"What the hell?!"
Immediately after departing San Diego International Airport, David was greeted by Ryuuji's face staring at him on a monitor in the backseat of the car that had come to pick him up. A news reporter spoke next to his face.
"...the data leak that occurred late last year. The suspect is one Ryuuji Sogabe," said the American news anchor with a thick accent, “wanted in connection with the tampering of medical records of thousands of customers of the CyberConnect Corporation and its affiliate companies. While CC Corp's president Veronica Bain ensures the leak has been contained and no data made it out of the hands of the hackers, the primary culprit in the case is still at large. In a shocking turn of events, authorities arrested one Takao Yamaoka, a fifteen year old high school student, who colluded with Mr. Sogabe in obtaining this information. The boy, son of the owner of a local car dealership, was brought to authorities late last night in an effort to ascertain the location of Sogabe. The NAB and FBI have advised us to inform authorities of both the US and Japan that he may have fled overseas to hide. In local news..."
"Driver. Driver!" David beckoned for the guy up front, but he was clearly hard of hearing.
"Hm? Sir? How may I... help... you?" Each word was strained through a thick Japanese accent. David saw his nametag in the rear view mirror: Yamanaka. Clearly a native speaker.
"Hey, old man!" he said in Japanese.
"Wow, a foreigner who speaks Japanese? Who'd've thought? How ya doin'?"
"Yeah, yeah, Osaka University graduate, I learned Japanese a weird way, I get it, it's interesting, let's save the pleasantries for later. Listen, where exactly is this car headed?"
"Well, I'm supposed to take you to the main laboratory. Then I'm supposed to wait outside until you're done, then I'm supposed to take you to a hotel, then I'm supposed to have a nice warm meal, then I--"
"Is there any way you can take me to the main office instead?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but this car is bound for that lab one way or another, no two ways about it. Nothin' I can do. If I don't drive you where I'm told, I'm gonna get in trouble, and that's the last thing I want, sir. I recently had a lady pass out back there and that got me into huge trouble I tell ya, I nearly lost my damn job! So I'm stickin' to the instructions, y'hear?" Yamanaka was firm on this, a stance he rarely got to take in his line of work. "Anyway, mister, where'd you learn such great Japanese? And Kansai-ben no less! You're more native than I am."
But David was already on the phone.
"Eleanor!" His partner at NAB. "This Sogabe business. What's going on here?"
"Oh, David. When did you get back to America?"
"Right. You mentioned him in your report on that rat incident, right? Looks like an arrest warrant was put out in his name."
"That's exactly what I'm calling about. There's no reason any arrest warrant should exist."
"When I was reading over your report I ran a background check on the guy and it's quite decorated. Degrees and doctorates in neuroscience, psychology, a stint at CC Corp, and now a private eye... why did he have to turn to hacking?"
"That's what I'm saying: he didn't. Whatever's going on here is an elaborate hoax. The news have clearly been tampered with--why would American stations run Japanese stories? I understand the supposed 'international' angle, but it's weak to say the least. I'm sensing something sinister here, Eleanor, and I'm pretty sure the source of that sinister feeling is somewhere nearby."
"I don't know who exactly in either party issued the warrant, but after reading over your report... I'm certain it has something to do with those IC Chip proponents."
The biological implant chip—sometimes called the IC chip, as it was mainly used in place of IC card technology. The NAB had more or less split in two arguing over the ethics of introducing a chip of this kind into society. In the scenario that Yuri Seto successfully pulled off his attack, it would've set a huge precedent for the pro-IC faction to make moves in implementing them on a wide scale. But David and Ryuuji had suppressed it successfully. There should be no way Ryuuji could be involved in this, David thought, as no one in the pro-IC faction should even be aware of his existence or the entire rat incident.
"Can you look into it for me? I brought back some important data from Japan, but it looks like that's gonna have to go on hold while we deal with this mess... In the meantime I'm gonna see if I can weasel my way into a certain Ms. Bain's schedule."
"I'll see what I can find out. You focus on that computer, David."
"Got it." He hung up. The sound from the front seat now made itself apparent.
"I keep tellin' my kids to teach my grandkids English. It's the language of the world, don't ya think? My job would be so much easier if I could speak English, but instead I'm just makin' a fool out of myself on a daily basis. Those gaijin don't mind though, they think it's cute."
"They're not called gaijin if you're outside of Japan."
"Hm? I guess yer right. But until I can speak English, everywhere I go might as well be just another part of Japan, don't you think? Gaijin are gaijin no matter where I am."
“I’m telling you, Yamanaka, I need to go to the main office.”
“And I’m tellin’ ya, Mr. Steinberg, I can’t do that. But I’m more than happy to take you out for a beer when your work here is done. I wanna hear all about your time in Osaka!” They had already pulled up in front of the lab without David realizing it.
