Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Routine

So I haven't posted in a while. What does that mean?

No. I'm still kicking.

No. My computer rarely breaks down. You guys should know that.

No. I'm not working any more. My attachment ended a month ago.

Yes, school's started. Back to the sleep, wake up, eat, take train to school, attend seminar/lecture/tutorial, eat, take train back, prepare with readings for next seminar/lecture tutorial and sleep.

Sounds pretty much like a bus route, don't it?

Anyway, it's the start of my final year (hooray!) and well, new year means new things. Like, new seminar concepts (laptop, input answer, submit, in group), new acquaintances with a view to becoming friends, and of course, new teachers, new classmates and new demands.

Well, its only the second week, and I'm already feeling a little overloaded! But well, I decided a little post would be kind of appropriate, as sort of an update to everyone who's reading (I guess its somewhat less than 10). School's begun, and the fun's just beginning!

Story-wise, it's still going, although I've incorporated a more stringent editing process required for screening purposes. You can see it here.

Adios. Till the next time.

Posted by Marcus at 8:06 PM
[ | ]

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Every Great Story...

Must find a good place to settle down.

I'm moving the story away from here. All normal, routine postings will continue though.

So stay tuned for my Random Ramblings.

Link.

Posted by Marcus at 1:52 PM
[ | ]

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bodies Everywhere

Much can happen in a week. The Brazilians are out, the Germans are in the third place play off, and the Portugese got a taste of their own medicine. But hey, it's still going to be exciting, with a repeat of Euro 2000's memorable extra time showdown, David Trezeguet's extra time goal enough to help the French to their second major triumph in two years.

That was a sidetrack, in case you didn't know.

Oh heck, enjoy part 16.

Part 16 - Bodies Everywhere

-------------------------

The Army’s fleet of 5-ton trucks could not cart the bodies away quickly enough, and as the noonday sun sped up the process of decomposition, the City Centre area started to smell. Workers on ground level had to wear masks to protect themselves, while the Army Engineers and rescue workers underground laboured to clear the wreckage and remove the bodies of the dead.
ASP Joy Lee was one of those above ground, and the mask made it difficult for her to interview the witnesses. In frustration, she ripped it off, and threw it on the ground. The smell from the fast decomposing bodies nearby made her want to retch.


Since there was really nothing much she could do here, she decided to return to the station and collate reports from all the mobilised forces, of whom she had assumed command. A temporary operations room had been ordered set up in the department meeting room.

Craig, too, decided that the ground was hardly the place to be, for the camera’s display was too small for him to do any analysis. He pulled Koo and they went above ground in search of the car.

Carrie, however, could not leave yet. She had yet to examine the lower level platform, which was more badly damaged due to the simultaneous explosions of the two trains pulling into the station. Sighing as two medics carried yet another body bag past her, she pointed the torch in her gloved hand towards the stairs leading downward.

***

It was not in Judy Lee’s character to be shocked by anything, but to see an exact replica of herself on television was the ultimate test of her aloofness. When they arrived at the storehouse, she was unusually quiet.

Paula and Jane hadn’t seen her in such a mood before, and were naturally puzzled. But they thought of the possibility that by leaving her in such a daze, they could enjoy themselves tonight, and so decided to leave it at that.

The unloading and stashing away took half an hour, after which Judy took the wheel again, dropping them off at the apartment before returning the rental.

Joy Lee had just arrived back at the station when her phone rang.

"It’s me."

"This is the lab. Results from the Choo Khoo Lih murder are out."

"Ok. I’ll send someone."

She walked into the department and told the duty sergeant to go and collect the report, while she entered the situation room, which stood empty at the moment.

Then she sat down and fell fast asleep.

Craig arrived at the station 10 minutes after Joy, and barged his way into a workstation normally used for photo enhancement. The duty officer came to confront him, but when shown the pass Joy Lee had bestowed upon him and Koo, he shrugged and told the technician to help them as best as he could.

He popped the memory card out of his digital camera, slotted it into the reader, and the technician loaded the pictures onto the dual 19" LCDs. The full 2032x1024 image size spread over the two screens, as both Craig and Koo bent in closer to take a better look at the shearing effect on the wreckage.

In the forensics lab, analyses of evidence from the previous blasts all took a backseat, as new pieces were coming in by the truckload. Among them, a damaged but relatively whole mobile phone with its IMEI number relatively intact was placed with the old evidence and put aside awaiting later analysis.

***

The damaged tunnel offered no hint as to whether it was day or night. Three heavy lift platoons from the Army Engineer Battalion had managed to plug the damage caused to the tunnels reasonably well, replacing cracked pipes and sealing holes. Electricity too, was restored, but there was still the question of how the trains were going to be removed. Without a doubt, the four lines running in and out of City Centre would remain closed for at least a week as twisted rails were removed and platforms restored.
The illumination in the tunnel offered a false illusion to Carrie, who’d been stuck there all day without a watch on her wrist. Left alone in a rare spot where darkness prevailed and she had to rely on her handy torch, she heard the crunching of concrete bits on the ground and turned around.


"HEY!"

She’d pointed the torch beam right into the eyes of Craig, who’d come back to the site after being informed that the second level was now accessible. He had been taking pictures of the wrecks on the second level, and had ventured into the darker third rail area to see if there were any clues worth gathering.

