Cadel Piggott has a genius IQ and a fascination with systems of all kinds. At seven, he was illegally hacking into computers. Now he's fourteen and studying for. a response; it's even better when the author is as open, honest and engaging as Catherine Jinks! In Evil Genius you explore themes of not belonging in relation. EVIL GENIUS IS set in real-world Sydney, but it is driven by a compelling fantasy: Author Catherine Jinks is adept at working with this category, having won.
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Cadel Piggott has a genius IQ and a fascination with systems of all kinds. At seven, he was illegally hacking into computers. Now he's 14 and studying. Editorial Reviews. From Booklist. *Starred Review* Is it possible to cultivate readers' affection Evil Genius - Kindle edition by Catherine Jinks. Download it once. evil genius pages 16/12/04 AM Page iEVILGENIUS evil genius pages Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry: Jinks, Catherine, –.
He was an outsider in year seven, mostly because of his age. Of course the principal invited Cadel into her office, and pressed him for the truth. Matthew J. Publishers Weekly. SMH — Books that changed me:
As the plot ratchets up, Cadel becomes a hero on the run from both the police and from a widespread, many-tentacled criminal organisation. He takes risks, is captured, escapes and is captured again, with both his life and the future of the world at stake.
The crime fiction elements provide the adrenaline of the book, but affect the novel at a deeper level too. Crime fiction depicts disruptions of the social order, and its narrative arc can be conservative: In crime thrillers, this feeling is magnified by the constant awareness of evil forces much bigger than the detective. They articulate a powerful urge to remake society, which is present in much YA fiction.
As YA writer Tim Sinclair observes, the idea of wiping the slate clean and building a new society can be empowering for teen readers. However, in Evil Genius the desire to create a new world is a malevolent force. Though never named as such, this is eugenics, a school of thought associated with the Nazi Party and ethnic cleansing.
The idea that some people are less valuable than others is the axis on which the morality of this book turns. Rather than enacting an apocalyptic impulse, the novel urges us to work with what we have and who we are. Evil Genius , then, like many novels with a touch of fantasy, dramatises clashing moral codes. It is interested in the nature of good and evil, the opposition between them and the moments when the lines appear to blur.
What Cadel lacks is not free-thinking but its opposite, a moral anchor. Over the course of the novel, he moves from being a total loner to developing two significant friendships — with Gazo and with Sonja. Friendship requires Cadel to cultivate empathy, and thus to separate himself from the cold, instrumental approach to human relationships advocated by Phineas, Thaddeus and the Axis Institute.
At first, the friendship between Cadel and Gazo seems insubstantial and unlikely. Gazo emits such strong body odour that he has to wear a protective suit in public.
He has been plucked from homelessness in England and transported to the Axis Institute to be studied by Phineas: Yet he is also nice, and his friendly overtures confuse Cadel. Gazo is faithful and caring, self-sacrificing and loyal, and he inspires these qualities in Cadel too. The deepest and most interesting friendship in the novel is the one that Cadel forms with Sonja.
This friendship begins as part of an online scam run by Cadel, and their initial messages to each other are filled with fabrications. However, they also begin to genuinely share their doubts and loneliness and form an invigorating intellectual bond. When Cadel finally meets Sonja, he learns that she has a severe physical disability.
Evil Genius speaks up strongly for the values of empathy and respect. At the end of this book, which is the first in a trilogy, Cadel has made the crucial decisions that will shape his character. Buckley, J , Seasons of Youth: Gelder, K , Popular Fiction: Sinclair, T [under embargo], Twice Upon a Time: She researches contemporary book culture, publishing and reading and is currently engaged on two projects funded by the Australian Research Council: Thaddeus said: Suppose they did find it?
Word would get out. The computer companies would get interested. You should never attract too much attention. Tears sprang to his eyes. He had hoped that his father, by suddenly appearing, would be able to solve all his problems. Work your way through this. Why should you be any different?
It sounded like water gurgling down a drain. I guarantee it. Dr Darkkon steadfastly refused to give him a computer.
