On the side of the hill at the edge of the town, Bander Ayer Puteh, is a failed housing development project, formerly called Falim Heights. Four blocks stand fourteen stories tall in a quasi-hexagon shape, and their windows bristle with tall lalang and the branches of trees that have taken over the rooms inside. If you squint you can make out the courtyard between hill and blocks, but the view is obscured by the vines overhanging the base of the buildings. The walls used to be pink, but they are now gray from grime and moss, wherever they have not been covered by duit-duit and other creepers. The blocks were built as luxury condos for rich retirees who wanted to pretend to return to rural life, but there were no buyers and the development company went bankrupt. The actual rural people sighed in relief and went about planting their rice and tending their crops. The suburban people also went on going to work in the shophouses nearby, or commuting to the city, or, because jobs are scarce and pay too little for survival, tending their own home businesses.
Because you live there, in that condemned building, you know that the plants in the buildings are carefully planted into a low-maintenance, edible garden. What looks like lalang is actually serai. The branches of the trees hang with fruit that feed the local fauna on the outside, but inside, they are covered with discarded CDs to confuse the birds. There are window boxes on the inside growing leafy vegetables, and chickens are allowed to run free to keep down pests. The courtyard used to have a pool—it still sort of does, but it is home to a crop of water-plants.
Because you furnished the place, you know that the vines from the ceiling of the ground floor hide wires that provide electricity and connections to two local internet service providers’ networks. You know that there are ways up to the building besides the concrete staircase cracking up from tree roots, and you know there is a tunnel system into the hill, natural tunnels with some man-made modifications. At the base of the hill there is a waterfall that provides hydroelectricity for the buildings and local residents, as well as a place to wash clothing and keep an eye on playing children at the same time.
You moved here to Bandar Ayer Puteh several years ago and the farmers taught you everything you know about planting crops; they made you live with them, work in the belukar with them, showed you how difficult and exhausting the whole farming jig is. In return, you let them attach their children to you as you go about your daily business building things in the complex. You seek out solutions for their resource problems, doubling every year as the government keeps siphoning food and finances from them, cutting off electricity and water arbitrarily. You act as the local representative for their financial and legal interests.
You act it, because you are not, not really. Outside of Falim Heights, very few people actually believe that it is a functional place to live, much less to thrive. Lots of people think it’s probably haunted, and sometimes you think they’re not exactly wrong. You have seen things too, but Falim Heights lacks any kind of violent history to provide malevolent spirits. (Muhiddin, the local bomoh, is sometimes impressed that you have managed to not piss any spirit off. It pays to work with him.)
Farah Aziz is building a computer chamber at the base of Block D, the one closest to the staircase leading down to the parking lot. She has been harvesting stalks of bamboo from the belukar outside of Block B, and uses them to keep the rains and prying eyes off her wires. You find her sitting at a station, reading some news, with a mess of wires, fibre-optic cables and clamps under her chair. The chair seat is made of rotan, but she has outfitted it with a telescopic base and a recycled 80’s joystick so, without moving from her chair, she can reach anything in a three-meter radius.
You met Farah in university abroad, an Ivy Leaguer you hope has forgotten your cohort. Lonely JPA scholars far away from home, you latched onto each other immediately. She was a brilliant grad student in computer sciences; you were a mediocre mechanical engineering undergrad. She loved LAN parties and you liked wines and cheeses. She was the daughter of a poor fisherman, and you sympathized with her because your grandfather had been kicked off his land when it was bought out for development. You never dated because you both recognized that the only thing bringing you two together was a mutual dislike of the government that provided for you, which blossomed into resentment and hatred and a furious determination to fix something once you did get home. The night of graduation, which your families could not attend, you made love in a high of achievement.
The next day you two made don’t know and came home to carry out your federal obligations. You had thought about cutting and running, maybe applying for another scholarship and another school. You might have been able to cut free the tracking chip installed in everyone’s wrist when applying for the new identification cards. You would have become persona non grata in your own country; that is the price of freedom to move around without government permits these days. (“Of all the things to import from the West,” Farah sneered, on one of the outings you had with your compatriots, “microchipping people like animals! And then hormone control nanotech some more. Dahlah nak track the rakyat, now also must control whether we have babies.” “It’s free birth control,” Nik replied, “might as well enjoy it while you can.” Farah had punched Nik out cold in response.)
