“He’s going to kill all of us for sure when he finds out,” a low voice grumbled from just behind the closed door. Commissioner of Police Badrul Kariah shoved it open.
“Tuan (1) !”
A booming call from the front of the room had the attendees scrambling to brace up in their chairs. CP Badrul entered the large conference room, making sure to tuck in his bloated gut as he faced the dozen police officers seated around the oblong table.
“Sir!” SAC Ho greeted CP Badrul as he strode to the largest seat at the head of the table. “Hope the Missus is doing well. I hear Bakar graduated at the top of his class.” His hand reached out to clasp CP Badrul’s before the latter could stop him, pumping enthusiastically.
CP Badrul grunted, extricating his hand from SAC Ho’s sweaty grasp, and he perfunctorily saluted the other officers he passed on the way to his seat. He could barely hide his disdain. SAC Ho had always been a suck up. Nonetheless, he was a necessary evil to CP Badrul’s team, always bending over backwards to make CP Badrul look good. Still, CP Badrul didn’t know where the hell SAC Ho got off allowing the new boy, ACP Gomez, call an emergency meeting. He inwardly cringed, wondering what kind of fuck up the Special Branch officers must have done to necessitate a meeting. This business had better be dealt with quickly. The succulent Lance Corporal Lisa was already waiting for him at their regular hotel room, and he’d specifically requested she wear the red negligee he’d had delivered last week.
“At ease,” CP Badrul mumbled as he lowered himself into his seat, waving his hand to move the meeting along.
“Sir, we have a grave situation at hand.” It was ACP Gomez that spoke first, his eyes nervously shifting to the others. The other high-ranking officers seemed to avoid his gaze, clearly relieved ACP Gomez had taken it upon himself to be the bearer of the bad news.

(1) Malay meaning ‘sir’.

“Yes, yes,” CP Badrul said, his index finger pulling at the tight collar of his suit. He’d been meaning to tell his PA to discreetly arrange for the tailor to cut him a new, larger suit, but was worried that his detractors would find out. It would lead to the inevitable jokes about his weight problem – as if he couldn’t guess what they said behind his back. “Get on with it.”
“Well, you remember Inspector Moktar Ghazali who we sent for the undercover assignment to infiltrate the KRN.”
CP Badrul couldn’t remember who the subject was, but he’d never admit that, so he responded with a tentative nod. With a flick of his wrist, ACP Gomez activated the massive screen embedded in the entire span of the left wall. It displayed a mugshot of Insp. Moktar, and a summary of details of the 42-year-old up-and-rising member of their Special Branch team.
From the picture, CP Badrul could see that Insp. Moktar was a serious man, with broad shoulders and, like most policemen who worked undercover, a face that could easily blend into any background. “So, I presume the premise of this meeting is because he’s having trouble? Did he blow his cover or something?”
SAC Ho, ACP Gomez and a few of the others shared a nervous glance. “Not exactly, sir. Moktar went undercover using a captured KRN member’s body, and appears exactly–”
“What do you mean ‘body’?” CP Badrul interrupted.
There was a shuffle amongst the speakers before a low but steady voice spoke from behind ACP Gomez. “We utilized the bionics implant technology that enables a person hooked up to our transmission base to enter into the consciousness of the target via radio wave signals–”
“English, please!” CP Badrul bit out impatiently, pointing his finger at the source of the announcement. “And who the fuck are you?”
A diminutive man slid forward. He was a small fellow with a shiny bald head, wearing an ill-fitting grey suit and tie. But his face was lined with experience and his eyes were cunning. He stood with his chin up, unwilling to cower, which made CP Badrul grudgingly respectful, although CP Badrul kept his face impassive.
“Apologies for not introducing him sooner, sir.” ACP Gomez stepped alongside the man. “This is Dr. David Varughese, who heads the Cyberbionics R&D team at University Serdang. His team was instrumental in setting up Moktar’s insertion.” On the plasma screen, the picture of Insp. Moktar was replaced by a mugshot of a much younger, handsomer man. That mugshot then transitioned into a picture of the same young man lying, pale-faced, on an operation table. “This, sir, is a picture of Kamal Tahir, a Tanah(2) dweller, who was captured four months ago when he entered Firdaus with a group of KRN rebels to steal supplies.”
CP Badrul nodded, encouraged that the explanation was moving along into familiar territory. The Kumpulan Rintangan Negara or KRN was a resistance group that lived on the lower “Tanah” level, a thorn in the side of the police force and every resident of the upper level Firdaus community.

