Half-year thanks

Towards the end of last year, I restarted doing something I had stopped doing for a long time – sending out gratitude notes, emails and SMSes to folks who had touched my life in 2013.

As I sit here thinking about how fast the year has passed, I’m thankful for three choices I made last year.

1. I went on stage for the first time on the 4th of June at Comedy Masala. Since I’ve started performing, I’ve had the chance to become part of an awesome family of folks working on their craft.

2. I joined LifeOpp.

3. I found a great group of folks and started playing football more regularly with them.

Musing about Life

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Standup Comedy

I started watching standup comedy live in Singapore in earnest around the time after Demo Asia 2012.

From the start of my experience as an audience, I wanted to go up to perform. It took me about one year before I had the courage, albeit dutch courage, to email Umar for a spot on Masala.

Two key moments led to me taking the plunge:

1. My trip to San Francisco. There was something about watching comedy in a foreign city that made me really want to perform in Singapore.

2. Googling my heroes of the local scene Jinx, Fuzz and Rishi. I saw clips of them performing when they first started out and realised how much growth they had experienced over the years. I had to stop giving myself the excuse, “when I’m good I’ll go up”.

None of us are instantly good at what we do, and it is the constant act of doing that will make us better.

I went up onto the Comedy Masala stage on the 4th of June 2013. It has been a crazy crazy journey and every moment of killing and dying on stage has been a learning experience and to be savoured.

do or do not there is no try

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Zen Pencils comic ‘The Man in the Arena’.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Zen Pencils’ Ira Glass ‘Advice for Beginners’.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Musing about Life
On Singapore

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A Better Way To Ask (Part 2)

Previously:

However, there are two other possible ways the social graph can be used to help an individual get information. The first way requires search – a search engine understands the social graph of a site like Facebook and helps us find the best person to ask the question to. This way is similar to how Google understood the web with structural analysis and PageRank – websites and people are the nodes; profiles are similar to content on the page; relationships and links are the edges.

This way of trying to use the social graph prevents us from seeing that the nodes of a social graph can be interacted with – after all, these nodes represent people. The second way I would suggest the social graph can be used does not need an algorithm to try to figure out who is the best person to ask a question because the nodes in the social graph already know that answer. So why not just ask the nodes?

The second way would be to just ask the people, who you are connected to, in the social graph (i.e. your ‘friends’) most likely to be able to answer your question. This question is the message. Your friends might not know the answer to that question but they probably might know a few people who do. What is needed in this second way is a mechanism to propagate that message easily through the social graph; each node redirecting a question to a few other nodes who might know the answer. The mechanism is able to keep track of the chains forming and finally send the answers back to the originating user and whichever other users along the chain interested in the answer.

I would probably not be too presumptuous to say that this way of using the social graph is already being done by most of us, albeit there isn’t some Web 2.0 site helping us do it. We simply do it by forwarding emails, smsing or calling friends who might know the answer to the query of another friend, or passing the contacts of people who might be able to help to a friend.

Aardvark’s system of message propagation is based primarily on first passing the message to a central location which is then responsible for the algorithmic determination of who will be the next to receive the question. Aardvark as a system facilitates the transmission of messages as well as the intelligent routing of these messages.

* Post from 2009/07/08, please meet Jelly

Tangled Web We Weave

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Helping others take photo

Last weekend, there were a bunch of kids (four guys) celebrating the birthday of one of their friends (one girl) at the garden below our HDB block. They had arranged a couple of candles to spell the name of the gal whose birthday they were celebrating with a heart below the name.

Some idiot called the firemen and police on them.

1. These young kids were considerate enough to put the candles in holders. No spilling of wax on the pavement.

2. They were bloody quiet for a birthday celebration.

Anyway, these really sweet kids were taking turns being the photographer. Halfway through our stakeout of their celebration, my gf looked at me and said, “you should go down and volunteer to take photos for them so they can all be in the picture at the same time.”

So I changed into my jeans and ran down to volunteer to be their photographer.

It is little things like this that I know I want to spend the rest of my life with this lady.

On Singapore

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1200

Totally arbitrary number to start.

I’m already down to $500 on the second day.

On Singapore

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150 on the red dot

5 dollar challenge:

According to the Department of Statistics, 105,000 families in Singapore are earning on average $1,500 or less per month. This means that life is a daily struggle for some 387,000 Singapore citizens and permanent residents. After paying utilities, schooling, housing rental or loan instalments and medicals, they are left with about $5 a day for food and transport per family member. How do they do it? Can they? How does it feel to be their shoes? Whatever you think or feel, suspend your disbelief or judgement and find out
for yourself!

So it is about $150 a month. Outperforming Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s ‘290 a month in Singapore‘.

On Singapore

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The Future of Organizations

In NUS, while taking business courses, one of the buzz phrases was “Flat organization“. It was like a magic phrase, that if uttered during boardroom meetings will transform any organisation.

Recently, I began to think that what we really need are networked organisations after hearing Meng share about matchmaking within an organisation: go to Department A, find someone interesting and then introduce said person to another interesting person in Department B.

Ignore the phrase ‘networked organization’ for a moment; I don’t even know what a networked organization is supposed to be like. But it is interesting how organizations are finding different ways to run.

1. Valve’s Handbook for new employees.

2. Somali Pirate Business

3. Buffer Open Salaries.

* This post sat in my drafts until I learned of Holacracy from the article announcing “Zappos Is Getting Rid Of All Titles And Managers“.

Tangled Web We Weave

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You’re only like that because

I might answer them as Themistocles answered the Seriphian who was abusing him and saying that he was famous, not for his own merits but because he was an Athenian: ‘If you had been a native of my country or I of yours, neither of us would have been famous.’ And to those who are not rich and are impatient of old age, the same reply may be made; for to the good poor man old age cannot be a light burden, nor can a bad rich man ever have peace with himself.

from “The Republic

Books

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Farewell

Tech In Asia acquires SGE

It has been six years since I started being part of the SGE family when it was just a side project started by Gwen and Bernard.

Two years ago, when Terence joined us as our first full time employee, Gwen and I had already started working on changing SGE from a side project into a company.

Terence's second day at the office.

Now it is time to say farewell to a project that has been a big part of my life as Tech In Asia has acquired SGE.

I won’t be joining Gwen and Terence as they move over to work for TIA.

I wonder if TIA knows how lucky they are to get this team that’s a little bit of Wonder Woman and Clark Kent.

Good beginnings

So much more to write about the experiences over these six years. As I take time to remember the stories, and write them, going to start by remembering the different looks of SGE. I remember the first redesign I did, sharing the new look with Bernard in a bar at Clarke Quay. I think Daniel from Young Upstarts was also there.

the site when I joined:

old

20090214

front

Entrepreneurship & Startups in Singapore and Southeast Asia : SGE

SGE - The Business of Technology & Entrepreneurship in Singapore and Asia_SGE_20130905-150412

Side note:

The first article I wrote was “Overused Buzzword: Community

Looking back, it is fitting that the first article for SGE was about community as it has been the folks I interact with via my work on SGE that has been sustaining me throughout the years.

We hear a lot about how in this phase of the Internet we call Web 2.0 that Community is very important. I believe that the overusing of this buzzword ‘Community’ is very dangerous because it prevents entrepreneurs and companies from thinking further about the actual people who comprise the entity we call a Community. The buzzword prevents us from seeing that communities are not all the same and that there are different groups of people within a particular community. Growing a community isn’t just about attracting lots of people, setting up a forum, allowing them to comment and add friends.

Beyond knowing that Community is important, we need to understand who is the Community and learn how a company can engage this people in the Community.

There are four main groups in any community that come together on a website. In decreasing order of size, they are:

1. Users of the site.
2. Members of the site.
3. Participants on the site.
4. Contributors to the site.

The last group, the contributors could also be called the 1 Percenters because as studies of online communities have shown, usually only 1 percent of the members of a site actively contribute any form of content – this could be by starting a new discussion thread, a new group or answering the questions of other members.

Slightly more people (around 10%) participate in the site. They do this by adding comments, votes and ratings to the content created by the 1 Percenters. It should be noted that these people (i.e. participants and contributors) provide 100% of the utility for any Community.

One of the long term aims of any community organizer when engaging the community should be to move people from being users to members, members to participants and participants to contributors. Each stage down the list increases the involvement and the investment in time, energy and emotions of the individual.

Participating and contributing content can be seen as a hobby for these individuals as they often do it without being paid. Any community organizer should understand the motivations of the people participating and contributing. They could be doing it for altruistic reasons, wanting to contribute to the common good in terms of knowledge. They could be doing it for status as the community has a mechanism for ranking users based on their participation and contributions. They could be doing it because they find the information relevant to themselves and use the site to organize the information they have found.

There are two key groups in any community – Filters and Facilitators (these two terms are part of a group of four coined by Ben Mcconnell and Jackie Huba of ‘Church Of The Customer‘). The Filters are those that collect, select and package information for other people to consume. The Facilitators are those that create communities by encouraging conversation between users, answering questions, helping new users get assimilated into the community and ensuring that users connect in a way that conforms to the community’s standard and practices – they are the support group for a site, company, product or brand.

