Twenty-Five
The Norseman continued to surprise Daniel. For what should be a spartan and utilitarian aircraft, it had a lot of internal space. The command deck was no different, and the large meeting table stretched to over 10 feet tip to tail. Whoever was running this show wasn't short of cash. As he looked around at the other fixings on this deck, he remembered the first time he had flown in an airplane, shortly after joining the Army. There was no space to walk around on that C-130, and there was only the bare minimum of equipment to get off the ground. Now, he wasn't sure if he could identify what half of the buttons and boxes were for.
As Costanza and Joon moved to join the four other mercenaries around the table, the aircraft abruptly rocked from the motion of the squall that had whipped up outside. Costanza was unfazed by the motion, but Joon quickly shifted his sinewy legs and jabbed out an arm midair in a feeble gesture to grab something- anything- to stop him from stumbling. Gideon grinned ever so slightly and put a big bear-like hand on the other man's shoulder to stabilize him.
Brighter lighting in the room might have revealed that Joon's face had taken on a sickly shade of green. He managed to conceal his discomfort since he was keenly aware that Markus had no tolerance for weakness. Markus met the approaching men with a menacing frown. He was not used to being challenged, Daniel thought. Markus was made all the more sinister by the light shining upwards from the high-tech computer display built into the middle of the control table.
The other men at the table straightened just a bit in a conscious effort to seem taller in the presence of Markus. All but Costanza and Reyes, the only women in the room, who seemed completely at ease and were totally unwilling to play the measuring game.
Markus scowled at each of his associates in turn then spoke. "You've heard that Radchenko, whoever he is, invented the Liberari network. The CPC wants him gone, because the cryptocurrency network represents a threat to their control.”
Several of the men nodded quietly and grunted.
"They have to control the world's money supply, otherwise their entire plan for a worldwide empire is for naught.”
Markus paused to survey the room in satisfaction. He pushed a button and a tiny panel slid aside as an already poured glass of Scotch rose through the opening. He sipped the drink and squeezed his eyes shut in pleasure like a content house cat. He made no offer to share a drink with his fellow mercenaries, and he waited for someone else to pick up his narration.
Loki coughed, then typed in a series of instructions that caused a brightly colored hologram to spring out of the middle of the meeting table. At a first glance, it looked like someone had given a spider a dose of crack, but as the model revolved, tiny words could be made out, designating banking transactions over time and space.
From time to time, Daniel had heard Joon and Costanza consulting with a voice as they flew the Norseman. Here that voice was on full display. Some sort of artificial intelligence, Daniel marveled.
The Norseman’s AI voice was a full baritone, and yet clearly artificial. Daniel was surprised that this AI could illustrate the ongoing complexities of international economics. Yet no-one at the table even batted an eyelash as the hologram illustrated a network of transactions.
"The Liberari network is an uncrackable decentralized currency and contract transaction network. Programmable value transfer. Anyone can easily transfer funds and make payments, participate or create marketplaces, or establish contracts.” Complicated arrays of three-dimensional blueprints swirled around Loki’s head.
"What you might not know is how the network continues to run. Despite the best efforts of the CPC to block transactions, the network continues. Most of you were contacted through the Panther marketplace, which exists as a series of smart contracts and decentralized web hosts. The CPC has an ongoing war to block transmissions from different nodes which are comprised of computers of all different varieties. Smartphones, tablets, desktops, even refrigerators that can connect to the internet act as nodes, sometimes connecting directly to one another, or tunneling through the internet through secure nodes. When the CPC identifies nodes, it attempts to firewall them or otherwise shut them down with raids.” He paused and looked around. Everyone knew this, of course, and they were impatient for him to get to the real meaty information. “So, here’s the point. Periodically, a quantum computer, named Genesis, facilitates these payments by creating backdoors in the CPC net and sending them to nodes on the network. When it connects and also sends voluntary upgrades to the protocol. Although the network is designed to be a peer to peer mesh, without these periodic updates the network would likely fizzle and die due to CPC interference.”
A gently pulsating light appeared on the palms of Loki’s hands as he brought them together. A constellation of other lights appeared throughout the room which soon resolved into images of little stick figures seated in front of personal computers and laptops used by consumers all over the world.
Daniel looked up at Costanza. Her eyes danced as she followed a sequence of animated key icons that the hologram depicted as emanated from Loki’s palm and traveled in all directions to the other computers.
"Awesome." she said quietly.
"Let me explain. Nothing on earth is like the Genesis." Loki gestured at a hologram that seemed dull and undersized for the power it represented.
"Genesis represents a level of technology no consortium, no institution, and no government is likely to approach for many decades to come. This true quantum computer does not merely simulate the quantum state with conventional supercomputing power. It produces and controls the infinite variations of states between true and false that were Turing’s dream and are now the CPC’s waking nightmare. Quantum computing actually works on the same problems that digital computing does, but economies of scale kick in quickly. Using properties like superposition and entanglement to manipulate data, these new machines require much less power, much less time and much less space to operate.”
