Chapter 6Mature

Skies of looming dusk lingered above the streets of Aparangi City, while street lights glimmered into luminescence. Rain punctured the southerly winds, pattering against cars and buildings and people indiscriminately. Cascades of water refracted neon and LED lights, running down the battered taxi's windows like code descending a monitor.

Akira raised the collar of his trenchcoat to the bitter cold of the coming winter. Was this the "great outdoors" he was so often missing out on? The cold and wet weather continued to intensify as the city downloaded its latest patch of water. Akira, however, wasn't interested in what the skies had to offer. Watched by the Orwellian surveillance camera within the cab, he withdrew his heavily-customised Taiheiyo Corp Electronics WAFER tablet from one of the myriad lined pockets within his coat.

I hate being watched... He fired up the gadget intently, waiting for a few agonizing milliseconds while it reanimated, checking off configurations, connections and interfaces. His damp reflection upon the gadget's borderless 180mm polarised screen was quickly replaced, the gadget bursting into life with a gentle chiming fanfare and flicker of seemingly uniform white light. Pinching the wide lens that covered his right eye, he slid his HEDSET display fully across his field of vision. The augmented reality of his hi-tech visor enabled him to see what his device was truly producing - the heavily-customised homescreen of his heavily-customised open-source OS.

Akira inelegantly lifted the heel of his fluorescent green-laced leather-and-metal right boot, planting it on the worn, beige-upholstered seat beside him; the alcohol he'd earlier consumed left him a little more uncoordinated than usual. With an ad-hoc surface to lean his cutting-edge tool against, Akira began working his way through his homescreen as the taxi drifted to a stop at a red light.

The busy intersection at the edge of the central business district faded from attention as Akira's tunnel-vision locked upon the task at hand. The Wireless Autonomous File and Executable Receptor swished through Akira's hyper-customized newsfeeds: Civil wars overseas, celebrities breaking up, who won the latest rugby game - all of these were minimised in favour of the local, computer, tech, science and geek news categories he favoured.

A local headline caught his attention, even though it wasn't exactly what he was looking for - Aparangi Uni Car fire "not suspicious" - policeDavid's gonna hate this... Akira predicted, firing the link into his friend's inbox. After informing his buddy about the article, the teen's deep brown eyes scanned for signs of another developing story he had been watching intently.

I suppose I'll need to search past the frontpage, he conceded, flipping the retractable keypad out of the tablet. His quick fingers danced across the DVORAK layout keypad in a blur, commanding the newsfeed reader to search news organisations, blogs and social media for "Taiheiyo Corporation leak; <48hrs". The microscreens on each key glimmered as the links came flooding in.

Meanwhile, the traffic lights turned green - followed by the taxi lurching forwards along with the other three lanes of heavy evening traffic. Repositioning himself slightly after that jolt, he tapped intently on the screen to conjure several articles by lesser-known tech news sites, posts by assorted bloggers, and darknet chatter.

Taiheiyo, like any megacorp, was known for sweetening journalists and reviewers with free samples, exclusive access, advertising contracts and preferential treatment. It was thus unsurprising that the story of a leak had gone largely unreported in the mainstream, who wished to remain on the corporation's good side. The bottom of the digital media foodchain, on the other hand...

Taiheiyo Corporation is tight-lipped about the latest damning leak of sensitive, classified schematics, which include a controversial self-destruct capability built into recent products - a capability that has seen notable backlash directed at the company.

The leaked documents indicate that self-destruct measures capable of physically damaging devices in order to leave them unusable and irreparable have been included in many recent Taiheiyo Corp. Electronics consumer products - including cyPhones, tablets, computers and headsets.

A turn was made at another intersection, bringing the taxi southward over one of several busy bridges across the inky black Waitaki River. Akira was meanwhile oblivious inside his digital cocoon of gadgets and data.

Taiheiyo Corp. have neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the leaked documents, claiming that any documents that may have been stolen from the corporation are their sole intellectual property. They go on to say that any documents that may have been stolen from the company, or falsified documents that claim to have been stolen from them, breach a number of applicable local and international trade and intellectual property laws and regulations. They continue with a threat that any persons or groups in possession of, or distributing said documents will be met with severe legal repercussions.

