Wire On The Line


It had been eleven years since I’d stepped into the Department of Extremities (D.E.X.) building, but it felt like almost nothing had changed. The same light above the reception counter was flickering, almost in tune with the phones ringing and printers whirring and keyboards clicking. The lights were dimmed red, standard protocol for a Class 1 Emergency. The windows were shut and not a single door was left open but the one I’d just come in through, bringing in the only gust of natural air in the room along with me. I could hear the same, shrill announcement voice blare in through the speakers: “Class 1 Emergency. Reboot. Reboot. Reboot.” screaming at the silhouettes running around the building haphazardly. There wasn’t a second of time in that building that wasn’t devoted to chaos, and from what I knew, they didn’t have a second of time to waste before that same chaos would be felt throughout the entire nation. 

I couldn’t say that I missed this place very much. 

I made my way to the Minister’s Office, the only room on the third floor, which for the first time since its inception was without a Minister. The white chair, the same one I used to use, remained in the middle of the room surrounded by thirty or so government officials in identical black and white suits. All eyes looked up at me as the lift doors opened. 

“Rob,” a voice that I recognised to be Prime Minister Khan called from the window. He turned around, revealing a pair of bloodshot eyes and his signature flag pin drooping down from his collar. “I’m sure you’ve heard the news.” 

I nodded. “Minister Calvin’s vanished and has taken 139 terabytes of D.E.X. data with him.” 

Home Affairs Minister Ong stepped out. “And we’ve just received word that he’s threatening to release all of that data to the public.” 

“Sound familiar?” PM Khan snickered, before walking up to me, dragging his shoes against the carpet. I could feel my stomach recoil. I knew exactly why I had been summoned. “It would be an unmitigated disaster if any of that data gets out,” he continued. “There are things in there that, as far as I know, should never be within the realm of public knowledge,” he continued. “We are on the cusp of something no other country has faced before.” 

“It’s not like many other countries have entire departments dedicated to covering up information from the public like we do,” I interjected. “So you can’t really blame them.” 

Pin-drop silence descended on the room.

“Minister,” said PM Khan. “We’re out of clues. We’re out of time. We need your help to prevent that data leak. I know that the way we last parted wasn’t ideal, but—” 

“You don’t have anyone else to do the job.” 

PM Khan nodded. “We don’t. As the Internal Constitution states, only those who’ve ever served in the office of the Minister of Extremities can access it. Not me, not the President, not any other random detective. Just you.” 

From the corner of my eye, I could see Minister Ong reach into her pocket and pull out a bronze D.E.X. badge. My bronze D.E.X. badge. I never realised how much dirt had been caked into the insignias, or how the pin on the back was loose. But it was still, undoubtedly, mine. 

“Rob,” she said. “You don’t have to do this unless you want to. But your service will always be valuable to us, and your help greatly appreciated.” 

“Or we could revoke the plea deal and send you straight to Changi. It’s your choice, Rob,” said PM Khan. Minister Ong dropped the badge into his hand, and he walked toward me. I could read the silvery letters embalmed into the metal from my side of the room: To do the right thing for the best of Singapore. “This is the gravest danger we’ve ever approached, with consequences I’m sure that you, of all people, can comprehend. We can’t afford any mistakes. We don’t have any second chances. This is not about you or me—this is about the country.”

I sighed and pinned the badge to my collar. I could feel the cold metal throb throughout my neck, and the eleven years that had separated us felt as if it had dissolved into the cold, stale air of the Minister’s Office. 

“We hope that you feel the same way, Minister.” 

I paused. Maybe this would be the redemption I needed, my walk out from all of the destruction back to the normalcy I craved. Calvin, the man I’d entrusted the Ministry to following my retirement, had betrayed that normalcy. He was going to undo my life’s work, and destroy my country in the process.

“Yes, Prime Minister. Yes, I do.” 

“These are cufflinks,” said Officer Zainal, fitting a pair into my jacket sleeves. “But they’re very special ones—they give us recorded information about your location, audible surroundings, everything we need to know.” 

