Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The Reunion Job
Boston. Apartment. Free Iran poster and family pictures of people in Arabic dress. A young man types frantically at a keyboard. Two masked men burst into his apartment. He tries to shutdown his workstation as they pull him away. One man waves a device in front of the computer; the screen goes dark, then he grabs the computer and runs. The other masked man punches the young programmer and follows.
In the bar, the programmer (now sporting a black eye) tells Nate and Hardison that he lost all his work when he was close to cracking Manticore, the security system used by the Iranian government to track dissidents through cell phones, social networks and email. It turns the Internet against the underground. His movement is planning a protest to coincide with the elections, but if Manticore is still up, they'll all be arrested. He can't go to the FBI because he'd lose his student visa. Nate says they'll talk about it, and the young programmer leaves.
Hardison questions Nate's lack of commitment and Nate says this is "so not our game." Hardison protests that it is: a guy who could make a fortune working for high tech instead tries to bring down the bad guys. From the booth behind Nate, Eliot observes that it wasn't the Iranian secret police who busted him up. Apparently neither Nate nor Hardison realized he was back there. Eliot joins them for easier conversation. Nate wants to know if Eliot is lurking now. Eliot points out that lurking is his job. Anyway, if the Iranian secret police had gone after our young programming friend, he wouldn't be walking around now. Nate figures they're still a good starting point, so start looking for their safe houses. Hardison is surprised to find him on board. Nate says they were always taking the case; he just wanted Hardison to explain why. Hardison doesn't appreciate being gamed.
Eliot and Hardison are health department inspectors, investigating the cafe which is the local safe house of the Iranian secret police. The manager says they were just inspected and everything's fine; he speaks to a couple of guys and one locks a door in the back room. A customer (Sophie) "finds" a giant cockroach on her plate and the few diners disappear. The health inspectors are on the case. Eliot lags to feed the location of the locked room to Parker. Sophie asks him to take care of the roach for her, but he just grins and says, "I think he likes you." Sophie promises consequences and leaves.
Parker comes through the air vent to the the locked room and tumbles in. She likes the way this particular den of evil smells; maybe Hardison should confiscate some pastries. Parker plugs into the computer, feeding Hardison's minicomputer and a system in the van that Nate is monitoring. Nate finds something that talks about Manticore, but the programmer's code isn't there. Parker finds a payment ledger in a desk drawer. Eliot finds health code violations. The most recent payment was three weeks ago, which is the time of the last Manticore update. And who was the payment to?
Meet Larry Duberman, founder and CEO of Dubertech, author of the book on "digital database security" in the 90s and now a multimillionaire. Eliot brings Sophie a tea tray and pours; she pats his arm and wonders why Duberman is dealing with Iran if he doesn't need the money. Hardison says he does; he's losing market share to newer technologies. Dealing technology to dictators gives him tax-free income. Eliot puts sugar in Sophie's tea and she pats his arm again. Hardison calls Duberman "the IT department for the axis of evil." Nate realizes Duberman went after their client. Eliot squeezes lemon into Sophie's tea and observes that the attack was motivated by business, not politics. The master control server for Manticore is in Duberman's office; if they shut that down, they shut down Manticore in Iran. Unfortunately, Hardison can't just hack the server remotely; Duberman's security is too good. Nate sees the article on Duberman's Japanese art collections and asks if anyone has trimmed a bonsai. Naturally, Eliot has. He dated a Japanese police woman in Osaka, but Nate doesn't want to hear the details. Parker asks Sophie why Eliot is pouring her tea. "Did you brainwash him again?" Sophie says it's neuro-linguistic programming: suggestions of sugar and squeezing, some pats on the arm. She pats Eliot's arm again and he starts to pour more tea, then stops as he hears what she's saying. Sophie claims payback for the roach.
At Dubertech headquarters, a flunky tells Duberman that the quarterly results are disappointing. Duberman figures he'll just jack up the price for the Iranians. The flunky worries that they'll balk, but Duberman says it's not like they can go to McAfee or Oracle; those companies are "too soft to get into the suppression business." Eliot the Maintenance Man bumps into him and spills dirt from a bonsai plant. Duberman is irate and fires him. The flunky escorts him off and Eliot plants a bug on him. Hardison and Parker, also dressed as maintenance staff, come over to clean up; Parker lifts Duberman's key card while brushing him off and lifts a fingerprint from the bonsai pot with tape. They head up to Duberman's office and Parker lets them in.
