Lockdown : the Aftermath (cont)

sara-silva-418793

Photo by Sara Silva on Unsplash

I was mistaken in thinking that panic would ensue Milimo’s words.

Nope. I was greeted with overwhelming silence. Once again, we were a few misguided kids, trying to find our place in the world.

I sank into a chair and buries my head in my hands. I pressed my fingers to my eyelids, savouring the coolness of my fingertips on my overheated face. I exhaled, trying to wrap my head around the problem we had been presented with. Who could possibly have hacked us?

“Do we have any further information?” I asked croakily.

“The system the hacker is using is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen,” Milimo whispered, stuck between being scared and awestruck. “Their hacking methods are ridiculous. They set up several firewalls. I can’t even get their location.”

“But we can guess.” Silas said gravely, crossing the room. He stood in the middle of the room, flexing his muscles menacingly. “The only unusual activity we’ve seen was in the north of Lusaka. It’s pretty obvious that’s where they are.”

“We should go after them,” Stephanie piped up.

“We should do nothing of the sort,” I said, standing up. I walked right up to Silas and stared up at him, refusing to be intimidated by his huge stature.

“I already killed the whole country. I won’t let you guys die too.” I breathed out

“Oh, for fucks’ sake, we aren’t even living!” Stephanie yelled at me, her hair whipping around her face. “Those that hang out with the dead are dead! Do you really think hiding from shadows is being alive Chabota?”

“Steph, you were on my side.” I growled lowly.

“There are no sides!” She screamed angrily. “There’s life and death and us. But there are no sides”

 

I returned to my seat, feeling defeated. I needed the team to see reason, but the truth was I didn’t know what I was reasoning with them to do. As it stood, we were all sitting chickens, waiting on the sky to fall.

 

 

15.3879oS, 28.3297oE, Engineering Annex. STATUS: CONDEMNED

In the aftermath, I got used to the draft in the annex. Not because the windows were poorly boarded up with flimsy sheets of cardboard but because I never felt Stephanie next to me anymore when I woke up. We were miles apart. I often woke up groggy and wistful. Sometimes, Bupe would cross my mind, but I would shake those thoughts vehemently out my head. The past was behind us. This particular morning was colder than usual for a day in the middle of summer. I pulled myself from behind the boxes and woke up to what looked like a meeting.

“we’re glad you’re finally awake.” Stephanie said scathingly. I flipped my finger at her and pulled a chair into their jumbled circle.

“we’ve decided to investigate the activity in Lusaka North.”

 

 

15.4140° S, 28.2853° E, STATUS: INHABITABLE

Even before we shut down The Network, this old shopping mall gave me the creeps. It had been refurbished into office space for government spies, that masqueraded as people equally sinister. Interestingly enough, the black market flourished right next to the supposed law makers.

“I remember buying my first gun here,’ Silas said reminiscently. He chuckled as he added, “I also bought my first gun license.”

Milimo scoffed as he pulled out a tablet from his back pack. “They’ve completely secured the network. I can’t even monitor their activity.”

“did you try to look at the national electricity grid?” I asked non-commitally.

“of course, I did,” he scoffed.

“no need to be rude, brother.” I mumbled, throwing the peace sign at him.

“brother?” he asked incredulously. “Chabota, you’ve barely spoken to anyone since we shut this shit down!”

“you guys are acting like its all my fault. We were in it together!” I growled at him, taking a step closer to him. I flexed my knuckles, unconvincingly, feeling braver than I really was.

Milimo flung his arms apart and screamed, “look at you shifting the blame! I’ve been hacking into fucking infinity while you mope around the streets, picking up junk that reminds you of your dead girlfriend. I see you storing that stuff, in your locker dude.”

“it’s not like that.” I said, turning away angrily.

He laughed mirthlessly, “oh yeah, tell that to Stephanie.” Milimo turned away from me disgustedly. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Stephanie wipe her face as she stepped past us. I exhaled and fumbled blindly for a blunt.

Silas grabbed the blunt from my fingers and tossed it away. “I need you to be alert in this, we’re going in with guns. Also keep your goddamn emotions in check, you sound ridiculous.”

He stepped forward and motioned for us all to huddle.

“I can’t tell you guys I know much about what’s going on there, but I do know that its gonna be dangerous.” He said gravely. “Y’all got your weapons?”

Everyone nodded their assent. I was reminded that I needed to collect my own gun from the trunk of the car we had ‘acquired’ to get here. It was a very run-down Toyota Corolla. As I pulled the boot open and selected the smallest pistol I could find, I was reminded that freedom comes at a price.

Advertisements

Lockdown : The Aftermath

Status report : All previous sectors have been dissolved and reaffirmed into Lusaka city. National Archives (lat. long. Undefined.) Yielded poor results as to names of suburbs and residential areas. Missing records, either burnt or discarded.
Livestock have been rounded up and stray and cats have been impounded Diseased or wound animals were killed.
Remains of the people have been permanently locked in cold storage. Accessible only by computer short code.

