The cryptographer glistens wetly in his hand. You stare, transfixed, as his words wash over you.

“… neural-net learning algorithms, so it’s totally future-proof; real end-to-end encryption like nothing else …”

Finally, something you understand. “But I’ve already got end-to-end encryption,” you assert, struggling to keep the whine out of your voice. You gesture at the lump by your temple, the bioelectric silicon responsible for decrypting incoming messages just in time to project them on your retinas.

“Well, it depends where you think the ‘end’ is, right? Back when they fitted you with that dinosaur, we thought displaying onto the retina was pretty damn close to the end point. Now, well, it’s near impossible to keep anything on electronics secure, and there’s probably a nanobot filming the surface of your retina right now. No, we need to go to the real end,” and he points right between your eyes.

You remember when you got the lump. You’d just joined the Service, and out of some bizarre machismo you opted not to take the knockout pill. Of course, you couldn’t see anything, but the scent of your own powdered cranium has stuck with you.

Seeing your hesitation, he changes tack, tossing the cryptographer at you. It’s not a hard throw, and you catch the disgusting(ly expensive) blob without even thinking about it. It squirms slightly, and you imagine hooks worming out, digging their way into your synapses.

“Look, how did you catch that? Did you think about it? Did you solve the differential equations in your head? No? That’s because Mama Evolution is looking out for you, and somewhere in that noggin of yours is a bit of specialised wetware for effortlessly handling trajectory calculations. It doesn’t feel like that to you - you just catch the ball! - but no other animals are as good at throwing as we are. Monkeys may love throwing shit, but they sure can’t bring down a running gazelle.

“That’s what this is about. Mama doesn’t understand cryptography, but we do. When you have this in, memorize a few keys and encrypted text will just look obvious to you. Like reading. And you can write it just as easily. It’s like growing a whole new sense.

“Plus, you need it to keep the spooks out. Unless they figure out how to read our brains directly, at which point…”

A crooked grin, a throat-slitting gesture.

You know you need this. He knows you need this. You sigh.

“So, are you still drilling holes in the side of people’s heads?” you ask, casually.

“Nah, these days we mostly go in up the nostril.”