To engage the community that is on your site or those that have risen online with your company, brand or product as the focal point, it is important to help the Filters and Facilitators engage in their hobby. For Filters, information and the tools to organize the information are the two most important aspects you can help them with. The company, brand manager and product manager should identify these Filters and provide them additional information that are usually inaccessible to them. Allow them access so that they can repackage this information for other users who will most likely be interested in the information chosen by similar users.

Another way to engage such Filters is to discover the tools they find useful when processing information relevant to the site, company, brand or product and provide or enhance those tools. For example, Filters may use a disparate set of tools like del.icio.us or Google Bookmarks to keep track of the information they have found on other websites. Allowing these Filters to easily bring all these external information into your site is one form of engagement.

Facilitators are like volunteer managers. They help watch out for new users and deal with trolls. For your own site, the best tool that can be given to them is to establish at the beginning of the site a set of standards and practices that guide how users can connect and communicate with each other. Working with the Facilitators to nurture a culture for the community is an important step in engaging the community. Trusting the culture that is established is the next step – getting too involved by trying to censor or lay down the law could be detrimental to the efforts to engage the community and subsequently negatively affect how people feel about the site, company, brand or product.

Facilitators tend to be the people that help answer questions of other users. While you can be directly involved in constantly answering the questions from the community that has been built on your site and around your company, brand or product (and you should!), also engage the community by providing these Facilitators the information that can better help them answer questions. You already have a group of people who want to help so why not empower them! These Facilitators also tend to start discussions about topics they are passionate about. Engaging them means listening to them and learning about how they feel and think about your site, company, brand or product – the gems that could be found just by listening might just save your site, company, brand or product. If you think women want someone who listens, customers want that even more. Remember though, it is listen. Not hear. It is to converse. Not talk.

Everything in this post is not meant to be an exhaustive list of what you need to think about when thinking of the buzzword ‘Community’. Hopefully, it has served its purpose to spark further thinking about what ‘Community’ and ‘engaging Community’ actually means. There are lots of resources online and books you can read to further enhance your understanding of this area – the book ‘Citizen Marketers‘ and the blog by Ben Mcconnell and Jackie Huba are good places to start.
Remember, Community is important. More important though is the people in the community and the things the community says and does.

Musing about Life

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City Harvest & The Crossover project

I was there in the beginning. One of those who supported (then) Pastor Sun’s endeavours and also contributed to the building fund. Though I’ve stopped attending church, I remember my time at City Harvest with fondness.

Even now, as a practical atheist, I’m following this case with particular sadness.

Year ago, when my best friend shared with me his discomfort about the crossover project, I fiercely opposed his views and was upset with the naysayers. I remember sharing two points about the naysayers:

1. The ‘older’ and more ‘traditional’ Christians are more concern about The Crossover project failing than the supposed ‘right’ way of reaching out to non-believers.

2. The naysayers want the project to fail because they want to be able to indulge in smug self-righteousness, confident in the comfortable old ways and be able to say, ‘told you so’.

Here is the thing… if you are a Christian, then you must in some way believe in the power of prayer and spiritual warfare.

I’ve always felt that the older and more traditional Christians opposed The Crossover project with the wrong perspective.

Wrong perspective:

“God, please let Pastor Kong see the error of his ways and stop the crossover project before more are led astray.”

A more useful perspective:

“God, Kong and his church is trying something new to win souls for you. Please guide and protect him and the church as they find their way.”

From my interactions with the naysayers, it was always more of the former, not enough of the latter. And if you believe in the power of prayer and spiritual warfare and the devil wanting to corrupt all that is good, then, the current state of affairs isn’t that surprising. To me, the older and more traditional Christians wanted this to happen.

Pastor Kong and his team are still responsible for their actions. But, like I said, if you believe in spiritual warfare, the devil, and the power of prayer, then those Christians who currently delight in this failure and had hoped for it, well, gave the evil one more power to nudge matters along in the spiritual plane.

Ignore This

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Rules of using your Portable Time Spanning Device

These are the rules of using your Portable Time Spanning Device.

1. You can only travel back in time.

2. You can only travel to each year once.

3. While in the past, if you do anything that creates a paradox, the trip (and thus the action) will be nullified, and you will be snapped back to the point in time you previously jumped from. You can never jump to that year again.

Example:

Your mother is murdered. You traveled back in time to the point of the murder to prevent the murder. That’s a paradox. Your trip back in time will be nullified.

4. You cannot take any actions that will affect your memories.

Example:

Apple shares were worth $10 in 2000. If you had bought shares then with all your savings, you would be a millionaire now. You travel back in time to tell your younger self to set up a trading account with Kim Eng and buy shares in Apple.

This is not allowed since the present you that traveled back in time did not remember setting up a Kim Eng trading account or buying any shares. You cannot rewrite your memory. The trip will be nullified and you will be snapped back. You can never jump to that year again.

5. Each time you jump back into the past, you will only be able to stay there for 24 hours. After 24 hours, you will be snapped back to the point you jumped from.

6. The Portable Time Spanning Device must be on you when the 24 hours time limit is up. If it is not on you, you will be stranded in the past.

6.1. If you do not exist in this past (i.e. you are not born yet), you will be allowed to continue living without ageing or illness. However, if you commit any action that affects your memories, then you will cease to exist.

6.2. If you are stuck in the past where you have already been born, you will instantly cease to exist.

6.3. While stuck in the past (and without violation of rule 6.2), you will be able to live without ageing or illness until the moment you are conceived (based on the scientific definition). At the moment of your conception in the timeline, you will cease to exist.

FAQ

Why does your Portable Time Spanning Device work like this?

Because “Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey-stuff”.

Stories

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ITV Divided

ITV Divided is an intriguing British game show that seems to bring out the worse in the participants at the end of the game.

This episode does give one some hope.

Are there other games like this?

I know of Golden Balls:

Someone has uploaded a fair number of episodes for the show Divided.

Can these type of games be brought online?

Gaming
TV

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Why doesn’t anyone love me?

When you’re young:

Why doesn’t anyone love me?
Why doesn’t everyone love me?
Why does that person (whom I desire) not love me (when I’m so awesome and deserve that love)?

When you’re older:

Thank the heavens there is someone who loves me (despite all my flaws).

Musing about Life

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Aaron Swartz .

Aaron Swartz is dead.

While one will never be able to know the actual reasons for the suicide, his family has attributed it to the U.S. Attorney’s case against him.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

As a male in Singapore, I had to spend 2.5 years of my life doing my National Service. Women in Singapore generally are either indifferent towards the complains from the males about it or worse they mock us for not being man enough to suck it up and just do it. Empathy and Sympathy are two things you can never get from Singaporean women when it comes to National Service.

Most of us Singaporean males, taking into account most practical considerations, have no choice in this matter.

Reflecting on my time doing National Service and its impact made me realize how much power the State has over us and how little say we have at the start of our lives, lives we didn’t even choose to start. At the point of birth, we are entered into a social contract with a society and government based on the decisions of our parents.

There was a period of time I contemplated suicide as the only way to escape this contract, a contract that, unsurprisingly, increasingly seems to be in existence for the benefits of only those with power and wealth.

I’ve since had reasons not to have suicide as the number one option, and decided that in consideration of existing parameters the resulting trade-off from optimising personal utility with suicide against the diminished utility of others is a price I will not pay.

Yet, reading about Aaron’s death, his past writings, and the circumstances surrounding the death, I’m reminded again about the sometimes apparent hopelessness and meaninglessness of our existence.

Musing about Life

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290 on the Little Red Dot.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s reply to PAP MP Dr Lily Neo when she asked Dr Vivian to increase the monthly allowance of Public Assistance (PA) recipients from $290 to $320 monthly.

“How much do you want? Do you want three meals a day at a hawker center, food court, or restaurant?”

I can’t believe I shared about the project I have been experimenting with on-off with those folks.

Notes:

1. The public assistance amount has been increased.
2. Dr Vivian acknowledges the statement he made was wrong.

Live != Survive.

On Singapore

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2.4. The President – Internal External Security

2.4: The President – Internal External Security

Peter slumped back onto his chair after the door shut behind the departing Tom. He loved Melissa and wanted her to be his official Partner. Since Elites were allowed to have non-State sanctioned children, it was decided by Peter’s Nation that Elites were not allowed to be part of the Partner Group Therapy program in the event that accidents occurred and one of the female Partners became pregnant. This was to avoid complications in matters of social and financial inheritance should a female Elite decide to keep the accidental baby.

If Melissa was to be Partnered with Como, it would almost certainly be the end of any informal relationship Peter had with her.

“David,” Melissa announced. Peter smiled weakly at her. He wondered if the Director had briefed her on the next step in her life.

David was the Director of the Internal External Security Department. Although Peter had been Vice President, Peter had minimal interaction with the third most powerful man in the Nation.

“Hello Mr President, ” David greeted Peter.

“David, take a seat.”