Unusual activity in Lusaka North. Investigations under way.

Status report May 17; 20:49: Transformer power has been shut down in all areas. Computer network is compromised. Currently running on solar energy.

Status report; May 31, 21:03: Lights flared up in Lusaka North. Investigations underway.

Status report, June 2: Influx of strays in the streets. Ethernet network crashed.

15.3879° S, 28.3297° E: Former Engineering Annex.

The past month had made me get used to silence. The streets were dead quiet, save for the wind rustling through avenues of trees.
We also sat in silence. We tried but the atmosphere was quiet heavy around us yet for all that, we stayed together, appreciating that there is strength in numbers. Besides, it got lonely sometimes, walking through the neo-apocalyptic streets. Despite there being no immediate danger, we always found ourselves at the base by nine pm latest. I’d often find Milimo hunched a laptop, coding aimlessly, or if not playing mindless games. Silas found some old dumbbells and took to working out often. His spare moments were spent pumping weights. Stephanie and I drifted apart. She spent most of her time writing in a journal or crying. She had lost her sparkle. And I felt like awraith. Walking through the empty streets, hiding from people who aren’t there. I took an inventory of basically everything I came across. The buildings, the plants, the street furniture. I felt it kept me sane.
As per the usual I was back at the base before nine. The atmosphere in the base was heavy. Stephanie was crying again and Silas was pacing the room frantically. Milimo of course was typing furiously at his laptop, barely looking up as his fingers flew over the key board. Before I could speak, Stephanie flung herself into my arms, wailing.
“What’s going on?” I asked, fearing the worst.
“Chabota…” Milimo said from across the room. We’ve been hacked.”

Lonely

 

The Dream Collector: A Dance With Ghosts

 

flickr canoe

My head was as heavy as the bag I toted on my back, as I rowed upstream into the dazzling golden sunset.
The past hour still seemed surreal to me. It was almost unreal, when the shaman and the Oracle passed a blessing over my head and handed me a very small bag, that could fit in the palm my hand. They gave me the instructions clearly; go to every hut, pick up the dream catchers and say the simple blessings “may the good come true and the evil turn to dust.”
No dream catcher should be left untouched
Emptying the dream catchers was nothing short of frightening. Dreams manifested in front of my eyes, monsters baring their teeth, ready to rip me apart. I also witnessed broken hearts,Dreams dashed on hopeless conditions or parents’ careless words. I saw the good and bad of our lives, as reflected through the thoughts of the my people. We were all yearning for something, we just don’t know what. We all needed something more and didn’t realise the cry of our hearts. How do you begin to say you want more, when you don’t know what more is.
I wasn’t disappointed to find hot tears streaming down my face, as I rowed into the amber light of the sunset.

Rowing upstream wasn’t easy. My arms grew weary against the strong current of the river, as I pushed myself forward, weighed down by the hopes of so many people. I watched the sun make its steady descent into the horizon, casting first an amber glow, then a ruby red and finally the settling in of indigo, as shadows spread across the land. I had been instructed to row, until the moon was high in the sky, providing a different type of light. Despite the pain in my arms and the growing discomfort in my chest, I continued to push, allowing the black night to envelope me.

Before long, the moon rose, casting a silver touch to the night. I looked ahead of me, and all I saw was the clear water. Despite the pain in my arms and the growing discomfort in my chest, I continued to push, allowing the black night to envelope me.

Before long, the moon rose. Casting a silver touch to the night. I looked ahead of me, and all I saw was the water, looking like black glass, shattered only by the periodic splash of my oars.
The air around me was silent and heavy. There was no sound of any animals and yet I felt like I was being watched. The more I rowed, the more tires I became. My arms were heavy, and my breathing came in short gasps.
I knew this feeling very well; my illness had come back to haunt me.
With all the effort I could muster, I steered the canoe to the closest bank, struggling against the current. Maybe it was luck on my side or I was stronger than I knew but after a long time, I felt the crunch of river rocks on the bottom of the boat.
I was covered in a sheen of sweat and I had begun to cough feebly. I dragged myself out the boat and settled in the mud.
This was the end. No heroic ending. No lesson to be learnt. Just an ill fated vessel for the plans of the Oracle. I pulled the bag of dreams close to me. I mayn’t have died a hero, but at least I could be a dream. Floating in the air and settling in people’s heads as a distant memory; someone that they used to know.

