Cindy Mackenzie was far from the only resident of Southern California who was a naughty, naughty individual.
However, whereas Mac used her powers of naughtiness for good, there were others who used their powers for pure, pure evil.
Take Grant Winters, for example. In 2004, he had been nailed by the FBI for computer fraud and wire fraud after bilking a huge number of people out of thousands of dollars in order to fund a video game. Well, to be fair, he had been nailed by Veronica Mars. The FBI had just cleaned up the mess.
The Bureau had given him a choice – hard time, or work for them. When told that working for them meant he would avoid prosecution and get to play with all kinds of fancy high tech toys, Grant had turned state's witness and become part of the Bureau's computer forensics operation in San Diego.
One of his primary tasks was to hack government systems so that the Bureau could advise those agencies on how best to secure their systems. Some were practically impossible – NASA and the CIA, for example – and that was really for the best, national security wise. Others, however, were a joke.
Take, for example, the Balboa County mainframe. From the time of the initial hack to the time of access, it took Grant all of thirty two point seven seconds – according to his stopwatch – to get in. He sighed and shook his head. Stupid municipal governments, they would never learn.
Grant was about to bail out of the Balboa County system and start documenting their problems when he noticed something. It wasn't much, just a little string of code. But it looked like it led somewhere.
"What have we here?" he mused, weaseling into the code. He activated it –
And his screen went black. Random characters began to pour across the screen, Matrix-style. One by one, the columns locked into place, until they formed the code TT0412253. The screen went black again, and then a browser popped up. "AOLTW Lockbox," it said briefly, and then redirected to a LiveJournal community.
The page loaded, with the title "The Veronica Mars Fanfiction Archive."
Grant raised an eyebrow. "Well, now, this is interesting," he muttered. He clicked on the first link to appear – and up popped a story called "Friction Is Our Friend."
"Uh-huh," Grant muttered, and he began to read. It started off innocuously enough – standard boy likes girl, vice versa, sail to Catalina. But then, he got toward the bottom –
"Holy JESUS!" he exclaimed. The story suddenly went from fairly innocent to, well, pretty smutty. That didn't stop Grant from reading. He was actually fascinated. It might've been smutty, but damn if it wasn't well-written.
When he got to the end of the story, though, he had a realization. "Veronica Mars," he mused. "Veronica Mars, Veroni – SHIT!"
Grant nearly had a heart attack as he came to the realization that Veronica Mars was that obnoxious little blonde who, nearly four years beforehand, had landed him in the custody of the United States Government. And now, he had access to at least one story – and a very descriptive one, at that – that could be used to potentially embarrass the little bitch.
An evil grin drew itself on his face as he backed out to the main page. There it was, a link for "Stories Rated R+". He clicked on the link, and to his joy, there was a link to download THE ENTIRE SECTION.
He clicked on the link, and his browser asked him if he wanted to download the file "vmffrnc17.zip" He clicked on "Yes", and rubbed his hands together in evil glee as it began to download.
Grant backed up again, to the R+ section, and began to browse. Oh, this was even better than just Veronica Mars. There were stories about all the rich and powerful of Neptune, California. Nobody was exempt. He saw stories about the Kanes, the Casablancas family, the former sheriff, Don Lamb, the current sheriff, Vinnie Van Lowe, and quite possibly every single student at Hearst College – not to mention the entire PCH Motorcycle Gang.
Most of the stories, though – and this made Grant almost giggle – were about Veronica Mars herself and Logan Echolls, the son of deceased actor and accused murderer Aaron Echolls. As the file finished downloading, he was working on a website. Red Light Neptune, he entitled it.
An hour later, the website was posted. It was now online for the whole world to see. Using an FBI-designed program, Grant e-mailed a link to the website to every e-mail address registered in Balboa County. But he kept out one address.
The e-mail to vmars at marsinvestigations dot net said, simply, "Payback's a bitch," and included a link to www dot redlightneptune dot com.
Grant smiled as he sent off the e-mail. Oh, this was gonna be good.