It is however worth noting that buried 170 pages into the encyclopedic License Agreement for these devices that a clause gives Taiheiyo Corporation "the ability to disable the company's devices for any reason without notice or compensation"

The nondescript taxi rumbled through the inner-city network of overpasses affectionately termed "knot junction" at a fraction of the posted speed limit. It was often joked that there was no need for the 50km speed limit when such intersections were always buffering with traffic.

Self-destruct features are implemented into devices for a number of reasons, mainly for preventing customers from using devices in ways unintended or unwanted by the corporation that created them - ways including using third-party telecommunications providers or unauthorised and/or pirated software or media.

The Cyber Liberation Foundation have slammed the corporation, saying "it is especially concerning considering Taiheiyo Corporation's business links with totalitarian regimes, who work hard to censor and stifle dissent after the vital role of information technology and social/citizen media in previous revolutions, including the Arab spring and the Eurocrisis. The ability to destroy communications devices at will, combined with the data already being mined from such devices points toward the corporation consolidating an unacceptable level of control over their consumers.

A knowing smile crept across Akira's face. He contently dismissed the article he had been reading and placed his modified tablet on standby. He'd removed the self-destruct mechanism from his own tools as soon as he'd acquired them, as part of the extensive modifications he performed on all his hardware. It was technically against the law to mod such a gadget, but it was a law that was only ever enforced on a handful of occasions - the corporations may have made it a crime to tweak their products, but the under-funded and over-worked police had more important crimes to keep them busy.

Akira reclined and took a glance at the sprawling urban landscape that edged past outside his window. Office towers and stores, parking buildings and apartments, all stretched ever higher towards the stormy night, defiantly painting the dark with a billion lights, screens and displays - a gigapixel of illuminations. The Central city in all her glory courted a populace that never sleeps, begging for their consumption and attention. Even skirting the edges of this intense metropolitan core was enough to give this passenger an intoxicating insomnia.

The familiar multi-cultural neighbourhood of Guandong Boulevard District slowly loomed ahead. What had once been home to Chinese gold miners and railway workers during the late 1800s was now a bustling pan-Asian district: a slice of Asia in the middle of Aparangi. Neo Zealand's largest ethnic enclave was a sprawl of high-rise apartments and businesses, lined with neon lighting and annotated with multi-lingual signage. Billboards that spoke a dozen languages shimmered in the downpour as traffic manoeuvred through the damp streets.

This neighbourhood - on the fringe between the Central Business and Guandong Boulevard Districts - was typically a vibrant place with a usually bustling street scene, though tonight's weather had muted it considerably. The street stalls selling a melting pot of foods and merchandise from the other end of the pacific had largely packed up for the evening. A few hardy street chefs and die-hard gourmands straggled behind, making the most of the vacant spaces out of the rain, but the locale lacked the usual numbers and noise.

Like the continent that it echoed, the Guandong Boulevard District was a place of many contrasts. Businesspeople in multi-thousand dollar suits strolled beneath elaborate offices, across an intersection from barefoot children beneath derelict housing blocks. A concentration of some of the city's wealthiest residents formed a pocket of affluence that Akira knew all too well. As they left a run-down neighbourhood behind, Akira informed his taxi driver that their destination was "up there, on the left. 293 Guangxi Lane. Cheers"

Akira paid his fee with a swipe of his cyPhone over the taxi's payment console. While it was also possible to pay using cash or credit card, these were becoming increasingly obsolete - and Akira had little use for outdated tech. The amiable cab driver wished his passenger well, before rejoining the chaotic tangle of inner-city traffic on this rain-soaked night.

His gadgets stowed beneath his weatherproof outer layer, Akira huddled his way from the roadside through the gateway of the aforementioned property. A condominium skyscraper that loomed tall above its neighbours, 293 Guangxi Lane dwarfed the young man as he swiped his cyPhone over a security console to open the glass door entrance. Normally the console would sense an incoming resident's cyPhone as they simply walked past, but Akira's cybertech coat was lined with circuitry that blocked unwanted signals from penetrating or leaking out, while allowing data to flow freely inside - like being wrapped in a stylish firewall.

A pair of guards inside looked up from their pacing back and forth. Almost immediately recognising the teen from his now-saturated green-tipped hair and dripping coat over soggy boots, they returned almost immediately to their idle motions. Akira didn't bother the security with any unwarranted banter - like anyone born post-y2k, Akira preferred conversation with a virtual gadget to conversation with a virtual stranger. Instead, he strode straight from the now-closing doors into the warm embrace of a waiting elevator, punching the third-highest number on the keypad: 98.