The Dream Collector: Beyond The Night

adventure-art-beautiful-black-Favim.com-2651696

For the first time in my life, I woke up without feeling any pain. To my surprise, I could even stand up. And I walked into the outer room of the hut. The sunlight streamed through the windows, flooding the small house with warmth. Unsurprisingly, The Oracle was already at home. My mother sat coldly on the other side of the room, and interestingly enough, my father was around. He looked at me, with eyes filled with a plethora of emotion. Half pride, half a deep sadness.
“My son,” he said, coming forward. He held in his arms, and for a moment I was the little boy that used to play on the banks of the river, before everything changed.
The moment passed briefly, and I was back to being the perpetually sick young man. I sighed audibly. The Oracle stood up and signaled for me to follow me. I grasped my father’s hands and looked him solemnly in the eye.
He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped halfway, leaving the moment thick with suspense and unsaid words.
I followed the Oracle, who walked really fast for someone of his age. He swooped through the village, striking the ground with his staff to shoo young children out the way. Most of the older kids would scurry away fearfully, trying to avoid the wrath of the oldest man in the village. Before long, we had reached the end of the village. There were two large huts and one incredibly tiny one. The Shaman stood in front of the small hut, his long robes billowing gently in the wind.
“Welcome son,” he said brightly. The Oracle scoffed and disappeared into one of the larger huts.
“There’s a cleansing ritual you need to go through.” The Shaman explained, gesturing towards the small hut. “The Last Day of The Year falls in two days, so it’s imperative that this is done.”
“What happens if I don’t?” I asked curiously.
“The weight of your own dreams will be too heavy for you to bear, how will you carry the hopes and fears of others?”
I thought back to all the nightmares I had before, fearing that each of the monsters in my head would manifest physically.

Out of nowhere, the Oracle loomed behind me and pushed me violently into the tiny dark hut. I tumbled headlong into the confined space and took a few minutes to sort out my bearings.
When I’d finally distinguished up from down, I sat. The first thing I thought of was home. It made me sad to realize that the only thing I knew about home was my bed by the little window, watching the villagers go past, living lives in which they were fully independent. The next thing I thought of was my father. I was somewhat amazed to find that we were the same height. My legs didn’t work the way they should have, but they reached the length they were supposed to. Perhaps they would become even longer. I couldn’t tell. I remembered the calloused grip of my father’s hands. Hands that never taught me anything, but to cover my mouth when I cough and to clap my gratitude for small kindnesses. My father nurtured my mind though. He helped me stretch my imagination far beyond my legs that didn’t work and out of the small window. My imagination stretched further than the river and far beyond the mountains. I often dreamt of a country, where of course I was fully well, that I roamed and called my own. I wasn’t a fisher man however, I was a farmer. Or maybe even a scribe or a student of law. I could anything.

As time drew on, I became accustomed to the dark. The time seemed to stretch forever, and I was beginning to wonder of the Last Day of The Year had come at all.

After a very long time, a sliver of light shine through a small gap in the darkness. I squinted at it, as I watched it grow larger before it was momentarily blocked by a small figure. I felt a wizened hand grab mine in the half dark and I realized it was the Oracle.

“Do you want me to follow you?” I asked the Oracle. The Oracle scoffed softly and I realized with embarrassment that he couldn’t talk. “I.. I’m sorry, I..I didn’t think.” I stammered hurriedly.
“As a matter of fact,” the Oracle said, ” I do want you to follow me. Just not right now.”

“wait,” I was awestruck. “You can talk?”
This time the Oracle laughed. It was a deep laugh.
“Of course I can, I just choose not to.” His voice was gravelly and his breath laboured. He spoke slowly as if each word was precious, and he had to weigh them all out.
“You’ve done well, my son.” He said. Even in the half dark, I could hear the earnestness in his voice
“All I did was sit the dark,” I chuckled.
“For two days, alone with all your thoughts. Many wouldn’t have lasted.”
“It’s the Last Day of the Year?” I felt my heart fall. A very small part of me had hoped it was all a joke but a stronger part of me knew it was as real as life itself.
“We must go now.” The Oracle said. The hut was plunged momentarily into darkness once more and then flooded with glorious sunshine.

I crawled out the hut and stepped out into the light. Judging by the weak rays of the sun, it was still early morning. The town was already decorated with bright streamers on the huts. The women set out all their lanterns and were polishing and shining them one last time, before they put their festive candles in. The young girls were all in the midst of cooking one thing or another, the air was thick with the aroma of baking cakes and frying chickens. The young men did not go fishing on this day, they instead mended their nets and roasted the fish they had caught the day before. But all these were just a backdrop. For me, the dream catchers stood out starkly. Fluttering unassumingly on the porches of homes, heavy and weighed down by the dreams and hopes of all the town.

The Shaman strode out to meet me. He wore a huge smile on his face, and clapped my back heartily. “Get ready, the festival will begin soon,” he smiled at me, before steering me in the direction of their bathroom. Two days in a hot hut can make you smell quite funky.