But you had dreams and a simmering rage inside, so you lived like a miser to afford independence after your stint as a government worker—the dreams and rage did not drive your work friends away, but the frugality did, because it is hard to maintain friendships without spending loose cash at cafes and coffeeshops—to come to Bander Ayer Puteh and build the place you have built. You would have been completely alone if Farah had not also understood, and because she is a genius, helped out in ways you never could have thought of.
"So, how?" she now asks, not even turning around to acknowledge you.
"Hi to you too," you reply. "But the junction box is in the clear." There is a box in the jungle hidden under a bunga telang bush. It is connected to buried fiber-optic cables that serve the local area with Internet service. No one really uses it here, so you have hijacked a few wires to serve Farah’s chamber. Rarely, Telekom, or one of its competitors, whichever now has control of the area, comes to investigate. They re-route it. You re-route it back.
"Will we be launching soon?"
"Our solutions are almost optimal," you say, moving a sleeping child on a nearby rotan couch so you can sit.
"How long lah do we have to be only almost optimal?" Her brows furrow with impatience. This isn’t the first time you’ve had this conversation. "No need to be so paranoid, can? We’ve been messing with their systems for so long now and nothing has happened."
"Where can," you protest. "You want to calculate the effects of failure? How much we kena fine, and who gets how long jailtime? How many of the new ‘state inspectors’ they’ll send to watch us? Because I have and it is terrible. We can’t take action too soon."
Action or no action; you and Farah disagree on which one has more risks. She would rather move faster, strike sooner. You would rather ensure that all the hatches have been battened down, make sure everyone remains safe. No one has attempted to take an entire town off-grid before, not in the Peninsular anyway. You know it has been done out in Sarawak, but Sarawak did not have the same military power to enforce the law as the Peninsular government does. You model your systems after Indian ones, but every country has different conditions. Malaysians are more spread out, the cities less concentrated with people. This means less crowding, but also more police military all over.
Farah accuses you of cowardice. You look at Bandar Ayer Puteh and think of how much worse off the people could be. They are already suffering enough, you answer, no need to make it worse. You forget why you picked this place, Farah likes to remind you: this is one of the smaller agricultural centers of the state, capable of feeding itself sustainably for years. Government food centralization processes take the labour of the local farmers, and forces them buy it back to keep from starving. Between you and Farah, you have managed to false-feed the parasite monitors that track its production capacity, making it look like this land is just slowly dying and does not warrant further examination until true crisis mode. The bandar is not in crisis mode yet, according to regulations, but you don’t intend to wait until locals start dying to count.
"Chien," Farah begins with exaggerated patience, "you have done the best you can. Encik Zaidi says that as long as military people don’t come here, whatever happens, tak payah risaulah. You think internet blackout so hard to handle is it?"
You scowl because she’s right and you’re worried for other reasons. If the government finds out what you and Farah and pretty much all of Bandar Ayer Puteh have been doing, then what might they do? Even though, technically, you know you wouldn’t be the only one to do so: there is Nandy in Pahang, Peng Kiat in Selangor, Percy in Johor, Nuraisya in Terengganu, several more… all working on the same thing in their own towns, all waiting for the Right Moment, just like you. Typically, everyone else is also waiting for someone to make that First Move. Each of you are sure that once a single town is off-grid, the others will have an easier time of it—that would spread out the government’s responses and resources, making any retaliation easier to deal with. But the first one to go faces the greatest risk of a swift and brutal response, because no one knows how closely surveillance systems are being watched. You all complain about the microchips, but between your collective experiences and knowledge, no one knows how well the microchips work, and that is the most frightening thing.
So hard, having that weird burden of responsibility like that. If you cock up then everyone want to blame you. If you succeed, then everybody want to share credit. You never even liked groupwork in university. Yet here you are, with a team of hackers who make forays into the Government Cloud, quietly stealing information here, quietly erasing information there, quietly reformatting systems everywhere else. You don’t know what the others are doing with the data they pilfer, but you use it to find loopholes for the locals in dealing with the petty officials and ministry spooks who fling red tape at farmers. Farming is hard enough without even more work to do in keeping one’s land, away from greedy land speculators, away from officials who think they know better. ("At least they can’t chip plants," Kok Seong quipped, in the early days of your get-togethers. "Don’t. Tempt. Fate," Nandy intoned, crossing himself, "The Ministry of Agriculture has been brainstorming ways to keep track of food production on a micro scale. If they succeed, we die man." Everybody nodded and bitched about how expensive food became since food distribution became centralized, in Kuala Lumpur of course, to the detriment of everyone else. Now, lo: you discovered recently nanochips that monitor the movements of inert objects.)
