The ultimate irony is that with computers at their service, cryptographers have won the battle against cryptanalysts, and people like you, who dont depend on computers that much, can still be useful.
Your younger colleagues are adept at computer science and useless before the power of the computer itself. Their work is more modern than yours (at least according to the movies, obsessed as they are with showing young programmers in front of a computer monitor), but its still no use they are just as out of date as you are. Deciphering codes in general has become a useless task. But someone has to do it: the Black Chamber has to maintain the pretense that it is still useful to the government, that power is not as vulnerable as it really is to the attacks of a conspiracy handled by means of secret codes.
The room is empty and silent. When you began work here, the computers were enormous, noisy, metallic cupboards sprouting cables. Machines have become smaller and quieter, increasingly aseptic (in the Babbage Room there is still an ancient Cray supercomputer, a donation from the U.S. government). At one time you felt you were less than those who worked tirelessly on algorithms in the Bletchley Room. You even tried to learn from them, to move from your old office to this one, which was more in keeping with the times. But you couldnt you didnt last long. You liked mathematics, but not enough to dedicate the best hours of your life to it. For you, mathematics was about functionality, not passion. Luckily, most conspirators in Bolivia arent that good and dont know how to do more than the basics on computers either.
You continue on your way, putting your hands into your coat pockets. A pencil, a pen, and a few coins. An image of your daughter, Flavia, comes to mind, and you are filled with tenderness. Before leaving, you went into her room to kiss her goodbye on the forehead. Duanne 2019, the heroine Flavia had created for some of her Web surfing, stared out at you from the screen saver on one of two monitors sitting on her desk, covered in photos of famous hackers (Kevin Mitnick, Ehud Tannenbaum). Or crackers, as she would insist. You have to learn to differentiate them, Dad. Crackers abuse technology for illegal purposes. So why is your site called AllHacker and not AllCracker? Good question. Its because only people in the know make the distinction. And if my site was called AllCracker, it wouldnt get even one percent of the hits it gets now. Hackers, crackers: its all the same to you. But shouldnt you try to use the Spanish term and call them piratas informáticos? You prefer that term, even though it sounds strange. English had come first and become the norm. People sent attachments, not archivos adjuntos, e-mails, not correos electrónicos. In Spain they call the screen saver salvapantallas; in truth it sounds ridiculous. Still, you shouldnt give up; it is worth going against the grain. The survival of Spanish as a language of the twenty-first century is at stake. Piratas informáticos, piratas informáticos . . .
Flavia was snoring lightly and you stood looking at her under the glow of the lamp on the bedside table. Her damp, tangled, chestnut-colored hair fell over her face with its full lips. Her nightshirt had twisted and her left breast was bared, the nipple pink and erect. Embarrassed, you covered her up. When had your mischievous, ponytailed little girl become a disturbing young woman of seventeen? When had you stopped paying attention? What had you been doing while she grew up? Computers had fascinated her ever since she was a child, and she had learned to program by the time she was thirteen. Her Web site provided information about the little-known hacker subculture. How many hours a day did she spend in front of her IBM clones? In most respects she had left adolescence behind. Luckily, she was not at all interested in the young men who had begun to flock to the house, attracted by her distant, languid beauty.
Spanish edition copyright © 2003 by Edmundo Paz Soldán, English translation copyright © 2006 by Lisa Carter. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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