Monthly Archives: October 2014

Old Brunei Hostel

I initially submitted this as a guest post to The London Traceur’s blog six weeks ago, but they haven’t replied at all, nor have they had a new post since May. Ah well, here it is anyway.

01 Old Brunei Hostel

This is Old Brunei Hostel, an abandoned location claimed back by nature’s grip. It may not be the first place you’d think of as a parkour spot in Singapore, but we make do with what we have. At least it’s out of the way of the disapproving eyes of most of the public.

This place caters to both nature lovers and people who prefer to navigate the concrete jungle. The grass is so overgrown that it provides a soft landing when you’re vaulting over railings and barriers and jumping down from higher levels. The dilapidated buildings provide much to explore, climb, run and jump about in.

02 Jump

It’s quite out of the way and I don’t go there very often myself. But it’s peaceful most of the time because barely anyone else goes. Even if there are others around, there’s always a spot to train at. You can leave your stuff in one part and explore the whole place at leisure without worrying too much about your things being stolen. I’m not saying you should do that, but you could if you wanted to.

Anyway, how to get there: It’s almost a straight walk up from Redhill MRT Station. It might be a bit far for some people to walk, but that does provide a nice warm up before you actually start training. Here’s a map.

03 How to get there

Old Brunei Hostel is really big and there’s so much space to explore. You could even have a picnic or camp out there, though I wouldn’t recommend it. There’s no electricity, no running water and barely any life nearby. Also, it’s quite creepy if you stay there after the sun goes down.

04 Creepy Building

See?

My personal favourite things to practice there are pop vaults, wall climbs and generally just running around, being as creative as I can while I run. This wall is about 1.6m and has a nice run up. It’s where I do my pop vaults and wall movements, a la Assassin’s Creed.

05 Pop Vault Area

There are also open air stair cases which allow you to practice climbs and drops, like this one.

06 Open Air Staircase

You’ll probably want to go there in the earlier half of the year, before the monsoon season when it’s hot and dry, as this place can become a mosquito breeding ground. There aren’t any caretakers as far as I know, so no one clears any stagnant water.

If you do visit, remember to bring lots of liquids as there are no nearby stalls to buy drinks or snacks from. Also, I promise that you will get dirty if you train hard there, so do bring a spare change of clothes. Track pants or sweat pants are recommended even if it isn’t mosquito season, as the pants will give you at least some protection from grazes and cuts. There are lots of plants, wooden doors and planks to get splinters from, so do bring a pair of gloves as well.

Have fun!

-Jace

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Learn – Chapter Nine

Click here for Chapter Eight

“I need to know.”
-Haley Hollingberry

“This is where we have our physical training,” Ethan informed Haley as they and stopped in front of an empty dojo-like room. It was quite spacious, nearly the size of a basketball court, but with no stands. The floor was covered in rubber mats and there were several large foam blocks stacked neatly on one side of the room.

“We usually use it for some self defense, sparring, and parkour practice,” Ethan said. “This is the only place we’re allowed to fight, so sometimes we come here to settle disputes. It’s always fun when you watch two guys going at it in a fight to death.”

Haley gaped at Ethan, who held her gaze with a straight face.

“He’s kidding!” Monique exclaimed and a grin broke out on Ethan’s face.

“Yes, I’m kidding, but we do sometimes like to settle disputes by fighting or just spar for fun, and no one has ever died here. The worst we’ve ever had here was a broken arm. We do have rules for sparring,” Ethan continued. “No weapons allowed other than your mind and body and no hard feelings after the fight. We can and will check.” He gestured to Monique and she winked. “See, each person fights differently. Mimics are considered the strongest in this aspect because they can learn martial arts exceptionally quickly. Ever seen the scene in The Matrix where Neo says ‘I know Kung Fu’? Yeap, it’s kinda like that, except that we actually do need to practice, but once we do, the fights between Mimics are amazing to watch. Sometimes we choreograph fight scenes purely for entertainment.”

“Architects are the second best,” Monique chipped in. “But they have a totally different approach. While some do actually learn some combat moves, the usual tactic for an Architect would be to enter his or her opponent’s mind and make them forget how to fight. It sometimes takes a while to find the right memory, so Architects favour grappling moves.

“Empaths tend not to get into fights at all. We’re usually able to calm people down enough to talk it out. If you do find an Empath in a fight, however, watch out. We’ll attack you by making you feel our pain. The harder you hit, the harder we’ll return the pain to you. There was once this really buff Empath who was able to focus and channel his anger so strongly that he went berserk on his opponent. His opponent was barely conscious and had a broken arm from defending himself. A fight with an Empath that goes berserk is deliciously messy.” Monique licked her lips and Ethan grinned sadistically.