You wonder how Farah finds it easy to turn over the status quo the way she does, but you suppose she doesn’t have much to lose, either. You are all the children of farmers, fishermen, herders, locked into place because the cost of moving is too high. You are tired of your elders paying a debt that you will carry. You are tired of people dying of hunger and illness, here in a land of plenty. You swore that while the government hasn’t accidentally blown up and poisoned the land just yet, you would make sure the children in your bandar will not go without food.
Farah doesn’t say anything because she knows you too well, why, exactly, you are waffling like this. "Why don’t you go visit Atuk?" she suggests. "Take a rest. We can fight about this later."
You don’t like it when Farah gives you suggestions that are actually telling you what to do, but at the same time you like having someone else take responsibility for your life anyway. You stomp off, down the broken concrete steps and into the parking lot where your salvaged Wira sits, looking sad but serviceable.
Leaving Bandar Ayer Puteh annoys you, because you are used to its rough surfaces, the humidity of its rooms, and the cool of trees breathing life. Your Wira is so old it predates the current information age, but it is inorganic enough to bring up memories of your brief stint working for the government. You worked the back end, developing the framework onto which the federal servers sit, all wires and smooth walls and metal racks, security cameras in every corner. You were a maintenance lackey, which might have contented you if you hadn’t seen That Room.
You don’t call it by its real name, which is made of obnoxious two-dollar words: All-Encompassing National Geography, Economy, & Population Reviewer for Interstate Security & Cooperative Efficiency. ("Why do they have to call it that?" Peng Kiat asked, "Why not just call it the Panopticon, since that’s what it is?" "Too scary," Azwa replied, "all our Western allies would scrutinize us even more," and you all burst into cynical laughter at the hypocrisy because it was better than crying.) Very unlike most government office technologies which might as well be retro, even compared to your rudimentary work, it uses the very best, most recent technology. The ceiling is not very high, and the walls are comprised of several backlit LED touchscreens, corner to corner. There is a raised platform surrounded by computer centers that direct the other screens.
During your orientation, the Minister of Security personally introduced your cohort to the functions of the room. The screens were the most sensitive you have encountered. On the largest screen, on the wall of the platform, was a map of the entire country. The map flickered to show figures, statistics, and names, superimposed on the various regions. You and your new co-workers were allowed to play around with it—which still seems dubious to you—so you could understand what kind of information it kept in the Government Cloud.
Which was, in a word, everything. Every acre of land was monitored, monetized, parceled out. Every town had its own biometric surveillance system to control and keep track of the rakyat’s movements. Every city, with its skyscrapers, fed information into the database of its commercial tenants, big businesses and small. All this information, with the briefest, lightest taps. The only thing it could not do, it seemed, was keep track of every single individual as efficiently as it hoped, which might have made you immediately revolt.
Instead, you slowly burned out, driving in and out of the city, your wallet fattening as you saved up your pay. You thought you would be able to change the system from within; you were disabused of that notion almost from the get-go when they made you wear a biometric uniform at work. Then came the new, improved chips that were intended to monitor the physical health of the rakyat. You worked twenty-hour shifts to roll that out, and every shift killed your soul a little. You thought you would work hard, rise up through the ranks, and get into decision-making; you were reminded, in the way your superiors nodded and smiled and praised you but didn’t advance you, that your skin colour and your name made you untrustworthy. You were untrustworthy, but not in the way they thought. When you could afford it, you bought your grandparents their new house, and then moved to Falim Heights, where property values had plummeted so much the mortgage was easy to pay off.
Farah has topped up the Touch’n’Go you share and you breeze through the tolls. The highways are more expensive, though not necessarily a better quality. Every bump on the road is a reminder of the sensors, keeping track of traffic. On paper, it sounds great: got jam, the sensors could re-route traffic. Got solar-power, so the nation would save on energy costs. Got car breakdown, sensor immediately tells the first available tow-truck. ("Got protest, paramilitary follow you!" Percy continued the advertisement’s cheery litany. "Got robbery? Ala, who knows lah." But it was still safer to meet in person, traveling over the sensors, than it was meeting over the Cloud.)
Your grandparents live in a rare suburb close to Ampang Jaya, which used to be close to the city center, and has sort of been absorbed into the city. You sit through the traffic jams, get lost in the new flyover system, then finagle your way past the gate of the community where your family lives. The walls are new-white and the computer system at the gate scans the barcode on your car, then lowers itself to scan you, to verify that you do belong to this place. Guests have to call ahead of time. There are no random visits to any aunties or uncles here.