After cleaning myself up, the Shaman and Oracle led me to where the festivities were being held. before everyone cleared off into their houses to close off the year, the whole village came together in the village square. food was passed around, the young ladies danced and for the afternoon, the village was happy. Eyes passed over me unassumingly. It was the first festival I had attended in years. Most people did not even recognize me. Presently, the Shaman stood up. Silence settled unevenly over the crowd. Finally as the last baby was cooed gently to quietude, the Shaman begun to tell stories. He weaved worlds with his words, constructed dreams and restructured nightmares. He spoke into existence our history and it almost seemed as if the characters in his accounts were alive and walking amongst us. Then he went silent. A chilly wind rippled through the crowd, and a sombre silence, as dense and heavy as death.

“We must go now.” the Shaman said shakily. He cleared his throat and said in a stronger voice. ” Hang out your dream catchers, for we can not move forward with the weight of the past holding us back. We remember, but we do not dwell.”

Perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on me, but suddenly the sky seemed a bit darker. Mothers scooped their infants up and scolded the ones that lagged behind. Fathers held onto their daughters hands and guided the steps of their wives. In no time, the village square was empty once more. The winds picked up speed and the temperatures dropped.

The Oracle turned towards me and put his wizened hands on my shoulder. “Your hour has come.”

The Dream Collector

ella-jardim-274186

Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash

Our tiny village sits at the edge of a long meandering river. If you stand outside your hut, you can watch the sun set, as the fishermen row downstream, coming back from the day’s catch. And if you stand outside the hut early morning, you will see the fishermen carry their canoes up the river. You will never see the fishermen row upstream, only down at sunset. Except on the last day of the year, then The Dream Collector rows against the river, into the sunset and disappears forever. We were never allowed to see him off, because we never knew what was awaiting us, in the aftermath. On the last day of the year, one of the young men of the village was selected in the Shaman’s ritual, to empty the dream catchers that hung perennially on the rafters of our river bank homes. No one knew what they saw, save for the Oracle, and he was duty bound to never say a word.

Every father would sit his son down at the age of 14, and explain the little he knew of the ritual, as every mother would pray fervently, hoping that her son would be spared.

My 18th birthday passed with little excitement. We all knew I was too ill to be chosen, and thus, as I lay in bed on the last day of the year, I watched the shadows steal across my window as a young man rowed upstream. As soon as the sun made its descent, and every door was firmly locked, a pitiful scream rent the air. One more mother wept the loss of her son. My own mother sat next to me, and thanked the gods for the strange illness I had. The next two birthdays passed uneventfully.

By the time I was turning 21, I could barely walk. My life was bound to loneliness and staring out the window, watching the young men carry their catch for the day, joking and wooing sweethearts and maybe even wives. I had long put away all jealousy and bitterness.

I was simply lonely.

“Do you ever wish to travel the river?” The shaman asked, cutting across my thoughts.
I smiled wistfully. “I can barely feed myself, oh man of wisdom.”
“Hold on to hope if you’ve got it.” The shaman said. He looked into the sunset and I watched his face harden as the Oracle approached him. The Oracle was older than anyone could remember. His long white beard was braided skillfully and tucked into the waistband of his robe. His brown eyes flashed with a fierce passion as he roamed the tiny village, occupied by thoughts only known to him.
He approached the Shaman and I watched their exchange with interest.

“Is it necessary?” The Shaman sounded pained. The Oracle merely shifted his stance and gave the Shaman a steely stare.
“There has to be a better way.” The shaman said bitterly, avoiding the piercing eyes of the Oracle. The Oracle’s lips tightened and he struck his staff into the ground thrice. The Shaman bowed his head and with a swish of his cloak disappeared into the twilight.

Shortly before the Last Day of The Year, I had another bout of sickness. As my life slipped away, it took my will to live with it. The little fight I had within me, had died, I was waiting for my body to follow.

I could tell that my family was getting used to life without me. They had all but bought the coffin.

Days and nights felt exactly the same to me, and time was a nebulous concept. I had fully accepted that my time was up. And oddly, I was okay with it.

The custom in our village, was to have the shaman pray over you, a final rite before you made the passage into the land of the dead. I was not disconcerted to see the shaman cast a shadow in my doorway. From behind him, I could hear my mother screaming, almost hysterically.
“He isn’t well, please!” She wailed. She stumbled hurriedly into the room, clutching at the helm of his long black robes. “Please. If he is to die, let him die my arms. He’s my only boy. My baby.”

