Another cold beer in another net cafe. The alcohol entered Ryuuji’s system, and he closed his eyes.
All around him were phantoms. Names that led nowhere, people who once existed and then suddenly didn’t, and those who never existed at all. The only commonality between all of them was the internet, and even that no longer seemed familiar to him.
A comfortable fatigue enveloped him, the kind one might relish in on a sick day away from work, the kind of fatigue that soothed the conscience enough to ensure the sick day was true, and that no guilt ever entered the 24 hours of relaxation. A greedy fatigue that liberated one from sin.
It had been so long since he had been connected. The freedom of information, here at this kitschy desktop computer offering him full range and full motion through untold seas of data. Familiar modes of thinking set in as he sifted through it all. Once upon a time it was called “surfing,” but to Ryuuji it always felt like a kind of wandering. A deep, dark forest sprawls before him. Phantoms at every turn, but welcome ones. The kind you can’t wait to meet.
The power to connect people was here--or at least it used to be.
The world had changed, and so had the Net. It was impossible to ignore, yet everyone did whenever possible. What once felt like empowerment now felt like entrapment--like the longer one engaged with the Net, the larger their footprint. What you say may be used against you in a court of law, and so on. The world had changed, that much was for sure. It was only here in front of a computer screen that Ryuuji felt simultaneously the most empowered and most hopeless about the future. The perfect information game of accruing the right information to make the right moves had become obsolete by the cold grip of those who controlled the technology. And yet, there was a small hope that remained--the hope that connections between people could create a better world.
It was one such connection that had called him to this internet cafe.
Judy Goldman had made contact. The report was complete. Ryuuji began to read it carefully.
I looked into that thing you asked about. Like you requested, I’m sending this info to you under a printing code for your local convenience store (what the fuck?). Hope it makes it to you.
I’m going to tell this to you like a story, because that’s what it felt like to me.
That’s probably what this was. A kind of fiction.
I started by looking into that server I accessed before, you know, the one where I got you those medical records about your wife? They had set up some major ice in the general vicinity, probably because my prior intrusion was detected. If I’m being honest, the programmers at ALGOS are all pathetic nobodies. I broke into it like it was a hot summer’s afternoon and all I needed was a wrench to cool off under the fire hydrant.
Anyway, that guy:
Yeah, he’s gone--but maybe that’s not the best way to put it. I took a look around in there again and confirmed the records left behind by ALTIMIT that he was a lead programmer on the quantum computer project. He worked directly with that Bain lady. I never really saw much else of interest other than that report I gave you a little while ago. That thing was tucked deep into an old server that wasn’t in active use anymore, probably something they forgot to erase. As you can tell, it’s unfinished, with no real evidence supporting his claims either. The guy was clearly writing in a hurry, and it’s something they didn’t feel comfortable about destroying--why else would they keep such a compromising piece of evidence around all these years later?
Then I did some research on the server itself. It was in a separate location from the rest of the ALTIMIT farm but farther, much farther. It was a bust looking into it though, all the ownership information was completely blocked. But you know me--I don’t give up easy. I dug around it, trying to find the relevant information to see exactly where and when this thing came into existence. I managed to spring up the credit card number that bought it, and after that another story began to line itself up.
Bank security is nothing. You’d be surprised how easy it is for any punk like me to drain the number in your account to zero. Stealing civilian money unleashes a whole other can of worms, though, so that stuff is left untouched. Too much hassle. Anyway, I took a look around the dusty museum of our friend’s bank account. It had been opened around the time the German team that made up the core CyberConnect group came to the States, probably a company card. It was mostly basic living expenses--hotel fees, meals at restaurants around the area now long gone, and the occasional drink at a bar.
There are a few things about this credit card that we need to talk about. The first are its charges. I’ll start at the end--the last charge on this card is a one way ticket to Japan.
Not just one, however. A whole bunch of them. It was always the same pattern--flight from some far off country to Narita airport, and then Narita to Aomori.
There’s a saying amongst hackers. Maybe you know about it?
“He’s gone to Aomori.”
I’m too young to have been around for this, but the story goes that something like ten or fifteen years ago there was an urban legend about a cursed e-mail. These sorts of stories were a dime a dozen in those days, but this one was real. Basically, hackers, crackers, and others of that sort who were big enough to have a name in the community would get an e-mail with some batshit insane job offer. It was always something enormous, and there were always the credentials to prove it. These hackers who got it were the kind that couldn’t afford to refuse something like that. Nobody gets into this business as a hobby, and the ones who do never make it far. The real ones, like me, are always cracking to survive. The end game of any hacker is to “make it,” but others would call it “selling out” or “joining enemy forces.” Sort of like what I did. I’m over that now.
This was the holy grail of those offers. There were a million and a half uploads of people who apparently got the e-mail, all with different contents, so no one can really verify what exactly the mail entailed. All that’s important was that it was huge. Here’s the thing: almost all of them mentioned a job in Aomori, Japan.
