Category Archives: Business

Eyes Of The Silent Partners

As soon as Satomi woke up yesterday morning, Yuma and Masae gave me my walking papers.

I’m no longer the unofficial fourth member of Die Database. If Masae had her way, I would never be allowed to see any of them again, but I know part of that is existential shock.

After what happened to us at the empty shell of Agartha Labs, their entire perspective of the universe immediately changed, and they blamed me for it. I was part of the problem, the secret occupying force that kept the world groaning in pain, and I killed their fanciful visions of God and Heaven and purpose with the clinical, accidental truth. If the cosmos was Santa Claus, then I strangled him in front of the kids.

Eventually, I know they’ll come around. I’m not saying that in a wishful thinking sort of way – Ai assures me that they will be around for the Fifth Event, but she won’t give me any more information than that.

Not that it really matters. Masae kicked me out of Yuma’s apartment, and told me that “if you ever even listen to our music again, I’ll tear your ears off.” She wasn’t being hyperbolic, believe me – I’ve heard stories of her teenage punk girl terror days.

Yuma seemed more confused than angry or spiteful. I know she was always looking for purpose in life, above and beyond the world of flesh and photography, of singing for her supper. I just don’t think she wanted to find it in that way, scratching on her door begging to get in.

The thing is, I didn’t tell them much more than what I’ve already mentioned in this blog. It’s just that words simply can’t suffice when your screaming under a resurrection cloud, when you skin is covered by absolute, certain terror.

I’m terrifying to them now, an agent of death come calling for what they hold most dear.

I really can’t blame them. It doesn’t matter if the Structure didn’t give me any powers, or if I’ve never been Pure Land Antenna. It’s much worse – I’ve lied to them without knowing, from the first moment we met. I didn’t remember my role in things until a few months ago, but how do you explain that? In their eyes, I’m a fake – a pseudo-person that’s been digging into their lives only to destroy it all.

I can’t change those thoughts. I can’t even really explain how things ever really got this way, dozens of centuries ago.

All I know is that there are only a few months left, and it really looks like this is going to be the last go around, the long anticipated collapse and revealing.

I could sit around all day just contemplating what’s next, but that’s not the job I was recruited for. Every fiber of my being wants to fight the seeming inevitability of it all. I always like to hope that this fire is burning in my belly on my own accord, but odds are it was placed there and tended by Ai, so deep that there’s no putting it out.

Oh well. I’m going on and on about this more than I wanted to right now, especially considering what I’ve found out during the past 24 hours.

As I mentioned before, Satomi let go of all Agartha Labs staff right before the office closed. I tried to contact everyone after things happened, but no one would return my calls, texts or emails, except for Izumi, the Lead Graphic Designer, who at least told me that she was under a non-disclosure agreement. The most she was willing to say was that everyone was offered “crazy generous” severance packages.

Yesterday, I finally heard from Harumi, Satomi’s first hire and current (ex?) Executive Assistant. She wouldn’t say anything over the phone, but she told me to meet her at Odaiba, near the petite Statue Of Liberty (only a few dozen feet tall). I took the Yamanote and Monorail to the artificial island, walked outside past the Fuji Television building (which always reminds me of a huge Erector set), Sega Joypolis and the Aqua City mall, and got to the spot about 14:00. Spent a few minutes aimlessly staring at the water until she showed up, obviously nervous.

Harumi doesn’t have the kind of beauty that jumps out at you on a crowded train. Instead, she’s more like those few days before the sakura really bloom – you look at her, and every part of her being looks like it’s becoming uncontrollably brilliant. Yet she always holds it back with tightly combed hair, clothes too conservative for most girls in their early 20s, and a voice just melodic enough to appease imaginary authority figures.

Today, however, she was fully shining forth, for the first time I could recall, and as she walked up and gave me a big hug, I had to remember to breathe. She smelled like the full moon, breezy and electric. Her white blouse and brown skirt were Platonic ideals.

“Tokie, you’re not recording this, are you?” She squinted her perfectly applied eye makeup, showy yet subtle, with a cute eyeliner poke at each outside corner. I had always liked her, ever since we first met, but the feeling she called forth was too much, especially considering her relationship with Satomi.

“No, no, I just want to talk to you about what happened at Agartha. With Satomi.” Harumi and Satomi were on-and-off together since she was first hired, but hardly anyone knew about it – they kept things perfectly professional around the office, even to the point of barely acknowledging each other.

Harumi sat down on a brown brick ledge, and I joined her, as the occasional tourist aimed their camera wildly.

“I really can’t say much now. Not really, ever.” She placed her obscenely fashionable black leather mini purse on her lap. “It’s not because of the agreement she had me sign. It’s because of her eyes.” She took out a small compact and gave her face a quick peak, like she was afraid her perfection would be stolen away at any moment. “Ever since the accident at that Die Database show, it’s like the light in her eyes had changed. Dimmer, joined by another glow.”