It is a nice house and it was very expensive. There are few privately-owned homes now; most villas are run by corporations that charge maintenance fees up the wazoo. Flats abound, because former low-cost housing is too expensive to own, but they are badly managed by indifferent landlords. Inflation has soared. But it is not so bad, say the government. At least the numbers show that this is still a rich nation.
Your Atuk is busy spraying his houseplants when you enter the house. You smell the water mixed with fertilizer, so different from the waterfall. Atuk turns and greets you with his generous smile. "Eat already?"
You shake your head and make the appropriate sound. You wait until Atuk has finished pruning his mini-roses which bloom twice as large as they would have at the hands of a lesser gardener. Atuk is very proud of you, because besides getting the university degree, you developed the hydroponic system in his verandah. You think he should be proud of himself for making it work—his kangkung is verdant, the cabbage heads are as big as yours, the pakchoi push out of their troughs obnoxiously, and the cucumbers colonize a not-insignificant corner of the verandah, hanging low from the nets on the ceiling. He harvests several leaves, washes them in a deep sink, and pulls down a casserole bowl from a cabinet above the sink. You wish he would actually use the kitchen, and maybe you will shift the whole system inside. He only does this because he is lazy and likes raw food.
Atuk grew up on a farm that his family lost to housing developers. When he drove you to see it, it had been stripped of its greenery and is now a suburb. You don’t know which house sits on what was once his land. "All of us lost," he mourns regularly, "Malay, Chinese, Indian… everyone lost." You find it hard to believe that there were Chinese farmers, but suppose anything was possible in his time. He has worked as a handyman since then. When your parents died in a car accident, he scrimped and saved for your education. He only retired after you proved you could support yourself and built him his little hydroponic farm.
Atuk says, "Ah Ma got fine yesterday."
You have a mouthful of leaves when he says this, and look up, conscious that you probably resemble a cow. "Ha?"
"You know lah. . . she play mahjong what."
Ah Ma loves gambling and is a firm believer that it helps circulate money into local economies. "What are they going to do with all their money anyway?" she would complain to you. "So rich, so kedekut, got nothing to do… their food also they don’t buy, so what they do with their money? Give poor people like me lah!" It’s not terrible logic, you think.
"What?" you say after you swallow, "I thought I told Ah Ma to stop using that mahjong app." The words taste bitter; Ah Ma had been so proud that she made the app herself. And then it got popular! So much so the government took notice, and since she hadn’t registered it and was making bank with it, they shut it down.
Atuk and Ah Ma are, fortunately, not microchipped—that is only for certain demographics. Atuk and Ah Ma are too old, too frail. They could die tomorrow, and that would not matter to the powers-that-be. But if you died tomorrow, that would be one less productive worker in the country, and have to be replaced.
Ah Ma now sails into the room. "Chien ah!" she almost shrieks. Atuk gets up to get more salad. "Chien, why police come here?" she demands. Never one to beat around the bush, your Ah Ma.
"We-ell-l," you stammer, because Ah Ma is hard to trick. She make don’t know but she probably is aware you’re as shady as her erstwhile gambling racket. "Maybe because you still run your mahjong game? Did you register your app?"
"What register my app," Ah Ma snaps. "I never use app anymore. Police come here when I play with Ah Chow Soon and Ah Ming. I ask them why they want to fine me, they say the money not my one! What, not my one! I won it what!"
You blink. "They what?"
"Haiya, they came to see you, actually." Atuk picks up another bowl for the table. "But they saw your Ah Ma gambling with real money mah, so she kena fine lor." He eases himself back down.
"Nowadays, police so bad one!" Ah Ma complains. "Push push people like what only. They come here, and then when we say you’re working, they don’t believe!"
Your stomach drops. Your grandparents, of course, do not know what you do for a living. Suhaila, your KL contact, had set things up for you and your grandparents to live under the radar. Ostensibly, you work at a kapok-processing factory in the Reconstructed Petaling area. It had seemed like a good idea at the time—you had been interviewed for a position as operations officer, and you had been short-listed, but anyway that kapok factory had been super dodgy. You are ostensibly paid through direct deposit, and you ostensibly pay your taxes automatically. Suhaila handles that from her accountancy firm using software Farah’s team developed. You also have a handphone, which you claim you never turn on, and anyway your grandparents hate the phone.
Of course, Farah is not the only computer genius out there, and sooner or later some hack on government payrolls would have been able to uncover the digital trail of obfuscation that she has set up. It is easier to destroy something than it is to build it. Government incompetence cannot be relied upon.
