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Hacker in cyberspace

Hacker

(Jack Marshall)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

Jack “Hacker” Marshall is an obscure, very interesting DC Comics character. He first appeared in 1992, but his stories were entirely about computer hacking, corporate ethics in the IT world, industrial espionage, BBS communities , data security, etc..

That was probably too early to catch with the readership, and he thus only ever appeared in his own 1992-93 series As an example I was a relatively early adopter and I only got online in 1995 (with one exception ).

But it was a pretty good look at the actual early adopters – and their culture and values, which lived on until 2000 or so.

25+ years have gone by, and hacking themes are certainly more likely to feature in stories. Bring Jack Marshall back !

This entry has big S P O I L E R S for the Hacker Files 1992 miniseries.


Background

  • Marital Status: Divorced
  • Known Relatives: Kathy Spencer (Ex-wife), father (name unrevealed)
  • Group Affiliation: Former Digitronix employee
  • Base Of Operations: Raleigh (North Carolina)
  • Height: 6’ Weight: 175 lbs
  • Eyes: Green Hair: Black, balding


Powers & Abilities

Hacker is a quasi-historical figure of the computing and network scene in the DCU. He’s one of the best programmers, computer science designers, administrators, hackers, security specialists, etc. in the world, and the lead coder for a major OS. He’s an old-school phreaker and it has been decades since he paid for any of his phone calls.

He’s also a proficient electronics engineer and tinkerer. The hardware was pretty much all that existed early in his career.

Marshall is superiorly intelligent, perhaps even a genius. He also has a strong personality and a surprising amount of courage. Though he’s not very good at running his private life and has a tendency to rub people the wrong way, he has a deft touch with the hacker’s number one tool – social engineering. He’s also a good networker when it comes to serious business.

Marshall never uses guns, even when he has run right into a physically dangerous situation. Guns are on the long list of things he doesn’t like.

Metal militia

The Speed Metal Kids are the community working and chatting with Hacker. They’re both his groupies and high-powered hackers, phreakers and CS experts in their own right. Back in 1992 they communicated over a variety of BBS and IRC  solutions.

The Speed Metal Kids, Hacker's support team

The group included Phreaky Phreddy, Dr. Zen, Sue Denim, Spider, Master Blaster, Cowboy and perhaps others. Many of the members were teenagers or in their early 20s, at least in 1992. Some of them are now presumably professionals, assuming slowed time/ageing.

One member of the SMKs was none other than Oracle. She seems to have done a fair bit of her own training in computer science and hacking with Hacker and his Kids.

Back during Jack Marshall’s published adventures, Oracle was not the world-class pro she would later become. Though she already had worked with the Suicide Squad and was a top-flight hacker, she was still psychologically damaged by the Joker’s assault and struggling with both her physical handicap and the trauma.


History

Jack Marshall was the main code guy hired by Donny Travis after Travis started Digitronix, a tiny company in the north side of Dallas. Marshall spent ten years there. He was the Wozniak to Travis’s Jobs, writing much of DROS (the Digitronix Resident Operating System).

Meanwhile Travis, armed with his little red Corvette and bottles of Jack Black, was doing sales and developing international manufacturing contracts in Japan and Mexico. He worked to make his vision — a computer that could do everything, had multimedia capabilities, and would be affordable — a reality.

On his end, Marshall wrote various pieces of custom software that came free with Digitronix machines. That included a game of his invention called Code of the West.

Travis raised lots of money, and Marshall wrote the Digitronix OS along with two other top-flight programmers, Yoshio and Frodo. Soon, Digitronix machines took the world by storm, becoming a huge success. However, Sutcliffe, one of the suits that came aboard as the company grew explosively, took over Digitronix through financial engineering.

Corporate normalisation

Sutcliffe disavowed the royalties Travis had verbally promised to Marshall. He then fired the kernel development team. The furious Marshall came back late at night, broke into the building and took copies of his code while erasing everything else. But he was spotted by security and arrested.

Sutcliffe offered Marshall a deal but he refused. As a result, Jack was blacklisted throughout the US computer industry. Unable to find salaried employment, he became a freelance services provider. Frodo also left, but Yoshio went corporate.

Things eventually turned out okay for Marshall, thanks to his unique expertise with a major OS. After a few years he became able to have a relaxed professional schedule, picking his contracts and focusing on high-paying, high-stakes engagements.

Digitronix in the DCU

Digitronix computers, running on evolutions over Jack Marshall’s code, are quite important in the DCU. They seem to be the equivalent of 1990s Apple and Sun, rolled into one company. Digitronix boxes are what the best engineers use – the Batcave runs on Digitronix, as does much of Oracle’s gear.

War games

In 1992, one of Marshall’s major clients — Sarge Steel, a key man in the US intelligence and military community — called him. Steel had worked with Marshall back when the Pentagon had its customised, highly secure Digitronix hardware installed. He had come to prefer working directly with Jack when it came to computer issues.