(2) Malay meaning ‘earth’ or ‘ground’.

Almost 50 years ago when the then-new Bersatu Coalition Government took over, Kuala Lumpur, following the examples of the advanced metropolises of Singapore, Hong Kong, London and New York, established a higher-tier development which divided the lower and upper crusts of society, literally splitting the capital city into two. He remembered his visits to the old Kuala Lumpur city center when he was a child, holding his daddy’s hands, looking up at the LRT tracks that ran across Jalan Tun Perak.
Over the years, the tracks had been expanded to connect with the balconies of neighboring high-rise buildings, until an entire higher platform emerged, with its own shopping outlets, offices and housing developments. Eventually, the entire city center became divided into two tiers. The upper level, named “Firdaus”(3) for its heavenly decor and layout, enjoyed the sunlight and the best facilities. The lower level, named “Tanah” for its on-the-ground location, housed the riffraff of society, people who were generally uneducated and lawless, on the street levels below.
Oh, the Tanah folk had their uses. All non-sunlight-dependent agriculture and industry continued to be housed and operated in Tanah level (under constant supervision by Firdaus, of course). And who else would work the lowly support jobs in Firdaus if the Tanah workers didn’t exist? The janitors, cooks and cleaners. Cyberbots couldn’t be utilized for all jobs; they were too costly to maintain. At the end of every working day, his team of law enforcement made sure the Tanah workers all returned to their level.
The last time he’d taken a guarded tour of the Tanah level had been almost five years ago. He remembered its murky conditions, the citizens pathetically disease-ridden and malnourished. Only those working in Firdaus level had the privilege and incentive of proper nutrition. They needed to be strong because there was a lot to be done. Naturally, the Tanah folk were jealous of the luxury afforded to the Firdaus level citizens, led by the able Governor Joseph Ting. The most vocal of the protestors were the KRN, and they often entered surreptitiously into Firdaus level after hours to steal supplies. As the citizens of Firdaus were a well-mannered lot, there was hardly anything to occupy the Firdaus level police, except guarding the perimeter and entry ducts which the KRN members often utilized for their thievery.
“There was a shootout with Kamal Tahir and the rest of the KRN members, and we managed to capture him and a few others for interrogation,” Gomez continued. “Unfortunately, the other three died. Kamal entered into a coma due to massive blood loss and had to be kept on life support.” Gomez nudged his chin towards the doctor. “We approached Dr. Varughese to get his advice on bionics, and his team successfully inserted a brain receiver into Kamal Tahir. Then we got Moktar to volunteer for the insertion. Presto! The perfect undercover opportunity.”
“Is that even possible?” The inane question slipped out before CP Badrul could stop himself.
“Well, yes, sir,” the doctor smoothly took over, as if CP Badrul’s ignorance was commonplace. “Cyberbionics have been in existence for over 45 years now, from the moment household cyberbotics products became widely utilized. The technology is underutilized due to high equipment cost, but entirely possible as of the past decade.”

(3) Malay meaning ‘paradise’.

He conferred with ACP Gomez, who scrolled through a series of pictures before halting on a picture of Insp. Moktar lying prone on a hospital bed amid a sterile backdrop of tubes, wires and myriad electrical equipment.
Dr. Varughese aimed a red laser pointer to circle the area around Insp. Moktar’s head, which was engulfed in a bed of sophisticated wiring. “It is not clearly visible here, sir, but Inspector Moktar’s brain has been connected to our cognitive transplant equipment, a neuro-transmitter which effectively implants Moktar’s mind and stream of consciousness into whichever bionics receiver we program it to. In this particular instance, it was inserted into Kamal Tahir’s body.”
ACP Gomez nodded to the doctor, then stepped between him and the conference table. “The technology enabled Moktar to go undercover in Tanah level, ‘clothed’, if you will, sir, in Kamal Tahir’s body. He was released to descend to Tanah level after three weeks, after the doctors assured us the body had sufficiently recovered. His mission was to infiltrate the KRN and plant a powerful virus in their computer system, effectively crippling their headquarters.”
ACP Gomez’s hands touched a black box set in the center of the conference table, measuring a foot square, and it lit up to a luminous blue on his command. A frozen holographic image of the upper half of a young man appeared, about half the size of a life-sized man, and the bottom of the block showed in bright LED display the wording “17 January 2089, 15:35”.
“To keep tabs on the undercover mission, we required Moktar to report to us via a one-way holographic transmission every week. A technical team set up a concealed transmission stall a few blocks away from Kamal Tahir’s known residence. To avoid wave detection, we instructed Moktar to restrict his transmissions to under 60 seconds. The images are being released to non-authorized personnel for the first time today, sir, because we think it’s imperative for all of us to figure out how to solve this problem. We’ll start with the first in the series of six transmissions we received from Moktar.”
As the other officers had done, CP Badrul turned his seat to face the holographic presentation, and ACP Gomez pressed ‘Play’.


