"They've since upgraded the firmware, you see--quantum encryption."
"Can you explain what that means?"
"Certainly. The way data transference works now is largely unsafe from attacks by someone who really wants whatever it is you're sending--bank info, payments, important e-mails, these sorts of things are all prey to the craftiest locksmiths on the net. The encryption we've used since the earliest days of the net is basically passing around lots of keys and locks. You send an encrypted e-mail to a partner, and you send a lock and a key with it. Only your e-mail partner should have that key to unlock it. Careful hackers can pick that key like a fish out of water and unlock that e-mail."
"Right? It's terrible, simply terrible. So the solution: quantum encryption. I won't bore you with the details, but the way this kind of encryption works is that when our shady little locksmith friend tries to take a look at the key, the make-up of the key itself changes. Unusable. Gone! The relay device makes sure that only the sender and the recipient are the two people on the planet physically capable of receiving that quantum-encrypted data."
"Did you hear about Micius?"
"Not who, what. It was around the time I was doing that web series--the one that was criticized for being poorly researched. You can tell I've done my homework now, can't you?"
"Um... the relay device?"
"Right! Right. Micius: a Chinese satellite specifically for quantum communications. A relay device!"
"So, then, what if the relay device was hacked?"
"Hacked? By who? There's no quantum computers that are even usable yet, not on that scale. We're long beyond days of satellite disasters and terrible things like that--this thing is foolproof! What I'm saying is, the possibility that something like what happened last year is virtually zero once this system gets up and running. Hackers like that sorry son of a--"
"Mr. Aihara, you can't swear on the air."
"Oh, my bad. Well, hackers like that guy are gonna be out of business soon. Cybercrime no more! That guy hacked a quantum computer to decrypt regularly encrypted data, right? With this, it'll be impossible for any Joe Schmoe like that to mess with the flow again."
"Wow. This is all very fascinating! How about we take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors before we hear back from Salvador Aihara's World of Techno--"
Ryuuji cut the radio.
In the Celica, the layer of metal that separated Ryuji from the rest of the world was the finest defense he had. Nobody bothered to look inside cars--boring looking ones, anyway--and as such Ryuji always felt safe behind the dim windows of his vehicle. As he drove north out of Minato ward, he felt invisible within the bustle of Tokyo around him. The drive was slow, slower than taking the train, as Tokyo is not a city made for cars. Traffic lights punctuate every few hundred meters of movement, always red.
The crawl of traffic allowed Ryuji some time to look at the faces who could not see his, and he wondered what their lives were like, and if they had seen his face before, too.
A wanted man.
Invisible eyes felt all around him. Just how much did people care anyway? Outside of the occasional protest towards some loss of privacy or the other, no one was shuddering in their boots that a man who had stolen something as intangible as biometric data was loose on the streets. What danger did he pose to them? None at all.
Go ahead, take a look.
Ryuuji felt as though this was the attitude those who scoffed at NAB protestors approached life with. What does it matter if someone looks at my private data? I have nothing to hide! Accept the terms and conditions and log in. I'm all alone in my room, just what do they want to see?
"Ho ho," says the invisible rat.
It slithers into the room and climbs upon your shoulder and stares at the scroll of your ALTIMIT-made P-COM device, its eyes just one facet of its master. Invisible rats fill the room. It's dark here, but the glow of the screen is enough. You're alone, and that's enough. The rats pass along your ankles and calculate your life. They speak to each other in sentences that are more like you than ones you would ever be able to produce. The world on the screen warps--it's a world for you, deceptively so, and you are deceived.
What exactly is the half-life of information? When does one news story bleed over into the next? What merits the staying power of headlines? Who decides what the truth really is? Who is guilty? Who is innocent? Who is Ryuuji Sogabe? What is The World? Where are the fragments of my love? What is that black tree? Who is Veronica Bain, really? What's going to happen next? I need answers, I need answers, I need answers, Kaya, I can't take it, I need answers, I--
In any case, Ryuuji's status as a fugitive seemed to have no effect on Haruka Mizuhara.
After meeting her husband he left almost immediately after without asking many questions. Outside the apartment she had stopped him and asked if their meeting was any use. Yes, he had told her, it was useful. This was the truth. The black tree--whatever it was--seemed to be the form of choice for the quantum computer as it appeared in the digital space. Why was that? Who left it that way? Why? Enough questions, he thought, and moved on. Whatever had afflicted her husband, his symptoms seemed to be related to that particular night, or, rather, that particular time. While he hadn't been able to discover any lists of Fragment beta testers or anything concrete like that, he had continued to investigate the identities of those involved at CC Corp at that time. Most either operated under false names or off records--much like the man who had left behind the information Ryuuji had been working with. But Mizuhara's husband was notable for continuing work at CC Corp afterwards, and his name and position were on their public register.
That man is sick, Ryuuji thought, but perhaps not sick the same way Kaya was. Something was fundamentally different. There were no other instances of Kaya's sickness being passed around at the time of the test anyway, and the most common rumour that had existed in many forms shared one common element: there had only been one victim in the trials, Kaya's father. No matter how many BBS backups or surviving rumormongering from that time period he had referred to, the number always remained one.