Steel had Marshall flown to the Pentagon ASAP. Cheyenne Mountain  had been infected with a vicious virus, and most of the US’s high-readiness military networks were now harbouring hostile code.

Sarge Steel and Hacker

Steel decided he’d rather have Marshall than the official Digitronix support team. Thus, he had him take over after a shouting match between Jack and Yoshio, who was heading the Digitronix team. As it turned out, Steel made the right choice, and Marshall managed to defeat the virus before anything nuclear could happen.

Marshall reached the conclusion that a DoD technician may have been an accomplice to the security breach. But the man was accidentally killed whilst fleeing.

Though he apparently had saved the world, Hacker was unhappy. He still did not fully understand what the virus was supposed to do. Furthermore his support team, the Speed Metal Kids, had established that the person who had appeared to introduce the virus into the system was but a fall guy. Jack suspected that Yoshio was the real coder of the virus.

Operation Moon Witch

Hacker was next involved in an entrapment operation ran by the Secret Service , called operation Moon Witch. It was the equivalent of the real-world Sun Devil  debacle, well-known among older gamers for its impact on Steve Jackson Games . The operation entrapped two of the SMKs, Sue Denim and Oracle, and arrested them.

Hacker and Phreaky Phreddy purged their files in time to avoid arrest, and the pissed-off Marshall decided to take on the Secret Service and free his friends.

This foolish plan actually got quite far. Jack and Phreddy managed to physically infiltrate the Secret Service facility by posing as Digitronix support people, free the girls, grab the confiscated electronics from the evidence holding facility, then drive out. The authorities nailed them on their way out. But government contacts warned by Oracle before she was detained then stepped in.

Oracle’s contacts investigated the illegal Secret Service operation. As a result, the little team of hackers was sent home after Catherine Cobert copiously yelled at a Secret Service administrator. Oracle also determined that the file used to entrap the hackers had been sent from Digitronix using Yoshio’s account, but probably not by Yoshio himself.

Marshall kept in touch with Cobert, and became her special go-to guy for computer stuff. The Frenchwoman was an important client for Marshall, since she was at the point the administrator of the Justice League International.

Yoshio

Losing sleep as he tried to understand how his former friend Yoshio could have become implicated in such messes, Marshall cracked. He left for Dallas to meet Yoshio and demand explanations.

The conversation with the one Digitronix OS kernel developer who had not been fired was awkward. But they mended fences at the taco place where they used to go ten years prior. Yoshio admitted that he suspected that Digitronix’s boss Sutcliffe had his hands in some nasty, toxic business.

Yoshio suspected that some deal was being made with Chinese officials who had authorised the newest, very low-cost Digitronix assembly lines in China. Back then, this arrangement was much less common than it later became. He had Jack meet Yan Qing, a Chinese dissident who had fled after the Tienanmen massacre .

Jack learned a few things about the Digitronix plant in China. He followed up on that by meeting with Kathy, his ex-wife. She was a security hardware engineer who knew about the kind of security gear that would be found at a Digitronix plant. Jack and Yoshio then left for Shanghai.

Only Hacker could go to China

After a brief visit of the plant, during which he procured the security override codes from an unattended workstation, Marshall came back at night. He and Yoshio had a remote control built based on the information obtained from Kathy. Using the override code and his remote, Jack waltzed through the automated security. He also overheard something important-sounding about “Project Aleph”.

However, Jack and Yoshio were apprehended by armed guards and thrown into a holding pen in the basement. It also held Lao Yi, Qing’s fiancé, who had been separated from her at Tienanmen before she fled to the US.

The decidedly unlucky Yi had been locked up after making an accidental discovery whilst working on a Digitronix assembly line. Apparently, some sort of listening device was hidden within the Digitronix hardware, recording nearby conversations. Jack and Yoshio soon realised that Sutcliffe and Digitronix were working on an extraordinary, global espionage conspiracy.

Handling the truth

The virus Sutcliffe had Yoshio write, which had infected the Pentagon’s networks, was likely intended to stealthily transmit the more interesting bits of conversation happening near a Digitronix box to the Digitronix HQ.

Marshall had shoved his remote control into his underwear when they were apprehended. He used it to escape along with Yoshio and Yi. Yoshio used packaging and shipping equipment to smuggle Yi out of the plant in a cargo crate, while Jack hacked the security systems.

Although they ran into an old policeman who did not trust their doctored surveillance video feed, Yi convinced the aged lawman that Digitronix were evil bastards and that he should not help them.

Yi was happily reunited with Qing after being smuggled into the US. Meanwhile, Jack swore to Yoshio that he would understand and expose the conspiracy. However, Sutcliffe found a way to fire Yoshio for his involvement in the Shanghai caper.