At just after two in the morning, Veronica rolled out of bed. Her bladder was screaming for relief.
A moment later, she was headed back to the bed, pressure abated, when her Blackberry chirped at her. Picking it up quickly, she silenced it before it woke Logan.
Outlook informed her that she had a new e-mail. Veronica frowned, wondering who the heck was e-mailing her on her work account at this time of the morning.
She opened the e-mail – and the first sign of trouble was the return address on the e-mail. It seemed that ill-never-tell at dontyouwishyouknew dot com had a link for her. "Red Light Neptune?" Veronica asked herself. "This does not bode well."
Veronica directed the Blackberry's browser toward the link – and almost dropped the phone a moment later. "Oh, FUCK!" she uttered, dragging Logan from his slumber.
"Huh?" he asked sleepily. "Whathell's goinon?"
Veronica was already getting dressed. "Don't answer the phone," she instructed Logan. "Don't answer the door – wait, no."
She thought about it for a moment. "Go to the cabin in Aspen. Nobody will bother you there."
"Veronica, slow down," Logan replied, beginning to wake up more. "Why am I going to Colorado?"
Veronica took a deep breath. "The fanfiction archive," she told him. "Somebody found a way to get to it, downloaded it, and has posted the more, shall we say, juicy pieces online."
Logan sat straight up in bed, eyes suddenly wide. "Sweet Jesus," he said. "Your dad's gonna fucking kill me!"
"Logan," Veronica replied, "it's all fictional. You know? Like James Patterson or Tom Clancy?"
Logan shook his head. "Doesn't matter. Some of that stuff hits way too close to the truth."
Despite herself, Veronica smiled. "Not the one with the PCHers, though, right?"
Logan frowned. "NO," he shot back. "Though I wouldn't mind seeing that one with you and Parker come tr-"
His voice cut off as he dove under the covers to avoid a flying shoe. "Kidding, kidding!" came his muffled voice from under the duvet.
Logan peeked out from underneath the duvet. "But I'm not going to Colorado and leaving you to handle this alone," he said. "I want to see the bobcat in action!"
Fifteen minutes later, Logan's Range Rover squealed to a stop outside of Benes Hall on the campus of Hearst College. Veronica marched to the entrance, swiped her student ID, and waited for the light to turn green. As soon as it turned, she wrenched the door open, and Logan followed her in.
Veronica literally ran down the hallway and up the stairs, skidding to a halt in front of Mac and Parker's dorm room door. She almost started beating on the door, but realized that might anger people, so she knocked quietly.
A moment later, the door cracked open. Parker stood there, looking like she was still asleep. "'ronica?" she asked sleepily. "What'sup?"
"I need to talk to Mac," Veronica replied, pushing the door open. She crossed the room and shook Mac's shoulder. "Wake up, Mac!"
"MAC! BIG PROBLEM!"
Mac rolled over and opened her eyes. "If I threaten to curse your family for the next three generations, will you GO AWAY?"
Veronica sighed and rolled her eyes. Reaching over to Mac's desk, she turned on her desk lamp. "Who'd you tell about the fanfic archive?"
Mac squinted her eyes against the light. "Do who with the what now?"
"The Veronica Mars Fanfiction Archive," Veronica growled. "Who'd you tell about it?"
Mac looked confused. "Absolutely nobody," she replied.
"Then we have a BIG PROBLEM," Veronica reiterated. "Here."
She pulled Mac's computer out of sleep mode, and started up Safari. Sending it to Hearst College's webmail application, she logged into her inbox, and opened the e-mail from ill-never-tell at dontyouwishyouknew dot com. "This is our problem," Veronica said, clicking on the link.
Mac's jaw dropped as Red Light Neptune came up. "Oh, shit," Mac breathed. "This is bad."
"You're goddamn straight it's bad," Veronica replied. "This is like, end of the world, Neptune will erupt in a big ball of anarchy bad."
Mac sighed. "It's easy enough to stop," she said. "I'll just knock down the website."
"Do it quick," Veronica replied. "It's gonna start causing problems pretty shortly here."
