Writing > Code

Chapter 24


Chapter 24

Vicky felt like her blood was boiling! "What the hell were you thinking, Tom?? You brought a gun here, and fired it? Have you lost your damn mind?"

It had only been about ten minutes since the incident. Vicky had been in a nearby building, ironically because Holly had thought that her presence with the tour might be disruptive because of the recent Terrell Johnson situation. Her presence!

Tom remained in place despite her ire, and raised his hands defensively. "I couldn't let him get away," he said evenly, as if he was blameless. "Who knows what he might have stolen?"

Max had explained the situation to her, but even he seemed shaken by what had just happened. Strangely, he was called away to the adjoining lab building, but Holly promised to fill him in on everything once he got back.

Stan was busy going over Hal Drekker's equipment, while Hal himself was a few hundred feet away, handcuffed to one of the guardrails. It was fortunate, or perhaps unfortunate depending on how you looked at it, that Max still had some of his old police gear on the island, including several handcuffs. Most of the building had been evacuated, but two coded assistants were keeping an eye on Hal. They couldn't do much if he somehow broke free, but they could warn everyone else.

Catherine Hegel and the camera crew were standing nervously to one side, also out of earshot. Perhaps they were afraid Tom might shoot at them, too. The gun was on the ground in between them all, but it was still loaded.

"We're on the same side, Vic," Tom went on in that same maddeningly even voice. "I want the coded nation to succeed as well. But those same codes handicap you when it comes to defending yourselves. You need someone to protect you."

"Protect us?" Vicky bit out. "There wasn't a single gun on this island until you brought one! Everything we are is nonviolent! Why do you think we reacted so quickly to the Terrell Johnson thing? You didn't protect us, Tom. Depending on how this gets out, you might have just destroyed us!" For a few terrible moments, Vicky wondered what else Tom might have done to violate coded principles. His negotiations overseas- had they included threats of violence as well? He claimed all they would have to give up was resources in order to get most major nations to sign on, but could she be sure of that? What else had he been involved in? Blackmail? Extortion? Murder?

"Uh, not to take sides here, but I found something," Stan interrupted her thoughts. He lifted up a panel from Hal's laptop, and slid back a bit. Inside was a compact but lethal-looking gun, apparently already loaded. "He was reaching for it when Tom took his second shot," Stan said quietly. "I saw it myself."

"If he really is a spy, than what was he doing here?" Holly asked quietly. Vicky knew she was angry too, but she was much better at keeping on topic despite that. "We never went into any of the offices, or the labs. The only room we stayed in was that storeroom downstairs, and all the equipment in there hasn't been used for years."

"He was using this," Stan lifted up a chip from the inside of the computer. "It's a wireless sniffer. Basically, it scans for computer networks nearby, automatically connects to them, and then copies as much information as it can. Its range is 250, maybe 300 feet. If you were anywhere near other computers, this thing probably downloaded their hard drives. He probably planned to just walk through the whole building slowly, and then leave with us being none the wiser."

Holly inhaled sharply. "The server room is only one level down from that storeroom! He was in there at least ten minutes. Chances are, he got everything."

"Well, I can probably confirm that," Stan said, lifting the chip up to the light and eying it. "Doesn't look like it's been modified beyond the version I used to use. Give me a few minutes to check." He paused, looking up at Holly and Vicky. "There is good news though. The range works both ways, meaning he didn't send out any of this information. Whoever sent him didn't get anything yet."

As Stan got to work with the chip and one of their own computers, Vicky offered up a reluctant sigh. "I can't condone what you did, Tom, but at least we know your suspicions were right. Your heart was in the right place, even if it wasn't connected to your brain."

Tom shrugged. "I'll take it."


Stan's analysis was quick, efficient, and thorough. The chip in Hal's computer had downloaded their entire database, including general coded statistics, architectural plans for the whole city as well as the theoretical domes, Vicky's drone spec modifications, and a whole hell of a lot more. There was no medical data thankfully- the coding facility itself was out of range- but just about everything else had been at risk!