Suddenly, the temperature in the room dropped. I heard a staff strike the floor thrice; the Oracle was visiting too.
I forced myself to sit up, and peered at my three bedside visitors.
The Oracle struck the floor once more and pointed a long wizened finger at me. His keen eyes looked at me searchingly, as he beckoned simply at me. The Shaman looked at me expressionlessly and declared,
“Seed of Asher. It is not right to love this temporal life more than you value the calling of the gods. It is for this reason, that you will become the Dream Collector.”
I sank back into the pillows and felt oddly…happy. my whole life had been spent with no real purpose. I could feel the three sets of eyes on me. My mother sniffed desolately, the Oracle continued to stare impassively and The Shaman showed his first sign of real emotion, remorse.

“I accept” I said, feeling myself smile. The Oracle gave me a grim smile, and walked out the room. I heard my mom scream, allowing her voice to penetrate the air, as she cried uncontrollably. The Shaman walked towards the bed, and held my hand. I could tell he was shocked by how limp and cold it was. “I’m proud of you.” He said softly. He rummaged in his rucksack and pulled out an elixir. He pushed it to my mouth and forced me to drink.
The drink warmed me up, spreading form my core right to the ends of my fingers. The shaman pushed my head gently back onto the pillows and whispered, “rest. Many trials await you”

to be continued

canoe

LOCKDOWN Chapter 3

atharva-lele-103389 Photo by Atharva Lele on Unsplash

15.3879oS, 28.3297oE, DEPARTMENT OF COMPUTER SCIENCE. STATUS: RESTRICTED

19:05

The lights flickered on overhead and illuminated Computer Lab 3. I reminisced about the lectures I attended, sitting next to Stephanie and playing Zerg Rush when we got bored. Stephanie slumped into a chair and groaned, the day’s events were taking their toll on her. Silas too took a seat and kneaded his head with his knuckles, deep in thought. Milimo however, stayed true to character and set up four computers, deftly accessing the deep web. Each monitor showed the position citizens in real time. Government officials were marked with a red x, cops with a blue dot and civilians were black dots. All the government officials were in their respective homes, all the cops were moving about on the screen, clearly doing their patrols. Silas gave us each a chance to rest. Milimo wrapped himself up in a blanket he had produced from somewhere, Silas fell asleep in his chair. I took out a joint and lit it up, allowing the aroma to engulf me. Stephanie sat on my lap and rested her head on my shoulder. The last time I saw Stephanie was the day before the cops got her. As much as I loved Bupe, Stephanie was a challenge for me. She made my mind work in ways I didn’t know were possible. We didn’t need a label; she was my ride or die. Feeling her small fingers grab the joint from me made me laugh. She took a drag and passed it back, then kissed my neck gently.

“This is far from normal, but it will have to do in terms of intimacy.” She laughed, burrowing her face in my nape. I kissed the top of her head and wrapped my arms around her. Normal and intimate were two things that meant nothing.

02:15

Milimo woke us up abruptly. Stephanie was still curled up on my lap, snuggling close to my body, breathing slowly in and out. Silas was pacing up and down, his brow burrowed in thought. Milimo pulled a chair up and sat in front of us. He put his hands together and exhaled slowly.

“Lady and gentlemen. On the off chance that you actually want to hear me talk; it’s about to go down. I know…I know guys. The world we live in is incredibly messed up. We’re under the rule of people who don’t give a flying rat’s ass about us. It’s a fact. But we’re going to change that. We have so little influence yet so much. Henceforth this city will not be the same.” His voice was heavy with emotion and hoarse from being tired.

“This is crazy.” Stephanie murmured. “What if there’s someone we want to save?”

“I’ll give you the algorithm in a moment, just back code them into the system.” Milimo said.

“There’s no one I’d save.” Silas sighed. Milimo looked over at him and they shared a look, all they had was each other.

“I wanna save Bupe.” I said. Stephanie clicked her tongue in irritation and stood up. She walked to the far end of the room and sat at one of the monitors Milimo had set up.

“I want her to see what this world is really like, not the world she believes we live in.” I continued, staring doggedly at Stephanie.

“Dude. What she sees is what she needs to see.” Stephanie said sulkily. “The world she belongs to, injustice doesn’t exist. People die and their bodies are recycled after. Violating people’s bodies is research. She benefits from the system. The system was made for her.”

“Stephanie, she needs to know!” I said raising my voice. I stood up to. My relationship with Stephanie had always been case in point sexual. We didn’t talk, we didn’t need to. But suddenly, it seemed like the whole world was thrown off balance.

“Dude, shut up.” Silas groaned. “I’ve got bad news.”

“Chabota.” He continued, looking directly at me. “Bupe’s dot is off screen.”

“What does that mean?” I said, feeling a knot grow in my chest.

“Most likely explanation is that she was disconnected.” Silas said gravely.

“Fuck.” I groaned, sinking back into my seat. “Fuck.”

Stephanie sniffed from the other side of the room, still sulking. Milimo patted my back and sighed.

“Let’s do it.” I said resolutely.