I looked out of the window, at the colourful domino buildings of Arab Street and the blurs of people walking around them. The sultry Singapore sun burned into the roads so viciously that I could feel it from inside the car. We pulled up by a budget hotel; the initials printed on its door were chipping off and the door was already half-open. I couldn’t believe that I was doing this again—well, my options were limited—but I’d be lying if I said that a part of me wasn’t excited to rejoin the field. The door slid open. 

I made my way through the entrance, passing by throngs of men and women walking about without a care in the world, completely oblivious to what was going on outside of their quiet little lives. Untouched by police tape and completely unoccupied, you wouldn’t have guessed that the corner room on the third floor was a breeding ground for the biggest criminal act in Singapore history. It was the place that Calvin had been last spotted in, just three days ago. 

Officer Zainal motioned towards the laptop in the middle of the bed, the D.E.X. insignia lit up on its back. “We need you to destroy the data within that computer.” I walked over to the laptop, and in ten seconds, I had been blinked into the D.E.X. Internal Systems. That’s it? I thought to myself. That’s the entire mission? 

I scanned through the vast web of information, all writhing within the Minister’s Laptop. Secret military programmes, nuclear testing sites, confidential emails—the kind so deeply encrypted that few could even tell that they formed sentences. I entered the self-destruction code slowly, as if I were trailing land mines, and authorised the deletion of all 139 terabytes of D.E.X. data. Seeing as this was the only known computer with any access to it, my life’s work had just dissolved into a hollow grave in Arab Street. 

“This has got to be a joke,” I said. “There’s no way that this is it. I’ve spent too long in the D.E.X. to know that it is—he’s made some kind of copy of this somewhere—” 

“Minister, I’m working on the Prime Minister’s orders,” replied Officer Zainal. Your job was simply to destroy the algorithm and we thank you for your service. Our investigation continues, but your work here is done, although, as I’m sure you know, we need you to keep the location sensors on for the time being.” 

“Officer, believe me, you need to find Calvin himself if you want to stop that leak—” 

“We’ll contact you if we require any more of your assistance.” 

I looked to the bedside table and turned on the lamp. A silhouette emerged from the light and I unearthed the lampshade, underneath it a note with an address that read: 

6 Netheravon Road 

“What about this? There’s literally an address here,” I said. 

“We’ve scoped it out. There’s nothing there that we believe to be discernible enough for our investigation,” Officer Zainal smiled, revealing a set of straight, white teeth, as he opened the door. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.” 

I sat in silence for almost ten minutes, looking out of the window. At all the people walking by living lives I never could, feeling things I never got to feel. Watching the D.E.X. car drive away. Looking down at the laptop, still in pristine condition, but so internally ruptured it was no better than burned metal. They would never find Calvin, those goddamn higher-ups. 

I was the only one who could. I had to be. 

6 Netheravon Road was a dead end. Not in the literal sense of the word—it was wide and expansive, a living shrub of trees and crawlers. But there was simply nothing there. Calvin’s note crumpled in my pocket, I walked through the botanic nightmare, alone, and with nothing but the slightest of clues. I could hear my shoes crinkle through the leaves, as if I was being followed by my own shadow. Maybe I was. 

I stepped forward and entered an area so dark and obscure it was essentially a purgatory from the bustling Singapore city—fast cars, bright lights, big business. I shone my phone light onto the ground and walked to the rhythm of its flickering. And then, I heard a metallic thud. I looked down, at the grey, little sphere lodged in the ground. My little epiphany in the soil of Changi. This was the location of the Underground Act. Nukes in the ground. Radiation poisoning. Covering up. Covering up. Covering up. He was baiting me! 

I walked out of the forest to my car, aimless as the wind that was carrying me there. That’s when it hit me: Calvin wanted me to find him. He left clues, just for me. Only I knew what was in 6 Netheravon Road, and only I knew where to go from there. But why me? 

