Writing > Code

Chapter 25


Chapter 25

About a day later, Tom showed up at the docks with a heavy heart. Like the coded people living here, he had very few belongings- enough to fit in a single chest- which he pulled behind him. Holly had allowed him to keep the gun, provided it was unloaded and kept locked in its box. Tom couldn't really blame her.

He'd said his goodbyes, such as they were. Vicky was busy Uptown, working on the new security features. Holly had been cordial enough, but reserved. Little Joey was old enough to understand the permanence of this, though. He'd cried a little during the farewell.

Tom took that as an improvement. He'd gotten to know Max pretty well, and the older man had been raised in a pretty typical masculine household. Men or even boys crying, was a sign of weakness. The fact that Joey had been raised differently was an encouraging state of affairs.

Strangely, Abner was at the docks waiting for him. He also had a briefcase, and was already sitting in the boat. "Here to make sure I leave quietly?" Tom asked, not entirely joking.

Abner shook his head. "No, I believe you're a man of your word. I also have business in the States, so I'm traveling with you. Come on." He helped Tom load the chest onboard, surprisingly, and then went forward to get the boat underway.

It was natural that he knew how to handle himself on the water- it was a trait most coded people here picked up at some point or other. Even Tom knew the basics after all this time. Like most boats going in and out of Scheria, this one was now outfitted with an electric motor: charged at the tidal generators, and equipped with several spare batteries just in case. Abner set a course for Miami and evened off at about 50 knots. The boat was open-air, so wind whipped past them at a constant pace.

The trip was a long one. Several hours passed, with Abner still at the helm and Tom in the back trying to think about his future. Perhaps he could try getting back into politics. His association with the coded people, and their imminent status as an independent nation, had definitely increased his name recognition.

Or maybe he should find some place in a highly coded area. He could liaise with coded people living in the States, and try to help them. It wasn't as good as being in Scheria, but he could still contribute. He couldn't concentrate on those options very well, though. Flashbacks of what he'd done, and nearly done, kept running through his head.

The events themselves didn't sit right with him. There was something more going on here, and he resolved to find out what it was. Maybe Tina would help him. He'd kept in contact with her newspaper, and she did have a gift for ferreting out the truth.

Near the end of the trip, Tom heard Abner's phone chime at him. He pulled it out, and then beckoned back at him. As Tom got up, Abner slowed the boat a bit, allowing them to talk more easily. "Take a look at this. Terrell Johnson has been released."

That was a surprise. Given the significant hatred towards coded people in that area of Indiana, Tom had assumed Johnson would be locked up for as long as possible. Instead he'd been given a twelve hundred dollar fine and two months of community service. Tom might have been concerned that Johnson would be attacked while picking up trash next to a highway, but those activities were usually monitored by DOP guards. It also looked like Billy Marks, the man who'd attacked him, had been released as well.

One man, who'd been paid to assault someone, getting a lesser sentence than the man he'd assaulted. American justice at its finest.

"This must be gratifying for you," Tom told Abner, trying not to think about Johnson and Marks. "You must be glad I got kicked off the island."

"Believe it or not, I don't feel that way," Abner said coldly, adjusting their course slightly. "Despite your actions yesterday, you've done more than any other uncoded person to advance our agenda. Why didn't you ask to be coded? I'm sure they would have let you stay if you went through the process. I wouldn't have objected."

"There are still people, very powerful people in the US government, who will never take a coded person seriously. As long as I stay the way I am, I'll be able to interact with them on your behalf. You may need that in the future."

Abner shrugged. "Pity. You'd make a fine coded person. It's unfortunate that uncoded people can't be trusted to behave themselves in our society. Not over the long term, anyway."

Irritated, Tom shook his head. "You make it sound like coded society is perfect. As if you could do no wrong." Which actually defined the code's purpose exactly, Tom reflected suddenly.

"We're not perfect. We have flaws, like any other group. But we're closer to perfection than any group has gotten so far." Abner sighed, and he did look genuinely regretful. "No, a perfect society would look a lot like ours, but have no codes at all. Perfect people would be able to reach and maintain our degree of cooperation and harmony without training wheels." He sighed. "We're not there yet."

Tom scoffed. "And how would you control people in this theoretical perfect society of yours? What if someone acted like I did, and behaved violently while trying to protect the group?"

"They would be punished," Abner said without hesitation. "Like any child who misbehaves, their behavior would be curbed until they start behaving like an adult. Or in this example, a coded person."

For a moment, Tom only stared at him. "Is that really how you see uncoded people? As children?"

