Friday, March 2, 2012

Kibera Slum

Login denied.

Juma slammed his hands against the keyboard. He couldn't access the throwaway twitter account he'd just created two minutes ago. Any account he used to post about the Kibera slum, became disabled. After creating the fourth account, he was convinced something was deleting his messages.

His editor had refused the story, had said no one cared about the slums whether they were empty, dirty, or aliens for that matter. It didn't matter. Juma no longer lived in the slums, but his mom did, and he wasn't unusual in that regard. But, even his editor's reach didn't extend to Nairobi's Internet café with HTTPS connection encryption. Only the Communications Commission had sufficient computational capacity to intercept his attempts to break this story. He wasn't paranoid, his friend Panya had bragged about their capabilities after her interview with them.

Juma's neck itched. The story was big. Maybe he'd keep his job after dropping it on his editor's desk instead of the stories he'd been tasked to complete: some throwaway text to accompany a photo shoot on Nairobi's parks, a character piece on a hero -- at least in his editor's eyes -- who fed pigeons, and another story on high gas prices. He headed towards the Communications Commission.

"No visitors," said a security guard in the commission's foyer.

"I'm expected."

The guard crossed his arms.

If the Communications Commission hadn't been well-known for secrecy, the guard's actions would've confirmed Juma's hunch. He didn't need confirmation. He needed dirt. Thankfully, Panya had a public facebook profile, and he found her phone number. The guard watched as Juma flicked through screens on his smart phone.

"Panya, it's Juma." He hoped she'd remember him. "I've got that report you wanted."

"I can take it to Director Panya."

Bingo. Juma knew the guard would eavesdrop. Juma raised both hands, palms open to show he had nothing on him. "Report is human courier only."

"Doesn't matter. No visitors."

"My, my Juma. Been a long time. What have you gotten yourself into this time? Nevermind, doubt you can answer in front of security. I'll be down." The connection ended.

He hoped to distract the guard by making coffee from a kiosk, but the man followed him like a fat dove who suspected Juma had a slice of bread.

If it wasn't for the way Panya's face lit when she saw him, Juma would've never recognized her. She cleaned up well. Behind her, trailed a lackey with a briefcase clutched in his hands.

"We need somewhere private," said Juma.

"No visitors."

Juma rolled his eyes. "Well, if the commission's security policy encourages public discussions, I suppose that will do." Juma had hoped to irk the guard, but got no reaction.

"I know a bar down the street." Panya held up a hand to preempt Juma's protest. "We can vouch for its privacy."

After delivering a round of Kilimanjaro Lagers, the barman lowered a white noise shield over their booth.

"I wanted a private talk. Not a committee," said Juma.

"Usian's my assistant. He knows everything anyway."

Juma trusted Panya by herself, but a colleague might force her hand. "I'd rather we were alone."

"You're wasting my time. It's been a long time since college. I don't owe you anything."

Usian opened a laptop and began typing.

Juma took a breath that whistled through his teeth as he exhaled slowly. He had no other leads. "You know how I joined the paper." Panya nodded. He told her how someone had eavesdropped on his connections.

"So. Why would the commission care about your tweets?"

"Something is wrong. Kibera slum is empty."

"So? Who cares?"

"Mother lives there." Juma couldn't afford two rents on a journalist's salary, and his mother had refused his invitation to stay on his couch. She claimed outside Kibera became too impersonal.

"Sorry to hear about that."

"Isn't it time you explained what the government has done with the slum inhabitants. The Commission is involved in a cover-up. Aren't they?"

"Crazy idea."

"Look at this." Usian spoke for the first time. He spun his laptop around and it showed an aerial photograph of a patchwork of corrugated steel, rust striping the panels brown. "Live satellite feed of Kibera."

Viewed from overhead the inhabitants weren't more than dark hair and swinging arms. They moved in groups converging on a train with women's eyes painted on the top of each car as if the train stared into his soul. Cold eyes.

"Something is strange. Everyone's converging on the train."