While you are thinking about all this, you almost miss the rest of Ah Ma’s diatribe. "And then ah, I ask, what you mean not my money? They say ah, oh, madam! That money you didn’t get through work or pension mah! So not your own lor! I ask how you know? So they take the money, and then they scan. Now money got nanochip some more! Aiyo I bei tahan ah." Ah Ma must have noticed your reaction on your face, because she turns to you with a serious expression. "So why they look for you? You going to jail?"
"No-o-o-o. . . ."
"Why you bohong so ciplak one?"
"What to do, I like Atuk what," you protest. “Maybe something happen at my factory that I don’t know. I call my boss and ask loh. So you kena fine how much?"
Ah Ma scowls. "Five hundred ringgit."
You reach into your pocket for your wallet, which has unchipped bank notes. Peng Kiat has been working on a method to short out the new currency nanochips; until then, you’ve been working with old notes. "And your friend? That one you were telling me the other day one?" No one does schadenfreude like your Ah Ma. She launches into a re-telling of how her friend had been caught defying a local by-law on burning rubbish. You laugh, let her have her moment, and move onto other subjects of interest: the sudden closure of the local wet market for another hypermart, the difficulty for neighbours’ children to find work, the rise of foul-smelling fumes from beyond the walls of the community.
Yet for all your diversion, you can tell that Atuk and Ah Ma no longer trust you to tell the truth. They have always managed to live within the law, even when it is out to screw them over. They seem to stare at you a little longer, their eyes squint a little harder, as if they are trying to look right past you. You never told them your truth, because you wanted them to live out their old age unworried for you. You never thought their ignorance might lead to your undoing.
When you leave, you try to remain calm as the security system scans your car and lets you out. You know it is registering your departure, and you know it is sending a signal to local police. You keep an eye out for stalking cars. You take the old roads, the ones you know do not have sensors. They are, however, a mess of one-way streets that loop around in a mis-guided attempt at avoiding traffic jams. You fish an old modded Nokia from under your seat, and you call Farah.
"I think I’m being tailed and I need a hantu," you tell her.
Farah doesn’t hang up, nor does she answer. You can hear her mouse making a few clicks. You exit a lorong onto a main street. A police car flashes its lights at you.
"I’m working on it," she says crossly. "They got new firewall."
You pull over. The police officers get out of their car and approach you. One of them holds a ruggedized tablet—nice Panasonic, you think.
One of the officers taps on your window. "Lesen?"
You pull out your wallet and the piece of digitized plastic. It glitters as they run a scanner over it. You internally wince, waiting for the worst, that maybe Farah hadn’t made it in on time, and you’re going to get hauled out. The officers are just doing their job; you can tell from the looks on their faces that they’re stressed and unhappy, but not corrupt. You wonder what they would do if they didn’t wear their biometric monitoring uniforms. It prevents the worst of police crime, but it also stops them from performing small mercies. One of the good effects of digitizing the nation has been to eradicate the most banal of petty bribes. Now they only happen online.
They hand you your license wordlessly. "No credit," the other officer tells you, looking concerned for you that you have no available money to spend.
You thank them for the information and begin to drive off slowly.
"Everything okay?" Farah shouts into the phone to get your attention.
You pick up the phone. "Yeah. Yeah." You don’t feel okay.
When you pull into the parking lot of Falim, you start shaking and manage to heave yourself out of the car before vomiting onto a patch of morning glories. As you pick your way up the stairs, your mind swims with terrible possible outcomes for your Atuk and Ah Ma, and worry that perhaps you should have gone back to pick them up. But then what would you say to them? That they had to move again and lose everything they had worked hard for? That their grandchild was an anti-government rebel? Your Atuk, especially, would be heartbroken to leave his plants behind.
But if you didn’t go back for them… if the government hantu came for them… You stop short when you think this, because it had never been a possibility before, and now, with the project so close to fruition, it suddenly is.
"So how?" Farah asks, but you hardly hear her. She has to turn around, and see your face. You don’t notice when she gets out of her chair and runs to your side. She pats your cheek. "Hey. Hey?"
If the government finds out about your work, then they would go after your grandparents. Interrogating them might be extreme, but it could happen. The house is in their name, but they might have their pensions cut off, without you to send them money. And you’d have to give them up, stop visiting them at will. Of course. It is so obvious now. Even past the programs that Farah has written, past the records that Suhaila has conjured, government hackers would find Atuk and Ah Ma any moment, with or without chips. They have followed your movements, so they know where to look for you, and thus for them. The idea seems less righteous now that the danger to your grandparents is so real. And you’re not ready, or even willing, to give them up. Your stomach seizes up with sudden fear, the fear that you have been holding back so long.
