To The Best Of My Inability


Chapter 1: How A Life Can Change
Written by Sandra Pong

Chapter 2: People Of A Strange Crowd
Written by Iris Lim

Chapter 3: Trust Is All There Is
Written by Penelope Loy

Chapter 4: The Wiles Of A Serpent
Written by Sophia Lee

Chapter 5: The People Holding The Guns
Written by Iris Lim

Chapter 6: The Lightning Striking
Written by Penelope Loy

Chapter 7: Markings Of An Invisible
Written by Sandra Pong

Chapter 1 : How A Life Can Change 

Written by Sandra Pong

Sibyl Linh (690K followers) 

10 August 2035, 12.04 AM 

There’s nothing worse than the disapproval of your ancestors. I feel their accusing gazes bore into my back from the picture screens in the living room of our mansion. 

My parents are perched on a loveseat across from me. I can see the ice in their postures, feel the cold fury radiating from every perfect pore. I will my fingers not to shake. The sand castle of confidence I painstakingly build up for myself every time is always destroyed when their waves of disapproval crash over. 

4 minutes ago, every 16-year-old citizen in Tocubei received their status as either Invisible or Chosen based on their follower count on Wave, our social media platform. To become Chosen, the elite, one must have over 1 million followers. There’s a reason why Invisibles make up the majority of the population.

4 minutes ago, I became Invisible. The only Invisible in a long line of Chosens.

Thankfully, there’s a rule that allows an Invisible to become Chosen if he or she reaches 1 million followers afterwards. But it still makes me question why I didn’t work harder to become Chosen in the first place. All I had to do was to get 1 million followers. Why couldn’t I do such a simple thing? Pathetic. 

My father speaks. “There’s no discussion required. We have the money. We will buy you the followers you need.”

My Chosen parents have so much influence and money that it would be easy for them to just twitch their fingers and buy me into Chosenhood in the blink of an eye. 

Please. Mother, Father. Give me one more year. I can get 1 million followers, I swear.” 

My mother narrows her eyes. “How dare you. We have wasted so much resources on you to help your singing, and you’re not even Chosen. And you still think you can bargain?” 

Only Chosens pursue the arts, the elite jobs. It’s an unspoken rule that the Invisibles don’t create art, only following and supporting the Chosens. In my parents’ eyes, I will only ever be in second place. Their effortless charm and charisma, poise and elegance, pure and undiluted talent. No one was surprised that they became stars. My mother is a model, my father a visual artist. Even my younger brother, Sylas, is an acting prodigy. He’s one of those rare cases of talented children who become Chosen before they reach the age of 16. Sylas got his acting contract at 14. 

I’m the only plain one in the family. I can sing decently, but not as well as I should. I was born with few artistic talents, and no matter how much I try, am still not good enough. 

If I just accept my parents’ help, it only proves my incompetence. I have to earn the followers on my own merit. “If you start silencing everyone now, only a small group of people will know, including my new schoolmates and teachers at the Invisible School when I start school there in 3 weeks. But if you don’t give me the one year, I will tell the press about my Invisibility and the entire city will know in an instant. It’ll ruin the perfect reputation our family has worked for.”

Given that they value my status over me, my parents will have to accept my request. My father finally grinds out his agreement. “Fine.” 

I nearly collapse in relief. “If I’m still Invisible in a year, do with me as you wish.” 

7.50 PM 

I take my evening walk down quieter lanes, away from prying eyes. For once, I’m happy not wearing makeup. I doubt anyone would recognise me, with my ordinary dark hair, pale complexion and grey eyes. 

A middle-aged Invisible walks towards me, dressed in worn clothes with his hair buzzed short, on his way back to the Invisible districts. He must be working here in the Capital, the place of the Chosens. Would that be me, resigned to serving Chosens if I don’t get 1 million followers? 

The man makes eye contact. I turn away. The next thing I know, he stops in front of me and hands me a paper. 


It is a poster advertising Zilla, one of Tocubei’s most popular Chosen singers. Her smiling face is only a painful reminder of my failures. I take the poster and am about to crumple it up when I notice a piece of paper taped crudely to the back. It’s anonymous poetry. No Chosen poet would do this, for in Tocubei the recognition of your name is everything. 

There. The name printed in the corner. Theseus. The infamous Invisible art circle. I should be reporting this man. According to Tocubei law, Invisibles aren’t allowed to distribute art. But why don’t I reach for my phone?

“Does Theseus not know the penalty for spreading Invisible poetry to the masses? How can you be so bold as to do it in the Capital?” I demand. He doesn’t seem to recognise me. Good. 

He smiles. “We just want people to know there’s nothing wrong with being Invisible. We are all people, aren’t we?” 

“The divide between Chosens and Invisibles exists for a reason. The Invisibles prove themselves inferior by not having the popularity to get 1 million followers.” I’m speaking to him as much as branding these words on my heart. 

The man shakes his head. “Being Invisible can’t stop anyone from doing whatever they want. You and only you are free to choose your own destiny. Regardless of what others think.” 

It was my decision to walk this path to fame a long time ago, to decide I wanted to be a singer. Even if sometimes it feels like my parents’ expectations are my only motivation, even if sometimes performing makes me feel so exposed that I want to cover myself up and hide. Right? 

“Leave before I call the cops,” I threaten. We just met, and he’s already picking holes in my resolve. I can’t have that. 

“Remember my words.” With that, he walks away. I shake my head and steel my heart. This man is wrong. Invisibles are simply failures that have nothing better to do. Rejects. 

Destiny. Freedom. I think of Alten, a fashion designer I once met. He is one of those who lives for his freedom of expression, though he has recently risen to fame for his unconventional designs. 

Wait. Perhaps Alten can help me. When we first met, he was desperate for followers and gave me a song in exchange for his access to my mother to model one of his designs. The song that I passed off as my own did become viral for a while, until it was forgotten before I could reach 1 million followers. Alten probably wouldn’t object to another transaction, though I need something I can give to him in return.

I throw the poster in a nearby dustbin. Time to put my shortcomings behind me. This time, I won’t let my family down again. I won’t be worthless.

Chapter 2: People Of A Strange Crowd

Written by Iris Lim

Zilla Koh (20.1M followers) 

19 August 2035, 4.21 PM 

As mean as the thought might be, I can’t help but wonder if my hair stylist is subtly attempting to dye my hair red by drawing blood from my scalp. My assistant hair stylist Keanna prods foreign metal sticks into the sides of my head with the concentration of a ceramic artist at a pottery wheel. The sticks are curled at the end, adorned with what looks like roses made of precious stones, but also armed with pointed tips like thorns. 

“How does it look?” Keanna asks, her hands smoothing down the final strands. 

My face is so used to the shape of my smile that it takes no effort for my lips to curl upward. 

“It’s perfect, thank you so much Keanna.” And it is. It looks like a flower garden grown from jewels, blooming from my ash-coloured hair. I wonder how long Alten spent designing it with Keanna. 

As if summoned by the thought, my stylist Alten emerges from a rack of clothing. He gives me a critical onceover, which makes me feel like the nervous 12-year-old that I was at my first audition again.