"Why are you here?"

"I’m the blast investigator remember?"

"Oh yeah."

His torch, a long MagLite, offered better illumination and it was the beam which reflected off the shiny surface of something. Gesturing to Carrie, he bent over for a closer look.

She picked the item up and examined it closely. It was part of a mobile phone, or at least, what remained of it. The circuit board was exposed, and the keypad had been blown off. But the IMEI sticker was at least partly intact, and the light had reflected off of the shinier parts in the circuits.

Carefully manipulating an evidence bag from her pouch, she slipped it in, and replaced the bag next to the other pieces she had collected so far.

"We make a great team, don’t we?"

Craig patted her on the shoulder.

"Sure we do. Can I take a picture of that? I might be able to identify the circuits."

"Here." She held out the bag and shone her torch onto it.

"Thanks."

As he clicked the shutter, his phone vibrated.

"Now."

Checking his watch, he realized it was close to 8pm.

"Gosh, it’s 8!"

"It is? Oh well, I’ve been down here for so long, I don’t know what time it is any more."

"Yeah, anyway I have to go topside for a while."

"Ok. Catch you later."

Craig scrambled out the tunnel and onto the platform, walking as quickly as he could through the yet-to-be-cleared debris.

***

Jane drove and Paula rode shotgun as they headed into the city. They’d left Judy Lee in one of her moods. There had been a bust-up of sorts between herself and some unidentified person on the other side of the line.

(Earlier)

"Who’s that girl on TV? Why does she look exactly like me?"

"…"

"Well, I need to know!"

"…"

"She’s my what?"

"…"

"Identical twin?!"

"…"

"And you’re her WHAT?"

"…"

The handset slipped from her grasp as she struggled to digest what had just been revealed to her.

(Now)

The hazard lights came on as the Z4 pulled up at the side of the road. ASP Joy Lee, who’d been trailing behind in her red Beetle, checked the right lane for traffic before pulling out and overtaking. Paula got out as the Beetle passed on the right of the Z4, and Joy Lee took a closer look at the registration plates through her rearview mirror.

It was the same car the lady who looked exactly like her drove that night.

But as she was in a hurry to get back to the blast area, she decided to let it go and check out the registration plates the next day.

Craig was waiting at the bus stop just before the sealed-off junction. Paula winked and led him, by the hand, towards the abandoned 8-Storey Motel building, just behind the bus stop.

Jane filled the boot of the Z4 with groceries and furniture, and set off at a clip towards Hide’s. She was excited to see him again, although he still stank of beer and cigarettes.

***

Morris drove past the City Centre area as ordered by the Mastermind. She appreciated the handiwork of her girls, and absent-mindedly rubbed her hands in glee. The stock market had lost close to 30% of its value, and the exchange was mired in the possibility that no one could turn up tomorrow. The financial district had been sealed off from public transport, akin to a human being having his aorta cut.

Not long now, she thought to herself. Maybe even before the week is out.

Morris too, thought about tonight.

He was a lover, or so he thought.

She treated him as a toy, not a lover. Everyone, to her, was a puppet. Whatever she had in store for him tonight, he was going to squeal. Not in joy, but in agony.

***

Hide opened the door to find a laden Jane, carrying bags of groceries and what looked like a box of something. She grinned at him and did her best domestic helper impersonation.

"I come clean and cook for you, sair."

He smiled, and helped with the stuff as she entered the house. Without her help, the place was, as usual, in a mess. Her hard work two days ago had nearly come undone. But at least he’d bothered to put most of the bottles into boxes and stack them up.

She counted 12, no, 14 boxes of 24 empty pint bottles.

Did he ever drink anything else?

He shut the door, and they carried the stuff into the kitchen, which managed to remain relatively spotless, save for the messy sink where chopsticks and food remnants clogged the drain hole, along with an assortment of dishes, bowls and a pot.

Jane shook her head, and looked resignedly at Hide.

"What will it take for you to keep your house clean?"

"Err. A mistress of the house?"

Jane blushed as he grinned.

"Go do your stuff. I’ll clean up."
She rummaged through the bags of stuff, looking for the cleaning equipment she’d bought in anticipation.

"What’s for dinner?"

"Go!"

Hide grinned cheekily again as he left the kitchen, grabbing another bottle of beer from the fridge on his way out.

(To Be Continued)
-------------------------
There will be a policy change in a few weeks. Look out, cos it'll affect you if you're a follower of this tale.

Posted by Marcus at 11:55 PM
[ | ]

Friday, June 30, 2006

Gracious Society? Not!

In an ideal world, everyone would live in peace, there would be no crime, everybody would be happy and prosperous, and there would not be poverty and hunger.

Sadly, it is not an ideal world we live in.

But well, at least we try to make it an ideal world for ourselves. Capitalism and democracy are just some of the tools we employ to improve our lives.

Note that I said our lives. Not the lives of everyone around us. Yes, humans are selfish, and it is an undeniable fact. How else do you explain the increasing girths of the earlier communist leaders while the ordinary folk were getting hungrier and hungrier by the day? It is precisely because of the power bestowed upon a human being which makes him/her immensely self-interested.

