Struggling to beat the System

Struggling to beat the System

A girl realises the city is full of mindless slaves. This story was written by Michelle Lo, a student at Yew Chung International School

This is the runner-up in Young Post’s 2016 Summer Short Story competition, which offers a grand prize of a Samsung Gear VR headset and a 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7! Each week during the summer holiday, we published one of the finalists’ stories; the winning entry will appear in next Saturday’s Young Post. 

Hello, my name is Number 2047 and I am a Glitch.

It wasn’t my fault, I swear. I didn’t ask to be a Glitch, nor did I do anything wrong. It was simply an oversight. Nonetheless, this tiny, tiny oversight changed my life.

It happened when I was on my way to school. The skyscrapers loomed over me, impossibly high. Billboards flashed and neon signs blinked incessantly. The crowd moved mechanically and the streets were filled with muted chatter. The MTR zoomed by and the sky was the same dull grey as it had been for the past century.

Nothing was wrong, but I still felt uneasy. I had woken up that morning feeling strangely empty. My forehead was aching, but I forced myself to trudge outside. As I did, the chip implanted in my head buzzed, sending a constant stream of information from the System into my brain.

As I received the day’s orders, I marvelled once again at the efficiency of the System. There had never been a database as large as the System, and no machine in history had ever been so meticulous.

The System was the foundation of Hong Kong. It influenced every aspect of citizens’ lives, controlling everything.

Even my life had been predetermined by the System. My preferences, my personality, and my career had all been decided before I was born. My name, 2047, had been carefully selected from the vast database of the System. Every action I did, every word I spoke – all of it was programmed into a small chip embedded in my forehead.

I had always considered all of this completely normal, because everyone else was in the same situation. I was just another person in a sea
of numbers.

I headed straight for the Scanner once I reached school. Every morning, students registered at school using the Scanner, which was connected to the System database. My fingers swiftly tapped the screen as I entered the digits “2047”. I waited expectantly for it to turn neon green in confirmation, as it had done for the past 12 years.

What I wasn’t expecting was the red screen that appeared before me: SYSTEM ERROR. Number 2047 does not exist. Please try again.

Shocked, I stared at the Scanner. I typed my name on the keyboard once more, but the same message popped up. My tapping grew increasingly frantic as I tried again and again, yet to no avail. My mouth dried up and a lump formed in my throat.

Impossible. I could not have disappeared from the System. The only people who disappeared were Glitches – people who had been rejected because of a technical error. They had no name, no rules, and no personality. Glitches had no place in this world.

I had never imagined that I would become one.

Yet the proof was right before my eyes. Desperately, I searched through the memory chip in my head. It was completely blank.

Panic swept over me and knocked the air out of my lungs. What should I do now, without any orders? How would I act without directions? What would I say without the System’s commands?

I couldn’t breathe. My thoughts were suffocating me, drowning me in a wave of fear. I was helpless without the System’s guidance.

Abruptly, a familiar voice startled me, bringing me out of my thoughts.

“Good morning, Number 2047,” Number 2048 said to me as he came through the school gates. Relief surged through me as I saw him, briefly halting the tsunami of emotions. Number 2048 would help me. He was my friend – or was he?

He wasn’t my friend. I had only ... associated with him because I had been told to. We had no reason to be friends. My interests and my hobbies were not the same as his. The only thing we had in common was our obedience to the System.

This realisation shook me to my core even as Number 2048 smiled at me robotically, oblivious to my thoughts.

“ ... Good morning,” I stammered.

My experiences, my friends, and my desires did not belong to me. They belonged to the System. Even my name was not my own.

“Excuse me,” I murmured.

My heart pounding, and trembling uncontrollably, I ran out of school. The hollowness of my preprogrammed existence gnawed at my insides. My eyes welled up as I stumbled through the streets.

Through my tears, I saw the blank, expressionless faces of people passing by. I saw the robotic movements of puppets who couldn’t even see their strings. I saw a world of helpless humans trapped in a haze of blissful ignorance.

Did I really want to go back to being one of those people?

I wandered through the city with my eyes truly open for the first time. The ragged child hiding in the alley was poor because the System had decided he would be poor. The owner of the street stall laughed with his customer because the System had told him to. The young boy hunched over his textbook was studying because the System had told him to study.

It was then that I realised: in this world, only the fortunate few could have a happy life. The rest of us were doomed to a miserable existence. Freedom of speech, fresh opinions, and uniqueness did not exist.

The System may have originally created a world of polite, respectful citizens, but it had evolved into a cage, where ideas, creativity and innovation were forbidden.