Tired, so tired.
The smell of the car became a bit noticeable as he reached an impasse in his thoughts. The slow cruise came to a halt at another red light. Again, he held his breath.
The traffic light flashed green, and he drove.
Finally, the car pulled up at the museum in Adachi city. Ryuji had come without checking if Dr. Sugai was in, but it wasn't something he could really do. He had purchased a burner phone for an emergency call, but limited himself to one in case repeated use to call his usual contacts would lead to his discovery, should the telephone lines of his closest associates be monitored as well. As such, the phone would be destroyed immediately after use.
He exited the car and pulled his collar up high to obscure his face as he approached the museum's entrance. It was open today, but it wasn't the type of place that was visited often. Perhaps a curious passerby or a salaryman killing time on his lunch break, but it wasn't a place visited by school children for field trips--it was far too technical for that. As such, there was nobody inside. At the counter, the professor was eating his usual anpan. He looked up and stopped before he could take a bite.
"You! You're back?"
"Am I your first customer of the day? Looks like you need better publicity for the place. What better than a fugitive?"
Strawberry milk sat on the table.
"Sorry... I usually keep this around for my grandson's visits."
"Oh, no, this is perfect. Strawberry milk is one of the greatest joys in life."
He took a sip.
"That's it! That's the stuff! That's the taste of youth!"
Sugai poured himself a glass and took an uninspired swig.
"So, is it true? The news said..."
"The news says many things, Dr. Sugai. I trust you know my character well enough that you know I wouldn't commit such pointless crimes."
"I know it, but why...."
"Why would someone falsify such information about me? I stepped on some toes, that's why. That's nothing unusual, though. I was always told by my professors I was too abrasive when I spoke to them, but if I wasn't abrasive they wouldn't listen! What's a man to do? So anyway, I've made it a habit of getting on people's nerves."
"I would love to explain the last month and some to you, Dr. Sugai, but I simply do not have the time or the liberty to drink strawberry milk and tell you things that would get you in trouble just for knowing about them. I'm just here for one purpose, and one purpose alone: I need your help with something."
"More old-school hacking? I can't go lending out equipment, especially not to fugitives..."
"No, I'm not looking to rent. I've brought something with me." Ryuji produced the P-COM from his jacket pocket. "There's a certain audio file on this P-COM that I'm having trouble with. The encryption is pretty tough, tough enough that the NAB couldn't break it, and seeing as you specialize in various forms of hacking, well, I'm counting on you once again."
He passed the P-COM to Sugai, who looked intently at the screen. There was some silence, and then he took another swig of his milk.
"Hm..." he said this with a stern look on his face and a hand on his chin, the perfect image of the wise old man putting his well-worn brain to work. He fiddled with the screen a bit, stopping now and then to stare. "I'll have to look this over on my own terminal. Is that alright?"
"It's alright, but I have to advise you that this is highly sensitive info. Even the footprint of it might get you into trouble, so you gotta make sure it's completely wiped when we're done."
They transmitted the file to Sugai's desktop PC.
"I'm going to run the usual brute force program to discern a decryption key. Of course, the programmers at NAB have tried this too, but I need to confirm something..." Sugai finagled the computer, ran a program, and then an error message appeared.
"Just as I thought."
"The second half of this file can't be decrypted."
"What? Then how am I supposed to use it?"
"It can't be decrypted by this computer. It's not powerful enough."
"What do you mean?"
"What you're looking for is a quantum computer."
"This damn thing again..."
"So you're familiar with the concept?"
"Then I'll make it simple: the second half of this voice file uses a qubit encryption--in other words, it's quantum encryption. If we were to leave it up to this old thing it would be a few lifetimes and then some before we got an answer."
"What about that quantum satellite, the Chinese one? They named it after Micius--what a load of sophistry. If it were me, I'd name it after a worthwhile philosopher, someone like Mencius."
"Right..." He took another swig. "That thing isn't available to regular people. Besides, all it's capable of is transmission. We need the machines that can create the keys to begin with: an actual quantum machine."
"Do you think I have a quantum computer just lying around to use whenever I want?"
"I don't think there are any in Japan to begin with."
"But, if this file was encrypted here in Japan..."
"That's right," said Dr. Sugai, crossing his arms. "There's bound to be one here somewhere, at least unofficially."
Once again, Ryuuji was involved with the looming shadow of yet another quantum computer. Drain, who had used one in his own battle with Urania, had proved the sheer power of the machine--able to achieve processing speeds lightyears ahead of what was once possible with the average consumer PC. If there was one in Japan, then surely Durga Fida Sharma was pointing him to it.
Ryuuji sat in the car parked outside the museum as he mulled it over. The Puchiguso charm Tokio had given him now hung from his rear view mirror, something to mindlessly fiddle with while thinking.
If only I could find that ALTIMIT programmer...
Of course, finding information that doesn't exist would be difficult, but luckily Ryuuji knew someone who specialized in acquiring information that doesn't exist.
He made his emergency call. The recipient: Judy Goldman--the hacker known as Urania.