Monthly Archives: May 2015

Pitch Perfect 2

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!

Stop now if you haven’t seen Pitch Perfect 2 and don’t want to be spoiled.

I watched Pitch Perfect 2 with my friend Song in the cinema on Monday. Why? Because Anna Kendrick is hot. We both loved the first Pitch Perfect, so we made a deal to watch the sequel together when it came out.

I preferred the first one. It was tighter, had more substance and the characters were more relatable. Anna Kendrick is just as hot in the second movie, but her character Becca was just weird. She was so different from the Becca in the first show. The plot of second show was a lot more messy, and there were a lot more cringe-worthy moments, starting with Fat Amy’s “big reveal” barely five minutes into the show.

Even the songs were weird, but that’s a matter of personal taste. I didn’t recognize or like most of the new songs in the show, although the final version of Emily’s Flashlight was quite nice. Not as catchy as Cups, but pleasant enough. Not enough to redeem the whole show though.

Okay, I’m rambling randomly. Let me systematically hit PP2.

Cringe-worthy moments
Like I mentioned earlier, there were a lot of cringe-worthy moments, a lot more than the first movie. Come to think of it, I can’t actually remember a single moment in Pitch Perfect off the top of my head right now (I re-watched the first movie the day before with my parents), whereas I can recall several from the second like:
-the opening performance (wayyy too many props and very unlike the Bellas)
-Fat Amy’s crotch reveal at said performance
-the performance at the old people’s place
-Every scene regarding Fat Amy’s and Bumper’s (very) forced and awkward romance
-Becca’s weird attraction to the DSM’s female leader
-DSM’s not very bright second-in-command
-the weird riff-off that felt like a rip-off of the original riff-off and which the host made me think of Balls of Fury

I could go on. I get that it’s a comedy/musical chick-flick, but the plot and character development could have used a lot of work.

Character Development
Becca – The first movie was about Becca and how she fit into the Barden Bellas and made them better. She kept to herself, but eventually became a natural leader. In the second movie, she spends most of her time interning at a record producing company, getting coffee and burritos for everyone else. It was so different! Even when she spent time at the radio station in the first movie, she kept actively trying to get her music on air. Not in the second movie. She just kept to herself until she spontaneously mashed up Christmas carols with Snoop Dogg and the boss had to ASK her for submissions. Also, Jesse could have been played up a lot more.

Chloe – Another major character shift here. Chloe was the voice of reason and encouragement to Aubrey’s controlling ambitiousness in the first film. Now she’s the one obsessed with winning? Another thing: How old is Chloe? How long has she been in Barden University? I’m assuming she was at least a third-year in an average four-year college course, and since PP2 took place three years later, Chloe has been at Barden Univeristy for SIX years. She also mentions she failed a subject several times just to stay in BU. Like, damn.

Emily – I’m not sure what was going on with Emily. The blossoming romance between her and Benji was sweet, but it could have been developed lot better. I would have liked to see less of Fat Amy-Bumper and more Emily-Benji. I felt like Emily should have been more of the focus of the show, but then again I guess it could be argued that it would have turned out to be like a Becca V2 (i.e. new member pops in, saves the group and makes it more awesome than it was before).

Overall Plot
I felt like there was too much going on with the show, right from the get-go. Their opening performance for the President of the United States was so bad, even I could tell. I mean, what happened? It was more of a circus act than an a capella performance.

The change in music style was very obvious as well. In the first film, there were a lot of memorable and recognizable songs. Sing-along-songs. In PP2, not so much. Maybe I’m not a music nut, but the number of songs I recognized and was able to sing along to is significantly greater than the number of songs I knew in the second movie.

DSM, the new antagonist, was also very… weird. Competitive I can understand, but downright mean and straight up rude was just overdoing it. They didn’t even have any wit. Their song style was also very military, with strong, rigid movements and sounds, but that’s only one angle. They had so much more diversity in the riff-off then in their performances. How could this have been Europe’s top a capella team?

I’m happy that Pentatonix made a cameo near the end, but it would have been fun to have them as an actual team in the show. Heck, they could have been the “villain” instead of DSM. It would’ve been so much more believable.

I must say I’m pretty disappointed with the whole show. It didn’t meet the expectations and the hype, and it lost its connection to its audience via relatable songs. It did have some cool new elements like a brief beatbox battle, an original song and bringing back generations of Bellas at the finals, but the rest… bleah. I hope they don’t make a third movie.

The first show was so much better, it was perfect.

Pitch perfect.

-Jace

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Ingress – You Mad Bro? Mission Series

Fourth mission series! This brings my total missions up to 95, so I’ll definitely get the Gold Spec Ops badge once we complete the fifth mission series. Created by Enlightened agent MelvinChen, this series was set in Toa Payoh and was actually pretty fun and funny.

The whole image is made up of 18 missions in two 3×3 blocks. One block forms a troll face and the other forms the internet meme catchphrase ‘You Mad Bro?’.

01 You Mad Bro Complete

Mission Series notes:
– All missions are around Toa Payoh Central and Toa Payoh Sensory Park
– Mostly Hacking but there are several Capture/Upgrade Portals, Create Links, Create Fields, Passphrases, and at least one Install Mod
– All mission waypoints have to be completed in sequence
– Two missions are Hidden Waypoints with Passphrases
– Passphrases and answers to the clues to find the hidden portals are included in the guide
– Took Dad and I three and a half hours to complete, mostly on foot
– There are lots of repeated portals, so start the next mission before you hack a non-mission portal, and make sure you don’t fully upgrade or mod any portals until you finish the whole series
– Prep MultiHacks, Heat Sinks and Jarvis/ADA viruses in case you mess up (I had to use two ADAs myself and a few multi hacks)
– There are two ‘O’ missions (for the O in ‘YOU’ and ‘BRO’). Doesn’t matter which one you do first, but I recommend following the order we did
– I also recommend going with only one or two other people, since it’ll be easier take down enemy portals and you won’t have to fight so much over linking or deploying mods

SPOILER ALERT: THIS IS A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO THIS MISSION SERIES. ALL ANSWERS TO THE PASSPHRASE QUESTIONS AND NEXT WAYPOINT CLUES WILL BE PROVIDED.

We completed the whole thing on Saturday night (2nd May), starting from 10.30pm and finishing at 2am. We started out driving, then walked when we met a portal that we couldn’t access from the road (the B mission), then it rained and slowed us down. Averaging out all the time taken and I think you should take around the same time we did if you go completely on foot.

The first six missions were really easy. Just hack-in-sequence waypoints.

02 O Mission
‘O’ Mission Map

03 R Mission
‘R’ Mission Map

We started off driving to complete the first two missions, but when we hit the third mission, we realized we’d have to get out of the car, so Dad parked at the car park beside the Toa Payoh interchange.

04 B Mission
‘B’ Mission Map

At this mission, we had some problems because the portals were under shelter and we took some time to drift over to the right ones. I think MelvinChen purposely chose this location to make it difficult for us (i.e. trolling XD).

Important Note!
Do NOT install any mods on the TP Giant Coin portal in the ‘B’ mission. You’ll need to install a mod on it later for the first part of the middle face section, just after the ‘M’ mission.

Anyway, after that, Dad and I continued on with the bottom of the troll face. Pretty straightforward and much easier since the portals were all out in the open.

05 Face Bottom Right
Bottom of Face Mission #1 Map

06 Face Bottom Middle
Bottom of Face Mission #2 Map

07 Face Bottom Left
Bottom of Face Mission #3 Map

So that took us down and then back up around Toa Payoh Interchange and I took a screenshot of our progress.

08 Bottom Row Complete

We moved up to the Toa Payoh Library for the next three missions, ‘D’, ‘A’ and then ‘M’.

09 D Mission
‘D’ Mission Map

10 A Mission
‘A’ Mission Map

11 M Mission
‘M’ Mission Map

For the ‘A’ Mission, there’s no need to cross the road for the first two portals. You can reach the second portal from the Library side before turning southward to the last two portals. You do have to cross Toa Payoh Central for the ‘M’ mission though, but you don’t need to cross Lor 4 Toa Payoh.