It was as if they could smell the electrodes firing. But he did achieve all kinds of other things, thanks to the encouragement he received from Thaddeus and Dr Darkkon. They opened up new worlds for Cadel. After that first conversation, there were many others.
His ambitions were applauded. Clever suggestions were made. Traffic jams in particular were a challenge to Cadel. He only gradually came to understand that a traffic jam is not the sum of the cars inside it.
On the contrary, just as a human body can replace all its cells and remain a human body, so a traffic jam can have all its cars replaced by different cars, as some leave it and others join it, while remaining, in essence, the same traffic jam. Not to mention automotive engineering. Sometimes he wondered why she had decided to adopt a child at all, before remembering that all her friends had children loathsome children, Cadel had discovered.
At least these spaces had sensible, adult colour schemes and a calming arrangement of furniture. The colours in his bedroom made his eyes water, and all the Play School soft cubes and sailing-boat bed linen set his teeth on edge. Cadel had never sailed a boat in his life.
He never wanted to, either. It was as if his bedroom belonged to another boy. Such mastery was hard-won for someone with no drivers licence and only limited access to a modem. He also kept a calendar, marked with events such as football matches, parades, races, festivals and school holidays. He paid particular attention to beach suburbs when the weather was hot, and tried to monitor roadworks on arterial routes. Meanwhile, his teachers had begun to notice a curious pattern in his behaviour.
But there were disagreements about Cadel among the teaching staff. Though he had a sweet little face, his mode of speech was very odd.
When asked to write a composition about a class visit to Taronga zoo, he produced a ten-page essay on the movement of visitors around its many meandering pathways.
He never will. Somewhere like that. Shortly afterwards, school broke up for two weeks. On the first day of the new term, the teachers arrived back to discover that every pupil was absent — except Cadel. When the assembly bell rang, only Cadel appeared, a small figure standing in the middle of a vast stretch of grey concrete.
The sleeves of his jacket fell over his pale hands. The hems of his trousers were puddling around his ankles. While the principal and deputy principal made frantic phone calls, she approached him across the asphalt, arms folded. Within an hour, the teacher discovered that a newsletter from the previous term had been tampered with.
At the back, near the sports results, a notice had been inserted warning parents that the first day of the next term would be set aside for teacher training. No one could ever work out how that notice had been slipped into the newsletter. He came to school. Do you? Of course the principal invited Cadel into her office, and pressed him for the truth.
She flattered him, reassured him, and finally threatened him — all to no avail. Cadel knew better than to admit to anything. Thaddeus had warned him against it, over and over again. So he simply sat there smugly, his feet in their expensive running shoes dangling a good ten centimetres off the floor. Finally, the principal had been forced to shelve her suspicions. Three weeks later, she told one of her staff to do the same thing when he accused Cadel of siphoning the petrol out of the tank of his Nissan Pulsar.
It was full. But I ran out on my way home.
I always check for leaks! Someone stole my petrol! Because he borrowed my owners manual! I know it was. Believe me — I know. It occurred to the principal that running out of gas on the Pacific Highway certainly could not have improved matters.
Only Thaddeus knew who was really to blame. I was stuck in my car for three hours on Tuesday night.
But he tried. Another bomb scare? Cadel, have I told you what modus operandi means? A modus operandi, Cadel, is like a signature. You might as well have spraypainted your name across the tunnel wall. Suppose someone connects the traffic-jam bomb scare with the rail-delay bomb scare?
Have you thought of that? No more bomb scares, Cadel. The bomb scare might have been ill-advised, but the burst water main was good. The burst water main was very good. Did you amend some kind of online sewage system record? Tap into a radio communication frequency?
Were you waiting for something like that to happen? His scowl faded. But there was a naughty twinkle in his eye. The boys were huddled near the hand dryers. They were older than Cadel, who knew only one of them — Jarrod — by name. Are they loud? Having finished with the plumbing, he had drifted out of his toilet stall. Jarrod scowled at him. Cadel looked from face to face. The contempt he saw on each of them made him reckless.
