There her name was, clear as day. A list of candidates, dates of recovery, and dates of “termination.”
The star pupil of Alex Coleman, the source of the fire that never went out deep in David Steinberg’s heart. Killed, it seemed, by executive order of none other than Coleman himself. The signature had to be forged, it was all that woman’s doing, it had always been her. Coleman worked so hard to smoke them out, established the Anti-Cyberterrorism Taskforce, hand-selected operatives from youth around the world to lead the world to a brighter tomorrow: a net for the people by the people--his mountain of platitudes became his throne. To disbelieve Alex Coleman meant entering a realm of uncertainty David had not known since he was a young boy, a lost child without a friend in the world. To disbelieve Coleman meant going back to the orphanage.
And now Coleman had died. A door slammed shut in David’s heart, never to be opened again. The time for answers had passed. Now only an endless void stretched across the grid of his unconscious mind, a cloud of unknowing as he turned around into the dark.
Eriko Fujioka was sheer chance. It was as if he had willed her into existence. Once he left Japan, he never heard from her again. Her chat handles disappeared, phonelines disconnected, even physical mail returned. David chalked it up to the difference of timezones, just missing windows of communication. He would stare up at the moon, and that would be enough. It wasn’t until Coleman contacted him at the end of the WNC’s life proposing his help in reforming it under “the values of the long-lost Eriko Fujioka'' that David realized she had disappeared.
David’s moment of weakness upon hearing the news that Coleman had died was punctuated upon receiving this information from Ryuuji in their coin locker box. He had looked it over as the crowds outside grew louder, but he could no longer hear them. The things contained within the information recovered from the Aomori server had brought his mind somewhere else entirely.
The phone rang.
“You’ve had enough time to look, I hope.”
“This is it, David. I know it’s dangerous, but it’s time. The world is about to change.”
“It can’t. Nothing will.”
“Don’t start telling me we have no legal basis in this or other bullshit like that. This is the proof we need! This will upend this damn planet and we can start holding people accountable. This is the beginning of it all. This is what the democratization of information is all about.”
“They’ve already won, Sogabe.” The Kansai dialect had completely disappeared from his voice. There was no character. This was the man named David Steinberg.
“What could you possibly mean? It says in plain text here--the truth of the Fragment test, their crimes in Aomori, the quantum computer--Veronica Bain is responsible for Kaya’s death, and to think she died for something like this! Bain is--”
“Not responsible. Think about it again. Look at the documents.”
Across the ocean, Sogabe glanced over the documents on his computer, arranged like a digital pile of drafts. In the center sat the original photograph of the ALTIMIT and CyberConnect team. A small Veronica Bain stared back at him, barely older than 20.
“You understand, don’t you? Veronica Bain has nothing to do with this. She was a grunt just like the rest of them.”
“Sogabe, I would like you to turn your attention to the documents pertaining to the funding of the original quantum computer.”
“That’s correct. This project was sponsored by the US government. You’ll find even the executive order signed by the president at the time and various high-ranking officials. There’s a variety of signatures there.”
David paused before he began to read each name carefully.
“The current president of ALTIMIT, Sibyl Green.
“The contemporaneous director of the NSA, Kimberley Frasier.
“And the president’s secretary, Tabitha Knox.”
A grave silence filled the room.
The ticking of the clock could not be heard. There was no sound to anything anymore, and they were alone here.
“There’s another document there with Knox’s signature. Do you see it?”
“Yes.” The time for theatrics was over.
“This was her plan--this was their plan, and it always was.”
“Don’t give me this now. Don’t tell me we’ve been running around in a losing game.”
“Sogabe, we lost from the very beginning. As you can see in that document, the quantum computer is already here.”
“We’re accomplices now. We always have been.”
“What? No one knows you’re involved.”
“Are you sure about that?”
There was a pause.
“Controlling and creating contexts, creating narratives with vast detail--the kinds that can’t be picked apart. This is what the quantum computer is for. That’s why I’m your accomplice.”
“David, the story goes that I colluded with that 15-year-old--the one from the car dealership!”
“But we were accomplices, weren’t we? You have a lived memory from just a few weeks ago where we were Flugel and Kusame, playing the whole board. The board has changed just a little bit. Take a look again.”
“This is impossible.”
“Is it? I’m sure the people out on the street right now are out for my blood, or they’re prepared to carry me to Valhalla.”
“It was always the kid.”