He puts his hands on my head, tweaking the sticks in my hair. His fingers are delicate but self-assured, much like the rest of him. When we’re in the same room, it’s easier to believe that he’s the huge celebrity with an 8-digit follower count rather than me. He’s strikingly pretty, stylishly cut black hair halfway to his shoulders and bangs neat in a way mine could never manage. Big eyes framed by eyeliner and black glasses, the shape of his mouth cut into a pleasant smile. He carries himself like he knows exactly what his worth is, the kind of confidence that could make wearing a veil or something equally unconventional a fashionable trend.

“Can you stand up and turn in a circle?” he asks. I comply. 

The top is inspired by traditional Hanfu wear, pink cloth embroidered with white flowers. The skirt is much more Western and vintage looking, the fabric uncomfortably heavy. Little gem teardrops dangle off the thin silver chains laced around my arms, catching light like the expensive chandelier in the company-owned ballroom. 

Alten really did his job well. It’s eye-catching and unique, while still being girlish enough to suit the way my previous stylist dressed me. It’s perfect for what Ms. Otaw wanted. 

4 years in this business, and comments with the words ‘uninteresting’ and ‘plain’ only grew in number. She wanted to start changing up how I was presented, starting with my clothes. Get people to look at me like how they did when I first debuted, a fresh, pretty new thing with so many options to offer. 

I hate it. How everything is always decided for me, from my clothes to my songs to who I date. But I’m just a pop singer. I do my job and let the company do theirs. 

“Ms. Otaw is gonna love this. How did she find someone like you, Alten?” Keanna already has her phone out, snapping photos for our CEO to review. “You’re so cute, Zilla! I wonder what your boyfriend is gonna think when he sees you in this.” She winks at me.

Right. People, including employees of the company, think that the famous actor Soren and I are actually dating. I wonder how disillusioned she’d be if she finds out it was all because the executives wanted a little more public attention for my upcoming album. 

“Thank you, Keanna. I really appreciate what you’ve done, Alten.” The last part is true, at least. Alten really is talented. 

“I’m glad you’re satisfied, Ms. Koh. Everything’s in order, which means we’re done for today. I’ll be leaving first if there are no other matters to attend to.” Before Alten leaves the room, I give a quick bow and flash a smile at him. “Thank you for your time today!” 

I don’t miss his momentary pause, the way his steady gaze flickers for a second. I would be lying if I said it was normal for people, especially Chosens with their follower count in the higher ranges, to be so friendly with someone with a much more modest following. Even Chosens have a hierarchy, and people like Alten with lower followings are at the bottom. 

(It just gives the company more room to treat people like him unfairly by virtue of just being a smaller number on a Wave page. And if Alten gets the short end of the stick, the Invisibles in the company are a lot worse off.) 

Alten recovers almost instantly, the lines of his mouth straightening into a professional smile. “The pleasure was all mine, Ms. Koh. All the best for your shoot tomorrow.” 

The rest of the fitting is spent removing the clothes and accessories from my hair. As childish as it might be, I wish that Keanna would take a little longer, as long as it would take for tomorrow to never come.

21 August 2035, 3.15 PM 

Cut! Take 5, everyone.” 

“Thank you!” I say as I hop off the bench I’ve been put on. I don’t think anyone heard me. 

The rest of the music video set is buzzing, the sound of music from the loudspeakers replaced by the chatter of the production crew. No one pays me any mind. 

“Did you hear what Piers said about the Linh kid?” 

“Oh, the one that didn’t get Chosen? Yeah, poor thing.” 

“She’s the oldest child too, makes me feel bad for her.” 

“How does Piers know this anyway? The family obviously never made anything public.” 

“I think he’s friends with the family butler?” 

“Wasn’t it the driver?”

“Who cares, she wasn’t close to 1 million followers anyways. Her voice isn’t even that special.” 

“Not as if many Chosens are—” That voice is quickly shushed, glances thrown my way. I don’t know if they were talking about me or they just didn’t want to offend a Chosen, but I pretend not to hear them anyway. They eventually return to their conversation, albeit in quieter tones. 

I take a sip of water. We’re shooting in the middle of the park near the fountain, with no shelter to hide in. The sun seems to mirror my emotions on the clothes I’m in, beating down with a vengeance which makes me sweat buckets. A few metres away from me, a voice rises above the rest of the noise.

“I said get out,” a security guard snaps at a man in a threadbare cleaner’s uniform. The cleaner’s face is obscured by a disposable black mask and his hair is cropped close in a buzzcut. I thought that the team had cleared all members of the public away for this shoot, but I suppose he slipped past. 

The cleaner huffs, speaking without looking at the guard. “Why so angry? I’m just doing my job. Like how the rest of you are doing your jobs. Who do you think keeps this city so clean, huh? For all your video shoots.” His voice is loud, unafraid of letting the rest of the world hear him. 

The rest of the world might not have heard him, but everyone on set surely did. Uncomfortable glances and hushed whispers are shot his way, but they bounce harmlessly off their target. 

The guard grabs the cleaner by a bony-looking shoulder and shoves him lightly, but that’s all it takes to send the man to the ground. 

“Last warning.”

The cleaner doesn’t move to get up.

I jump up from my seat. I should probably do something, or someone is gonna get injured or sued— 

The cleaner looks at his watch and mutters something.

Songs you’d never hear on the radio explode from the speakers around the set. Party poppers go off around the perimeter of the shoot, and flyers are thrown into the hands of the wind, dancing in the air before falling like raindrops. A crowd of people burst onto the set, weaving and slipping through like fish in a broken net. 

“Oi, all of you, get the hell out!” The guard, along with the rest of the crew, begins trying to chase them away. The AV crew looks panicked as they inspect their equipment. 

Some of the strangers are throwing confetti or distributing flyers, and others are filming the scene. All of them are in disposable black masks. It’s a burst of colour, a ball of acrylic paint smashing through and staining the polished marble of the set.

I look back, and the man on the floor has vanished. 

“Zilla, go to the car.” My PA Ria finds me frozen where I stand. “Cienne’s gonna get you somewhere else.” 

I glance around at the newcomers. It would almost be fun to watch, speakers exploding with music and flyers painting the air, seemingly intent on just creating a ruckus. “It’s not like they’re going to hurt me, right?” 

The lines of Ria’s face harden into a grimace. “We can’t exactly predict what groups like this will do. Just get in the car.” 

She grabs my arm, pushing me in the direction of the car. The heat of the moment that stirred me into approaching the cleaner (who probably isn’t a real cleaner, now that I think about it), releases its grip on me. As I hurry to the car, I feel my heels stab and rip into something on the ground. 

When I look down, I spot a flyer that the group was distributing. 

INVISIBLE CONCERT! We don’t have millions of followers, but we have passion (*•̀ᴗ•́*)و̑ ̑Date: 32nd November. Admission is FREE! 

It’s a colourful flyer, fun and artfully designed. I look around. Everyone else on set is busy trying to chase away the strangers. No one pays me any mind. I pocket the piece of paper. A pretty keepsake of the first time my music video shoot got crashed.