“If you don’t mind, I would rather continue standing. Could you please ask Melissa to leave.”

Before Peter could raise any objections with the request, Melissa left the room.

“Let’s begin Mr President. Most things about the IES you already know from your duties as the Vice President. Today’s briefing is to share with you the one thing you do not know. This information is made known only to four people. The current President, the Prime Minister, Julian Septius Wong and Christian Octavius Lim.”

“How about previous Presidents?”

“None of the previous Presidents are alive.”

Peter stood up and turned to face the window. Peter wasn’t sure if David’s last statement was a threat, warning or admission that David knew about Peter’s involvement in the murder of the last President.

“After the Universal Tracking System was implemented, we were able to monitor all the vital biological details of every Trackable in the world. During the roll-out phase, we started observing anomalies in the system. Andrew who was still alive theorized that the radiation from the attacks of June 26th had created a condition where some human babies who were born in the aftermath of June 26th was mutated in significant ways.”

Peter turned to face David.

“What does this mutation mean?”

“Powers.”

“What sort?”

“Different for different folks.”

“Do you know the powers for every mutated individual.”

“No. Only the more noteworthy ones.”

“Am I one of them,” Peter asked.

David smiled. Most Presidents never ask that question.

“Yes, you are.”

“I was born before the attacks occurred,” Peter said.

David smiled. Peter was paying attention.

“Yes, you were. Andrew noticed from the data that humans who were within a certain age near the attacks also were affected. Radiation works in really mysterious ways. I believe you were nine when you were in San Francisco on June 26th.”

“What are my powers?”

“Power. You just have one.”

“What is it?”

“You have the ability to cause physiological and neurological change in other humans which will impact their ability to execute desired actions.”

“Which means?”

“You have the ability to increase or decrease the confidence of other individuals thus impacting their physical and mental performances.”

“Please explain it like I am an idiot,” Peter asked. David’s information would have fazed most individuals but Peter took it with the equanimity of a man who always knew he was special without knowing what made him special.

“Let me give you an example. The first tennis competition you won. You were playing against the then National Champion. And you won. How did you think you did it?”

“You tell me.”

“I think you intuitively knew of your ability. You made him believe he could never beat you. You made him lose all confidence in himself, in his training, in his abilities. He couldn’t play the right tennis strokes to beat you because he didn’t have the confidence to. His body reacted accordingly to the vanishing confidence.”

“So this ability can be directed.”

“Yes, it can. But normally, from what we have understood, subconsciously you emanate an aura outwards which just reduces the confidence of the people around you.”

“Are the effects persistent or localized to my presence.”

David started laughing.

“What’s so funny.”

“I’m sorry Mr President, ” David apologized, “if I may have a little indulgence, I would like to compliment you on your intelligence. No President has ever asked me such a question.”

“What’s the answer?”

“From what we have seen, it is localized though there are residual effects which dissipate only after a fairly significant amount of time and distance.”

“You mentioned that I can decrease and increase confidence.”

“Yes, ” David confirmed Peter’s statement.

Peter sat down and leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table. He covered his face with his hands. If what David said was true, that would explain why he could never effectively motivate a team of people. Peter had always seen himself as a possible who could be a winner, but never the leader.

“David,” Peter said, looking up, “Tell me how I can train myself to control my ability. To be able to direct it and to increase confidence.”

“One of my analysts will contact you.”

“David, you mentioned only four other Elites who know about humans with Powers. What about these analysts? Who are they.”

“There are only five Analysts. All of them are Nurtured. They do not have any emotional ties with anyone besides me. They are loyal to me.”

“And who are you loyal to,” Peter asked.

“No one. I’m loyal to an idea.”

“Which is?”

“Never to let June 26th happen again. Not even something close to it.”

“Does my power affect everyone?”

“No. It does not. For example, it does not affect me or Tom, your Director of the CI Ministry.”

“Why not?”

“Some humans have inhibitors. Another manifestation of the mutation occurring within the human race.”

“What then is your Power?”

“I have none save for the inhibiting mutation.”

“As President, do I have the full list of all humans with Powers.”

“No,” David replied, “there is no such list. Only what my Analysts and me can remember.”

“So will you tell me about all the humans with Powers.”

“No,” David replied firmly. David knew he was treading on dangerous territory here. None of the previous Presidents took kindly to David’s insistence that the knowledge of all the humans with Powers be kept from the them.

“I understand,” Peter said.

David allowed himself to reveal his pleasant surprise.

“But one last question for now, does John have any Powers,” Peter asked.

“Yes, he does. Which is why he has been so valuable to you.”

“What are John’s powers,” Peter asked.

“He has the ability to cause physiological and neurological change in other humans which will impact their ability to attribute failure or blame to him.”

“Basically, he is always blameless,” Peter wryly added.

“Yes,” David chuckled, “Basically if you grew up with him, he gets all the icecream and mother will always scold you for breaking the vase.”

David started walking towards the door.

“Wait,” Peter instructed, “actually, there is one more individual I would like to know about.”

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2.3. The President – Cultural Integration Ministry

2.3: The President – Cultural Integration Ministry

Peter leaned back on his chair, closed his eyes, and allowed himself some respite from the day’s proceedings. He had just finished a meeting with the Nation’s Partner Matching Status department Director. The main outcome from that meeting was the decision to increase the number of matched Partners in each Partner Group Therapy session from eight to nine.

Just two more meetings.

Peter opened his eyes when he heard Melissa’s familiar voice. Peter smiled at Melissa as she announced the next visitor. He knew he was lucky to have her as his Permanent Secretary. Being President of this small Nation was an important duty and he needed the best help he could get.

Although Peter’s Nation was a small country, world events in the last two decades had allowed his tiny Nation to gain a fair measure of prominence on the world stage. On hindsight, his Nation was the only country that could have implemented the Universal Tracking System after the attacks on June 26th.

While his Nation had perfected the Electronic Road Pricing system and extended it to human traffic, more importantly, but less acknowledged, to its credentials to be the driving force behind the Universal Tracking System was the great Foreign Worker riots of 2005.

Over the years as Peter’s Nation had become more prosperous, its own citizens shunned blue-collared work. Faced with an over-reliance on an ever increasing pool of Foreign Workers, the government of Peter’s Nation had become concerned about the potential outcomes should the Foreign Workers decide to cause mischief within the Nation.

Their concerns were not misplaced.

As the richest country in the region, the government linked companies from Peter’s Nation started buying the corporate crowd jewels of the surrounding countries. While the populace of the surrounding countries should have been more angry with their own countrymen for selling out, the Elites from these surrounding countries managed to divert the anger towards Peter’s Nation.

Riots broke out across Peter’s Nation. The Foreign Workers were causing great damage to property and raping the Nations’s women.

Fortunately, Peter’s Nation’s Elites had considered the possibilty of such riots years ago. Andrew, the Nation’s top scientist had devise a plan to keep the population of Foreign Workers in check should ever such riots occurred.

As a prerequisite for getting a job in Peter’s Nation, all the Foreign Workers had to undergo mandatory medical screening. As part of the screening, the workers were also given injections purported to be immunization against common diseases. In actual fact, Andrew had invented nano capsules that contained cyanide. The ‘immunization’ was the means to deliver these nano capsules into the blood stream of the Foreign Workers.

These capsules were extremely resilient and did not disintegrate when inside a human body. However, using the principles of resonance, if the capsules were subjected to the right frequency, the capsules would rupture and the cyanide would be released into the blood stream, almost instantly killing its host.

During the great Foreign Worker riots, the leaders of Peter’s Nation had asked for calm. The workers refused, their fury stoked on by the same Elites who had profited from the sale of the corporate crown jewels. Faced with increasing damage to the country’s infrastructure and harm to the Nation’s citizens, the Elites from Peter’s Nation made the considerably easy decision to emit the required frequency.

The capsules started rupturing and the workers started dying.

Andrew had foresight and two further considerations made his plan even more brilliant. The first was that the capsules responded to different sets of frequencies. This ensured that not all the Foreign Workers died together; after all, when the messed had to be cleaned up, the Foreign Workers were needed to do the cleaning.

The other part of the plan was executed when the neighbouring countries started amassing their troops to prepare for retaliation at the supposed unjust murder of their citizens in a foreign land.

Andrew had foreseen that the other countries would react unfavorably at the solution devised by Peter’s Nation in dealing with any potential threat from the Foreign Worker population. To stop any potential invasion in its tracks, Andrew had created the country’s first MedicalCorps. This organization was part of the military with the mandate to be the first responders to any humanitarian crisis within the region. As Peter’s Nation was the richest in the region, it also had the best doctors which the neighbouring countries welcomed with open arms when tragedies occurred within the surrounding countries.

However while ostensibly the role of the MedicalCorps was to provide aid in the time of crisis, their real task was to inject nano capsules in the populace of the surrounding countries.

When war threatened to break during the great Foreign Worker riots, Peter’s Nation emitted the required frequency and the population within the surrounding countries started dying like flies. Since no one in the surrounding countries knew how to remove the nano capsules from the bloodstream, and none knew who was the next to die, the armies of the surrounding countries backed down.