"Roger that," Mac said, taking Veronica's place in front of the computer. She brought up a program that Veronica was pretty sure she wasn't supposed to have on her computer, and entered the IP address for redlightneptune dot com. "Alright, baby, say good-bye to the Internet," Mac whispered.
She waited for a moment for a result… and didn't get one. "What in the hell?"
"What?" Veronica asked. "What's going on?"
Mac shook her head. "This website wasn't set up by an amateur," she replied. "This is a pro job. I can't hack it."
"Oh, you guys are screwed," Logan chuckled. "This is gonna be great."
"You're in just as many stories as anybody else, Logan," Mac shot back. "You're as screwed as we are."
"Au contraire," Logan replied with a smirk. "According to those stories, I'm the one doing the screwing. Besides, I have no parents to get pissed off."
Veronica shook her head. "Okay, it's 3:00 A.M. How do we keep this website from being accessible at 6:00 A.M.?"
"Well, couldn't you take Internet access offline?" Parker asked, speaking for the first time since she opened the door. "That'd keep people from accessing it till you can figure out what to do."
Veronica sighed. "I don't know if that's a possibility…"
"Yes it is!" Mac interrupted, her eyes widening. "Two companies are responsible for ninety-eight percent of the Internet access for Balboa County. Time-Warner provides cable Internet for forty-two percent of the county, and of the other fifty-six percent, AT&T provides DSL, T1, and dialup, and Verizon's DSL is over lines leased from AT&T."
Veronica started to smile. "So if we crash Time-Warner and AT&T's servers, Internet goes down."
"BINGO!" Mac practically shouted.
"And the other two percent?" Logan asked. "Where do they get their Internet from?"
Mac's face fell. "Hughes Satellite," she replied. "Mostly homes in the hills, which, unfortunately, includes the Kane family."
"Oh, lovely," Veronica deadpanned. "Those stories of me and Duncan should go over like a lead balloon there."
Logan smiled. "Especially that one of you, me, Duncan, and Lilly…"
Veronica whirled and pointed a finger. "You. Shut up. Now."
She turned back to Mac. "Can you do it without leaving too much of a trail, Mac?"
"I can do it without leaving any sort of trail," Mac shot back.
"Do it, Mac Attack."
"It'll be a moment," Mac said, digging around in a desk drawer. "I have to plug in my 3G modem first."
"3G modem," Mac muttered, her face practically in the drawer. "It lets me connect to T-Mobile's wireless Internet network once AT&T and Time Warner go down. Same thing that lets you access the Internet over your Blackberry."
She came back out of the drawer, a look of victory on her face and a little USB device in her hand. "Victory is mine!" she said in her best Stewie Griffin voice.
Veronica couldn't help but smile as Mac plugged in the modem. The computer asked her if she wanted to switch Internet connections, to which Mac replied most definitely. Then, she began entering commands into her illicit hacking software.
"Alright," Mac said after a moment. "Done, and… done."
"So… how do we know if it worked?" Logan asked.
"Well, we can find out both real quick," Mac replied. "First, Time Warner. Turn on the TV."
Parker reached over, grabbed the remote control, and hit the power button. The television came on, the screen filled with static. "Check a few channels," Mac instructed her. Parker hit the up button several times – all static.
"Okay," Mac said. "Time Warner's down. AT&T is even easier. Pick up the phone."
Veronica grabbed Mac's cordless phone and hit the call button. "Nothing," she said. "No dial tone."
"Alright," Mac exulted. "That'll give me time to work on taking the website down."
Grant Winters watched in amusement as the networks went down. "Oh, you are GOOD," he breathed, admiration for his unseen nemesis in his voice. "But not quite good enough."
A few keystrokes, and alerts went out from his computer to both AT&T and Time Warner, informing them that their networks were down. "So sorry," he laughed.
Fifteen minutes later, Mac felt like she had made significant progress against the website, when another barrier went up in front of her. She shook her head.
"I seriously think that this guy is actively protecting the website," she grumbled. "That's the only way he could change things so quickly."