To:          Special Branch HQ, Firdaus Central
From:    Insp. Moktar Ghazali, #1834858
Date:      17 January 2089, 15:35

A 3D image of a young man loomed over the square block, the muffled light casting dark shadows over his features. He moved forward, seemingly closer to the camera, his brown eyes focusing on a screen which was clearly set up below the receiver.

How do I do this?

The young man sat forward, looked around, and widened his eyes in response to something he spotted at the side of wherever he was.

Oh, OK.

The young man cleared his throat, rubbed his palms roughly across his face, and continued in monotone.

This is Moktar Ghazali, Inspector in Special Branch HQ, Firdaus. Police no. 1834858. Undercover via cognitive transplant into Kamal Tahir, 25 years, Tanah dweller.

It is now Day 3 or T+3 of my descent to Tanah level. On Day 1, I laid low, acclimatizing myself to the environment. I went out and interacted with some neighbors. Fortunately, this Kamal fellow seemed to be quite the loner, didn’t mix around much, so no one so far has detected a difference in his personality. Yesterday, I made contact with two lower-level members of KRN. They seemed to buy my cover story. In a couple of days, they’re going to take me to meet a KRN bigwig.

That’s all for now.

He shrugged.

Moktar Ghazali signing off.

The holographic image disappeared.

To:          Special Branch HQ, Firdaus Central
From:    Insp. Moktar Ghazali, #1834858
Date:     22 January 2089, 10:02hrs

The 3D image of the torso of the same young man greeted the viewers. He was dressed in a black long-sleeved shirt, with small tears in the sleeve, the collar open to reveal a hairless chest. His eyes were bright, seemingly eager to proceed with his reporting.

Moktar Ghazali again.

Two days ago, on T+5, I was brought by Joe Chin…

He flipped his palm forward, and in his Palm Display, a square monitor in the middle of the palm – a standard prototype hidden camera developed specifically by the National Robotics Division for law enforcement – was a snapshot of a bald young man of Chinese/Pan-Asian descent, in his early 30s.

… and Prabhat Sanker…

He gave his hand a brisk shake and his Palm Display revealed another snapshot: this time of a darker-skinned young man in his 20s. His skin tone and the wide spacing of his nose and lips indicated he was of Indian descent.

…both lower ranking KRN members, to meet one Marcus Nara…

He shook his hand again, and the third picture was a side view – Moktar probably hadn’t had the opportunity or bravado to take a frontal shot – of a mature man with cafe-au-lait skin, his brows and eyes screwed in serious contemplation as he spoke to an unknown conversationalist to the right of the shot.

…mid-40s, Portuguese/Indian descent. I believe he is one of KRN’s Kuala Lumpur leaders. A quiet reflective fella with fire in his eyes; reminded me of my slave driver SO during training.

Moktar/Kamal’s eyes crinkled with laughter.

The four of us had a teh tarik(4) conversation that lasted for about two hours. They made it seem like it was merely chitchat, but I could see they were probing and feeling me out. As planned, I dropped the fact that I took part in a supply run in Central Firdaus, was separated from the others when I sustained injuries, and snuck into a medical center to give myself first aid, escaping a few days later. That due to my having missed my job for four days, my Firdaus employment agency dropped me like a hot potato. I spoke passionately of hatred towards Governor Ting and the Firdaus establishment, how downtrodden folks at Tanah were.

(4) A Malaysian beverage of milk tea.