I tried to ignore the fact that I was blinded by tears as I back coded. I tried to tell myself the greater good was more important than love. I tried to tell myself I loved her. I also tried to tell myself that cheating with Stephanie meant nothing at all. But I failed. I didn’t mean to fall for Bupe, but when I woke in the hospital, seeing her smile at me, dimpled and with twinkling eyes, I knew everything in my life had changed. She was a medical intern and I was computer scientist, who routinely tested government software. She whispered in my ear that it would be the last time I’d see anyone, they were simply running brief tests on me and then I’d cross to the other side. I had no idea what that meant until I blacked out. When I woke up again, the next person I saw was Stephanie. She was frowning at me. “Damn nigga. You just had to die, didn’t you?” she said. I listened awestruck as I met Milimo and Silas. Collectively, we called ourselves The Rats. I learnt about the illegal network they had set up and their plans. I wanted to be a part of it.

We coded in silence, hearing only the random chirping of crickets in the distance of the approaching morning. Suddenly the lights flickered and Milimo screamed in triumph.

“We did it!” he yelled, jumping up. “We have shut down the domain!”

The silence that followed was thunderous. It was the type of silence that settles after you know you’ve won a battle that you didn’t have the strength to fight. The type of silence that is comfortable in triumph, and thrives in victory. The kind of silence that needed no explanation, just savour. And so, we sat there, in the old Computer laboratory, passing around a joint and feeling oddly exhausted but thrilled. Presently, Silas said, “let’s go outside.”

15.3879oS, 28.3297oE, GREAT EAST ROAD. STATUS: PUBLIC ACCESS ROUTE.

06:00

The apocalypse my generation faced was not a biological weapon or zombies. It wasn’t political terrorism or greed. It was fear of the known world and a longing for freedom. The sunrise tinged the horizon with seashell pink and cast warm rays across the city, illuminating every crevice. The streets were empty. From the distance a lone dog howled, another returned his howl with three sharp barks. And what we saw was desolation. Everything was opposite of what he had expected, what we had needed. We saw bodies. Body after body after body. In the short time, we had been coding under the comfort of our selfish needs, we had willfully and deliberately killed each citizen of the city. I didn’t even want to think of the rest of the country. It wasn’t beautiful or breathtaking, it was dire and sickening. We hadn’t achieved anything but waste.

10:00.

15.3879oS, 28.3297oE GOMA LAKES. STATUS: NEUTRAL

The days passed by uneventfully. An interesting thing about sitting in a post-apocalyptic city is despite the stillness, there will always be wind. The wind caused ripples on the surface of the Goma Lakes and I watched the little waves form and ebb away. Maybe it was fear or loneliness, but the team somehow stuck together. We went to Bupe’s house, to see if we could find any clues. Stephanie chose to wait outside, in a car we had stolen. We found her hanging from her ceiling, her microchip just under her feet. She had killed herself. I cut her down and inserted the chip back into her neck. If nothing came of all this mess, I wanted her to be left in dignity.

“Chabota!” someone called me from a distance.

“Chabota! Come now!” she called coming nearer. Stephanie sounded irritated as she approached. “Chabota. I’ve been calling you.”

I wiped the tears from my face and turned to her. “Quit crying, this is what you wanted.” She said hollowly.

I glared at her, not moving an inch. She came and placed her hands on my head, and I closed my eyes at her touch, savouring the softness of her skin on my hair.

“This is what no one wanted, Chabota. We wanted freedom, not death.” She whispered. She sat down next to me and wrapped her arms around herself, rocking backwards and forwards slightly.

Maybe there is freedom in death, and we just don’t know it yet. Maybe freedom is a concept relative to different people. Maybe death is a price to pay for freedom. The truth is freedom is a concept that you only understand when it’s taken away from you. But somewhere between the flaring lights of cars chasing each other down a freeway or the quietness of dawn, when police officers dust off their boots and finish their shifts, there is a freedom that exists deep within the chests of each of us. We just need to use it wisely.

 

LOCKDOWN Chapter 2

delf-renniel-rivera-273007

15o23’40.97,,S, 28o1830.18,,E, Sector 15 Designated Coffee Shop. STATUS: INHABITABLE

I couldn’t help it. Every time I saw Bupe, I smiled uncontrollably. She looked stunning in a simple baby blue off the shoulder dress. Today she tamed her bouncy hair, and had it pulled back into a pony tail that exploded lush curls over her head. She was smiling too, a little bit shyly. It had been two months since we’d had a real date and three since we were intimate. Maybe today would be a good day.

“I feel like we have so much to catch up on.” I said softly. I reached out and put my hand on top of hers. She clenched her muscles slightly, but did not move her hand.

“You’re right.” She said, not quite meeting my eyes. “we need to talk.” The air seemed to settle heavily around us. Bupe opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by the loud voice of a waitress.

