One thing you discover when you work as a mechanic for as long as I did is the fact that customers could sometimes come in with some strange requests. Another thing you discover is that the real money is in doing things that may be considered a ‘little’ illegal.
Switch off the safety feature and allow the car to fly above the speed limit? Install extra bright blinking lights that may or may not distract other drivers? Turn off the driver security scan so that someone without a license can drive the vehicle? For the right amount of money, all these features could be available.
Of course there will be times when things goes beyond just being a ‘little’ illegal. Even in a surveillance state like Singapore, criminality exists and over the years I had a few run-ins with the law. Nothing too serious though, they were all over a few minor incidents. Sometimes my brush with the law had nothing to do with me. That was how I met Howard Djajadi.
He was a police officer when we first met but he was a strange one. Unlike modern police officers who depends on security bots and cameras to do the job, Howard like to walk the beat. He prefers to speak to you face to face instead of through a holographic image. He prefers to look at a crime scene in person instead of using a 3D rendering of the location. In short, he was old-fashioned. Maybe that’s why I liked him.
He came to the workshop I was working at to ask some questions about sky climbing. Some rich girl got herself killed while playing a game of ‘Sky Climb’ and Howard was trying to track down the workshop who did the modification to her car. Despite their flying function, normal vehicles are not airplanes. They weren’t designed to fly at higher altitudes and all of them has a limiter to prevent them from flying beyond a certain height.
In ‘Sky Climb’, the drivers would fly as high as possible and the driver who flew the highest wins. Most of time, drivers would be smart enough to pull out of the climb once they reached their vehicle’s limit but this girl didn’t. The genius managed to get someone to turn off her vehicle’s height limiter and then flew her vehicle above her vehicle’s capabilities. The vehicle lost power, shut down and went into a nosedive. Most drivers prepared for this and modified their vehicles to reboot during a dive. Hers did not.
To be fair, the mechanic who modified her vehicle did his job. Whoever did her vehicle set it up for quick reboot but the girl panicked and did not manage to reboot her vehicle in time before crashing into the ground. It was more driver’s error than anything else but when the dead person is a beautiful young girl from a rich family, you don’t blame the driver.
The police got involved but the workshop I was working at wasn’t the one who modified the vehicle. We didn’t know anything but Howard did make a good impression on me. He seems to know his job and more importantly, he seems to genuinely care about the victim’s family. We got to know each other and I found out he was originally from the mega-city of Jakarta. Howard was also an officer of the law there but he stepped on the toes of a few powerful people and was transferred to Singapore as punishment.
At least that was the way it was officially framed.
Howard never told me what he did, but whatever it was his superiors must have approved because they transferred him to Singapore in order to protect him. A few years after we met, he retired and became a private investigator. He also got himself a reputation as the man to approach when you want someone found. As I had no experience in this field, Howard was the man I approached when I wanted to find someone who could tell me something about the cards.
I took a risk and showed Howard one of the cards. Rather surprisingly, he didn’t seen razed by them. A raised eyebrow and a strange look but no questions. I suspected then that he had seem them before and considering how fast he managed to find a person, I may have been right.
The meeting was arranged at a restaurant on the eleventh floor of The Tangamak Building. I landed my car on the vehicle platform after a fifteen minutes wait. The platform I landed on had seen better days. It was dark, dirty and the safety railings on the platform look less than sturdy. All these plus the short wait told me all I needed to know about the building. Despite the shiny thirty meters holographic advertisement on the side of the building, the skyscraper had seen better days.
I took the lift and as the transparent lift went down, I looked at the crowd below. I looked at the people jostling along Marina Boulevard and could help but pity them. Countless people fighting for room, yelling and elbowing each other just to get to the next sale before the person next to him. Many vehicles were flying above the crowd and all of them were speeding from neon lit building to another. Everyone rushing as if being the first to get the latest fashion and gadgets would somehow make their life a little more bearable. Several stories up, they all look like little ants going through life without aims or dreams. I thought of that for a moment and laughed.
I scoff at myself. Who am I kidding? I’m no genius inventor. Who am I to think that I’m superior to those ants below me? I’m just a guy who got biologically lucky. If not for my inheritance, I would be one of those ants below, going through life without a chance of achieving my dream. I know almost nothing about my father outside what my mother told me, but he did give me the System. He did remember me enough to help me achieve my life goal and for that I am grateful. I only hope all my half-siblings feel the same.
The System had hinted more than once that I wasn’t the only person who had inherited the System and I hope that they were all striving for their own dreams like me. I never knew it before but a life without dreams is not worth living.
The lift arrived at the eleventh floor and I tore myself from the view. I head inside the building and immediately saw the restaurant. Time to see this person Howard found. I gave my name to the hostess and found that I was expected. I followed her inside and as we walk, I looked around the restaurant. This was the first time I had went to The Veil and looking around, I could see why. The restaurant looked expensive.
The whole of the restaurant was lit by a low ambient light. The dark wood flooring, leather chairs and restaurant dining tables looked like those you would find in a high class restaurant. The walls were tastefully decorated with several oil paintings and the center of the restaurant was dominated by a small fountain. It was without question one of the most best looking restaurants I had ever been to. I could also see why Howard choose this location.
Despite the great décor, the restaurant was relatively empty with only a few of the tables filled. In fact, the tables were placed a distance apart from each other. In a way, I appreciated that. I had been to places where you barely had enough room to walk to your table. As a waitress glided past me, I discovered another oddity about the restaurant. There were no robots or drone.
Most restaurants and cafes nowadays did away with human servers but this restaurant did the opposite. I had no time to ponder about this though as we had arrived at my table. I was shocked.
Howard was there wearing one of his signature polo shirts but the woman at the table wasn’t who I was expecting. Maybe it was popular culture at work but I was expecting either a grand old man with a thick beard or some young punk in a leather jacket and a purple Mohawk. The woman sitting at the table was neither. She was a conservatively dressed middle-aged Malay woman. She wore a loose long sleeved gray dress and even had a tudung! I sat down in a daze as Howard did the introduction.
“Tobias Wong, this is Nor Avante binti Mawi.”
We both politely nodded at each other and an awkward silence descended. I had no idea what to say; how do you even begin a conversation like this? Luckily, the woman broke the ice.
“You’re the engineer? You are the one who own the cards?”
I nodded and asked back. “You’re a magician?”