Chapter 3: Trust Is All There is

Written by Penelope Loy

Guen Sante (48 followers) 

21 August 2035, 9.13 PM 

Imagine being the leader of a secret art circle in the illustrious nation of Tocubei. Your list of contacts is seven times as long as the number of people whose contact list you are on. When you walk on the street, nobody knows your name, but when you ride the train, you hear—in between advertisements and celebrity gossip on the radio—the words: “Another prank pulled by that elusive Theseus group, a mere 2 hours ago we received a call from…” You pretend to doze, leaning against the railing. “… Music video… Zilla… Next Station.” 

You go back to work your daylight job until you develop carpal tunnel. Now imagine returning home to your one-room apartment, ceiling powder falling soft as snow upon your entryway. That’s my life. I flip the stove switch on and the fire is a desolate shade of blue. Into boiling water go cabbage leaves and enoki mushrooms. They swirl, much like my emotions. 

Someone knocks on the door. Definitely Alten. Nobody else in this neighbourhood knocks like that.

I nudge it open with my foot without leaving the stove. “Good evening!” One downside of having a photographic memory is the paranoia that sets in when you realise your furniture has shifted while you were away. I’d let the furniture shift of several weeks ago slide until today, when I opened my Wave feed to check how our anti-Zilla video was doing. That’s when my suspicions resurfaced.

Alten responds with mild confusion. “Since when were you so polite?”

“Hurry up and come in before the place burns down.”

He obliges and I reach past him to shut the door. With the wind gone, the fire feels less intimidated. It flickers shyly back into view. “Alten.” I direct my visual focus to the pot again. “Fancy seeing you here.” 

“I just came to check on you.” His hand wave is casual. “I’m doing well, so you can stop worrying. This contract is really setting up to be my breakthrough.” I nod, rubbing my head absentmindedly. I ladle the vegetables into my bowl and turn off the heat. “Exposure, huh.” I squint at him. 

“What’s wrong?” He takes a seat on the stool in the entryway, legs crossed. “Just something I wanna ask you.” 

“Ask away.” 

“Well! Call me delusional, but I think there’s been a leak.” 

Alten twitches. “What kind of leak? Is it the ceiling again?” 

“A music leak. There’s this song that trended on Wave. Apparently blew up a while ago. Word for word, note for note, identical to one of… one of my people’s songs.” I hide my clenched fist in my apron pocket. 

“Wow! You don’t say.” Alten’s fingers reach up to twiddle with his earrings, uncharacteristically nervous. 

I search for a word to say. 

Knock! Knock! Knock! Both of us break off eye contact immediately to look at the door. The knocking seems to be coming from several doors down, and it is not made by the sound of knuckles hitting wood. Rather, a fist. Pounding.

Alten grabs my broom, which is resting in the corner. He holds it up as a weapon. For my part, I lift a washbasin half-full of soapy water. The pounding continues. 

Without waiting for a signal, Alten swings the door open. 

There, in the corridor, is a girl who seems vaguely familiar. Wait. The sirens wailing in my subconscious are telling me to get out of view as quickly as possible, because I’ve no doubt that it’s the same stranger I handed a poem to. Being recognised in one’s own block is bad luck. 

Why would she want to meet with Alten, though? He also recognises her, and instantly changes his disposition from nervous to professional. When he nods at me, I nod back in accordance with our tacit agreement. No questions asked. 

It’s not that serious, my disconcertion. We can talk about it later. Even as I tell myself that, my stomach lurches and I find it difficult to breathe. 

22 August, 3.32 PM 

Suyra Vocational Institute is shaped like a white brick sandwich stacked on top of a red brick sandwich. The alignments of its windows are mathematical, and the standardized font they use for all written assessments is Old Standard TT in size 11. 

I pass the paper-thin door leading from the hallway waiting area into Principal Osawa’s 6-foot by 6-foot office. I can guess exactly why he’s summoned me. As a minor staff member, in charge of odd jobs like the conversion of written documents to digital, there isn’t much he can find fault with. As a semi-guardian, though, there is plenty.

“Mr Sante, Mirae has continued to misbehave.” Continued. Spoken as mundane truth. 

“I’m very sorry.” I bow like a student at morning assembly. “It’s the dogs again. She’s been feeding them during lunch?” 

“Not after we had them eradicated,” Osawa assures me. “Now, it’s the cats behind the abandoned shophouse after school hours.” 

Ugh. Obviously the work of a tattletale. I’d bet on who, but I’m not so petty as to get caught up in the affairs of teenagers. If I were Mirae’s classmate, those people who periodically sabotage her would learn the meaning of anguish. 

“I’ll make sure she quits that,” I say. “It’s my fault for not keeping her on a shorter leash.” 

“Don’t worry,” says Osawa, “the school will do that. For your part, just check that she completes her homework, and stays indoors whenever she gets suspended.” 

“It must be hard for you, monitoring so many children,” I say. 

“Nothing is too hard for me. Not when I’ve been tasked to do it.” 

I nod. “Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?” 

“Yes.” He stretches his neck and rubs his forehead. “In light of her behaviour, Mirae is also banned from the upcoming field trip to the Nysa District. However, you won’t get a refund for the payment as this situation was completely preventable. As they say, to punish the child is to punish the parent—um, guardian. I trust no animosity arises between us?” 

I shake my head, “None, sir.” 


22 August 2035, 5.24 PM 

The second I exit the building, I break into a run hobbled by the canvas bag full of student essays I’m bringing home to transcribe. I’m fighting against a river of wind banked by squarish shophouses, each one identical in craftsmanship. This street is the link between Suyra and my neighbourhood. The abandoned shophouse is cool and all, but not half as cool as its luscious back garden, whose grass I tread upon as lightly as possible. 

I catch sight of her crisp, beige uniform amidst a calico puddle. Her tie is worn headband-style, sweeping her dark curls backwards. She is the very embodiment of comfortable isolation. 

I’m loath to interrupt. Thankfully, I’m an expert at doing things I don’t want to. “Heya, little mermaid.” I stop a distance from the cats. “I got news for you. You’re banned from the field trip.” 

Haaah?” she shrieks.

“Courtesy of Osawa.”

“I-I- Th-That- Ugh, whatever,” she brushes it aside roughly, as if sweeping cockroach droppings. “It’s probably more fun doing factory practical than visiting some burger wizard anyway. At least practical doesn’t cost money, eh?” She throws me a peace sign and goes back to tearing up potato wedges for the cats. 

“Yeah, about that, we’re not refunded.” I raise my voice, “And you gotta stop feeding strays. It’s illegal. I want you to grow up to be a law-abiding citizen.” She laughs, “Are you listening to yourself? I’ve seen the video. You were the ‘cleaner’! I can’t believe the leader of Those-Guys wants me to obey the law!” The cats are starting a ruckus, clawing at her skirt in response to her agitation.

“The difference between us is I don’t get caught.”

“Oh. That why you won’t let me join you?”

“Okay, we’re off-topic.” I take a deep breath. “Stop. Feeding. Cats.”

“Fine.” She dumps the rest of the food on top of the calicos and skips past me out of the garden. 

We used to have conversations. 

I realise too late I’ve been letting Alten’s (imagined?) betrayal fray my nerves. Stepping over a cat poised to trip me, I hasten after her, but she’s already out of sight. There’s a handful of hangouts back around our apartment complex: the barbershop, the repair shop, the convenience store and the launderette. Problem is I’ve forgotten which is hers.