It was Andrew’s technical brilliance and Peter’s Nation success in dealing with the threat of the Foreign Workers and surrounding armies during the riots that made Peter’s Nation the prime candidate to lead the developent and implementation of the Universal Tracking System. With that responsibility came great power and Peter’s Nation while small, was now able to exert tremendous influence on the affairs of the world.

The penultimate meeting was with the Director of the Culture Integration ministry.

“Hello Tom,” Peter greeted the Director, “Please take a seat.”

“Thanks for taking the time to meet me,” Tom returned the greeting.

“Let’s begin,” Peter instructed.

“This is a private meeting,” Tom raised his concern at the presence of Melissa.

“She is my Permanent Secretary,” Peter said, nodding to Melissa to take a seat beside him.

“I’m sorry Mr President, but it would be against established protocol to have this meeting with anyone else besides the President,” Tom insisted, getting up from his seat, “I’ll come back another day when you decide to follow protocol.”

“Sit down,” Peter firmly ordered the Director.

Not heeding Peter’s order, the Director walked calmly to the door.

“It’s fine Peter, ” Melissa said, getting up from her seat, reaching over to give Peter’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “The two of you have the meeting without me.”

Tom waited for the door to close firmly after Melissa left the room before starting, “As you may already know Mr President, Melissa …”

“Is one of the nurtured,” Peter completed the sentence for the Director. “Why can’t she be in this meeting if we are going to discuss her. She has the right to know what’s being planned for her.”

Ignoring Peter, Tom continued, “You are probably aware from your previous role as the Vice-President, two decades ago, after June 26th, two plans were put in place to ensure that such a tragedy would never befall the human race ever again. One was the Universal Tracking System, the other was the Cultural Integration program.”

“The brilliant scientist Andrew surmised that the key to make people not want to kill each other is to remove all concepts of the Other. He created the Cultural Integration program to create a group of individuals that everyone in the world could identify with; His theory was that if I identify with this person, and you who I see as an Other also identifies with this same individual, then you must be Not an Other and one of me and thus I would never have any quarrel with you worth killing for.”

Peter yawned, leaned back and closed his eyes. As the Vice-President for the last, recently murdered, President, Peter had been privy to his information that most Elites weren’t even aware of. The Director was not telling him anything new.

“Most of the Elites who know about the Nurtured program believe that the CI Ministry chooses a group of talented multi-racial youth and groom them to be multi-cultural Elites to be role-models for the average citizen of the world.”

Tom paused, trying to gauge whether Peter had caught what he was implying.

“Most Elites who know about the Cultural Integration ministry believe that we chart the lives of these amazingly gifted individuals from youth to death. They would be right, partly.”

Tom paused again, this time for dramatic effect. At every one of these briefings since he became Director, he enjoyed presenting the next sentence with a verbal flourish.

Peter looked at the Director. The Director was clearly enjoying himself at knowing something he believed Peter didn’t already know. What could it be, Peter wondered.

Tom having gotten Peter’s attention, continued, “The CI Ministry charts the lives of the Nurtured from birth to death.”

“You mean the CI Ministry chooses the Partners who are to mate with each other to produce the Nurtured, ” Peter probed.

“No, we create the Nurtured ourselves,” Tom replied, aware that he had captured Peter’s attention.

Peter leaned forward. Tom was clearing covering new territory now.

“What do you mean, you create,” Peter asked.

“After June 26th, Andrew created the Cultural Integration Ministry. Our first task was to create profiles of fictional individuals on Facebook, Reddit and all the major social networks. We gave these individuals names based on a wide range of permutations based on all the common names used by the various races, cultures and religions. Some of these fictional individuals were children of mixed marriages, some were children of racially similar parents. We gave some a religion, some religions. We made many more atheists. A little agnostic. Some experienced a Damascus moment and converted, professing their change online. We gave some an intellectual epiphany and allowed them to share their reasons for abandoning religion with their online friends. We hired some of the best digital artists and create a look for each of these individuals.”

“But the Nurtured are real people,” Peter asked quizzically, “Melissa is a real human being.”

Ignoring Peter’s interjection, Tom continued, “This wasn’t a one time process. Based on the interactions of our fictional individuals with the public, we started creating more, fine-tuning the profile and the look of each of these new individuals based on a whole set of multi-variate tests created by Andrew. The profile and look of Melissa Rachel Suihaimi Jacobs was our highest scoring test individual.”

“But like I asked earlier …”

“Let me explain further Mr President. As you should know, when the Partner Matching Status program was initiated, and the government of our great Nation mandated National Service for all our female citizens, we then had the technology to statistically determine with a high degree of confidence the genetic profile and potential of a child produced by two matched Partners. During the years between the PMS program initiation and June 26th, Andrew and his team had actually determined how to customize a child in the test tube, with the power to, with a 100% confidence interval, determine the genetic profile and potential of a child.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Peter said, glaring at the Director. Was Tom trying to pull a fast one on him, and what would be the point. “Melissa is twenty nine years old. She is older than the ministry.”

Tom had anticipated this question. Most Presidents when provided with the information Tom had just shared with Peter would inquire how it was possible for the companion Nurtured to be older than the Cultural Integration ministry.

“When we created the profiles of the individuals, we gave each of them ages from a range between five and fifteen. Once we determined who to be the best performing individuals, we would create them in the test tube. Then we would accelerate their age switching the gene that controls growth back to normal when the desired age was reached.”

“So, ” Peter said, realization slowly dawning on him, “Melissa is actually only twenty years old.”

“Actually, she is only fifteen years old. She was created online in the fifth year of the Ministry’s inception with an age of fourteen. Once we have proven her to be a desirable model, we created her and accelerated her age to be fourteen. All the Nurtured are orphaned. It was the easiest way to explain why none can remember growing up to their desired age. The throwaway explanation is that the loss of their parents was too traumatic an event.”

Peter leaned back on his chair. He was dating a fifteen year old.

Why was the Director telling him this. What was the President’s role in this matter?

“What power does the President have in this, ” Peter asked.

“None what so ever. The Cultural Integration Ministry exists above the President’s office. I do not answer to you.”

“Then who do you answer to?”

“The mandate created by Andrew. Only a handful of Elites know about the true nature of the Cultural Integration Ministry. Even the ordinary Trackables who are involved with the day to day running of the Ministry, the execution of the online testing and Nurtured creation do not know the full scope of what it means to be a Nurtured.”

“How is that possible?”

“Effective compartmentalization. And lies. Lots of it.”

“My team that does the online testing think they are experimenting to find the best candidate individuals from a pool of individuals who already exist. They sincerely believe that once we find the profiles that meet our criteria, the ministry take them into the program from the State’s bank of Partner produced children. The team does not know that these Nurtured are growth accelerated individuals. They buy the explanation that the trauma of losing parents prevents these Nurtured from remember their growing up years. The team promotes these Nurtured like Partner Parents would.”

“How about the scientists who have to create these Nurtured from the test tubes?”

“Only two Elites know about this aspect of the program. Sarah, the CEO of ManifestCorp and her chief scientist.”

“Remind me again the point of this briefing?”

“As President, it is your privilege to know about this program. It is in your vested interest to ensure that the Ministry gets the required funds each year.”

“Why should I care about the Ministry?”

“Firstly, it is an integral part of the plan to prevent another June 26th. You may not believe it, but it is. On a more personal note, while the citizens of our great Nation have voted for you, be under no illusions that they like you, much less love you. You are just the lesser of two evils. You will one day realize that you will need the citizens of our great Nation and the rest of the world to support and follow you into harsh new territory for public policy. When that day comes for your grand vision to be realized, you will need a Nurtured like Melissa Rachel Suihaimi Jacobs by your side. She will be your voice to the people. She will tell them she trusts you. That you are one of hers. And because you are one of hers, you will no longer exist as a mistrusted Elite, you will no longer be an Other. You will be, because Melissa Rachel Suihaimi Jacobs says so, one of Them.”

“What is it in for you?”

Tom smiled. Peter had reach this question faster than all the previous Presidents.

“The reason I tell most Presidents is that I believe in Andrew’s mandate for the CI ministry. That I aim to make the world a better place. For some Presidents, I even lie to them that I want a Nurtured by their side to help them. But you, Peter, Mr President, I will tell the truth.”

“Why?”

“Because you chose John as your Vice President and I have the same penchant for sweet little young girls.”

“How does the CI Ministry help you with that?”

“The technology to accelerate growth can also be used to retard, even totally eliminate growth. Sarah has been kind to me over the years, providing me Nurtureds that will never age physically.”

“She thinks it is for science,” Tom chuckled, “Your Vice President John is invited to join me to prove her otherwise. Besides, now that John is your Vice President, it is in your interest to stop him from indulging with the children of the Partners that vote.”

“I’ll think about your suggestion,” Peter said, standing up to shake Tom’s hand, “Thanks for today’s briefing.”

