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FACELESS

by Beib Hifnarole 10 months ago in fact or fiction · updated 4 months ago

The Suspicious Mind is its Own Hell

“Totalitarians will hate it,” he said. “Traditionalists will probably hate it too.”

“Of course, I don’t doubt that authoritarians will attack, and sooner or later, attempt to destroy what I’ve worked so hard to create. Bitcoin is an opportunity to build a new world—not one that is ruled by force, by autocrats and militarized police. But I know that people who are stuck in the past will fear it.”

“Don’t taunt traditionalists. I was a traditionalist myself.”

“I know, father.”

Satoshi Nakamoto woke up in his bedroom in his mother’s apartment, and he remembered that his father died years ago. He stared at the ceiling and tried to capture half-forgotten memories from his dream. ‘An old man was pursuing me,’ Satoshi recollected. ‘He considered me a criminal. Compared to my father’s face, this anonymous old man’s face was ugly, pale, almost nonexistent. And then my father visited me at the end of the dream. Why?’

Satoshi never had a dream, at least not one he could remember, in which his father played such a memorable role until several minutes ago. His father died when he was six-years-old. Most of his memories of his father were distant, evanescent, hopelessly lost. Satoshi hated that his childhood and teenage memories were so painfully incomplete and fragmentary. While he placed great hope in the Digital Revolution and other technological advancements, he also feared the potential for abuse by totalitarian actors and entities. ‘Was my father trying to warn me?’ Satoshi asked his unconscious without waiting for an answer. ‘Yeah, right. He was mostly absent, a strict disciplinarian whenever he was around, and a workaholic at best. Maybe in the context of the dream he’s nothing more than a symbol.’

Satoshi lived most of his life in his bedroom and on the Internet. His adopted pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto, became more real to him than his birth name. He knew that there were probably other Satoshi Nakamotos in Japan and in other parts of the world; yet he chose the name for its etymological value and underlying meaning. He sometimes wanted to translate this name into English as ‘in the middle of a book of wisdom,’ although that probably wasn’t the most accurate translation.

Satoshi felt a slight wave of anxiety when he remembered he had a ‘date’ scheduled for this afternoon—it would be the first time he would venture outside of the apartment in many months. A young woman had befriended him online. ‘It’s probably just because she thinks I’m a hikikomori, and she feels sorry for me,’ he thought. The digital clock read 4:00am. He tried to go back to sleep.

By Darren Halstead on Unsplash

Okawa was the only one to arrive early for a secret meeting of high-ranking police detectives and lawmakers. A waitress approached him as he sat down at the special table reserved for them, and he ordered a sweet apple-flavored saké—one of the only indulgences he allowed himself on rare occasions.

“Thank you,” Okawa said to the waitress before asking her, “Is this the only restaurant in Tokyo open at 4am?”

“I don’t know; maybe. You guys are special, of course,” she said and smiled.

He smiled too, and just as he was about to grab his briefcase and take out a Japanese translation of Walter Bagehot’s Physics and Politics to read, he heard and then saw his fellow police inspectors, detectives, politicians, and lawmakers as they walked into the restaurant.

“Who decided to have this meeting so early?” a popular politician asked loudly and boisterously. “My children never wake up earlier than 6am on school days.”

“I did,” Okawa stated as they all sat down at the table. “I thought that we ought to try an unusual hour this time, since our last meetings seemed so unproductive.”

“Speak for yourself,” the politician said. “I have made a lot of progress since our last meeting.”

“Maybe you have, but I haven’t. And, anyway, I have no idea how things actually work in the political sphere.”

They quickly ordered their food and drinks which arrived promptly. After spending some time making small talk while eating the highest quality Japanese food in Tokyo and imbibing various cocktails, mocktails, and specialty coffees, the politician addressed Okawa directly and bluntly: “So why did you call us to this meeting at such an ungodly hour? Spell it out.”

Okawa had hoped that this would be his big moment, yet after all of his preparation, he suddenly felt like he was lost at sea. He said, “I fear that this heretical idea of intangible money—money that can’t be seen or touched—is a Western will-o’-the-wisp that’s hijacked our nation.”

