Resurrecting the Singapore River
By Cheyenne Alexandria Phillips
PM Sharon De Cruz's National Day Rally Speech, 2215
"One hundred years ago, the flood waters fully devoured the land that Singapore, our Singapore, once stood upon. When the ice caps and glaciers started to melt, and the flood waters started creeping onto our coasts, our forefathers learnt quickly that pushing the waters back would be a close-to-impossible task. Instead of fighting it, they funded the technology for floating structures to be used as homes and offices. Their foresight allowed for the technology to be developed and usable by the time the floodwaters covered the island.
Singapore is no longer an island. What they saw as their future is now very much part of our present. Locally-developed Stable Floating Structures, or SFSs, are now a key feature of our everyday lives, not just at home but all over the world. We have to be eternally grateful to the generations before us, for they adapted well, saving our people while securing our livelihoods and our economic stability. We were one of the few nations to have successfully relocated all of its people above the surface of the flood waters.
One hundred years later, here we are today. Generations later, our technology has advanced and our society continues to evolve. Our forefathers would be proud of all we have accomplished following their footsteps.
Now, we need to find a way to repay them.
While no Singaporean was lost to the floodwaters, our history, culture and heritage have drowned. One hundred years ago, the main priority was the safety of our people, as it rightfully should be. But key monuments that have witnessed Singapore's history have not been seen for over a century. Who are we if not our past?
It has been 100 years since we lost our island and every historic structure with it. Now, with over 250 years of independence, it is time to mark a new chapter in our lives. Over the next 50 years, the government aims to resurrect the monuments of our great-great-great-grandparents and bring them to the surface. With determination, hard work and a great amount of skill, we hope to be able to elevate more than 100 monuments before Singapore sees 300 years of nationhood.
I see no better place to start than with the Singapore River, a feature of the city that has played an integral part in nation-building since before we became a nation. It was where we had our first port, where the financial district once stood and where the first Singaporeans made their bread and butter. It is only fitting that it rise from the depths of the floodwaters to the surface and be given a place of honour in our modern world. Advancements in our technology are underway to make this a reality.
In anticipation for this exciting development, the Ministry of Education will roll out new history modules featuring realistic Edu-graphics of the Singapore River throughout its past. These efforts aim to provide our young people with a sense of understanding of the river's importance in our history and what to expect when we finally do bring the river to the surface.
At our very core, we are and will always be a port city. Bringing the Singapore River back will be a reignite our resilience, resourcefulness and ingenuity. It will allow us to reflect on our past while we plan for the future.
I look forward to walking down the banks of Singapore River with you my fellow Singaporeans. Thank you and Happy National Day.
Primary Education Facility, Lower Primary History Classroom, 2216
"Here it is, everyone. The Singapore River."
Eva slid her fingers along the holographic screen attached to her wristband. She had already uploaded the configurations from her Personal Educational Device (PED) to make things more convenient for her. With just a few simple controls, her classroom morphs into a black-and-white rendering of a crowded and polluted waterway.
"Ms Lim, can you remove the scent aspect, please?" cried one of her students, pinching her nose.
"I think the Edu-graphics chip malfunctioned," exclaimed another.
Eva worked very hard not to contort her nose. She and a few colleagues tested the holograms a few weeks before. Eva was mentally prepared to bring this module to her classroom even if her nose still needed some time.
The rendering optics was great, much more opaque and realistic than the holographs she was using for her class last year. It impressed Eva. Unfortunately, the scent and audio renderings also had an upgrade. Her awe for the visuals could not mask her disgust for… everything else.
They really went all out when they said 'realistic', she thought. Even after her initial experience, Eva couldn't control her gag reflex when the stench of rotting human and industrial waste overwhelmed her nostrils.
"Please, we are dying here, Ms Lim!"
Me too, Eva quickly turned off the scent aspect in the hologram. It was met with a big collective sigh of relief. She took in a deep fresh breath before she continued.
"Alright, now that everyone has the space to clear their noses, let's take a look around."
The river was busy with activity of half-clothed men carrying sacks off what looked like simple wooden vessels into two or three storey rectangular shaped buildings. The river water splashed on to the pavement in drips of deep grey. You would think with all the holographic technology we invented, we would have been able to at least add some colour to this! Eva scowled in her head.
Educational Technologists never understood how a class worked. They never realised that it were the Educational Officers that had to deal with the faults in the Edu-graphics. Eva knew, soon enough, someone was bound to ask a question about the colouration.
