When I was little, everyone who knew me thought I was odd. I never wanted to play with dolls and I didn’t enroll in ballet or gymnastics. Instead my paramount interest was numbers. For years I carried around math flashcards and liked to entertain my parents’ friends by adding, subtracting and multiplying in my head. As I grew older, I quickly moved on to more mature themes, devouring linear algebra, differential equations, quadratic reciprocity and stochastic processes. Computers were my only friends and the internet, my playground.
Today, some twenty years later, I’m still fascinated with numbers, computers and code. But this time around, I’m getting paid for it as an information security technologist with the U.S. National Security Agency, or NSA for short. Most of us call it the “No Such Agency” because we are so secret. I heard somewhere that less than five percent of Americans even know we exist.
Basically, I do a lot of web surfing and looking for bad guys. Using methodical, mathematical and logical techniques—and when that fails, sheer imagination—I’m supposed to stop hackers from compromising America’s national security.
Although I work for a top-secret agency, I’ve unfortunately never participated in even one exciting car chase, had a sip from a stirred (not shaken) martini, or shot a poison dart from an umbrella. That kind of action belongs to the spooks at the CIA. Some of us at the NSA joke that we are the brains of the nation, while the CIA is the brawn. I don’t imagine CIA employees would be amused to hear that.
In fact, at this very minute, I was sitting in my cramped, government-issued cubicle checking out a popular chat room. My boss, Jonathan Littleton, hovered behind me, doing what we computer types call shoulder surfing. Jonathan had joined the NSA in the seventies—before computers were commonplace. Although he now officially headed the Information Security Department, better known as InfoSec, he was more a manager than a techie.
Jonathan whistled under his breath as he perused the data displayed on the twenty-five inch color flat panel monitor on my desk.
Having fun in there?” he asked.
The there Jonathan referred to was a creepy chat room called Dark Hack where I was currently imping a brash, male teenage hacker. I’m not the type of girl who typically hangs out in the dark and eerie underbelly of the internet in rooms whith names like Dark Hack, Mute Slay or CrackHack, but sometimes we do what we have to in the name of national security, and today that meant impersonating a social misfit with a grudge.
I was pretty sure I was currently chatting with the guy who had hacked into the NSA’s Public Affairs website a couple of weeks ago using some pretty robust and unusual code. Utilizing faily colorful language he defaced the site, drew a mustache on the president and urged teen hackers to unite to breach the electronic barriers that separated people from the free flow of information.
Since I’m a fairly junior member of the team, Jonathan thought this particular assignment was right up my alley. So last week he tossed the case file onto my desk with a sticky note on top that read “Lexi Carmichael––Urgent” in bold red pen.
Lexi Carmichael. That’s me––a computer geek with a name better suited to a bubbly cheerleader girl with long, curly blond hair, blue eyes and an adorable, pert nose . . . and that’s exactly what I don’t look like. To my mother’s great dismay, I inherited nothing of her remarkable looks except for a pair of exceedingly long legs. By the seventh grade I was five foot eleven––skinny and all legs with a short torso, no boobs and ordinary brown hair like my dad. I’d also been given his facial genes––a thin nose, wide mouth and hazel eyes. At age twenty-four, not much has changed, including the fact that I still have zip in the boob department.
© Julie Moffett No One Lives Twice Excerpt