“Before we end the briefing, there is one last matter I would like to bring to your attention. Melissa Rachel Suihaimi Jacobs’ popularity has been waning with the resurgence of the Korean cultural exports. Our studies have shown that pairing her with a Spanish gentlemen will be the best and right option to boost her popularity back to its normal levels. Unfortunately for us Elites, we are not entitled to be part of the Partner Group Therapy program so I politely request that that you cease your relationship with her.”

“We are,” Peter for once hesitated to find the words he needed to say. What right did the Director of the CI Ministry have to tell him who he could or could not have a relationship with.

“In Love,” the Director said callously. “That’s none of my concern. I’m doing what’s best to fulfill the mandate. Melissa Rachel Suihaimi Jacobs will be having lunch with Como Lopez tomorrow. Please have your last fuck with her tonight.”

Tom got up from his seat and shook Peter’s hand.

“Remember Mr President, one last fuck. That’s all you get.”

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Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Had to memorize this speech about two decades ago. Never forgot the first line. Would always recognise the others.

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1.2. The First Love

1.2: The First Love

John looked at his phone. Amy was late. Again. He felt ridiculous in his Mandarin shirt and tailored pants, all dressed up proper for the concert, carrying a bouquet of flowers that had cost him one week of wages. Leaning against the pillar, he avoided the glances from curious passing strangers by constantly checking his phone.

Amy’s mom was the church’s librarian and John’s mother’s first friend when his mother sought refuge in the church from his abusive father.

“Lisa should stay here permanently, ” Arthur, the church’s secretary remarked when Deborah walked into the room.

“She won’t, ” Deborah, the church’s librarian replied, as she walked towards the sink.

“Why not, ” Arthur asked, “He keeps hitting her.”

“She loves him, and according to her, the Bible says a good wife must honor her husband, ” Deborah replied in a tone that betrayed the repetitive nature of this conversation.

“Only when he …”

“honors her first, ” Deborah completed the sentence for Arthur, rolling her eyes. Turning on the tap, Deborah placed the blood soaked towel under the running water.

It was easy to offer solutions and advice when outside of an abusive relationship. But usually for the person in it, for the person being abused, being asked to leave was more than just being asked to abandon the only relationship, albeit a highly dysfunctional relationship, he or she may know; you were asking the abused to abandon the last shreds of hope he or she was clinging onto and finally agreeing to let the last embers of promise in the relationship flicker and die.

“We can’t ask Lisa to give up hope in this relationship, ” Deborah tried to explain to Arthur, knowing too well what Lisa was going through, “without first giving her something else to hope for. Now, the only thing that is preventing her from killing herself is the hope that the marriage she had committed to will become the one that held such promise.”

“She’s dumb,” Arthur said, “every guy will promise to be better when the girl threatens to leave. It is always the same stupid cycle. You threaten to leave, he promises to be better. Begs you to stay, promises to change. So you stay. He becomes awesome for a while. Cooks the meals. Even washes the dishes. Massages your feet without needing to fuck after. Maybe even buy you that nice set of jewelery. Once you unpack the bag, he starts putting his feet on the table and demands food served. No more romantic massages, just straight rough fucking in the ass. Once you start putting the clothes back into the closet, he pawns the jewelery. Before long, you become the punching bag, again. Women don’t get it. Men will never change. We just do enough so you won’t leave.”

“As long as her husband treats little John well, ” Deborah said, wringing the towel dry, “she won’t leave. She will be able to tell herself that the family is doing well as long as John’s happy.”

One morning, when John was seven, his father left home for work and never returned.

Deborah got a job for Lisa in the church. Each day after school, John would play with Deborah’s daughter Amy at the back of the church’s office. As they grew older, both Amy and John grew closer, becoming the best of friends.

“Hey you, ” Amy’s voice interrupted John’s reminiscing.

John looked up from his phone and smiled at the face he had seen every day since that afternoon his mom brought him to the quaint church on the top of the hill.

“You’re late, ” John couldn’t resist saying, “the flowers are almost dead.”

“I’m sorry, ” Amy apologized, kissing John on the cheek, “the movie Septius took me to was longer than normal.”

“Septius, ” John mockingly repeated, “what a pretentious little name.”

“Don’t be envious, ” Amy took John’s hand, “we better hurry.”

“I’m not envious. I don’t care for being an Elite. I’m jealous.”

“Don’t be pedantic then, ” Amy said, giving John a little pinch on the arm, “and don’t be jealous. I’m yours.”

“Are sure you don’t want to do this, ” Amy asked, pulling the dress up to cover her breasts.

“Yes,” John replied, stroking Amy’s cheek, “we shouldn’t do this until we get married.”

“John, then let’s get married now.”

“We can’t. If we get married now, we won’t be able to qualify for Partner status.”

“We can do something else during National Service. We don’t have to be Partners.”

“We will lose the privileges.”

“Fuck the privileges. We’ve known each other since we were seven. Been together for five. We are practically married. Forget about the Partner status. We don’t need it. Let’s get married now.”

“Amy, you know I love you, but Mom needs me to be a Partner. If not, the State won’t allow her to withdraw her CPF savings for her retirement funds.”

“Ok, then if we can’t get married, why can’t we at least make love now.”

“The Bible says it is wrong, ” John replied, “Even what we just did was wrong. We shouldn’t have seen each other naked.”

“I can’t believe you gave him a blowjob,” John shouted at Amy.

“Why, why can’t you believe? Do you lack such imagination with things nothing to do with your god. Haven’t you seen a girl put a cock in her mouth. I put his cock in my mouth. It wasn’t that hard.”

“Why, ” John asked desperately, grabbing onto Amy’s shoulders and shaking her, “Why? We are a couple.”

“A couple that doesn’t fuck.”

“We can’t.”

“No, we can. You won’t,” Amy shouted venomously, “You won’t fuck your own girlfriend so a man had to do the duty you as a boy won’t do.”

“You know why I won’t. It is wrong.”

“What’s so wrong about having sex before marriage with the woman you love. Just because the Bible says so, ” Amy paused, twisting the last sentence into the gaping wound, “just because your Mom says so?”

“We can’t because sex is supposed to be done between a husband and a wife. After marriage.”

“Why,” Amy asked angrily, “Tell me why is it a man and woman who loves each other should only have sex after marriage.”

“Because then they would have officially committed to each other.”

“What sort of relationship does one enter in if not one that he plans to be committed to? If you need the stinking law or god to make our relationship a commitment, it is just a burden, a fucking obligation,” Amy screamed at John, years of frustration unleashed.

“I’m committed to you,” John pleaded, “not by obligation! I made the choice! It just isn’t official.”

“Official, ” Amy laughed, “You’ve already changed your Facebook status to be attached to me. To the whole world, that’s official. If one of our friends saw you out with another girl, they would shame you on Stomp. They would share the news on Facebook. Our whole fucking social circle will castrate you online, maybe in real life if you cheated on me. That’s fucking official.”

John sighed. Amy still didn’t understand. Once they were married, they couldn’t separate easily. By the sheer force of inertia and paperwork, they would have to work to make their relationship work, regardless of what problems may come. Marriage would narrow their options. People change their minds easily when they think there are easier options as solutions to a problem. If they have had sex previously, what then if they faced an issue in the relationship. There would be nothing to hold them together; the both of them could easily walk away from each other at the first sign of real trouble in the relationship and they would both be worse off after losing their purity by giving their virginity to each other.

“People do leave each other after marriage,” Amy continued, as if she had managed to read John’s thoughts, “they call it divorce. Sure, it is troublesome, and some privileges are lost from the State but people do it. Tediousness of separation should not be the only reason to keep two people together.”

“It isn’t just that. Sex before marriage makes us impure.”

“What the fuck logic is that,” Amy asked, raising a fist to hit John, “one does not become impure by sticking a penis into a vagina. It isn’t the fucking action that counts. It is what’s happening in the heart and mind when the action occurs. How can you, such a fucking intelligent scholar not see that. Impure is when you take a girl’s virginity just for some inconsequential scoreboard. Impure is when you think about another girl when you are with me. Impure is a whole host of things you fucking do behind my back to deal with repressed emotions of not being able to have sex with me just because your mom and book says so.”

Amy’s words stung. But John knew there was no point arguing. He knew he could never convince Amy that his way was the right way. But John knew he still wanted this relationship; Amy and him had been together for so long, and known each other longer. To end the relationship now would have been a waste of those years.

“I still love you Amy,” John said, reaching out to grab her close to him, “and I forgive you.”

Amy pushed John away. “You don’t get the right to forgive me! This is your fault.”

John looked angrily at Amy. He had been trying to be magnanimous in forgiving her and now Amy had the audacity to say her sucking and fucking another guy was his fault.

Staring chillingly at Amy, John asked, “Are you fucking kidding me! Are you sure all this is my fault?”

Amy froze. For a while Amy stared blankly at John, then she started crying.

“You right John, ” Amy said between her tears, “this is all my fault. I should have understood you. Should have waited dutifully beside you. Instead I went to behave like a slut and gave my precious virginity to a man who doesn’t care for me beyond being a point on his scoreboard. I’ve let you down. I don’t deserve you. You’re right. This is all my fault. I should have been stronger. I’ve ruined the relationship. My actions will always be a blight on our relationship no matter how much better things get.”