Now, the missions get tricky. The Face Middle Mission #1 is the first mission I’ve encountered to have hidden waypoints. Luckily, all the clues were very easy to workout or Google. At this point, it would’ve been a good idea to head back to the car for a drink of water before continuing on. But ah well, hindsight.

12 Face Middle Right
Middle of Face #1 Mission Map

So yeah. That’s all they showed for the hidden waypoint missions. This was a Capture/Upgrade portal waypoint, which we passed easily. The next waypoint was the clue: “Biggest Coin in Toa Payoh”. If you tap on the nearby portals, you’ll find one named TP Giant Coin, slightly westward. Once you get into range, it’ll tell you to install a mod.

13 Clue - Biggest Coin

This was the problematic portal because it was under shelter. I had to drift to ADA it because I’d maxed out mod spaces, then we had to take it down, then drift over it again to plant a mod. Sigh. That ate up a lot of time. This should totally have been a mission on it’s own.

Thanks a lot MelvinChen

After we completed walking around and waving our phones in the air installing the mod, the next clue was: “Top transport service that will break down now and then”. I couldn’t help but snigger; it was obvious this was the MRT, so I tapped around for the Toa Payoh station portal, which turned out to be northward.

14 Clue - Top Transport Service

Once we reached the TP Station portal, a passphrase popped up. The clue was: “In what year did the squatters start to move out?”

15 TP Station Passphrase

It was an easy Google search for “toa payoh squatters move out” and I found the answer in the first hit. On the Wikipedia page in the History section, it says that the squatters started moving out in 1962.

We typed that in and passed. The clue to the next portal was: “Tree that fell in 2013”. I started Googling for it, but before the results came back, Dad had already found a nearby portal and guessed it.

16 Clue - Fallen Tree

The portal is Banyan Tree and it’s northeast of the TP Station portal. I think it’s the unclaimed portal in the screenshot above. When we reached it, this passphrase popped up: “In which yeah did Queen Elizabeth II first visit Toa Payoh?”

17 Fallen Tree Passphrase

Again, I flipped to Google and again, before the results came back, Dad had figured it out by guessing. The answer is 1972, and I found it in the second result. And just like that, we completed the mission.

The next mission also is a hidden waypoints mission, with the first waypoint being a Capture/Upgrade Portal as well.

18 Face Middle Middle
Middle of Face #2 Mission Map

After we completed that waypoint, the clue was so straightforward that it was an actual instruction: “Travel North East 55 Degrees”. Small note here: Cross Toa Payoh Central road northward when you finish this waypoint. The next portals are all on that side of the road.

19 Clue - Travel Northeast

There was only one portal North East and close by: Sun Floor Mural. In the screenshot above, the Sun Floor Mural is the portal near the COMM tab. We moved down a bit, without crossing the road, and this passphrase clue popped up: “How do you write Toa Payoh in Malay?”

20 Sun Floor Mural Passphrase

Now this was the best troll waypoint ever. Toa Payoh in Malay is Toa Payoh. I had no idea and didn’t even think to guess that before turning to Google. I hadn’t even loaded up the screen yet when my Dad guessed it successfully. In my defence, I was busy taking screenshots and making notes of the mission. Since he’d already put in “Toa Payoh”, I put in “toapayoh” to check for case sensitivity and whether the space matters.

It doesn’t. My answer was accepted and the next clue appeared on screen: “Also a mural, but it’s not a Sun”.

21 Clue - Also a Mural

See the only blue portal in the picture? That’s the portal you need to go to. It’s called Flower Mural. Now you know why I told you to cross the road first. And the passphrase clue for Flower Mural is: “Name the TV show on Toa Payoh”.

22 Flower Mural Passphrase

Hah! Finally something Daddy couldn’t guess. I Googled it and found the answer in the second hit: Home in Toa Payoh. Actually, the answer was also in the Toa Payoh Wiki, but I tapped on the second one first.

The clue for the next portal was last of the hidden waypoints for this mission series and also the most obscure: “It’s near a MSCP”. I was about to Google “MSCP” when my genius Dad kicked my butt in the guessing game again: MSCP stands for Multi-Storey Car Park. Looking around, we saw the MSCP and headed to the portal nearest to it: Birds on a Grill.

23 Clue - Near MSCP

The passphrase clue that showed was: “Who is the Minister for Toa Payoh?”

24 Birds on a Grill Passphrase

Now, the accepted answer is Dr Ng Eng Hen, but we tripped up a bit here. When I Googled for the answer, I misspelled his name, adding a “g” at the end, so it was wrong. Dad and I puzzled over this for a while, but finally figured out my careless mistake.

I’m concerned: What if this changes? Is there a way to alter the waypoint clue? Also, I’m not sure if “Dr” is required. Can you leave it out and just put Ng Eng Hen? Can you enter “Doctor Ng Eng Hen” instead? Someone try and let me know, thanks!

Finally, back to normal missions!

25 Face Middle Left
Middle of Face #3 Mission Map

I was quite happy to find this complete map. But this one is not just hacking! Here’s what you need to do:

26 Face Middle Left Waypoints

Do note that when you create a field, you must stand on the stated portal and close a field from there. My dad had the same keys I did but there was only one field available, so I let him close that while I jogged to collect keys and create another field. Simple enough. Once we finished that, I took a screenshot of our two complete rows.

27 Two Rows Complete

I saw that the ‘U’ mission was back at the Sensory Park, so I suggested that we head back to the car, have a drink of water (man, we were parched), and drive over, so that’s what we did. Also, it had just started drizzling and we were hoping to complete the rest of the missions by car. I didn’t want to have to go home with only two rows and have to come back again another day.

28 U Mission
‘U’ Mission Map

29 O Mission
‘O’ Mission Map

30 Y Mission
‘Y’ Mission Map

The ‘U’, ‘O’ and ‘Y’ missions were all back to hack-in-sequence waypoints, so we cleared those quickly. Or, at least, as quickly as the rain would allow. The rain became really heavy just before mission ‘Y’, so Dad parked at the start of ‘Y’ and we took umbrellas out of the car.

It was a nightmare completing the last three missions under our umbrellas, but the rain didn’t dampen our spirits, only our pants and shoes. Besides, it was just three more missions and like I said, I really didn’t want to go home without completing the series.

31 Face Top Right
Top of Face #1 Mission Map

32 Face Top Right Waypoints

This mission was a harder one, starting with a Capture/Upgrade portal waypoint that my Dad and I had already fully upgraded and modded. I had to use my second ADA virus to recapture the portal and complete the waypoint. The second portal was shooting a link, so since we had a bunch of keys, we passed this waypoint easily. And the last two were normal hacks.

33 Face Top Middle
Top of Face #2 Mission Map

All hack-in-sequence. No trouble. Do note that the third portal is in between the first two, so focus on hacking in sequence, otherwise you might be stuck there for five minutes. That would be okay if you had a heat sink or it doesn’t rain, but we didn’t have that luxury. Luckily I snapped a screenshot before we hacked the first portal so I was able to warn my Dad.

34 Face Top Left
Top of Face #3 Mission Map

35 Face Top Left Waypoints

Last mission! This was pretty okay. We had shelter for the first portal, but the rain got a little lighter so we didn’t have much trouble hitting the middle two waypoints. Since they were Resistance portals, we were able to take them down and clear the waypoints easily. Install Mod and Create Link respectively.

The last waypoint of the mission was past the car, but I noticed it was by the roadside, so we headed back to the car and then Dad drove us to the portal. Since it was near 2am, there was hardly any traffic and we were able to stop by the road side for a few minutes to upgrade the portal.

36 Three Rows Complete

And we’re done! Now might be a good point to let you know that there’s a 24hr MacDonald’s near the library, so once you’re done, you can pop in for a midnight snack. It was still surprisingly crowded at 1.30am.