He said: Then, seeing how riveted his audience was, he explained how a mercury-switch detonation device could be constructed out of an ordinary thermometer. And you can build yourself a ten-minute fuse with a cigarette and a book of matches.
He was already beginning to wonder if he had made a mistake. The next day, he knew he had: He admitted that he hated doing gymnastics, and never wanted to do it again. He did not, however, mention Cadel. What have I told you about bombs? The skill lies in choosing the correct tool.
Then Thaddeus said, in his silkiest tones: It would make him look almost simple-minded — on the same level as stupid Jarrod and his dumb friends. At the same time, Cadel was alarmed that neither Thaddeus nor his father had believed him.
And he was very confused. Should he have known that Jarrod would go off and make his own bomb? Was there something about Jarrod that should have warned him? He was disappointed in himself for failing to anticipate the possibility. He felt that he had let his father down — his father and Thaddeus. Constantly watched. The right clothes, the right stance, the right attitude. We admire you, Cadel.
Occasionally — very occasionally — he still felt like a freak. In these situations, Cadel always felt a powerful urge to tell everyone about his infamous traffic jam, or his brief penetration of the Pentagon security protocols. Such a feeling, he knew, could be dangerous. He had to resist it with all his might.
Dr Darkkon said: I can tell you about them if you want. Or a program? Sociological measurements. Instinct and a very thorough knowledge of the person involved.
All the petty disagreements, the sudden friendships, the jealousies, the emotional outbursts that swirled around him at school — could they all somehow be codified? Could he find the key to the network of hopes, loyalties and basic needs that underpinned every community in the world? He believed that he probably could, but not without a lot of work. The Jamboree teaching staff had had enough.
They felt that Cadel was now beyond them: They decided that his interest in applied chemistry, his repeated attempts to sneak onto the school computers, even his slightly patronising manner, would best be handled in a secondary-school environment. So Stuart and Lanna were left with the problem of where to send him. Stuart, who believed that Cadel needed more discipline, favoured a private boys college with its own cadet training.
Lanna preferred a coeducational school. She was convinced that all-male environments were brutish and cruel, and that Cadel, with his girlish face and short stature, would be tormented in such a place. Finally they compromised by enrolling Cadel in a nearby private school called Crampton College. Cadel had to pass an entrance exam before he was accepted into year seven.
He had to wear a straw hat whenever he donned his school uniform. Together, they also worked out his course program and timetable of lessons. He had decided that, if he was going to understand the way social systems worked, he would have to do more than study sociological and anthropological texts. He would have to make friends, and listen, and watch, and feign interest in the boring obsessions of normal teenagers. A boy fascinated by DSL access multiplexers was bound to stand out.
So Cadel began to smile a lot. He studied the slang of his classmates, and copied it. He laughed at their jokes and admired their possessions. Mostly, however, he listened. He listened to complaints, gossip and detailed descriptions of everything from holiday trips to new bikes.
He listened to girls as well as boys. His placid smile and unlimited access to sweets meant that he was tolerated, if not hugely popular; some of the boys still thought him a little weird — especially the more sensitive, intelligent boys. Some of the girls thought he was cute, but kept this belief to themselves. Being at least two years younger than most of the kids in his year, Cadel was widely regarded as a baby. To have openly admired his long, dark eyelashes, or his dewy complexion, would have invited general scorn.
Cadel was treated like a baby by the teaching staff as well. Instead, he concentrated on social networks. He noted down arrivals and departures. He observed the procedures for fire drills, canteen deliveries and bus lines. Most importantly, he paid very close attention to his classmates. He watched — almost wistfully — as Erin and Rachael shared a chocolate biscuit, or as Jason kindly showed Fergal how to bowl a cricket ball properly.
He was an outsider in year seven, mostly because of his age. They would jostle him in corridors and knock his peanutbutter sandwiches out of his hand. Cadel studied them with particular intensity. He picked out the lead bully, the jokesmith, the thinker and the offsider. Another was laid up for two months with a broken leg, which had befallen him in the boys toilets — no one quite knew how.