“I would love to, really, but I’m gonna have to skip it. My work here might be a while.”
“That’s too bad. Well, if I ever drive you again, I’ll think of all sorts things to ask ya!”
“Wonderful,” said David through a tight-lipped smile.
He was standing outside the main research and development department of CyberConnect San Diego, a building that existed mostly underground. The San Diego branch, like many tech companies, had a large ‘campus’ of company territory, where various buildings were scattered around a plot of land with different functions. However, the largest of those spaces was the R&D, which had the smallest presence above ground: simply a glass box with a small waiting room and an elevator. There were no receptionists, as it was not a place that often had guests. To the left a small display of photographs, including one of the campus some 20 years prior, when it was still just one building.
“Ah, you must be Mr. Steinberg,” said a voice emerging from the elevator. “My name is Kiyoshi Ogura. I’m the chief secretarial assistant here at CyberConnect. I’ve been instructed to show you around the facilities.”
“Hi there, Mr. Ogura. If you’d like,” he said, switching languages, “we can speak in Japanese.”
“That won’t be necessary Mr. Steinberg,” said Ogura in perfect English, “I’m quite proud of my English ability. Right this way,” he said motioning David towards the elevator.
“Actually, I was hoping if I could see Ms. Bain. I’ve got some questions about a friend of mine who met her recently—maybe you know him? A man named Ryuuji Sogabe.”
The name made Ogura flinch at a minuscule level, but enough for David to notice the break in his demeanour.
“I’m afraid that’s impossible. As it is not in Ms. Bain’s schedule to meet with you, there’s unfortunately nothing I can do,” he said with a smile.
“I have some questions I’d like to ask her. Perhaps you could help me instead—do you know Ryuuji Sogabe?”
“I am not permitted to talk about anything other than what I’ve been assigned, Mr. Steinberg.”
“But you know him, don’t you?”
“I am not permitted to talk about anything. Whether or not I know him is besides the point.”
“So you know him.”
Ogura stayed silent.
“That’s good enough for me. Well, I guess I have to see the premises anyway, so we’ll start with the tour.”
David entered the glass box with Ogura and began to descend. The elevator was silent, with only the sinking feeling of descent in the pit of their stomachs to accompany them. David tried to cut the tension.
“How long have you worked here, Mr. Ogura?”
“Oh, somewhere close to ten years now.”
“Wow! That’s quite a long time!”
“It feels like I started only yesterday, really.”
“Any wife and kids?”
“Oh, yes, a wife and son.”
“Good for you,” said David. “Good for you.”
The elevator stopped, and the door opened into another small waiting room. It was lit by fluorescent bulbs, artificial and bright. Plants were scattered around to even out the mood, but mostly emphasized how unnatural the place was. It was metal, cold and clinical.
“To your right,” said Ogura, gesturing to one of the doorways, "is the mess hall, where employees can enjoy a selection of fine dining from various countries.”
“Do I get to sample some later too?”
“If you’d like.”
“Great, I’m looking forward to the chutney.”
Ogura, ignoring his comment, continued: “And to your left, we have the entrance to the main laboratories. If you’ll follow me,” he said, and they entered the hallway. The door slid open like something out of Star Trek, and the hallway stretched down with moving walkways on both sides for faster access, much like an airport terminal. Through the windows various large laboratories and server rooms could be seen. Most had their lights off, as it was a holiday. Only a bare minimum of staff was operating.
“For a company that mainly develops an online game you sure have a lot of space here.”
“We do more than develop The World, Mr. Steinberg. Surely you’re familiar with our other ventures.”
“We’ve recently entered the home appliance market. Refrigerators, washing machines—things like that. We’re aiming for a full network integration to allow for more sophisticated functions, like being able to control various appliances from each others interfaces, including your cell phone.”
“Shouldn’t you be focusing more on making them work?”
“Well, their function is assuredly top of the line. That much we can guarantee.”
“Seems like a whole lot of fluff to me.”
Ogura, unable to come up with a retort, moved on to the next laboratory.
“Aside from hardware, we’ve been designing various softwares too. Ever since the CyberConnect Corporation acquired ALGOS in 2020, we’ve been putting their very best to work on new consumer grade software. Currently we’re developing a new anti-virus system schedule to launch later this year.”
David thought of Reiko, who must have also had this same tour some months earlier. He wondered what everything looked like then, and if anything had changed. As they approached the final door to the room where the quantum computer was housed, he wondered what kinds of things she felt as she made her approach, what kind of things she hoped to find behind the door. His mind wandered, and finally Ogura announced:
“This is where we are developing the quantum computer.”