“can I take your order yet?” she drawled lazily.

I shifted in my seat, and nodded my ascent. “you first babe.”

She bit her lip, and I immediately knew what she would order.

“king sized fries with hot wings.” She smiled and glanced at me. It was the first meal we’d ever had together.

“uhuh,” the waitress said, taking the order. “government name?”

“9512B- XX” she said. The waitress’s eyes seemed to glaze over as she processed this information. Waitresses had been fitted with a certain software to help them know of customer’s allergies and dietary tastes. After a few seconds, the waitress turned to me.

“I’m not eating, thank you.” I smiled at her.

“come on Chabota. Just eat. You look like you haven’t had anything in ages.” Bupe said, meeting my eyes for the first time that day. I opened my mouth to protest but changed my mind halfway. I’d risk it.

“onion rings and hot wings, please. Plus, two milkshakes.’’ I said listlessly.

“okay, do the thing.” She smiled, waiting for my own ID.

“9516C-XY” I said, shifting nervously again. Moments passed by as her eyes glazed again and finally she said it.

“there’s a whole chunk of missing information.” Her voice was no longer lethargic, it was alarmed.

“I know,” I waved her off. “I was in an accident. Recovering my files was a nightmare. I hit my cerebrum” the lie was well practiced and almost believable.

“uhuh, ok.” She reverted to her usual drawl. “food’ll be out in ten.”

Bupe was looking at me, a mixture of sympathy and curiosity on her face. “this is why you hate eating out, huh?”

“yeah. If I could remember my accident it would be easier.” I lied again. I remembered everything. Silas made sure of that.

“I wonder what it feels like when you die.” Bupe whispered shakily.

“why would you think that?” I asked. ‘it’s so… messy.”

“I know. I just… you have answers for everything. I thought maybe you’d have an answer for this.” She sounded dejected.

“Bupe, is everything okay?’ I asked. I was worried that she knew something. I would have to go missing for another few months.

“yeah. I’m just tired, I guess.” She mumbled.

“okay. How’s school going?’ I asked, clutching at straws. I needed to control this conversation. As soon as I said that, my mobile flashed. It was a message from Silas. The preview read ‘shu shu shu.” I gulped uneasily, that was a sign of trouble.

“how’s school going.” I asked again, I was getting more nervous.

“I’d rather we just sat in silence, that okay?” she said. I nodded slowly. I hated to admit, I was scared. Tension clung in the air, heavily. Despite the hum of chatter in the café there seemed to be a heavy silence. As if to add more tension, my phone buzzed again.

“you can answer your phone,” Bupe said calmly. Silas had sent another message. This one simply read “run.”

“Chabota, our order is taking too long.” Bupe said suddenly. Before I could react, she was signalling for a waiter. Our waitress came back, she was wringing her hands nervously.

“it’s been 20 minutes.” Bupe huffed.

“oh, I’m sorry… I… let me just…” the waitress stammered. She walked back to the kitchen urgently.

“baby let’s just go. I’ll buy you a snack elsewhere.” I urged. My phone rang almost on cue. I silenced it and put it in my pocket.

“no, Chabota. I want to eat now.” Bupe asserted. She gave me a steely glare and then decided to focus her eyes everywhere except on me.

The waitress returned, her face tear stained this time, visibly shaken. ‘what’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’m sorry.’ She stammered before shouting, “run!”

I barely had time to react when four heavily armed police officers strode towards us.

“9516C-XY, you are under arrest.” The foremost officer said tonelessly. “you may either come with us, or do this the hard way. Anything you say can and shall be used against you.”

“where’s your search warrant?” I asked, standing up. I stepped in front of Bupe, shielding her with my body.

“we don’t need one.” An officer from the back growled at me. I slumped temporarily and turned to Bupe. She was stricken, her eyes were wide and her mouth was slightly open.

“Bupe, run!” I screamed. I pulled her forward as I rushed towards the nearest exit. Suddenly I heard a loud bang, followed closely by another and Bupe’s hand slipped out of mine.

I spun around hurriedly. Dust filled the air and screams engulfed the once tense silence. My eyes scanned hurriedly for Bupe, she was cowering behind an overturned table, crying. I rushed towards her, to grab her. out of nowhere, a bullet sped right past my ear, I could feel the tingling heat still on my skin. I stumbled to the floor in shock. Before I could react, a heavy steel boot thudded right in front of my nose. I stared upwards into the rough face of the police officer.

‘that was a live bullet.” I said bitterly. I spat some blood out and watched it splatter hopelessly on the boot of the officer.

“I don’t care.” He said gruffly. I narrowed my eyes at him and moved to get up, knowing my chance of escape was limited. As I sat up I heard a small scream and what sounded like a vague struggle. Through the dust emerged another officer, pinning Bupe to his body. Her tiny frame struggled against his huge one.

