Timothy Tang is the fifth finalist in Young Post’s 2016 Summer Short Story competition. The winner will scoop a Samsung Gear VR headset and a 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7. Each week, we will publish one of the finalists’ stories, with the winning entry appearing in Young Post on August 27.
Once this was paradise. Once there was hope. Once this was peaceful. But not anymore. We had all given up hope that things would change.
June 10, 2047
My name is Caleb Wong.
As I trudged through an area once known as Chai Wan, I gazed at the few remaining buildings. There used to be skyscrapers that held hundreds of people at a time. Most of them were gone now. The ones that remained were empty shells. I saw a pocket knife in the rubble. I grabbed it and put it in my bag. Then I trudged on.
At one time this city was peaceful and well-developed, bustling with 7 million inhabitants. Everyone was happy. Then the planes came, and the submarines, and then the tanks. That was the 8th Army. They pulled down most of the buildings and killed thousands of people. In just five months the population had been halved. To add insult to injury, they had stripped Hong Kong of its SAR status.
The only safe area left was the CORE; home to the rich. But the CORE didn’t care about us.
After collecting some plastic and some metal, I headed for the chute. The chute was long and dark but it was the only way from the hill to Tenement Settlement 72, where I lived.
TS72 produced pomegranates, which we sent to the CORE. Each of the Tenement Settlements was responsible for sending something different to the CORE.
I was supposed to have an hour of electricity that night, but the power was down. So I headed back out, hoping to find some more food or maybe even a solar panel. I had just found an old computer that I thought I could rewire, and was busy looking for a battery pack, when suddenly, someone pulled something over my head and I was plunged into complete darkness.
“What’s going on?!” I shouted.
I had been blindfolded but I could hear voices.
I tried to remove the blindfold but something sharp hit my hand, forcing me to recoil.
“March forward!” said one of the voices.
I obeyed. The ground was flat and smooth, which was strange, as the ground in my own Tenement Settlement was uneven. After a few minutes, another voice shouted, “Halt!”
The voice continued: “Now answer me, what is the password to the CORE Treasury?”
Frightened and confused, I replied: “What CORE Treasury?”
Silence followed and I thought I might have bought myself an early death.
But, to my surprise, the blindfold was removed. As my eyes adjusted, the voice said: “You’re in. Welcome to the HOPE Alliance.”
The voice belonged to a man standing in front of me. He was wearing glasses, short grey trousers and a crumpled white T-shirt.
“My name is Nick, Nick Lee. I used to be a member of the CORE military. But once I discovered that millions of people live outside the CORE and were the ones working and supplying us with everything we need while living in extreme poverty, I faked my death and escaped to the Tenement Settlements. Most of the people in the CORE don’t know what happens outside. I want you to join me and the army I am building to help overthrow the CORE and bring equality back to Hong Kong. As a single citizen, it will be easier for you to leave your TS unnoticed. What do you think?”
It was a lot to process, and I had so many questions. But I thought about the alternative; returning to my wretched house without any electricity, scrounging for food. Anything would be better than that.
“I’m in,” I said.
“But how did you escape the CORE?”I asked curiously.
“Well, as a member of the military I had access to special tech, including the cloning system. I cloned myself without activating the clone, so it looked dead, and put the body somewhere where everyone could see it. Then I left. Once I got out here I started the HOPE Alliance and gathered some members. They followed me to TS356, which produces titanium, and we started to build weapons. My mission is to grow an army that will someday defeat the CORE and restore equality,” replied Nick.
As he spoke, he took me through a door and I was stunned by what lay before me. We were in a huge hangar, filled with planes, tanks and all sorts of other gadgets that I didn’t recognise. I noticed a woman wearing a grey top and camouflage pants who kept looking over at us.
“That’s Melissa, our bomb expert,” said Nick. “Don’t worry, she is always suspicious of new arrivals,” he added.
“How ... how did you get all this stuff?” I asked.
“It was pretty easy actually. When I escaped, I took an eighth of the CORE’s military technology with me. To cover my tracks, I triggered an explosion. The military will have assumed that the equipment was destroyed. They’ll never suspect it ended up out here,” said Nick.