Harumi had told me earlier about how Satomi’s insomnia affected their relationship – it was too much for her to handle, so she never stayed over at night for more than a few hours.

“For the past few months, I hated for her to look at me, even when I longed for her gaze.” She couldn’t resist a slight touch of blush, before she hid the compact away again. “She had eyes like lions. Poisonous snakes about to strike. And her smell changed, too.”

“Smell?” I didn’t like where this was headed.

“She used to be all sweat, pollen and pheromones. One whiff of her neck would sustain me for hours. Now, she’s like a plastic water bottle, or shower curtain. Just a hint of stale, dead moisture.”

All the pieces were starting to fit together – Satomi was a Dark Antenna for months, slowly booting up and transmuting for ideal control. Her sleep patterns and physical changes were typical of the recently etched.

Of course, as far as we could tell, she was etched a few years ago, sometime during her stay in the US. So the big questions were – who etched her, and why was she left disconnected for so long?

“I appreciate you telling me all of this.” I patted my hand briefly on her left knee, enough to tell that even her hose was exquisite. “Can you let me know anything else about what happened before the office shut down?”

Harumi started to stare past Lady Liberty and its tall pedistal, at the Rainbow Bridge. “She really wasn’t herself. She only ate Circle X onigiri and Kagome apple juice, like a toddler. She canceled all of our contracts, and spent hours talking to the silent partners on the phone.”

“Silent partners?” I had no idea what she was talking about, which was frightening enough.

“She gave up majority control over Agartha Labs in March. Ms. Strauss even came in on Thursday and Friday, to supervise the transition.”

Now I knew what she was talking about, which was even more frightening. It had to be Kaia.

“Do you know how to contact Ms. Strauss?”

“Oh, it doesn’t work that way. She and her partners contact you, at your inconvenience. They’ve been waking me up at all times of the night for months.”

“Do you know who the other partners are?”

“No. I’ve only ever met Ms. Strauss and her daughter. Miranda – really cute gaijin, like out of a TV commercial. She loved to talk to everyone.”

This was the moment when I was certain we were fucked. The last time I saw Kaia, she was being dragged off by the Trouble Twins to see the Nameless – Miranda. Next thing I know, Kaia has a hidden, lengthy back history with Yuma, and now she had a controlling stake of Agartha Labs.

Or, had – what the fuck happened to Agartha, anyway? And why the elaborate manipulation of Satomi and Die Database?

Harumi could tell I wasn’t happy to hear what she just told me – she threw her right arm around my shoulder, and tried to smile. “I’m sorry that you’re hearing this from me, and not Satomi. Or whomever has been my boss for the past few months. Honestly, I’m happy it’s all over – I couldn’t take one more moment of those eyes just staring at me. Even with her door closed, you could feel them poking at you.”

She reached in her purse and pulled out a key.

“Take this. You know what it’s for. Don’t linger, before the girls catch you snooping.” With that, she gave a perfectly formed kiss on the cheek, took off her red bottomed pumps and held one in each hand, and then darted up the stairs between lingering tourists, her jog turning into a run past Aqua City. I knew I would never see her again.

As for the key, I’ll have to put it to use this weekend, before Satomi is walking again. Now that I know it’s not just her in there, I have to strike quickly before the last bits of evidence are gone. I don’t dare say anything beyond this – it’s always everywhere, now more than ever.

Click to continue RGA

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You Princes Of Script Kiddies

Mom doesn’t quite understand why she can find me in bed at home every night – she’s so used to me being at Circle X for the late shift that it still hasn’t sunk in.

Like just about everyone, her memories are wiped out at the end of each variant, so she simply can’t remember all of the times I’ve quit my job in the past. Sometimes it was extra extravagant, with a loud tirade against my boss – perhaps the most anti-Japanese move possible. Other times, I simply stopped showing up, and that was that. The common element is that in the few dozen variants I’ve been employed, I always quit Circle X before the Fifth Event.

The only thing that’s really different this time around is that Masae never worked with me at Circle X before. In fact, this is the very first variant that Die Database or 99% Natural has existed, and I never knew any of the girls from before. So, I’ve been marveling at the relative novelty of Variant 237, at how everything is new, weird and simply more intense than before.

Speaking of intense – it seems that Miranda’s Ghost isn’t the only one that’s been stolen. My current count is 64 kidnapped avatars from members of the Die Database Fan Cloud, all taken since the Fourth Event. There are some similarities – they all are of girls below 25 years old, for one. Another thing is that a few of the Ghosts that have popped up around the world are being used for some sort of sex related work – from racy pictures and videos, to actual virtual prostitution. I’m trying hard to keep the actual details away from the real girls, because it’s all really sick – who would want to see their mirror self pimped out and running wild? What’s more, the press would just eat this up, especially in the shadow of the PlayStation Network intrusion horror show.