Overall, I think this was a pretty good mission series and heck of a lot easier than the first three series we did. It had just the right amount of complexity, humour and required time to complete. We didn’t have to drive so far like we did for Uniquely Singapore, nor do it over several days like the Land missions, nor even walk 15km for Perdition’s Road.

Very satisfying indeed. Although the shelter at the TP Giant Coin was very annoying.

You Mad Bro?

-Jace

Ingress – Perdition’s Road Mission Series

So, another mission series by FortMax, although this time all the missions were in Seng Kang area. This is a series of 18 missions, forming a pretty nice image of the Ingress logo with the Resistance and Enlightened symbols on either side.

01 Perdition's Road Complete

Mission Series Notes:
– All missions contain a series of 4 Hack Portal waypoints
– All waypoints have to be hacked in sequence
– Takes more than 6 hours to complete on foot, so do it in batches, or use a bike/skates, or a car, like we ended up doing in the end.
– Always, ALWAYS start the next mission before hacking any portal that’s not part of the current mission you’re doing. See below for details.
– There are two major breaks, between Chapters 5-6 and Chapters 11-12

22 Mar 2015 – Chapters 1-3
We started this mission series immediately after the Land of Series, hoping to complete at least a row of six before we went back. But, as mentioned in the last post, we got rained out. Managed to push through the first three chapters before we were thoroughly drenched.

These three chapters weren’t much of a problem. The first chapter was a lot farther south from the end of the Land of Water mission (and our car) than I’d estimated, so it was a quite a walk to get there. However, the end of each mission was pretty close to the start of its subsequent mission, so it was easy to brave the rain and continue once we started. The third chapter ended closer to our car than if we were to finish the fourth, so we stopped for the day and went home for dinner.

02 Perdition's Road Chapter 1
Chapter 1

03 Perdition's Road Chapter 2
Chapter 2

04 Perdition's Road Chapter 3
Chapter 3

4 Apr 2015 – Chapters 4-18
And we’re back, two weeks later, to complete this mission series. Did this over Saturday night/Sunday morning, starting at around 9.45pm. Dad parked the car and we were off to Chapter 4. Here’s a warning though: Chapters 4 and 5 are VERY close. Literally one portal away. Take a look at the maps.

05 Perdition's Road Chapter 4
Chapter 4

06 Perdition's Road Chapter 5
Chapter 5

See, the end of Chapter 4 is less than 40m from the starting portal of Chapter 5. Dad and I made the same mistake of hacking said portal before we started Chapter 5, meaning we had to stand around for five minutes before we could hack again to satisfy the mission waypoint. We didn’t want to take it down because we felt it took too much time. The point was to complete the missions as fast as possible, so we only took down low level portals that had little to no shielding.

Take note that there’s a huge break between Chapters 5 and 6, and Chapter 6 itself contains portals that are quite spread out. It looks decent on the map, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that the map is quite zoomed out.

07 Perdition's Road Chapter 6
Chapter 6

08 Chapter 1-6 Complete
Decided to take a screenshot of the first 6 chapters completed.

We slowed down at Chapter 7 because there were quite a few clusters of portals we could take down and link together. At the end of that mission, we sat on a ledge that allowed us to reach three L8 blue portals and were happily glyph hacking. We decided to take down all three, since we were already sitting down and each blast could hit three portals.

09 Perdition's Road Chapter 7
Chapter 7

The Resistance are really fast. Within minutes of our attacks, three enemy agents (ahzpek, ecchua and diamana) appeared to reinforce the portals we were attacking. I guess they were alerted to our presence when we were hitting the small clusters before reaching the three L8 portals. I continued attacking a bit more before I realized we were outnumbered. Dad and I said our hellos and goodbyes and continued on our way.

We completed Chapters 8-11 without incident, then realized we were turning northwards, back towards our car, starting from Chapter 11. I thought the whole series would make a circuit, but it didn’t.

10 Perdition's Road Chapter 8
Chapter 8

11 Perdition's Road Chapter 9
Chapter 9

12 Perdition's Road Chapter 10
Chapter 10

13 Perdition's Road Chapter 11
Chapter 11

Chapter 12 was 1.2km away from the end of Chapter 11, which was mildly annoying. It was a little past midnight, so there was little traffic, which was nice. Chapter 12 was a very weird mission. Take a look at the map.

14 Perdition's Road Chapter 12
Chapter 12

First, it was in a U-shape. The other missions were all more or less in one direction. This mission was also the most ulu. We walked into semi-detached-like houses, but there was very little light. No street lamps at all. It’s a good thing there were two of us; I don’t think I would have entered alone. Remember that it was way past 12 midnight and especially eerie.

15 Perdition's Road Chapter 1-12
After we completed it, I took another screenshot. It was nice to see the whole image slowly developing, like watching IE buffer a large image. Heh.

Okay here are a few important notes for Chapter 13. Remember I said to be careful of hacking random portals lest you make the same mistake my Dad and I did for Chapter 4-5? Well, Chapter 13 is weird in that you will walk past the second portal to hit the first. Since it’s a sequence mission, if you don’t look at the map, you’ll naturally want to hack that portal since it’s on the way.

16 Perdition's Road Chapter 13
Chapter 13

When you move from the end of Chapter 12 to the start of 13, you’ll need to actually go into IMH area. I don’t know how to describe it. Just look and follow your game map. Last thing to note is that once you get portal waypoints 1 and 2, turn back out the way you came in. Dad and I continued walking inwards, making a bee line for the third waypoint, but we were blocked by a gate. Apparently, it isn’t open at night.

17 Perdition's Road Chapter 14
Chapter 14

After we completed Chapter 14, we decided to head back to the car because it was about 1.30am and we were tired. Bought a 100+ on the way back from a 7-Eleven, which was the most refreshing thing ever. We got back to the car and completed the last four missions. Luckily, they were all easily accessed from the car. There was only one portal that we had to hop out to get in Chapter 15, but that took all of two minutes and there were no other cars on the street.

18 Perdition's Road Chapter 15
Chapter 15

19 Perdition's Road Chapter 16
Chapter 16

20 Perdition's Road Chapter 17
Chapter 17

Chapters 16 and 17 were both around a HDB area, so it was easy to just drive at the parking lot area to get all the portals.

21 Perdition's Road Chapter 18
Chapter 18

Chapter 18 made us end up at Jalan Kayu area, waaayyyy further than where Dad had parked the car. Imagine if we had decide to walk the whole thing. I think we’d have gotten back to the car at around 5am. The end of the whole mission also proved to be nostalgic for my Dad, because that area was where he’d first lived with my mum.

-Jace

The Soylent Experiment

This is a personal recount of my experience with Soylent. After waiting for so long, I finally started consuming it. I was supposed to start a week before, but during that period I was having a stomach bug, so I postponed the start date. Wouldn’t be a fair experiment otherwise. My lifestyle is quite active. I do my best to exercise every week; weekly dance practice on Sundays, short runs and pullups and kicks during work days, and Ingress walks and parkour sessions at least once a week. Since I’ve recovered, my health is at it’s normal level when I started.

I’m using Soylent v1.2, just FYI. They changed the oil so now it doesn’t use fish oil, meaning that I can consume it without worrying about triggering an allergy reaction. The aim is to see if Soylent can replace my meals and actually fill me, and also to determine how much money I’ll save, if any.

1st April
One Meal (Lunch)

This is my first time I’m preparing and consuming Soylent. I had a medical checkup for my asthma at NUH today, just before lunch time, so I thought it would be useful to bring a bottle of chilled Soylent to the hospital. I didn’t know how long the appointment would take.

I prepared one serving in the morning. The instructions said one scoop of Soylent to two scoops of water. I prepared everything I needed on the kitchen counter then proceeded to open up the packet. Protip: Tap the bag to make sure the powder settles at the bottom, because if you don’t, the bag will explode. Okay, not really, but a bit of the powder did fly out over the table and my hands. I decided to see what it tastes like. It was kinda malty and the taste was closer to Horlicks than anything else. It was sweet, but not overly so. Quite pleasant, but not addictive. Mind you, this was just the powder. I hadn’t drunk the real thing yet.