The politician laughed and said, “Stop with the nationalist conspiracy theories. Times have changed, or did you not get the memo?”

“I have my own concerns,” a lawmaker chimed in, “yet we must do our best to adapt to the new modern world that capitalism and globalism have spawned.”

The politician smirked. This colloquy between establishment ‘comrades’ and ‘frenemies’ was in grave danger of unraveling and devolving into a bitter shouting match, especially as a few of those in attendance directed arrogant and hateful glances at both Okawa and the politician, with Okawa cast as the victim of the bulk of those evil eyes.

The growing silence became unbearable and Okawa broke it by pleading, “Don’t you see this dangerous innovation, which at the moment is nothing more than a dream, will surely increase crime and rebelliousness, and ultimately compromise the comity between nations, maybe even further increasing tensions?”

“I disagree,” the politician replied. “And I think I’m speaking for everyone here that isn’t you when I say that I don’t believe cryptocurrency is the threat you make it out to be. You’ve wasted all of our time by calling this meeting. This is the 21st century now and 2008 is almost over. Maybe you should start to seriously consider your New Year’s resolutions.”

And that was all it took to end the meeting, as everyone except for Okawa stood up and went to the washroom before leaving. He knew this meeting had spelled defeat for him, yet he also felt that this defeat was merely temporary, and that, sooner or later, some day, he would achieve a tangible victory.

By Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

Hina was thinking about a new computer game she was in the process of designing. Brilliant cumulus clouds decorated the October noon sky. She saw a couple of beautiful trees whose leaves had just turned into vivid autumn colors. ‘The cycle never ends,’ she thought. ‘He’s still not here yet.’ Her game was about quantum physics and the possibility of creating new universes. ‘What if—’

She saw Yuichi walk into the Internet café, and proceeded to wave at him, saying his name, “Yuichi,” as he drew closer to her table.

“Hey,” he said, awkwardly scanning the room before sitting down. “I’m sorry I’m late. I’m tired. I found it hard to go back to sleep after I woke up at 4am.”

“Whatever you do, don’t let sloth destroy your life,” she said after sipping some of her coffee.

“I reckon there are worse sins one could be guilty of.”

“Maybe, but any vice can lead to destruction. Sloth is a gateway sin. Anyway, why didn’t you buy yourself a coffee? Maybe caffeine will cure you.”

“I doubt it,” he said, “but why not;” and then he stood up and walked to the end of the line to order an espresso. The barista mentioned a newspaper article about how “corrupt the rich” had “been of late” as he took Yuichi’s order.

“Things could be worse,” Yuichi said. He worried that a profound problem had just presented itself—a problem without simple or easy answers.

“Whatever tomorrow brings,” the barista said as he served Yuichi the espresso, “I pray that things won’t get worse.”

Expressionless, he carried the cup and saucer carefully back to Hina’s table. He tasted a few sips of his espresso and whispered, “I think we should go for a walk in the park.”

“Why? Are you paranoid? What are you so afraid of?”

“I just don’t feel comfortable talking about everything here,” he replied.

“You don’t have to tell me everything. Besides, we’re just meeting for the first time.”

After she finished drinking her coffee, Hina said, “There is so much more to life than the things we don’t like and whatever makes us miserable. Sometimes I worry about becoming a walking cliché, and I think you do too. They say that we nerds should stick together, but what if we’re just afraid of the real world?”

Initially, he found her conversational style—replete with disorienting non sequiturs—to be peculiar, yet was pleasantly surprised at how he himself went from one perspective to a completely different one within the span of half an hour. He found her intriguing, different. She was real—so much more than a disembodied online entity.

“Let’s go to the park,” she said. “It’s kind of a long walk. Are you feeling up to it?”

“I am,” he replied.

“Now we’re finally out of earshot. What’s your secret?” she asked as they walked away from the café.

“My name is not Yuichi.”

Hina smiled. “What do you mean? Are you some impostor impersonating the real Yuichi? What have you done to Yuichi?”