Are all people like that? I don’t think so. I have a friend, whose good nature and kind-hearted ways make him a hit among us all. Of course, it is also his Achilles heel. The selfish nature of
man would cause him to be taken advantage of, and I believe that is what many of us do whenever we have the chance.

As in, we take advantage of whoever is, in our own definitions, ‘dumb’ enough to be taken advantage of. The mentality of ‘I profit, he loses’ is prevalent in our lives today. Just look at the people crazy enough to queue overnight, and get into fights all because of a pair of dolls sold with a McDonalds’ Meal.

Yes, remember the Hello Kitty craze in the year 2000?

In our quest to outpace, outlast and outplay each other, we care only about ourselves, and no longer of our fellow man. How many times have you seen people clamouring to board the already crowded train, or cutting queue to gain the ‘slight advantage’ of boarding first?

I remember I was once ‘tsk-ed’ at, just because I had elected to take an alternative bus that had arrived first. Thing is, the lady who ‘tsk-ed’ and criticized my actions was hardly affected by what I chose to do.

I was mindful enough to allow all the passengers in the original queue to board first, something my mother taught to me when I was still a boy, and then follow the end of the original queue up the bus.

Apparently, such practices do not exist any more. Just that day I was boarding the feeder home, when this hippie-looking asshole cut in ahead.

I know, I’m not any better myself for calling him an asshole, but well, I was miffed and add that to the fact that I was in a bad mood at the time, and potential explosive situation pops up in your mind.

So I deliberately closed the gap, and seized the chance to aim a kick at his foot. For that I got a stare all the way until I got off the bus. But whatever. I’m not justifying my actions, rather, I’m just getting it off my chest. I felt bad, but hey, he deserved it.

Classic example of ‘outpace, outlast, outplay’.

And this morning, a reckless cyclist going so fast on a pedestrian pavement had the cheek to ‘tsk’ and stare as my girlfriend crossed into the path heading towards the overhead bridge.

Oh, so now it’s my fault that I have to cross the overhead bridge, and you have the right of way on a damned pedestrian walkway.

Not even a word of apology, and not even an attempt to slow down until a collision seemed imminent. That’s how we’ve all become. Self-interested.

When are we all going to realize that the elderly and the pregnant mothers deserve the seat just that little bit more, for their contributions to society?

Or if you think that’s insufficient, just by virtue of their higher vulnerability?
And to the elderly and the pregnant, the least you could do when someone gives up a seat to you is to smile and say thank you. After all, one good turn should always deserve another. Is it really so hard to just express gratitude?

Oh well, I’m just being me.

Posted by Marcus at 9:26 AM
[ | ]

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Aftermath Redux

So I passed this week with flying colours. And I have a feeling that this story still has life in it yet! Expect parts to go up to 30-40. I know, I'm extreme, but well, having a computer in front of you is extremely productive, especially when you let your mind wander.

Sidenote: The new LKC Reference Library (OK I know its not very new but I'm swakoo can?) offers a nice top-down view of the City Hall-Bugis area.

"Fat Ron" has life in him yet! Go Ronaldo!

And I think I need anger management classes. Or else I'm going to leave this world before I ever reach my prime (which probably means never, cos I don't think, with my piss-factor so high, that I'll ever reach my prime).

Anyways, Happy birthdays to all whose birthdays fall on this extremely "fertile" week.
(I happen to know at least one person for each day of this week. Coincidence?)

Let me not hold you back any longer.

Part 15 - The Aftermath Redux

-------------------------

The rented Mercedes E-Class sedan turned into the apartment compound and parked. From it emerged the two girls and their trainer, all still dressed as they were from the morning’s events. As it was barely 9.20am, the car park was close to deserted, and no one took notice of them.
Emerging from the lift and heading into the rented unit, they could relax at last.


The phone rang.

Judy Lee, the closest to the handset, snatched it up.

"Hello?"

"It’s me, your auntie. I’m coming over tomorrow morning with a new recipe."

"Ok auntie. I’ll see you tomorrow. The girls will be here too."

The caller hung up.

A new mission was on hand.

Paula and Jane, who had entered behind Judy, dropped their bags carelessly on the floor, then stripped off the skin-coloured spandex gloves they had been wearing since morning. Judy Lee had insisted on them, for they absorbed moisture and prevented careless fingerprints from being left behind at the most unlikely of places. Their hands were moist from the sweat.

They were at home now. And a good rest was at hand. For a good rest was the recipe for greater success.

***

Carrie, on the other hand, had had to change the gloves she wore, for the shrapnel and shards of glass tore holes as she, along with her fellow investigators, searched for evidence and helped remove the dead from the blast area. She sighed as she put her face mask back on, and re-entered the fray.

Koo had gone to help co-ordinate efforts at removing the bodies, leaving Craig to do on the spot surveys and interviews of the survivors and witnesses. As he entered the blast area, the sickening smell of blood entered his nostrils, followed by a strangely pungent but familiar odour.

His dress shoes were totally inappropriate for this kind of investigation, and by the time he reached the lower levels where the damage was severe, they were covered with a thin coat of dust. Forensics investigators were milling about, acting important but having absolutely not a single clue what to look out for.