The opening of my bottle wasn’t big enough for the scoop to fit, so I used a funnel. The powder doesn’t flow nicely, so next time I’ll prepare everything in the pitcher given, then pour it out into individual servings. Took me a while to shake all the powder into the bottle. Then I added two scoops of water. The first one didn’t fully wash in all the powder, which I noticed didn’t absorb water very well. The powder that stuck to the funnel just eroded with the force of the water I poured. I poured in the second scoop of water more gently, controlling the flow until all the powder washed in.

01 Powder in the Bottle

Next, I added in one and a half teaspoons of the oil, as per instructions. The oil was nearly odourless unless you intentionally smell it, but it smelt just like normal oil. Then I capped my bottle tightly and started shaking it. Again, I noticed that the powder didn’t absorb the water well and there were still clumps of powder inside. I shook harder until most of the clumps were gone, then I left my bottle to chill in the fridge for about an hour or so. I think I might ask my mum for her blender next time.

02 Before Shaking
Before shaking

03 After shaking
After shaking

Looks a bit like a lighter version of Milo, huh? Didn’t taste like it. Didn’t taste like anything at all. What I licked from my hand was concentrated Soylent and it was mild. Blending it with two parts water made the whole thing tasteless. I can’t say I like this drink much. It’s grainy, tasteless and messy. When I came home, I finished what was left of the drink, then added more water to wash out the rest of the powder clumps that stuck to the sides of the bottle.

Perhaps I need to actually blend it. The particles are quite heavy, so I think it’s supposed to be a suspension, not a mixture. I’m going to add my mum’s chocolate condensed milk tomorrow and see if it tastes better.

Nutrition-wise, it was pretty okay. During and after drinking Soylent, I craved something savoury and I kept thinking of fried chicken, but I wasn’t hungry enough to buy a snack. It filled me well enough, but it was overall unsatisfying. I had expected something slightly sweet. It was also quite thick and when I added more water to get the dregs of the drink, I found it much easier to swallow and didn’t feel the thickness or the graininess as much.

Meh. I hope I feel a lot more benefits from Soylent then I did drinking it.

2nd-3rd April
One Meal per Day (Lunch, then dinner next day)
I had to prep two meals at home, so I used the pitcher that was provided, instead of my bottle, because I thought it would be easier to mix the larger quantity in a larger container. Also, I made a few changes.

First, I added an extra cup of water per scoop of Soylent. I figured that since it was thick, I’ll add more water. I also added Chocolate condensed milk, something my mum bought back from overseas. I forget where. Maybe Malaysia. Or Hong Kong. Anyway, the point is, I can’t get that in Singapore.

04 Chocolate Condensed Milk

So I added in all the ingredients into the pitcher, shook it well and brought it into camp. We have a fridge in the guardroom, so I put it there until lunch. SAF meals are usually pretty horrible, so I wasn’t going to miss anything by having Soylent instead of army crap.

When I took the pitcher out, I shook it some more, then poured it into a cup. It was surprisingly smooth and tasted much better than when I had it plain yesterday. The chocolate taste wasn’t strong, but it was there. The graininess of the drink also went down and it was a lot more palatable.

I’ve noticed that whenever I drink Soylent, I crave something salty, like fried chicken. I didn’t want to eat the fried chicken because I was hungry, I just wanted something savoury in my mouth. Good thing there was seaweed chicken provided in the dinner rations, so I ate those and felt satisfied.

4th April
One Meal (Lunch)
I made the same Soylent as the last two days, but this time I used Hershey’s Chocolate syrup instead of my mum’s chocolate condensed milk. Pretty much the same thing, but this was less thick, for obvious reasons.

05 Hershey's Chocolate Syrup

5th April
Two Meals (Breakfast and Lunch)
Mum gave me permission to use a bit of her vanilla extract, so that’s what I did this morning when I made my Soylent. Or at least, I tried to. The first bottle I found had a red liquid inside. It said “Vanilla Extract” on the bottle, so I thought it must be vanilla extract. Turns out, it wasn’t. It didn’t do anything to the Soylent except turn it pink and stain my fingers red.

I searched a bit more and found a similar bottle that had a brown liquid inside. This time, I opened the bottle and took a whiff, expecting to smell vanilla, but I all I got was a pungent, acidic smell that tickled my nose. No way was I going to risk adding that to my drink. In the end, I went back to chocolate syrup because that was the safest. It didn’t change the colour of Soylent, but it did its job.

I managed to not eat anything since I woke up until about 3pm, when I had three digestive biscuits because I was bored. Seriously, I need to stop eating when I bored. The point is, I only had one “proper” meal the whole day: Roast Chicken dinner, and it was delicious.

Lunch was the first time I actually had to forgo a meal with friends to stick to the Soylent experiment. Ah well, after this whole experiment is over, I’ll use Soylent sparingly, if I have any left.

6th-7th April
Two Meals per Day (Breakfast and Dinner, then Breakfast and Lunch)
My mum showed me the correct bottle for the vanilla extract, but vanilla essence didn’t do anything the the drink. Neither did the French Vanilla powder mum let me use. Okay, I wouldn’t say nothing; they changed the drink very minimally. It was a little sweeter, but I couldn’t taste any vanilla at all, as if I’d only added sugar. This Soylent just tasted how I imagined my first attempt would have tasted if I’d shaken the bottle properly.

I realised that although I love the concept of Soylent, it’s pretty miserable to survive on nothing but that. I still craved savoury stuff after each Soylent meal, especially fried chicken. I don’t know if it’s my body telling me that Soylent is not enough or is lacking in something, or if I just really love fried chicken. Probably the latter.

Anyway, I’ve decided to stop here. I definitely could survive on Soylent, but it’d be a really sad existence. It’s useful and efficient, but not tasty. Satiating, but not satisfying. Now the Soylent team is at version 1.4, two versions ahead of what I bought. Perhaps in future they’ll add different flavourings.

I’ve always said that Soylent was a choice, not a mandatory replacement of food. On Sunday I gave up a meal with my friends to stick to my Soylent and, looking back, it was a choice I’d like to change. Besides, I’ve gotten the data I wanted now.

Let’s see. Each packet of Soylent provided me with six meals and I bought seven packets at USD85 (I think). Anyway, if I include shipping, it’s about SGD236 at today’s exchange rate. $236 divided by 42 meals means its about $5.60 per meal. That’s actually pretty decent, considering I budget my meals to be about $5 per meal. Also, considering the shipping cost doubled the price, Soylent itself is actually really cheap.

Honestly, I don’t feel any change from having Soylent. I still poop regularly, but that could be because of my normal meals. Some people say that they fart a lot more, and I did notice an increase in my farts, but it didn’t bother me. Perhaps no change is good. It means that Soylent successfully replaced my meals and I was still able to maintain my active lifestyle.

I’ve got about five sealed packets left, so I’m going to save them for when I get my wisdom teeth extracted because I hate porridge and I automatically dislike anyone who suggests I eat it, not unlike some people who hate on Soylent.

-Jace

Sound

This is dedicated to one of my best friends, Song, for his birthday yesterday. At least I think it’s yesterday. I’m about 70% sure. Could be May 9th. Now he refuses to tell me because I forgot and so failed the friend test. Dammit Song. Happy (maybe belated, maybe early) birthday.

Note: This is the first part of a two part story. Click for part one.

“Greg, c’mon, don’t do this, man,” Terry urged him. Gregory had the cloak around him, but it wasn’t active yet, so it was nothing more than a tacky black cape. What had Terry feeling nervous was the small gun in Gregory’s hand, which was pointed right at Terry.

“Get out of the way, Terry,” Gregory pleaded. “I don’t want to hurt you but I really have to get out of here.”