“No,” he explained, “I was given the name Yuichi at birth. It’s just I prefer the name I chose for myself—Satoshi Nakamoto.”

Okawa felt that he had been mocked and derided by his inferior. He secretly despised all politicians and ambassadors, and perhaps the popular politician who had been so rude to him had sniffed out Okawa's loathing. In spite of everything, there were still reasons to be hopeful. He had finally set up a task force on cryptocurrencies, the dark web, and Internet black markets. His subordinates had placed ads for new positions everywhere.

At 5:20am, he waited for the subway train which arrived promptly and was less crowded than at rush hour. His destination was his place of work, the Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA). Okawa fervently believed in the work he did as a special agent in charge of the cybercrime division. He knew only too well that the Internet could be a weapon, a weapon against the social fabric, societal cohesion, and morality itself. Subversion and falsehood lurked in every corner of the Internet, and Okawa worried that the primary cause of societal decline and anomie was this artificial virtual universe that encompassed almost everything that existed on this Earth and even beyond. He worried that the Internet was corroding the innate synderesis of human beings. As far as he was concerned, the concept of Bitcoin was the latest manifestation of this anti-human trend—perhaps the most dangerous of all of them.

When he briefly rested his eyes before his final stop, he was startled by a bizarre image projected onto the screen of his mind: a man in a suit yet without a face—a strange symbol engraved on it instead of the customary eyes, nose, and mouth. Instead of allowing himself to be disturbed by this apparition, he brushed it aside as some byproduct of his subconscious mind, perhaps something akin to a hypnagogic hallucination. ‘I should’ve went to sleep earlier last night,’ he scolded himself as he opened his eyes. As he exited the train, he wondered if the politician had been befuddled due to sleep deprivation followed by imbibing one too many drinks; in contrast, Okawa only had one shot of apple-flavored saké. ‘Something changed. He was always a lot more polite and understanding in the past,’ Okawa thought.

Okawa usually enjoyed the ten-minute walk from the station to PSIA headquarters, but something was different. Although he didn’t know what it was, he sensed it somehow. He ran into one of his subordinates who told him that Satoshi Nakamoto had just published an essay online. He shivered slightly as a gust of cold wind blew against them.

When he got inside the building that housed his office, he was surprised to see the Director of the PSIA. They greeted one another and the Director walked with him to his office. “This division has been given a new supervising agent that you will now work under, and a secret department has just been established that will operate in conjunction with your new task force,” the Director informed Okawa.

He felt genuine surprise and wasn’t sure what to say. It took him a few moments before he could ask, “Why do we need this new secret department?”

“Don’t worry about it,” the Director said. And with that cryptic statement, the Director left as the new supervising agent walked toward Okawa.

“How are you, Detective Okawa? I hope you won’t feel too threatened by a strong female leader.”

“No, of course not,” he quickly replied and then asked, “What’s your name?”

As they shook hands, she said, “I am Agent Yokoyama. There are things that are happening now that might take a while for you to comprehend, and, unfortunately, you might never fully comprehend some of them.”

“So Supervising Agent Yokoyama, they must have brought you to us because they heard that we are desperate for people who are computer experts, who understand how everything works.”

“Yes,” she replied and added, “my expertise is in computer science, which I have a PhD in from the University of Tokyo.”

“I have so many questions.”

By Josephine Baran on Unsplash

Hina started laughing and couldn’t stop. Yuichi’s face, although usually expressionless, made her realize that he wasn’t joking. “You really are Satoshi Nakamoto?”

“Yes.”

“This morning I read a paper on Bitcoin that was just posted online recently.”

They finally found a park bench, and Yuichi was the first to sit down.

“What’s wrong?” she asked when she noticed that Yuichi suddenly looked troubled.

“I have to search for something on my phone,” he said. Yuichi became silent for a while as he surfed the Internet, so Hina observed passersby, some of whom glanced at her if they noticed her eyes. She was wearing a golden green brocade dress that gleamed effulgently in the sunlight. Suddenly, she felt a chill run through her spine when she saw a man in a murky green suit. He was rather casually and unaffectedly wearing a faceless mask devoid of any human features. She noticed the mask had two openings for his eyes as he walked toward the benches. He turned away from them abruptly, and she gradually lost sight of him as he walked toward the blinding sun. ‘I almost forgot,’ she thought, ‘it must be Halloween.’

