These guys were my best friends. I mean it. What else do you call a bunch of 20-something rednecks you can threaten to kill with impunity? What else do you call the guys schlepping each other home after they almost pass out drunk while yelling at each other about change management? Or the ones you call at four AM with a knife in one hand and a screaming pager in the other for obscure favors involving laterally transferring Internet hardware in the dead of night at the local Gas-N-Go?

I probably would have cheerfully slit someone's throat right alongside them if it came to it, and it came close a few days. Or a few nights, with the aforementioned pager in hand sixty miles from certain doom and no backup. One thing about us, too: we worked alone.

You do not fuck with a good tech's tickets. That makes you something like our buddy James. Nobody wanted to be James.

It cooked the fucking book, touching so many at once: it boosted your count unfairly. Unfairly meant from your desk all day, watching Hogan's Hero's and attempting religious conversion with an Indiana Jones hat and a permanently vague, sociopathic grin. Much like James, you'd have good numbers but run into mysterious problems like suddenly being unable to connect to the network.

You do not fuck with a tech's tickets, but everything else was game. Everything aside from wallets, phones, car keys. Hack their desktop, make off with their desk chair (and half the cube to boot), steal a screwdriver, but hundred dollar bills are safe. iPods are safe. Everybody is a laser-guided missile of nicotine and poor morale operating on too much caffeine and so little sleep that money becomes one of those uncomputable abstracts.

You don't touch the tickets, you don't check on anybody, you go about your fucking business and fix the shit out of football-field-sized windowless rooms full of florescent lights and beeping. And, incidentally, an air handler the size of a double wide. You try not to hit the big red button.

Steal the drill. Block their MAC on the corporate network. Steal power cables, cube walls, saw their desks in half. Don't fucking get involved.

Just keep walking. Keep it low bullshit. There's too much shit to do.

John wouldn't fire us, and they were still too terrified to fire John.

It was getting to that point where we were too big for them to track or measure. We became a silo, a black box on the far coast, lurking in the shadow of DC with the steady roll of server racks and manic grins in the dark in front of the new network fabric. We all lurked in there, wide-eyed with lack of sleep, cursing over cigarettes, drinking and swearing at the Glory Hole bar and pub, buying guns and sneering over corporate politics.

John said nothing on those meetings, kept his mouth shut. Came out lips pressed together and eyes sunken into his head. Bum a cigarette, curse about his decreasing funds, give someone shit about their new muffler.

John was the kind of guy who hand-milled auto parts for a living on a lathe with a fucking blowtorch and chisel. He was the kind of guy with three Bachelor's degrees, a cooking school certificate, three programming languages and an arrest warrant in the state of Virginia. His only career advice to me was: "You're pretty angry. Maybe you should start smoking pot."

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