Cadel watched this boy scurry back to the change room, while all around him people fell about laughing. It was a gratifying moment that filled Cadel with a dizzy sense of achievement, and it soon led to more ambitious attempts. When she returned, she found the entire class in an uproar, with everyone fighting and shouting — except Cadel.
He sat in the midst of this chaos, quietly finishing the exercise she had set for all of them. They were all red in the face. Even Talitha Edwards was fighting. It was strange, though. It was. His next effort was more complicated.
It involved his encyclopedic knowledge of class timetables and cleaning schedules, his familiarity with every portion of the school fire drill, his awareness that a particular girl had to go to the toilet at a particular time every day, and his close monitoring of one teacher, who always felt compelled to move his car whenever a more convenient parking spot became available behind the canteen.
By using these pieces of information, and tampering with a deadlock, he engineered the disappearance of a year eight boy.
Then, when the alarm was finally raised, he mentioned having seen a strange man in the playground that morning. No one thought to blame Cadel for this incident.
No one knew of his part in it except Thaddeus and Dr Darkkon, who applauded his ingenuity. Well done. His teeth, magnified by the transmitter, looked like the rotting stumps of an old wharf; they were ragged and brownish, full of hairline cracks and black pits, and studded with greenish fragments that vaguely resembled lichen.
Cadel glanced from his father to Thaddeus, and back again. Thaddeus removed his glasses and polished them carefully. To his surprise, Cadel found it hard to go on. But he did. With a little smile, Thaddeus put his glasses back on. Dr Darkkon screwed up his rubbery face. Cadel swallowed.
I could tell you what kind it is, and you could get another one and turn it into a computer for me. He squeezed his hands into fists, and sat on them.
But I need a computer. One of my own. He was clearly waiting to be convinced. When he saw his father frown, he knew that his aim had been true. He said he could get me work. He gave his card to Filomena. That part of the conversation had been a bit humiliating. Given the choice, he would have preferred a few more muscles and a square jaw. There could be no doubt, however, that the meeting in the mall had provided him with some great ammunition. Enough to buy my own computer. How can you keep a low profile if your face is plastered all over television ads for fruit chews?
We all will. He was feeling very low, because he had just realised how long it would take him to design such a piece of technology — if he could do it at all. Our little secret. For the time being. By then, Cadel had been promoted to year nine, and had begun to worry a few of the more intelligent teachers on the staff of Crampton College. Perhaps it was his obvious isolation. Perhaps it was his placid blue gaze.
Or perhaps it was his tendency to be hanging around on the sidelines during those peculiar events that seemed to overtake the school more and more often, as Cadel moved quickly up the educational ladder. First there was the brawl that occurred among a softball team waiting to bat.
Cadel was on that team, hovering at the edge of the fight. Then there was the teacher who slapped another teacher in full view of several students — including Cadel. Then there was the sprinkler system in one of the science labs that suddenly turned itself on and doused the whole lab with a strange, red, strong-smelling, jam-like substance.
There was the teacher who was found passed out in the school vegetable garden, drunk, wearing only his jockey shorts. Finally, there was the incident of the teacherless morning. This occurred after Cadel had been promoted to year ten.
One Monday morning, the students of Crampton turned up at school to discover that none of their teachers was present. So the kids milled around for a while; some went home, some stayed. At last the vice-principal appeared, at about half past ten, and from then on the staff trickled in until three-quarters of them were at their posts.
They were completely flummoxed. There was one teacher, though — a maths teacher named Mrs Brezeck — who felt that Cadel might have done something to her fancy new digital watch. The answer, of course, was that she had — and that there had been nothing accidental about it. He simply gazed at her, looking puzzled. He could do that very well. And she went away unsatisfied, with a niggling sense of unease.
From that day on, she watched Cadel more closely. As for Cadel, these amusing little experiments boosted his self-confidence whenever his mobile-phone research hit a snag. He had a lot of electronic theory to master before he could present his father with a blueprint for his computerphone.