"Ms Lim, why were people in the past black-and-white? Did colour have to be invented or something?"
There it is. "No, Mei Ling. In the past, cameras could not capture colour, only the outlines and shadows of things. Eventually, they became advanced enough to do so. This rendering must be based on various old black-and-white photographs."
Before Mei Ling could ask another question, Eva swiftly instructed her class look around and make some observations they could share.
The first thing that perplexed them was that there were no ARMs (Automated Retrieval Machines) at this port. People had to physically hull their goods onto the shore. Another observation was how vessels seemed to be dependent on the water currents and did not rely on vibration technology that moves modern vessels and keeps the SFSs stationary.
Her students turned very unforgiving when they soon realised that a lot of labour pre-independence was unskilled. Eva had read the material on the module prior to the lesson. She shared her student's initial distain for such back-breaking work. She had to remind herself not to pass judgement on Singapore's forefathers, especially in front of the students.
As Educational Officers, you must set an example for our youth. Brace yourselves. You may find the images … grotesque. Eva recalled the words the Minister of Education used in the live holograph briefing weeks ago. She thought the Minister was joking, but after running through the course material, she realised it was not an exaggeration.
We will always refer back to Singapore's history, even as we move forward. We must work to building a community that is understanding of our roots and is proud of them. History will have much to teach us. She recalled the Minister closing his briefing.
Eva thought it was rubbish. History was drowned circumstance.
History was never Eva's first choice as a subject to teach. She wanted to work in the Engineering Department. Everyone does. That is where they get to play with the newest gadgets and the kids learn actual skills that will push them into the 23rd Century. Last year's Primary 6 class developed the foundation for the technology Eva was using in her classroom today! That's how fast the Engineering Department worked.
Unfortunately, as a Junior Educational Officer, she did not get her first pick of subjects. Eva was now stuck here, in a terrible rending of Singapore River long before anyone she loved was born.
She walked her students down an uneven stone path she was told was called 'Boat Quay', pausing in front one of the buildings. "Alright everyone, this is a 'shophouse'." Eva's mouth twisted around the word. "From its name alone what can you tell about it?"
"It is a shop… and a house?"
"That's right. This part, facing the river would be the shop front. That's where people would go in to purchase goods and necessities."
"People used to go to shops!" One of Eva's students exclaimed. This caused a growing murmur of confusion to build around her.
"Can we go inside?" Mei Ling shouted excitedly above the noise.
The collective murmur stopped. Eva could feel the anticipation focus on her next move. She took a deep breath and raced through her explanation:
"We cannot. We do not have a rendering of the inside of a shophouse available yet. There are a few 3-D models that have been developed to show to you. However, you will need to finish an assignment first. You will need to design a 3-D model of the inside of the house. What do you think it will look like? I have already uploaded a blank shophouse model for you to fill. Have them ready next lesson and we will compare your models with what it actually looks like."
"Why don't you just show it to us now and be done with it Ms Lim?" Mei Ling spoke back.
Eva swiped a few controls and the holograph flickered off. She was back in her classroom again, a triangular space with a large-glass window on one side. "Mei Ling, it would be interesting to see what everyone comes up with, right? We will have everyone present their versions and then I will show you an accurate 3-D model." Eva put on her best Educational Officer smile, the one she used often for calls with parents.
Eva's wrist watch vibrated with a welcomed reminder. She quickly dismissed her class for their next lesson so she could go off and enjoy her scheduled break.
Eva was packing up her things when she heard Mei Ling's voice from the door.
"Ms Lim, do you think they will be able to bring the river back?"
Eva shrugged. "I don't know, Mei Ling. The government seems very determined."
"Do you think it will be all smelly and dirty like we saw in the rendering?"
"Hard to say, Mei Ling. What would you like it to be?" Eva struggled not to show her annoyance. She kept her voice steady as she gathered her things.
"I don't know," the 10-year-old explained. "But if it turns out to be just like what you showed us, I don't want it to be resurrected."
Primary Education Facility Staff Office, 2216
Eva collapsed at her desk. It was surrounded by holographic walls with pictures of students, colleagues, family, as well as a running task list that her Head of Department and Principal could view and add to. Before her class, it was a reasonable length of a handful of routine items: grade assignments, update score sheets and send student reports. Now, it looked like it grew at a rate she recognised as bacteria population growth.
