Hacker, p.1

Hacker, page 1



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  About the Book

  Title Page


  Chapter One: The Start of the Bad Times

  Chapter Two: The Letter

  Chapter Three: Some Home Truths

  Chapter Four: The Break-in

  Chapter Five: Getting it Wrong

  Chapter Six: Mr Guy and his Killer Dog

  Chapter Seven: The Dictionary Dodge

  Chapter Eight: Poking and Prying

  Chapter Nine: A Slip of the Tongue

  Chapter Ten: Please Yourself

  Chapter Eleven: EJONES

  Chapter Twelve: Locked Up

  Chapter Thirteen: Hatton Something

  Chapter Fourteen: Holiday Dressing

  Chapter Fifteen: The Truth

  About the Author

  Also by Malorie Blackman

  Praise for Malorie Blackman


  About the Book


  When Vicky’s father is arrested, accused of stealing over a million pounds from the bank where he works, she is determined to prove his innocence. But how? There’s only one way – to attempt to break into the bank’s computer files. Even if Vicky is the best hacker in the world, will she find the real thief before they find her?

  A page-turner of a novel from the award-winning author of Thief!, Pig-Heart Boy and other titles.

  For Neil and Lizzy,

  with love

  Chapter One


  It was a toast-warm Friday afternoon in May. The kind of afternoon when all you wanted to do was sunbathe and fan yourself. But end-of-year exams had come around again, and all us Boroughvale Year 9s had a maths exam ahead of us. I was near the front of the queue to get into the exam room, and my brother Gib and his friend Chaucy were only a few behind me. I was pretending to talk to my friend Maggie, but really I was earwigging on Gib and Chaucy’s conversation.

  ‘I should be lying down in the garden with a ginormous chocolate milkshake and a whole packet of chocolate digestives all to myself,’ Gib said.

  Typical of you – pig! I thought.

  ‘I know what you mean.’ Chaucy sighed. ‘I think I’d rather be at the dentist having all my teeth filled than having to spend the afternoon trying to answer un-answerable maths questions.’

  ‘Well, I’d rather be in a leaky canoe in a crocodile-infested river,’ Gib said.

  Chaucy laughed. ‘I’d rather be naked at the North Pole.’

  ‘Amateur!’ Gib scoffed. ‘I’d rather be kissed by Vicky … on second thoughts, no I wouldn’t!’

  I spun around. ‘If I kissed you, brat-face, my lips would probably drop off!’

  Were real brothers as rotten as Gib always was to me? I wondered. He was only my brother because his mum and dad had adopted me when I was a baby. Then they were unlucky enough to have him. It would have been so lovely to have been an only child!

  ‘I wasn’t talking to you, Vicky. Don’t stick this …’ Gib tapped his nose with his finger, ‘where it isn’t wanted.’

  I glared at him and Chaucy. Chaucy was grinning at me, enjoying Gib’s put-down. Chaucy – or Alexander Chaucer as it said on the school register – wasn’t as bad as Gib, but he was sure heading that way. He was at least half a head taller than Gib but he followed my scabby brother around everywhere – like a sheep or a puppy dog. Chaucy was pretty average, except for his hair. It seemed to alternate between a speckled chocolate brown and a dusty black, depending on how the light hit it. It made him look as if his hair was permanently full of dandruff.

  What I didn’t like about Chaucy was that he was always laughing at me. I stuck my tongue out at both of them and turned back to my friend, Maggie. I wished I was the sort of person who could think of really funny, razor-sharp retorts on the spur of the moment, but I never could. I always came up with something really clever and funny to say about two days after the event. Gib’s good at thinking on his feet, though. He has an answer for everything.

  ‘Never mind them,’ Maggie said loftily. ‘They’re so juvenile.’

  That was her current favourite word. Maggie read the dictionary the way I read Harry Potter books. Each week she’d pick out a new word and then she’d bore us all silly by using it in practically every other sentence.

  ‘Did you revise, Vicky?’ she asked.

  ‘Nah, not really,’ I shrugged. ‘Did you?’