"It figures," Holly said darkly after Stan had finished his report. "The only reason to spy on someone is if you can't trust them to tell the truth. There's only one thing they know for sure we can't do, and that is lie. Yet they assume we're lying anyway! I just don't understand how these people think!"

"That's because they're not thinking," Tom responded sadly. "They're operating on fear alone. For a long time now, and especially after 9/11, the American government has been driven by fear. It's been that way so long that it's become normal. Anything they don't understand- like coded people- is a threat by default. It's only natural that people who live their lives that way would assume the worst, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary."

"But none of what they stole is even valuable to them," Holly countered. "We have no military. The drone specs are unusual, but hardly groundbreaking. No offense, Vicky. We have no list of coded people out there. Our architectural plans are ambitious, sure, but totally theoretical at this point. Why would they want any of it?"

"They don't," Max said, arriving from the side. With him was a teenager Tom didn't recognize, and strangely, Abner Geller. Even more strangely, Max was handcuffed to the teen.

"I think this was all a distraction," Abner said somberly, and looked to the young man in custody. "This is Winslow Tan. As in Dr. Fai Tan's estranged son. He arrived with the other kids yesterday. And this is what he just stole from his dear father's computer," he lifted up a thumb drive. "While you were all busy dealing with your, uh, super-spy, 'Slow' here was busy getting the real goods." He shook the teen by the shoulders briefly, as a mock encouragement.

There was a moment of silence as everyone processed this news. As usual, Holly was the first to respond. "How do you know that, Abner? He could have just been visiting his father at work."

Abner smiled mirthlessly. "I don't trust uncoded people," he said bluntly, looking right at Tom. "I've been keeping an eye on the kids ever since they got here yesterday. When this brave little soldier asked to see his daddy, I knew something was up. When I saw him steal this drive, I called Max in to stop him."

"And you can do that? Even with your code?" Tom asked, surprised. Despite his earlier question, part of him thought it wouldn't be possible.

Max shrugged. "I already know a bunch of holding styles from my early days wrestling. After I was coded, I started learning Aikido. It's a martial art dedicated to nonlethal ways of taking people down. It seemed like a good fit for me."

"No kidding," Tom said, impressed. He looked at the drive. "What did he steal, anyway?"

Abner handed the drive to Holly, who took it gingerly, as if it was radioactive or something. She and Vicky exchanged worried glances. "I'll check with Dr. Tan to see if his data is intact. If it is, I'll have this destroyed," Holly finally said.

Tom looked around the group. No one looked surprised at all. Whatever was on that drive- whatever Dr. Tan was working on- was already known to all of them. Just not to him.

Tan was a molecular chemist. Tom even remembered him having some kind of breakthrough a while back, and Vicky being informed. Whatever he was doing probably had very little to do with the codes.

A wave of shame suddenly washed over Tom. He'd frightened innocent people, risked their lives, and possibly damaged the coded reputation, all to protect worthless information. And Abner, who was coded, had been perfectly able to stop the real threat! If coded people really did need protection, it was from him! No wonder they were keeping secrets from him.

Abner squared his shoulders. "Holly, under the circumstances, I have to insist that all uncoded people be taken back to the docks immediately. Two security breaches in one day- three if you count the shooting- seems like enough to me. I'd hate to risk a fourth."

Holly hesitated. "We can keep Tom here, I'm sure. After everything he's done-"

"No, he's right," Tom cut in sadly. "I fired a gun in a building filled with people. Twice! I almost killed someone. Whether I thought it was right or not doesn't matter. I did it, and I should be held responsible for it." He looked over at the main entrance. "There's just one thing I'd like permission to do first."


Vicky sat on the steps inside the administration building, looking out the front door and trying desperately not to throw up.

It was partly at what she was seeing. Up ahead, about a hundred feet away, Tom was hard at work replacing the window he'd destroyed. He had a ladder up there, and was clearing away the last bits of glass. A new pane was already leaning against the wall below him.