Amy turned from John and started walking away.

John knew he should have stopped her, but he was taking perverse pleasure in Amy’s concession. Finally Amy was expressing guilt. John told himself he would call on Amy the next day with some flowers and everything will be fine.

That day was the last time John saw Amy alive. Later that night, Amy hung herself.

Her suicide note was, “John’s right. This is all my fault.”

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8.1. The Girl In His Dreams

8.1: The Girl In His Dreams

Jade hurried excitedly down the tunnels. That strange Trackable boy had given her some bread again. Jade was pretty sure he was a Trackable because while hiding along the fringes of the FT-only areas, looking for a chance to sneak in and snatch some food, she had spotted the boy in it, casually walking around and conversing with other Trackables. If he was an Untrackable like her, the Catchers would have caught him.

Jade couldn’t wait to get the bread back to her sister. She kept her left hand on the wall beside her. The network of pitch black tunnels was a labyrinth; a person could easily get lost inside them if one didn’t know the rules to get to each of the camps. Even with a torch, it would be impossible to get to the camps if one didn’t know when to turn or which passage to choose. Besides a torch would only serve as a tracking signal for the nefarious Catcher who might have followed a stray Untrackable down into the tunnels. The darkness was the Untrackable’s best friend.

The wall to her left disappeared. Jade stopped and felt around to confirm the presence of a corner indicating that a passage opened up to her left. Jade aligned herself. She needed to make sure she walked straight, parallel to the passage opening. Ten steps forward, Jade’s left hand felt another corner. Making sure that this new wall was to the left of her, Jade continued walking forward, counting the number of steps she took. Thirty steps from the passage opening, Jade turned right. With the wall now at her back, Jade stretch her hands in front of her and started walking forward. There was nothing around her that her hands could feel.

Jade started to get concerned. She should have felt a wall in front of her after a hundred steps. Had she miscounted earlier?

Suddenly Jade spotted a light to her left. She was tempted to run to it but stopped herself. The light might flicker and die before she reached it and then she would be stuck, unsure how to proceed to regain the trail she needed to follow.

“Be calm,” Jade reminded herself, “you’re done this fine the last few times.”

Jade continued walking forward. She heaved a sigh of relief when her right hand felt the wall in front of her. Turning to her left, Jade kept the wall to her right and walked forward. The light was straight ahead now. It was coming from the camp.

The camp was in a nervous bustle. People were hurriedly packing stuff in bags. Something must have happened and they had to move again. Jade looked around and spotted her mother standing in a circle with the other Elders. She walked briskly to her mom.

“What happened,” Jade asked, interrupting the Elders who were deep in frantic discussion.

“Some Catchers came down here,” Jade’s mom replied curtly and dismissively.

Jade looked around. Jade should have noticed it earlier, but now that her mother mentioned the Catchers had been here, she realized there were distinctively less people in the camp.

“Who did they take,” Jade interrupted again.

“Your sister and five other girls,” Jade’s mother turned to face her, ordering, “Now start packing. We have to move before they come back with more collars.”

Jade obeyed her mother and ran to the corner of their camp. Now that the location of the camp had been compromised, it wasn’t necessary to maintain light discipline. Her little sister Jamie had been taken. Jade was old enough to know it wasn’t useful getting hysterical with panic about that fact. The priority was to move safely to another camp lest the Catchers came back while the camp was still around and more girls would be taken. Immediate safety for the remaining members of the camp was a priority.

Jade looked across the camp at where the Elders were standing. They were probably discussing the next spot to move to. Each time a camp was settled in, the Elders would send out scouts to find new possible spots to set up camp in the eventuality that a move was needed.

“Let’s go,” shouted Elder Koe as he walked towards the opening of a passage, “I’m unraveling this ball of rope. Hold onto it and make sure the rope remains taut. Elders, get into position and make sure your Juniors are behind you. Now snuff out the lights.”

Jade saw her mother walking towards the passage and quickly followed. The journey to the new camp had to be done in darkness. It would be pointless to do it with the lights as the Catchers who might be lurking could easily follow. Jade got behind her mom and lifted the rope from the ground with her right hand. Placing her left hand on her mom’s shoulder, she whispered into her mom’s ear her name.

Normally, it would be Jamie who whispered into Jade’s ear, but since Jamie had been captured, the voice that whispered into Jade’s ear belonged to someone else. As the camp had practiced moving countless of times, even doing drills to account for missing members in the camp, the voice was a familiar one. Jade felt strangly relieved when she recognized the voice of Melody. It was oddly comforting to Jade to know that their movement stack was only missing one person between her and Melody.

“Let’s go,” Elder Koe announced as Jade felt the rope being pulled forward.

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7.1. The Elites

7.1: The Elites

“Tell me, how the fuck did that upstart Peter win the election,” Julian Septius Wong asked, throwing the newspaper at his friend Christian Octavius Lim.

“Three simple reasons. His Vice-President John Tan, a very good fixer whose name we don’t know, and well, he’s Poweredup,” Octavius answered, neatly folding the newspaper that had been thrown at him.

“Damn it, I said no teeth,” Julian Septius Wong said, slapping his Untrackable, “Octavius, where did you get this new cunt? She isn’t very well trained.”

“That’s a silly question Septius,” Christian Octavius Lim replied, “You know there is only one official channel to obtain Untrackables for sex.”

“And no unofficial ones,” Julian Septius Wong said laughingly, winking at his best friend who was across him being comfortably well serviced by the succulent lips of the prettiest Untrackable Julian Septius Wong has seen. That Untrackable was clearly from an unofficial channel; those dishonest Catchers usually kept the best Untrackables for themselves and the Elites who owned the corporation.

“But back to that upstart Peter. Octavius, do we know what sort of Power he has?”

“From what our field operatives have figured out, it seems that he has the ability to reduce the confidence of other people.”

“That’s all? We should fucking put a bullet in his head. That would be easy.”

“No one we can hire will be able to make the shot.”

“How hard can it be,” Julian Septius Wong asked, pointing his index finger at Christian Octavius Lim, “You just walk up to him, press the barrel of the gun against his head, and pull the trigger. Bang! That fucker is dead.”

“Peter emits hormones and brainwaves that will cause some physiological and neurological change in our killer. The killer may be some hardened professional but when tasked to kill Peter, that professional will suffer some sort of breakdown. Muscle memory will be forgotten. The trigger may be pulled too early, or too late. Or the aim will be off. Or even before reaching Peter, the killer will have a panic attack.”

“That’s preposterous, ” Julian Septius Wong exclaimed in disbelif and anguished ecstasy, “Fuck it Octavius, your bitch made me cum before the meeting is over.”

“I did say she wasn’t very good at dicktation.”

“You should just let her expire,” Julian Septius Wong said, violently kicking the Untrackable away with his right leg.

“Don’t tell me you don’t have any left in the tank for a second round?”

“I’m not going to feed a worthless Untrackable! Anyway, what’s so special about this John Tan? Is he also Poweredup!”

“Yes he is,” Christian Octavius Lim replied, pushing his Untrackable’s head down in excitement, “John’s Power is even better. The fucking stupid thing is these two upstarts together have the best Powers any politician’s money can buy and they decide to be politicians that care for the people.”

“Useless fuckers. What’s the point of being an Elite if you are just going to fucking care for the people instead of caring about fucking them.”

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6.1. The Vanishing Kid

6.1: The Vanishing Kid

“You would think, ” Sarah said to her butler, “that as the wife of the man who created the Universal Tracking System, I would know where my son is.”

“The Locator indicates he is in his room, ” the butler replied.

“Is he, ” Sarah asked bemusedly. “Then why doesn’t he come and greet me.”

“Young master is probably raiding some area with his Clan.”

“That’s not a reason, barely an excuse. Send him a message over Facebook and ask him to come down. Log onto the Battlenet if you have to.”

“Take, ” Ian said, as he offered the plastic bag filled with bread to the female Untrackable.

The female Untrackable reached out apprehensively, and as her hand got nearer, suddenly snatched the bag from his grip. Grasping the bag against her chest, she slowly backed away from Ian, retreating towards the entrance of the tunnel.

“What’s your name, ” Ian asked.

The Untrackable didn’t answer as she disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel.

Ian’s phone beeped. It was a message from his butler over Facebook. Mother had been asking for him; Ian knew he had better reach home fast before mother barged into his room, demanding to check-in some quality family time. Ian just had to be careful that he didn’t pass any For Trackables (i.e. FT) only areas.

FT only areas were locations where Untrackables could never enter safely. His father had created a system that combined the Universal Tracking System (i.e. UTS) he had also built with heat sensing devices to detect whether any Untrackable was in a particularly zone; the way it worked was deviously simple. The system used the heat sensing devices to detect the number of humans in a zone and the location of each human. The system will compare the data from the heatmap with that from the UTS – any Untrackable in the zone would stick out like a sore thumb and the Catchers would swoop in to apprehend the Untrackable for 5Cs programmiing before being sold to the highest bidding Elite.