  Maggie shook her head. ‘No. I tried to but … no.’

  I smiled at Maggie. I reckoned she’d probably been up most nights in the past week revising hard, just like I’d done.

  Why do we never own up to revising? I wondered. But I guess I knew why really. No one wanted to fail their exams, but at the same time who wanted to be called an egg-head or a boffin? And worse still, what if you did say you’d revised hard and then you failed …? Shame!

  Just then, the assembly hall doors opened. Mrs Bracken stood in the doorway, peering at us through her glasses which were thicker than double-glazing. They were even thicker than my glasses – and that’s saying something!

  ‘Less noise, please,’ she shouted at the top of her lungs. ‘You may all come in now.’

  As soon as I walked into the hall, I wrinkled up my nose at the cheesy smell of feet and old shoes. There’d obviously been a PE lesson in the hall that morning. I grabbed a desk right in the middle of the hall and sat down. The sounds of chairs being dragged across the wooden floor, the clatter of pens and pencils in polythene bags and pencil-cases, worried whispers and subdued coughs filled the air. At last, even those noises died away as everyone settled down in their seats. I had to shuffle for a good minute before I got as comfortable as I was going to get. The chair seats were rock hard.

  ‘Right then, who needs a school calculator?’ Mrs Bracken called out. A forest of arms appeared and waved in the air. Mrs Bracken and Mr Peterson walked around the hall, each carrying a large cardboard box from which they distributed the calculators. I didn’t need one. I had my own calculator which Dad and Mum had bought me for Christmas. After the calculators were given out, Mrs Bracken walked up onto the stage and slowly scanned the hall with her beady eyes. Mr Peterson was still walking up and down and Mrs Canon, my geography teacher, sat in a chair at the side of the hall, reading through the maths paper.

  Mrs Bracken turned her attention to the huge clock on the wall, so we all did. Its slow tchlock, tchlock echoed in the hall as every second was marked up to two o’clock.

  ‘You may begin,’ she said at last.

  Instantly, the hall was alive with the rustle of papers. This term, the maths exam covered trigonometry and polygons. I flicked through the exam. Boring but not too bad …

  I looked around to see what Gib was doing. I caught sight of him almost immediately. He was staring down at the first page of the five-page exam. Then he turned to the next page, then the next and the next. As I watched, he flicked through the exam paper again, hoping no doubt that with a second reading the questions would change. They didn’t! He slumped in his chair and rested his shiny, perspiring forehead on his hand. He knew and I knew that he was in deep, deep trouble! I couldn’t resist a bit of a smirk! Really mean, I know, but he deserved it for being such a pig!

  I took a quick glance around the hall. Shivvy, the egg-head, was stuffing three peppermints into her mouth at once. She’d probably come out of the hall at the end boasting about how easy the exam had been. She’s a real swot and a half, that one.

  There was Tristan in his new navy-blue jacket which he refused to take off for anyone. I was sure he even slept in it. Then, as I watched, Tristan pushed up his jacket sleeve to read what he’d written on his shirt cuff. I co
uldn’t believe it. If I was going to fail, at least I was going to do it under my own steam. I directed the filthiest look I could at him then turned away in disgust, hoping he would see me.

  But everyone was at it!

  My friend Maggie had her nose buried inside her pencil-case and I could see writing on the inside of the case even from where I was sitting. I was shocked. I could understand Tristan cheating – he couldn’t write his name without looking on his shirt sleeve first – but Maggie?

  I felt a sudden strange prickling all over my skin. I looked up and there was Crackly Bracken, watching me. Hastily I looked down at my paper and picked up my pen. I didn’t want her to think that I was cheating. I studied the first question. My trouble was that I could learn the basic rules but I had some trouble applying them if I didn’t think for ages about it first.

  After a good five minutes thinking how I should do question one, I picked up my calculator. That’s when I had my mega-brilliant idea. I looked from the exam paper to my calculator and back again. I’m OK at maths, but computing is my subject – if that’s not boasting. (I think it probably is!)