He also had to read up on nanobiometrics, using information fed to him by Dr Darkkon. He loved nanobiometrics. He loved learning about alkanethiols, ATPase nanoturbines, and ion channel switch biosensors. It was a fascinating new world. He was forced to appeal to his father for help, not once, but many times. Not if he was going to have a computer phone by the time his twelfth birthday rolled around. There followed four months of waiting, which Cadel found very hard to deal with.
He spent a lot of it studying the plans for a new sports hall at Crampton. It occurred to him that, if he did a bit of research on wind-loading, structural pressure points and other aspects of architectural theory, he might be able to sabotage the new building — which was, after all, just a little system unto itself. He stared at it, then at Thaddeus. It had to be smuggled. He was holding his breath. When the machine inside the parcel was finally exposed, he saw that it looked just like his own mobile.
Right down to the scratch on the liquid crystal display. There were tears in his eyes. As he blinked them away, he felt a light touch on his cheek. Firstly, he began to grow. His voice broke, and a few soft, dark hairs appeared above his mouth. Noticing this, Mrs Piggott suddenly decided to redecorate his room. The sailing boats and nursery-school colours disappeared, to be replaced by muted shades of cream and gold and chocolate.
A state-of-the-art desk was installed to match the new built-in bookshelves, concealed lighting, silk scatter cushions and framed posters. Lanna had selected a poster of James Dean, another of Jimi Hendrix, and a third of a contemporary pop star whose name always escaped Cadel, but whose brooding intensity must have appealed to Mrs Piggott. And Cadel was a serious sort of person. The second thing that happened was his promotion to year eleven, despite the misgivings of every teacher at the school.
For a while they treated him like a doll, or a mascot, and would ruffle his hair and coo over the size of his feet. But they quickly began to resent the way he topped every class. Things are no different now, I suppose. I mean, really off the chart. Can you, Anna? She never commented on Cadel.
She just watched him, and kept her thoughts to herself. When he was moved up to year twelve, a couple of weeks before his thirteenth birthday, she welcomed him into her four-unit maths group without enthusiasm. Already, she had begun to entertain suspicions about his role in the collapse of the new sports hall.
After nearly a year of construction, the dazzling new complex had been almost ready for its grand opening. It had contained two basketball courts, a small swimming pool, two change rooms, a scattering of toilets and a gym, as well as various cupboards, lockers and electronic switchboards. Money had been poured into its rows of louvred windows, its dramatic roofline, its polished wooden fittings, its lavish trophy display cabinet.
Her library was squeezed into a double classroom near the boys toilets. Together they had approached the building from the east, admiring the front door and the red-brick path sweeping up to it. One of the councillors had admired the choice of native shrubs planted on either side of the path.
Then the principal had stepped up to the bank of glass doors at the front of the building, opened the middle one with a flourish and. The principal and his guests had run for their lives as a huge cloud of dust enveloped half the school. Everyone had rushed outside to have a look. The fire brigade had been called. It had all been very exciting. Though he had planned it with immense care not actually wanting to kill anyone , the collapse had been incomplete.
The rear part of the sports hall had remained standing, though of course it was eventually demolished. Cadel would have preferred the full, comic effect of the entire structure tumbling down.
It would have been funnier, and more creatively satisfying. Thaddeus certainly appreciated it. Mrs Brezeck noticed this. She also noticed in his workbooks a number of diagrams and calculations that seemed to have some bearing on things like steel girder construction, foundationlaying, and load-bearing ratios. This seemed impossible, however smart he might be. After spending two years observing the kids at school, reading the personal ads in newspapers, and studying soap operas, romance novels and sociology textbooks, Cadel felt ready to try out his new idea.
He had decided to start a service that claimed to link paying clients with other paying clients. The secret to success, he told Thaddeus, would be to make sure that every client found his or her perfect match. And I was thinking, maybe you could help me with the wording? If I paid you? I could pay you out of the profits. In the six years that Cadel had known him, his hair had become much greyer, and his face more lined.
But his eyes were still as sharp as arrowheads as he blinked lazily up at Cadel from his crimson couch, which had grown rather shabby. And then occasionally your language reminds me. But the hard part, surely, will be kicking off?