Though I recall every minute detail about my old neighbourhood, this one I’ve been living in for 8 years is dead to me. The people are desaturated, the sunset is hazy and drenched in a nameless colour. Aside from the garden and the green traffic light, what is there to see? Broken window shutters? 

For someone who spends his nights collecting and consuming artwork, I’m pretty devoid of imagination. 

“Where’d you go, Mirae?” I stumble upon a piece of litter in front of the convenience store. It’s a soda can, a gleaming ruby in a sea of gray. Ignoring the passers-by, I stare at my feet and shout: “Your grandparents want you home by 7, Ms Chen.” 

“Correction: by 8pm.” She emerges cooly through the glass door along with 3 schoolmates. “Want a snack?” She offers a bacon strip from her packet. She turns to her companions, “I think the luckiest people here are the store employees. They have like, one tiny manager and all the food comes pre-made. If only us fast-food people at Suyra had that destiny.”

Vigorous noises of agreement from the other teens. I decline the bacon. Immediately the murmurs start occurring. 

“It’s too funny, Mirae,” one bespectacled girl whispers, “Mr Sante’s arguably the most invisible Invisible ever. I mean, I’m glad you two get along, but I gotta say, looks weird.” 

“What are you getting at?” Mirae asks. 

“Come on,” the girl stresses each ineffectively hushed syllable. “You got real goals! And it’s obvious he’s dragging you down.” 

That confirms it. Mirae hasn’t given up on becoming Chosen, despite the endless failed theatre auditions of two years ago. What else could qualify as ‘real goals’? I briefly wonder why Alten didn’t ditch me after rising to fame. 

“Ey, watch it,” Mirae moves to physically shield me from her schoolmates. “Nobody’s paying you to badmouth Guen. He’s just trying to live a normal life here.”

The girl shrugs conspicuously. “Just warning you. He’s an obstacle.”

“I can handle him, Jei,” Mirae hisses, finger to her lips. “See ya tomorrow!” The street lamps glow brighter and the churning sound of distant factories grinds to a rude halt in the middle of nowhere. One by one the murmuring teenagers leave, bidding goodbye, until there’s only Mirae. 

“Don’t mind them,” she says through a mouthful of bacon. “My friends always mean well, even when they’re being rude. No, especially when they’re rude. And wrong.”

“Yeah,” I’m unable to hold back a smile of relief. So it was just paranoia. Deep down, I know Alten wouldn’t harm me on purpose. I shouldn’t simply suspect him after years of unconditional trust. “I’m sure they do.”

Chapter 4: The Wiles Of A Serpent

Written by Sophia Lee

Alten Xi (1.1M followers) 

21 August 2035, 9.16PM 

“Well, call me delusional, but I think… There’s been a leak.” 


This is bad. This is very bad. 

Guen stands awkwardly, not quite looking at me. He’s stressed, I can tell. Of course he’d be stressed. He cares so much about Theseus, feels so responsible for them. I know. 

The fact that I know rather makes me the asshole in this story. 

“What kind of leak? Is it the ceiling again?” I ask. 

“A music leak. There’s this song that trended on Wave. Apparently blew up a while ago. Word for word, note for note, identical to one of… one of my people’s songs.” Guen continues. 

“Wow! You don’t say.” I stutter out. 

My nerves are getting to me, and I think he can tell. I’m not normally such a bad liar, but by principle, I don’t lie to Guen. We don’t lie to each other; it’s an unspoken agreement. We lie to everyone but each other.

Well. Until now. 

I notice my fingers anxiously twirling around my earring, and I retract them. He looks like he wants to say something, but the pounding of fists cuts him off.

Knock. It isn’t for Guen’s apartment, but maybe one or two down. Knock knock. I reach out and grab the nearest thing to me. A broom. Guen lifts a basin of water. 

Knock knock knock knock knock—I swing the door open. 

Down the corridor stands a girl, tension in her jaw and black hair frazzled. Sibyl Linh. Pounding on my door. 

I look at Guen. He looks back at me, and nods. He won’t ask questions, then. His business is his, and my business is mine. As long as we don’t encroach on each other’s private lives, we don’t ask questions. 

I step out from Guen’s doorway, and lead Sibyl into my apartment. 

As I open the door for Sibyl, I feel a hint of embarrassment. 

My walls are plain white, littered with little indents from previous tenants, parquet floorings separating with age and white paint along the kitchen cabinets gone yellow. The small rectangular dining table has two chairs by it, the entire room without a seating area. The fridge door is blank, free from everything but a single to-do list. 

My apartment is old, but not lived-in. Functional, but only that. Not made for entertaining, only meant to be a bed and a kitchen and a bathroom. If I had my way, Sibyl wouldn’t even know where I live. Few do. I’d have her meet me at my studio. But with what we’d discussed before, when we needed a place to meet, and what we’ll most likely be discussing now, I prefer the privacy of my flat, where people won’t trace her back to me.

Sibyl stands awkwardly by the door, and with a gesture of my hand, she takes a seat by the dining table. 

“So, how have things been going for you?” I ask. I can see the agitation in her jaw. I draw the conversation out to pressure her. Hopefully get her to be direct, a bit clumsy, desperate. Give me control. 

“Alright. Fine, perfectly fine.” Her words come out harsh and rushed, almost as if she’s trying to convince herself. She takes a deep breath and settles her palms on her lap. I raise my brow. 

“Is something wrong?” I prod. 

“No, I just-—Let’s talk about that deal we made.” She says. 

She’s just confirmed my suspicions. A month or two ago, we struck a deal. Her mom—a famous model—would wear one of my pieces. And in exchange, I’d offer her one song. To my knowledge, she doesn’t know where the music is from, since it’s pretty obvious that I don’t write any. She either doesn’t care, or doesn’t want to know. 

If she knew it was stolen from an Invisible organisation, written by an Invisible, I’m not sure if she’d still have wanted it.

“The deal, what about it?” I ask. 

“Yes. I require more songs. Five of them.” Her sentences are stilted in her attempts to hide her nervousness. 

She expects a lot. The music was hellishly difficult to get. Whatever she intends to offer me better be brilliant. I say as much. She nods in understanding. She reaches her hand into her pocket, and I wait, doubtful.

I’d already decided, back when I took the first song from Guen, that I wouldn’t be doing this again. And my resolve has only solidified after the conversation Guen and I had. 

It’s not safe for me to keep doing this. If Guen’s already figured out—though I’m not surprised it has, given how much popularity the song has had—then he’d definitely be suspicious if I took another song from him, much less five. 

And well… I care about him. As much as we bicker and argue, as much as we disagree on things like Chosenhood and Invisibility, he matters to me. I know I matter to him too. We understand each other in a way no one else has before. I won’t lie, neither of us are nice people. We’re too ambitious, too goal-driven, to be nice. We both know that, and see that in each other, could see that in each other the moment we met. 

It’s what ties us. The same reason he’s helped me ever since I moved into this apartment complex, why he stood by me when the cruel realities of Chosenhood hit me, when I realised that the right to do art means nothing if you don’t have the funding, don’t have the followers. The same reason I was there for him whenever things with Theseus have gotten rocky, when Invisibles are silenced and pushed aside. 

We don’t agree with each other on the things we each fight for, but we know each other, and trust each other. I’m not risking that for whatever Sibyl can offer me, not again. 