Project Aleph

Before he was fired, Yoshio discovered the truth about “Project Aleph”. It was a large effort at channelling Digitronix resources from Shanghai to Tyuratam, a former Soviet research and aerospace centre in Kazakhstan. The type of resources assembled there pointed toward the development a very high-powered AI.

Marshall hypothesised that the AI was intended to sift through the huge amount of recorded conversations ’overheard‘ by Digitronix boxes and ferried by Yoshio’s virus.

Determined to investigate the Digitronix operations in Kazakhstan, Marshall, accompanied by Yoshio and Phreddy, flew to Paris. There, he convinced Catherine Cobert that the conspiracy demanded the attention of the JLI. She agreed to have the Flash run a quick reconnaissance of the place. While the speedster was foolishly captured, he easily escaped.

With the security in disarray following that intrusion, Cobert had Green Lantern and the Flash escort the three hackers — Hacker, Yoshio and Phreddy — to investigate. Howbeit, she was very wary given the politically sensitive situation.

Code of the West

Using the VR interface developed at Tyuratam, Marshall dove into the facility’s cyberspace. He immediately encountered Sutcliffe’s AI, a powerful entity with its own nefarious goals. Even Hacker couldn’t hope to take on the AI on its turf, but he changed the rules by launching Code of the West.

Code of the West was an undocumented feature in the kernel of all Digitronix OSes. Marshall used to be so obsessive about his game that he wanted to be able to play it anywhere and at any time. As both the AI and Jack were within the game, Marshall tricked the AI into competing with him and purposefully threw the resulting duel.

Since he was defeated he left the game. But Code of the West was an early example an open-ended sandbox game with no victory conditions. Since there was nobody in the session to defeat it, the AI could not be eliminated from the game and had to keep playing. The prototype VR interface did not allow it to crash the application or otherwise log out.

Hacker has not been seen since he defeated the Digitronix conspiracy.


Description

Marshall almost invariably wears shapeless ageing blue jeans, a tired black t-shirt (usually with a huge, red anarchy symbol) and a ugly dark green 1980s jacket.


Personality

Marshall is generally grumpy, reclusive and ill-socialised. He tends to be brusque and impatient with people he doesn’t like (which would be the vast majority of people). He has rigid and demanding notions of friendship and loyalty.

Part of the later comes from his enormous bitterness about the events surrounding his firing from Digitronix. These, he never managed to swallow. Part of the former come from being way smarter than most people, and sharing little of their interests.

He knows what he’s doing, and he’s annoyed by ordinary people who are five moves behind him and can’t understand most of what he’s working on.

Though he’s now in his 40s, Hacker dislikes authority, serious people and The Man. He also has a severe problem with security measures intended to keep him out of something. He may very well break in just to make the feeling of frustration and curiosity pass.

On the other hand he’s a natural at taking charge, usually for the sake of expediency – and because he knows what he’s doing.

He does not hesitate to leverage his superior expertise to set clear terms and boundaries when working, without accepting to negotiate those terms. Generally speaking, it is rare for his confidence not to go well past the pale of arrogance. At the very least, he’s cocky and curt.

Other traits, part 1

Another strong personality trait is his amazing stubbornness, particularly when it mixes with his strong anti-authoritarian streak. Marshall is also easily pissed off. The mixture of the three leads to decisions like taking on the Secret Service.

It has also been known to lead him to angrily take unreasonable physical risks, though he’s in very poor shape and won’t fare well in a brawl. When he gets angry, he stays angry and in this state he just doesn’t care about the risks.

Like most geeks, Hacker cherishes a hodge-podge of pop culture references. Being old school he particularly likes to quote the Looney Tunes and of course Star Wars as part of his dialogue.

A leftist and an anarchist, he detests the military-industrial complex, authoritarian governments, violations of human rights, mass religion, exploitation of workers, most shades of cops and spooks, etc.. He has a strong, clear idea of what justice should be, and tends to be pissed off when things do not conform to that.

He plays a lot of Code of the West, a game he developed himself. In CotW he gets to be an actual Old West US Marshall, dispensing frontier justice. This game fascinates him, and he used to be addicted to it. Jack definitely considers himself one of the white hats, as if he were the lone rider of an old-fashioned Wild West tale, and will unhesitatingly help those he sees as the good guys.

Other traits, part 2

Though Sarge Steel is a soldier’s soldier and an arch-conservative, Marshall seems to think he’s sort of OK as a person and has his heart in the right place. Jack enjoys playing Steel as his straight man since the ex-soldier cannot hope to understand Marshall’s techno-wizardry. But doesn’t seem to have considered the strong possibility that it’s actually Steel who’s expertly manipulating him.

Jack’s relationship with Catherine Cobert seems more straightforward. Apparently he considers her primarily as a trusted ally of Oracle, and thus as a sort of distant extension of the Speed Metal Kids.

