Writing > Code

Chapter 22


Chapter 22

The auditorium had been built over a year ago, back when Scheria was still an emerging phenomenon. Vicky hadn't been involved in the construction, but it was clear now that the builders had underestimated just how fast and large the coded population would grow. There wasn't a single empty seat here, and all the walkways were filled as well. Even so, not everyone could make it, so there were cameras broadcasting this to the rest of the island and to their neighboring colony.

As the Servant, unofficial or not, Holly was the first to speak. She stepped up to the podium in the middle of the circular building, and took the mic. "Welcome, everyone. I'll try to keep this brief so you don't have to stay packed in here like sardines, but we have a few important things to cover. First, our so-called colonists have finished a livable settlement over on Toman Cay. We're still shipping food and drinking water to them, but they have an electrical grid now, supplied by a tidal generator just like the ones we have here. They've decided to name their new city Elysia, and some of them are here with us today!"

Holly pointed over to a group of about forty people on the north end, who stood up and waved to the rest. A round of applause rippled through the crowd, before Holly raised a hand to quiet them. "We'll have plenty of time to celebrate their achievements, but before they go any further, we have some big decisions to make, as coded societies."

She gestured over to Angie, who stood up nervously and began speaking. Her voice couldn't carry at all, and Holly beckoned to her, smiling.

Vicky felt a warm sense of pride. Angie had come so far. Her talents had really been wasted back on the mainland: serving unhealthy food to even unhealthier people. Scraping by on a meager salary and tips, and always wondering if she had enough to pay rent that month. Here, where all her basic needs and those of her son were taken care of, she could focus on something she was really good at: preparing for and cleaning up after natural disasters. Or rather, organizing others to do that- she was only one person after all.

Angie took the stage, and slowly got over her nervousness as she got started. "So, hurricane season is over for this year, but we've had a clear trend for decades now. Every year it gets harder and harder to withstand these hits, both on islands and on the mainland. We've had to rebuild our sandbag wall on the east shore three times now! It's cutting into our relief efforts on the other Bahamian islands and over on the coast. No offense to you guys," she nodded deferentially over at the Allocators and their dozen-or-so aides, "but even if you did give us more to work with, all it would do is buy us time. Eventually one of these years, a really big hurricane will just wash us right into the ocean!"

Holly stepped in, and Angie went back to her seat, looked visibly relieved. "With how bad it's gotten, it's time to ask ourselves if we really should stay here. There are several options for relocation, from further into the Atlantic where the storms won't be as bad, to someplace desolate and uninhabited like the Sahara, or even halfway across the world. From what I'm told, one of the original options was an island in the Philippines. Each option would be a lot safer, but it would mean leaving a lot behind. There would be other problems as well. Vicky?"

Now it was her turn to feel self-conscious. As she approached the podium, Vicky could feel everyone's eyes on her, as if each was a tiny weight she carried on her shoulders. "One of the reasons we wanted to be here was to be close to our uncoded friends. We wanted them to think of us as a safe, convenient option nearby, as well as remind them constantly that there was another way to structure their society. It's true, we could do that somewhere else in the world, but I strongly believe we're doing the most good right here. We're the most needed right here!"

She looked down for a moment. "I know that if we move, we'll still be available to anyone, anywhere. Nothing will change about who we accept for coding, or why. But to them, it will be a change. Uncoded people don't see us objectively- if we move, it will be a sign to them that we aren't reliable. Humanity First will certainly paint it that way for them, and a lot of uncoded people will believe it."

A young man near the front leaned forward and whispered something into Angie's ears. She looked confused, but then put her hands over Joey's ears. Then the man stood up and called out to Vicky. "Why not call them out on their bullshit, then?" He asked loudly, projecting for the crowd. "They've demanded debates from you again and again, and I've seen you on tv. You'd tear them a new one! Why not debate them live, and show people why they're such idiots?"

Angie let go of Joey, looking relieved. The man's claims were flattering, but Vicky didn't feel as confident in her abilities as he clearly was. "Because that would only give them what they want," she said, looking at him but trying to reach the whole room.

