Saturday, November 29, 2008

Post-apocalyptic Malaysia

The Chronicles of Professor Merdeka
Part 1: The Mission

by Hazlan Zakaria 

It is as if the universe herself is weeping, and the steady rain her frequent teardrops. All around the dead city resounds a torrential downpour - it is raining cats and dogs. If there are still cats and dogs around anymore.
     And through all this, through the wet haze and curtain, through this tableau of man-made madness and nature's wrath, a solitary figure can be seen flitting in and out of the ruins, gingerly making his way through the long dead monuments of the city once known as Kuala Lumpur.
     His name is Chong, a Baba Mercenary operating out of Bastion Penang, one of the few remaining strongholds of humanity upon this peninsular that was once called Malaysia.
       A sparse and spare man, Chong seems to blend into the background as he carefully picks his way across the city, his form, colour and feature fading into whatever background that he happens to be upon. This is as much a virtue of the visual dispersion field projected by his Bayang-Bayang Scout Harness, or as most who know him feel, stems from his silent and spare personality. Admittedly, it is this minutiae about his person that makes him one of the most sought after mercenary scouts in the 14 Bastions. Silent on and off the wasteland, he can be trusted to get to places most people can't and to keep his mouth shut about those adventures thereafter - one of the reasons why he was chosen by Professor Merdeka for his often strange, exotic and nigh unexplainable missions.
       Orphaned after the Great Evacuation, Chong was raised in an Orphanage in Bastion Penang. After he reached his majority, he served his compulsory time in the Defense Forces and then freelanced his services as a mercenary. Handpicked during his Defense Forces training to serve with the elite Bastion Scouts, Chong possessed unique abilities, which were recognized early, and were augmented with the grueling Bastion Scouts training regimen. He was one of three recruits to survive the training from the original number of 60, and he was top of his class.
      Chong has been spending his early mercenary days flitting in and out of the wasteland on missions for clients. Missions large and small, legal or extra legal, they all meant naught but another job to Chong. Now though, he mostly spends his time running wasteland missions for the eccentric Professor Merdeka.
      The two hit it off after an escort mission which saw Chong chaperoning the good professor on one of his outdoor trips. No one knows what bond lies between the two, but most would guess that the professor appreciates Chong's discretion and exceptional ability; while Chong simply likes the fact that the Professor, a silent and often thoughtful man himself, never bothers him with any questions nor frivolous conversation.
      Chong pauses a moment from his arduous trek, and seeks shelter under a ruined structure which lies opposite an empty expanse in this crowded stretch of ghostly buildings, taking a breather and fixing his bearings. He takes out his PDA and punches up the digital map that Professor Merdeka has provided him. It is, surprisingly, a very detailed street map of old Kuala Lumpur, a dead city that to most lives only in distant memories and historical epics.
      Despite his circumspect exterior, even Chong sometimes wonders about Professor Merdeka. How does he get all the extremely accurate information about the time before the Great Evacuation? Some of the things he knows about the wasteland seem impossibly correct and on the dot. Many also question his wealth.
     Indeed Chong knows that Professor Merdeka sometimes brings back wealth in precious metals and stones from his treks into the wasteland. He could pinpoint locations in which hoards of treasures can be found, with amazing accuracy. Most times this is based on directions from a collection of mouldy paper printings with simple maps and pictures of gems and jewellery. For some reason many of the buildings that hide these treasures often carry signs proclaiming the names Habib and Poh Kong.
      More interestingly no one seems to know whence the professor comes. The earliest records of the professor is of him suddenly turning up at Bastion Putra in what was once the Malaysian State of Selangor - without any point of origin.
     This is strange because every living man and woman (children, as well) , and those born thereafter, are carefully recorded in the census after the Great Evacuation. While most would expect chaos and a total collapse of governance after the fall of the old civilization, the opposite actually happened, as the few remaining survivors came together to work for a better future.
      The census is important, for it keeps track of population movements and where and how much to channel aid and resources. So everyone would have been on it. But the professor never was... until the day he showed up.