“Where are you going with my cloak?” Terry asked without budging. He loved that cloak, even though technically it wasn’t his. And nobody was supposed to remove the cloak from the room except for specific Kyle-approved missions.

“I made it, so it’s mine and I can do whatever I want with it,” Gregory said as he waved the gun at Terry. “Move,” he spat. Terry moved aside, keeping his eyes locked onto Gregory’s. Something wasn’t right; Gregory wasn’t violent, so he must have a good reason for stealing the cloak. Wherever he was going, it seemed that he didn’t want to be found.

Gregory carefully manoeuvered his way around the tables and shelves of gadgets, all the while keeping the gun and one eye on Terry.

“You do know it’ll only last half an hour, right?” Terry asked.

“That’s why I built a bigger battery and I have spares in my pack,” Gregory replied. That explained the bulky backpack. Terry nodded.

“Where will you go?” Terry asked again.

“I can’t tell you,” Gregory’s replied was more pained and desperate this time. He’d reached the door and paused, lowering his gun. “Tell the others I’m sorry,” he whispered and shut off the lights. The room was plunged into darkness and Terry felt more than heard the vibration of the cloak. It was so gentle, so subtle, that if he didn’t know what it was, he wouldn’t have noticed it at all. Terry heard the door shut, slightly muffled by the cloak and sighed. With the cloak on, there was no way to track Gregory or contact him. Even physically following him was a near impossibility, as he’d be a little more than a mirage in the day time and practically invisible at night.

* * * * * *

“What happened?” Anthony Briggs demanded, the last of the group to arrive. Terry had called them all shortly after Gregory had left. It’d had taken him a while to pick the door in near complete darkness that Gregory had locked, before managing to make his way up from the subterranean levels of the compound to the surface where there was a cell signal.

“Gregory stole the cloak,” Terry replied and told them everything that had transpired only an hour ago. Anthony sat down and the room was silent while he processed what he’d heard. After a moment, he turned to Kyle and said, “Thoughts?”

“The doesn’t sound like something Gregory would do. We think he might be in some kind of trouble,” Kyle said evenly. “Even if he’s not, we’ve got to find him and figure out what’s going on.”

Anthony nodded in agreement. “What do you think we should do?” he asked.

“Rachel’s already trying to hack into Gregory’s workstation to look for clues,” Terry said. “We don’t want to take it to the police because they’ll just slow us down with questions and besides, they won’t find him. Like Kyle said, it’s not like him. We should give him the benefit of doubt.”

“Okay, but how are we going to find him?” Anthony asked. Kyle and Terry grinned.

“It’s ironic: the best person to track the cloak would’ve been Gregory himself. But Terry managed to come up with an ingenious plan. We want to find Gregory by sonar,” Kyle said smugly. Anthony looked at them incredulously and Terry continued, “The cloak adapts to absorb and cancel out any wave of sound that hits it. What if we use sonar to cover an area, then look for the spot where the sonar doesn’t bounce back?”

Anthony blinked. “That’s brilliant,” he said, and Terry beamed proudly.

“Rachel’s hacking into a sonar satellite as we speak and she set up my computer to alert us if Gregory’s mobile phone pings a cell tower. We figure he has to take it out of the cloak sometime,” Kyle said. “In the meantime, Terry and I are working out how far he could have gone, based on mode of transportation.”

“It’s gonna take a while,” Rachel piped up. “The satellite’s not in range yet. And once that comes in, we only have a fifteen minute window before it passes over and I have to hack the next one.”

“Why such a short time?” Anthony asked. “And why can’t you hack into the next once before it arrives?”

“The satellites with sonar capabilities stay in range for about an hour at most, usually less. It takes me a while to find such a satellite, then attack it. Depending on the security protocols, it can take anywhere between five to twenty minutes to crack. And, awesome as I am, I can’t hack a satellite that’s not within range.”

“Oh.”

The three guys sat while they watched Rachel type furiously at her machine. Minutes ticked by and Rachel kept tapping at her keyboard, until finally, she commanded, “Boys, map.”

Kyle spread the map and showed her the locations to send sonic pulses. First was his address, which got them nothing.

“Try tracking the route back towards HQ,” Terry said. “If he’s on foot then he’s probably not home yet. I’ll bet he’s probably on foot anyway: his phone signal hasn’t appeared, which means it’s still under the cloak, and I should think it would be hard to drive or flag a cab with the cloak active.” Rachel obliged him, slowly working her way back from Gregory’s residence. They all waited with baited breath and suddenly, a blip of silence appeared on the screen.

“Huh. That was easier than I expected,” Rachel commented. She stopped and scanned the same area several more times, each return signal showing the small black blip moving closer and closer to Gregory’s home.

“Looks like he’s going home,” Anthony said. “Let’s go pick him up. Good work, Rachel. Would you stay here and monitor his progress? Let us know if there’s any changes.”

Rachel nodded they left.

* * * * * *

Twenty minutes later, Anthony, Kyle and Terry sat in Anthony’s car outside Gregory’s address, all of them staring open-mouthed at the mansion that was supposedly where Gregory lived.

“I had no idea he was loaded,” Terry whispered.

“I knew, but I didn’t expect this,” Anthony whispered back.

“So are we going in or what?” Kyle prompted, shaking them out of their reverie.

“There aren’t any lights on inside. Call Rachel first,” Anthony said and Kyle did so.

“Hey, it’s me… Yeah, Kyle, who else?… Yeah we’re outside his place now… uh huh… okay, hang on,” Kyle said. “Rachel says he’s in there and hasn’t moved since he arrived about five minutes ago.

“Okay,” Anthony said. “Let’s go, and tell Rachel to stay on the line.”

They got out of the car and proceeded to Gregory’s front door. Terry knocked on the door, but they got no answer. “Guys,” Rachel said and Kyle relayed her words. “He’s not moving. I zoomed in to focus on his house, but he’s just staying in one spot.”

“Gregory!” Terry called out as he pounded the door again. Still no answer. Terry glanced at Kyle, who hesitated, then nodded. Terry took out his gold plated lockpick set, a reminder of a different life which felt like a long time ago, and knelt to examine the lock. In a minute, he’d picked it.

“You’re slowing down, old man,” Kyle joked.

“I’m nervous, ‘kay?” Terry muttered and slipped his set back into his pocket.

“Stop playing around,” Anthony chided, taking a torch out of his own pocket. “Ready?” he asked. Kyle and Terry nodded and Anthony pushed open the door. As they stepped in, Terry noted how quiet the house was and felt a slight murmur in his chest.

“The cloak is definitely here. I can feel it,” Terry said under his breath. They crept further in cautiously into the dark house, with Terry leading the way. Without warning, he stepped on something soft and tripped over it.

“What the hell?” he exclaimed. Anthony shone his torch over where Terry had tripped, but they saw nothing but a slight visual distortion.

“Greg!” Terry shouted, reaching his hands towards the distortion. He got a grip on the cloak and pulled it off, revealing an unconscious Gregory. Terry tossed the cloak to Kyle, who cut the power and the cloak shimmered back into view. Anthony knelt down and checked Gregory’s pulse, but upon feeling nothing, immediately started CPR.

“Rachel, call an ambulance. Tell them Greg is unconscious, possible heart attack,” Anthony calmly raised his voice in Kyle’s direction. Anthony checked Gregory’s pockets and found the gun he was carrying. “Terry, take the cloak, backpack and gun and run back to the car and stow them there. Then get the first aid kit and defibrillator from the boot. Kyle, hold my torch.”

Terry hesitated, then burst into action, grabbing Gregory’s possessions sprinting to the car. He found the medical supplies easily and hurried back as fast as he could.

“Open the defibrillator and take out the pads,” Anthony instructed as he removed Gregory’s shirt.

“C’mon Greg,” Terry muttered as Anthony placed the pads onto Gregory’s chest. They all stepped back and the defibrillator charged and shocked Gregory. Anthony checked his pulse again and sighed with relief.