  And my calculator was programmable. It looked like an ordinary calculator, except the display screen was a little bigger, and I’d written programs on it lots of times before. So why not just write a program to work out interior and exterior angles and lengths and areas and all the other stuff? I had all the necessary functions on my calculator. I could program it without even having to think about it – much!

  Feeling very pleased with myself, I took a piece of paper and started to work out how I should write my program. After that, I typed it into my calculator. All in all it only took about twenty minutes. Then I whizzed through the maths questions in about two minutes flat. Just to make sure that I hadn’t got my program wrong, I worked out the first, tenth and last questions by hand on a spare piece of paper. My answers were the same as the calculator’s so I knew I had got them right.

  I wanted to jump up and down on my chair I was so chuffed. I put my pen down and leaned back with my arms folded. I glanced up at the hall clock. It was only half-past two. I’d finished my test in half an hour. I couldn’t help it. I started grinning and grinning.

  ‘Victoria Gibson, get on with the test.’ Mrs Bracken’s voice boomed out, making me jump.

  I looked up at her and smiled. ‘I’ve finished, miss,’ I said.

  Instantly, I could feel every eye in the hall upon me. It felt really good! My grin broadened. I could almost feel my head growing bigger too!

  ‘What did you say?’ Mrs Bracken asked.

  ‘I’ve finished the exam, miss,’ I repeated.

  Mrs Bracken stood up abruptly, the legs of her chair scraping against the wooden floor of the stage. As she marched down the steps, butterflies appeared from nowhere and started to flutter in my stomach. She made straight for me and snatched up my paper. Her eyes narrowed as she scrutinized each and every page.

  For the first time I thought about exactly what I’d done. This was supposed to be a maths exam not a computing exam. Maybe I shouldn’t have used my calculator to get the answers …? Slowly I slid my calculator over the piece of paper I’d used to work out the design of my program. Then I casually covered the calculator with my hand.

  ‘I … I told you I’d finished,’ I said.

  I only said that so that Mrs Bracken would look at me and not at what my hand was doing. Mrs Bracken straightened up to scowl at me and the butterflies in my stomach turned into stampeding rhinos.

  ‘So it was you, was it …? Pick up your things, Victoria, and follow me.’ Mrs Bracken had a face like thunder.

  ‘What’s the matter?’ I whispered.

  ‘Do as you’re told,’ she hissed at me.

  I scrambled to pick up all the items on my desk. Something told me I was in mega-trouble. I stood up.

  ‘Is there anyone else who claims to have finished?’ Mrs Bracken asked.

  Her piercing gaze darted over everyone else in the assembly hall. I looked around. As soon as I caught anyone’s eye, they looked away or down at their desk. I saw Gib. He had sunk into his chair, trying to look as small as possible as Mrs Bracken and I looked at him. My head, my entire body, now felt about the size of a pea. And you could have cooked several eggs on my face, no bother at all.

  ‘Victoria, follow me,’ Mrs Bracken ordered.

  Clutching my papers and sweets and my calculator to me, desperate not to drop them, I followed Mrs Bracken out of the assembly hall. I still didn’t understand what was wrong. Maybe she knew about my calculator being programmable …

  Mrs Bracken shut the hall door carefully behind me. ‘And where did you get the answers from?’ she asked me stonily. ‘As if we didn’t know.’

  I stared up at her, thinking I must have misheard.

  ‘P-pardon?’ I stammered.

  ‘You heard me. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. You and I both know how every one of your answers happens to be correct.’

  I didn’t even feel good when I heard her say that. I knew I was in seriously serious trouble.

  ‘Miss, I don’t understand …’ I began.

  ‘Victoria, there is no way you could have finished this test in …’ Mrs Bracken glanced down at her watch, ‘in thirty-three minutes, unless you already knew the answers.’

  ‘But I didn’t … How could …?’

  ‘Don’t compound your crime by lying, child.’

  ‘But I’m not …’

  ‘So you just read the questions and automatically knew the answers?’ Mrs Bracken’s eyebrows were so low they touched her eyelashes.

