2011 06 13: A Rock And A Hard Place

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Mission Name: Rock And A Hard Place
Date of Mission: June 13, 2011
Locale: Big Apple Comics

Birkhoff corners Jack for an up close and personal chat about Shadownet, while offering him an intriguing deal.

Birkhoff Jack

It's an unassuming evening at the comics shop. There's a sparse amount of nerds standing around to admire the new action figure releases that have just come in today, imported from God knows where. Birkhoff has taken the role of just another cog in the geek wheel. He stands by a display rack with some lesser known comics on it, raising a brow as he picks up an issue of Crossed. A look of disgust crosses his features before it's matched with intrigue. He keeps the issue in his hand, scans the room around him, then moves off toward one of the other racks to browse more. He's facing the front door as if expecting someone.

A resounding swish can be heard from the doorway as Jack walks into Big Apple Comics, and tailing him are three, large tattooed guys. The expression on his face is glum, and though he's a regular customer at this shop, he doesn't really wave at anyone or give any of the sales associates the time of day. In fact, he makes a beeline towards the counter, whizzing right past Birkhoff to talk to one of the guys at the cash register.

The burly men following him wait in the back, trying to look as though they're interested in buying the wares, but fail miserably. After keeping an eye on Jack for a few moments, they decide to wait outside.

"Elliott? Do you mind if I take a look at the computer in the back?" He lowers his voice just a hair below conversation level.

"Hey, you fixed it." The clerk at the cash register shrugs. "'Course you can. If it weren't for you, we'd be working without a PC."

Dingdingding. Birkhoff's 'perfect opportunity' sensors go off. His mark decides to walk in and ask to go in the back of the store. How lucky for Birkhoff. He puts his issue of Crossed down where he found it, apparently taking the silent creed of the nerd to heart: Never misplace an issue. He listens to the conversation quietly, pretending that he's flipping through an issue of the latest X-Men comic with interest. The three burly men that have followed Jack and gone out once more get something of a smirk, but Birkhoff does nothing and doesn't call attention to himself. He simply waits for Jack to start moving toward the back.

"Thanks man. I owe you one."

There's genuine sincerity in Jack's voice as he jogs around the corner to disappear into an area that reads "Employees Only." It's obvious that this place really isn't rigged with tons of alarms, and none of them would go off if someone decided to follow him.

Once he's there, he rummages through his pockets and pulls out a USB flash drive. The computer is a total clunker, and as he turns it on, he waits for the thing to start up. Unfortunately, the P.O.S. desktop isn't running on openSUSE or Ubuntu. Any Linux Kernel would have been better than Windows XP, but no matter. If it gets annoying, he'll just switch OS's and change it back when he's done. After all, he has the entire night.

After making for the public restroom a moment after Jack disappears into the back, Birkhoff finds himself in the same room. He pauses in the doorway and grins at the younger man, closing the door behind him. "The name is Jack, right?" He doesn't wait for a proper response, simply keeping his distance. "Look, Jack. We need to talk. I know you've been screwing around in other people's systems for a while now. You don't seem malicious, but you do seem curious. Curious is bad, Jack. Bad for a lot of reasons. You seem… smart-ish." Birkhoff says, looking at Jack. "I'm here to tell you to stop. You don't want to continue."

The hell?

Jack slowly turns around to gauge the guy in front of him. He's definitely not one of Big Apple's employees, because he knows the majority of them here.

"Dude, who are you?" Jack blinks once, then shoves the flash drive back into his back pocket, right next to his iPod.

"I'm your worst nightmare, Jack. I'm one of the best hackers in the world, if not the best." Birkhoff stops for a minute and considers something, tilting his head. "Now, I wonder. Where did you get the information that you have? If you tell me and you promise to stop sticking your digital nose where it doesn't belong, maybe I'll let you walk out of here without ruining everything you love." Birkhoff sounds like he means it. He has a dangerous edge in his voice and an even more unhinged look in his eyes. "Tsk, Jack. Was that a flash drive I spied with my little eye? That's simply not going to do." Birkhoff ponders once more, looking to the door and then back to Jack. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you're prooobably not rich enough to hire those three deltoids out front. So who did?"