“your life is forfeit, boy.” He jeered at me, “it’s either you or her.”

Suddenly the officer’s eyes went round and he crumpled to the floor; he was taken out by a perfect head shot. The other three officers followed soon after and someone grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, pulling me towards my temporal salvation. Blinded by adrenaline, I couldn’t see anything, until I was pushed into the back of an old jeep wrangler. I heard a thud as the front door slammed shut and someone spoke.

“you okay, fam?” the voice was milky and familiar. Slightly deep but very obviously female. I rubbed my eyes and sat up, gathering my bearings.

“Stephanie?!” I exclaimed incredulously. “oh, good lord.”

“in the flesh babes.” She smiled indulgently at me. I took some time to look around and realised that The Rats had assembled. We were in business and it was about to go down. Milimo sat in the front seat, typing furiously at one of his many laptops. Silas was cruising way above the speed limit and I only just noticed that Milimo was hacking all the traffic lights in the area to turn green as we approached. Stephanie was also working hard, running through codes on her smartphone, her brow furrowed in concentration.

As I sat up, Silas barked, “when I tell you to move, you move!” he whipped around and glared at me from the front seat. ‘I sent you a whole string of messages.”

“yeah, I was kinda on a date.” I sighed. “it was crazy back there, how’d you find me?”

Silas reverted his eyes to the road and huffed. “we kinda set off security services.”

“whoa! How?” I said leaning forward in my chair.

“they were bailing me out.” Stephanie chipped in. I turned to her aghast. Looking at her properly, I realised that her skin had lost some of its lustre. Her hair wasn’t as shiny and she had lost a lot weight.

I cursed softly. “where were you?” I reached out and put my hand gently on her thigh. “what did they do?”

She coughed. “remember your accident?” she looked upwards, trying to fight tears. “I had one too.”

“fuck.”  I said out loud. “how did these guys find you?”

“you’re sharing a car with the most dangerous hacker in southern Africa.” Milimo said. “apparently, I have a price on my head.”

“fuck.” I said again. “why didn’t you tell me?’ I sunk back into the chair and exhaled heavily.

“all’s fair in love and war.” Silas said grumpily. He was about to say more, when suddenly he hissed “get down you two!”

In a blur, Milimo was pushing my head down under a heavy coat, that smelt like stale weed.  Through the darkness, a small warm hand grabbed mine, it was Stephanie. I sighed and waited.

“Good evening.” I heard the oily voice of an officer say.

Milimo and Silas grunted non- committal replies.

“where are, you headed?” he asked, feigning a conversational tone.
“back home, outskirts of sector 15.” Silas said cheerfully. “my nephew has just come home from China.”

“you were studying there?” the officer said, genuinely curious.

“systems engineering,” Milimo lied easily.

The officer was quiet for a while. “be careful, there is a slight security worry here. Be home before curfew.”

I lurched forward slightly as the Jeep begun to move forward and begun to sit up. Stephanie pulled me downwards roughly.

“don’t be stupid. There’s another roadblock twenty metres ahead.” She hissed.

“how do you even know?” I mumbled angrily. She shoved her phone under my nose and I rolled my eyes.

Once again, I could hear the voices of police officers, interrogating Milimo and Silas. They stuck to their lies easily, acting like nothing was up.

“have you heard about the criminals on the loose?” the officer asked, a tad roughly. Milimo and Silas murmured their dissent, when suddenly they were being forced out the car. I heard Milimo grunt as the officer pushed him against the Jeep.

“what’s in the car?” the officer asked. Milimo’s voice was strangled as he said. “nothing.”

I felt Stephanie shift uncomfortably, I clenched her hand and held my breath.

“your coat moved.” The officer said non-commitally.

“could be a rat.” Silas grunted. The cop said something inaudible then wrenched the door open. I held by breath, hoping he wouldn’t see us in the half dark. Seconds passed by before what felt like a baton slammed heavily onto my face, several times. I bit my tongue so hard to stop from crying out I tasted blood. The officer slammed the door shut and scoffed. “probably just a rat.” He affirmed. “get out of here, fast.”

We drove for a few minutes before Milimo turned around and whipped the jacket off my face. I looked at Stephanie, she had blood all over her face and bruises across her cheekbones. I figured she’d been treated to the baton too. I pulled her close to me and closed my eyes. I needed this to all be over. I just wanted to taste peace and freedom.

Before long, Silas parked the car in an overgrown field. “Clear everything out, we’re making the last leg on foot.” He ordered. “the grass is long enough to give us sufficient cover, walk parallel to the road.” We got all the fancy gadgets out of Silas’s car and hoisted our bags on our backs. Silas removed a jerrycan from the boot of his car and begun to pour petrol around it. He sighed heavily before shrugging and setting it ablaze.