Eva adjusted a few settings on her PED and the walls powered down. As she massaged her temple, she signed deeply. She really needed some caffeine.
She slid open a drawer and pulled out a long plastic tube attached to a dispenser. She twisted the blue protected cap off the receiving end to reveal a long slim needle. She rolled up her sleeve and tenderly inserted it into the small metallic ring on the inside of her left wrist. Here was where the needle would meet her veins and periodically pump small amounts of her favourite Kopi O Kosong into her blood stream. Eva was tempted to adjust the frequency of the pumps to give her more of a kick but already the machine was set almost to the max.
"Long day?" Raj popped down at his desk directly opposite hers.
"When isn't it?"
He reached over and stopped Eva's caffeine flow.
"You really should cut down. It's not healthy."
"It is only a couple of millilitres a minute. I'm not going to overdo it."
"Still, I don't believe they let you put that… machine in here."
"People still have coffee you know?"
"Yeah, like my grandparents. You really should just have a single caffeine capsule in the morning and it will keep you going to whole day. Just look at me."
"Coffee has caffeine," Eva argued.
"Yeah, and milk and sugar and all sorts of other impurities."
"This is Kopi O Kosong. No milk. No sugar."
"How do you expect to be transferred to the Engineering Department if you keep using vintage machines?"
Eva studied Raj for a moment. "There is no new vacancy right now…. Unless you decide to open one up, that is."
Raj smirked and leaned back in his chair. "If I did, you would take it?"
Eva's eyes opened wide. "You're leaving?"
Raj smiled. He could see Eva was trying to decide if she was supposed to be excited about a possible transfer, or if she was to be upset that he was leaving. He certainly was enjoying this moment more than he anticipated. Theirs was a love-hate relationship; he loved to hate on her.
"Let's say I am moving on up."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Eva snorted. Always a cock, she mused with herself.
Eva brought up the hologram walls again. She was not ready to go through her task list but she also needed to block Raj from her view.
Unfortunately, these holographs were one upgrade behind the ones she uses in her classroom and she can still see Raj's smug face through them.
History Modules gets new tech but they can't upgrade my desk? She cursed to herself.
Raj was grateful that the staff offices had not upgraded to the new desk holograms just yet. The new ones could have their transparency adjusted to make the whole set up opaque. This old tech still allowed Raj a good view of Eva's scrunched-up eyebrows, an adorable trait that only occurred when Eva's to-do list was as long as the holographic wall.
"What?" Eva spat. She caught Raj staring at her.
"Don't you want the position?"
Eva sighed and flexed her wrist with the coffee needle in it. "…Of course I do. Everyone wants to work and help develop new tech. That's where the action is: students and Education Officers collaborating for the sake of the future. Those collaborations can go on to be big projects. Just look at the holograms for the new History Module. You are essentially confirmed a promotion. Who wouldn't want that?"
"…That was your work, wasn't it?" Eva eyed Raj jealously.
"Just remember to take the position when it is offered." He spun his chair back into his desk and flipped on his table's holographic wall. Eva glared at him through the flashing notifications and the glowing list of to-dos.
"…What did you make?"
Raj did not answer her. He already had his ear pods on and probably did not even hear her question.
A gentle ping went off from her PED. She glanced down at it and saw she had an e-mail. She had a bunch of them. She grabbed her ear pods from the wave-shaped container on her desk and slid them into her ears before she commanded the e-mails to be read to her.
Some of them were the usual. Parents writing in to request their children's grades be adjusted, or for explanations about how the reports are developed. Some e-mails were reminders to staff meetings and follow-up on Learning Dive arrangements.
Eva listened while she marked the latest set of submissions. She was determined to get to them right away. She was never very good at this: grading assignments. There were days she enjoyed teaching even if she did teach a topic she disliked. She believed she could be a good Educational Officer. Then, she would grade her student's works and it would make her feel like she was not doing a great job. She could not tell if it was her teaching techniques or if her students were disinterested. Maybe her disinterest was rubbing off on them.
Eva upped her coffee intake when she read some of the answers to the question 'Where is old Malay Bukit Laranagan, or Forbidden Hill, located?'
The most popular answer: "Under the flood waters."
Eva groaned and cradled her face in her hands. Her head was aching. Her coffee pump was about to hit its automated stop response. Her wristband was buzzing. It was her daily reminder that was 10 minutes after the time she could officially leave the office. She always set the alarm after the official time to leave so she would look like she was not leaving too early or just on time. To help her case, she always left with her PED to look like she was going to work from home. She didn't.
