After a week, Meghan, Jack and Nicole had settled into a routine. To the amazement of their parents, they were in bed at 10 p.m., arriving at Elf Camp...
After a week, Meghan, Jack and Nicole had settled into a routine. To the amazement of their parents, they were in bed at 10 p.m., arriving at Elf Camp moments after they fell asleep. Their jobs became as familiar as their rediscovered friendship.
But then disaster struck again. First, a text message from Jack brought Meghan and Nicole running to the reindeer barn. Jack was knee-deep in feed. Grain streamed from the automatic feeder. They grabbed shovels.
In the midst of the cleanup, Brian pulled up in his sleigh-cart. He rebooted Jack’s computer and the feeder went back to normal.
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Meghan returned to her station at the North Pole Network, entered her password and discovered the girls’ wish list was switched with the boys’. Pretty Pretty Princess games went to boys. Girls got Transformers. Once again, Brian came to the rescue. He punched a few keys. Presto! The glitch was fixed.
Then Nicole texted: “HLP!!! Im undr attak!”
Meghan and Jack raced over to gift wrap. The automated bowmakers were firing red, green, silver and gold satin missiles everywhere except on the gaily wrapped packages moving along conveyor belts. Bows covered Nicole and her co-workers head to toe. Meghan and Jack tried to dodge them, but they couldn’t withstand the barrage either.
Once more, Brian showed up to save the day. He fiddled at the computer station while everyone else plucked the sticky bows off their clothes, skin and hair and cleaned up the littered carpet.
“Have you noticed that Brian’s nowhere in sight when everything goes wrong?” Nicole whispered to Meghan and Jack as the trio sipped smoothies in the cafeteria.
“Yeah, then he shows up,” Jack said, snapping his fingers, “and everything’s back to normal.”
“If he’s such a computer whiz, why doesn’t he fix everything for good?” Meghan said, pointing to the glowing red “14” on the countdown calendar. “Two weeks until Christmas and we’re way behind.”
“Shut up, here he comes,” Nicole said.
Brian pulled up a chair. “Am I interrupting?”
“Of course not,” Nicole smiled.
“What’s infecting the computers?” Jack said.
“S.A.N.T.A. gets a ton of e-mail,” Brian replied. “Every one gets opened and answered. Anybody could plant a virus.”
“It’s like somebody wants to destroy Christmas,” Nicole said.
“Like a Grinch virus,” Meghan added.
“Every firewall I put up gets breached,” Brian said, an edge of frustration in his voice. “Whoever’s doing it anticipates my next move.” He scanned the noisy room, crowded with campers and counselors on break. “I gotta go.” They watched him table hop, smiling and chatting it up. Then he abruptly left the cafeteria.
“If it’s him, he’s a big phony,” Meghan said.
“We’ve got to watch him,” Nicole said.
“It won’t be easy,” Jack said. “He put me out in the boondocks, shepherding a bunch of reindeer. Nicole’s way over in gift wrap, and Meghan, you’re holed up in the computer room.”
“I bet he separated us on purpose,” Nicole said.
“You’re working closest to him, Meghan,” Jack said. “You’re going to have to keep an eye on him. But be careful. If he’s up to no good, things could get ugly.”
Just then the fire alarm sounded. Counselors herded campers out into the night. The cold enveloped Meghan’s body. She remembered the eviction notice. Very soon she and her mother would be out on the street in winter. She shuddered.
“You OK?” Nicole asked.
Nicole leaned toward Meghan, “You’re talking to me, Meghan. Remember?”
Meghan looked from Nicole to Jack and knew she would have to tell them sometime.
She took a deep breath. “We’re being evicted.”
Nicole put her arm around Meghan.
“My mom can’t find work,” Meghan continued. “She’s going to night school, but no one wants to hire her until she has her degree.”
“Meghan, I’m so sorry,” Nicole said. “What’s she studying?”
“Business administration,” Meghan said.
“My dad’s always looking for help in his office. I could ask.”
“She doesn’t want a handout.”
“Chill, Meghan,” Jack said. “All Nicole’s saying is that she’ll ask.”
“Sorry. I’m just so worried.”
A counselor walked up to them. “Any of you seen Brian?”
They shook their heads.
“That guy’s hard to pin down,” the counselor muttered.
A bell rang. Counselors herded campers back into the building.
Meghan hurried back to the North Pole Network. Brian sat at his desktop computer. He quickly stuffed a book into his backpack.
But not before Meghan spied its title: “Hacker’s Handbook.”
Tuesday: The threat