Glass and concrete crunched under his shoes as Craig lowered himself off the platform and into the tunnel. Paramedics formed a line from the smouldering wreckage of the train, while fire fighters who had put out the electrical fires caused by short circuits earlier were now using hydraulic cutters to tear into the wreckage. The tunnel fan system had burnt out, leaving a foul, stale smell in the air, along with that of charred bodies and that uniquely pungent odour.

Craig whipped out the slim but powerful digital camera in his waist bag, and with the aid of the powerful search lights placed there by the rescue teams, he took pictures of the wreck.

Koo led a team of army medics who were to assist with removing body bags into the tunnel, and spotted his boss among the paramedics and fire fighters. He, too, smelt that very pungent and familiar odour in the air.

"Really bad huh? I see that the C4 was very strategically placed, to cut the train at its weakest points and cause the maximum damage."

Craig stared at Koo for a moment.

"Of course! C4! Why didn’t I think of it?"

Koo looked at his boss in bewilderment, then grinned at him.

"You’re still wet behind the ears, boss. I’ve done some demolition work with the German Engineers before and they use this stuff, not TNT like we do."

"Koo, hand your job off to some warrant officer from the medical corps and come back here. I need you, not them."

***

Judy Lee rarely slept for more than 3 hours at a stretch; she had been trained in special forces’ methods.

And today was no exception, as she woke up fresh after a 2-hour nap, to find her two proteges still fast asleep in their beds.

She shook them awake and told them to get ready to move out. The shipment had arrived.

They grumbled and mumbled, but eventually were ready in 15 minutes. Judy drove as the two sleepy younger girls fiddled with their wireless devices.

Jane was in the back seat, and she sent out an email to Hide.

"What do you want for dinner tonite?"

Hide had made little headway in his hacking quest since gaining access into the servers two hours ago. He was bored and when the "You have mail" sign popped up on his laptop, he almost pounced on it excitedly.

"Anything’s fine. So long you’re here I’m cool, You said you needed help?"

"Ok, I’ll buy stuff later. Yeah talk abt it later."

The code sniffer made a breakthrough just a minute later and Hide was in.

Paula, on the other hand, was flirting with Craig, who felt like he could do with a cold beer and a nice lady.

"Another 12 hours, baby."

"I can’t wait. It’s crap here."

"Then, you and me, there, 6."

"Why six, why not now?"

"I need to work and so do you. C u 6."

"I’ll call you."

Craig could not really concentrate on work after that. It was only with Koo’s help that they started piecing together some details on how the attacks were carried out.

***

The Mastermind put the finishing touches to her masterplan, the one she had been working towards, all this while, and felt good about herself. Not a week from today, she would reap the benefits of its success. She knew her girls could do it. She trained them herself, with external help, of course.

(Many Years Ago)

The little girl looked lost, for it was a different place from which she was accustomed to. The nice auntie had led her here, and fed and clothed her, but she was not free to roam, unlike normal 4-year olds.

The auntie came in, bringing her a side of roast beef and gravy.

"Eat it up, girl, you’ll need the strength."

The bloody medium rare steak was not for the weak hearted, and the girl wasn’t too willing to eat it. She ate some potatoes and pushed it aside.

Then she felt a sharp pain on her cheek.

"EAT IT, CHILD! YOU’LL THANK ME LATER."

Sobbing tearfully, she slowly consumed the bloody steak and the side salad.

And really thanked heavens that she ate it all up.

***

The car pulled into the private warehouse, and the huge door rolled shut. In the darkness, they could just make out the shadow of a container.

Judy Lee stopped the car near it, and got out, followed by her proteges. They wrenched the door open, while she went to get a forklift and turn on the lights.

Once illuminated, it became clear that the warehouse was a storage place for 20 TEU containers and was three levels high. On the other two levels were racks and boxes which contained clothes, mostly rejects from the big brands brought in for sale by the owner.

The Mastermind owned the warehouse, indirectly. The legal title holder never cared what she stored, so long as he paid a nominal rent which allowed him to save on overheads.

The forklift removed the pallets of cartons containing clothes, to reveal two green pallets made of plastic and with ammunition boxes. The two girls got to work, slicing away at the stretch film and laying out the boxes on the floor. There were ten in all, and another two oddly-shaped briefcase-looking boxes. Judy Lee came over and opened them to check for contents.

Seven contained a mix of C4 and plastic explosives, in mouldable stick form. The eighth box carried hand grenades, the ninth, booby traps, and the tenth contained ball and tracer ammunition in the NATO 5.56mm and 7.62mm standards.

The boxes were loaded into the boot of the Mercedes by Paula and Jane, while Judy Lee examined the other two boxes’ contents.

One held a Winchester 7.62mm sniper rifle, while the other opened to reveal two M4 carbines. Satisfied with the haul, the two briefcases were carried into the backseat by Judy herself.

"Take us to the storehouse."

Paula took the wheel and Jane rode shotgun. The car was fitted with a digital LCD screen, and the afternoon news was on. Judy turned the volume up for everyone to hear.