One thing I should mention is that the whole idea of “stealing” an Agartha Labs Ghost seemed patently absurd until just a few weeks ago. Not only is the Ghost created from scans of the original user, but it’s biometrically tied to that user – no one else should be able to control it. Authorization is multi-part, happening both at the client level, and at Agartha Labs servers. Ghosts are copy protected, and even if you could get a copy of the geometry, it would fall apart without the necessary checksums that are based on each unique, live body.

How do I know all this? Well, like I mentioned before, Satomi has used me as a test subject since the beginning, and she worked out all of the issues with my body and Ghost as templates.

What seems to be happening is that not only does the original user lose access to their Ghost, but some other entity is perfectly emulating all of the code and packets needed to satisfy Agartha Labs that the Ghost is in the right hands.

I have a very strong feeling is that all 64 stolen Ghosts are being controlled by the same entity, at least initially. I can’t tell if they’re being gathered only to be later leased or sold to the highest bidder, or if someone has the necessary time and resources to actually use them all.

I’m one of the few people that knows how to sever and transfer a Ghost – that’s how Miranda and I could swap Ghosts when we were bored. I could have an independent copy of her in Tokyo, while she had a copy of me in Portland – both would run without our direct control. The only way I was even allowed to do it was that Satomi and her techs looked the other way, and only then because my Ghost still has debug code running in it.

I’m not going to be able to figure things out just yet – I’m still waiting for Satomi to give me extra access, so I can do a security audit. Of course, now that Agartha Labs is increasingly corporate, I made have to stand in line while her “real” intrusion team goes at it.

In the end, I’m not sure if anything will really happen, since all users have a limited, free license to their Ghosts. No one owns their Ghost, or paid a dime to get it, and Agartha Labs can revoke access at any time. The same is true for the pico projectors and eyephones – all tech is sent to selected Fan Cloud members only after a lengthy agreement. The geometry files are one of the few things that users still have a license to, but there’s never been any monetary value assigned to an unique Ghost.

Not that I’d expect that – it’s only been a few years since the whole system went live, and one major point was to give Die Database fans an unique way to experience the band. Another less obvious plan was to use the Fan Cloud as a free, beta test bed, in order to perfect the technology so it could be licensed far and wide.

If there’s a hole in the system, and Ghosts can be stolen, then that’s going to put a big dent in the bottom line – the angel investors won’t easily forgive that. I would suggest just shutting down all GhostServer instances, but that would be highly controversial especially with the tech rollout already in place for the US tour. Besides, I already tried that with Miranda’s process – even after I killed it at Agartha Labs, the Ghost continued to operate independently.

So, for the sake of Satomi and the Fan Cloud, I hope it’s just been a fluke, something that can easily be resolved without tearing the whole system apart, and taking access away from the hundreds of users still online.

Anyway, I’ve been narrowing in on the location of Miranda’s Ghost. Even without Agartha Labs access, I still have my code running on it – we gave each other admin access – so every time it activates I get a few pings. Unfortunately, the traffic is encrypted, and meant for the authentication servers to sort out. Still, I’m working on a rough map, by geo-locating the IP addresses of servers that have hosted her images, and measuring the time between pings to estimate where on the net her Ghost has floated off to for that session.

That’s the big problem. A Ghost is not just a virtual representation of a person, an avatar that you can puppet. A Ghost has its own AI, that can roam networks independently, acting as an personal agent. It’s also extensible, and very curious, with built-in security circumvention tools that many people would consider questionable. That secret tech – a side project of Satomi’s – is still rudimentary and supposedly inaccessible to users, and meant as an over-muscled way to ensure Ghosts could get through any firewall or system standing between the virtual fans and the concerts. No matter, it’s there, and anyone who finds it could become a prince among script kiddies.

I don’t know what’s worse – someone having a harem of young virtual girls to trick out, or someone having a mini-army of mass network destruction, just waiting for the go code.

Either way, I have to find Miranda’s Ghost, and quick, before someone really gets hurt.

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DIY or Die in Japan

For now, these DIY youth appear to be a minority, whose voice has been drowned out by a drumbeat of reports about Japanese youth’s generally passive response to a dismal future. But experts say their ranks will grow as traditional corporate and social systems crumble further. “On the one hand, you have young people who are taking matters into their own hands in the face of companies and a government who have little to offer them in return,” said Yasuo Suwa, a professor at Hosei University’s graduate school. “But on the other hand, you have young people who are looking for an easy way out, seeking shelters that are fast disappearing,” Suwa said. “It will be slow, but I think there will be more gutsy young people going forward.”

I should ask Satomi from Die Database what she thinks of this…. she really took charge when she started Agartha Labs.  You know there’s a problem when entrepreneurship is controversial.

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