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Fiction Friendship Funny

"I can't believe you brought me here." My voice is groggy and I'm cranky. It's 6:52 am, and I don't work well after a 3-hour sleep and without a crapload of caffeine. I kick a pebble on the pavement that disappears into the darkness. "Seriously," I continue. "We're standing in the middle of a dark street, staring at the lines of a crossway, and basically giving any Ted Bundy over here an open invitation to go to town on our defenseless selves. You think we could fight back? I have a mouse wrist, and your body has not seen physical labor like ever."

The owner of the body in question – G-Force, formerly known as Gordy, globally known as one of the best hackers in the world and a creator of computer cookies – assumes his patient Obi-Wan Kenobi smile. "Any minute now," he says.

"Any minute now what?" I spit. "A mugger comes along and we end up two lives, one cookie, and 16 dollars 15 cents short? We're not just gonna 'level down,' you do know that, right? We're actually going to stop existing."

G-Force removes a strand of hair from his face and gives me that condescending look that he does. "Do I understand the difference between a video game and real life?" he says. "I believe I do, Marvel, but thank you for your concern. I also know that Spot is not actually living on a farm, the Easter Bunny is not real, and babies are not delivered by storks, but I do have faith that the next clue is coming, and so should you."

He falls quiet again, redirects his gaze into the distance, and in this moment, I finally see the light (or maybe it's just a passing car). Not only does G-Force want to create the world's biggest cookie, he is the world's biggest kook(y), a total and utter nutter!

I shake my head at my own stupidity. I should have known when he first told me about this cookie competition he found on Facebook (Facebook!!). Mind you, the contest was for actual cookie bakers, not hackers, but according to G-Force the phrases "Spice and Sugar" and "The Biggest Cookie" together somehow formed a code that indicated an exclusive biggest cookie contest for hackers.

"But nobody uses the word 'big' to describe computer cookies," I pointed out. "Are you sure they're not just talking about actual cookies that you actually bake and eat?"

He looked at me, disappointed, and waved his hand dismissively. "Obviously it's just to weed out the n00bs," he said. It sounded far-fetched even then, but since he is, after all, one of the best hackers in the world, I decided to just keep my mouth shut.

The second time I should have smelled a screen burn-in was when G-Force turned the letters of that Facebook post into binary numbers, which, he told me, were coordinates of a place where he thought we'd get our next clue about the whereabouts of the contest. That was this morning, early and pre-caffeine, so I can let myself off the hook for that one. But what I can't do, I decide, is stay here in this dodgy street for one minute longer, waiting for some clue that will never come. That's it, I think, and I'm just about to peace-out and make my grand exit, when I feel a prick in my left eye. "Dammit." I cover my eyes with my right hand.

Between my fingers I can see G-Force tilt his head and frown at me. "You're crying, Marvel? Really? The situation is that dire?"

"Not crying," I say between sniffles, "Although I do realize that being friends with you could have that effect." I wipe a teardrop off my cheek and clear my throat. "It's my contact. It's crooked."

G-Force stares at me wide-eyed, as if I had just confessed to being a murderer, and drops his arms. "Are you serious? You wear contacts?"

His tone is so accusatory that it makes me chuckle. "What? You have a rule about only hanging out with people who have a 20/20 vision?"

"No, I just think that's such a missed opportunity," he replies. "You should totally wear glasses. Just full out go for that cute nerdy girl look."

I gape at him. How dare he? It's precisely these kinds of stereotypes that take women coders back five full years (that's a long time in coding), and as one of the leading names in our field G-Force should be more sensitive to that. I intend to tell him exactly that but what comes out of my mouth instead is, "You think I'm cute?"

G-Force glances at me quickly, then looks down at the asphalt. "Not what I said," he mutters, "I said you should definitely wear glasses."

"Right," I say with a scoff, and finally manage to fix my contact. "And I suppose a pen in my hair?"

He gives me a once-over. "Wouldn't hurt. And then you should go to one of these conventions with your glasses and that pen in your hair and a black briefcase dangling from your arm and introduce yourself to the other hackers, who'd be like, 'You're Marv24? I was expecting...err... you know...' and then you would say 'What? A guy?'" He claps his hands together. "And scene."

"Wow," I say, "you sure have had a lot of time to think about this."

His face turns red. "Made it up on the spot, actually."

"Oh, sure. By the way, what am I doing with a briefcase in this fantasy of yours?"

"I just thought it might give you an ounce of seriousness."

"Says the boy in the Looney Tunes shirt."

"Shhhh," he suddenly says. I freeze and look around myself at the deserted dark street. A plastic bag flies past me in the air, and makes me flinch. What did G-Force hear? Has the Ted Bundy wannabe finally found us? I wonder, but when I glance at G-Force, I notice he's staring at the asphalt. He touches my shoulder and points at the crosswalk, drawing rectangles in the air with his left index finger.

I stare at the white lines with confusion. "What... am I looking at?" I whisper.

"The next clue," he says, "If you count the number of the vertical lines, multiply them with the horizontal lines and convert that number to hexadecimal, you'll get coordinates!"

I sigh, partly relieved, partly annoyed. Mostly annoyed. "Not this coordinate crap again," I groan. "Also, why the hell did you need to shush me for that?"

G-Force turns to me, his green eyes twinkling. "I needed to think."

He whips out his phone and punches in some numbers. "Look!"

Reluctantly, I peer over his shoulder to see a Maps page.

"It's a bakery!" he says, excited. "Huh? Cookies? Bakery? Still think I'm full of shit?"

"Oh, I never thought you were full of shit, G," I say, "I just think you're a total nutcase."