"The latest reports coming from the scene are not good; close to 2,300 people are dead, 250 are missing, and another 400 are wounded, some critically. The hospitals are struggling to cope with this mess, even though they have had some practice after the two previous bomb blasts, which resulted in fewer fatalities than today.

Police have placed the blame of this act squarely on the shoulders of the terror group "The Holy Army of Noobunan", as it was revealed in a press conference last night that this group has claimed responsibility for the two previous attacks."

The three girls smiled as they heard the news of the police’s suspicions, and guessed that they were unlikely to be pinned with any involvement with the blasts.

"For those who missed last night’s news, here is footage of the press conference, held by ASP Joy Lee of the Serious Incidents Unit of the CID."

Judy Lee stared at the screen as her twin sister appeared in front of her.

***

The local bourse opened badly, for the explosion which rocked City Centre prevented many from getting to work on time, even though buses shuttled back and forth between the unaffected stations. Coupled with last night’s press conference stating the involvement of an extremist group, investors lost confidence and sold short, causing prices to plunge. The market index had already lost 20% at 11am, and was still on a downward slide.

The Mastermind flicked to the news channel, and saw the same images that the girls in the Mercedes were viewing. A slow smile crept across her face, as she saw the face of her daughter on television holding the press conference.

(To Be Continued...)
-------------------------
Go Selecaos Go!

Posted by Marcus at 9:22 PM
[ | ]

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Boom!

I'm undergoing a 'Baptism of Dilbert', ie I'm trying to read all the Dilbert books/comics I can get my hands on.

Also getting back to my bus roots. Thanks to the forums and sgwiki. Found out that people are actually way more into buses than I ever thought.

Gonna start collecting pictures soon. =) Just a pity that I have no pictures of those old Leyland Atlantean double deckers from the 80s and early 90s. Those with the red seats and faux wooden internal panellings.

Ah, why am I blabbering? It's part 14 today.

Part 14 - Boom!

-------------------------


Carrie loved her red Corolla. She lovingly washed it, sent it for servicing, and always made sure no one ate or drank anything whenever she gave them a ride.
However, with the blast and the headless corpse cases, she had had very little time and now the Corolla was covered with a thin layer of fine dust. The normally shiny tyres were also coated with mud and gravel, the result of repeated visits to the blast sites.


And now, it wouldn’t start.

She opened the bonnet, looked helplessly at the myriad of wires and parts, and went through the simple maintenance drill taught to her by the mechanics at the workshop. She checked the oil levels, topped up the radiator, battery water was full.

Leaving the bonnet up, she went to try and start the car again.

Still nothing.

Feeling defeated, she took the key out of the ignition, shut the door and bonnet, and activated the alarm.
Thank goodness she hadn’t left the car park yet.


Walking to the bus stop, she got on the intra-town service which would take her to the rail station for the ride to the office, where she’d have to requisition one of the squad vehicles for her visits to the various crime scenes.

***

Jane managed to get a seat on her train, which was now approaching Woodhaven station. She looked at her watch, and then at the PDA indicating her arrival time and the mission time.

So far, on schedule.

Judy Lee’ Timex Ironman looked totally out of sorts as part of a lawyer’s attire, but no one took any notice. She too, was on time for the mission.

Carrie reached the station and looked at the digital display. Her train was due in one minute and she was already late. Tapping her travel smartcard on the fare gates, she hurriedly climbed the escalator and stepped into the train just as the doors shut behind her.

This train had left West Hills station at 7.16am, and was bound for East Meadows. Paula stared out the door at the ruffled female who had just stepped onto the train. A wave of recognition swept through her as she recalled having seen this face on television reports.

The Blackberry in Judy Lee’s pocket vibrated. Irritated at this distraction, she fished it out and read the incoming message.

"Spotted law enforcement forensics expt. Advise to continue or abort."

Rapidly Judy made a decision.

"Mission to go ahead. I repeat, go ahead."

"Wilco."

The train pulled away from the platform, heading towards the city centre.

***

The Mastermind was, as usual, on the way to work in her chauffeured car. And, as usual, traffic was heavy on the expressway. She tapped on the driver’s headrest to attract his attention.

"Morris, turn on the radio, would you?"

"Yes, mam."

She had employed Morris’s father before him, and her family had always been Morris’s employers. From his great-grandfather, who’d been her great-grandfather’s gardener, until the day her father died and left Morris’s father Milton in her employ. Milton had passed on not too long after, and Morris rose from gardener’s assistant to personal chauffeur.

And part-time toy boy, for her husband, from an equally wealthy and respectable background, was incompetently unable to meet her needs.

But they maintained a strict mistress-servant relationship, especially outside the bedroom.

"And in the news today…"

She wasn’t listening anymore. Instead, she thought of what was in store for tonight, as a celebration of the success and preparation for the most critical of all missions.

She always had her way; it had been like that since she was a child.

***

The train pulled into Civic Plaza, the station before City Centre. Jane got off, with the crowd of mainly students from the nearby Central University. The buzzer on the watch vibrated noiselessly as she got on the escalator. It vibrated again as she stepped through the fare gates and towards the public telephone booths, away from the public eye. She pressed her own "buzz" button.

The lawyer-like Judy got off at Millenia Station, one before City Centre on the north. She felt the first buzz, pressed her own buzzer, and got another buzz in return. She stood inconspicuously on the concourse, like the people milling and waiting around for their friends to arrive.