He gave a long sigh.

I think they bought it. Marcus mentioned at the end that he’d be in touch. Let’s see what happens…

Moktar/Kamal lifted his head, looking directly into an unseen camera, his brown eyes crinkled with laughter.

Hey, David, you watching this?

He frowned and then leaned closer.

Make sure you delete this from the record, man.

His face lit up instantaneously.

I got to tell you, Dave, being in a young body is fabulous! I’d forgotten how tired I was all the time. This Kamal guy is fit and ripped, bro! I run for miles every morning and don’t even get winded! Dahsyat(5) , man!

He shook his head.

And he’s quite the horndog. Jogged by a hot girl that day and got a boner the size of the Titanic. I swear I’m a hormonal teenager!

After a couple of minutes he sobered up, wiping dampness from his eyes. When his face was revealed to the camera, it was once again serious and collected.

Moktar Ghazali signing off.

The holographic image disappeared.

(5)  Malay meaning ‘terrible’ or in this context, ‘amazing’.

To:         Special Branch HQ, Firdaus Central
From:   Insp. Moktar Ghazali, #1834858
Date:     29 January 2089, 17:24hrs

Moktar/Kamal’s attention was on something to the side of the unseen camera, before he stood back, rolling his head on his shoulders as he stood facing them.

The evening after my transmission last week, I was collected by Joe and brought to the KRN headquarters in blindfold. It was more than an hour’s journey, but with numerous twists and turns on the way. I believe a significant number of these turns were bogus attempts to disorient me. I am unable to pinpoint the actual location.

He grimaced, obviously disappointed with himself.

I have been brought there three times this week, including the first trip. All under blindfold. Sometimes it was with Joe as my guide, sometimes Prabhat. Each time, Marcus was there to greet me, and he would be surrounded by a dozen or so other people. I would say I have met approximately 70 KRN members so far. The first two occasions I entered the headquarters, I merely sat in their group meeting, where they discussed consolidating and distribution of the food resources. All very innocuous. No talk of active terrorism whatsoever.

The third evening, there was the largest crowd thus far – about 40 that time – and they were having a social gathering. Mostly it was young people, aged between their twenties to forties. Marcus was there, and a few other elders, but I was not introduced to them. The congregation was singing, dancing and chanting, creating weird music using rudimentary instruments. I’ve never heard those kinds of rich melodies before…

His eyes glazed over as he stared off camera. Then he seemed to refocus and resumed his attention to the transmission.

I think it’s opportune for me to inform the administration of the sad state of the Tanah dwellers’ food supply.

He spoke, his tone hard and emotionless, as if delivering a standard line in the Force’s Code of Allegiance. But his eyes glittered with emotion.

I saw women and children, emaciated from hunger and diseased from lack of medical attention. And the people living in my neighborhood, unrelated to KRN activities, are starving too. I gave away half of my weekly rations to a family next door. For some reason, their handicapped son, who’s living with them, is not allocated any rations. Not even disability benefits. That’s just not right…

He shook his head. Then Moktar/Kamal blinked, lifting his chin to the screen, excitement lighting up his eyes.

If a message could be left for me, here at this transmission center, about how to drop off extra supplies, I can arrange for them to flow back into the community.

He stopped, biting his lip, then wiped his face with his hands aggressively as he cleared his throat.

I know I may be overstepping my bounds. But I just wanted to put my recommendation on record.

Then Moktar/Kamal hardened his features and began to recite monotonously, his deep youthful voice lacking in inflection.

The KRN headquarters is underground, I believe somewhere within the old connecting tunnel roadways or water drainage tunnels. The place where they held the social is a large space, about four stories high. And the participants of the dance and song were gathered in the bottom central area, spectators standing along guarded rails all the way up. Here…

He turned his palm forward and put it up towards the camera, obscuring himself in the background. Slowly, he scrolled through four pictures.

The first was of a crowd of about 20 young people, men and women, dressed in street clothes, dancing about, obviously having a good time. Moktar/Kamal was clearly standing a few stories above them, as the shot was an aerial view.

The second picture was across the distance to a railing where four men and two women stood, smiling and clapping as they watched the performance below, the heads of the performers situated at the bottom of the shot.

