by Jason Erik Lundberg
An expansive secondary school gymnasium, stuffy, no aircon, but a single file of metal wall-mounted fans moved the sluggish air around. Four hundred students from 15 independent schools around the tropical island-nation, in a variety of uniforms, different colors, different cuts, but all a monument to homogeneity. Uniformity. Embedded throughout each uniform, no matter the school, arphids: tiny invisible spies measuring physical location, heart rate, respiration, perspiration, muscle tension, pupil tracking, and white cell count, the information uploaded to Test Centre HQ, collated and cross-referenced.
Four hundred pens scratched on blank foolscap. Boys and girls still, but labeled the future leaders of the nation, the creativity drilled out of them, replaced with perfect test-taking skills. Up and down the aisles stepped the invigilators, bleary-eyed government teachers "volunteered" into this unpaid weekend activity. Monitored from above it all by an expansive grid of scunts, spray-painted white to blend in with the concrete ceiling, though every student and teacher below took it for granted that they were up there, transmitting visual confirmation of the arphids' data mining.
No exterior information allowed in, no mobile phones, no PDAs, no unauthorized wireless transmitters, only a unidirectional flow of binaries, so that even though the outside world had begun falling apart three hours earlier when the exam began, the Obsidian Tower felled by green fire from the skies, panic and looting overtaking the streets, the normally docile and obedient citizenry reduced to an irrational mob, destruction of private and public property, and the government's paramilitary shock-troopers mobilized on the streets to enforce martial law without pity or prejudice, even though all of this was happening, the press-ganged teachers and studious young people were none the wiser. Isolated within a bubble of blissful ignorance, the silence only occasionally punctuated by a muted cough or a squeaking sneaker, the leaders of tomorrow's wreckage emptied neuronal interaction onto pressed dead tree.
Car Park City
by Jason Erik Lundberg
Foon Chye shivered amongst the acres of abandoned cars at the Bahru checkpoint, and hoisted his messenger bag higher on his shoulder. An unusually cold December in the whole of Southeast Asia, with tropical Tinhau dipping into the high teens, Centigrade. Living only a degree above the equator had not prepared him for less than sweltering days drenched in sunshine and humidity, and his jean jacket barely protected him from the damp chill of the season.
The autos had long been plundered for their oil reserves and copper wiring in the xenophobic days following the Crackdown, but more precious treasure could be had if you knew where to look. Away from the electric fencing and barbed wire, Foon Chye passed stripped Beamers, Mercs, and Lexi, and went straight for a yellow Mini Cooper with a black top. Minis always had a bit of a rebellious streak, something he was counting on. He boosted the bonnet and located the onboard AI. From his bag he extracted various cables, and attached them to the ports on the small black box; the other ends went into his netbook. A quick and dirty interface, download, and reboot later, and through the netbook's speakers the Mini said, "Master?"
"No, lah" Foon Chye said. "Just a friend. You me, we spread a bit mischief, ah?"
"I don't understand."
"Gahmen tag all us with RFID implant, read personal private data anytime, ask no permission. Continual surveillance, 24/7. But dis ordinator," he said, patting the netbook, "I just finish hack yesterday. Gon plug into nationwide wifi net, scramble RFID data everywhere, replace with useless bits look like green fire. Set people free, ah."
"Freedom is good," the Mini said. "I wish to be free."
"We all wish. You help me, I set you free. Shiok?"
"But what do you want with me?"
"Gahmen killdozers very cheem, hunt down rogue programs quicksharp. But they got no imagination, no creativity. My apps and devs give you edge, make you unstoppable, lorh. So?"
The Mini hesitated for a just a moment.
"Shiok," it said. "When do we start?"
Foon Chye smiled and stuffed the netbook back in his bag. The first step toward liberation. He could almost see the Bahru checkpoint unclenching, the physical border with Malaya open once again, as well as electronically with the rest of the world. He picked his way through the dead husks of metal, and headed out of the automobile graveyard with his new friend.