After the attacks on June 6th 2006, the world went insane with fear. Typically, it would be the day that the Allied Nations from World War 2 would celebrate D-Day – the day that began the end of the war. On 2006, it became a day that the terrorists forever changed the world.

Sep 11 was a day that shook the world. It had threatened to change the way people live their lives, one constantly under fear. However, as the days after Sep 11 became weeks, and weeks became months, and months became years, even with the London, Madrid and Bali bombings, the grip of terrorism became to loosen, and people got on with their lives, acknowledging terrorism, but no longer fearing it, it becoming the crazy brother that the family never talked about, never cared about and who was never invited for anything.

June 6th was the day the crazy brother got dangerous, crashing the family annual gathering and killing everyone. The terrorists conducted simultaneous attack on almost every major city of the world. Cities like Washington, Tokyo, Beijing, and almost all the capital cities of the world experienced nuclear attacks.

In the aftermath of the global attacks, the country members of the United Nations held referendums to decide if they should be part of the Universal Tracking System; not a single country rejected participation.

Ian’s father was the chief architect of the system, creating a system that used Google Glasses to feed audio and visual data to the UTS; a chip embedded in every human at birth fed bio data like hormonal levels and heart rates to Twitter; the crowning achievement from Ian’s father was the module that tracked the location and actions of every human at any given time.

The whole system had taken a decade to build. On the year of the UTS completion, Ian who was conceived in the aftermath of the attacks was ten. Growing up, while Ian rarely got to see his father, he spent almost every waking moment with his mom. His mother contrived to spend every moment with Ian, for fear that if she looked away, Ian would be a mirage that disappears for he was the son that was not meant to be.

Ian’s parents Sarah and Andrew were in San Francisco when the attacks occurred. While they survived the bomb that went off in San Francisco, Sarah had been informed by doctors that the radiation from the fallout had damaged her womb and she would never have any children. Like Sarah in the bible who laughed when God told her she would have a child, she laughed when she was told she was pregnant 9 months later. Ian was her miracle.

A year after the UTS had been been built and was being rolled out to the populace, Andrew died. Sarah was thrusted into the corporate world to assume Andrew’s role as the CEO of the company that had built the UTS. Ian became an orphan by virtue of having an absentee mother who was overwhelmed by the juggernaut she had to manage with the UTS being a reality for most citizens of the world; the implementation phase of the UTS took three years in the midst of storms of protests that swept across the world.

After a decade, while the scars of the attacks still remained, people had lost the initial fear that had compelled them to vote their liberty away in favor of security. Now that the insertion of chips under their skin and fusion of Google Glasses onto their corneas was a reality, humans were getting cold feet. It is one thing to believe in the rightness and justness of a policy when it is a vague proposition by a politician standing on a podium, another when the impact is being directly felt. Like the overly gregarious girl oozing come-fuck-me at a party filled with juvenile frat boys, flirting with the top jock for a comforable ride home, some segments of the populace were backing out from the agreement made a decade over when the time came to be fucked by the politicians.

As Ian raced home, avoiding the FT-only areas, he couldn’t help but smile at the delicious irony – the son of the creator of the UTS was able to, at will, remove himself from being tracked by the UTS. At this moment, Ian was an Untrackable. If this was the only thing he could do, it would have been a curse instead of a gift as any time a Trackable got off the grid, the Catchers would descend on the last known location of the Trackable. Ian’s unique ability also allowed him to fake his location and actions.

If only his father was still around, he could have someone to confide in and understand the reason for his amazing gift that allowed him the freedom to roam, the opportunity to find that Untrackable girl who had been appearing in his dreams. Absent of that oppotunity to understand, Ian had reduced his gift to a simple reason, he was a mutant, born to a woman with a radiated womb.

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2.2. The Leader

2.2: The Leader

Peter cut a lonely despondent figure in the center of the field. His soccer team had just lost another league game. The pass he made, just before the referee blew the final whistle, was inch perfect. His striker should have been able to control the ball easily before slotting it pass the opposition’s keeper. Yet, somehow his team’s number 9 had contrived to lose control of the ball, wasting the gilded chance to equalize the scores.

Peter looked towards the stands where the opposition team was celebrating with its fans. His team was trudging off the field, demoralized at another close defeat. Peter didn’t know what to do. This team had been champions in the inter-university football league for eight consecutive years before he joined as captain. Why couldn’t he, Peter, the most outstanding sportsman this university has seen, galvanize the team to victory.

“What am I doing wrong, ” Peter wondered, as he stared towards the sky.

“It isn’t your fault, ” a booming voice interrupted Peter’s thoughts. It was the opposition team’s coach. “Sometimes a captain needs the right team. And your team isn’t right for you.”

The coach walked up to Peter, offering his right hand. “If you are interested, I’m sure my university will be open to give you a place in the course of your choosing. Talent like yours is wasted here.”

Peter smiled, shaking the coach’s hand politely. “Thanks for the offer, I’ll think about it.”

Peter couldn’t believe it. Just a few months ago, he was signing up for the tennis competition for a lark on a dare by some friends, and today, he was on court facing the top seeded National Champion. Peter wasn’t bothered that he was two sets down, facing a serve for the match point; if anything, the pressure should be on his opponent. Peter a freshman who had just picked up tennis a few days before the competition had driven the National Champion to play exhausting tie-breaks for each of the previous two sets.

“Quiet, ” the umpired instructed. As a hush descended around the stadium, the Champion served. Peter returned with a vicious backhand volley down the line. The Champion futilely scrambled to reach it.

“Deuce, ” announced the umpire. Match point was saved!

The ball boy tossed two tennis balls at Peter. As Peter prepared to serve, he looked across the net at his opponent. At the start of the match, while shaking hands, Peter had seen in the Champion’s eyes a ferocious beast waiting to pounce on a little cub. Peter stared at the opponent as he bounced the ball on the court, their eyes meeting. Peter saw the earlier confidence had been drained away from the Champion; Peter knew that if he won the tie-break for the third set, this tournament was his to win. Looking at the Champion, Peter willed whatever was left of the Champion’s confidence away.

“Take that, ” Peter shouted to himself, as he unleashed a ferocious serve down the line.

“Ace, ” the umpired declared.

“I don’t think I can do it, ” a frustrated Alice shouted down at Peter.

“Yes you can, ” Peter shouted up. “I’m not going to let you down from the wall unless you reach the top.”

“It’s imposssible. The next grip is just too small.”

“Alice, be confident. Just go for it, ” Peter shouted encouragingly.

Alice looked down and sighed. The harness was biting into her thighs, and her hands were starting to swell. Peter had been trying to convince her to pick up rock-climbing with him and she had finally acquiesced even though sports wasn’t in her interest matrix.

Alice looked up at the tiny hold which needed her to pinch. For any chance to proceed up the wall, she had to reach that hold, something that she had been trying to do for the past half hour. She shifted her weight to her left foot which was resting higher than her right. Pushing off on her right foot, Alice straightened her left leg, releasing the hold her right hand had been grabbing, striving for the pinch hold with her weaker left hand. She caught it, but couldn’t get a firm pinch; off-balanced, Alice fell away from the wall.

“Let me down, ” Alice begged Peter.

“Swing yourself back to the wall and try again, ” Peter said, leaning his weight back to hold Alice in position.

“I don’t think I can do it Peter, ” Alice said, almost tearing.

“You think you can beat me, ” the boxing champion shouted at Peter. “I float like a butterfly …”

“and sting like a bee, ” Peter finished the overused phrase for the boxer, “If you can’t stop talking like a whiny bitch, can you at least be original?”

The boxer swung a punch at Peter.

“Is that the best you got, you washed out loser, ” Peter mocked the boxer, easily sidestepping the wild punch. “Getting old little bitch.”

The boxer lunged at Peter who backed away, evading each punch with ease.

“In case you are too dumb to realize, I’m toying with you, ” Peter said, dropping both his arms to the side, “I’m going to make it easy for you, see, no hands. Show me what you’ve got.”

The crowd roared in approval as Peter turned to face them, taunting the boxer by exposing his back. “Look, I don’t even need to look at you.”

The boxer swung with his right hand at the back of Peter’s head. Maybe if it was someone else other than Peter, the punch would have connected, but tonight, the seasoned boxer was inexplicably moving differently, every movement being slowed by a second guess, gone was the instinctive, precise and well timed footwork and punches from years of training. Peter shifted his weight to his right leg, pivoted on it, and pulled his left leg back to face the boxer, dropping his left shoulder to avoid the punch and swinging his right fist up. The uppercut connected with the boxer’s chin.

It was a knockout.

“Melissa, I don’t understand, ” Peter lamented to Melissa as he rested his head on her thighs. “I keep trying to bring out the best in my team, but I can’t seem to lead them to hit the targets we set together.”

“You will, ” Melissa said, comfortingly stroking Peter’s hair, as he looked up towards her.