"Yeah?" The question is, at best, meant to be a rhetorical one. So Jack doesn't waste any time having at it with the intruder.

"What're you gonna do? Rewrite a Trojan, disguise it as porn and spam my personal addy?"

There's a hint of sarcasm there, along with frustration and rage. He knows that a good cracker of Birkhoff's calibre could do far worse, but Jack doesn't really go into details. He does, however, stalk closer to the genius in three quick strides. "My worst nightmare just happened to me last night, brah. If you really are what you say you are and want to help, then maybe you can start by telling me just who the fuck you are and what you know I'm up to." The pause that comes next is enough to punctuate the dire circumstance he's in. Jack's voice drops to a hiss. "I dunno, man. Those dudes outside? They'll put a fucking bullet through my mom's head unless I give them what they want, and it's all in here." He pats his back jean pocket, where the flash drive is located. "Now I haven't really discovered much, but I have a lead. And if you're not here to help me, then don't try pissing all over what's already been done."

"Little defensive, aren't you? I guess if someone was trying to off my mom, I'd be in a shitty mood too." Birkhoff seems impressed with Jack's flair, smiling briefly. "Trojans are the least of your concerns right now. I can do anything I want with you through your computer, Jack." Birkhoff takes in a breath and looks at the younger man, crossing his arms over his chest. "Who am I? I almost hacked into the Pentagon. I was thiiiis close. …Then my circumstances changed. Now I've designed software that rivals the Pentagon's. And you've been trying to tap it, haven't you, Jack?" Birkhoff asks.

The Division hacker watches Jack pat his back pocket. "Something tells me that you're not going to give that flash drive up so easily. So I'll cut you a deal. If you manage to hack into my system, I'll do you a favor and pretend this never happened - as long as you don't tell anyone about what you might find therein." He pauses. "You tell them, and the people that I work for are going to do a lot worse than kill your mom, Jack. They don't like to be dicked with and neither do I. Deal?"

"You designed and engineered…fuck me." He facepalms, as Birkhoff explains who he is. Jack's full attention is now on the man who created shadownet.

"No shit, Sherlock. I was being a smartass. Congrats for almost getting into missiles-and-penises-dot-gov." Rubbing his throbbing temples with two fingers, Jack slumps down into the chair that's in front of the store desktop. "Listen, those assholes out there — they want everything, and they're dangerous. If your bosses don't like being messed around with, well mine are the same. I just want to figure out a way to get out of this abysmal hole, and you have one hot mess of an encryption system." Which is a compliment, coming from Jack. "I'm speaking from the perspective of someone trying to get in. It's like a fucking firewall made out of adamantium." He lifts his head to stare at Birkhoff, "I want to lie, but it's more complicated than that. They have someone watching over me while I do this. If I do happen to break in, they're going to be able to see what I'm seeing, and I have a feeling they've got a techie on their side who's going to make sure that I don't bullshit."

"And now you have someone from the other side watching you too. We can intervene before they do." Birkhoff grins at Jack's compliments. Especially the adamantium one. He's playing to Birkhoff's nerd appeal, which apparently pleases the man. "I like you. You show promise. You're much better than most of my students. You just play their little reindeer game for now - but when it comes time for the big showdown? I'll make sure someone has your back…" There's a lingering bit of 'if you do what I say' in that sentence that doesn't quite make it out of Birkhoff's mouth before he opens the door and steps out of it, making a quick exit from the building.

Jack doesn't get a word in edgewise, because Birkhoff is gone before he can respond. But he does nod to that, mulling over his predicament for a moment. "We'll see how this plays out," is muttered to himself before he swings the chair around, his attention back onto the computer. All that focus and determination returns to his face. "Alright motherfucker. Bring it."

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