“And I’m telling you, now it’s me. Your crime’s different too, now, did you notice? You and I put the whole world in danger.”
“What is this? What kind of trick is this?”
“It’s no trick.”
“But this isn’t the story! I worked with that kid, not you!”
“Are you hearing yourself, Sogabe? Now you’re arguing that one false reality is truer than another--the latter of which is, for the most part, true. This is exactly what I’m talking about.”
Ryuuji shuddered. Every archive, every back-up, every instance of the boy at the car dealership having any relation to a man named Ryuuji Sogabe had disappeared.
“How is this possible?”
“This is how it’s always been. This is the truth of Pluto’s Kiss.”
There was another silence.
“You’ve seen wonders with your own eyes, haven’t you, Sogabe? You’ve witnessed light turn flesh and blood into ones and zeroes. You’ve seen men die from nothing more than a phone call. You’ve seen a video game infect people’s minds like the plague. You know these things to be true, you’ve confirmed their truth with your own lived experience.”
Ryuuji recounted the memories of the goddess, stored deep within the Akashic Record. He had seen untold stories of the impossible, and yet by divine providence they were true--a goddess has no reason to lie.
“Why is it, then, that those things cannot be confirmed by anyone else? Why is it that after each story, they can only be talked about as ‘urban legends?’ This is no simple case of deliberate suppression of the press, or of those in high places deciding what we can and cannot know. This is another force entirely.”
“This is a power that rivals that of the Goddess’, but for entirely different reasons, isn’t it…”
“And yet the Goddess is its origin. This all began with her, and it will end with her.”
Eriko enters David’s mind.
“This quantum program is built into the very foundations of ALTIMIT OS, as per the confidential blueprints of Sibyl Green. It would be housed in utmost secrecy by the NSA, continuing to manage the scenario until the end of time--just as Secretary Knox originally devised.”
“This. Whatever it is we’re living in. It’s cunning, to say the least.”
“How can things just change? How can no one question it?”
“If something was never recorded, it’s the same as it never existing.”
“And if someone with lived memory of that information says otherwise?”
“There’s no empirical evidence. A rogue statement by handfuls of people can amount to nothing more than myth. These are the rules of information society.”
Ryuuji sank into his seat. The world around him suddenly began to take on an air of falsehood, as if it was no realer than The World. He clutched the phone tight as if to confirm its existence.
Eriko says to David, it’s time to let go.
“I’m sorry about your wife, Mr. Sogabe.”
A helicopter breaks the silence. A police megaphone demands the crowd to disperse. David puts the phone down, and the voice of Ryuuji Sogabe can still be heard through the receiver. Gus enters the room, more hurriedly than before.
“David, we have to do something.”
David does not react, but moves past him. The hallways of the office are lined with civil servants sporting nervous looks--it’s ostensibly the most important day of their lives, and they refuse to face it. The reality of it all is too much for them. The confident strides of David Steinberg break through them, each step full of purpose.
He descends down the stairs from the ivory tower of the office building to its inoffensive lobby. It’s a sanctuary for those who sit in front of screens and make the world spin. Outside the glass doors are the masses that are forced to live in it.
“I wouldn’t get any nearer if I were you, sir,” says a guard who had done nothing but open and close a door everyday for the last five years. A shiny badge on his chest seems to indicate his importance, but David does not care. He approaches the window, and the crowds bang on the glass. Not much longer now.
“I want to exit the building.”
“We’ve been told not to let anyone out or in.”
“Open the door.”
“Are you crazy?! Look outside!”
David has his back turned to the crowd. The world outside frothes with anger. There is no sound to it from behind the glass.
“This door will open one way or another.”
“Sir, we can’t--”
David pulls out his FBI-issue revolver and points it at the door’s lock mechanism.
The guards step back in fear. They have never handled a weapon before, let alone dealt with any kind of conflict on the job. Some more lucid members of the crowd outside take notice of the situation unfolding in the building and begin telling others they’ve spotted a firearm. Anger turns to fear, and some protestors are trampled as others make their escape away from the door. Others are only filled with more rage, the appearance of a firearm equivalent to a declaration of war. The banging on the glass gets louder, but there is no sound to it.
“This is the last time I’m asking.”
The guards lunge at him. David takes this as refusal.
A single bullet is fired.
The crowds rush in.
David is swallowed in a sea of people and walks against the current.
Time for work.