“He’s back,” he told Kyle and Terry. “Gregory’s back.”

* * * * * *

15 hours later

Gregory stirred, opening one groggy eye. The first thing he noticed was the steady beeping coming from his right. He glanced over and saw a heart rate monitor. Where was he? What happened? He closed his eyes in confusion and tried to remember. Okay, yes. He’d gotten home, locked the door behind him and he was moving to his living room. There was a sudden sharp pain in his chest and the world went black. He vaguely remembered pressure on his chest and a tingle, but not much else.

Gregory’s eyes snapped open. Where was the cloak? The beeping increased. He tried to sit up, but was too weak to do so. He tried to bring his right hand to wipe the sleep from his face and found that it was cuffed to the railing of his bed. White sheets, white blanket, beeping monitor: he was in a hospital. Gregory became aware of a soft whirring or purring noise and looked around. Kyle was was gently snoring in a chair beside the bed, covered by a jacket.

“Kyle,” Gregory said. Or tried to. All that came out was a soft grunt. Gregory worked his mouth a bit and cleared his throat. “Kyle,” he repeated in a clearer voice this time. Kyle popped awake.

“Gregory,” Kyle said, a little coldly. “Glad you’re awake. We know why you stole the cloak. For a nerd, you’re not very bright.”

Gregory looked confused.

“Don’t play dumb. Rachel went through your phone and found everything. Your sister – Grace, is it? – was kidnapped and the cloak was demanded as ransom, wasn’t it?”

Gregory held Kyle’s gaze for a moment, then nodded, tears pricking his eyes.

“What I don’t understand,” Kyle continued. “Is why you didn’t tell us. We could have helped you.”

“The kidnappers know about you. They said they’d kill her if I went to the police or you guys for help. At first I thought they wanted my money – I have a huge inheritance,” Gregory added and Kyle nodded. “But they specifically demanded the cloak.”

“Well, Rachel’s already trying to track the number that sent you the demands. We started looking for her while you were out cold.”

“Yeah, about that, what happened? And how did you find me?”

“We think the cloak’s vibrations countered your heartbeat and your heart stopped. You wore the cloak a lot longer than Terry used to use it, so it seems like it takes some time to neutralize your heartbeat.” Kyle explained how they found him with sonar and Gregory snorted.

“Ironic. The main thing the cloak was designed to hide me from was used to find me. Perfect.”

“Don’t beat yourself up. It’s a good design and the first of it’s kind. You couldn’t have predicted all the side effects. Oh, by the way, a package came for you earlier,” Kyle said and tossed a small box wrapped in brown paper with Gregory’s name and address neatly printed on top.

Gregory unwrapped the box and opened it. A slip of white paper with red splotches flew out and drifted onto the floor, which Kyle automatically bent down to pick up. When he straightened up to return the note, he saw that the blood had drained Gregory’s face and he was staring at the contents of the box. Kyle took one look inside and threw up into the dustbin.

It was a single human toe, the nail painted a light shade of pink.

Gregory picked up the bloodstained note with trembling hands and unfolded it. It had an address and a time for tomorrow afternoon printed on it, with three more words at the bottom.

Don’t faint again.

* * * * * *

“Okay, here’s what we do,” Anthony commanded. “Kyle, since Gregory is out, you’ll take over communications. Terry,” Anthony turned to face him. “Just go in, get her and get out, okay? Avoid all conflict.”

“Yes sir,” Terry said.

They were several hundred meters outside a seemingly abandoned warehouse, in their ops van, preparing to get Terry in and rescue Grace Thomas. They’d found out it was one of their past clients and, thanks to Rachel, they’d tracked the signals to this warehouse.

“Rachel, eyes up yet?” Anthony asked. They were waiting on Rachel to hack into the cameras around the building.

“Last one and… okay!” Rachel said triumphantly as the last screen popped into life. “This one is the closest to the building,” she said and pointed to one of the screens. “There aren’t any cams inside. Not any I could find anyway.”

Terry wrapped the cloak around himself and stuck an earpiece into his ear. “Check, one two,” he whispered and heard his voice echo in the van. Kyle nodded and gave the thumbs up. Terry pulled the hood up and activated the cloak. Terry’s world reverberated and then went silent. Kyle waited a moment then said into his mic, “Terry, can you hear me?”

Terry heard him, very faintly even though the volume was turned all the way up. The cloak muffled all noise inside itself, so they had to send the sound directly into Terry’s ear for him to hear them. Of course, when the cloak was active, he couldn’t reply, but he could take action. He deactivated the cloak and the sounds of the night floated back.

“Okay, I’m going in.”

One last check of his gadgets and Terry was out of the van, heading towards the warehouse. He crept around the corner and paused.

“Clear,” Kyle whispered. Since the receiver was at maximum volume, they had to speak softly when the cloak was inactive. Terry hurried to the door and poked a small wire under it. At the end of the wire was a camera that relayed it’s feed back to the van.

“I can’t see anything inside,” Rachel said. “It’s too dark. Try going around to the window.” Terry moved on to the nearest window and peeked in. Not this one: there were men inside. He padded to the next window and cautiously looked inside. Empty. Good. He pulled out his picks and said, “Cloak on,” before activating the cloak. The world was silenced once again and Terry took his time to pick the lock on the window. After a minute, the lock opened with a satisfying click, which got silenced by the cloak. Terry cracked the window open and climbed in as quickly as he could, not worrying about noise. Once he was in, he shut the window and paused for a beat, then deactivated the cloak, telling the others “Cloak off.”

“I’m in,” Terry said. “Okay where is she?”

“Basement level. Two levels below you. Staircase to your right after you exit the room,” Kyle said, tracking Terry’s progress on the blueprints that Anthony had managed to obtain. Since this was a past client, Briggs Security Consulting had blueprints so that they knew where best to install their security system. Anthony had covertly made a copy.

Terry poked the wire camera out the door to check that it was clear before moving out of the room. He tiptoed quietly, one finger on the cloak’s activation button, ready to fade quietly into the shadows at any moment. He made it to the stairwell without incident. Peeking down through the railings, he checked that no one was there before descending.

“Okay guys, I’m at the bottom. Where is she?” Terry whispered. He paused for Kyle’s reply, but heard nothing. Crap, he thought. He was too far underground and the signal was lost. It looked like he was going on alone, so he stowed his wire camera and proceeded the old fashioned way: take a peek and hope no one caught him.

The corridor was empty. There were several windowless doors on either side. He carefully turned the closest doorknob and found that it was locked. Terry sighed. Picking all the locks would take some time, so he got to work.

The first door opened to some sort of storage room. Everything was in brown crates, and it was obvious that Grace wasn’t in here. The second room was unlocked, but completely empty. Terry moved on. As he was picking the third door, he heard a low moan from inside the room. He froze and listened, but nothing happened. Terry unlocked the door and opened it, revealing a petite girl gagged and chained to the far wall.

“Grace?” Terry whispered. She shrank back and whimpered. Terry glanced at her badly bandaged foot and felt a flare of anger for her captors. He also noticed her pink toenails. “Grace,” Terry repeated, this time more confidently. “Shh, it’s okay, I won’t hurt you. My name is Terry and I’m gonna get you out of here.” Terry knelt beside her. “I’m a friend of Greg’s. Can you look at me to show me you understand?” Grace weakly lifted her head and gazed into his eyes. Something stirred in Terry’s chest and for a moment, he was lost for words.

“Um… I’m going to remove the gag okay? Don’t scream,” Terry said. Grace nodded and closed her eyes. Terry carefully undid the gag and she coughed, but made no other sound. Terry started working on the shackles that bound her to the wall. Precious minutes ticked by, and finally Terry picked them all. Terry tried to lift her up in his arms, but he wasn’t strong enough to carry both her and the heavy cape. Now he regretted not taking physical training more seriously.