"So if we took his computer down…"
"We could take him down," Mac finished for Veronica. "But he's too good. He's masked his location completely."
That's when the television flipped on. "Oh, shit," Parker breathed.
"Uh, Ronnie?" Logan asked.
Her head swiveled around. "Oh, goddammit," Veronica muttered. "Mac! Time-Warner's back online!"
"WHAT?!" Mac yelped. "That's impossible! It should've taken hours for them to even find it!"
Just then, Logan's phone rang. He looked at the caller ID. "It's Dick," he muttered. "Only person who could be calling from… the… ho…"
He trailed off. "Neptune Grand is on AT&T," he said.
"SHIT!" Mac screamed. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!"
"Okaaaay, Mac," Veronica said. "Let's calm down a bit."
"I'm gonna NAIL this fucker," Mac growled.
"He just took out your best strategy, though," Veronica objected. "What now?"
"Federal crime," Mac sighed. "Take down the power grid."
Veronica's eyes widened. "Are you out of your flippin' mind?!"
Mac shook her head. "It's easy enough to take down the grid without being traced, just like AT&T and Time Warner," she replied.
"But, if this guy who's guarding the website could get the phone and cable back up that quickly, what's to keep him from getting the power grid back up?" Parker interjected.
"Oh, I'm COUNTING on him bringing the power grid back up," Mac said with a devious smile. "I can crash it without a trace. He can't bring it up without being noticed."
"I like you more and more all the time, Miss Mackenzie," Logan said with a smile. Mac laughed and started typing.
"Not as much as me, though, right?" Veronica asked, a mock pout on her face.
Logan looked at Veronica, then Mac. He made an uncertain face. "I don't know…"
Veronica narrowed her eyes and smacked him on the shoulder. "You better not like anybody as much as me."
Logan laughed. "Ah, and the bobcat unsheathes her claws."
"GOT IT!" Mac yelped. "One keystroke, and the power goes down."
"This should be interesting," Veronica breathed, lifting a flashlight from Mac's desk. "Do it."
Grant's eyebrows went up, and he watched in amazement as the power grid for Balboa, Orange, and Riverside Counties flipped offline. "Oh, you are a bad, bad person," he breathed with a smile. "But that's not gonna stop me."
He hit a few keys, and watched as the power grid came back up, bit by bit.
"GOTCHA, MOTHERFUCKER!" Mac howled, her face practically splitting in half as the IP location of their tormenter appeared on the screen. "And you are…"
Her eyes widened. "At the FBI's Regional Computer Forensics Lab in San Diego?"
She turned to Veronica. "I'm suddenly having second thoughts about taking this person down."
Veronica shook her head. "If we were talking about a decent person, this whole Red Light Neptune wouldn't be going on. Take him down, and then we notify the FBI."
Mac took a deep breath. "Ooookay," she breathed. "The best way to do this without being traced, though, is completely wreck the computer at the other end."
Veronica shrugged. "Sounds good to me. How do we go about it?"
"Modem spike," Mac said. "I send a high-voltage electrical spike into his modem, and it toasts the computer. Completely."
Mac turned back to the computer again, hit one key, a second, a third, and then hit enter.
Grant was curious as to why there was no activity coming from the other side, and then there was a POP. His monitor went dark, and there was a bright flash through the transparent side of his computer case as an electrical arc shot through the computer.
"What the fuck?!" he yelled, as smoke started rising from the case. As he shot out of his chair, there was a pounding on the door.
"GRANT! OPEN UP!"
He closed his eyes. "Shit."
"And… the protection around Red Light Neptune is gone," Mac squealed with glee. She entered a few more keystrokes. "Peace, bitch."
Veronica closed her eyes and let go a sigh of relief. "Alright, Mac," she said. "I want you to get into that supposed fanfic archive and nuke it. No more, you hear me?"
Logan grabbed Veronica's hand and smiled lecherously. "Let's go make some of it come true," he growled.
Parker and Mac both looked like they were going to throw up. "GET OUT!" Mac howled. "GET OUT!"