She pulls out a small stack of papers, and hands them to me. 

Receipts. For some… rather pricey sewing and design equipment and software.

Aphrodite 2035. The hottest design programme lately, with customizable projection and scaling. 

A Krikit membership, which gives you access to the best design resources currently available. 

Various shipments for fabrics from across the world, and costly ones at that. I look at her, puzzled. She smiles in return. 

“As long as all of those five songs you give me are at least on the top 50 tracks, you get unlimited access to as many resources as you need, as long as they’re for your independent designs. Think of me as a sponsor.” She says. What she offers me… 

Well, let’s just say that it holds sway over me. I’ve been fighting so hard to get enough followers and be rich enough to afford all these things, and she’s just handed them to me on a silver platter. 

For three years I’ve been a virtually unnoticed Chosen, and while my dress has blown up recently in light of Sibyl’s mom wearing it, I’m nowhere as rich as I want—no, need—to be. I have Zilla’s contract, but it only lasts up till her year-end concert, and I’m in it for the exposure. The actual money isn’t much to gawk at. It’s a rather well known fact in the industry that Peltro doesn’t pay their lower level workers very well.

I contemplate. I don’t want to lose Guen. He’s all I have. He’s been all I need. Sibyl must see the hesitation in my eyes.

“I’ll let you think about it. And while you’re at it, go ahead and test out all your new equipment. It should have been shipped to your studio by around… six earlier this afternoon? You’ll get to keep it if you agree to the deal. If not, I could always just return it and get my money back,” she suggests. “Text me on whether or not you agree. To the arrangement, I mean.” She scribbles her phone number onto the corner of one of the sheets of paper. 

I compose myself and lead her out of the door, but I think she can see the thrilled excitement in my eyes. 

Aphrodite 2035! Krikit! 

I have been waiting! For this for ages! Have been saving up for some decent programming! 

Think of all the things I could do! 

With Sibyl safely out of my apartment, I do a little full body wiggle, something I am not proud of, and squeal in excitement. I grab my keys and bus card from the dining table, and I am off. 

The bus is empty when I board it, and with every bounce against the road, I can feel the cosmic energy between me and the studio pulling tighter, practically dragging me out of my seat when I reach my bus stop. 

The stop is along a road lit by glaring street lamps painted in bursting colours, the curb lined with bright strokes of paint broken up only by lights built into the concrete. It’s the mishmash of art and modernized design, and one of the cheaper locations in the art district. 

Many like to think of this area as charming, but the dorky and cheery designs only remind me of how far I am from the glittering prestige of the centre of the art district. 

My studio is separate from my apartment because it’s where I meet most of my clients, if they choose to come to me. I need to make a good impression. Play up my wealth.

I walk down the street and into a shophouse, climbing up the stairs at the back. The floor beneath mine is a patisserie. I occupy the second, and highest, floor. True to her words, outside my door are two cardboard boxes, sealed shut with duct tape and stamped with various “FRAGILE-HANDLE WITH CARE” labels. I unlock the door, dragging the boxes in with me. 

The door opens to a neat and tidy room, with a sitting area, a couple tasteful vases, a bowl of refreshments and a small projector. An obligatory space to meet clients. At the very back of this room is another door, which leads into my studio. My studio’s walls are riddles with sketches and drafts pinned up with thumbtacks, a desk on the side crammed with a sewing machine, a serger and a cover stitch machine, all three of which make an odd sound once in a while. Rolls of fabric stand in cardboard boxes along the sides of the room, a pile of bottled water and cup noodles stacked in a corner. 

It’s messy, untidy, but it’s organized chaos. Navigating through it is like second-nature, and there’s a certain comfort in knowing my way around something no one else would even get to see. It’s the combination of the warmth of familiarity and the chill of artistic exploration. 

In many ways, this is my true home.

With the packages from Sibyl now safely in my studio, I get to work. A swipe with an exacto knife reveals gleaming new equipment, fresh from the factory. The white of plastic and sheen of metal stands out from my other ratty equipment, an inhalation of the life I’ve been working so hard to get to. The new additions are quickly swept into the whirlwind of my artistic processes, working for the first time in their lives to create designs. Scissors glide through swaths of fabric, pins tucking themselves into cloth and mannequins, machines biting neat rows of stitches into textile. The room slips into a cyclone of my own creation, pulling ideas from my head into my fingers into designer pieces. To me, design is like a gasp of crisp air, feeling my head with cool clarity. With nothing to think about, not money or contracts or assignments, I feel free. This is what I’ve been looking for; all my life, I’ve been chasing this feeling. And there’s so little holding me back.

I fish my phone out of my pocket and key Sibyl’s number into Messenger. “Deal accepted. -A” 

Guen just doesn’t have to know.

22 August 2035, 5.02PM

I’ve got a slice of time to do what needs to be done. 

Guen comes home around 6pm. I’ve got to be out before then. 

Sibyl must be desperate for the music, I know. She’ll be putting pressure on me for the songs soon. The sooner she gets her music, the sooner I get what I want. I am currently four metres off the ground, fingers digging into the dry bark of a tree branch as I heave myself up. I’m climbing a tree into Guen’s apartment, as I did the last time I… stole Theseus music from him. I am indescribably lucky that Guen adores leaving his windows open, and never remembers to close them. I bring my leg out, and find a foothold on his window ledge. With a good push and a healthy amount of faith, I’m in. 

Guen’s house is shadowed, and I barely fumble as I reach to turn the light switches on. I hurry through the apartment, into the bathroom at the back. I think I know what I’m looking for. A loose tile.

The small room is lined from floor to ceiling with tiles, each one of them painted by an Invisible. It makes for a messy patchwork of dizzying colours, some tiles painted with beautiful sweeping strokes and others, scribbled with misshapen dinosaurs in bright permanent markers. 

I get to work, pressing my palms against every tile, feeling for one that shakes. 

Nothing, nothing, nothing and 

Here. Right in the corner just above the mirror, high enough that I need to stand on the lidded toilet bowl to reach. I dig my nails into the corners of the tile and pull. 

Out it slides, the front of a small drawer no bigger than an apple. And in it, rattles a handful of thumb drives. 

The thumb drives I’m looking at contain the backups for all of Theseus’s art, sorted alphabetically. I skip to drive I-L. I’ve got what I came for. I pocket the drive, slide the tile back into place, and take my leave. I shut off the lights on the way out, and get back to my flat. 

My laptop sits on the dining table, waiting. In the privacy of my own apartment, the thumb drive resting in the palm of my hand, I doubt for a moment. I don’t want to lose my friendship with Guen. He means… not the world to me, but something akin to that. 

But what’s done has been done. I’ve set myself down this path, and it’s too late to back out. I started this, and I’m sure as hell going to finish it. If it takes lying to Guen a couple times, I can do it. 

I can stay friends with Guen and get my glory and fame. I can. I will, because if I can’t choose between both, I’m going to find a way to not have to choose at all.

I slip the thumb drive in, scrolling down to the file for YAP, INEZ, and preparing myself to start listening. I don’t do music myself, but anyone can tell when a song is destined to be a hit. 

By the time I pick out the songs for Sibyl, it’s 5.50 and I am thoroughly drained. I’d return the drive immediately but… Well. Guen could arrive home any time now. 