Paula was the first to arrive at her destination. Exiting the train at Chinatown, hungry and predatory eyes trailed her as she walked out of the train. She pressed the buzzer button while riding up the escalator, and felt two return buzzes as she walked out into the sunshine. Her hands were sweating in anticipation. She removed the mobile phone from its holder and waited.

Carrie had gotten off at the same stop, and trailed behind Paula for a short moment before turning in the other direction. She had noticed the pretty girl, and thought of how she probably looked after struggling with her car all morning. But she didn’t know how close she was to the killer of Emmanuel Ungaro Choo.
At exactly 7.37am, all hell broke loose. The three mobile phones held by the three ladies sent out their deadly signals, detonating the charges attached to the three trains approaching City Centre Station. The tunnels started to cave in, and the two basement levels of the station were filling with dead bodies of those unfortunate enough to be caught up in the rush hour crowd.


The trains were totally wrecked, broken into parts, and the three lines leading into City Centre were blocked up by the wreckage. The station itself remained relatively undamaged, only platform doors were blown off and the shrapnel hit the hundreds on the platforms waiting for their train to arrive. Station staff were called into action for the very first time, for an event no one expected would happen.

***

Craig and Koo got off the expressway, Koo still red at the ears from Craig’s questioning and his adamant refusal to answer any of the queries. It was 7.40am.

Koo made a right turn into the car park, only to jam his brakes as ASP Joy Lee sprinted out of the double doors leading into the station. She made a wind-down gesture with her hands.

"What’s up?"

"They struck again. This time they hit the trains at City Centre Station."

"We’re on it."

Suddenly, the jovial mood turned to one of tension, as both Craig and Koo thought of the same question: Who was behind it all?

The red Beetle zoomed past, trailed by a few outriders who cleared the way. The distant sirens of emergency support vehicles could be heard, and cars began to pull to the side of the road as news filtered in on morning radio programmes.

Morris moved the car into the centre lane as the outriders flashed their lights and blared the sirens. The red Beetle sped past as the radio programme was interrupted for a special news broadcast.

"Approximately 15 minutes ago, a three train explosion ripped through the tunnels of City Centre Station, severely damaging the structural foundations of the tunnels. The three trains were packed with rush hour commuters, and most are feared dead. Commuters waiting on the platforms were not spared, as the pressure change from the explosion shattered the platform doors, turning them into deadly shrapnel. It is believed that close to 2,000 are dead, mostly those in the trains or platforms, with some casualties. This is all we have for now. More updates, as we receive them."

A wry smile spread across the Mastermind’s lips.

"Morris, I’m thinking of some kaya toast. Drop me at the coffeeshop before the junction of the office building."

"Yes mam."

"And get yourself ready for tonight."

***
Hide heard the news over one of the local streaming radio channels, as he worked the hack. It was easy to penetrate at first, but as he got deeper and deeper, the maze became more confusing as he was routed here and there. But knowing such a trick to be common for only the most secure and vital systems, he was determined to crack it.


He took a swig of the open bottle of Stella Artois and continued working the hack. At the same time, he wondered what the world was coming to. People were dying left and right. First Emmanuel Ungaro Choo. Now the trains.

Then he realised that it had been happening all the while, just not so close by.

He launched the email program on his laptop and started typing while the hack searched for vulnerable ports.

***

Judy Lee turned into the driveway of the university’s central administration building, where Jane waited. She looked just like the professional, well-to-do mother of a university student in her get-up, and she drove an E-Class rented Mercedes Benz. Jane quickly got in as they drove off towards Chinatown, where Paula waited.

Jane’s Blackberry tinkled.

"Who’s that?"

"Someone."

"Who?"

"A friend."

"Remember what I told you, girl. In this line, there are no relationships to be had. You wanna have fun, go ahead. But no relationships."

"Yes mam."

It was Hide.

"Life is so fragile. Heard of d explosion @ CC? Just lost a friend, ok nt reali a friend, last nite. Murdered. Who knows? Mayb u or me mayb gone tmr.
Meet tonite?"


She punched in her reply and sent it.

"OK." Popped up on Hide’s screen.

He smiled, took another swig of his beer, and replied.

Jane giggled, and remembered that Judy was beside her, not Paula.

Judy pretended not to notice, and drove on towards Chinatown, where Paula got into the back seat. She too, was making plans for tonight. She had SMS-ed Craig, knowing full well that he would probably be busy, to distract him from his task.

"Can’t. Blast at CC. Busy with rescue work."

"Oh come on. One hour."

"Can’t."

"One time?"

"Oh all right."

"Great. C u at 11."

***

Carrie was with the second wave of forensics officers heading towards the scene. She didn’t have her car, and was in the midst of trying to requisition one when all were mobilized for the emergency situation. She was assigned a soon-to-scrap Ford Laser, manual transmission, for temporary use. All the newer ones and automatics had been drawn out before she could even arrive at the station.

Resignedly, she had accepted, and now, after stalling again at the traffic light junction, she was almost ready to give up. 5 years without touching a manual car was a long time, and she never planned on its occurrence.