“I know there are different types of employees. Those who can’t do and don’t know what to do, I understand I need to tell them what to do and how. Those who can’t do but are willing, I try to sell them a vision and guide them. Those who can do, but don’t want to do or don’t know what to do, I try to get them to participate. But what I really want is to delegate. I’ve failed at building a team I can delegate to.”

“Maybe your team isn’t right, ” Melissa asked.

“That can’t always be the reason. The wrong team. Maybe it is me. The wrong leader. The folks in this team, they all rank highly on LinkedIn. Some of the best scores ever. I assemble them together, shazam, and then suddenly, each and every one of them starts losing confidence in their own ideas, goals, and ability to execute. Maybe it is me, I’m like the horse dewhisperer.”

“I’ve never lost confidence in you and myself since we started conversing, ” Melissa said, leaning forward to kiss Peter.

“You’re different. You’re nurtured.”

Melissa pulled back from the kiss.

“I’m sorry, ” Peter said, sitting up, “I didn’t mean that as an insult.”

“I know, ” Melissa said, leaning back on the sofa. “It just hurts to be reminded that I’m not natural like you. A product of testing.”

“You didn’t have a choice in that, ” Peter said, his right hand reaching out to push Melissa’s hair behind her ear.

Melissa smiled as she closed her eyes, enjoying Peter’s stroking of her nape.

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3.2. Those Damn Korean Stars

3.2: Those Damn Korean Stars

“How is it that these fake Korean Stars keep getting more Likes than Melissa, ” asked the agitated Director as he stormed towards the conference room.

“Their willingness to improve under the knife helps them be more responsive, ” the aide answered breathlessly, trying to keep up with the pace of the Director, “Iterative improvements on an existing model.”

“How the fuck does none of the Facebookers not notice that the Korean star they love today is different from a year ago, ” the Director bellowed as he entered the conference room. The flustered aide quickly followed the Director into the room, shutting the conference door behind her.

“Small changes tend to blunt perception, ” Mike replied the Director, looking up from his iPad. The latest stats hadn’t been kind to Melissa. On the previous night, Google had published its yearly Zeitgeist showing that ‘Hot Korean Female Star’ was the top search term just above the terms ‘Melissa Rachel Suihaimi Jacobs’ and ‘Melissa Rachel Suihaimi Jacobs male Partner’. It was no surprise that the Director called for an emergency meeting.

“Look, we are given one simple task, to make Melissa the most beautiful woman in the world, ” the Director addressed his Culture Integration team, ” to make her the most likeable figure Facebook has ever known.”

Someone in the room coughed.

“And we are fucking this up. I want improvements to our stats!”

“Let’s change her name, ” someone from the far end of the room offered nervously.

“How the fuck is that a good idea, ” the Director shouted, “We spent millions in testing …”

“Actually, Lynette has a point, ” Mike interjected, “our latest stats show Melissa doing badly with the Hispanic community. If we added …”

“Melissa Rachel Suihaimi Jacobs Speedy Gonzales, ” the Director mockly directed his suggestion to Mike.

“No, Melissa Rachel Suihaimi Jacobs Lopez, ” Mike said confidently.

“And how do we suddenly add one more Pronoun to her already mouthful of a name, ” the Director asked, continuing what was beginning to be a private conversation.

“We marry her off, ” Mike replied, “to a high scoring Hispanic male Partner.”

“And you have someone in mind?”

“Como Lopez. His LinkedIn ASS score is a 9.5. His job as Minister of …”

“He isn’t nurtured by us. How do we control him?”

“We barely can control Melissa, ” Mike answered candidly.

The Director sat down at the head of the conference table, leaning back against the chair as he comtemplated Mike’s suggestion. Tension filled the room as silence replaced the earlier intense discussion. Had Mike been too honest? In the recent months, Melissa had been taking small liberties with the script. Mike’s answer to the Director had been the first public admission among the team that Melissa was slowly exerting her own independence.

After a few uncomfortable minutes, the Director leaned forward, and faced Mike, “Get someone from the Partner Matching Status department and make sure the two of them meet at the next SDU lunch.”

Turning to the rest of the team, “I want some short term improvements. Lynette, get Z and tell him to stop running those damn sponsored Korean ads on Facebook.”

“They could be bidding more than us for those ads, ” Lynette said, aware that she had just given a lame excuse when the Director glared at her.

“Tell him the CI Ministry wants Facebook to stop running those damn ads. The fucking ad auction algorithm is a black box. Just run our stories at the same price we have been bidding. I don’t care about his business.”

Turning to his aide, “Book a lunch appointment with Anne.”

“Anything else, ” the Director asked as he got up from his seat and walked towards the door. The aide quickly got up and opened the door for him.

“Another thing, the rest of you better start running some tests. Melissa will get old and we need a new better nurtured model, ” the Director instructed before leaving the room.

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5.2. The Girl Everyone Wanted

5.2: The Girl Everyone Wanted

Even if he hadn’t researched the new couple on LinkedIn, Mike would have known that this was their first Dinner. Firstly, they looked the part of being new additions – young, earnest and palpably excited at attending a Dinner. Secondly, the male Partner was grinning like a Cheshire cat, as his eyes greedily feasted on the other female Partners in the room.

“Hi, I’m Mike, ” Mike introduced himself, offering his hand to the male Partner.

“I’m Ted, ” Ted shook Mike’s hand enthusiastically, “and this is my female Partner Jessica.”

Mike turned and faced Jessica, offering his hand. Jessica smiled shyly without taking it.

“Damn, ” Mike thought. The moment he had seen Jessica, he had shifted his thoughts away from Cynthia, even refusing his regular Dinner companion Lynette when she offered her hand. Mike had checked Ted’s Achievement Status Score on LinkedIn. Like most of the other male Partners at the Dinner, Ted scored a 7.6. There were a few male Partners with scores above and below 7.6, but all of them were within a .3 deviation from the median. The usual female Partners at the Dinner had a median score of 8.1, also with a .3 deviation.

Jessica was different. She was, according to LinkedIn, a 9.0. And when Mike saw Jessica, dressed in her stunning black gown, enter the room, he immediately knew why Jessica was scored so highly. But it didn’t make sense.

Attendees at each Dinner were carefully chosen by the State. Partners at each Dinner were supposed to have the same ASS scores unless it was within the accepted deviation. This, as the seminal paper ‘The Improbability of Monogamy’ had stated, was the key to remove jealousy and envy from relationships within a group.

“Someone at the State Partner Matching Status department fucked up, ” Mike thought, as he verified the ASS scores on LinkedIn again, “there is no way Ted with a 7.6 score deserves to be paired with a female Partner like Jessica.”

“Her score must be a mistake, ” Lynette whispered to Megan, “LinkedIn’s ASS algorithm must have failed to account for some variable.”

Whatever the cause of the obvious mistake, Jessica’s presence at the Dinner was becoming a disruptive influence. All the male Partners were offering their hands, and being spoiled for choice, Jessica was delaying accepting any of them.

Mike sensed the other female Partners getting upset. Usually, by the end of the first hour of the Dinner, most Partners would be paired up, deep in conversation. Today, however, with the presense of Jessica, after three hours, all the male Partners were still busy vying for Jessica’s attention, all of them as a matter of pride wanting to take Jessica’s Dinner virginity, with the other female partners left to converse among themselves. Only Ted had been paired up with Lynette early on in the first hour; they had already finished conversing and had proceeded to the fucking, Lynette’s loud moans an inconvenient reminder that the other Partners were still waiting to be paired up.

Mike decided to break away from the group of male Partners surrounding Jessica, and walked towards the sofa where Megan was sitting, idly peeling her nails.

“Hey Partner, what are you thinking, ” Mike asked as he sat beside Megan, putting his right arm around her.

“A lot of things. But I rather be conversing.”

“Well, let’s converse, ” Mike said, giving Megan’s right shoulder a little squeeze with his right hand.

“You don’t have the expertise to converse with me on the topic I’m keen on tonight, ” Megan remarked despondently.

“I’m not stupid, ” Mike said.

“But you don’t know anything about habit forming and choice architecture, ” Megan blurted in exasperation, oblivious to the pain in Mike’s voice, “and that’s the domain knowledge I need in my conversation tonight.”

“I have been reading about it, just yesterday I finished the book ‘Nudge’, ” Mike countered.

“You read ‘Nudge’, ” Megan asked incredulously.

“Yes, I did. Why are you so surprised, ” Mike asked.

“That’s not related to your area of specialization, ” Megan said, “why would you bother reading it?”

“I wanted to understand the work you have been doing in trying to get the Untrackables integrated back with the rest of us. I even downloaded the app Lift to do some testing.”

Megan turned to look at Mike, taking her eyes away from the group of male Partners surrounding Jessica.

“Why, ” Megan asked again, already knowing the answer Mike would give.

“Because I love you. And I’m interested in your intellectual pursuits despite our interest incompatibility, ” Mike replied, leaning in to kiss Megan. Megan responded, locking lips with Mike.

“Let’s go home, ” Megan said, as she got up from the sofa, “I want to make love to you first before we start conversing.”

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