Eva carefully removed the caffeine needle from her wrist, cleaned it and twisted the cap back on. She took her time to shut down the holograph walls around her desk and placed her ear pods back in their place.
As she was about to take them off though, she heard her e-mail ping. Usually, she would just save the e-mail for the next day. But she noticed the recipient and decided to have a quick listen:
Dear Ms Eva Lim,
I would like to inform you that you have been transferred to the Engineering Department. Please forward all your lesson plans and student reports to the Educational Technology Department before then. Also please download and review the Engineering Lesson Plans and Student Reports into your PED before your first lesson. You will start on Monday.
Eva froze. She replayed the e-mail and when she finished she heard her PED ping again, this time with a large file waiting for her to download. The last person to edit it: the man who sat in front of her.
Raj turned in his chair, holding his fingers behind his head and gave her another friendly smirk.
"Would you like to thank me now or wait for Monday?"
Primary Education Facility, Lower Primary History Classroom, 2216
"In 2020, climate change science was in its infancy. While there was an increasing number of people who believed in the science and were pledging to commit actions to reverse the effects of climate change, it was much too late for anyone to do anything about it.
What was not well understood by the public back then was that it was not visible ice they needed to worry about. It was all the ice below the surface especially in many parts of what was then known as Antarctica."
Mei Ling, rested her head on her desk while the RELIEF kept lecturing. Ms Lim was not in class today. A Robot of Education and Learning with Inspiring and Engagement Functionality (RELIEF) ran in her place.
Mei Ling was disappointed. She hated these RELIEF lessons. First of all, they were never actually robots. That idea was scrapped years ago when some students managed to tear apart and vandalise the hardware. The robots were never programmed for disciplinary action back then. So students always got away with anything while the school had to deal with the aftermath. When the Ministry of Education started looking at installing a disciplinary procedure, parents protested. Robots were supposed to assist people, not correct their actions. Some parents took it to the extremes and claimed it would be part of a robot uprising, even though everyone knew that was science fiction.
So the Ministry did away with robots and started on holograph people, but kept the name. The new RELIEFs could lecture, give out homework and record students' behaviour. All this information could then be synced instantly with an Education Officer's PED at the end of every school day. It was then the Officer's job to follow up on any disciplinary action needed.
Mei Ling hated that they were snitches that could not get stitches. She read the phrase in an e-book last semester. It was one of the few vintage phrases that stuck with her.
RELIEFs also droned on and on. They did not need to take a breath, so they just kept talking. They never knew how to answer any of her questions either. They gave some sort of programmed response like "I will get back to you." They never do. The worse one was
"That is an inappropriate question for this lesson. Please consider asking questions relevant to the material at hand."
RELIEFs also could not use Edu-graphics. This upset Mei Ling the most. She was excited to show off her interior design for the 'shophouse' Ms Lim showed the class. She even went all out and made sure all the furniture was in monochrome black-and-white, to match the rest of the hologram rendering. She had a deep grey circular sofa in the middle of the living room where the family's holograms could be viewed from the middle. She had the transporter close to the middle of the house, making it easy for anyone to move up and down the different floors. She placed abstract art on the walls, all in shades of grey and white. She could not find any family photos or pictures of people in the colour scheme she wanted. These images were the next best thing. The bedrooms were simple, white beds with white or black frames. Mei Ling could not find any of the other furniture and gadgets she had at home in grey, white or black. Her 'shophouse' ended up looking really empty and simple.
OH! I should add a shop! Mei Ling thought while the RELIEF droned on in the background. It was her mistake to miss it out especially since it was so obviously in the title of the building.
Mei Ling opened her student PED, put the screen settings on low so as to not draw attention from her other classmates and started adjusting her 3D model. She pushed the living room area and the transporter to the back of the building and tried to create enough space for a shop front. She flipped and swiped her fingers over and over, trying to debate how big everything should be.
How did people fit all this in? She began to feel flustered over the dimensions of the shophouse. Eventually she convinced herself that this was an impossible task. There was no way a simpler society could have all their needs met in this tiny bit of space.
She would have to research this after school. Access to the Internet was disabled whenever RELIEFs were activated. That's another reason to hate them.
Mei Ling played around with the her design before wondering if the specs for the model given were just unrealistic. She decided she was going to try and hack into Ms Lim's device and see if she could change the dimensions of the assigned model.