      Chong shrugs off his curiosity. He trusts the professor too much for that. Indeed, the man is like a father to him, always with a kind word, asking Chong to his home and spending time with his family.
      A sudden gust of wind disturbs the monotony of the rain, dispersing its pattern and creating wrinkles in its normally smooth rhythm. Chong drops his PDA and readies his weapon. Stonily scanning the horizons, he knows that the mutants don’t usually hunt during the day, but you can never be too cautious.
      After making sure that all is well, Chong shoulders his weapon and returns his attention to the map on his PDA, taking his bearings: the hill near the clearing and the tall flag pole upon what was once green turf.
      It suddenly hit him where he is - he is standing near Dataran Merdeka.
      Chong took a moment to breathe in the moment. Even for him, this is a hallowed place.
     He no longer remembers what it was that this place stood for in the old land of Malaysia. The significance of which is long lost to the muddy memories of his schooling years. What it was no longer matters now.
     What is important is what it is to the survivors living still in the 14 Bastions.
    This is Dataran Merdeka. The last stand, where the last Prime Minister of Malaysia and his entire cabinet died to a man (and woman), under arms and side by side with ordinary soldiers, as they fought to hold back the maddening tide of the mutants – merely to buy extra time for the surviving citizens to evacuate the doomed city.
Chong remembers...
He shall never forget...
He can never forget...
For he was one of the last of the children whisked away to safety by helicopters that were meant for the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.
The Prime Minister was already on board and so were the members of his cabinet, when the last of the EUROCOPTER Dauphin choppers that were meant for the evacuation was shot down before they could land.
     The evacuation ground to a halt and all the refugees would have died, along with the soldiers that manned the last stand.
     The Prime Minister had looked at Chong and the bunch of refugees with him, and smiled. He then jumped off the chopper and signaled for his cabinet to do the same. He had ordered the pilots to take the refugees instead.
     As the refugees were boarding the chopper, the Prime Minister had looked on gravely. Looking up at the sky with clear eyes, he laughed a bitter laugh and picked up a rifle and cocked it, nodding to his cabinet as they, too, picked up a weapon, each with resignation stoically portrayed on their faces.
     Chong, a small child then, the last to board the chopper, had turned and looked at the PM. "Are you coming with us sir?" he asked. The Prime Minister smiled, looked at him kindly and said, "No, you go on, son, we’ll wait for the next one."
     Then the Prime Minister uttered words to Chong that as a kid he never understood. Now though he knows what the Prime Minister wanted to say. Indeed, he can still hear those words echoing in this hallowed place:
"Remember this day... remember us. We have done a lot of wrongs. Heck, we are the ones that started the mutant plague. Even if not directly, we are responsible, I am responsible. But this is all that we can do. This is all that we can give you - a better future. Our time is now, our time is gone. It is yours now... make better use of it than we did. Good luck!"
And then the roar of the choppers lifting off obscured the rest. That was the last Chong or anyone else saw of them and everyone with them.
© 2008 Hazlan Zakaria

Hazlan Zakaria: This story was written after a particularly hectic journey through KL on foot and on various public modes of transportation - driving in KL proper is not one of my strong suits.

The actual seed of the story is the experience of that trudging, as well as my disappointment/disillusionment with our leaders, as they appear to create problems for us citizens instead of doing their jobs and solving our problems.

I was wondering about the old days when leaders actually took up weapons to fight for the nation they served.

This work in progress is intended to preface a set of "Professor Merdeka" stories set in the future, in a post-apocalyptic Malaysia.

Hazlan Zakaria is an aspiring word warrior and trainee philosopher king, a man and his pen, with a keen mind, a bag full of strong opinions, an overly large vocabulary and a penchant for poetry and the rant.

He is at the moment being patiently trained to fill in the shoes of Journalist and Junior Editor at an online current affairs site, of which he is currently the webmaster.

Hailing from the north, he has been in several jobs across several industries, among them property development, construction, aquaculture, F&B, advertising, PR and IT.

Writing for him is a lifelong pursuit, as well as a passion. He has recently collaborated with friends in Poetry Underground to publish their first poetry collection entitled Voices From The Underground.

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