Vicky felt like the world's biggest fool. She had thought Tom had learned to trust her, so she had trusted him. That inclination had been there long before she'd been coded- she'd just assumed being coded would make it even stronger! But he still saw himself as a protector first. He was unwilling to rely on her wisdom and experience. Or Holly's, come to think of it. She was the more important person here.

As if summoned, Holly sat down next to her. "All the uncoded are back by the shore now. Except him, of course," she nodded ahead. "Winslow and the tour group are all locked up in one of the holding cells we had left over from when we thought we might have criminals still on the island. We're actually lucky we never tore them down. I wouldn't want to ask anyone to hold them at gunpoint."

"Why did he do it?"

Holly looked at her with concern. "Tom?"

"No, Winslow. Why did he steal from his father?"

Holly made a noise of dissatisfaction. "He wants to get into West Point. He was told that if he did this, he'd be a shoe-in."

"Figures. In order to get into a violent organization, all he has to do is steal from a nonviolent one. Fai must be devastated."

"I talked to him," Holly glanced to her right, over towards his lab. "He's doing ok, considering the circumstances."

"I thought I could trust him."


"No, Tom." Vicky shook her head. "It was so easy to think of him as coded. So much of what he's done matches what we do. I let myself think of him as just my old friend- willing and able to help, to follow my instructions because I could keep him on the right path. But he is fundamentally different from me, and I can't ignore that."

"Are you all right?" For once, Holly was her friend, and not her unofficial superior.

Vicky laughed aloud, and even the sound sickened her. "No, I'm not. I don't even remember being all right! I mean, I'm happy at what we're doing here, and at what we represent. But if someone like Tom can let me down.. how can I trust any uncoded? Abner was right! He saved our asses, and he was right."

Perhaps not wanting to dwell on that, Holly gestured ahead. "How did Tom know how to shoot like that? Come to think of it, how does he know anything about carpentry?"

"He doesn't," Vicky said dryly. "He's taking way longer at that than he should. He's trying to show me that he's willing to take responsibility for his mistakes. And he's doing it in the most futile way possible."

She sighed. "As for the shooting, his parents insisted on it. He got beat up during one of our rallies in college, and they wanted to make sure he could take care of himself after that. And they did it in the most destructive way possible. Apples and trees, I guess."

They sat in silence for a bit longer, before Holly finally spoke again. "Well, at least some good came out of this. We'll finally get recognized as our own nation."

Startled, Vicky looked over at her. "What are you talking about? There's no way the President will go for that now. Not after this debacle."

Holly smiled tightly. "We have camera footage and audio recordings of both thefts. We have documentation of who those people are, and a confession from Winslow. We have an enduring reputation to back it all up, too. I spoke to Catherine Hegel. She swears she didn't know anything about Hal's plans, or Winslow either. She's probably lying, but it doesn't matter. I'll send them all back to Miami tonight, with a message for the President. If the Coded Nation isn't officially recognized by the United States by noon tomorrow.. this story will end up on every news desk in the country."

Vicky gave a disbelieving cough. "Blackmail?"

"Truth." Holly shrugged. "The codes don't stop us from harming organizations, just people. This has the potential to be a massive scandal, Vicky. Not just for the President's administration, but for the entire country. Government operatives recruiting a child, and stealing from coded people? I know there have been a bunch of big American scandals over the past few years, but this will definitely be up there on the list."

"I'd read it," Vicky admitted, still in a haze.

They saw Tom finally fitting the new pane in place, and then hastily catching it as it started to fall. Despite herself, Vicky smiled at that. "He has to go, doesn't he?" Just like that, the smile was gone.

"Yes." At least Holly sounded sad about that. "Despite everything he's done, he can't live on the island anymore. I'll have to put security precautions in place at the docks, too. And around the new creche. Anywhere uncoded people are staying."

"This isn't forever, you know," she added reassuringly. "You'll be able to see him again, just not here."

"I know. It's just everyone keeps leaving. First Amir, then Leon, and now Tom." Vicky sighed, and got up to leave. "Maybe we should forget about the codes and work on that next. How to keep people around."


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