What happens if you start with five clients, and none of them suit each other? I can put them in Bulgaria or something. Characters who sound lovable and interesting — you know. It suddenly occurred to Cadel that he knew almost nothing about Thaddeus.
The psychologist had never mentioned a wife or children. Was it an old house? A modern one? Did it have a big garden around it, and a grey-haired wife inside it? Why had they never even crossed his mind? Was it because he had simply taken Thaddeus for granted? And this dating service will help me. From the very start, he had to spend hours working on email messages, organising client information and developing character charts.
Keeping records of the various people he created was especially important, because he had to be consistent. Whenever they began to wonder what Cadel was doing, and poked their heads into his room, they would find him lying on his bed, fiddling with his mobile. Apparently, they were delighted that Cadel even had any friends — especially friends who wanted to speak to him for hours at a time.
As far as they were concerned, endless phone calls were a normal part of growing up. They congratulated each other, loudly and proudly, over the dinner table every night. Cadel, it seemed, was shedding his antisocial behaviour. At last he was starting to blossom. Maybe, said Lanna, he would actually bring some girls home soon. Like a normal teenager.
There was a huge population of bright sparks out in cyberspace, and for a while Cadel had become involved in Internet associations like the Masters of Deception. He enjoyed the company of others who spent their spare time burrowing into heavily protected networks. He liked sharing thoughts on code-breaking modules, encryption programs, dynamic passwords and electronic remailers. The trouble was that to some of these cyberspies, nothing was sacred. They sent in sniffing programs to intercept his access code.
They bombarded him with the contents of password dictionaries. They pestered him like mosquitoes, until he became enraged. As for his face-to-face contacts, they were just as unsuccessful.
He was only thirteen when he entered year twelve, around the beginning of second term. All the other kids in his year were four or five years older than he was, and they thought him a joke. A freak. He was too small to wear most of the trendy clothes. Fortunately, the Piggotts kept a large stock of dirty magazines in their dressing room. And a few of the year-twelve boys talked about sex endlessly, obsessively.
So Cadel was able to piece together some convincing replies to his clients, many of whom, he thought indignantly, were quite disgusting. Cadel spent eight months in year twelve, and over this time the Partner Post client base grew from eight to sixty-eight. Only two of these clients were ever introduced to other clients; most of them were provided with fake partners, designed to meet their every need.
He enjoyed doing this. Thaddeus and Cadel had spent entire appointments thrashing out an assessment form that would define the personality of each client. You have to watch that. You have to watch for the red flags. Never take anyone at face value. Everyone always has adjustments to make in this world. I can run online checks, but there might be gaps. And how have you been doing it? By watching and listening and judging. They over-reach themselves. He said, in a small voice: He had thought of it in terms of stalling, outwitting, omitting.
He liked to regard himself as an heroic loner, battling mighty forces, not as a sneaky little outcast. Thaddeus surveyed him with a detached, appraising expression. Not all of us are so fortunate. What do you think? This meant that he was forced to impersonate a lot of women, and he found it very difficult indeed.
He also eavesdropped on the yeartwelve girls, who talked ceaselessly about boys, movies, music and clothes. Because he was so small and quiet, he was usually able to listen in without being noticed. After a while, he even became quite attached to some of the girls. Most of them were stupid, and a few were quite cruel, but two at least were bright, and nice, and pretty. Rhiannon was different; she was freckled and witty, with a bubbling laugh, generous curves and a razor-sharp mind when it came to puns, insults and one-liners.
She was also very good at foreign languages, having mastered at least three. Cadel admired both these girls. Ayesha was often so distracted that she hardly registered his attempts to make conversation. She was always running off to rehearsals, or arguing with someone about Greenpeace, or scribbling frantically away in a notebook with a worn leather binding.
Rhiannon was less busy, but she was always surrounded by a circle of laughing friends. This became horribly clear to Cadel one day when he was in the library at lunchtime.
It was a sunny day, and the windows were open; a soft breeze carried the sound of distant shouts and squeals from the playground into the dim corner where Cadel was sitting. He realised that she was perched on a bench just beneath the library window, talking to her friends Seth, Sally and Caitlin.