He scanned a keycard and the door opened with some drama, a valve turning here and there, and a slow metallic wailing as it separated. Inside, David was faced with a large black box, unable to discern its contents. Ogura called for someone to turn on the lights, and David realized it was actually a tinted window. Inside, a large series of plates hung from the ceiling with various wires connecting them. The wires dangled here and there like tendrils, giving the machine a deep sea creature sort of look. David had seen photographs of prototype quantum computers, but this was his first time seeing one in the flesh. There was something unsettling about it—from its alien appearance to the way it didn’t even sit on the floor, like something unnatural to this world defying its laws. Which, coincidentally, was also what this machine aimed to do—surpass the power of modern computing tenfold, and then some.
“So this is the machine in question, eh?”
“Yes, this is the main major undertaking at CC Corp outside of the development of The World.”
“So, where are the brains?”
“I read in a colleague’s report that there was some sinister program being used here that utilized human brainpower to function. Where do you keep the brains?”
“That program was not designed by CyberConnect—it was a misuse of this computer by a hacker.”
“So you’re saying CyberConnect didn’t conduct experiments on prisoners?”
“No, I am not denying that. Prisoners were utilized for preliminary experiments on the quantum computer. It should be noted that they complied willingly and signed waivers to give up their rights,” said Ogura, firmly and flatly.
“They were death row inmates, though, right? Seems kind of cruel to use pre-dead men for your science experiments.”
“There were no legal infractions.”
“So this program, this Digital Bastille—as my colleague called it—wasn’t made by CyberConnect? Wouldn’t it be beneficial for CC Corp to get a hold of that many bio-elements for this thing?”
“Yes, but we did not design any plan for such a program. The prison program is now ended too on account of a mandate by the UN. The program was found to be inhumane, and as such was shut down. The computer continues to operate without a bio-element.”
“Interesting. Very interesting.” David thought it over. Reiko was the one responsible for shutting the program down, but did not call for the end of the quantum computer program as a whole. It also seemed that she found no issue with the fact that CyberConnect had no relation with the hacking incident, which struck David as odd—anyone would find it suspicious. However, according to Reiko’s case files, all relevant individuals were interviewed at both PFW and San Diego, and no signs of collusion were found. Even still, David felt a sinister something lurking beneath the surface. The uneasy feeling the computer itself had given him was proof enough that it wasn’t something meant to exist. If they are lying, and bio-elements are still coming in, then the question remains: where?
David continued to examine the computer and was shown the monitoring room where its development was tracked. He spoke to a scientist there who rattled off various facts about the computer and its functions, which mostly went over David’s head. He explained with great detail, probably at the behest of his superiors, that the process of manifesting qubits had changed since the prison experiments, and new avenues were being studied. In other words, no more brains. David asked about the prison experiments and how exactly they worked. The scientist looked nervously at Ogura, who showed no response. He explained cursorily that the prisoners would be hooked up via a neural link device and induced into an unconscious state. The quantum computer, he said, is essentially emulating the same processes as a human mind at a much higher rate, and by giving it a physical one to manipulate, it is able to generate more qubits. The qubits are the basis of quantum computing, he explained, but at this point David had long since tuned out. He had got what he was looking for: no brains.
Still, it bothered him. The entire operation had been too clean. Ogura had explained the development was still ongoing, and so there was not much yet to show. Until a new method of manifesting qubits could be discovered, resources had been allocated to other departments, such as the aforementioned anti-virus. It was a convenient story, but David could not see through the cracks.
* * *
David takes a sleeping pill. The newscaster on TV tells the story of Ryuuji Sogabe. A vengeful ex-CyberConnect employee who wreaked havoc on their servers by utilizing confidential hardware steals private health records of thousands of customers. What a load of crap. The pill dissolves and begins to slowly carry out its functions and gently lays David down on the hotel bed. He thinks of Ryuuji, visualizing his face as he remembered it, not what was presented on TV.
Shallow, tired, but filled with a light that refuses to go out. The visage of Ryuuji greets the jumbled mind of David Steinberg. He feels a tinge of regret, but David does not let it last. There is no time to regret things that have already happened. He focuses that feeling into the resolve of wanting to help Ryuuji instead.
Just then, the TV broadcaster pulls him from the process of sleep and says a name that activates his mind like an alarm.
“The former president is in stable condition. President Coleman, frequent advocate for anti-network integration, was hurt in the ongoing Tri-Surveillance System and IC Chip protest outside of NAB’s San Diego headquarters. He was airlifted to a military hospital shortly after the altercation.” The boss man had been hurt.
The name Alex Coleman enters through one ear and counteracts the sleeping pill. David, conditioned to respond, makes a move to get up, but it is too late. The sleeping pill has already entered the deepest regions of its journey, and the name has lost. The name and the face wash away as he drifts into the current of sleep, and then he begins to see a dream—a dream of Osaka.
A dream of the first day he met her.