Usian slammed the lap top shut.

"Novelty," said Panya. "I'm sorry about your mother, but you see, there is no conspiracy. Usian, we've wasted enough time."

Juma finished his lager, and then nursed Panya's half empty. They hadn't revealed anything. Yet, he wasn't imagining things. He had a nose for real stories. After finishing the beers, he stared at a photo on the bar's wall. If he squinted, they looked like the eyes on the traincars' roofs. People shouldn't have streamed towards that train. He left a tip.

The slums weren't far from downtown. Empty, his voice rang as he called out. No one answered.

A banshee howled. Juma didn't believe in ghosts, so he headed towards the sound. He found the train. A line of cars squealed as the wheels moved along the tracks. A car's doors were open, incandescents illuminating clean white surfaces. A man stood at the door's threshold. He was more metal than man. Juma might not believe in ghosts, but the military used androids.

"You're not from the slums. Your specimen is not desired."

"Specimen?"

"Upload. Singularity. You will be missed."

"You have my mother. She is missed."

"So sorry. Time to go."

A pack of Aibo robotic dogs leapt from the train car. They converged on Juma, knocking him to the ground as the train squealed, accelerating to leave the park. Thankful the dogs had no teeth, Juma nodded to himself, they might run, but he'd find a way to expose this story.

23 comments:

  1. That was such an interesting story, it contained intrigue and mystery - I hope Juma finds his mother before anything horrible happens to her.

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    1. Juma's work is cut out for him. But thankfully, although he ends up in all kinds of predicaments, he's persistent.

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  2. I really like this, Aidan. It's interesting, clear and defined, laced with intrigue and led by a believable character.

    If you wanted to write on, and I suspect your ideas didn't end here, I would like to read more of this. =)

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    1. Thank-you. I've started to put together an outline for a short story. I'll let you know if I finish it.

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  3. I like conspiracy stories, they tend to evoke a little fear inside me, a good kind of fear.

    Like John, I too would like to see more of this.

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    1. I think what I like about conspiracies are that they have a little bit of seduction to them.

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  4. The writing is like taking that first bite out of something unique (an Aidan experiment in flavors). You want to take another bite, so you know how all the flavors finish up.

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    1. Thank-you. This one didn't have as clean an ending as I'd like, but sometimes a little information is a victory.

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  5. Kind of a low-fi sleuth running into a high-fi mess. Neat, Aidan!

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    1. Social engineering can be a powerful force. Your giving me ideas for that outline. :)

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  6. Aidan :)
    Many thanks for reading my story - pleased that you enjoyed it. Looking forward to browsing your blog later however the bell is calling and I have to go back to work.
    Once again I appreciate you taking the time.
    Cheers,
    Colin.

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  7. Just read and enjoyed the story.
    Given the current climate and the emphasis to crack down on the interenet I think you have yourself a 'slice of life' rather than a 'far fetched futuristic shock.' The time is coming my friend, please keep us all relevant.
    Cheers,
    Colin.

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    1. Freedom will always be a battle worth fighting.

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  8. Aidan - a computer genius writer whiz kid who wants to protect his mom - of course Juma is very likeable. This is definitely intriguing - will you continue with this? (I like the Kilimanjaro lagers btw and am curious about the eyes on the trains)

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    1. I'm possibly going to ruin my thought to post on where I got the idea, but check the link for the eyes.

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  9. I'm enjoying your near future pieces. This one being my favourite after the one with the avatars. I hope there are more similar stories in the pipeline.

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    1. They have been fun to write, so I expect there will be more.

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  10. Excellent story. Lots of neat stuff going on in it.

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  11. Aidan, you packed a whole lot of story into a flash here! Great job, and like the others I'd like to see more.

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    1. I've been working on a novel, and it is fun to play with the compact flash form.

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  12. Worrying to think that this is probably possible. Definitely closer to science fact, methinks.

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  13. Except for the robots, this seemed very real. Good work, though scary subject.

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