Haley let that sink in. “What about Historians?” She asked in a small voice. Ethan and Monique exchanged glances.

“Umm… as a general rule, Historians don’t fight. They tend to keep to themselves. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve never seen a Historian fight at all,” Ethan mused.

A cheerful little tune played and Monique pulled out her mobile phone.

“Time to go!” Monique bubbled happily and looked at Haley. “Professor Michael wants us in his office in five minutes.”

Ethan took this as his cue to leave. He stepped away, did a theatrical bow to Haley and said, “I bid you adieu for now, m’lady. It has been my pleasure to serve as your tour guide this afternoon.” He smiled, spun on his heel and strutted off before Haley could say a word. She giggled.

“Is he always like that?” Haley asked Monique as she stared at Ethan’s retreating back.

“Almost always.” Monique rolled her eyes. She grabbed Haley’s hand and led her to towards Professor Michael’s office.

***

I had just finished my phone call with Mum, telling her about Dad’s transfer to the MIND facility, when Monique and Haley tumbled through the door in peals of laughter. I made eye contact with Haley, who was clutching her tummy, and raised an eyebrow at her. That just made her laugh even harder. Professor Michael cleared his throat and the girls’ laughter faded, though their silly grins did not. Monique went up to Professor Michael and offered her hand, which he took.

“Hi Hales. Found my replacement, huh?” I mock pouted at Haley, who teased me by nodding unabashedly. Seeing Monique again, I couldn’t help but smile myself. The fact that Haley was laughing so much was quite interesting to me, though. I’d never seen her so at ease with a new situation. Usually I’m the one to break the ice. It was nice to see her making friends on her own.

“Thank you, Monique,” Professor Michael said out loud as he dismissed her. Monique nodded and retreated out the way she came.

“Hello Haley,” Professor Michael greeted her. “I trust Monique has taken good care of you?”

“Yes, thank you, sir,” Haley replied. “I had a good time with her and her friends.”

“Excellent. I understand you have an unusual mental shield. Would you mind if I saw it for myself?”

“Sure,” Haley extended her hand and Professor Michael took it. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, frowned, then opened them and let go of Haley’s hand.

“Remarkable,” he murmured. “That is, by far, the best way I’ve seen a Historian protect herself. You, young lady, have a very useful skill.”

“Umm… Thanks, I guess,” Haley said uncertainly. “I don’t quite understand what that means.”

“Ah, yes, well. In order to understand what your ability means, I must first explain how a Historian’s shield typically works. Usually there is a barrier that we can feel if we try to enter their minds. We can sense the presence of the mind behind the wall so sometimes Empaths can get a sense of what they’re feeling, but usually no one can get past the wall unless the Historian is overpowered by many simultaneous attacks, or he or she consciously pulls down the wall themselves.

“One interesting thing to note is that in a Historian’s default mental state, the shield will be in place. He or she can reinforce the shield by focusing on it, but it takes just as much of their effort to take it down. What I’m saying is, a Historian actually uses less energy leaving the wall up, than he or she does letting it down.

“What makes your case so intriguing is that we can’t sense your mental presence at all. I’m sure you have been informed of this by Zack, or any other user of extracognitive abilities. You are literally invisible on a mental level, which means you are completely immune to all mental attacks. No one can hit a target if there isn’t one to hit, right?”

Haley was silently musing over everything Professor Michael told her. I knew that she knew exactly how her shield – or more aptly – her cloak worked, but the implications astounded me as well.

“Wait, Historians can take down their own shield? How and why would they do that?” I asked.

“Oh yes, of course,” Professor Michael replied. “Mental Shielding is a learnable skill. Historians are just born with it.

“To answer your question, a Historian might lower his or her defenses for any number of reasons. Perhaps to allow an ally into their heads. For example, an Architect might enter to repair some damaged memories. Although, I do admit that is very unlikely to happen, since Historians remember almost everything. A more likely scenario is if there is a lot of information to transfer, or they need transfer it silently. Lowering the wall grants a Historian access to the traditional extracognitive abilities: mindshifting and mindspeaking. As for how set up and take down a mental shield, you’ll learn about it in Professor Acklebury’s class.”

“Class?” Haley asked me inquisitively. Before I could reply, I saw her eyes light up as she realized something.

“Hang on a minute,” Haley turned back to Professor Michael. “You mean I can do the mindshifting thing too?”