Her first inclination had been the same, but Tom had talked her out of it early on. Now she needed to explain it to everyone else. "They're not interested in a real debate. If there were actual rules, like having a set time to speak, and being punished for interruptions, they wouldn't participate! All they want is a chance to shout over us, publicly. If we engage with them, all we do is increase their audience, and I won't do that. It'd be like wrestling with a pig: in the end we're both dirty."

Looking thoughtful, the man sat back down, and Vicky continued. "We can't do anything to oppose HF directly other than keep being ourselves. No, we have to decide to stay or go based on how much good it would do all uncoded people, not just the ones who openly hate us."

There weren't any more obvious questions following that, so Holly put it to a vote. All around the room, people pulled out devices.

Not everyone had a laptop or phone, but there were plenty of interface devices to fill in the gaps. She'd helped design them herself, and the boys over in Technology Adaptation had programmed the app that connected peoples' phones to the Need Board. Within two minutes, the votes had been collected and tallied.

Nearly ninety percent favored staying here.

"Very well," Holly said serenely. If she opposed the majority, there was no sign of it on her face. She beckoned over at Sam Kane in Architecture, and he moved up to take Vicky's place. She sat, and shared a commiserating glance with Angie as she did.

"More sandbag walls or other barriers won't do us any good," he began. "Storm surges can wash right over them, and then we'd be keeping water in, not out. Our only choice is to enclose the whole city evenly, and that means building a dome. Actually two of them," he added after a moment, looking over at their Elysian visitors.

Sam's voice was totally monotone, and surprisingly so. He was clearly no public speaker, but from what Vicky had heard, he was the best they had at design and construction. He'd come up with their tidal array along with dozens of other structures here in Scheria.

"A dome over Scheria would have to be 3.2 kilometers in diameter- the largest ever built by far. Another one over Elysia would be about three quarters of that. To say that we don't have the construction materials to do that would be.. an understatement. Even if we did, construction would take years. Thanks to Miss Brandt," he nodded down at her, "we have remote-piloted VTOL drones that can be outfitted for construction. That would speed up the process, but there are about a billion other details needing to be worked out. If we do this, we're basically building an eighth Wonder of the world. And a ninth."

"Thank you, Sam," Holly put in, the seriousness of her tone underscoring the enormity of the task. He sat down, just as stone-faced as before, and his colleagues nearby all began whispering to him.

"Et les Bahamiens? Vont-ils nous permettre de les construire?" A tall woman asked from Holly's left. She held up a small device and cranked up the volume. "And the Bahamians? Will they permit us to construct them?" The automated voice asked from it.

Vicky recognized Danielle, one of their foreign 'recruits'. She didn't speak a word of English, but there had been a lot of advances in translation technology since Vicky had been in college, and her Lingo translator had an earbud that allowed her to keep up with what was being said. Mostly.

Holly smiled. It was a valid question. Technically they were all still on Bahamian soil, and a project of this magnitude would definitely need their approval first. "That won't be a problem, actually. Tom?"

Unlike all the other guest speakers, Tom looked totally at ease as he stepped up to the podium and took the mic. "The Bahamian people like you a lot. You've helped them time and again, and have brought a lot of business to the area. You're no threat to them militarily, and they know it. With the donations the Allocators have gotten from coded people here and on the mainland, you've bought a lot of raw materials from them. Not enough to build your new Wonders of the world maybe, but enough to get their goodwill. When I approached them last year, putting forward the idea of forming a new Coded Nation, they were receptive. It took a lot of negotiations since then, but we hammered out an agreement about a month ago."

He pressed a button, and a hidden projector pushed an image onto a white sheet above the north entrance. It was a map of Darien and Toman Cays, and the water surrounding them. "They weren't willing to let us have any more islands, not that I expected them to. Still, if we- sorry, if you- decide to found a Coded Nation, they'll recognize the following borders." He pressed another button, and an area stretching out about thirty miles from each island was highlighted. Tom looked troubled for a moment as he continued. "I had to promise that your trading relationship with them would remain the same, and that if you choose to expand your borders later, you wouldn't get any more territory from them, but it wasn't hard to assume either of those. Of course all of that depends on your decision here. If you don't want to be your own nation, then all of this disappears." He shut off the projector for effect.

