A day after the the accident on the 6 line, on the porch of our apartment, the hydrangea in the window pot was losing its bloom. I leaned out over the altitude of the morning and the city beneath, shining in the blue sky. My watch showed eight o'clock and a half.
I had ten minutes to get to school. The breeze was warm. Better get started.
I had a SOL and sixteen pages of punchcard listings.
Class began and ended. I was in the cafeteria, with the listings fanned out in front of me, and it was a little after two PM. My Digital Technology was next period, and I was doing a last-minute random check. I hadn't found a single mistake in this draft. The assignment would work out pretty well.
We filed into class. After we had submitted the work in a dozen forms, on disks, on paper, as URLs, as cellphone files, as excuses, and so on, we sat down and listened to the teacher tell us why we'd done it. Adaptability was mentioned a little, improvisation and the importance of planning, the emphasis Shinamura Institute makes on the skill of solving one's own problems. Putting down her laser pointer, our teacher smiled and said, "Did any of you take a closer look at the data on these cards?"
"Yeah," Jackie Leyland said, "it seemed to be compressed. The magic number at the beginning suggested it was in Junk format."
"Good," the teacher said, "and when you decompressed it?"
"I didn't," she said, looking hesitant. "I didn't think it would be important."
The teacher frowned at her over thick glasses. "Anyone else?"
"It was an image of a dog?" said Dave. "And it said 'Good work?'"
"Yeah, I got that too," "I saw that," "I decompressed it too," said three people.
"Yeees, that was it," she said, "but there was more to it than that."
Dave looked defeated. "All I found was the image."
I put my hand up. "Was there, like... encryption? Steganography? Was that why all the cards were different when the pictures were identical?"
She nodded to me. "Yes, there was, Laney. I don't imagine any of you got hold of it, but the lesson is: there's always another layer. You can always look a little harder, and get a little more." The class sat up and tried to look edified.
"It was a coupon. For pizza." said Nancy.
The teacher looked back up. "That's correct."
And that was unexpected. Nancy is Nancy Oppenheimer, who favors short-sleeved shirts and black streaks in her hair, and who started at Shinamura a few weeks ago. She'd been part of my team when we recapitulated the Napoleonic wars. You can usually get an idea of someone, hanging around and planning the movements of the cavalry, and she hadn't shown any particular talent for cryptanalysis. So...
"I... Um. Does anyone want it?" There was a pause, with her at the centre of attention. "Because I don't like pizza."
"Sure," I said. "If you'll tell me how you did it."
And that's when everyone else started to talk.