She's never been successful but Mei Ling has come really close. The last time, she could view Ms Lim's dashboard on her PED but was locked out quickly when the network noticed the command signals coming from a student's PED rather than an Education Officer's PED. Mei Ling wanted to check her answers on a quiz the class was assigned earlier that week. She didn't want to change them! She just wanted to assure herself she had attained a full score. Mei Ling knew she did but she just wanted to check. Anyway, apparently, the program gets a bit sensitive especially when it comes to student's grades and a few background security measures instantly kick in.
Mei Ling was so focused on her hacking that she did not notice the RELIEF step up to her table.
"Mei Ling. Could you tell the class how long it took the flood waters to fully submerge the island Singapore used to occupy?" Even after years of perfecting holograph technology, holograph people still have a monotonous voice and a stiff demeanour.
Mei Ling powered down her PED discreetly and looked up at the RELIEF. Trick question. Fully submerged could mean anything.
"Fifty years. It took 50 years for the flood waters to cover the entire surface of the island. People who lived in high rise buildings were relatively safe. However, the flood waters continued to rise and reached levels taller than most of these pre-flood buildings. The flood water were reported to stop rising and stabilise in the year 2120, covering the highest point 'Bukit Timah' and most highrise homes."
The RELIEF looked at Mei Ling. It appeared to be frozen in time, but really it was processing the information she provided.
"Can you name five monuments that were lost and are expected to be resurrected?"
Mei Ling looked around at her classmates, hoping one of them would signal to her but no one seemed to know the answer either.
"I don't know."
"Does anyone know?" the RELIEF looked around, and the class refused to make eye contact.
"Since you cannot name five, you will be tasked to write down the names of all the monuments expected to be resurrected. You will write all their names at least 10 times each for maximum retention."
"That's 1,000 lines!" Mei Ling shouted.
The RELIEF ignored her. "You will also write a 1,000 word essay on each monument, with its history, important events, and reasons why it should be resurrected."
The class groaned collectively.
"That's not possible!" Mei Ling protested.
The RELIEF turned its back to her. "Any student that refuses will report directly to the Minister of Education for disciplinary action."
"What about Ms Lim?"
"Any student that refuses will report directly to the Minister of Education for disciplinary action."
"Any student who refuses will report directly to the Minister of Education for disciplinary action. Any student who refuses will report directly to the Minister of Education for disciplinary action. Any student who refuses will report directly to the Minister of Education for disciplinary action. Any student who refuses will report directly to the Minister of Education for disciplinary action. Any student who refuses will report directly to the Minister of Education for disciplinary action."
"Mei Ling, sit down," her classmates whispered over the deafening RELIEF's instructions.
Mei Ling slowly inched back into her seat, her eyes blazing with a fury the RELIEF was unable to process.
Every student's PED lit up with the names of all the monuments that were expected to be resurrected. The submission folder also exploded with notifications for all the essays that were just assigned.
The RELIEF looked on with a pleasant smile. "Class, you may begin."
Primary Education Facility, Higher Primary Engineering Classroom, 2216
Eva strutted into her Engineering class with a new blouse, freshly pressed dress pants and comfortable but sleek metallic black flats. This was the day she was waiting for. She was going to be a part of the future. She stood in front of an empty classroom. This was the first time she has ever been early to class. Usually, she walked in just as the lesson had to begin.
But that was the History Department. This was Engineering.
Suddenly, Eva felt nervous. She went to her desk and powered up her PED to review the lesson plans again. It looked simple enough. The students were tasked to improve on Hologram Technology by enhancing rendering quality and making images clearer. Raj left her some simple codes to guide the students through this week's lesson. After that, she was on her own.
Eva had learnt that Raj had moved to somewhere in the Ministry, helping Educational Technologists develop more tools for effective learning. Lucky bastard.
Eva didn't thank Raj that night. Of course she didn't. As much as she was grateful for the new position, she did not think it would be from Raj getting a promotion. She hated to admit it, but she knew she was going to miss him.
Her wristwatch vibrated. She had an incoming call. She accepted it, seeing as how she still had 15 minutes to the start of her lesson. She lifted her arm to see Raj and the Principal Alvin Ong were on small holographic screens in front of her. Mr Ong, I understand. But why am I on the phone with Raj?
"Eva! In class so early? That's new!" Raj exclaimed.
Eva had to resist the urge to roll her eyes especially with Alvin on the other screen.
"It is good to see you excited, Eva." Alvin smiled.