The crowd looked mostly pleased with the idea. It wasn't surprising, really. They lived such different lives here than they ever had as uncoded people. Everyone's basic needs were taken care of by everyone else. Money was only useful as a means of dealing with outsiders, and had no value inside their society. Every coded person living on either island had a purpose they could be proud of, and the freedom to pursue it to the benefit of everyone.

Even their response to the increasing weather events was different: there were no cars here, and power was generated non-thermally. The nutrient bulbs people ate didn't need any plastic containers to later throw away, and any containers for liquids were exchanged and washed on site. They still had to burn gas to run their boats, but that was about the only carbon footprint they had left, and Engineering was working on that one next. And this was all in a community of over five thousand people!

It would probably take an act of God to change the rest of the world to match, but they were doing their part, and hopefully that would inspire others to do the same.

Switching screens on the projector, Tom pulled up another image, this one of a world map. A lot of the countries were highlighted in green. "Over the past year and a half, I've also made trips all over the world, making the same proposition again and again. As of last week, we now have over seventy countries that will recognize a Coded Nation if you choose to create one. That includes England, France, Germany, Israel, Ukraine, Russia, India, China, Japan, and South Korea. The only major player still to go is America, and I was delayed a bit on that because of the, uh, situation with the codes. They'll need more convincing, but most of the world is behind you."

Even though she'd known what he was up to, hearing his accomplishments aloud still impressed Vicky. She asked their pre-planned question anyway, just to make sure everyone knew. "There's no such thing as a free lunch, Tom. Especially with uncoded people. What did you have to promise them?"

Tom nodded deferentially. "You're right. Politics is give-and-take, and most of those countries needed an incentive. Their requests were money, for the most part. I put a full list on the Need Board if any of you are interested." Some people immediately pulled out their interfaces and began looking it up. "All told, it would take about a tenth of your yearly resources to make this happen. But they're all one-time payments. If you make this commitment, you get the legitimacy of an independent nation, and that's forever."

"Assuming you can get the US to sign on," Holly reminded him, and he looked a little chagrined.

"Yes, assuming that. I'm actually heading up to DC tomorrow to continue talks with the State Department. Unless you choose to stay the way you are, of course."

There was another vote, with an even more lopsided result. Over 98 percent wanted to go independent, and Vicky was one of them.

An older woman waved at Holly just as the vote had been announced and she nodded, beckoning her up to the podium. "This is Nadia Becker, and she has an idea that actually pertains to us becoming our own nation, and to our relationship with American uncoded people."

Nadia smiled at her, and cleared her throat. "Now that Elysia's up and running, we'll have a little more space here in Scheria. I know we don't have any kids here because the island is so small, but isn't it time we thought about changing that?"

"There are a lot of us who still have uncoded family who don't live here. I understand why uncoded adults can't live here, other than you, Tom," she said warmly to him. "But if someone is under 21, why not house them here? And not just our own kids would benefit from this, either. There are tons of overcrowded orphanages just in Florida alone. If we can convince them we can take good care of the kids, maybe they'll let us!"

"It would humanize us a bit, in the eyes of the uncoded," Vicky called out. She hadn't been expecting this proposal, as she had never considered having kids of her own, but it might be useful in more than just a humanitarian way.

Joey reached up and pulled on Angie's sleeve. She exchanged whispers with him, and they both smiled. It made sense he would be excited- he had been the only kid here for years now. The idea had to be comforting to Tom as well. He acted like he belonged, but he wasn't coded. There were some residents of Scheria who didn't want him around, despite his many contributions.

Holly looked over at Tom. "Would that help, or hurt, with the idea of a Coded Nation?"

After a moment, he shrugged. "I don't see how it could hurt, at least. We could pursue both ideas at the same time. Should I bring it up with the State Department?"

Holly shook her head. "No, we'd do better exploring it locally. We can reach out to orphanages in the Bahamas and Florida, as well as over in Europe and Africa. It'll widen our net." She looked out to the crowd. "If there are no objections, I'll put it to a vote."

"I don't think it's a good idea," a young man called out from the crowd, standing up. Vicky recognized the same person who'd asked her about debating Humanity First. He took a step up onto the platform and then waited. Holly obligingly beckoned him forward and put a mic in his hands.

