When you watch one too many episodes of Mr. Robot so you decide to write a short-story piece based on some of the show's themes.
Finn had a penchant for twirling pens in between his long, piano fingers whenever he would get bored in class; and he would get bored a lot, especially in our Senior Fiction Workshop.
Mr. Janson, our professor, got used to Finn’s lack of attention by the third week of class. After reading Finn's first submission of the semester, a piece he wrote about an old man who’s biggest talent was growing larger-than-life vegetables, particularly pumpkins and eggplants, Mr. Janson stopped giving Finn his small, passing glares that implied “Please pay attention to what I’m saying, Finnley” because 1) he knew that Finn would still not pay attention to him, and 2) he realized that Finn was a far better writer than he would ever be - and that profoundly embarrassed him. When Mr. Janson handed back our papers a week later, he paused by Finn’s desk a few seconds longer than anyone else’s. “Excellent paper” he murmured, his eyes barely meeting Finn's. He offered a meek smile from behind his grey curly-Q mustache, and then walked away and over to Margeaux's desk to give her her paper.
I looked at the paper. A big red A+ was circled in the top right corner, yet when I looked at Finn, he was already busy drawing a robot on the previous day’s Calculus notes. The grade barely phased him, because that was the only grade he was ever used to receiving. Now, if he had gotten an A, then there might be cause for concern.
Like his mother, Finn was a talented writer without even trying to be. He had a way of making things as boring as paper clips and trash cans sound endlessly fascinating. Our freshman year of university, he wrote a twenty-page short story on a community of plankton. Plankton for christ’s sake. And, according to our teacher, Mrs. Oly, it was one of the best stories she had ever read in her life. Mind you, Mrs. Oly was a published author and two of her books were national best-sellers. She went as far as to encourage Finn to submit his story to a national writing contest. Finn did. And he won first place.
It was both aggravating and inspiring to read his work. On one hand, he was so nonchalant about his writing that it could easily be perceived by someone as either feigned indifference or arrogant smugness. But on the other hand, he was just so damn talented that you wanted to know how he did what he did so you could copy him in your own work. There had to be some method to his madness. He could sit down for a few hours, bang out some paper on a topic you had never even heard of or thought anyone would want to write about, and it would probably end up being one of the best things you had ever laid your eyes upon. We lived together so I often saw these sparks of brilliance take place, most of them usually at 3am when I would be in the living room, on my laptop, browsing through some company’s email server for fun, and Finn would walk out of his room, in a white t-shirt and black sweatpants, and sit down at our small wooden ‘dining room’ table and start typing.
“Why are you up?” He’d ask me as he typed. His shoulders would be hunched over. At 6'3, he would hunch quite often given that the general population is closer to 5'6/5'7.
“Couldn’t sleep.” I'd reply.
“Did you try?” would be his follow-up.
“Not really.” was mine.
And that was that.
His long fingers tap on my desk. “You good?” He asks. I’m staring at him play with his pen again. Something about repetition lulls me in.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
“Distracting you, am I?” His lips curl upwards into a smirk, and a small dimple forms in his left cheek. Several scatterings of freckles run across the top of his cheeks and nose, and loop around the arches of his eyebrows. They’re very faint, and one would only be able to see them if they were very close to his face. I am one of the very few people he lets get that close to him. He doesn’t trust people that easily. Neither do I, really.
“You wish,” I retort and go back to paying attention to Mr. Janson talk about foreshadowing.
Finn starts twirling his black pen in between his fingers again and I watch him from the corner of my eyes while trying to half-pay attention to what Mr. Janson is saying.
At work, I sit in my black swivel chair and punch numbers into a five-sheet Excel spreadsheet. This is not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life, but I have to keep up some semblance of normalcy - for now at least. Money hasn’t been an issue ever since I started wiring it out of several people’s bank accounts last year. Now I know what you’re thinking and don’t worry, it’s usually from rich people who don’t deserve the money anyway. Screw them.
Finn leans across and into my cubicle, and watches me from over my shoulder. “I think that should be 1,002 not 1,020”, he points out. My eyes scan the sheet and land on cell G98. He’s right; I change it. I don’t normally make careless errors like that. Hm. “Thanks.”
Finn smiles, “Don’t mention it.” He pushes his headphones back into his ears and returns to his computer. He does software engineering here at XCom. I help Lucy with the financials. I try to like Lucy, I do, but she has this weird fake-nice thing going on that always irks me. That and I went through her private Twitter (she has fifteen followers) and saw that she’s a closeted homophobe. So there’s that.