"Thank you for the opportunity, Mr Ong."
"Very good. Now before you start your first class, we need to go over a few details about submissions and lesson plans. It is expected you develop all your own lesson plans for next week onwards. But whatever the students have done this week needs to be submitted to Raj directly."
"I think Eva's screen froze, Alvin. Maybe we can get her a new wristband?"
"Eva, are you still with us?"
"Yes sir. It didn't freeze. Sorry. I … um… May I ask why the student's submissions should be sent to Raj?"
"These were his assignments. It is his responsibility." Alvin concluded smoothly but Eva eyed Raj. She could see him trying to hide his stupid smirk.
"I am sure I am more than qualified to grade the assignments. No need to bother Raj at his new job," Eva tried.
"This is not up for discussion, Eva. I hope you can comply with this request."
Raj leaned forward toward the screen and Eva could see his face zoomed in and partially cut off by the display's limits. Eva knew that this was no 'request' but a direct order. Raj wanted to see if her pride would get in the way of her opportunity.
"Yes sir" Eva bit her tongue. "All of it will go directly to Raj."
"Very good. Well, have a good day Eva. Raj."
Alvin's screen went blank and disconnected. Her wristband still displayed Raj's smug face.
"Do you want to tell me what's going on?"
"…You know, you still haven't thanked me yet."
Eva tapped the screen off and sat down.
She rubbed her temples and cradled her head in her hands while her students strolled in, took out their PEDs and without her instruction, began on the assignments Raj had left them.
Unknown Location, Unmarked room, 2216
Raj looked down to his PED when he heard the alert bell. His students were submitting their assignments as planned. Eva had not seemed to have interfered. She probably hated him for not giving her work to do on her very first day of the job. It was the opportunity she wanted but Raj had turned her into a place holder for the time being.
He felt a slight tinge in his heart. However, the task at hand was of utmost importance. His friendship with Eva did not mean as much as his upcoming work. Keeping the group of informed persons small was vital to the operation.
Raj had been given more than just a promotion. A few weeks ago, he figured out how to help Singapore resurrect the different key historic monuments. It was not an easy task, of course. That is why he broke down the different parts required into manageable assignments his students could do. They were still working within the syllabus and the skills they practised were definitely going to be useful to them, but he doubted very few of them would be able to piece all the parts together to develop the technology he had invented.
Raj looked up as his desk's holograph screen. This one was different than the one at his old desk. The holograph was completely opaque allowing him to focus on his code without the concern that someone else would get a peak. He had already installed the software his students had been working on into his desk. This new set of code allowed the holograph rending to be supported for a longer period of time without the need to power down or go into power-saving.
This would not work if there was a power failure, Raj noted the flaw but that was a problem for another day.
He uploaded some of the code he had just received from Eva's class and worked it into his initial set up. His eye brows scrunched in concentration as he glanced through lines and lines of instructions he was about to input into his desk.
It took him a few hours, but, finally, Raj hit the reboot button. The holograms around his desk powered down. After a few seconds, the opaque wall came up again, pixel by pixel, like a waterfall in reverse until it was fully rendered.
Raj ran some quick initial software tests to ensure that the rendering quality was good. When he was satisfied, he leaned back on his chair. His eyes ran across the holograph rendering. He could not see any difference between this new set-up and the one he had a few minutes ago.
Raj leaned forward and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. He opened it and carefully lifted a small rectangle piece of paper. It had thin white boarders all around the top, left and right sides and the bottom border was perhaps twice as large. His grandfather told him it was called a 'Polaroid'. It was an instant photo that printed on film. Every single image was an original. You couldn't replicate the exact photo through duplicate functions on cameras now. If you tried to repeat the process of taking the first photo, the second would still be different.
Raj was fascinated by the process. His grandfather gave him this image before he passed. It was an image of his grandfather's family long before his grandfather was born. Several people stood in front of a worn green railing. They were colourfully dressed and standing in the sun. Behind them were two- or three-storey structures. Raj remembered that they were called shophouses. He was not all that convinced that anyone could have stayed there because his grandfather told him that those buildings were mostly bars and eateries.
"I wouldn't want to stay above a bar! The stench of vomit and seawater would be terrible!" Raj's grandfather told him once. Of course, by the time Raj was given the photo, the air already smelt like seawater. It wasn't something Raj thought about any more.