The System was supposed to help Hong Kong advance; but how could we advance if all we did was conform to the rules?

I wiped the tears away angrily as I gazed at the masked yet blatant cruelty in Hong Kong. No, I didn’t want to become one of those people again. I didn’t want to become just another blind sheep in a herd of thousands. The newfound feeling of freedom was too tempting to resist.

But I didn’t want to experience it alone. I wanted to spread it around Hong Kong. I wanted others to feel the freedom for themselves.

I made up my mind. I had to destroy the System.

With a new sense of purpose, I headed through the streets of Hong Kong once more. I walked past IFC, and past the historic law courts. But I was so determined to destroy the System that I noticed none of these impressive sights.

Finally, as evening approached, I arrived at my destination. An imposing skyscraper stood before me. It stretched skywards into the clouds, illuminated by rows of fluorescent lights. A large sign declared the name of the building in block letters: LEGCO.

LegCo was where the System Room was located. The System Room housed the one thing that controlled everything in Hong Kong: the System Database. Everyone in the city knew about it, but no one knew the exact location, as it was hidden away in the depths of LegCo Headquarters. No one had ever bothered to search for it either – the System gave people no reason to – but I knew that finding that room was the only way I could destroy the System.

Yet, as I gazed upon the metallic structure, all of my instincts told me to run away. Only my determination kept my feet frozen in place, and even then I could not stop shaking. Anxiously, I entered the building. My footsteps echoed through the polished, marble-floored hallways, sounding painfully loud.

I wandered through the maze of passageways, heading deeper and deeper into the building. Eventually, after hours of walking, I stumbled upon a small iron door. The sign on it caught my attention. SYSTEM COMMAND: DO NOT ENTER.

Anyone else in Hong Kong would have immediately walked by it. If I had still been under the control of the System, I would have walked by it, too. However, the sign had piqued my curiosity and I hesitantly decided to disobey the System’s order.

I heaved the door open and gasped.

The ceiling was impossibly high. Rows of dim blue lights covered the walls and numbers flickered on the scrolling screens, but other than that, the room was completely dark. The blinking lights on the monitors were the only things that provided any form of light. A keyboard sat at the front of all the machinery.

Immediately, one symbol leaped out at me – the power button.

This was the System Room, no doubt about it. Before I could react, though, I heard the sound of rapid footsteps approaching. Blood drained from my face. Had I been discovered? Fearing the worst, I scrambled into the only hiding spot available – the shadowed corner. I curled into a ball and pressed myself up against the cold hard steel, drowning in my own fear.

A figure entered the System Room, dressed in a tailored suit. His gold watch gleamed in the dim light and he was clearly very wealthy. He was gripping a phone tightly and talking into it. I held my breath, afraid to make even the tiniest of sounds. Fortunately, the man was far too engrossed in his conversation to notice an unintentionally eavesdropping intruder.

He listened intently to his phone while chuckling. His high, unnatural laughter sent goosebumps up my arms. “Oh, don’t worry,” he sniggered. “No one suspects a thing, least of all the poor sheep who obey my System.”

A shiver ran down my spine.

His System?

I watched in horrified fascination as he reached for a dial on the wall. He twisted it almost carelessly. As he did, the glowing digits on the wall flickered and rearranged themselves. The possibilities and consequences of such a simple action flashed through my head. How many lives had been affected? Was the System really what it was supposed to be? Had everyone in Hong Kong been lied to? Was the System actually controlled by people?

These revelations overwhelmed me and a tiny gasp escaped my lips. The mysterious man spun around in surprise. A panicked look flashed over his face for a moment as I leapt out of my hiding place. I dashed across the room, towards the keyboard.

The man whipped out a gun. I froze.

“You’re a Glitch, aren’t you? Only a Glitch would dare to break into the System Room.” He spoke in a disinterested, non-committal tone, yet he stared at me with a hint of curiosity. “How strange. Glitches usually go mad due to the lack of instruction. You must be exceedingly determined if you haven’t killed yourself yet ... What a pity, you’ll die soon anyway.”

I stared at him with a mixture of disgust and desperation. “The System,” I whispered in quiet disbelief, as the final foundations of my world came crashing down. “It’s all fake, isn’t it? It never really helped Hong Kong. It was just a way for you to play God!”

A sinister smirk answered my question.

In that moment, all my doubts evaporated. I lunged for the keyboard, eyeing the power switch. The man leapt forward at the same time.

I pressed the button just as he pulled the trigger.

The last thing I heard was a click.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Struggling to beat the System


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