Akira was soon delivered to the level of his family's lavish condominium. He waved his cyPhone over another security console in the lobby to open the doors to the only dwelling on this floor. A swishing of automated doors revealed the exquisitely-designed Japanese-styled home.

Gentle light emanating from suspended paper lanterns bathed the glossy, varnished wooden floors in an enticing sheen. Tatami Mats perfectly aligned into an auspicious arrangement anchored the centre of a spacious welcoming room, bordered by shoji screens. An antique wooden table with elaborately carved legs was topped dead-center with an ancient bonsai tree. The sound of water trickling through pebbles combined with gentle string melodies to deliver an atmosphere of pure zen, high above the frantic streets below.

Beads of rainwater dripped from Akira as he undid and kicked off his boots, hung up his coat and gathered up his gadgets. Like usual, Akira snuck through the open-plan layout like the ninja he played in his favourite RPG. Sliding through the welcoming room, he took a left into the hallway which flowed into the four large bedrooms: guest, spare, Akira's and the master bedroom. For the master of the universe, Akira thought sarcastically as he passed his parents' room, then dropped his gadgets into his own.

He made his way to the dining room, finding his parents midway through a dinner of sashimi, soba noodles and green tea. Hikaru Kinomoto was her typical radiant self - her evening gown was styled after jasmine flowers, while her smooth black hair was tied in a bun. Shima Kinomoto was still wearing the spotless white shirt and black tie he worked in, as if he'd been born in a suit.

Akira plonked himself on an empty cushion, taking his place at the dinner table. His mother, hoping to stimulate some dinner conversation, or to at least acknowledge her son's arrival, welcomed him home. "Konbanwa, Akira! Ogenki desu ka?" Japanese immigrants, Akira's parents enjoyed utilizing the language of their homeland for their greetings.

"Good evening mum" Akira replied as he piled ten species of thinly-sliced seafood onto a square plate. Neo Zealand-born, Akira usually just stuck to english in spite of being fluent in both languages. "Yeah-nah, I'm feeling good." He grasped a small rice ball and tossed it in his mouth. So much for etiquette. He chewed and swallowed noisily, to the dismay of his father.

"Hey pops. How's it goin?"

Shima Kinomoto was not pleased. Shima Kinomoto was never pleased. He glared at his only child with an accusatory expression, thin glasses magnifying the creases of his middle-aged face. "I can safely assume you know we had a breach of our systems, where sensitive intellectual property was stolen." We being the company that Shima served as a regional executive.

Akira shrugged nonchalantly. "I like to keep myself informed of such things," he replied cryptically, helping himself to the soba noodles in miso broth. "I.T. and Cyber-security is my job - Did I forget to tell you?" he added, though it was his hobby that was in the spotlight here.

"I am aware of your employment. The employment of others, however, could be another issue." Shima spoke with the stern constancy of the man charged with managing the Neo Zealand operations of the global conglomerate Taiheiyo Corporation. Akira often wondered if his father had forgotten his home voice after working 12 hour days for 13 days a fortnight. "We have not ascertained where the leak came from yet. But I have my suspicions." Shima narrowed his eyes at Akira, who dodged his father's stares by looking into his bowl of noodles.

"Whoever may be ultimately responsible for this crime against the company would be prudent to take heed of this - harming this corporation will harm the businesses we run and the people we employ."

Akira lost interest in the noodles he was chasing around with his chopsticks. He tilted his head inquisitively. "They could be. Whoever they are. So how are you going to show them?" He asked in a show of mock defiance, while his mother scanned worryingly between the elder and younger Kinomoto men.

"We acquired a small local company recently - Puaheiri Ltd. A small producer and repairer of homewares - refrigerators mostly. We had promised their employees that their jobs would be safe, so long as our local operations ran smoothly." There was little emotion in Shima's voice, it was as though he was narrating a chess game. "But our operations just hit a bump. This leak has damaged our stocks and sales, and we need an asset to liquidate in order to offset our losses - an asset like Puaheri Ltd."

The smirk that usually graced Akira's face melted away as his chopsticks fell from his fingers. The sudden change of expression from the gobsmacked Akira did little to please Shima. Shima was never pleased. "Whoever is responsible for the leak needs to learn that their actions have consequences. Harming the company harms our businesses, our investors, our clients - and our employees. They should take note of this - whoever they are."

The End

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