“Of course,” Professor Michael replied. “Just as Mimics, Architects and Empaths need to learn how to bring up a mental shield, Historians need to learn how to take it down in order to learn and use other abilities. Would you like to learn how?”

Haley’s eyes widened.

“Normally I wouldn’t allow a Historian to join us without being vetted, but you’re young and, if Zack is willing to vouch for you,” – Professor Michael glanced at me and I nodded quickly – “I will offer you a temporary internship with Professor Acklebury only until you to learn how to bring down your shield. Once you can do that, you must voluntarily submit to a vetting session. Otherwise, I will have to deny you further lessons and entry to this place. I apologize for the harshness, but we really do have enemies in the outside world and we cannot allow even one of them to infiltrate our ranks.”

“Umm… wow,” Haley was speechless. “This is a lot to take in. Could I think about it first?”

“You may,” Professor Michael allowed. “Do come back with Zack tomorrow if you wish to accept my offer. Once trained, you would be an exceptional asset to this organization.”

***

After settling the logistics of moving my Dad with Professor Michael, Haley and I left MIND. I brought her up to speed what happened when I was alone with Professor Michael and, besides telling me about her adventure with Monique, she was quiet the whole way home.

I didn’t mind. I had a lot to think about myself, so I was glad for the companionable silence. I felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders since Dad was going to get the help he needed.

Dad was going to be okay.

Click here for Chapter Ten

-Jace

Learn – Chapter Eight

Click here for Chapter Seven

“People with extracognitive abilities are extremely rare, and Mimics just might be the rarest of them all.”
-Professor Adam Michael

“Come along now,” Dr. Michael said.

I hurried to catch up with him and I’d just reached him when he opened the door to a seemingly random room. We stepped inside and Dr. Michael shut the door. There was an intercom system on the opposite wall, which Dr. Michael walked over and pressed.

“Dad, I’ve done the check. He’s clean,” Dr. Michael spoke into the system.

“Very well, wait for me,” a male voice responded.

A few minutes later, an elderly man who had to be Professor Michael strode into the room through the door we had entered by. Dr. Michael met him and they grasped each other’s exposed forearms for a few seconds. It looked like this kind of information transfer was quite common among shifters. I took another bite of my chocolate bar while I waited patiently. They let go and Professor Michael looked at me.

“Bye, Zack,” Dr. Michael threw me a half wave as he let himself out of the room. I swallowed.

“You’re not staying?” I asked. He’d become so friendly after going through my mind. I suspected his formal, no nonsense, Secret Service attitude was just bravado.

“No,” he chuckled. “I’ve got other responsibilities. Besides, my father doesn’t bite… Hard.” He grinned wolfishly at me and shut the door.

“Good afternoon, Zack,” Professor Michael greeted me with a gentle smile.

“Hello, Professor. I suppose you know everything about me already,” I said resignedly.

“Yes, I do,” he replied as he peered at me over his spectacles.

“Then you know the purpose of my visit.”

“Zack, do you know what we do here?”

“Er… fix people with mental problems, I guess?” I shrugged.

“First of all, we prefer the term ‘mental disabilities’,” Professor Michael sniffed and adjusted his glasses. “Yes, we do our best to help them recover, but most of the patients that get admitted to this facility are almost beyond help by conventional means. It’s not that we don’t bother with therapy and whatnot; it’s just that this place is more of a home or prison, to keep extreme cases of mentally unstable people safe from their family, friends, the general public and themselves.

“But that’s not all we do here. MIND is also a recruitment center, training ground and base of operations for people like you and me. I believe you call us shifters, short for mindshifters, which is the ability you possess. Most of us do have this ability, but not all do. We call it Consciousness Extension, or ConEx for short, but, I must admit, your term sounds a lot more apt.

“However, we are not called shifters, because mindshifting, while admittedly the primary skill of most of our kind, it isn’t the only skill we possess. There is no name that encompasses all people with extracognitive abilities, but the general classifications for people like you and me are Empaths, Mimics, Architects and Historians. Historians are the only people who have mental abilities but cannot, as you say, mindshift. I’m primarily an Architect myself, with some Mimic abilities.”

Professor Michael paused and watched me. I wasn’t totally surprised, but I hadn’t expect him to suddenly enlighten me either. I said nothing and waited for him to continue.

“Most of my staff and some patients here have many different gifts. We do have a name for us – people with abilities that live and work here, I mean. When I had just founded this place and my son was much younger, he called us Minders, because of the name of this institution and also what we do here.”

“I get it. You mind the patients,” I nodded in understanding and appreciating the double meaning.