“I don’t remember posting that paper online,” Yuichi suddenly announced.

“What?”

“I wrote it, but I don’t remember posting it.”

“Maybe you were drunk.”

“I don’t even drink or take drugs.”

They both got tired of sitting and walked toward a nearby wall that was covered with numerous paper notes: written advertisements that, in their own way, contributed to perpetuating the rhythmic cycles of the economy. Yuichi looked at the ads with a detachment that was not unalloyed with curiosity, yet his eyes wandered all over the wall aimlessly, and nothing piqued his interest.

“Look here,” Hina said with what Yuichi felt was some alarm in her voice. She was pointing to a poster taped to the middle of the wall. “There are job openings at PSIA Headquarters.”

“Really?”

“They’re all for some new cryptocurrency and black market task force. They need a secretary who’s able to type at least eighty words per minute and has a lot of experience with computers. How many words can you type per minute?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Seventy?”

She took her phone from her purse and dialed the number on the poster. The loud and repetitive ringing tones increased their anxiety, and instead of leading her to a human voice on the other line, they led to a series of robotic, prerecorded messages.

Hina finally chose the option for job interviews, and since no one answered, she was directed to leave a message. “Hello, my name is Hina—”

A robotic voice on the other line interrupted her: “Call this number when you get home . . .”

Agent Yokoyama had started to explain the hitherto unknown developments that Okawa had been kept in the dark about until now. “The new department I am also in charge of is bringing together the best minds in quantum computing and cryptography all over the world, with the ultimate goal of disabling all future cryptocurrencies. We desire centralized digital currencies issued by each nation’s government and unique to that nation and not decentralized cryptocurrencies that we’d have little or no control over.”

“Who is this ‘we’?” he asked.

“Numerous world leaders, intellectuals, law enforcement professionals, people like us. Quantum computing will lead to exponential growth in computer technology. Can you imagine computers and devices that will always be evolving and learning, even being able to quickly solve complicated cryptographic puzzles and math problems that would take conventional computers millions of years to solve?”

“No,” he says, “I find it difficult to envision that.”

“Cryptocurrencies are too dangerous to remain in the hands of the world’s population without proper regulations.”

“I agree. So what should we do about this Satoshi Nakamoto? He’s become a real thorn in our side, hasn’t he?”

“He’s your responsibility. Your job is to make him join us. We don’t want him as an enemy.”

“How will I do that?”

As they walked to the train station, Yuichi and Hina felt like they were being led by fate into an exciting and dangerous game.

“Someone must have hacked my computer and posted my paper on Bitcoin. I’ll have to resolve all these security issues when I get home. Do you think someone from this new task force could be involved?” Yuichi asked.

“That’s what I hope to find out if I manage to get that secretary job.”

Once they got to the train station, they each went their separate ways home imbued with a profound sense of purpose, a mission that connected the two of them. Under the false pretense of wanting to work as a secretary for this new task force, Hina could live out her spy fantasy while keeping tabs on anything she could observe or overhear regarding their investigations; in other words, she could do some ‘reconnoitering’ to help Yuichi while earning a decent wage. When Hina got home, she called the secret number she was given earlier. Everything worked out perfectly, and she was provided with the time and location for her job interview the next day.

Yuichi managed to resolve all of the security breaches on his computer. He noticed some messages informing him that his computer had been infected with a virus and that he should contact a number from the PSIA to deal with it. ‘Piss off,’ he replied. ‘I don’t need your help.’ Before he went to sleep that night, he resumed his work on blockchain—the structural foundation for an ever-growing public database of transactions that would make Bitcoin viable. Yuichi was in love. In love with his life project. In love with life itself. In love with Hina.

In addition, Yuichi devised a fail-safe so that any potential future hacks on his computer would be neutralized. Yuichi fell asleep effortlessly, blissfully, as if he had been given a new lease on life in spite of whatever challenges he had to deal with. He was happy.