Just like he never was able to put his firing from Digitronix behind him, he never was able to accept his divorce and let go of his feelings for his ex-wife. He still enjoy spending time with her. Marshall does not seem to have seriously dated since the divorce, preferring to pay for attention at strip clubs.

Marshall is lonely, in large part because of his lousy temper and arrogance. He seems to have largely given up on having a love life. He can be smitten by pretty young women, and often is, but has a very poor track record when it comes to running into women who are both available and interested in him.

Marshall is now in his 40s, and is increasingly worried about getting out of touch with modern technology. This is a weakness that he bitterly refuses to acknowledge and feels pissed off about. Though, of course, old age and treachery…

As his handle implies, Jack defines himself strictly as a hacker, not a cracker.


Quotes

(Han Solo voice) “’No questions’ will cost you.”

Sarge Steel: “I’ll call down for the passwords.”
Marshall: “Don’t bother. Now back off. I need to concentrate.”

“We’re out of your world now, and into mine. People make their own rules here. You need to learn your way around.”

“I went to a shrink for a while after the divorce. One of the things that came up was how I didn’t like people keeping things from me. Locks, for instance. I don’t like ’em.”

“As Bugs used to say… ‘I knew I shoulda turned left at Albuquerque‘.”

NORAD tech: “We’re all [nervous]. We’re at Defcon 3.”
Hacker: “Get me a workstation, and maybe I can fix that.”

“I’m NOT wrong.”

“Been awake now for 30-odd hours. I should have caught some shuteye but I was too pissed off.”

“I’m going to find out what Sutcliffe is up to, even if it kills me.”

“What I can’t live with is that they’re doing this with *my* operating system. *That* they’re going to pay for.”

“I created the Digitronix to take power away from corporations and give it to the individual.”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Hacker

Dex: 02 Str: 02 Bod: 02 Motivation: Anarchist
Int: 04 Wil: 06 Min: 04 Occupation: Freelance consultant
Inf: 04 Aur: 03 Spi: 04 Resources {or Wealth}: 006
Init: 010 HP: 010

Skills:
Charisma (Persuasion): 04, Gadgetry (Identify Gadget): 05, Scientist (Computers): 10, Scientist (Research): 06, Thief (Locks and safes): 04, Thief (Security systems): 07, Vehicles (Land): 03

Advantages:
Area Knowledge (ARPAnet, Internet), Confidants (Speed Metal Kids), Expertise (1980s computer games, phreaking, visual SFX programming), Scholar (DROS, Digitronix OS), Misc.: Hacker has root privileges on all computers running a Digitronix OS, Misc.: Hacker knows how to say ’I love you‘ and ’two beers please‘ in most major languages

Connections:
Sarge Steel (Low), Donny Travis (Digitronix founder, Low), Oracle (Low), Kathy Spencer (his ex-wife, Low), Yoshio (Digitronix senior coder, Low), Catherine Cobert (Low)

Drawbacks:
MIA toward curiosity

Equipment:
Marshall carries a set a lock picks in his pockets.


Game Stats — DC Adventures RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Hacker (Jack Marshall) — Averaged PL 1.5

STR STA AGL DEX FGT INT AWE PRE
00 00 00 01 01 05 01 01

Other Advantages

Benefit 3 (Root privileges on all Digitronix machines, lead coder of DROS and Digitronix OS), Benefit 1 (High-level computer security contractor), Benefit 1 (Support team – the Speed Metal Kids), Skill Mastery (Expertise (Computer science))

Skills

Deception 4 (+5) (Limited 1 – no Disguise or Feinting), Expertise (Computer science) 12 (+17), Insight 3 (+4), Investigation 1 (+6), Perception 3 (+4), Persuasion 2 (+3), Technology 7 (+12), Vehicles 4 (+5) (Limited 2 – to common land vehicles)

Offense

Initiative +0
Unarmed +1, Close, Damage 0

Defense

Dodge 0 Fortitude 1
Parry 1 Toughness 0
Will 4

* Without Defensive Roll

Complications

  • Motivation Anarchist
  • Obsession Curious, doesn’t like to be kept out
  • Temper Doesn’t back down when pissed off
  • Quirk Peculiar personality
  • Quirk Doesn’t like weapons

Power levels

  • Trade-off areas Attack/Effect PL 1, Dodge/Toughness PL 0, Parry/Toughness PL 1, Fort/Will PL 3
  • Point total 43 Abilities 18, Defences 4, Skills 15, Powers 0, Devices 0, Advantages 6. Equiv. PL 3.

Notes

The writeup is the first example I could think of to illustrate the limit of the Averaged PL system – Jack is actually PL7 (highest skill minus 10), though of course he’s very much unlike any sort of PL7 PC.

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: DC Universe (Hacker Files 1992 series)

Helper(s): Pawsplay

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