“Anyway, we wanted to recruit at least five people from each Tenement Settlement to make sure we have an army that is rounded and well-equipped to deal with any situation. The technology the CORE uses now is quite advanced, but the majority of the planes we have access to are quite old. We chose you because you have experience with these old systems, and as a single citizen, if you go missing, it won’t be noticed. We would like you to be one of our pilots, Caleb. What do you say?”
I didn’t have to think about my answer.
“I would be honoured,” I said.
“Fantastic. You’ll be part of the mauve squadron. Welcome to the team,” said Nick.
By now I was exhausted, so Nick led me to the dorms, and with thoughts of fighter jets and the CORE running through my mind, I fell asleep.
June 11, 2047
We spent most of yesterday walking. After breakfast Nick told us to start the long trek to TS500. I later learned that there weren’t many Tenement Settlements in the northern part of the island, a place whose name had long since been forgotten.
Finally at sunset we arrived at our destination: TS500. This used to be the international airport, where planes carrying passengers would land.
There were still planes here that the HOPE Alliance had taken and stored underground, but they were very old and the technology was outdated. In the past, the CORE had used TS500 as an underground military base. Although it had been abandoned for a long time, to me, the technology was still incredible.
That night all of us gathered in the main hall to listen to the plan to attack the CORE. The speaker was a man called Aiden Leung, a former CORE defence strategist.
“There is an electromagnetic wall protecting the CORE which means that we will be pulverised if we go through it. However, there are four gaps in it which are wide enough for a fighter jet to slip through. Once the wall has been disabled, the others can sail through,” said Aiden. “Mauve squadron will lead the attack,” he added, pointing in my direction.
“Pilots, your training starts tomorrow. For now, get some sleep.”
June 15, 2047
The training sessions were hard but they went by so quickly. I learned how to manoeuvre a fighter jet as well as how to shoot and swerve. They needed my help when it came to what they called “old” systems – they were the only systems I had ever known – but I was happy to help. We had all been paired with a specialist who we had to take safely into the CORE, and I was put with Melissa, the bomb expert.
June 29, 2047
After training it was time to move. We had enabled invisibility mode on our fighter jets, hoping it would buy us a few more minutes before the CORE discovered us.
Sure enough, just after take-off, we saw our first enemy. We took the plane down easily enough, but in the commotion, one of our planes had been badly damaged and had to retreat back to base.
The rest of us continued. Soon, the CORE wall was in front of us. One of our planes tried to enter the first gap. But it didn’t quite make it and it exploded in a ball of fire. I watched in horror, but it was too late to turn back now. I headed for the next gap, and Melissa squeezed my hand.
We made it.
As soon as we were through, I landed and Melissa jumped out and disabled the wall.
The huge, electromagnetic wall flickered and then stopped.
“Next stop, CORE headquarters!” shouted Melissa. The other members of the mauve squadron arrived with the rest of the HOPE Alliance fleet.
CORE jets were all around us, but in the confusion around the wall, they didn’t seem to even realise we were there.
Half of the group would stay in the hangar to keep the military occupied, and the rest of us would go up to headquarters. We took the lift to the top floor.
As the doors opened, we were met by a hail of gunfire. Two of our comrades from TS57 quickly dealt with the two gunmen, and I ran to the president’s office. I opened the door, but he was dead already. Confused, I looked around, until I noticed Melissa standing behind him, a smile on her face. “I took care of it,” she said.
Melissa motioned that we should leave, but something had caught my eye.
A painting had been removed from the wall, and underneath it, there was a button which said RESET. On closer inspection, there were instructions printed underneath it.
“To be used as a last resort in case of the failure of the CORE system. Press this button and the city will reset itself to 1997. Only those in the sealed presidential room will remember the events.”
As more guards started shooting at the door, I made my decision.
“Melissa! Hold my hand!” She held my hand and whispered: “We’ll go together, right?”
Gunmen charged the door. I had to make a choice.
“Together forever,” I said as I pressed the button.
July 1, 2047
As I prepared breakfast, Melissa got the children ready for school. Outside, the sun was shining, and I looked out at the expanse of greenery that covered Hong Kong. I sipped my coffee as I sat down when suddenly my eldest child Janice asked me: “Daddy? Why are things so quiet around here?”
Melissa and I looked at each other and smiled before I replied: “Because people got tired of fighting.”