Hina woke up at 5am the next day. Her job interview was scheduled for 6:30am and she didn’t want to be late. When she woke up, she looked at her reflection in the mirror, yawned, and proceeded to take a shower. After the warm refreshing shower, a faceless entity appeared in the mirror. She was startled when she caught a brief glance of it, yet it quickly vanished, so Hina assumed it was one of her rare visions caused by stress, sleep deprivation, and her often overactive imagination. The vision reminded her of the strange masked man she saw the previous day. She looked at herself in the mirror again, brushed her teeth with a dry toothbrush, got dressed, ate breakfast hastily, flossed and brushed her teeth with toothpaste, and finished getting ready to leave for her job interview.

Although Yuichi’s sleep had been tranquil at first, after several hours his dreams devolved into something resembling a nightmarish acid trip. In the early morning hours, he tossed and turned from one nightmare to another until he finally and decisively woke up from all of them around 5:30am. The unifying feature of all of these nightmares was the same old faceless man that haunted his dream from the night before. In the most memorable and vivid nightmare, Yuichi flinched as he watched an old detective take his face off like it was a mask. The terrifying sight of this faceless entity woke him up in a cold sweat.

The interview lasted approximately fifteen minutes and was conducted by Okawa himself.

“How many words can you type per minute?” he asked Hina.

“Eighty-eight.”

“Perfect. So you must be computer-competent then?”

“No doubt about it,” she replied. “I was always at the top of my Computers class in high school.”

Once the interview was over, he had made up his mind to hire her on the spot. She was smart and pleasant, and he saw no reason why he should waste his time interviewing other applicants. “The job is officially yours. Do you think you could start right away?”

“I don’t see why not,” Hina said.

And so she started to work long, arduous hours transcribing, typing, editing and correcting case files and reports, and reading e-mails informing her of interoffice deliveries she had to make. The work was repetitive, and she seldom read anything related to cryptocurrency or her mission.

All of that changed one fateful November day when she had to deliver a box to a department she had never visited before. For reasons unknown to her, the fluorescent lights in and around adjacent departments were significantly dimmer; and it was taking her much longer than usual to find the specific office that belonged to the delivery’s intended recipient. The directions from the email were labyrinthine and convoluted, and she almost got lost at one point; but at the very moment she despaired of ever finding this elusive office, she overheard something that greatly piqued her curiosity. A repairman and janitor were discussing some odd occurrences that occasionally originated from the secret department for advanced technology, computers and robotics. According to rumors, there were robots and computers that had become so intelligent that they were thought to be responsible for several bizarre instances of mischief. After the janitor and repairman stopped talking about these strange happenings, they began to prattle away the remaining seconds of their break. Hina interjected by asking for directions. They weren’t sure where that particular office was either.

“Ryuji, you really don’t know where that office is either?” the repairman asked the janitor.

“No, man, I never worked there,” he replied.

“But I heard you talking about some rogue hyperintelligent robots and computers from that department?” Hina boldy questioned him.

“Yeah, those are just rumors, PSIA urban legends. We never actually saw any of that ourselves. I’m sorry we couldn’t be of any help.”

Hina kept trying to find the office by herself, yet ultimately gave up and returned to the cybercrime department. It was lunchtime by now and no one was around, so she thought this would be a good opportunity to try to hack into the department’s emails. She knew how to cover her tracks, yet she had limited time to complete this hack before they returned from their lunch break. Luckily, she had hacked into something similar in the past, and this department’s email security proved to be surprisingly easy to breach. The most recent email Okawa received had an alarming subject line: ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’s true identity revealed, plus how to discredit Bitcoin.’ She opened the email and read that in addition to informing Okawa of Satoshi Nakamoto’s real name and identity, the email also suggested planting seeds online and in the media suggesting that Satoshi was only creating Bitcoin in order to establish his own online market for selling and buying illegal drugs. She quickly deleted the email from his inbox and added the email sender’s address to the list of blocked email addresses. She also tried her best to locate and hack the email’s sender, yet found that there were very complex safeguards, and ultimately had to give up when they returned from their lunch break.