My tiny work cubby is riddled with a slew of papers that are grossly covered in yellow highlighter and red marker. Lucy, who’s my boss, is on high-alert because her boss, John, is going through a personal shit storm and dumping task after task onto her. These are tasks that he should be doing but won’t because his wife just found out about his not-so-little porn addiction and now he's trying to clean up what's left of his marriage (which is not a lot). When John's tasks get dumped on Lucy, what that really means is they get dumped onto me because I’m at the bottom of this corporate food chain. I’m nearly done with the last of the paperwork that she had given me yesterday afternoon too when she comes over to my desk and drops another pile of paperwork onto the already large pile I have to begin with. “Sorry hon, I need you to work on this as well. But, good news, I only need this by next Wednesday so you have plenty of time before then!” She smiles big, with her shiny, white teeth on full display. She wore braces when she was fourteen; I found some photos she had posted on her MySpace some ten years ago. I wonder if she remembers she posted them.
I nod casually and skim the papers she just gave me. They’re mostly breaking down the costs of our Q3 events and marketing programs. When I look back up at Lucy, she's already leaning against my cubicle and looking over at Finn with a dazed look in her eyes. I know she likes him. She sends a few texts to her best friend, Bailey, about the 'cute nerd in IT' that she wants to.....well, you know. She even sent Bailey a photo she took of Finn eating a bagel in the kitchen once.
It's kind of funny being in the middle of this crush she has on him because I know Finn doesn’t like her.
Every time Lucy tries to talk to Finn, he smiles awkwardly and walks away. I'm pretty sure it's because he hacked her Twitter and saw the homophobic tweets too. That, or the fact that she once said she doesn’t like strawberry ice cream and Finn loves strawberry ice cream.
The thing about being a hacker is that you learn people far more intimately than they want you to learn about them (obviously). You start to know them better than they know themselves. Finn doesn’t know that I hack, at least I don’t think he does, but I know that he hacks, and I’ve seen him do it. Calling myself a hacker is weird, but it’s the perfect word to explain what I do to most people - not that I tell people I do this after all. It’s not like someone asks me “Hey, what do you do?” and I grin and reply, “Oh, you know, I hack.” I mean, I guess you can call it "tinkering with computer’s and people’s data".
Oh, come on. The big corporations do that to you already: Facebook, Google, Verizon, Optimum. The second you sign up for their service, your data is theirs. They own you. You put that information out there. You’re their b*tch.
My eyes fall upon the Polaroid photo of Finn and me at his 19th birthday that’s taped to the cubby wall behind my computer (and that faces me). It’s quite dark, but you can make out our faces well enough. We're eating pizza on our couch in the living room, surrounded by seven of our closest friends from childhood. He asked Olive to take a photo of me and him, just as I had taken a big bite out of my pizza slice; so I was forced to put on a quick smile just in time for the flash to escape from the One-Step camera.
“A little warning next time wouldn’t hurt, you know?” I told him after I swallowed down the pizza.
He chuckled and leaned over to take a bite out of my slice, “I like to keep you on your toes.”
I don’t go back to working on the spreadsheet for another two minutes and just stare at the Polaroid photo of us at his birthday party. My eyes glance at the other six Polaroid photos that are taped to my wall; most of the photos are of our friends and us throughout the years. My fingers linger over the one of me and Finn in our apartment doorway the first day we moved in. We had asked our eccentric Russian neighbor to take the photo of us. "Oy blin" were her first words to us, followed by a “So you’re my new neighbors?”.
I get up to go grab a water bottle from the fridge in the employee kitchen. I pause for a secone and lean against the frame of the entrance to the kitchen area and look at Finn in his seat, wondering what he’s thinking about. I’ve known him since we were six, yet I sometimes feel like I don’t really know him at all, if that makes any sense? Sure I’ve ‘known’ him for more than half of my life by now, but do I really know him? I know he likes video games, hates candy corn with a burning passion, likes watching and rewatching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and builds an app every month just so he some form of stable income besides this job. Plus, he loves building and designing apps. If you have some addictive game on your phone, then there’s a high chance that Finn probably made it. He likes everything bagels (toasted with cream cheese), going for five-mile runs on Saturday mornings, and paintballing with his friend Ryan every second Sunday of the month. I’ve never hacked him out of respect for our friendship but there have been several occasions where I was more than willing to. It's a scratching curiosity that lingers in my body. I want to know his secrets. And I want to know if he knows mine.