When you finally register the shock of it, you hurl, but fortunately nothing comes out. You clap your hands over your mouth anyway. Farah has her arms around you now, patting your cheek and calling your name, calling you back. Your vision swims, and you let Farah lead you to the couch and sit you down.
Finally you come up for air and lean back, staring at the ceiling. It blinks with hundreds of LED lights, telling you that the operations on the servers directly upstairs are functioning smoothly. Servers that are hard to trace, off most grids, away from all known data clouds, beyond the reach of governments, built by your hands from materials both salvaged and pirated. Servers armed with programs to break down, scramble, disrupt, courtesy of Farah. Servers with programs that have been tested against firewalls and workarounds. Servers ready to disseminate information to ordinary citizens on prepared food distribution centers and grassroots hospitals. ("Can you not cucuk-cucuk like that?" Alina once yelped at Nur, who went to vet school and has been working on chip removal, "Why don’t we have a single actual surgeon in our group?" "You look how much the government is paying them, then you tell me you wouldn’t sell out," Nur answered, "Don’t worry, the GPs will be okay.")
"Tomorrow," you say, wondering why you have to make that First Move.
"Finally," Farah says.
You nap in each other’s arms that afternoon. When you wake up, Farah works with Suhaila to create another hantu for the police to follow, while you recruit the kids to help prepare a room in the complex. You fix a ramp so Ah Ma can easily go down to the shophouses. The aunties seem interested in her, especially those who love mahjong. She won’t lack for friends.
You rehearse telling your grandparents that they have to move, again.
You worry about the disruption of public services. The police response. Potential military action. You also worry about the disruption of private services. Communication blackouts. Transportation issues. Scrambled stock markets. Potential mercenary action. You wonder how well the system your compatriots have built will serve those who are already failed and set aside by existing ones. You all act on a dream.
You think this as you drive Atuk and Ah Ma back to Falim Heights. They are excited to finally see where you live. They are a lot less upset about your activities than you expected them to be.
When you lead them up to the derelict building of your base, Atuk keeps turning around, head swiveling as he tries to take in the scale of disguised agriculture around him, his eyes round, his smile wide. Ah Ma turns up her nose a bit, but it’s not much different from Atuk’s gardening habits, she says. "Good, good," Atuk says every so often when he sees certain arrangements of companion planting.
You get to the main computer room, where Farah is playing cards with some of the children. She gets up as soon as she sees you and your grandparents.
"Atuk," she says. "Ah Ma. I’m Farah." She takes your hand in hers firmly.
Ah Ma squints at her inquiringly.
"I’m Chien’s girlfriend."
Atuk looks back and forth between you and Farah, and you can’t tell if he’s surprised that your girlfriend is Malay, or that you have a girlfriend to start with.
You introduce the children in the room, and they entertain your grandparents for a while, then take Atuk to a room for his afternoon nap. Ah Ma sticks around, interested in Farah’s computers.
Between you and Farah, all the calls are made to the other cells. Muhiddin has come to witness, and he performs his own set of rituals, invoking the help of the local spirits to protect your people. Falim Heights is making the First Move. You are small enough to escape government notice, but large enough to make a difference. Or so you hope. Farah utters a bismillah under her breath as both your fingers type the commands that will take your little town off the map of surveillance.
On one of the monitors in That Room, there is a lit-up map of the country, and your town goes dark. Within minutes, other spots on the map go dark too, more than you expect, more than you know. Farah releases a virus that will reformat small, but significant, sections of data.
You read once that when kings and sultans were tyrannous, farmers simply moved away. Packed up their stuff, moved to a different land, away. This was easier to do back when every inch of the land wasn’t so heavily invested with monetary value, and there was no monitoring of people’s movements or land use. You used to think that this was rather passive, non-confrontational, maybe cowardly. Yet, human desire has always trumped whatever laws and restrictions have been placed on human nature. Tyrants must be told somehow that they will be left in the morass of their own corruption. Everyone has the right to live, grow, dream, build at their own pace. Leaving, too, is resistance.
Where are you now, Bandar Ayer Puteh? Where are you now, Falim Heights? Where are you now, Chien and Farah? You have disappeared into the dark spaces. Off grids, off maps, off lists of names and numbers, off known ways of being, you have left into unmeasured space. What chaos do you wreak? Are you holding hands? All we see are serai swaying in the wind.