School project brings down the house, or at least, the firewall

R. Fink

After a relatively trouble-free workweek of year 2000 preparations, the Rat returned to his abode for a long winter's nap.

But all the bad karma the whiskered one had neatly avoided at the office awaited him at his doorstep.

Before his foot was across the threshold, Mrs. Rat was breaking the bad news.

'The ratlings are in serious trouble this time,' she told him, her voice on the ragged edge of psychotic rage. 'It's your turn to deal with them'and you might as well, because it's government business.'

She handed him a ream of computer paper and spun on her heels. 'Now, I'm off to deal with the rMachine upgrade backlog. When I come back, I expect to hear some flogging going on.'

Before the whiskered one had time to recover, his pager went off. He looked at the number; it took him a moment to recognize the phone number of an acquaintance at the Environmental Protection Agency. Somehow, the Rat knew that this convergence of events was no coincidence.

Logging out

Without any need to reference the server logs he had been handed, he strolled into his offspring's room. They were unusually quiet.

'So,' he said, 'who busted the EPA's firewall?'

The microrodents pointed at one another accusingly. 'He did,' they chorused.

'Listen you two, you knew the agency was in the middle of a General Accounting Office audit, right? Is there some reason you chose this particular career-ending moment to show George at EPA the lameness of his security? I mean, come on, guys. What exactly were you thinking?'

'We were doing research,' replied the elder sibling. 'I have to do a report on toxic waste.'

'And we wanted to see if we could get some,' offered up his partner in crime.

'Some what? Toxic waste?' screeched the cyberrodent.

'Well, yeah,' the little wire-biters said.

The Rat sucked in a breath. 'Why were you trying to do that?'

'Well, duh,' said the older ratling. 'To, like, use for the report, Dad. I wanted to show how chemicals such as dioxin affect the ecosystem and living things.'

'And I'm going to be the test subject!' grinned the younger. 'Isn't that cool?'

The wired one became woozy. 'You were going to expose your brother to dioxin?' he growled at his firstborn.

'Well, a little. And he was going to be in protective clothing. He was going to be the control subject. Pat Moran and Damian Wilcox were going to be the real test group. They're losers, probably won't get into the gene pool anyway. Pat's dad told him if he got caught shooting the valves off propane tanks again he wouldn't be able to keep him out of reform school.'

Somehow, this information gave little comfort to the Rat. 'Are you out of your freaking little mind? Do you know what that stuff can do ' '

The Rat was at a loss for words. 'Obviously, you need to fix what you broke. Get the EPA's firewall back up and airtight, and then we'll talk about your punishment. Honestly, what were you going to do? Get dioxin drums shipped to our house?'

While the older one sat silently, the younger volunteered more evidence. 'No, Daddy, we know that would be bad. We had it shipped to school.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].


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