"There's plenty of evidence backing me up. How else would you describe people who are short-sighted, ego-driven, and self-destructive? What other word could you use for a group that starts fights with other groups? Over resources that they want, but don't actually need in order to survive? What about the media? Vicky was right in that townhall. Out there," he gestured ahead at the approaching coastline, "the winner of a 'debate' is decided by whoever interrupts the most, or can keep screaming at the audience for the longest. The substance of the argument, or the merits of either side, mean nothing to the audience. Just as they mean nothing to a child."

He sighed. "In your society, wisdom, experience, and education are all of little importance. The people with real power are the ones who have the most attention paid to them. The ones who can browbeat, or convince, or bribe others into doing what they want. How is that any different than a schoolyard bully being the most powerful person in the playground?"

"And worst of all, the average citizen is just as childish! The Democratic Experiment gave them more power to make changes in how their country works. Despite that, how many of them vote at all, much less at the state or local level? Only about half vote for the president, and that's arguably the easiest one of all! The founding fathers tried to set up a Democracy, but they failed to factor in greed and laziness. They were unable to realize that a society which commodifies people- starting out as slavery and eventually expanding into every aspect of their lives as capitalism- would end up being just as bad as the monarchy they were fighting!"

Tom had listened with a mixture of horror and fascination as Abner ran through his diatribe, and it looked like he was winding down now. "If I could change one thing about Scheria, it would be how often we code people. Right now codes are offered to anyone who asks for one and can pass a basic psych test. But we shouldn't just give them away, any more than we should treat someone as an adult just because they look like one. The code should be earned. It should be a privilege, not a right. Just like uncoded people shouldn't be allowed any power unless they can behave like an adult instead of just looking like one."

What could he say to that? Abner had obviously been bottling all of that up for a while, and he couldn't very well tell it to a coded person. Strangely, Tom was grateful he'd been here to be the proverbial sounding board. As mixed up as some of Abner's views were, he'd also made some good points.

As they maneuvered their way into the marina where their boat was registered, Abner's phone chimed again. His expression brightened a bit. "Looks like the announcement just went out. Twelve noon on the dot. The Coded Nation has officially been recognized by the United States. That makes seventy-nine countries."

"Congratulations," Tom said genuinely. He would have loved to take the credit for the lion's share of work he'd done for this, but he didn't want to antagonize Abner even further. "Do you think you'll end up joining the United Nations?"

Abner shook his head. "I hope not, and I'll speak out against it when the time comes. The UN does a lot of good things, but if we join up, we'll be subject to their rules. Parents don't usually let kids impose rules on them either."

Tom shook his head. So much for making headway with Abner.

Off in the distance, fireworks started shooting into the air in Miami. They couldn't be seen very well in daylight of course, but the sound was unmistakable.

"There aren't enough coded people here to set off that many fireworks," Tom commented casually. "At least some uncoded people support you."

"Uncoded support is fickle," Abner said dismissively, as he made his way into the slip. "In a month's time, those very same people could be shooting guns at us instead."

Tom grabbed his belongings with an increasing sense of relief. Travelling with Abner wasn't boring at all, but it was tiring. Bidding the man farewell, he tried to find a taxi.


"Here it is," Vicky said, presenting her latest contribution to coded science.

The sensor was only a few inches wide, but Vicky felt confident it would fit their needs. Max took it and carefully inserted it into the doorframe. They were in the Uptown offices for now, but if it worked, Vicky would need to make dozens more. And install them in the doors for every building down at the docks.

If they passed Max's inspection first, that was. He held up his interface, and then looked at the door suspiciously. "All right, here goes."

He walked through the open door, and then looked back at the interface. "So far so good. It recorded me passing, confirmed that I have a working code, and then went back into standby mode."

Then he beckoned to Gina, one of their new visitors. She wasn't coded yet, and obligingly passed through as well. Even from Vicky's position, she could see the red light appear on Max's interface. The sensor had recorded Gina passing, confirmed that she had no code, and sent out the warning signal.

"Thank you, Gina," Vicky said gently. "Could you go back to the waiting area over there? We may need you a few more times."

Nodding, Gina retook her seat. Vicky felt a knot in her stomach at that, remembering that Tom would have been ideal for this kind of security testing.

She couldn't dwell on that now, though. She had a job to do. Squaring her shoulders, Vicky went through the door herself.

"Wait a minute," Max put in, glaring at his device. "It says you have no code. Looks like it's not as ready as you said."

