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