#52: GUARDIAN ANGEL
A steady clanging of metal formed a heartbeat in the industrial landscape Reiko was standing in. In her pocket was a small knife she had kept on her person since her college days, but she had never gripped it like this before. It wasn't that she was scared, just ready for anything. Nonetheless, they were meeting in broad daylight, specifically lunch time.
The clanging went on. Reiko could feel her stomach rumble. She had left in a bit of a hurry and forgot to feed herself after preparing food for the cats. The area was off a freeway, and most sound was obscured by the unceasing rushing of cars up above. Iron wreckage laid about everywhere between unfinished buildings.
From behind one of them, half a man's body could be seen. Dressed in a large trenchcoat, sunglasses, and a face mask, he was the very image of an informant, as if he had only seen such characters in movies. And, just as comically, he waved Reiko over. Her grip on the knife loosened somewhat, and she apprehensively made some strides over in his direction.
"This place was supposed to become corporate housing, and then it stalled when the recession hit. After that some bright-eyed young politician got the idea to turn it into a big shopping centre to revitalize the economy, but that tanked once it came out the financers were handling it with dirty money. Now it just sits here--it's a nice place to come for some quiet reflection, or... things like this." The man spoke a bit muffled through his mask, but Reiko recognized the voice. "You must know who I am, right?"
She did. The man lowered his face mask and took off his sunglasses, replacing them with the thick rims she had seen only a few days prior. Hitoshi Tanigami. He flashed a nervous smile and unbuttoned his coat too.
"It's a warm winter! I don't know what I was thinking with this outfit... I figured all shady informants look like this, right?"
Reiko finally spoke. "Mr. Tanigami... you called me out here?"
"That's right. I can't just talk to you in the office, not with all those cameras around. This is confidential stuff, you see. We need a place like this!" He vaguely gestured around to the site. He seemed to be having too much fun with it, Reiko thought.
"I take it you've met with her now, haven't you?"
"You mean Veronica Bain?"
His eyes widened when he heard her name. "Yeah, her! That's the one. The big boss." Reiko had thought Tanigami had a soft look to him during their first meeting, but the supple weight of terms like "big boss" made her realize he really was just a civilian and not some sinister mastermind like she had originally suspected.
"Yes, we met."
"So she pulled the same act on you, right? Where she gets all scary and then says all sorts of things to you flat out. That kind of thing."
"Something like that."
"God, I hate that. I was scared out of my mind! I nearly wet myself! She has such a way with words..." A tone of admiration in his voice, like a fearful animal.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Tanigami, but I'm a bit pressed for time..." She wasn't. She didn't come here to just make complaints about their boss.
Instinctively, Tanigami caught her drift, and his mood changed. "Then you know about it? The quantum computer."
"I do. As I understand it you developed that Digital Bastille program for her."
"We did. I knew full well what I was doing. It was my payment for Touha. Oh, but you probably know him better as Hermit, don't you?" Tanigami's son had been the instigation of Reiko's deterrence from her previous assignment, and the reason she was now standing in front of this father who was wet behind the ears. "You see, some time ago Ms. Bain graciously let me use some of her resources to put Touha on ice and keep his consciousness connected to the quantum computer where it could be monitored safely."
"And in return, you developed the Digital Bastille..."
"So I take it you also were the one who connected the quantum computer to The World R:X?"
"And you gave Hermit that stick of his? The one that connected others to the computer?"
"That's also correct."
"I see..."Reiko stared off into space.
"But, you know, that whole plan wasn't my idea."
"What do you mean?"
"How do I put it... divine intervention?"
"It happened shortly after we started development... I had come home from work, and this thick envelope sat in my mailbox. It's rare that I get personal mail or buy anything online, and I hadn't done so in a while. You know, when you're divorced and your kid's frozen, it's not like I've got much else to do but drown myself in work. Anyway, I opened the envelope. There wasn't any note, no note, not even a return address--but there was this old looking P-COM device. I think it was the model that came out maybe a year or two ago? I'm not sure. Well, I turned the thing on, and the only thing on it was an audio file. It wouldn't play at all though, the file told me it was corrupt.