With copies of Yap’s songs on a separate drive to pass to Sibyl, I shut my laptop and collapse into bed. 

Returning the drive is a problem for Future Alten.

Chapter 5: The People Holding The Guns

Written by Iris Lim

Zilla Koh (20.1M followers) 

23 August 2035, 8.36 PM 

The stage has a special way of making you feel big. Big enough that you feel at home in a sea of explosions; soundwaves gushing from speakers, glaring lights competing with the stars, the roar of the audience slamming against the roof. Big enough to stir the waves of a crowd, seeking a tsunami of cheers and applause. 

A company party has a special way of making you feel small. Choosing and squeezing your words, compressing yourself to fit into the hole you have been assigned in the jigsaw puzzle made up of everyone else. I look at my feet and let the conversation flow around me, a stone letting a river surge over it. 

The party is a celebration for our CEO Ms. Otaw’s birthday. In the background, a song that went viral a bit ago is playing. I remember that it was sung by Sibyl Linh, the daughter of model Everly Linh and visual artist Ryker Linh. I had to know, since Ms. Otaw made it our jobs to stay informed of every other prominent Chosen and their associates, so we could make introductions and connections more easily.

I vaguely remember that it stirred up some controversy. A song seemingly about the frustrations that Invisibles would relate to, of feeling disregarded and ignored, sung by someone born into a family of Chosens. I thought it was an okay song, if a bit unconventional, and her voice was lovely. But I suppose behind the

glamour, everything a Chosen does is still dictated by what the audience likes. That’s how it’s always been. 

I suddenly remember the conversation I overheard about her. I wonder how she’s doing now; I hope she’s okay with not being a Chosen.

I linger at the edges of the party, a flute of champagne in my hand. I’m supposed to be here with Soren, playing up the lovely couple act, but he excused himself to the washroom ten minutes ago and hasn’t been back since. 

I set down my glass and head off to find him, fiddling with my clothes as I go. Even for a company gathering, I’m still told what to wear. They’re outfits by Alten, of course, and have gotten a little more adventurous each time; this outfit is full of ruffles and zippers in places I never thought a zipper would go. I noticed others giving me strange looks just now, as my clothes slowly became more unrecognizable from the ones my old stylist used to put me in. 

I almost trip over the decorative chains on my heels. Going anywhere, much less the washroom, is a nightmare. 

As I pause to fix my shoes, I hear Soren’s voice echoing around the corner. I get up to look for him when— 

“I can’t believe the video campaign worked so well. Those kids actors were decent enough, I guess. Man, this thing is a money machine.” 

He pauses. He must be talking to someone on the phone. Are they talking about his charity for Invisible children from low-income families?

“What do you mean? Why are they suspecting me all of a sudden?” His voice rises in agitation. “What proof do they have that I took the funds for myself?”

Another pause.

“Who cares? I’m not gonna get caught. Otaw needs me, okay? I know she already prepared a scapegoat. Another one of those Invisible interns no one will care about once they’re gone. I’m telling you, it’s fine. Now shut up and transfer the money to my account.” 

His footsteps resound through the hallway, headed away from me and leaving me frozen where I stand.

24 August 2035, 12.01 AM 

I pace around the room, similar to the way my thoughts spring around in my head like crazed rats. 

Ever since Ria dropped me off at my house, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what I heard at the party. 

Soren’s cold words won’t stop ringing in my ears. 

There’s no way I interpreted that wrong, right? But what can I do anyway? I have no proof. I’m just a singer, not a police officer.

There’s a sudden noise as my feet come into contact with something on the floor. It’s the flyer from the other day. I had tossed it onto the floor of my room when I returned home that day, and had been so busy ever since that I forgot all about it. 

INVISIBLE CONCERT! We don’t have millions of followers, but we have passion (*•̀ᴗ•́*)و̑ ̑Date: 32nd November. Admission is FREE! 

I pick it up and flip to the back. In small yet bold print were the words We are Theseus. 90154 6711. 

I sit down heavily on the bed, eyes boring into the torn flyer as if I could set it on fire with my gaze. If only I could really burn it along with the rest of my problems.

These people are outsiders, who don’t know me or my company and could thus act as a third party. They also seem to have some sort of vendetta against Chosens, which meant they would be more sympathetic to Invisible victims, right? Most of all, they’re skilled. They were organized in their disruption of the music set, and clearly boasted members with skills in manipulating technology. I don’t know how useful that would be, but it would surely be more useful to me, someone who never even completed her education. 

As I internally debate on whether I should call, one thought in my head makes the decision for me: if not them, who else? A Chosen who spent all her teenage years on her career wouldn’t have friends, or anyone else other than her parents or her company. And the company is very much out of the question. 

The ringing of the phone drones on at half the speed of my racing pulse. I can’t decide if I want someone on the other side to pick up or not. It’s been almost 20 seconds, which is probably a sign. It is probably a fake number, just like the date on the flyer, which means I should never have called in the first pla— 

Click. “Who’s calling?” An elderly lady picks up the phone. 

My thoughts, which were racing at full speed, screech to a halt. “Um, hello?” 

“I’ve never heard you before in my life. Wrong number.” 

“No, wait! I found this thing, this flyer? About some Invisible concert. And I know the date is fake! But there was a number at the back? So I just thought… I just wanted to call and see?” 

I wipe my sweating hands on my skirt.

“Please. I have some questions. I just wanted to… I wanted to talk to someone.” 

Both the call and my thoughts are quiet. 

“I’ll connect you to our leader. Wait.” 

I swallow, my mouth dry. 

The second voice that answers is a little rough, unpolished and words not well enunciated. Still, there is no mistaking the authority in his voice. 

“Hello, you’ve reached Theseus. State your business.” 

“Hello! Mr. Leader? I’m calling to, uh, ask for your help.” 

“What for?” 

“I… I just found out that someone I know might be doing something illegal.” My words take after my pulse, speeding up and tripping over themselves. “But I don’t have any proof, and he’s a Chosen, and he has help in high places and I just don’t know what to do—” 

“Miss, please calm down. I’ll hear you out. What’s your name?” 

I swallow. I don’t know if it’s desperation, or a lack of clear judgment, that makes me say, “Zilla Koh.” 

A beat of silence. 

“Are you free to meet to speak in person?” 

I wrack my brain. “I’m free next Wednesday morning.” 

“Okay. Come to SmitherTea in Nysa at 9am. Look for a man in a buzzcut, white shirt with a red tie. Three pens in the shirt pocket. Call me Nathan.”

With a click, the line goes dead.

Chapter 6: The Lightning Striking 

Written by Penelope Loy

Guen Sante (48 followers) 

29 August 2035, 8.50 AM 

Nysa’s staggering spires snip through the skyline—trees for the comparatively mushroom-sized buildings below. As a kid living on the outskirts of this kaleidoscope of a district, I always wondered when lightning would strike the pinnacle and shatter it, showering us all in crystal. 

Peltro—a leading company in the idol business—was visible in the distance from my classroom window. I used to ignore it. Now it sticks in my mind. On my worst days, it’s the only thing I see. 