“C’mon, I’m going to piggy back you,” he said as he undid his cloak. He managed to hoist her onto his back, then draped the cloak around them both. It barely covered them both and Grace grunted as she felt the dense cloak’s weight. He gave her the button to activate the cloak so that he could support her with both hands, and said, “When I tell you to press that button, press it quickly and don’t move. Okay?” She nodded and they both left the room. Terry was very conscious of her arms hugged tightly around his neck and chest.

As Terry started climbing the stairs, he marveled at how easy the rescue mission was. As if on cue, the door of the floor above them opened. Terry hissed “Press it!” and quickly shrank into the corner, crouching down so that the cloak completely covered them both. The world went into silence again and Grace squeaked in surprise. The man that came out the door went past them, down the stairs and back through the door they’d just escaped from.

Terry nudged her to deactivate the cloak. “Crap,” he murmured. “He might be going to check on you. We gotta move fast.” He climbed the stairs as quickly as he dared.

“What happened just now?” Grace whispered softly as they ascended. “How come he just walked right past?” Terry’s heart fluttered again at the sound of her voice.

“Invisibility cloak,” he muttered. “Well, not totally. The stairwell was dimly lit, so as long as we stayed still, he wouldn’t see us. The cloak adapts to any waves of energy that hits it and cancels it out. We probably looked like a dark corner to him. Another brilliant Greg invention.”

“My brother made this? Amazing,” Grace wondered at it. “How does it work? What’s it made of? When did he make it?”

“Later,” Terry panted. Finally, they reached the top of the stairs and Terry’s earpiece crackled to life again.

“… Terry… come in Terry. C’mon Terry…” Kyle was whispering repeatedly.

“I’m back,” Terry panted, out of breath from the climb. “No signal underground.”

“Ah Terry! You were out for nearly ten minutes. We thought we might have to come in after you,” Anthony called, relieved. “Did you find her?”

“Yes, I’ve got Grace, but we might have a problem. Some guy might be going to check on Grace’s cell. What’s the quickest way out? Grace can’t climb out the window I came through.”

Kyle quickly gave him instructions. “Come out the back. We’ll be waiting to pick you up. Hurry!” Shouts started coming from below them. Terry weighed his options. They needed speed more than caution now. Terry said, “Cloak on,” and Grace pressed the button. He followed Kyle’s instructions to the back door, ignoring all the open doors he passed. He knew he and Grace were no more than a silent shadow.

Luckily, nobody else passed close enough to notice them and reached the back door without incident. Terry opened the door and stepped into the night. He saw the van approaching and started moving towards it. He nudged Grace with his cheek again and she deactivated the cloak. Grace breathed in the cool night air and revived a bit more. She gave him a small kiss on his cheek and he blushed.

“Thank you for rescuing me, Terry.”

-Jace

Safe

This is dedicated to my friend Da Wei, whose birthday was three days ago. Happy Birthday, bro!

Note: This is the first part of a two part story. Click for part two.

Kyle did his best to control his breathing. Measured breaths, in and out. He had to be calm, but his heart was pounding with excitement in his chest. Kyle glanced left and right at his seven competitors in their respective lanes who all, like him, had their hands splayed open in the air. The Locksport Games were about to begin.

“Three! Two! One!” The referee shouted and blew his whistle, signalling for them to start and the crowd cheered them on. Kyle tuned them out as best as he could and focused on the locks in front of him while he reached for his tools on the table without looking. His left hand found the torque wrench and his right, a basic pick. Smoothly inserting both tools into the lock, Kyle dexterously picked the first lock in about five seconds. The second was even easier, giving way to Kyle as if it hadn’t wanted to be locked in the first place. Kyle pushed the door open and sprinted to the next check point.

A quick glance around showed he was one of three guys in the lead, but the rest would catch up soon. The second obstacle was a door with a set of three different interconnected locks that had to be picked within seven seconds of each other, otherwise, all three locks reset themselves automatically. Kyle quickly inspected the locks and chuckled, knowing he’d be able to pick them all easily, and he proceeded to do so with no problems. The door practically fell open at his touch as he opened the third lock and passed through quickly. Another glance to his rivals told him that he was currently in the lead.

The final obstacle was a safe protected by two masterlocks. Kyle hated those. He had a natural affinity for mechanical locks, having been raised by his traditional locksmith father, but masterlocks were very different. They don’t have a keyhole to pick. Rather, Kyle would have to crack the combination by trial and error and listening to the clicks. It was tedious and time consuming. But he had no choice: Inside the safe was the button to stop his timer and mark his completion of the course. Kyle sat down and started working.

The seconds ticked by as Kyle turned and twisted the knob, listening carefully to the clicks of the lock and mentally noting number sequences. He’d had enough practice to forgo the paper and pen method, but he had to maintain his concentration. One little slip up and he’d have to start all over again. That was not a mistake he was prepared to make. Finally, after three long minutes, he cracked the first one and started on the second. Glancing up, Kyle saw that all the others had arrived in their own lanes and were working on their own masterlocks.

Kyle quickly turned his attention back to the second masterlock and started working on it. This time it was easier, since he already understood the first lock, he was able to crack the second one in just two and a half minutes. Scrambling to get the safe open, he reached in a cramped hand and slammed the button inside, stopping his timer. Kyle sagged in relief, the tension easing from his stiff muscles and the roar of the crowd flooded back into his attention. He rolled back and lay on the floor, both mentally and physically exhausted. He looked to his left and saw his main rival, Terry, grinning triumphantly back at him. Kyle groaned and closed his eyes, slamming his first on the ground in frustration. He knew he’d lost first place to Terry. Again.

* * * * * *

“And the first place goes to… TERRY WALKINS!” the announcer shouted and the crowd erupted into cheers. Kyle mock snarled at Terry as he walked onto the stage with big grin on his face. Terry smirked at Kyle then accepted his prize: an official badge and a gold plated lockpicking set. Kyle looked at his own badge and sighed.

“Second place: first loser!” Terry teased Kyle. Kyle punched him in the arm and grinned.

“You only won because of the masterlock section. I was ahead of you the whole time before that,” Kyle replied with indignation.

“But this begs to differ,” Terry took out a golden pick and waved it in Kyle’s face.

It didn’t really matter anyway. The course was designed to test them on basic lockpicking skills; normal locks, electrical locks and masterlocks. Just the completion of the course officially inducted both of them as Level Three members. The first place prize was just a token of recognition.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” a male voice spoke from behind them. Kyle and Terry stopped bickering and turned to see a man in a suit, probably only a few years older than they were. The speaker smiled at them and gave a slight bow.

“Congratulations on your new Level Three statuses, especially to you, Terry. My name is Anthony Briggs Jr. and I work for Briggs Security Consulting. I may have a job offer for both of you, if you’re interested.” He shook first Terry’s and then Kyle’s hands.

Kyle and Terry looked at each other and raised their eyebrows.

“Wait, Briggs? Any relation to the CEO Gary Briggs?” Kyle asked. Anthony Briggs smiled in delight.

“Very good. Yes, Gary Briggs is my grandfather. I’m working under him as a talent scout of sorts. I look out for young people like yourselves who’ve proven to have advanced understanding and keen interest in locks and security. I can tell you more about the job now, but you’ll have to come in to our office for a proper interview, of course. As well as a small test of our own making,” Anthony added as he produced two business cards and offered them to Kyle and Terry.

“Uh, sure, okay, I guess,” Kyle said, accepting one card.

“Just okay? Man, this is awesome!” Terry exclaimed, taking the other card. He turned to Anthony and asked, “What exactly would we be doing?”

“Well, first we’ll provide you with some training to familiarize yourself with our security systems, but after that you’ll mostly be testing said systems. Looking for weaknesses, suggesting improvements, that sort of thing. Sometimes we’ll provide you with some of our competitors’ systems to see if you can break into them. And, we’ll also sponsor you to take part in locksport tournaments representing the company, if you so desire.”

“Doesn’t sound too difficult,” Kyle commented. “Looks like you’ve got Terry convinced. Why do you want me?”