  ‘No … n-not exactly …’

  ‘You didn’t show how you worked out any of your answers. There are no jottings on your answer paper, no workings, nothing. Or are you telling me that you worked out the answers to all my questions in your head?’

  ‘N-not exactly,’ I said. ‘I u-used my calculator …’

  ‘Don’t be facetious, child.’

  ‘I really did.’

  Mrs Bracken didn’t let me finish. ‘Not another word. You’re a cheat, Victoria Gibson,’ she said furiously.

  That word made me jump. I wasn’t a cheat. I’d never cheated at anything in my life.

  ‘Mrs Bracken, if you’d just let me explain …’ I began again. I rummaged through all the stuff in my arms to dig out my calculator. ‘I didn’t cheat. I—’

  ‘You don’t have to explain, Victoria. I know exactly how you did it. I knew I’d catch the culprit. But I must say, I’m surprised it’s you. I thought you knew better.’

  Culprit? What culprit? What was she talking about?

  Mrs Bracken folded her hands across her ample chest. ‘We are going to see the headmistress,’ she said with satisfaction.

  At that, my heart tried to burst out of my chest. My face was burning, boiling hot, and I felt absolutely sick.

  ‘We’re going to see Miss Hiff …?’ The words came out in a dismayed squeak.

  ‘Yes. Miss Hiff,’ Mrs Bracken said with relish.

  ‘But I didn’t cheat, miss …’

  ‘Of course you did,’ Mrs Bracken said icily. ‘When it comes to maths, Victoria, you are no Einstein, and not even Einstein could have finished my test in the short amount of time it took you – unless he previously had the answers, of course.’

  Previously had the answers …? I felt like I’d started watching telly halfway through a really confusing film. How could I have previously had the answers? I programmed my calculator to work out the answers. My eyes were really stinging now and there was a whole football stuck in my throat, choking me.

  ‘I’m surprised at you, Victoria, I really am. But I’ll tell you something. When I’ve finished with you,’ Mrs Bracken bent over suddenly so that her face was only centimetres away from mine and her breath felt horribly warm and moist on my face, ‘when I’ve finished with you, my girl, you’ll wish you’d never done it. Now follow me.’

  Chapter Two

/>   MRS BRACKEN MADE ME wait outside Miss Hiff’s office for ages before she finally opened the door to let me in. Whiffy Hiffy’s usually not too bad – in the past she’d always smiled at me whenever we passed each other in the corridor – but I took one look at her face and I didn’t feel any better.

  What have you been saying about me? I thought, and scowled at Mrs Bracken.

  Whatever it was, it hadn’t been very pleasant. That much was obvious from Miss Hiff’s expression. My heart was dancing like a Mexican jumping bean as I stood in front of the headmistress. Her office was small and square, with grey filing cabinets against one wall and a huge wooden table just in front of the window. Miss Hiff sat behind the table, her arms folded and resting on it as she leaned forward. She had dark brown eyes and black hair with streaks of grey all through it. We all called her Whiffy Hiffy because she wore a really strong perfume that smelt of flowers and made you want to sneeze.

  ‘I have just one question to ask you, Vicky, and I want you to tell me the truth,’ Miss Hiff began. ‘I know how good at programming you are. Did you work out these answers yourself, or did they come courtesy of your considerable computer skills?’

  I tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t get me into worse trouble. OK, so I’d used my own calculator instead of one of the school’s prehistoric ones. But no one had ever said I couldn’t. The thought popped into my head that no one had ever said I could either, but I made it pop out again.

  ‘I’m waiting, Vicky,’ Miss Hiff said.

  ‘I … er …’

  ‘Yes or no?’ Miss Hiff asked.

  ‘Yes … I did, but …’

  Miss Hiff leaned back in her chair. ‘I see. I’m disappointed in you, Victoria. Deeply disappointed. So you admit that you cheated?’

  ‘I never said that,’ I replied hotly. ‘I … I didn’t exactly see it as cheating.’

  ‘Then how did you see it – exactly?’ Miss Hiff asked sternly.

  ‘Well, no one ever said I couldn’t do it,’ I muttered, which was a big mistake because I should have kept that little thought to myself.

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