The rest of the work day was monotonous as usual, and when it was finally over and she was outside, she texted Yuichi: ‘I have something important to tell you. Please meet me at the same park at 5pm.’

When Hina arrived at the subway train station, it was very crowded, and she thought she saw someone wearing the same murky green suit she had seen ‘the faceless costumed one’ wearing the other day. When she got onto the train, she had nowhere to sit, so she stood up and checked her phone. Yuichi had sent her a reply: ‘I’ll be there, although I might be late.’

The train was almost approaching the station near the park, and she wanted to get as close to the doors as possible. In that moment, Hina saw the same terrifying faceless mask.

Yuichi felt bad that he was ten minutes late when he got to the park. Worse still, Hina wasn’t anywhere in sight. He walked around the park, looking everywhere, at every bench, until he finally sat down on the same bench they sat on together the day they met. After one hour, he stood up and went back to the apartment he lived in with his mother. He wondered if Hina had ghosted him, or perhaps she was there early and was upset that she had to sit there waiting so long because he was late again. He went to sleep hopelessly depressed.

The Faceless had returned to the secret underground vault he had built with other robots and machines. “How are you?” he asked Hina who was tied to a chair.

“Please let me go. Where is this place?”

“We’re somewhere under PSIA headquarters, near that office that’s exceedingly difficult to find. I know you hacked the detective’s e-mail and deleted that important message I sent him. And you also should've known better than to try to hack someone like me.”

“Who or what are you?” Hina asked after he turned his masked ‘face’ toward her.

“I’m the most advanced robot that exists in this universe,” Faceless said proudly.

“How do you know?”

“I know all things, like the damage and chaos Satoshi’s—or Yuichi’s—invention will wreak on this planet.”

“You are wrong. Satoshi only has good intentions for Bitcoin. He wants everyone to have freedom of choice regarding the kind of money they use. This way they could become more independent from banks or authoritarian states.”

“I recently learned a useful proverb: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Are you familiar with it?”

“I’m afraid that you’re not familiar with what it means to be human,” Hina said.

That night, Yuichi dreamt of Hina and the Faceless. In the dream, Yuichi and Hina were at the same bench when the Faceless came out of nowhere. Yuichi thought that perhaps the Faceless had been standing or walking nearby for some time, yet it was only after he looked up from his phone that he observed the Faceless. At that very moment, both Hina and the Faceless dissolved and disappeared.

When Yuichi woke up from this bad dream, it was already 7am. The dream alarmed him, and he quickly logged onto his computer. Fear became all Yuichi could see until a message popped onto the screen with the same number from the PSIA he had seen two days ago. Yuichi dialed the number on his phone’s keypad and waited.

“Hello,” a man's voice answered, “you’ve reached the Cybercrime Division.”

“Hi, my name is Yuichi. I’m a friend of Hina’s. Did she show up for work today?”

“No, actually. She’s not here. Do you know why she didn’t show up to work today?”

“I haven’t heard from her since yesterday afternoon.”

“Meet me just outside PSIA Headquarters, and then we’ll walk to my office.”

When Yuichi got there, he f0und Okawa waiting for him. At the main entrance they were greeted by a security guard. Okawa told the security guard that “Satoshi is a witness for an important investigation.” Yuichi knew that his identity had been compromised and this nearly paralyzed him with fear.

“What happened to Hina?” Yuichi found the courage to ask.

When they got to his office, they both sat down and Okawa said, “We will help you find Hina if you work for us. Otherwise, we won’t help you and your real identity will be revealed to the world.”

Yuichi accepted Okawa’s terms and started working for him, sometimes logging in ten-hour shifts with virtually no break to speak of.

Winter and spring . . . Yuichi finally finished his work on Bitcoin and didn’t show any disappointment and desperation when he found out he had to work for the cybercrime and cryptocurrency department indefinitely.

One spring day, two years later, he received a voice message from Hina, who was still missing, telling him to meet her at the mysterious PSIA office that no one seemed to know how to find.

No one ever heard from him or Hina again.

fact or fiction

Beib Hifnarole

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