“More minds, more styles, for starters. I was watching your event. You were in the lead until the last obstacle, which means you’re better at the actual picking of locks. Terry caught up with you at the end because he was able to crack the masterlocks much faster than you could. I would think that if you both were to join us, there would be some friendly competition between you two, which would be a benefit the company overall, don’t you think?”

Kyle and Terry looked at each other again and grinned.

“Take a day to think it over, gentlemen. You can call the office and arrange an interview. Both of you could be interviewed together, if you want. I have to leave now, so I’ll bid adieu to you,” Anthony turned to leave.

As he walked past, Anthony said to Kyle, “One more reason I want to hire you: Second place always works harder.” Anthony smiled, though not unkindly, and left. Terry sniggered.

* * * * * *

They had been best friends and rivals since childhood. Kyle, the son of a locksmith, started learning about the internal workings of locks from a young age. Terry was the more mischievous of the two and, after spending so much time with Kyle and locks, was the first to figure out how to actually pick a lock. Kyle preferred to just understand and learn about how different locking systems worked. Kyle’s father tried to stop them at first, but ultimately started teaching them proper lockpicking techniques, as well as the morals and philosophies of locksport.

You may only pick your own locks, or a lock that you have explicit permission from the owner to pick. You may never pick a lock that’s in use or any system that will compromise the security of another person.

This was the pledge that Kyle’s father made them recite every day and each time he taught them. That was his condition to them when he taught the boys his trade. That pledge was drilled deep into Kyle and that was what he was thinking of while he flicked and fiddled with Anthony Briggs’ name card. He felt torn and he didn’t really know why. Working with Terry at Briggs Security Consulting sounded great, the job didn’t seem to violate his father’s code, but he just had a niggling feeling in his gut that something was off.

Kyle wasn’t sure he even wanted the job. He was quite happy helping out with his father’s locksmith business and didn’t want to leave. On the other hand, his father had approved and this was a great opportunity to work with cutting edge security systems. If Kyle was honest with himself, he found thought of being able to provide his input on complex locking systems quite appealing.

Terry had called and settled the logistics of the interview for both of them. Besides, Kyle could always decline later, if he wanted to.

* * * * * *

“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Kyle asked Terry.

“Of course I’m sure,” Terry replied. “Google Maps said it’s here.”

They were at the edge of the city, in front of an unmarked two-storey building that looked old and weathered. This was the right place but the problem was, the door was locked. Kyle knocked on the door and waited, but there was no answer.

“I’m going to call the office,” Kyle announced.

“Good morning!” A female voice answered the phone brightly. “Briggs Security Consulting, how may I help you?”

“Hi, my name is Kyle Brooks. My friend Terry Walkins and I are here for a job interview, but we’re not sure if we’re in the right place,” Kyle read the address to her.

“Ah, Mr Brooks! Yes, you’re in the right place. Just open the door and go in.”

“But it’s locked…”

“Open the door and go in, Kyle,” she said and hung up before Kyle could protest further. Kyle pulled his phone away from his ear and frowned at it.

“What’s wrong?” Terry asked. “What did they say?”

“Well, we’re in the right place,” Kyle said as he pocketed his phone. “She said to just open the door and hung up. Pretty rude of her, if you ask me.”

“She said that? Her exact words?” Terry asked.

“She said ‘Open the door and go in’. Why?”

Terry whipped out his tools and grinned.

“No, you can’t be serious,” Kyle shook his head. “We can’t pick a lock without -”

“Without what? Permission? Sounds like she just gave us permission,” Terry interrupted. “Besides, Anthony Briggs said they would have a small test for us. What if this is it?”

Kyle hesitated.

“Wait,” Kyle stopped him. “Let me call Anthony Briggs.” Kyle took out his phone again and dialed, but got no answer. Terry turned to the lock and knelt down to inspect it.

“Don’t worry,” Terry told Kyle while he worked. “If anyone gets into trouble, it’ll just be me.” As he spoke the last word, the lock clicked and turned and Terry opened the door with a flourish.

“Show off,” Kyle muttered and they both looked in. Inside was a warehouse of some sort, with shelves of random objects. Kyle’s apprehension grew, but they both stepped inside anyway.

“Well done,” a voice said from the doorway behind them. “Most people would have just stopped at the locked door.” Kyle and Terry spun around and tried not to look too guilty.

“Mr. Briggs!” Terry exclaimed in relief and extended his hand to Anthony, which he shook.

“Mr. Briggs is my father. Call me Anthony, please. Welcome to my current place of work,” Anthony said. “I know, it doesn’t look like much, does it?”

“It’s umm… quaint,” Kyle said diplomatically.

Anthony chuckled. “Come with me,” he beckoned as he walked further in.

“Was that the test? The locked door, I mean,” Terry inquired as they walked.

“It was a test yes. I’m looking for people who are willing to push the boundaries a little. You will be working with state-of-the-art systems, after all.”

“Does that mean Kyle doesn’t get the job?” Terry asked. Kyle smacked him on the arm as Anthony laughed out loud.

“Au contraire! Kyle has shown that he has the right ethics for the job. He tried everything else first before you picked the lock. You two balance each other quite well. Besides, Terry, it’s not a competition. I’m looking to hire you both as a team. As an addition to my team.”

“What team?” Kyle asked. They had reached another door, this time with a retinal scanner. Anthony put his eye up to the scanner and waited. After a beat, the door opened for them to pass through. Kyle thought that was weird. Why such high tech security in a warehouse that was itself protected only by a simple lock which Terry had easily picked?

“This team,” Anthony waved Kyle and Terry into the room that was filled with more shelves of electronic gadgets, but organized a lot neater than the stuff outside. Two other people were in the room, seated at their respective tables, and both of them looked up when the door opened.

“Meet Gregory Thomas, electronics specialist. Graduated MIT two years ago, with Honors. He actually makes replicas of security systems and prototypes improvements.” Gregory was a nerdy looking guy who waved up at them. And the other person was –

“Rachel Rowan,” Kyle said, staring at her.

“You two know each other?” Anthony asked, surprised.

“We know her, but only by reputation. She’s known in the Locksport community because she cracks digital locks by hacking into their systems. Last I heard of her, she tried to hack into a government site and got arrested. Rumor has it she’s supposed to be working for some secret organization now. Wait a minute…” Realization dawned on him and he narrowed his eyes at Anthony, who nodded in confirmation and apology.

“Huh? What’s going on?” Terry looked from Kyle to Anthony and back in confusion.

“C’mon Terry, we’re leaving. I refuse to work with a boss who lies and a criminal who violated locksport ethics. No offense dude,” Kyle threw at Gregory, who shrugged and turned back to whatever he was working on.

“Wait, please,” Anthony pleaded and pulled Kyle aside. “Technically, I haven’t lied to you. I really am Anthony Briggs Jr. My father started this project and I’m helping to carry it out. We really do work for Briggs Security Consulting, building and testing security systems. Occasionally we get… external requests to do a job that requires our specific skill sets, or clients who would prefer more discretion. And I really would like to hire you both. This is a relatively old project, but a new team I’m putting together, and I value your lockpicking skills very highly.”

“Then you just need Terry. You don’t need me,” Kyle said quietly.

“I need a man of your morals. Someone to keep the team in check. If anyone would find all the possible legal and ethical ways of doing something, it would be someone like you. The fact that you’re so resistant to working in a questionable environment like this just proves my point. Also, we do develop and work with the latest security systems. Do you really want to give up that opportunity?”

Kyle hesitated.

“If you join us, you’ll have a say in what jobs we take. If you strongly object to any particular job or course of action, we’ll stop and look for alternatives. Tell you what,” Anthony added. “Work with us for a month. If you don’t like it, you can leave and I won’t bother you again. What do you say?”

Kyle folded his arms and considered Anthony. He seemed to be genuine enough. He glanced over at Terry, who had struck up a conversation with Gregory and Rachel, and sighed. Someone had to look out for him.

“Okay.”

-Jace