Finally, 15 minutes after everyone else in the wave had arrived, she jerked to a stop at the heavily guarded entrance, from which ordnance experts from Craig’s elite unit were just emerging after declaring the area safe from further explosions. Elsewhere, army engineer reserves were being lowered underground to help strengthen and prevent collapse of the tunnel so as to facilitate rescue and clean-up works.

Whatever few survivors from the platforms were carried into the daylight, while commuters on the ticket concourse had been evacuated and were being questioned by the police officers on scene. All roads into the City Centre area had been closed, and traffic diverted. Army 5-ton trucks arrived empty, and left filled with bodies which were still whole. The scenes from the other two previous blasts were re-enacted, only this time with a greater scale of damage, and more carnage than ever.

(To Be Continued...)
-------------------------
I blabber too much, don't I?

Posted by Marcus at 12:15 AM
[ | ]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

And so the Story goes...

Well, it's up to part 13 already. And well, I'm getting it out of my system, and this seems to be a story that will last for quite a while yet, if I continue releasing a part a week. I'm aiming for 30 parts, and I'm left with 7 to get there (Yeah, I'm actually at part 23 already).

As always, little talk, more story.

Part 13 - City Center

-------------------------

Judy Lee opened the room door and found her two proteges fast asleep. She lay the uniforms on the dressing table, and shut the door quietly.
Outside, she went on to check the equipment for the mission, which was to be carried out in the cover of darkness. The sky was already turning a slight grey as day began turning into night. Satisfied with the circuit setups and the packing of items, she proceeded to fish out the keys to the vehicles she had rented and parked at two different lots.


Then, she settled down to watch some TV, and experienced the first adrenaline rush of the night.

***

Carrie put down her cup of coffee at the cafeteria table and sat down heavily. It had been a long and fruitless day, first with the murder, then with the bomb blasts.

"May we sit down?"

She looked up and found Craig and Koo, dressed in their army admin uniforms, each carrying a glass of beer.

"Sure."

"How’s your investigation going?"

"Bad. No breakthroughs in the forensics of the bomb blasts, and I’ve just had a severed head murder case thrown my way. No breakthroughs in that either."

"We’ve made little progress too."

Koo sipped his beer and suddenly looked down as ASP Joy Lee approached, and then without asking or waiting for an invitation, plonked herself onto the seat next to him.

"Just finished the press conference. Thank goodness there weren’t too many difficult questions."

"What did they ask?"

"Oh the usual babble. How we knew, why did we guess so, any more details we could release, anyone we were looking for, stuff like that. Anyway Carrie, what’s new on the severed head case?"

"Well, besides the identity of the corpse, and how he was killed, absolutely nothing else. Its as if everything was properly planned, set up and executed."

Craig nodded intently as Carrie described in further detail how they surmised he had his head cut off, then noticed Koo had not looked up once since Joy Lee arrived.

"Koo, why the heck are you looking down?"

"Nothing, sir. If there’s nothing else, I’ll make a move first."

"Ok. I’ll make my own way home."

Koo downed the remainder of his beer, and without saying a word, stood and turned and left.
Craig thought it strange, but brushed it off as fatigue.


Koo’s downturned face was blushing a bright red as both Joy and Carrie gave each other bemused looks.

***

Judy Lee drew the spandex ski mask over her face, and put on a black trucker cap. She stood alone in the dark field overlooking the main gate of the depot. On her back was the rucksack containing explosives for the night’s mission.

She remained still in the bushes, awaiting the "in-position" buzz from the girls, who were at different locations.

Jane stepped on the brakes, bringing the car to a halt. Her boots crunched on the sandy ground as she stepped out, ski mask covering her hair. She took out the rucksack from the back seat, slung it on, and began the short walk in the shadows to her waiting point.

Paula watched the security post at the final target for the night’s mission. She had been in position for the past 10 minutes, and after looking at her watch, decided that her accomplices were at their individual positions and ready to strike.

The black spandex gloves she wore reached up to mid-arm, underneath the long sleeves of the standard night camouflage uniform, over which the special Timex Ironman watch with a ULW radio buzzer sat. She pressed the "signal" button, feeling for it in the dark with her other gloved hand.

Judy and Jane, at the other two locations, felt the vibrations over the spandex of their identical outfits. When all three girls had buzzed acknowledgement, the mission began.

Paula slung the binoculars back into the case attached to the rucksack she carried, and crept silently towards the guardhouse. The rubberized soles of her boots made no sound as she entered, took the sleeping guard by surprise, and twisted his neck, snapping the spine and killing him instantly. She attached a disabling device to the CCTV system and proceeded to open the gates into the depot with the keys of the dead guard.

Jane had no such luck. Her boots had caught some gravel, and the scraping noise when boot came into contact with the tarred road surface. The gung-ho guard, who had only been on the job for two days, came charging out, only to come face to face with a black-clad figure, who pointed a silenced Glock at him. Jane gestured for him to put his hands up. The foolish guard tried to draw his Tazer stun gun, but hardly had he moved when Jane fired two shots into his forehead, killing him instantly. She dragged the lifeless body back into the guard shed, and similarly installed a disabling device on the CCTV system.