They were talking about a classic German film called M, and Rhiannon was impersonating an old movie actor called Peter Lorre. She was an excellent mimic, on top of everything else. Naturally, I assumed it was Peter Lorre. Peter Lorre?
Cadel Piggott. And the moon face. He left the library. From that day on, his admiration for Rhiannon turned into acute dislike. He had overheard other year—twelve students joking about his personal life, but had never considered Rhiannon capable of jumping on that bandwagon. It made him very bitter.
He became disillusioned with Ayesha shortly afterwards. Bruno was a handsome smart-arse who played in a band. Chris was stringy-looking hippy with a gentle soul and no critical abilities to speak of.
He played acoustic guitar. As a kind of statement. They looked so pretty — she looked so pretty — that Cadel had found the courage to speak out. No limousine. Since you like to be different. She shifted her books from one arm to the other and tucked a strand of black hair behind her ear. Be honest with yourself. Take a look at yourself. He actually skipped half a day of school. Though it was only recess, he went straight home and lay down, his mind turning and churning.
He told the housekeeper he no longer had a nanny that he was suffering from a stomach bug. This was also his excuse the following day, when he presented his roll-call teacher with a note from Mrs Piggott.
By that time he had formulated a satisfying revenge. The whole of year twelve would suffer — he promised himself that — but it would take a lot of hard work.
Hard work and a cool head. He would have to calm down. He would have to control the terrible feelings of hurt and fury that kept bubbling up and clouding his vision. Only by focusing would he show all those junk kids exactly what they were worth.
During the remainder of the year, while his classmates grew pasty and tired from studying and revising, Cadel concentrated his energies on just two things: Partner Post, and the frayed emotions of his year-twelve enemies.
He started to compile a database. In it, he organised every little fact that he knew about his classmates: He noted the growing tensions in the air around him, as the Higher School Certificate gradually approached. Acne flared. Religious conversions became more frequent.
A lot of couples split, made up, and split again. Cadel was pleased to see the stress levels rising and did all he could to encourage the process. He started rumours. He blocked corridors, to direct certain people past certain conversations.
He worked out who was betraying whom; who was taking drugs to ease jangled nerves; who was becoming overtired; who had just about decided to pack it all in, and get a job at a beach resort. He knew that the two weeks between their last day of term and the beginning of the exams would prove to be a challenge, because most of year twelve would then be out of his reach.
He also knew that the year-twelve formal, on the evening of the last school day, would be his final chance to wrap things up. So he bought himself a pair of black trousers, a jacket and a silk shirt.
He paid his fee, which covered dinner and the cost of the venue. He endured the fussing of Mrs Piggott, who insisted that he take a hired car to the event, and who also presented him with a cravat and a waistcoat, both of which he took off in the car.
What did you say your name was? Cadel held out his hand, received the stamp and went in. The hall was dark and noisy. Coloured lights flashed. There was a live band on stage. Food was laid out on tables near the walls: As the music pounded, and the dancers writhed, Cadel drifted from group to group. He sidled into the toilets and out again. He saw pills, beer-cans and smoking butts being passed surreptitiously around shadowy corners.
He even saw money change hands at one point, and made a mental note of two particular names. Most people seemed to be getting high on something. Arguments broke out. One girl pushed another girl. Rhiannon started kissing Bruno.
Cadel watched. For the most part, he was completely ignored. Only on three occasions was he addressed by anyone. The first time was when Sally and her mate, Jessica, stumbled over him. He was sitting on the floor with his back propped against a wall and his knees under his chin.
She sounded furious. They both laughed then, and careened off into the throbbing crowd. Cadel closed his eyes, briefly. He was getting a headache.
But when he opened them again he caught a glimpse of Heather Parsons, who was almost certainly drunk, being hustled through a fire door by someone who looked very much like Damian di Matteo. This sparked his interest. He rose, and pushed his way through knots of heaving bodies until he reached the fire door. Then he shoved it open. On the other side of the door lay a covered car park, poorly lit.