This was beyond Daniel’s expertise. Still, he got the point. It was tiny. It was powerful. It was valuable.
Loki paused, breathless from his running monolog. “I estimate the Genesis is no more than the size of your hand. Computations that once took weeks or years like those surrounding the Higgs Boson could now be done in a matter of hours.”
"Radchenko himself told us the world would never catch up." He leaned forward and shifted the keyboard towards himself, and then tapped a line of keys, pulling up an old video file and the only known appearance of Radchenko himself.
The video showed a man whose hair was only slightly receding in the front. He did have a prominent widow’s peak, and his thick black hair was slicked back on his scalp. While someone else with a similar look might appear either sleazy or nerdy, the man on the screen managed to pull off looking mysterious and alluring.
"I will tell you, they are on the wrong track," they heard Radchenko say from the screen. "They scour the blind alleys with their crippled neural nets and their hobbled step-style qubits. It will avail them nothing."
Loki muted the video.
“I believe him. Every word. It’s a fact that nobody in the Western world has truly begun to figure out Quantum computing, despite decades of trying. Genesis can reconfigure the Liberari network to go wherever it pleases regardless of firewalls, either hardware or software based. Every other cryptocurrency has been shut down by the CPC. These are no obstacles to Genesis.”
The moving image of a dark bearded Radchenko remained on the screen before them. He was still speaking forcefully and gesturing angrily, though his voice could no longer be heard.
Gideon ignored the video and stuck to solid ground. "So, this Genesis runs through thousands of passwords to break past all the firewalls.”
"Among many other things. But it does have one potential vulnerability. The Ducat network was designed to be peer-to-peer, and indeed for its ongoing use, it needs to be peer-to-peer. Just looking at how Radchenko has designed this network, I doubt that even Genesis itself could break it.” There was a brief pause, as Loki again looked around to see if he was being followed.
“But from time to time Genesis has to be plugged into the internet to update the protocol. At the same time, it also must reconfigure the system to keep the Ducat network going and to break through the CPC firewalls with a brute force algorithm. Without the backdoor keys, transatlantic transactions would be impossible and the network would fragment and likely die.”
Beside him, the monitor once again flicked to electronic life. A representation of the distribution process appeared. Repeatedly looping, it showed the placement of keys at lower and lower levels, in finer and finer detail.
"So then, if they had Genesis the network could theoretically be cracked and the CPC could figure out who has what?”
“Yeah, conceivably. Then it could force the dark side users to pay taxes at the rate of 97% and throw users into jail. In theory, it could even control the network itself. Remember though, the keys produced by Genesis are encrypted at a level of cryptography that is currently uncrackable.”
He touched the keyboard again and hit a few seemingly random keys. As they watched, a schematic representation appeared on the screen. Before their eyes, a supercomputer tried and failed to pick apart a transaction key. Ranks of moving green multi-armed figures that seemed to represent success faced an army of gray. The attackers turned red one by one, then disintegrated, slowly turning pale and fading away to nothing. The screen flared three times, as if in celebration, and slowly went dark.
"You see. No CPC computer, apart from Genesis or another substantially more powerful quantum computer could hope to crack the network.”
Markus sighed and summed up the situation. "So, the bottom line is the Ducat network cannot be manipulated, and there is a finite money supply. Here's the central pertinent fact for us. When the network was first created, Radchenko reserved 20% of the Ducats that came into existence. For himself. Right now, that 20% reserve of Liberari Ducats is worth 20 trillion CPC dollars. That makes him the world's richest man, by far.”
Gideon whistled softly. "And that makes him worth getting to know.”
There was a stunned silence around the table. Each person took the news, digested it and measured it against what they already knew about the world. In each circumstance, the result was shock, surprise, and awe.
Gideon was the first to speak his mind. "So the world's biggest terrorist is also its richest man. Wow!" He shook his head in disbelief. Daniel eyed Markus who in turn was staring at Gideon, obviously contemplating his next move. Daniel recalled a time a few summers back when he had been out running in the woods and had come across an enormous rattler on the path. It had stopped, stared for a moment at him, then slithered off into the trees, leaving him uncertain as to whether it would come back to attack him. He could see the same look in Markus' eyes as he glared at Gideon, and Daniel couldn't help wondering what was causing such as hostile reaction.
Markus went on. "We aren't after the CPC bounty. Five hundred million is chump change." He turned to face the rest of the group, his voice became more impassioned as the dollar signs flashed before his eyes. "We're after his hoard. If we get it, I promise 1% for each of you. If you choose to convert it to CPC dollars, which I don't recommend, that's two hundred billion each."