The third picture was a close-up of a cluster of older men standing slightly apart from the crowd facing the performers. Marcus Nara stood prominently in the center, a good half-foot taller than the tallest of the men surrounding him. The cluster seemed to be in deep discussion, while their eyes remained on the entertainment.

The final picture was of an empty tunnel with poor lighting. One could barely make out on the left a shelving unit bearing cardboard boxes of unknown content, and below, the tarmac bearing the faint remnants of yellow epoxy-painted road markings.

The last one was of the route they took me out from. I took this while I was blindfolded, but they restrained my wrists after, so I didn’t manage to get any other usable photographs.

Moktar/Kamal released a long sigh as he blinked, obviously trying to recall if there was anything else to report. He rubbed his face, before turning back to the camera.

I’m scheduled to go there again in a couple of days, and will update in the next transmission.

He hesitated, his brown eyes flickering to the camera, then his gaze brightened.

I await arrangements for the sending of supplies here. Until then, this is Moktar Ghazali, signing off.

The hologram blinked off.


ACP Gomez shifted in his seat to the side of the holographic transmitter.
“Obviously, sir, we did not take any steps to provide the assistance Moktar requested.”
CP Badrul lifted his chin in understanding. Although Firdaus administration made a brouhaha about community support, it was actually unheard of for Firdaus to lend any meaningful assistance to the Tanah folk. Each level had its own depository of supplies, and their supply hoard was necessary for the Firdaus residents. If the Tanah folk wanted more, they should first be prepared to lay down their arms, rat out the KRN for the nuisance that it was, and then maybe, just maybe, the Firdaus administration would see to a more even distribution of food supplies.
“Unfortunately, this was the response we received the following week.”
ACP Gomez pressed a button to transmit the next holographic image.


To:          Special Branch HQ, Firdaus Central
From:    Insp. Moktar Ghazali, #1834858
Date:      5 February 2089, 09:05hrs

Front and center of the screen, the 3D image of Moktar/Kamal was of an impassive face, the countenance held still as he positioned himself upright to face the transmitter.

Moktar Ghazali on Day 21 of my undercover mission.

His voice was monotonous and hard.

No news of supplies, I see, nor any response to my request. I get the message. Nak seribu daya(6).

He blinked rapidly. For a moment the fleeting vision of the muscles in his youthful features clenching was detected. Moktar/Kamal rocked back on his heels, holding his shoulders erect.

I have nothing interesting to report. Signing off.

The hologram blanked abruptly, indicative of Moktar’s growing insolence.

To:          Special Branch HQ, Firdaus Central
From:    Insp. Moktar Ghazali, #1834858
Date:      20 March 2089, 11:32hrs

Moktar/Kamal was dressed in a simple long-sleeved T-shirt, his face covered with a smattering of facial hair, and his hair long enough to curl around his collar.

Moktar Ghazali, on Day 49 of my mission.

His eyes flickered to the side, softening as he looked at something or someone off-screen.

(6) A portion of a Malay proverb, the full being “Nak seribu daya, tak nak seribu dalih” loosely meaning ‘if there’s a will, there’ll be a thousand ways, if there’s no will, there’ll be a thousand excuses’.

My apologies for being unable to transmit for the past few weeks. I was involved in several activities with the KRN, including providing medical assistance and distributing supplies to the people at the Kampung Baru area who were hit by the flash floods. I had a few KRN members shadowing me, and it would have been too suspicious for me to return to the transmission area during that time.

He turned his palm forward and displayed a picture of a family standing knee-deep in muddied water, the children sharing a packet of rice cradled in an older woman’s hands. He shook his hand, and another image presented itself: this time a picture of reddish-brown rooftops peeking through a flood of red muddied water.

I have seen with my own eyes the kind of camaraderie that exists between the people here in Tanah. They are hardened and rebellious, yes, but also courageous in their resolve to make do with the precious resources allocated to them. There is a sincerity in their interactions that I’ve never seen before.

But the Tanah people are beaten down by the system. Perhaps that is why the KRN gains ground, despite the aggressive campaigns we carry out to dissuade the public from associating with them. If I may be so bold, I would recommend that the Firdaus administration find a way to work with the KRN rather than against it. That would be a sure way of regaining the Tanah peoples’ trust. And we can ensure a just distribution of supplies for everyone. We are all Malaysians after all…

Moktar/Kamal looked up again towards the point off-screen, his mouth pursed. Then he sighed.