As we pull noisily into Angui Street, the stop before the bus terminal, I prod Mirae awake and we alight without hassle. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea to bring her along. This way, she can’t complain I never take her places. Avoiding her ire is worth letting her skip a morning of school. 

My meeting with Zilla is at 9AM. I can only hope it’s not a prank. 

We advance in shadow, sticking close to the ornately decorative lamp posts lining the street. The other passers-by include a lady walking five dogs at once and a teenage boy with more tattoos on him than clothes. Mirae is mesmerised by a designer cake in the shape of a whale. 

“The buildings here are all different shapes,” she slows her steps to match my pace. “Is that effective design? This looks like a film set, not a legit place that works.”

SmitherTea is located scenically at the end of the row, and it has a mini clocktower. 

“That’s definitely stupid,” says Mirae. 

We stand by to let three chattering men in ancient European attire leave the shop, and Mirae nearly laughs at them. We go inside. The tranquility of the setting unsettles me. 

Zilla is unrecognisable in her sunglasses, her hair tucked under a gray sports cap. She waves us over, and we cluster around the corner table as eagerly as bowerbirds over a stash of glossy blue trinkets. I’m relieved she was able to identify me from my description of myself over the phone. 

“Yes, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr Nathan. Um,” Zilla addresses me by my fake name. “Who is…” 

Mirae answers before I can: “I’m Aliester Beverly and I’m here because he’s responsible for me. Like, legally.” 

“She’s my neighbour’s granddaughter,” I explain. “Al, you don’t have to listen to us. Take this and buy yourself a—” 

“I brought my own cash,” Mirae’s tone is icy. She strides away, painfully aware of her presence being unwanted while we speak. 

I turn my attention to Zilla, who’s busy stirring her cup of hot lemon water. “So we meet, mysterious caller.” 

“Okay, so,” she sips her saltwater, hands trembling, “a few days ago, I was at a gathering. And I escaped for a bit. And like, I think my boyfriend is a scammer.”

“Oh, the Soren guy,” I cover my mouth with my hand and knit my brows in mock concern.

She pauses to check that no one’s looking. “Yes. I heard him talking. On the phone. To someone.” Zilla ages fifty years over the course of giving her account. “I’m guessing he was involved in something akin to a fake charity, and he got in trouble. So the company’s covering for him.” 

“Well, that’s that then,” I say, “They always do get away, those Chosens.”

“No wait, you don’t understand. The company is covering for him with money and a scapegoat. An Invisible!” 

When I fall silent, she perks up: “Mr Nathan, I can’t just stand by and watch an innocent person take the fall for him. Will you please help me? You’re the only one I could ask.” 

She’s given me priceless information that, if leaked, could smash Peltro’s reputation to smithereens. Provided it’s true. Of all people, by some insane twist of fate, she is the lightning striking the highest building. 

I meet her gaze. “A scapegoat, you say? We got a deal.” 

29 August 2035, 9.27 PM 

I was supposed to be sorting through Theseus material at my desk, but I must have dozed off. 

Sadly, acknowledging that I’m asleep doesn’t cancel the dream. It rolls ever on with me trapped in its acidic stomach. Too soon I’m back in the courtroom at Nysa, a room I could definitely draw without reference if only I had an ounce of artistic skill. After eight years this nightmare has gotten repetitive, if I’m being honest. That’s the most terrifying thing about it: 

It always ends with my father sentenced to hang and the murderer going free.

Peltro Entertainment will protect their cash cows. If Zilla were to commit arson or strangle someone, they wouldn’t hesitate to bail her out. Invisibles are replaceable. She is not. Alten is not—that’s the difference between him and me, at its core. Even having prominent Chosen parents, like Sibyl Linh, is a major factor in determining your worth, regardless of your talent. 

I’ve been on this train of thought a million times already. Please, I pray, end it fast and let me wake up. 

Suddenly, something changes. As I watch, dumbfounded, the judge lifts his hand to pronounce the verdict: “These documents are proof that Peltro is guilty of unspeakable things. All their accusations have been rendered baseless by concrete evidence. I hereby pronounce the accused innocent! He is free to go.”

In real time on live broadcast, Patrizio Sante exits the courtroom with me close behind him. Soon we’re back home and he goes to the cellar where he keeps his painting tools. I present to him the exquisite brushes obtained through Theseus’s network of pilfering and trade, and he accepts them without hesitation: not a lengthy diatribe against my ‘rebellious acts’. I have a feeling we’ll get along better now. 

“I told you my art circle would pay off,” I relish the rare chance of being right. “You can’t defeat an unfair system by fair means!”

“You just did,” he says, scratching his beard. “Those documents looked fair enough. Tomorrow, you and I are gonna properly thank Zilla for saving me.”

“We saved you together!” I am swallowed whole by indignation. 

“Indeed, you helped,” he adjusts his glasses, “but not as much as her.”

“Dad, she’s fine. She’s a Chosen. You think she did this out of the kindness of her soul? She was bored and this was her vanity project!” 

“Did I not tell you to stop stereotyping people?”

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up to a breakfast of bitterness and canned beans, and Patrizio will be absent from the world. No amount of clever scheming with Zilla can change that. As it’s been for eight long years, revenge is a lone option hanging midair like a loading bar. 

I’m not obliged to answer a dead man’s question.

Chapter 7: Markings Of An Invisible 

Written by Sandra Pong

Sibyl Linh (546K followers) 

5 September 2035, 1.37 PM 

Ever since I enrolled in the Invisible School three days ago, I’ve barely had time for lunch. All I can think of is rushing to practice the songs Alten gave me. At an empty table, I inhale my usual plate of fried rice, since the rest of the Invisible dishes look unappetising, heaped artlessly in their trays. Invisibles obviously don’t understand the concept of a good first impression. 

I hear loud laughter and glance up instinctively. Dreia, my roommate, is laughing uproariously at the lunch line with a tan-skinned, dark-haired boy. I have never heard her laugh that hard before, when she was around me. Neither have I laughed that hard with anyone before. 

I watch as Dreia waves goodbye to him and comes towards me. “Hey, Sibyl! That was Rivo from my Bio class.” 

I nod. Ever since we became roommates, Dreia has attached herself to me, and I can’t shake her off no matter how I try. I had thought she was friendless, but judging from her interaction with Rivo, she clearly knows more people than she lets on. 

“Dreia, why do you insist on hanging out with me? I’m fine alone.”

She simply smiles. “No one likes to be alone, Sibyl. Besides, I like you and you’re so smart that you can teach me how to do stuff.”

I never minded being alone. Every compliment, every fake smile people ever directed to me was to gain my favour, or rather, my famous parents’ favour. It’s best to keep people at a distance. They are selfish and always want something from you. If you can’t provide it, you are as good as dead to them. 

These Invisibles act so differently from what I expected. I expected people tripping over their own feet to share my fame. But Dreia doesn’t seem to want anything from me apart from my company. None of these Invisibles want anything to do with me, despite my family’s status. Some of them shoot me pitying looks, but most of them just get over the initial shock of seeing me and barely notice my presence afterwards, more focused on their own friendships and studies. I find it hard to believe that one’s status doesn’t matter here. Then again, why would it? Everyone here is already Invisible, already in the lower class. 

From what I hear, many of them live in the same neighbourhood and know each other from childhood, unlike the Chosens who only see each other at parties and red carpet events. There’s a sense of community here, where everyone is united in their Invisibility. 