Here’s the other thing:
Everyone who went to Aomori never returned.
Sometime after these e-mails friends and family started appearing in these deep net hacker circles, all saying their son or daughter got on a plane one day and disappeared. Anonymity is our greatest virtue, so we never really knew if these people were for real or not, but they came by the dozens seeking help. The town was turned upside down for a while, but thorough investigations revealed nothing. Soon after the Digital Zone Project began, the town was leveled, and any evidence that would have come up disappeared. And so, it became that “He’s gone to Aomori” turned into slang for an unexplained disappearance.
The disappearances stopped after a while. No one really talks about it anymore either. People of my kind disappear for all sorts of reasons without notice these days, and the phrase itself has outlasted the story that birthed it. There are no records of these cases ever happening, the chatrooms they occurred in gone with the wind, just like those involved. In fact, if you were to research this topic now through existing resources, for whatever reason it seems to have been deliberately covered up. The only information I could find on the matter was through discussions I had with other people--so all of this is up in the air between us, just as it always is.
This character--Klaus Vogler--is supposedly the mastermind of this whole operation. It’s a very convenient tactic to point fingers at someone who exists in every sense but physical.
You see, Sogabe, the name on the credit card was not his.
You know about me, don’t you? That I’m the daughter of Senator Goldman, the one everyone’s talking about these days, the one who’s going to shake up the entire world of American politics or whatever nonsense. My dad, he’s not a good guy--that’s for certain. My mom, though, all she wanted was for me to live a good life, which is why she married such a jackass of a man to begin with. Do you know my mother’s maiden name? It’s Uhlenhuth. It’s an obscure kind of name, one of those old German ones that intimidate English speakers just on sight.
It’s the same name on the card. A woman named Erna Uhlenhuth--my aunt.
My aunt was not someone I knew well. I had heard stories about her from my mother, but they were all strange and disjointed. It seems my mother had abandoned some past in Germany she no longer wanted to own, but felt obligated for me to inherit. There are weird fragments of information about Erna that I won’t bother you with.
My aunt is said to have died in a car crash. This server may have proven otherwise.
Do you remember the spring WNC meeting of 2007? The one that was held in Aomori, a spot which was known to be going under major turmoil as a tech hotspot of the world. This one was of special note, as CyberConnect, a fledgling subsidiary of ALTIMIT, revealed their Fragment beta test to the world. The plan was smart--the very first online game since Pluto’s Kiss, it would revitalize the network market and introduce new customers who had never used the internet before Pluto’s Kiss.
This same meeting has gone down in infamy in stranger circles for obscure reasons.
The same day, a freak car accident stunned the otherwise sleepy hot spring town of Aomori. Its circumstances were so insane that many have speculated that this case and the original Aomori story were related. The latter incident is the kind of thing that’s covered often in ‘unexplained mysteries’ programs, the schlocky kind of shit people watch to pass the time.
The car accident was some wild thing. One driver was going at an insane speed down the highway, and another car appeared out of nowhere, going down the wrong lane, colliding head on. Both victims were foreigners. The part most people are interested in--and the reason this became talked about at all--is the detail they discovered at the scene: the foreigner had a trunk full of human remains. Some onlookers described what can only be described as a disfigured human brain.
The woman recovered from the car was German. My mother wailed that day in ways I had never heard before. I’ve never forgotten the sound.
There are three things that happened on that day: The WNC spring meeting of 2007; The death of my aunt, Erna Uhlenhuth, on roads just outside of the convention center; The end of the Aomori cases.
I don’t want to find out how this story ends. All three of these events are ostensibly linked, and I don’t want to know how.
Whatever my aunt wanted to expose to the world probably awaits you on that server, there in Aomori. Klaus Vogler was her insurance--a character designed to take the fall for ALTIMIT’s sins. She wanted to tell a fictional story--or at least, they want it to seem fictional. If there was one thing I knew for certain about my aunt, it was that she liked telling stories. My mother’s eyes always lit up when she’d recount bedtime tales of fantasy and adventure.
I’m not strong enough to do this. I hate this, I hate it so much.
But this is what happened, and we can’t look away from the truth.
I saved this info for last, but the server this info is on is also in Aomori. It was paid for and set up after the car accident. Whether it was someone doing it in her name, my aunt herself, or her ghost, it’s impossible to tell for sure. I have a feeling, though, that it was her. That whatever ended that day never ended for her, and that this server has sat for years like a beacon until the right person with enough guts could finish what she started. There’s probably untold amounts of information on this server, but as far as I could tell it was all encrypted in a way I couldn’t break remotely.
It’s up to you. I’ve attached the exact coordinates. Be the hero my aunt needed, because I’m not cut out for this.
Stop this shit, Ryuuji, seriously. I’m so tired.