Judy simply slit the throat of her guard, cut a few wires, and climbed over the fence into the depot compound.


***

Koo returned to his bunk in camp, preparing for the next day’s questioning and his uniform.

And a little speech he wanted to give to a certain someone.

After some thought, he called the company duty sergeant and asked for Corporal Chin, one of his squad members, to be sent up to his barracks.

Craig arrived home equally beat. He plonked himself face down onto the bed, only to feel the crinkling of paper on his face.

He hastily sat up and read the note.

"Craig,
Something’s gone wrong with the Dubai contract. Flying off at 7. Hope you’re not angry. Be back soon."


He crushed the paper and dropped it lifelessly on the floor. He had had enough.

Stepping out of his uniform into something more suitable for lounging around at home, he remembered his appointment with the laundry, and collected his uniforms just before the shutters rolled down.

ASP Joy Lee finally packed up and left the office at 12.40am. She dropped by her favourite prata stall along River Valley Road, parking illegally along the side of the road to buy some supper home.

The traffic patrolman did not notice the car label and proceeded to issue a summons, one which Joy did not take kindly too. She was going to have to look for the DSP in charge of the traffic department tomorrow.
Another task in an already busy day.


Her mind began to wander as she thought about the lady who looked exactly like her, the one she saw while driving away from the carpark.

Who was she?

***

Paula checked the service logs to determine which trains would be deployed on which routes the following morning, and proceeded to seek them out in the dark. Her silhouette was virtually invisible in the dark background of the workshop, which would be populated with people once the service personnel returned from their nightly maintenance runs.

Jane and Judy did the same, and the first part of the mission was complete. Now all that was left was to activate the charges in the morning. They left their depots and returned to the apartment.

However, little did they know that a weak piece of tape in one of the planted sets of explosives would lead to a huge break for the investigators.

***
The death of Emmanuel Ungaro Choo was declared an unnatural one, and Carrie and the forensics department were left befuddled with the lack of evidence at the scene. However, things were looking up, as Neutron Activation Analysis had come back with positive identification of some of the bits and pieces of metal found at the scene of the first blast. Gas Chromatography had also managed to identify within pieces of wood recovered from the Zook blast contained particles of the military explosive C4.


Hide saw the news of Emmanuel Ungaro Choo’s demise as the web page refreshed. It was 11.55pm and he was prowling the web, looking for an unprotected system waiting for him to enter. Em, as he was better known to the circle, was not really liked, but he was a pretty nice guy sometimes, when he bought rounds and rounds of drinks after a completing a high-paying job.

Still, Hide thought he should circulate the news, and proceeded to do so on the forums and by e-mailing the guys on his ‘drinkers’ list.

Then, his sniffer program detected an unguarded IP, with open ports just waiting for him to penetrate. Wary that it could be a trap, he took manual control and tested the waters first before connecting to the unsuspecting user.

***

Hardly had a morning gone right for Craig since the blasts. Even though now he was based at home, he could not help but feel that he hadn’t had a single break. Every single day was spent at the central station, questioning survivors, eyewitnesses and people who called in with leads. So far, nothing turned up. So when Craig picked up a picture of Paula under his dresser drawers, one where she stood meekly beside a lithe, pretty looking female who resembled ASP Joy Lee, he decided that this last shot was worth taking.
Koo was waiting downstairs when he left his apartment. But not before nicking his chin while shaving again.


"Take a look at this."

"Isn’t this Joy…err…ASP Lee?"

Craig looked at Koo. It was not like him to address superior officers by their first name. Koo realized his slip, and his ears turned red.

"Koo? You have a thing for the Madame?"

He smiled sheepishly and started the car.

***

Rush hour spans from 7 to 9am. At that time, roads are jammed, intra-town bus services are packed, and the Rail network is grossly overcrowded with people on their way to work. At 6.45am that morning, the three girls had driven, in their rented vehicles, to three individual stations on the different branches of the network. The timing of the sabotaged trains’ departure and arrival times at stations were programmed into their PDAs. The plan was to get out of the train at the station before the pre-planned arrival, and set off the explosives remotely.

The execution model was the same, to ensure safe escape and prevent premature detonation. All three wore the same watches as they did last night, with the remote buzzer function to signal "in-place". And, of course, to blend into the surroundings, they dressed like ordinary commuters, the more mature looking Paula and Judy in office lady attire, and the younger Jane in typical tertiary student attire of T-shirt and Jeans.

Jane got on the westbound train at East Meadow Station, a 20-minute ride to the city, at 7.13am, looking doe-eyed and sleepy. She preferred to call it the ‘student look’. Finding no seats, she settled in a corner, reading the free daily distributed at all the stations.

Judy carried a smart document bag, and dressed in the livery of a female lawyer, black skirt suit with white blouse, stepped onto the southbound train from Northpoint Station. It was 7.14am.

Paula, always the vain one, turned heads as she boarded the eastbound train at 7.16am. Her low-cut tube covered with a cardigan and matched with a flowing, flowery skirt made the men on the train stare as she click-clacked in on her high-heeled sandals. She loved the attention.

(To Be Continued...)
-------------------------

Maybe I'll post twice a week instead.

Posted by Marcus at 10:11 PM
[ | ]