Vicky smiled. "Actually, it is. Almost every code sends out a constant but very faint signal. That's how I designed them. It can't be picked up from very far- I'd say only about five feet away at most. That way it can't be used to track us down, but it's always on anyway. As long as the code is working, at least."

"Why would you design the codes that way?" Max asked, cocking his head a bit to the right.

"Well, at the beginning I didn't know how many of them we'd end up making," Vicky admitted. "I wanted a quick and easy way to confirm if someone's code was working, or if it needed to be repaired. This seemed pretty easy. Now we can just scan for that signal. If the sensor picks up someone's body heat but no signal going along with it, it knows they're not coded and warns us."

"But it warned me about you."

"That's only because my code doesn't give out a signal. It was the first one ever made, remember? The next three: Devin, Tyrell, and James, don't have a signal either. All the others will work, though. You just need to make an exception for us four, or I could ask the surgeons to alter our codes."

Max nodded. "An easy fix either way. Good job, Vicky. How long until you can have thirty or so of these ready to go?"

"A few days, maybe? They're not hard to build." Vicky looked down the hall towards Engineering. "I'll give the specs to the boys down there, and then when they're installed in the docks, help you test them." She paused. "What exactly will happen if an uncoded person tries to sneak in, though? Will a cage drop down from the ceiling, museum-style, and trap them inside? The codes would probably allow that."

"I thought about that, but Holly talked me out of it," Max turned off his interface, and then pulled the sensor out of the frame. He turned and nodded at Gina, indicating to her that they were done for now. "That reminds me. We'll have to put these down at the coding center, too. Some nut could come here pretending to want to be coded, and then try to sneak in through there."

He handed the sensor back to her, and then walked with her down the hall. "No, the best security systems are the ones people don't even know are there. I'll set these up so that they tag any uncoded people coming in. We'll just keep an eye on them until they leave again. We can control what they see and hear, as long as we have enough warning ahead of time. If we're lucky, they'll either steal information that is all falsified, or they'll leave thinking there's nothing here worth stealing."

Vicky gave him a sidelong smile. "I think you might have missed your calling as a spy."

"Nah, too stressful. Spies don't get to go home and spend a quiet evening with their family. Well, maybe a family, if they're deep undercover. Not their own, though."

She could definitely agree with that. "Speaking of family, now that the creche is up and running, are you and Angie gonna move Joey down there?"

"Already did. I was going to go downhill and check on him now, if you want to come along."

Vicky didn't have anything better to do for now, and she wanted to inspect the creche herself, so she agreed. After they dropped the sensor off at Engineering, they made their way down towards the water.

The beach was fairly populated at this time of day. Coded people who were between Need Board jobs, and just relaxing for a bit, dotted the sandy shore to the east and west. Some were even surfing, reminding her of Leon.

Out beyond the cresting waves was the usual smattering of boats. A lot of them weren't from Scheria, though. They were mostly sightseers, favored by the Bahamian tourist trade, as they looked out at the supposedly exotic, freakish coded society. They had instructions not to come ashore unless they had official business here, but it didn't stop the tourists from peering at them from a distance.

Max peeled off to the left towards the creche, but Vicky delayed. She'd seen a pair of recently coded on the beach; people she'd met last week. They probably knew already, but she wanted to remind them not to go in the water until they'd had enough time to recover from surgery. Vicky still had some vivid 'brain freeze' memories from when her own code had been newly submerged.

After chatting with them for a bit, Vicky went to talk to the lifeguard briefly, before eventually looking back down the beach. About two hundred feet away, Joey was excitedly explaining something to Max. Holly was there too, talking with one of the older children.

A change in the tone of the voices on the beach caught her attention, and Vicky followed their gazes out onto the water. One of the speedboats out there had changed course, and started moving towards the shore.

It was moving pretty fast, too. Vicky grabbed a pair of binoculars from the lifeguard station and tried to get a closer look. There was a white sheet draped over the side of the boat, now whipping backwards as it sped up. After a few more seconds the sheet was torn off, revealing four huge words, painted in red on the side of the boat.

Better dead than coded.

The boat continued to speed up, but time seemed to slow down for Vicky. "Everyone back away from the water!" She shouted as loud as she could, evoking stares, and then obedience from those nearest. "Max!" She shouted over at him. "Get everyone out of there, now!"

He didn't hesitate. Scooping up Joey, Max ran into the creche. A few seconds later, people began streaming out the back entrances in a panic. Vicky started running towards them as fast as she could, but it was too late.

The speedboat crested the last waves, sailed through the air onto shore, and hit the building. As soon as it did a burst of flame billowed from it, and a massive shockwave rippled out across the beach.


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