” she said, the urgency in her voice gone. “Great,” he replied, his calm words somehow resonating loudly throughout the room. “What’s your name, guy?” I stammered a little. “W-Wesley,” I finally said, the level of fear in my voice rising a bit. “Calm down, bro, I’m a friend, and not in the rude sense.” I finally notice him as he walks from the corner of the window into the center of the room. He’s got a smile on his face, and it’s a little goofy but the fancy suit he’s got on distracts from that. He might’ve actually not have been that bad.

“I’m Elan,” he said, “and we’re on the same side, Wes.”

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