Duberman's private office is straight out of high school. Hardison finds the Manticore server -- it's Duberman's high school computer. He pulls out a toolkit and connects the server to his mini, then starts to work with the obsolete technology. Downstairs, a guard shows the flunky a security breach in Duberman's office. Parker warns Hardison. There are layers of passwords on the system, but Hardison's hacker program has only gotten through some of them. There's a beep. "Is that a good beep or a bad beep?" Parker wants to know. Hardison says it's bad. He hasn't gotten the master password. The last password he cracked was "L33R15L06". Nate and Sophie recognize a high school locker combination. Security is heading for the office. Hardison finishes copying data and heads out with Parker. The security guys and the flunky arrive at the office. While their backs are turned, the two Japanese costumes (with ceramic head masks) sidle out.
In the bar, the team has Duberman's old high school yearbook (purchased from the Internet) and find the references that match Duberman's passwords. Clearly he's obsessed with high school. Nate and Sophie easily diagnose Bullied Nerd Syndrome. Parker feels bad for the nerd, but Eliot's says that's no excuse. Hardison was bullied and he didn't turn out to be a criminal. Not a bad criminal. Hardison protests the bullied assumption, which Eliot starts to defend. Nate cuts them off and points out that Duberman is using his high school as a Roman room. "Of course," says Parker. Nate asks her what a Roman room is, but she doesn't know. It's a memory technique; his passwords are taken from a space he knows intimately. Nate could use the bar as a Roman room. Parker thinks Nate is revealing his passwords, but Hardison already has them and offers to show her Nate's Netflix queue. Nate says they need to break into the high school, as of 1985. Hardison looks it up and finds that the class of 1985 will have it's 25th reunion in 8 months.
Sophie works the phones and the voices to get the reunion moved up to the end of the month. As the Iranians protest the price hike on their maintenance contract via video conference, Duberman gets a call from his "high school reunion committee." He brushes off the Iranians to take it. Sophie lures him to the reunion. He commits. The flunky points out that it conflicts with his meeting with the Iranians, but Duberman feels his success is worthless if he can't flaunt it before his former classmates.
High school gym, dressed up for the reunion. Parker, playing waitstaff, marvels at all the awkward pictures from time past. In the van with Nate, Hardison tells her she was lucky to have missed high school. Parker asks if he went to his prom, but he confesses to being "kinda busy." Flashback to a brace-faced Hardison using the Icelandic Savings and Loan to pay off Nana's medical bills. Outside of Dubertech, Eliot grumps about being "stuck on goon patrol" while everyone else gets to play at the reunion. Nate assigns him the job of taking down Manticore once Hardison gives him the password; Hardison will be busy. Hardison figures Eliot already did the Big Man on Campus thing in high school. Flashback to Eliot the quarterback in home ec, receiving some personal instruction on how to use a knife from a buxom teacher in a low-necked dress. The flunky emerges from Dubertech and Eliot clobbers him, steals his key card and hides him in the bushes.
Duberman prepares to take the reunion by storm. He's greeted by the school mascot, which chants "Badger, badger, badger 85!" Time to circulate. Sophie is pretending to be Grace Peltz, aka "Pizza-Faced Grace." Duberman chats her up. Nate appears on the scene as Drake MacIntyre and quickly becomes a center of attention. Flashback to Nate and Sophie picking out Duberman's nemesis. Nate points to Drake and figures he can pass as him. Hardison arranges to give the real Drake two tickets to the Patriots game in Miami. "Yo, Doucherman!" yells the ersatz Drake. Duberman pretends disdain and escorts Grace to the refreshments. Nate urges Hardison to give him something to work with to keep up his cover. Hardison works the Internet for info on the classmates and gets a little personally involved. Drake has a narrow escape with an old drinking buddy, whose name tag just says "Schmitty." Hardison can't find anything, so Parker has to steal his yearbook to make the connection.
Duberman and Grace wander down a hallway. Grace points to Mrs. Zabranski's room. Duberman remembers getting a wedgie from Pat Brander in front of his whole homeroom class. Eliot tries BRANDER as a password, with no luck, but BRANDER303 gets him into the payroll system. Drake joins them to wind Duberman up. He's about to get into an important memory when they're joined by Nikki, who heads for Duberman. Apparently she and Drake had a thing in high school. Hardison has a dozen possible Nikkis to work through. Drake tries to send her off for drinks but she drags him off for a makeout session in a supply closet. Drake says he doesn't have feelings for her anymore, so she locks him in the closet. He calls for Parker to come let him out. Back at Duberman's office, someone starts cutting through the office door. Eliot announces that the Iranians are coming.