“Yes, there’s that… but we also do other things. Remember I said MIND was a base of operations and recruitment center? Well, we have teams out in the field, tracking down and recruiting people with the same abilities we have and offer them training and protection.”

“Protection? What, you gonna kill them if they don’t work for you?” I asked jokingly.

“No, Zack. We offer them a chance to hone their skills and unlock new abilities they otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of. I’m sure you’ve realized by now that whenever you mindshift, you feel hungry, especially for sugar,” he glanced pointedly at the last two sections of the chocolate in my hand. I nodded, put both in my mouth and crumpled the wrapper into a ball.

“Using these abilities quickly drains a body of it’s resources,” Professor Michael continued. “Sugar is the fastest way to replenish your energy, but it’s not healthy. If you don’t have sugar on hand or fat in your body, you start breaking down muscle to fuel your abilities. The longer you use it, the more energy you need. That’s why you probably wouldn’t see an overweight person who had and used extracognitive abilities. And that’s also why there aren’t many of us. Many often don’t live long enough to pass on their skills to the next generation. If they don’t learn to control their abilities and use them sparingly, they could, in a way, think themselves to death.”

I had nothing to say to that, but I did think to the relatives – or rather, the lack of them – on my father’s side. It seemed that Professor Michael’s ominous statement might hold some water. After all, I’ve never met my grandparents, nor are any of my living paternal relatives shifters.

“Naturally, I would like to extend the offer of training in this institute to you. Due to their adaptive nature and no outward distinguishing characteristics, pure Mimics like yourself are extremely hard to find and you would be an invaluable asset once you’re fully trained.”

No wonder Dr. Michael was so excited about my twin sisters.

“Asset? What would I be doing here?” I asked suspiciously.

“Well, most of the time you would be discovering and developing new skills, practicing them on the patients here or teaching new recruits. But most likely you would be in the field. See, sometimes a mental illness or disability is brought on by mental abuse at the hands of someone using extracognitive abilities. For example, I know your father has a Historian stuck in his head and that he momentarily got back control of his body. I’m sure you can see that he could be perceived as having dissociative identity disorder, more commonly known as multiple personality or split personality disorder.

“Imagine someone, say, an Architect, were to repeatedly destroy the memories of another person. That might appear to result in amnesia or dementia. In your father’s case, there would be no offender to find since he caused this himself. However, when a patient with amnesia is admitted to this facility, we first check for foul play.

“This is the third part of what we do here. We locate people with extracognitive abilities and one way we do this is by tracking abusers of their abilities.”

“Wow. This seems straight out of a scifi movie. Very Alphas or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I came here to get help for my dad and I get sucked into a super secret subterranean society of superhumans. Is this one of those government departments that don’t exist? Or perhaps you ain’t on no government list, you straight don’t exist, no names and no fingerprints?”

Professor Michael smiled.

“You truly are a Mimic. Clever with words and always looking for the humorous side of everything. This isn’t Men in Black, my boy, but we might not let some people remember.”

He winked and I blinked. I hadn’t expected him to get the reference.

“What if I refuse? What if I don’t want to be part of your whole brain game?” I challenged.

“Well, I would strongly urge you to reconsider. You might even be able to learn some skills in time to help your father recover faster.”

I hesitated. It seemed a little too good to be true. He was essentially giving me a job offer, with training. My father would be taken care of and I’d have professional help with my abilities. The thought of teaching and fieldwork in the future didn’t appeal much to me though.

“Let me help you make up your mind,” the professor continued. “If you join us now, I could help get your father into this facility and start providing him with the help he needs as soon as tomorrow morning.”

I thought about it. As long as Dad got in and got help, I could leave if I wanted to and I could always quit after Dad recovered. Besides, if I didn’t help him now, where else would I go?

“Okay,” I agreed.

What did I have to lose?

Click here for Chapter Nine

-Jace

Dissecting Splice

I watched Splice recently and I have mixed feelings about it.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

It was released in 2009/2010, but I didn’t watch it until now. I thought it was going to be a simple sci-fi type show about genetics, somewhere between Alien and Jurassic Park but it was all that and then some. I don’t even quite know how to start this review.

Hmm… I guess the first thing I want to comment on is the speed of the show. It was moderately slow at first, sped up in the middle and then felt rushed at the end. With no unexpected twists, it was relatively easy to follow and predict. I got every single prediction right, even down to the ending scene. The plot was obvious, but since it wasn’t a mystery or detective show, I didn’t mind that. It was very weird when it suddenly shifted from pure sci-fi to thriller starting with Dren rising from the dead and killing all three males. Even the part when Dren killed and ate a small animal could have been passed off as a genetic trait thing, not a psychopath indicator.