That was another difference from uncoded people. Anyone could speak here, because everyone knew they spoke in good faith, and wouldn't lie or intentionally exaggerate.

"I understand your desire to be close to family," he went on, first to Nadia and then to the crowd. "I feel the same. But can we be sure that 'humanizing' ourselves is the right move? Think about it. Right now, coded people are being persecuted on the mainland. The same way women are being marginalized and objectified, or black people are being beaten and shot in the streets, or gay and trans people are being demonized on the news. Our natural instinct is to show uncoded people that we're not that different from them. Maybe then they won't mistreat us anymore."

He paused for a moment, and then started up with even more intensity. "But we are different from them! No one can choose to be female, black, gay or trans, but being coded is by definition a choice! We all wanted to be this way, and so we are! If we bring children here, we'll be raising them with our coded values. Maybe that'll be good for them, or maybe not. I don't really know. But Humanity First will use it against us. They'll accuse us of indoctrinating those kids, and they'll say we're a cult. For once, they'll actually have some evidence to back that up, too! Indoctrinating kids is part of what cults do."

All around the audience, Vicky could see people thinking about it. This man, whoever he was, did have a point. Did they have the right to raise kids with their own values, especially if some of those kids weren't actually their own?

"What's your name?" Holly asked after a moment.

"Abner Geller," he said hesitantly. "I know I'm a bit much. I've always been intense. It's just.. being coded was the best thing to happen to me, ever. I'm part of something that's so much better than anything I had before. I've had a few years to get used to it now, and I don't want to go back. If we make ourselves like the uncoded people, we're sending a message that their way is better than ours, when clearly it's the-" he paused a moment, and took a breath. "When clearly it's not."

That hadn't been a code activation. Vicky got the distinct impression that Abner had been about to say the coded way was better.

Abner looked to the other side of the crowd. "I just voted for a coded nation because I think we need to cut the cord. We're not Americans, or Bahamians, or French, anymore. We need to stop being citizens of other nations, so that we can become equal masters of our own! I mean, look at us! Look at Holly!" He gestured to her, and she gave him a surprised look.

"She's the most powerful person in this room, and that means absolutely nothing here. She's an individual like the rest of us. There is no authority here, other than the will of the majority. The only reason she's our Servant is because she's the best at doing the job. If someone else could do it better- and wanted the job- they would be doing it, and she would step aside immediately! We live in a true meritocracy here, and we need to embrace that, proudly! I'm done pretending to be anything like the uncoded, and it feels great."

After that, Abner quietly- almost meekly- retook his seat. Again, the crowd mulled over his words, but this time the feeling was a little different. It had gone from an ethical pondering to a question of value- or of superiority. Clearly Abner had made up his mind. Vicky had been so busy the past few weeks that she hadn't put aside time to think about these things.

"I propose a compromise of sorts," Holly said after a few moments, proving again what an able administrator she was. While Vicky had been pondering the big questions, Holly had been keeping everyone on track. "I suggest that we create this child-care facility here in Scheria, but that we open it up only to biological or previously adopted children of coded people. At first, anyway," she qualified. "It would allow us to live near our children and families, as long as they're younger than 21, but not open us up to accusations of indoctrination. They can't blame us for how we raise the ones we already have, not without opening themselves up to similar ridicule."

Vicky wasn't sure how effective that would be. In her experience, Humanity First had never let little things like objective truth or being accused of hypocrisy get in their way. Still, a little bit was better than nothing.

"If there are no problems, we can discuss opening it up to more kids later, but for now, will that suffice?" She looked first to Nadia, who nodded, smiling gratefully. When Holly looked at Abner, he hesitated, but eventually nodded as well.

The vote came up at 63 percent in favor of children here. Holly promised that they would discuss what to do when those kids reached 21, before adjourning the meeting. Vicky hated being in a press of people, so she waited for the crowd to thin before leaving. During the wait, she thought back on what Abner had said.

In the early days, Vicky had been concerned that some people might not value their codes enough. That they might pretend it wasn't there, or resent the control it represented. She'd never thought about people who might value it too much.


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