That’s when I noticed a shiny, black car pull up behind me. Its headlights flickered menacingly. The windows were tinted, and the driver cast beneath a pale afternoon shadow. But it wasn’t stopping. 

I lunged the car forward in a pathetic attempt to escape, but I wasn’t very effective. I swerved my car, scraping the hood of the green buffer zone. I could feel the friction sparkling against my tires and the sound of chains breaking. I looked behind me, as the black car revved up, and accelerated forward, crashing through the gate into the forest, and put all of my strength into the reverse button.

It all happened in a matter of seconds. 

I stumbled out of the wreckage and turned around. The collision had gone up in flames, smoke and metal filling the air. The driver crawled out of the chunk of metal that was once his car, his face marred by a deep, red gash. 

Calvin wanted me dead. 

I released my cufflinks from my collar and placed them next to the driver in the hopes that the higher-ups would get to him. Unconscious, he lay limp, the gun in his hand sliding down to the road. I picked it up and limped out of the sullen streets of Changi. My mission had to go on. 

Just miles away from Netheravon Road was the old Minister’s Office, abandoned and grimy—a far cry from the polished sheer that overlooked the government buildings of today. The floor, once grey, had been engulfed by dust and the rudimentary computer monitors were connected together by a messy, multicoloured entanglement of wires. This was where I began my time as the Minister of the D.E.X. and where I ended it too, waving my thumbdrive in front of former employees and Prime Minister Khan himself. I winced as those memories came crashing down. I winced as those memories came crashing down, tightening my gait as I did so.

Suddenly, all of the computer screens blinked open. Even in the darkness I could recognise the D.E.X. Internal Systems. 

“So I see that you’ve found me,” I heard Calvin from above. I couldn’t see him in all of the darkness, but if I could I would have shot him then and there. For bringing me back in the field. For making me do what I did to that man. For sending him to kill me in the first place. For making me destroy the department I’d devoted my entire life to. 

“I won’t let you destroy—” 

“Look at the screens, Rob.” 

Deletion. Sacrifice. Khan. Minister. Insurrection. I could barely understand the D.E.X. code anymore. “Whatever this Calvin, it’s not worth it to release this. I’m glad I failed back in 2009, but this time around the higher-ups aren’t on your trail and I’m too much of a coward to kill you myself. You won’t be as lucky as I was. ” 

Calvin paused, emerging from the shadows and into the bright lights of eleven blinking monitors. “I’m not the one destroying it.” He pulled out the Yellow Jacket: the wireless hard drive that encrypted documents into D.E.X. code. I watched as the screen flickered. 

The Yesterday Act (2020): Authorisation

of the Destruction of the Department

of Extremities

I scanned through the words, each word punctuated onto the screen. At the words detailing how Prime Minister Khan had initiated the destruction of the D.E.X. How he had written my death warrant, and sent a mercenary to kill me just hours ago. How the government I’d devoted my entire life to wanted to strip away every part of it. I could feel the cold metal of the D.E.X. badge chill through chest. 

“If you want to save the D.E.X.,” Calvin gritted through his teeth. “Then do what you failed to do all those years ago.” 

“We’d destroy the country,” I whispered to myself. 

I sighed, turning to the computer. I knew what I had to do. I reached for my gun, and shot the main CPU and yanked out the computer nearest to me before its system shut down. “Hey!” he shouted. I ran out of the room. 

I ran out of the building, through a forest, with the computer in one hand and my gun in the other. I ran, my legs tight and numb and head pulsing through my skull. I could hear cars pull up from far away—probably the higher-ups on their way to the building to finish the job. 

They would enter a building with no working computers, no data to destroy, no Ministers to kill and no lies to tell. I didn’t have a plan, or anywhere or anyone to go to but I knew that I had to save the D.E.X., and I had to save my country. 

I was the only one who could. 

Rishi’s (Class of 2023) passion in writing lies in the medium’s ability to give anyone a voice and perspective to explore the themes that are the most significant to them.