He's not a bit fazed by that. "Well, you can thank me later," he says. "Let's go." He grabs me by the arm but I have dug my heels in. He turns to look at me inquiringly. "Coming?"

"No, thank you," I say. "I mean, this has been fun and all, but I think I'm officially done entertaining your delusions."

If I didn't know any better, I'd think that G-Force looks hurt. But that would mean that he actually gives two craps about what I think about him, and he doesn't. "You think I'm delusional?" he says after a moment.

I put a hand on his shoulder. "Oh, G," I say gently. "Not only do I think you're delusional, I think if I looked up the word 'delusional' in a dictionary, I would find a picture of you, probably pointing maniacally at the lines of a crosswalk."

He gives me that fake-hurt look again, then seems to shake it off. "Okay, whatever. Let me prove you wrong," he says. "And if by any chance it turns out that I'm the one who's wrong, I will let this whole thing go, I promise."

I think about that for a second. "Are you saying that when you see actual people baking actual cookies, not computer cookies, we'll go home and I'll never have to hear about this ever again?"

He nods. "That's what I'm saying."

"Also," I add, "I reserve the right to point and laugh at you and say 'I told you so' like a million times."

"I'll do you one better," he says. "If I'm wrong, I will publicly announce that you are the better hacker out of the two of us."

I raise an eyebrow. "Really? Will you get that on tape?"

"Tape?" he says with a demeaning chuckle. "What is this, 1993? No, no tapes. I'll make a TikTok video."

I let out an involuntary gasp. A hacker of G-Force's caliber wouldn't make a statement like that lightly.

"Well," he rushes, "what do you say?"

I draw in a deep breath, then let it out, defeated. "I belong in a white padded room, right next to you."

He takes that as a “yes” and gives me a big grin. "Well, at least we'd be together."

"Yeah, together," I mutter, "only separated by a heavy lead door."

"Oh, I didn't think of that," he says, "Do you think they get a good Wi-Fi signal there?"

"Probably not."

"Hm, that might be an issue."

***

According to Maps, the place is just a few blocks down the road, but we end up walking for twenty-some minutes until we finally see it, light at the end of the tunnel (literally) – a sign that flickers on and off with the words "Maria's bakery" in red cursive letters.

"There!" G-Force shouts, pointing at the sign victoriously.

Unimpressed, I shrug. "Whoop-de-doo. We found a bakery."

"But the lights are on," G says. "Who bakes cookies at this hour, huh?"

"Oh, I don't know. Like every baker ever known?"

We walk up a dusty narrow street and finally stop in front of the modest white building. The little blue door opens with a ding. We step inside and, right away, are greeted by...

(drumroll please)

...the delicious smell of freshly baked cookies and the sight of a dozen or so people scurrying around in their white coats, aprons, and toques, squeezing past each other to get to the handful of chefs' workstations crammed in this place, all with different ingredients set on top – flour, eggs, butter, milk, raisins, oatmeal, chocolate chips, ginger, and bags and bags of sugar. A banner with the crooked words "The World's Biggest Cookie Contest" hangs from the ceiling.

I turn to G-Force, who suddenly looks pale, and clear my throat. "Tell me something," I say, "When you agreed to make that TikTok video about my greatness, what happened to the part about me pointing and laughing at you and saying 'I told you so'? Does that still hold? Because I would very much like to do that right now."

G-Force looks like he didn't hear a word I just said. "No... this...I...," is all he manages to say.

"What's that?" I say, a hand next to my ear. "'Yes, Marvel, you were right. You are the best hacker in the world.' Why thank you, G, that's very kind of you..."

I'm immature enough to continue my gloating from now until eternity but I'm suddenly interrupted.

"G-Force?" comes a boyish voice behind us and we both spin around simultaneously to see a scrawny man in his late 20's with a beard and a Nirvana shirt. In the hacker world, we don't recognize people's faces – only their names –, but it's obvious that the person standing in front of us is no cookie baker (more like baked).

G-Force clears his throat. "Um...Who's asking?"

The man attempts a smile. "I'm Webbie," he says and G-Force and I exchange looks. Webster "Webbie" One is someone who was once rumored to have hacked into a bank and cleared everybody's student debts. He was only 17 years old at the time. That was ten years ago.

"I-I thought you were an urban legend," I manage at last, and Webbie darts his eyes at me. "And you are?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry," I mutter, star-struck, "I'm Marv24."

He looks at me for a second, then rubs his beard. "Wow, I always thought you were... you know..."

"What? A guy?" I say.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see G-force stifling a smile. I wish I had a black briefcase to club him over the head with.

"Well, it's great to meet you both IRL," Webbie says. "I assume you're here for the contest?"

I avert what I believe to be G-Force's gloating gaze, and stare at my shoes instead.

"There's about twenty of us downstairs," Webbie continues. "Why don't you follow me?"

I can still feel G-Force's eyes on me. Whatever. He deserves to gloat. He should just get it over with.

But he doesn't.

Instead he reaches for my hand and grabs it, and I finally look up at him.

"Let's go," he says gently, and I nod, with no snarky comments or repartee, and together we follow Webbie past the bakers, their stations, and ingredients, through the incredible scent of the warm cookies in the air, towards the basement to our world – the world of the whirring of computers, double screens, and the code that only we speak.

December 12, 2020 04:54

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4 comments

James Landon
19:01 Dec 17, 2020

i like it

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Katariina Ruuska
20:30 Dec 17, 2020

Thanks so much, James :)!

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Hikmat A
22:00 Dec 16, 2020

this was so cute! loved it

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Katariina Ruuska
00:25 Dec 17, 2020

Thanks so much, Hikmat! I'm about to read yours... :)

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