I would volunteer to coordinate such efforts.

His voice reached a plateau towards the end, as if he realized the plea would fall on deaf ears.

The hologram blinked off.


“Sudahlah tu(7) ! That’s it!” CP Badrul sat forward in his chair, his rounded tummy grazing the edge of the conference table. “It is obvious this naïve boy has become sympathetic to their plight. Instead of doing his job of infiltrating the KRN ranks and reporting back to us, he’s now on a crusade to help the Tanah people!”

(7) Malay meaning ‘that’s enough!’

CP Badrul realized his voice was rising, and he sat back, taking a deep breath. “Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi(8) ! It’s obvious what needs to be done. We terminate this mission, and later, we’ll plant someone else to plant the virus into the KRN network. Someone less susceptible to emotions. You!” He pointed a pudgy index finger towards the doctor. “Disconnect Inspector Moktar from the neuro-transmitter immediately! Let his mind shrivel, the traitor!”
Dr. Varughese stepped forward, absentmindedly rubbing a hand over his bald head, turning left and right towards ACP Gomez and SAC Ho.
“What?” CP Badrul barked out, his temperature rising at the insolence of his inferiors. “Someone tell me what the fuck is going on!” He no longer made any attempt to control the volume of his voice. His face was now flushed in anger, sweat glittering in his salt-and-pepper hair.
ACP Gomez stepped forward instead. “Sir, a KRN entry happened last night, or should I say early morning, and as at 03:45 hours, Moktar’s body was removed from the Cyberbotics Center.”
CP Badrul’s fist banged against the conference table, making the holographic transmitter rattle in its spot.
“Utter incompetence!” CP Badrul rose awkwardly from his seat, and started making his way to the door.
“Wait, sir!” SAC Ho shouted out, causing CP Badrul to pause in his maneuver around the edge of the conference table. “We have one last transmission to show you. We received it mid-morning today.”
CP Badrul waved his hand dismissively, his angered mind now merely interested in finding some peace from this catastrophe.


To:         Special Branch HQ, Firdaus Central
From:   Insp. Moktar Ghazali, #1834858
Date:     15 April 2089, 11:32hrs

I saw the historical pictures, you bastards!

The voice of Moktar/Kamal spoke without preamble, his holographic image facing straight ahead towards them.

(8) A Malay proverb, loosely translated ‘rely on the fence, the fence consumes the padi (rice grains)’, to express frustration at how the one person you had relied on has betrayed you.

Marcus showed me all the newspaper cuttings from 2034, of how Governor Ting was in fact in the same political party as Marcus before the Bersatu Coalition won their majority seats. The Bersatu manifesto set out a plan for a new, safer dwelling for everyone in Firdaus, not a select rich few! The promises they made to win the elections! Laknat(9) !

Things we were never taught in school. Fiction, music and arts. Not the bland scratchings you guys called art, but real emotional stuff. But you can’t have that, can you? No! The arts encouraged people to think for themselves. The arts made people query their surroundings, hope for a better future, rather than lie down and take the scraps that you throw at them. And to think that it is the Firdaus computer system that is supposed to ensure a fair distribution of resources!

Moktar/Kamal’s eyes glistened with determination, his shoulders squared as though challenging all the police officers in the transmission room to enter his transmitter station for a hand-to-hand fight.

Well, I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure this abuse of power desists immediately!

His declaration carried a foreboding ring as the holographic transmission ended.


Mere seconds after the final transmission ended, a loud blaring alarm shattered the gaping silence of the conference room. Everyone looked up and around, distressed at the unfamiliar sound. A flat computerized voice which everyone immediately identified as the Firdaus AI control center then made a loud announcement:
“Complete system failure. Complete system failure.”
Just as swiftly, the lights in the conference room blinked off, and in their place, the dull glow of one emergency lamp emitted over the large space.
Bodoh(10) !” CP Badrul shouted out, as the other police officers started scrambling towards the exit to rescue themselves. “You put the cyber weapon into the hands of KRN, you imbecile! He’s gone and inserted the virus into Firdaus’s system, not theirs!”
(9)  Malay meaning ‘curse’, as in ‘I put a curse on you’.
(10)  Malay meaning ‘fools!’

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