Despite the lack of illumination, however, Cadel could make out two moving shapes.
One was helping the other into a darkcoloured van which had white graffiti glowing on its flanks. Behind him stood Mrs Brezeck. She was quite small, even in high heels, and her eyes were almost level with his. Her glossy dark hair was pulled back in a bun, and the mole on her cheek cast a tiny shadow with every flash of the red strobe light behind her.
So come back, please. As he retraced his steps, Mrs Brezeck pulled the door shut behind him, firmly. Then, raising her voice against the blaring music, she said: He blinked, and held her gaze. Masked by the dimness, her face told him nothing. I guess. Cadel was disconcerted. He wriggled back to his patch of floor, only to discover that it was occupied. Seth was lying there, looking vacant. Cadel stepped over him.
About an hour later, Cadel was sitting on a chair beside one of the food tables, which was covered in crumbs, smears and shattered remnants. In his hand he held a glass of lemonade and half a curry puff.
His feet were planted firmly on the floor; it had been a long time since he had sat with dangling feet. The crowd in front of him was thinning. A lot of people had left the dance floor, too drunk or sick or tired to stay upright. She was draped all over Bruno. The two of them approached the table beside him unsteadily, as if in search of something to eat. Ayesha was wearing a silk flower in her hair.
They both looked dishevelled. Then she caught sight of Cadel. They gazed at each other for a moment, while Cadel slowly chewed his curry puff. His own shirt was still neatly buttoned. At last he swallowed, and said: Because by then he was already talking to Kay-Lee McDougall.
She had filled in the assessment form, paid the joining fee and sent Cadel a passport photograph. The photograph showed an ordinary-looking woman with long blonde hair, finely plucked eyebrows and a slightly squashed nose.
Kay-Lee was twenty-five. Studying the photograph, Cadel was surprised. Yet according to her assessment form, she was very intelligent indeed. He flicked through a few more pages, pulled at his nose, removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes.
Then he put his glasses back on. She has. About the way they look? She does. I mean, consider her answers to questions forty-eight and fifty-four. Some kind of deformity? You said yourself, a lot of these people would be choosing an online dating service for a reason. Cadel settled on the name Eiran Dempster. He pasted together a blurry snapshot of someone with a scrubby jaw and lots of dark hair, sitting in a restaurant. A Canadian restaurant. Cadel decided to make Eiran a Canadian academic living in Toronto.
That way the chances of a face-to-face meeting were very low. Research was always interesting. He taught mathematics, but hated teaching. Obviously, he was interested in number theory and cryptosystems. He believed that most of them were inferior to what he could have written himself. Kay-Lee agreed that most detective novels were clumsy, but not all of them.
She asked Eiran if he had ever met Manindra Agrawal, the Indian mathematician who had produced the primality testing solution. He was one of her heroes. She challenged Eiran with a message written in a number code, which Cadel solved quite easily. He enjoyed doing it. After drawing on his knowledge of six frequently used number codes, Cadel had to start looking up texts for further inspiration. He had a wonderful time. In the end, he and Kay-Lee devised their own code, using primality testing, the Periodic Table of the Elements, and certain ideas that Cadel had picked up from the International Data Encryption Algorithm.
Like you? Kay-Lee replied. I thought you said it was pseudohell at your work, because at least in hell there would be some interesting people. You must be bored out of your brain. You are bored out of your brain. You told me so. The world is one big calculation, Eiran. How can I possibly get bored? From there the conversation turned to the number PHI, or the golden number, which is a marvellous ratio found throughout nature.
Cadel and Kay-Lee talked about ratios, factoring, and even atomic structure, though Cadel had to rein himself in when the discussion strayed too close to nanotechnology. It was hard, though. It was hard not to get excited. Eiran, he felt, was his kind of guy. And Kay-Lee was his kind of girl. She had a peculiar kind of humour that charmed him. The largest prime factor of n squared plus one is at least 2n.
Which makes 26 a Stormer number — its corresponding prime being Right, said Cadel.