Another stunned silence fell over the group as they mentally spent their fortunes. Each of the listeners drew up mental shopping list. The group was incredibly stunned. Loki stared off into the distance, his traditional grin plastered on his face as he spent the money on fast women and fast cars, never having to pick up another hacking job ever again. Gideon salivated about leaving Detroit and the gangbangers behind. His own private island where no thugs would ever venture and his family could be safe. Daniel alone wasn't swayed by the image of more money than he could count. Instead, he watched Markus again, waiting for the strike.
Gideon returned from his reverie and rubbed his hands together. "So? What are we waiting for? Let's get going!" His enthusiasm was infectious, and at that moment, the mood changed to something akin to what John Sutter must have felt upon finding gold in his creek. Loki reached into the middle of the desk, typed a series of complex commands into the computer and a blurry holographic image leaped up in between the group members.
"For years, there was no evidence that Radchenko was dipping into his hoard, until about a year ago." He pointed to the fuzzy image in front of him. "This is Radchenko taking delivery of a very large piece of equipment, shipped from Siberia."
Loki waved his hand through the image, scanning the scene till he found a second man captured on the hologram as he moved towards Radchenko. Daniel leaned in close. Before he could speculate, Loki provided him with an answer. "The man you see here is Rupinder Shurani. This is Radchenko's first purchase from Shurani, but far from his last."
Shurani. Of course. Unless Loki's information was wrong, here was conclusive proof that they were facing two problems, not one.
"So what is it?" asked Daniel.
The room felt empty despite the number of people who sat around the table. Maybe it was the cavernous space of the Norseman, or maybe it was the length of the holographic table, ensuring that each of the meeting's participants had a goodly amount of personal space. None of it was needed, however, as all attention was focused on Loki who was busy fiddling with his tablet.
He suddenly grinned his manic smile, pressed a button and a 3D display of a submarine appeared in front of each chair. It was incredibly detailed, obviously built up from thousands of photos, and each person reached forward to move it around to examine it further.
The three-dimensional holographic display model of the submarine spun in the air above their heads with eerie green light. The submarine looked like it was lit from inside out, glowing the various features of the submarine it was showing. Loki looked up at the display of the submarine owlishly through his greasy blonde hair.
The light emanating from the holographic representation of the sub hurt Daniel’s eyes slightly. The green lines still gave enough information to give an accurate representation of an underwater Goliath that the display indicated was over 175 meters in length. Daniel cast his eyes over the external fitting, trying to work out which nation state had developed this beast.
The Navy man, Gideon, provided the answer. “Soviet. Typhoon class. Largest Submarine ever built.”
"The Arkangel," clarified Loki. "Supposedly decommissioned, but the Russian Federation kept it in reserve."
Reyes looked up in surprise. "That thing has to be thirty years old!"
Loki gestured to several features that showed up on the 3D holographic display. Parts of the submarine were highlighted as he touched them with his finger. He turned a switch and the inside of the submarine became visible to everyone. The 3D model flickered each time Loki touched a different part with his finger. Parts of the submarine became highlighted as he pushed other buttons on his computer screen.
"Forty. But substantially upgraded with a new anti-detection surface. She’s had her nuclear launch tubes removed. She's now a stealth command center and freighter. Since then, Shurani's freighters have been rendezvousing with the Arkangel in the South China Sea and off-loading cargo, personnel, you name it. Now, here’s the most interesting part; a few weeks ago, the chatter from Radchenko picked up, then ended abruptly. Whatever Radchenko was preparing for, he's either done or nearly so."
The ship in front of them combined with Loki's intelligence suggested that their problem had just become more difficult. Whatever Radchenko was planning, the fact that he'd gotten hold of a Russian nuclear sub made it clear this was not going to be simple.
As ever, Daniel picked through Loki's last statement, looking for places where he needed more information. "What kind of cargo?" he finally asked.
"Random stuff. The computer can't put a finger on what they are building based on the components, but it's mostly exotic chemicals or raw elements. Not a lot of weapons, but a few." Loki sounded frustrated that his new toys were not figuring out Radchenko’s plan.
The room fell silent again. Weapons they could handle. The idea of several tons of exotic chemicals and raw elements was more complicated. Radchenko had been blamed for chemical attacks on subways in Berlin and Nanjing.
"So what's our next move?" Every eye in the room spun around to Joon who normally was as quiet as the grave.
Markus and Loki looked at each other, an almost visible exchange of information running between them. Markus nodded and turned to address the rest of the group.
"Goa, India. Rupinder Shurani's main base of operations," Markus said. "He will have rendezvous coordinates for the shipments on his mainframe.” Markus put his fingers through his hair and gestured toward the bunks below, apparently glad the secret of his aims was out. “Get rested up."

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