Unlike me, these Invisibles have already accepted and are content with their meagre fates. 

I remember the words of the man from Theseus. We just want people to know there’s nothing wrong with being Invisible. We are all people, aren’t we? It’s like I’ve stumbled into a whole new society. One that might not be as inadequate as I’ve been told. 

I don’t have time to dwell on this. I have 15 minutes left of lunch. I finish eating and hurry over to the abandoned stairwell to practice before class starts.

6 September 2035, 11.23 PM

I finish the email to the producer and press send. I am finally done with recording the songs Alten gave me. The famed producer, who was gullible enough for me to blackmail him with the threat of releasing several “scandalous” (actually cleverly Photoshopped) photos to the press, will be contacting me soon to shoot the music videos. 

I glance over at Dreia, asleep and snoring on her bed. It’s late. I should go to bed soon. 

I stretch and gaze out of the window. It’s too dark to see anything, but I imagine the signature turrets of the Chosen Academy in the Capital in the distance. Once I get 1 million followers, I will be enrolled there, where from its windows the Invisible School will blend into the sea of squat and dingy buildings in the Invisible district. 

My eyes fall to the stack of textbooks lined up on my shelf. I doubt I will forget my time here. The classes are advanced and stimulating, covering a wide range of knowledge I never would have known about if I became Chosen. It brings me an addictive sense of joy while flipping through the textbooks, a joy I have never experienced while singing. 

This wasn’t supposed to happen. My time at the Invisible School was supposed to motivate me to become Chosen, but it seems to have done the very opposite. My parents have given me so many resources, enrolled me in so many extra classes, all of which have made me into who I am. It feels like a betrayal every time I feel like smiling here.

Becoming Chosen is my birthright, my responsibility. How can I even be considered a good daughter if my parents can’t stop worrying about my status? How can I live with myself? 

I should just stop thinking about this. I climb into bed and close my eyes. It’s a selfish thought, but I wish that I become Chosen quickly and quit this knowledge addiction so that it doesn’t hurt so much afterwards.

20 September 2035, 9.20 AM

Just as expected, my music video causes a stir the minute I upload it on Wave. In the video, I sing of imprisonment, of passion and rebellion. My suspicions that the songs Alten gave me were from Invisibles are validated. 

But the public laps it up, even if they have no idea the persona is Invisible. The Invisibles in the comments identify with the lyrics, the Chosens marvel at my parents playing the part of the jailers in the music video. 

There are Invisibles that say I have no idea what being an Invisible is like, that I’m just attention-starved. They say I’m insensitive, a fake. 

That’s probably similar to what Dreia thinks, judging by the look on her face when I left the Invisible School 2 days ago. Like I betrayed her. I can’t blame her entirely, for it hurt when I stepped out of the compound. Like I left a piece of myself behind. 

But I bury the pain. That chapter of my life is over. I finally have 1 million followers. My parents immediately called our lawyers when I received the deal from Peltro Entertainment, and I signed a contract with them on the same day. Today’s my first day. My first official day as Chosen.

The first thing when I reach the company is to be taken to a conference room to meet with my new manager and team. The room is relatively small, with glass making up half of the walls. There’s no such thing as privacy for us Chosens. 

I try to concentrate, as my manager, Mr Kang, points to slides on the projector screen. His voice is so flat it’s a wonder I’m even listening. Replace him with a robot and no one can tell the difference. 

He talks about the expectations, what behaviour is to be expected in public, the classes I need to take in the Chosen Academy, the 18 hour work on weekends and the 8 hours on the weekdays until I turn 18 and become a full time singer. I was prepared for this huge workload, but now all it does is fill me with a sense of foreboding. I have to pretend to be a glamorous version of myself all day. So much pretending, it’s exhausting. In the past, I would just do whatever it took to become Chosen. But now, I can’t help thinking about my time In the Invisible School, where I could be myself and no one would care. 

“One last thing. It is company policy to assign a mentor to any new singer when he or she enters the company. You have the great honour of having Zilla as yours,” intones Mr Kang. “Zilla, you may come in.” 

Even the CEO wants to please my parents by assigning me the star of the company. 

The door swings open, and there she is, a friendly grin in place. I stand and shoot her a smile I hope isn’t too fake. 

Even if I have covered some of her songs for the publicity it brings, I have no idea why people like her music, which are all generic pop numbers. Hopefully whatever she’s doing with Alten helps with that, though it’s hard to imagine Zilla doing anything else.

Zilla reaches me, ash-blonde hair swinging. “Sibyl, right? Hi, it’s so nice to meet you.” 

“Nice to meet you too,” I reply. She beams again, not hearing my insincerity. She wears her emotions so openly, which only makes her easy to manipulate. Then again, one look at her and no one could guess she has an Invisible background. Maybe I shouldn’t judge her so harshly. 

“How about I start with showing you around the company? The first few months here, I got lost so many times. Come on, then!” 

“I’m good with directions.” I turn to my manager, silently asking for approval. He nods.

I follow Zilla down the hallways. “So you’ve seen the conference room. That’s basically everything on this floor. The practice rooms are two floors down. The washrooms are always at the two ends of the building. Between you and me, the toilet on the right with better acoustics always has more people. Just use the other one.” Zilla has a way of making you feel special, a helpful quality when you’re a star. 

The practice room is simple, with wood flooring and floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Good enough. Zilla watches me quietly. Then it seems like an invisible dam breaks. “You went to the Invisible school for over 2 weeks, right?” She rushes her words, eager for my answer. 

Why is she so eager to know? “Yeah.” I purposely say little, to gauge her reaction. I’m not disappointed. 

“So… how was it like? What subjects did you take? How were the teachers? Is it true that their library is gorgeous and has books shelved all the way up to the ceiling?”

The questions remind me of my time in the Invisible school, of being Invisible. I need an outlet, or else these repressed memories will explode out of me one day. Zilla’s curious, and I doubt she would out me for sharing about Invisible life, a taboo topic amongst Chosens. 

Wary of hidden cameras, I lower my voice. “I studied Math, Computer Science, History, among others. The teachers are enthusiastic about the subjects they teach, and the library is indeed beautiful.” Her responding excitement is enough to bring a small smile to my face. Maybe having her as my mentor isn’t going to be so bad. Maybe I can still hold on to these memories like a guilty pleasure.

Sandra Pong Wen Ying (Class of 2023) is an avid reader who considers herself to be grounded in reality. Her mind, however, occasionally amuses itself by churning out stories about sentient kitchen towels and girls turning into robots, on a good day.

Lim Swee Ein Iris (Class of 2023) loves McDonald’s, has an obsession with the Japanese mascot bear Kumamon, and would like to warn you that she has read almost every Warrior Cats book. She also writes about three times a year.

Penelope Loy (Class of 2023) will inevitably become a Primary School English teacher in the future and scare your children! She and her characters mutually inspire each other to be lame. They are her offspring. So are a pair of chunky rabbits. 

Sophia Lee, Class of 2023, has been crafting stories since she was a child who pretended she could write for coolness’ sake. Having progressed greatly from drawing loops on paper and declaring them sentences, she is currently fascinated by unlikeable, yet human, characters.