Raj put the photo on his desk. He reached down into his bag and pulled out some temporary adhesive tape. He tore a small strip of it and placed part of it on the top of the Polaroid, part of it overhanging.
He lifted the small picture delicately. His breath quickened. He aimed for a small bit of the hologram wall with no code on it and moved his hand closer. His fingers were about an inch away when he decided to close his eyes, take a breath and pushed the photo forward.
Raj's hand did not move that far. His thumb made contact with something. With his eyes still closed, he pressed his thumb against the overhanging bit of tape, smoothing it down and slowly moving his hand away from it.
His eyelids tightened. He could feel the skin on his arms prick up at the thought of what he had done. He slowly lifted his eye lids and focused on the hologram wall.
There, in the right top corner, was the Polaroid photo he was just holding, hung in place by some temporary adhesive tape onto a holographic wall.
Singapore River Grand Reopening, 2265
"And now we would like to invite our guest of honour to officially launch the Grand Reopening of the Singapore River! PM Fatimah Ahmad, if you please!"
Mei Ling watched the Prime Minister push a large red button in front of her. As it descended, a parade of canons around the celebration released confetti into the air. It seemed endless. Some of it landed in her greying hair.
The emcee was clapping along with the PM and the other Ministers and Technologists up on stage. Mei Ling clapped hesitantly as she watched the crowd disperse towards the railing to enjoy the river view.
Mei Ling looked around and took a deep breath in. It was nothing like the initial rendering she had experienced when she was 10. The air still smelt salty, but that was probably because the floodwaters that surrounded Singapore carried that scent. But something else was added to it. It was almost fragrant, like rice was cooking somewhere. As she walked down, there were other scents, hints of fruits and leaves. Nothing at all that was disturbing to the senses as she remembered.
She leaned against the railing and looked across the river to a part she recognised as 'Boat Quay' with its shophouses. Her lips raised in a hidden smile. Somewhere at home was an old model of a shophouse she made that was never graded. Ms Eva Lim abandoned her class for the Engineering Department but Mei Ling heard that she left the Education Facility a month after that.
Mei Ling remembered that Eva was labelled by the Ministry as a disgruntled Educational Officer who wasted away a grand opportunity to contribute to Singapore's future. They claimed that her rivalry with a former colleague had gone too far and that Eva's jealousy lead her to jeopardising his important work at the Ministry. This was after Eva joined or started a rebellion collective that created viruses that could weaken holograph technology. Was it… Behind the Illusion? Mei Ling tried to recall.
Mei Ling looked down into the water. Watching the floodwaters be contained in a solid structure was mesmerising. Mei Ling never thought it could happen. She had always been surrounded by flood waters, reliant on the currents. Somehow standing on solid ground felt empowering to her. Mei Ling wrapped her fingers around the green railing and looked down further. The warm metal under her palms relaxed her. The railing felt sturdy, supporting the weight she put on it. Mei Ling sighed, wishing away all the regret of saying that she never wanted to see the Singapore River in her lifetime.
Distracted by the view, Mei Ling did not notice a small section of the railing near her fingers flicking from green to grey and back to green again.
Unknown Location, 2220
I know what you are doing.
Who is this?
Raj, you have to stop.
I needed to talk to you.
They are going to find you Eva.
I don't care. Raj, you know that
We can't put people ON a hologram Raj.
There is more to it Eva.
I managed to piece together your plan
It is not about that Eva…
You really want all those deaths
This is not about the historic sites, Eva.
Let them run.
I wrote them myself.
Not before I make changes to your code.
I already know about the virus Eva.
I don't like putting lives at stake
You don't get it. We are building a better world.
How is 'bringing back' the Singapore River
You still don't understand do you?
So you are going to trick people into
It is a lot easier than it sounds.
What if you run out of power?
We are working on it.
You would have known that if you didn't quit
Then what changed?
I had a history lesson.
You will never know now.
Well then, I will just have to keep
You'll get caught Eva.
Can't get caught in a digital world
Eva? Off the grid?
Raj's hologram desk walls powered off suddenly. His eyes were wide open in shock. No one should have been able to have done that. No one should have been able to have hacked the Ministry's network in the first place.
Raj heard a commotion outside his office door. He opened it to investigate and realised his entire team's system had all gone offline. Raj's heart pumped hard and fast as he rushed back to his desk, flustered.
In his attempt to reboot and run diagnostics on the system, Raj took no notice of the Polaroid picture that fell on to the floor.QLRS Vol. 20 No.1 Jan 2021