It is Saturday morning; the day of the convention. Valker wears one of his few nice shirts for the occasion. He flutters about his house like a vulture, hastily grabbing his flash drive and sleek black computer. When he is finally ready he looks more crisp than autumn, with his hair neatly combed, his tie centered, and his pants and shirt ironed.
When he walks down the beat-up sidewalk to his car, he looks so sharp that he is way out of place in his run down, ripped up, and poor neighborhood. Even Mr. Trenton, his uptight and obnoxious next door neighbor, looks like a shag compared to Valker. Valker hops in his car and speeds down town. For the second time in his life, bad drivers do not disturb him. He is thinking about his presentation and smiles to himself.
As the wind whips at his hair, Valker goes through his presentation in his mind; over and over again in his head. “First, set up the computer. Next, call up the volunteer. Wait, does that come after the introduction?” Valker has trouble remembering how the presentation will flow, and clenches his hand into a fist. Then, he takes a deep breath and loosens his grip. He will not get angry today.
Valker is not first to present, or the last. Instead he is scheduled to go up right in the middle. Presenters only get five minutes to speak, but Valker’s display will take longer. He does not care and eventually, neither will anyone else. The presentation is that captivating, he thinks.
Valker looks around the room. The audience is packed with rugged computer geeks. Some have their own labtops flipped open, some are on their phones, and some are munching away on chips. Everyone around Valker has a uniformed look of unpreparedness and that is one thing that sets Valker apart from the pack. He peers out of the curtains just far enough to see Fortner and other important-looking men and women perched a few feet above the crowd on a long pedestal. Valker hopes that Fortner is waiting for him.
Valker sits down in a chair backstage under a thick black cord. He thinks about his presentation, and then he thinks about codes, and then he thinks about old memories. His thoughts begin to branch out in hundreds of different directions. Valker rests his hands on his lap, breathing deeply to get rid of the anxiety and adrenaline bottle-necked inside of him. He relaxes the muscles in his toes first, then his feet, and goes all of the way up his body. He leans his head back and shuts his eyes.
Valker has a brief dream. It was almost as if he is having an out of body experience. He is on the catwalk, with his feet dangling into the thin air. He is watching frantic workers scurrying around below him and he is watching himself in the chair, sleeping. Valker could sense tension, but before he could figure out what is happening he wakes to a short man with a headset shaking his shoulders.
“Are you Mr. Valker?” He asks.
“Umm, yes.” Valker replies, in a daze.
“Get on stage man! They have been waiting for over two minutes!”
Valker snaps out of his trance, fixes his tie, and rises from the chair. He steps out into the harsh, bright light that fills up the dark room. He squints, then regains his composure. The audience is humming anxiously.
“Hello everyone. I know this is a little delayed so I will just get right down to it. My name is Jeremy Valker. I have been working on a privacy network and I need a volunteer. Now I know every single one of you in this room is capable of hacking anything,” the audience laugh at this ,”but I need someone who really thinks they can work their magic to come up here and try to breach this system.”
Whispers and murmurs spread throughout the audience. A few hands shoot up into the air. Valker raises his hand to his eyes and scans the room. He watches as more hands go up, but his gaze is fixed on the pedestal in the back of the room. On the far right side of the pedestal, a hand shoots up. Valker’s heart skips a beat. He points to the hand.
“Will you join me up here . . . ”
“Whitmore,” yells John Whitmore from the back of the room. He is one of the new project managers at Proton.
The audience claps politely as Whitmore jumps down to the floor and walks with swagger towards the stage. He waves at someone in the crowd, and that person waves back at him. As he ascends the steps, waving to the audience again, Valker finally recognizes the man’s face.
Whitmore flexes his fingers, turns to Valker, and says ,”Don’t be ashamed if I hack this in the first ten seconds, it’s my job.”
“I’d like to see you try,” Valker chuckles as he pulls a chair from off stage and offers his little computer to Whitmore.
Whitmore gets to work and begins typing away. For the first minute it seems as if everything is going great for Whitmore. He is smiling, and the only sound that fills the room is the clicking of the keyboard.
With a confident look on his face he turns the computer toward the audience, showing the pages he is opening and the coding he is doing and proudly declares,”With the click of a button, I will have complete access to this man’s e-mails, social media accounts, and anything else interesting he might have on here.”
Valker begins to furrow his brow and his confidence fades for a mere second. A pang of anxiety shoots through his body. The audience watches excitedly as Whitmore proudly hits the ‘enter’ button. Seconds pass, and the screen does not change. The audience starts whispering excitedly.
A rush of color goes to Whitmore’s cheeks as he turns the computer around, seeing that nothing has happened to the screen. He leans back, grasping the side of the chair, and frantically starts typing new codes. Minutes pass, and people begin to avert their attention from Whitmore to Valker, who is standing with his arms crossed on the right side of the stage. Valker notices people pointing at him and starring.
Finally, Whitmore stands up, red in the face, and whispers: “I can’t do it.”
He looks awed, yet uneasy. Then he shuffles across the stage to Valker is standing and extends his hand. The audience erupts in applause when Valker proudly accepts the handshake. Whitmore hands Valker his computer, and they both wave to the audience and exit the stage. Whitmore motions for Valker to follow him.
Valker, beaming with pride as people pat him on the back and congratulate him, follows Whitmore and they trudge through the crowd so slowly, almost as if they are swimming in molasses. Eventually, they make their way to the back of the room, right next to the pedestal of important men and women. Valker squints at a ray of natural light that enters the room through a window. A well-dressed man steps down from the pedestal, followed by J.R. Fortner. Fortner looks at the well-dressed man, and then at Valker.
“Will you follow me to my office? It’s a block away. I was very impressed with your performance.”
Valker nods and then the man struts out of the room. Valker asks Fortner who he is. Fortner excitedly replies ,”That was James Richards, our CEO! Get into your car and get over to headquarters. This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Fortner is beaming with pride at his discovery.
With slight hesitation, Valker rushes to his car, more in awe of himself than anyone else.
Come back next week to read Chapter 7: Fear the Bridge