Nate wonders what the Iranians are up to. Parker springs him and passes on that she heard a bunch of ladies saying Drake was the best they ever had. Grace is still chatting with Duberman when Nikki closes in on him again. She claims to have ditched Drake to concentrate on Duberman and "accidentally" spills her drink on Grace's dress. Duberman endorses Nikki's suggestion that she wash it off, saying they have all evening. So she goes. Nikki wants to show Duberman the girls' shower room.
Sophie meets Nate and Parker, complaining about "that slut." Nate decides that they're not going to get Duberman to reveal the password, so they need to escalate. Hardison breaks in to tell them that all the possible Nikkis are accounted for, so this Nikki is a fraud. He does the face matching thing and discovers she's Miranda Miles, a hired gun. The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again -- they lured Duberman to an unsecure location, making him easy to hit. Nate has Sophie and Parker split up to find him.
Eliot warns the others as the Iranians finish cutting a hole in the door. The cafe manager looks through and sees -- the health inspector? Eliot shrugs,"I'm gonna have to dock you again." The door opens and the fighting commences. Hardison realizes the Iranians hired the assassin to take out Duberman while they raided his office. Eliot has to keep them away from the server. He's working on it, but these guys are tough.
Nikki interrupts her makeout session with Duberman by pulling a gun. He tries to negotiate, but she has her reputation to consider, so she screws on the silencer. Fortunately Grace appears on the scene with a fire extinguisher and whomps her with it. The ladies take off their shoes to duke it out while Duberman flees the scene. Sophie has a little resentment against cheerleaders and mean girls to work out, plus she's using the fire extinguisher to block Nikki's blows. Eliot keeps hammering away at the Iranians. Finally Sophie clubs Nikki with the fire extinguisher and runs for it. Nikki recovers her gun and shoots, but misses.
Duberman runs down the hallway. Nikki finds him and points the gun. Drake intervenes, standing between them. She threatens to shoot him, too, but he asks her to wait just three seconds. Which is how long they need for Parker to taser her. Duberman is willing to let Drake call him "Doucherman" all he wants now. Drake wasn't even as bad as Pat Brander. Nate assumes Pat is a "he" so Duberman grabs Nikki's gun. He's not getting fooled again tonight.
Sophie joins Nate. She reveals that Grace Peltz is fictional, created just to flatter him. Duberman thinks they're in cahoots to kill him, too, but Nate explains that they're working on behalf of the young programmer he had beaten up. Duberman pulls out his phone to call the police, but Nate says they already did. Now their man in Duberman's office will destroy Manticore and that will be it. Duberman doesn't believe they can do it, but they claim to have figured out his password from the hallway. Sophie drops a few of the early passwords to show him what they know. Duberman is still in denial, but he uses his phone to change the password. So now they lose.
Eliot clobbers the Iranians and enters BADGER85 as the password. Hardison tells him to shut it down, just like he showed him, and Eliot does. He has to hit an Iranian one last time but gets through the job and leaves. Duberman is astonished to get an alert on his phone that Manticore is down. He can't believe they know the new password, but Nate says it's BADGER85. They made him use that one. Flashback to Eliot and the tea and neuro-linguistic programming, then all the instances of "badge," "eight" and "five" that they laid on Duberman throughout the evening, along with a couple of taps from Sophie for reinforcement. (Parker was the badger mascot.) Duberman is horrfied to learn that he was hacked and runs off with the gun. Nate reminds him they did save his life.
In the gym, Schmitty is dismayed to find they're out of beer. Duberman bursts through some balloons waving the gun, but the FBI are on hand to arrest him. In front of the class of 1985. Duberman breaks down, yelling "I'm better than you!" Between the files Eliot mailed and the ledger from the cafe, Nate and Sophie are sure Duberman will be locked up for a long time. Hardison has tipped off the client, who is finally able to call home. Nate and Sophie are ready to leave, but they're voted king and queen of the reunion. Hardison and Parker (hanging from the ceiling) disclaim all responsibility. Grace and Drake have to dance. Nate wonders if they would have been a couple in high school. Parker glides down from the ceiling in her harness; Hardison slow dances with her while her feet dangle above the floor. Eliot, coming out of the door at Dubertech, gripes that no one is checking to see if he made it out safely. The clobbered flunky staggers to his feet and Eliot clobbers him again.
Comments: In 1985, high-end disk drives did about 7 I/Os per second and computer memory was measured in bytes. Not kilobytes and certainly not megabytes. Bytes. This is why oldtimers are unimpressed with fancy-pants modern programmers who have no concept of stack management. They were programming uphill both ways through the snow, dagnabbit.