"It was really all pretty strange. It wasn't that it was corrupt--but it was encrypted. I could tell from the file itself that it wasn't something as simple as 'corruption.' And yet, my computer would not read it. I tried running it through a brute force program, and that's when I knew--the file stalled my computer to the point that I had to shut the whole thing down before it would listen to me again. This thing had a quantum encryption.
"So, when I went to work the next day I created a connection between the lab at PFW and the computer we were working on, and ran it through. It looked like, somehow, the key was already there--someone had placed it for me to find. There was all sorts of information inside--schematics on the Black Stick, Touha's medical charts and waiting list records for his operation. What I discovered was that Touha's place on the waitlist had been stalled--in other words, Ms. Bain had been making sure he didn't get the treatment he needed until I had finished my job.
"Basically I was being played with, like a donkey following a carrot on a stick. I was heartbroken, Ms. Saeki. My son has been in pain for so long... I thought after this it would be through. And so, I created the Black Stick as per the specifications.
"Oh, right, the name: 'Black Stick.' I got it from the only line of text in the file that was separate from the rest of the data. It said something like: 'None of those who are swallowed up by the Black Forest will return...' Ominous, to say the least... I figured I would match my anonymous benefactor's poetics by christening it the Black Stick. If Touha were to use it in the game world, then he would be able to read the IC Chip data of the connected users, including their medical info. I figured I'd leave the rest to him, he's a clever kid.
"There was so much data hidden in there. I'm not sure what I was supposed to do with it. All sorts of things--stuff about Ms. Bain, stuff about the 'Ultimate AI,' and plans that involved the quantum computer. There was even all sorts of political documents about the American presidential election I couldn’t make heads or tails of. You know, in spy movies, they write those documents in a simple way for regular viewers to understand, but in reality they’re far more obscure. Granted, my English isn’t that good, but anyway, I wasn't sure what to make of it. All I know is that those in charge are up to no good.
"I figured I was being asked by my guardian angel or something to protect that machine from being used for evil. ‘Guardian angel’ is kind of a juvenile term, but when you work in the higher echelons of tech like me things start to get a bit out there. People just aren’t normal. That's why I was so confused when you gave me that weird warning when I saw you last! I hope you didn't suspect me of anything..."
Seemingly Tanigami was done telling his tale. Reiko recapped: the quantum computer manifested in The World R:X based on a third party's instruction. The IC Chip's weakness was exposed, and it lost standing in the public eye--this included the public image of ALTIMIT, who developed the IC Chip, and CyberConnect, who had developed the quantum computer. Whoever it was that instructed Tanigami to carry out this plan certainly had it out for those in charge, Reiko thought. It was like someone had launched a direct attack straight into the power structure of the modern techno-bureaucratic fortress.
"Why are human beings so crucial for the quantum computer?" asked Reiko, reaching an impasse in her thoughts.
"That would be the bio-element."
"It was something Harald Hoerwick discovered was necessary during the computer's original development--at least, that's what I found in his notes. Essentially, the more consciousnesses are linked to the computer, i.e., human brains, the more powerful it becomes. I guess the San Diego prisons weren't enough for Ms. Bain's liking." Tanigami said this with a casualness that exemplified his scientific attitude toward the whole thing. The prisoners and civilians alike were all test subjects to him.
"I see..." Reiko was lost in thought. Harald Hoerwick?
"That brings me to my main point." Suddenly, Tanigami clasped Reiko's hand. "We have to counterattack!"
"You and me, we're the only ones who know about that woman's treachery. We're the only ones who can do something about it! That's what my guardian angel instructed me to do! It's our destiny!"
"That's what? That's justice! We can't let these people keep operating. You know about what's beyond Bain, right?"
What's beyond Bain? Reiko thought. The wording of it was peculiar.
"You don't know, do you?" Tanigami let go of her hand. "About Mama."