I also know that he occasionally buys Adderall from this kid Jinx on the corner of Fifth and Rimley Avenue every other Tuesday morning. He doesn’t know that I know, but I do. On one of those Tuesday’s, I had accidentally overslept so I told Finn to go to work without me and that I’d catch up with him at some point. When I finally caught up to him, I saw a quick exchange of a ziplock baggy and some cash between Finn and Jinx. Seconds later, it was like the exchange never happened and the two were on their separate and merry ways. I found out it was Adderall some few days later when I walked by his room and saw the baggy on his wooden desk, easily making out the orange Adderall pins. I don’t know why he’s messing with Adderall to begin with, but that’s Finn. There are times where I know him better than he knows himself, and other times where I don’t even know who I'm looking at. He’s quiet when he needs to be, loud when he wants to be. When I look at him, I see that little boy I met way back when on the first day of kindergarten. But, even I am not able to recognize him entirely these days.
“Something on your mind?” Felicia asks. She’s an account executive at XCom and is both one of the most intimidating and nicest people I’ve ever met.
“Oh, just a long day.” I say over my shoulder. The kitchen is immaculate: pure minimalism meets upscale chic. The walls are white and all the appliances are state-of-the-art silver metal.
She chuckles, replies with a “Don’t I know it?”, and grabs a pamplemousse La Croix out of the clear-glass fridge behind me. When I turn around to face her, and watch her open the can of sparkling water, my eyes notice the lack of a wedding ring on her finger. Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen it in a few weeks. She had gotten married to Sharon, an interior designer, a few months back and invited Finn and me to the wedding. She and Sharon were a perfect couple. Or so it seemed. I’m sure it’s nothing, but something in my gut is telling me that there’s more to this story than I’ll ever find out. I mean, I can find out if I really want to - I can always just go through her phone or emails; but, I like Felicia so I feel guilty even thinking about doing that.
“How’s school going?” She leans back against the kitchen counter and takes slow sips of the beverage. I still don't know how people drink that stuff. It just makes these weird bubble-like sensations in my nose when I even have a sip of it.
At thirty-five, Felicia doesn’t look a day over twenty-eight. She was born in and raised in New Jersey. She went to Columbia for her undergraduate degree and got her Master’s at Yale. She has dark black skin, but has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen; they are in such stark contrast to the rest of her face that the first time we met, I had to do a double take and ended up staring at her eyes for a little too long than was appropriate to do so. She wears very little makeup, usually some mascara and a dash of a MAC coral-shade lipstick on her lips (but that’s about it). She’s tall, almost 6’0, and has her curly hair cut short - it stops just above her chin where a light-pink scar crawls down towards the base of her neck. She got the scar in a biking accident when she was 12.
“Tiresome,” I groan, “but almost done. We graduate in May.” I realize I used ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, with the “we” referring to Finn and I. I wonder how many times I’ve used “we” as opposed to “I”. We aren’t a “we” anyway. At least, not like Sharon and Felicia are. Or were (as it now seems).
“Any plans after that?” She asks. Her blue eyes, like tiny topaz diamonds, look at me with a genuine curiosity. Felicia is smart - far smarter than I’ll ever be in the advertising and marketing field, but I never want to be smart in that field anyway. I tell anyone who asks me "What do you do?" that I do "business accounting", even though I’m not an accounting major at school; I’m a general business major because I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up so I figured business would be a safe bet. At home, in my free time, I don’t do accounting or anything close to it. I scour the dark web, looking and searching and selling. That includes selling to people like Jinx if you catch my drift. So, technically speaking, Finn could’ve just gone straigh to the source for his Adderall.
I’m smart in the things people don’t know about, the things they don’t want to know about, and the things their mind can't imagine even exist. It’s called the dark web for a reason after all. Jinx buys the Adderall off a guy I put him in contact with. I get free Postmates and Seamless deliveries because I circumnavigated their framework and installed a redirect coupon bot so that all my orders are 100% discounted every single time. I obviously don’t use my real name ever - or our exact apartment number either. I think Finn is starting to wonder why we never get food delivered straight to our door, and why I send him to some random neighbor each time and tell him they got the wrong apartment again "for some reason". I think he may have seen my last credit card statement and wondered why there were very few charges on it when we get delivery almost every single night.
I got distracted again.
I look at Felicia, “I’m not sure, you know? Still trying to figure things out. I’d like to write a book one day.”