The second half of the show sped up a little once Dren became a small humanoid female instead of an amorphous bird-like creature. That was when it became interesting for me. I was a little weirded out at the cuteness, intelligence and childlike behaviour Dren exhibited. It was hard to stop thinking of Dren as a little girl and every time I unconsciously did so, the show would slap me in the face with her coiled legs, tail and four-fingered hands. I didn’t even mind her baldness or barely-human facial features.

Even though the pace was moderately slow, I still felt like there was a lot of information crammed into the show and there’s definitely a lot of design space left to explore. Splice could easily have been a shorter film with multiple sequels, which may or may not have involved Dren, even though it was killed in the end. I mean, after Clive stabbed it, it could have escaped to recover and come back stronger and more bloodthirsty, not unlike how the Xenomorphs in Alien adapt to their enemies and use their strengths against them. Dren was already shown to have accelerated healing and at least limb regeneration, almost to the point of it being a full on healing factor.

Oh. I see why they didn’t do that. I guess that might have been a little too much of an Alien ripoff.

After the show, I read the Wiki for Spice and found that the director, Vincenzo Natali, said there would probably not be a sequel, even though the ending seems to be a cliff hanger.

BUT WHYYYYY???

There’s so much design space to explore. For example, Elsa’s mutant child could grow, escape and start a whole new species by raping humans. Maybe even suggest that Dren is a very very very distant ancestor of the Xenomorphs. That would push the horror/thriller aspect even further.

Perhaps how about explaining how Dren grew the poisonous stinger back, or even how she he it grew it in the first place, given that none of it’s genetic components have “predatory characteristics”? That stinger is clearly an offensive tool. What about going the “government wants to create a secret bio-weapon-slash-perfect-soldier” theme?

They could have gone off the book too. Instead of turning Dren into a predatory creature with a vengeance in the end, they could have made it a very weird coming-of-age sequel, focused on Clive and Elsa teaching Dren to live as a human. Because, you know, for sweetness and family friendliness.

Okay nevermind, scratch that, that’s too weird.

Or is it?

I’m referencing the scene where Clive and Dren have sex, which was wrong on so many levels. Let’s start with moral incest. Forget that Dren itself is a big freaking moral dilemma and focus on the fact that Clive literally raised her and loves Dren as a daughter. Then we have the whole cross species thing, which takes beastiality to a whole new level. Why do the dirty with one non-human when you could do it with a human plus bird plus rabbit plus kangaroo plus whatever else Dren is made from at the same time?

That is one extreme fetish.

Don’t even get me started on the whole adultery thing. Is it adultery if you do it with a non-human? If yes, does masturbation or sex dolls count? Heck, is it adultery if you screw your wife’s clone? Because Dren’s human DNA comes from Elsa, which makes her a part clone.

I’m bordering dangerously on twin territory now, but before I move on, just let it sit in your mind that since Dren became male, Clive did a tranny.

There’s a whole lot of possibilities with Dren’s mutations. It’s unclear to me if Dren was evolving because of her genes, or if her mutations were the result of a type of rapid evolution in response to her environment. Like Darwin’s ability in X-men, or the Xenomorphs ability to draw genetic traits from their hosts? (I know I keep referencing Alien. I would apologise for that, but that would be a lie.)

Even if they wanted to explore the whole monster thriller genre, some of the mutations were just plain weird. Like her amphibious lungs. Side note: Clive was clearly trying to drown Dren, no argument there. Back to the lungs. Why amphibious lungs? Wouldn’t retractable gills be more logical? Or even permeable skin, allowing her to partially absorb oxygen in water, like amphibians?

The wings and frills on her back were also totally unnecessary. Dren is already a master of movement on land, with aquatic abilities. Giving her sky control is just overpowered. She doesn’t need to fly when she can already do Hulk jumps. I would have accepted her wings and frills if they were merely a way of maximizing skin surface area for her permeable skin to breathe in water, or even warming herself in the sun, like the dorsal sails of some animals do.

Give her a scorpion tail? Sure. Make her hyper agile and flexible? Awesome. Superhuman strength? Cool. Predatory instincts and a desire for vengeance? A shoe in. Play on the feminism “fear” that women could be just as strong as or even stronger than men? Okay. But wings? No. Wings were just over the top for me.

I guess when it comes to Dren, or bio-engineering, for that matter, the sky’s the limit.

-Jace