“Really?” She perks up and her eyes widen, “What about?”. I don't know how but her eyes are somehow always sparkling. She’s a genuinely nice person.
I look down at my feet and think about the book. I tilt my head, “It’s a secret.”
I hear her tap the La Croix can, “Well, I always enjoy reading your financial reports when Lucy and I have to go through them. You break down the information really well. And you have great insights too. You should stay in finance; we need more people like you.”
“Thank you, Felicia. That’s really nice of you to say.” I blush and look down.
She stares at me for a second longer, and then glances down at her drink and brings it to her lips. Before she takes another sip, she tells me “When you first started here, I always thought you were on the engineering team. Something about you always made me think you were a computer-genius.”
I hide behind the irony of that statement. I always knew that if anyone here at XCom could - or would - figure me out, it’d be Felicia. “Oh, haha, well I’m flattered.” I laugh, “Finn’s the tech-genius. I’m good with the financials. Most of the time at least.”
By 8 pm, the office is nearly empty. Finn usually stays late, hunched over his desk with the reflection of the blue-light from his computer screen reflecting in the specs of his glasses. He only wears glasses when he's working on a computer. He’s half-French and half-Egyptian, which in and of itself is a intriguing blend of cultures. There are times where he’ll start talking to himself in French much to the confusion of our co-worker, Lenny, who sits to his left. I, on the other hand, understand every single word he says only because I started learning French when I was nine just so I could translate what he was mumbling to himsel. Nowadays, it’s usually a string of curses because some other employee screwed up a line of code.
He runs his right hand through his curly brown hair when he's nervous, which he's been doing a lot of in the past ten minutes. When he laughs, his olive-green eyes will glisten under the light and I'll see his childhood exuberance start to peer through. There’s a tiny scar under his left eye from when his family dog, a Siberian husky, scratched him on Thanksgiving, back in ‘04. He also has a small birthmark on the bridge of his nose and another one towards the left-hand side of his bottom lip that I used to think was dirt and on more than one occasion tried to brush off.
Around 8:15 PM, when Finn and I are the only two people left in the office except for the Vice President of XCom and Felicia, whose office is down the hall, he turns to me and in a hushed whisper tells me to follow him. He gets up out of his seat and starts heading towards the south-bound hallway. I decide to wait ten seconds before I follow after him. There’s no one in the hallway as I walk down it, but then suddenly, an arm reaches out of the stock closet and pulls me into it violently.
It’s pitch black and I’m just about ready to scream, when Finn shoves his hand against my mouth. “Shhhhhhhhh.”
I nod profusely to indicate to him that I won’t scream, but in my head, I'm yelling profanities in several different languages. He takes his hand off my mouth and flicks on the light switch, which allows the overhead-hanging lightbulb in between us to illuminate the closet.
“What the hell is going on, Finnley?” I demand, and I go as far as to use his full name.
“I did something.” He blurts out. I can sense the panic in his voice. So that's why he was playing with his hair so much. This isn’t good.
“What did you do? What could you have possibly done?”
There's a long pause. “I hacked the XCom network.”
I let out a small laugh, not because I find him hacking the network silly, but because I had done that when we first started here over a year ago. “What? You hacked the network? What are you? Elliot Alderson now?”
“Not funny.” He retorts, “This is serious.”
Serious? From what I remember, I hadn’t found anything that incriminating or interesting in the network. Rather boring actually. For example, our CEO has a habit of ordering the same cookies from Amazon every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 10am. I should’ve probably looked into that more because that kind of routine is typical of something not cookie-related (if you know what I mean) but I have bigger fish to fry. “Well yeah, this is serious. You hacked our company’s network. What did you expect? A bouquet of daisies and some chocolates for your noble efforts?”
“Okay…….” he sighs and rolls his eyes, “I get your sarcasm, but I’m serious. There are bigger things at stake here than the company holiday party getting canceled or Jamie and Ellen getting fired from HR. There-“, Finn stops talking and holds his hand against my mouth again and his other hand against his. At that moment, we hear loud footsteps outside the closet. I clench my fists nervously and slowly step further back into the closet, the back of my head bumping against a shelf. Ow.
A few seconds later, the footsteps seem to disappear down the hallway. A few more seconds pass, and Finn finally takes his hands off our mouths. We both breathe a sigh of relief. He narrows his eyebrows, bites his lip, and lets out a loud breath through his nostrils.
“I know what you do.” He tells me, with his hands gripped around both of my shoulders. “And I need you to help me.”