Author Topic: Chapter 19  (Read 1320 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 19
« on: June 10, 2022, 12:57:11 AM »
Chapter 19

"So I was video chatting with my folks yesterday, and my code kept going off all the time! I could barely get a few words out before I had to remember what I was doing, all over again. It was super frustrating. I think they think I have brain damage or something. I got so embarrassed I just signed off and sent them an email saying I was ok."

Melanie did indeed look frustrated. Vicky had to hold back a smile at that, not wanting to trivialize her in front of the other coded people undergoing orientation.

She and Leon were attending his first Why meeting, which she'd had to explain to him. Like the NA meetings he'd gone to back in the States, Why meetings were about expressing your feelings and sharing your truth. They were also a forum, to help people understand 'why' their codes had activated when there wasn't an obvious explanation. And they were mandatory. Even if Leon had nothing to say, he still had to be here at least twice a week.

"What is it you were talking about with your parents?" The meeting coordinator inquired of Melanie.

She waved a hand. "Nothing big. Just how long until my hair grows back, what college they want me to go to when I get back home, what social circles they want for me when I'm there."

From their expressions, Vicky could tell that some of the others were also holding back snide comments. Melanie was clearly from a very different world than the one Leon and the others had known. One of them did speak up, though. "What do you want to do, though? When you're done with orientation."

Melanie shrugged. "I don't really know. I just wanted them to see I didn't need them. I can do this without them always telling me what to do."

There was just a little bit of anger in that statement, and the group apparently heard it. "If you didn't want them to tell you what to do, why did you call them?" The coordinator asked pointedly.

"Because I'm sick of them always making me feel useless!" Melanie said harshly. "I wanted to show them I don't need them anymore. I wanted them to feel helpless and worthless like I did!" She stopped at that point, and her eyes widened. "Oh.." she trailed off. "Okay, that makes sense."

The coordinator reached out and squeezed Melanie's hand comfortingly, and then looked around at the others. "Does anyone else have anything to say?"

Leon looked a bit uncomfortable, but he didn't speak up. From what Vicky had learned over the past few days, he'd gotten coded only to curb his addiction. He was still exploring the limits of behavior his code would allow, and probably wasn't ready to share in front of a roomful of people. Even if they were his peers.

The meeting was dismissed, and Vicky got up with the others and filed out of the room. When she and Leon were relatively alone again, she removed her wig and rubbed at her head absently.

"Why did you even wear that thing?" Leon inquired. "It's gotta be itchy and all."

"I'm pretty well known here," Vicky said sadly. "If they recognized me in there, it would have been a distraction. Maybe Melanie wouldn't have had her world-shattering breakthrough otherwise."

Leon chuckled as well, as they headed back to his temporary room. "Hey. She's on the path, right? Even a little breakthrough is still progress."

"That's right. Do you want me to come to the next one with you, or are you good going alone?"

"I'll be fine," he said in a less-than-convincing tone. "You can leave the wig behind and be yourself now."

Not wanting to push the issue, Vicky changed the subject. There was a lot of stuff to cover, and they chatted the whole way back to his place. Once there, she pulled out the community laptop that every new coded person could use and typed in a command on the keyboard.

"This is the Need Board," she gestured at the screen. It was less of a 'board' so much as a list, but it got the point across. "It's every task that coded people need to do, both here and on the mainland. It's always being updated, as jobs are completed, or new jobs are added. It's online too, so coded people elsewhere can contribute from where they live. This is how I got my group together when we went to Florida a few weeks ago. People over there got estimates of how bad it would be, and what would be needed, and put that on the Board. Then people here volunteered based on skills and availability. It's a bit complicated at first, I know," she admitted, "but it's one of our best tools. See there?" She pointed at the coded relations section. "That's where I signed up to be your guide."

Leon scanned the list slowly, taking his time. He was a pretty good student, actually. Vicky wasn't regretting being his guide. It also gave her a reason to stick around in Scheria, and she could use her extra time to work on the drones again. People still recognized her almost everywhere she went, but here she was accepted, not pestered with bad-faith interview requests from rude reporters. "What do these stars mean?" He asked after a bit, pointing to the scale next to each item on the list.

"That's how important the jobs are. Well, not important so much as urgent. All the jobs are important, but some need to be done sooner than others."

Leon clicked on a section of the Need Board labeled 'city maintenance'. It made up about a third of all the jobs on the Board. Hopefully it would be even less than that soon.

Vicky agreed that a portion of their efforts had to be about keeping the city itself running, but every bit of effort put out into the world earned them a little goodwill in return. Relief efforts were a good start, but they'd have to branch out soon as well. Mediation was the end goal. They had to earn enough trust with the uncoded that they would be willing to let coded people mediate for them.

Unofficially, of course. Having a coded judge or prosecutor was a chilling thought. How could you possibly do what you know is right when the law itself was influenced by a profit motive? It would be an impossible, doomed situation from the start. If they wanted to help, it would have to be if they were invited, and outside of the law.

"What if I need something other than a job?" Leon asked suddenly. "Like a sandwich, or a basketball or something. Would I put that on the Need Board?" His eyes brightened. "Or a surfboard. I used to surf all the time!"

"Food isn't an issue. There are cafeterias all over the island, though they probably don't serve anything tasty enough for newly coded people. For other objects though," Vicky gestured at the search bar. "Just type in surfboard and see for yourself."

Leon did so, and a map of the island popped up, covered in red dots. "There. Looks like there's a surfboard in this very building. Just two doors over. It belongs to a Jenna Tamby. Ooh, she's cute," Vicky added, as a picture popped up.

Leon gave her a patient look. "I can see that, thanks."

In an effort to get him more integrated with his community, Vicky had been playing a bit of a matchmaker for him. Perhaps she should back off on that. He was doing just fine as is.

"So, I can just go over there and ask if I can use her surfboard?"

"Pretty much."

Leon looked back at the info on screen. "It says it's in her hallway closet. What if she's not home?"

"Then you go in and get it anyway. As long as you put a note on the Need Board that you've got the surfboard now, it'll be fine."

Vicky smiled at his confused look. "The thing is, privacy doesn't mean as much here as it does on the mainland. There are some coded people who have a briefcase, or a chest or something next to their front door, and put all the Need Board stuff in there so they can keep their home clean and all. Most people are more easygoing, though. I put a bunch of my stuff up on the Board for people to borrow or take. Not my computer, though," she admitted. "I use that every day, and I really don't want to be without it."

Leon stared at her, and then back at the screen. "Ok, that is just freaky. How does this.. Jenna know that I won't just clean out her place and take everything? Or how do I know that she didn't set a bear trap or something behind the front door?"

Had she been like this herself, back in the day? It seemed like a pretty suspicious way to live. "Because you're both coded," Vicky explained patiently. "No one puts an item on the Board unless they're willing to be without it. She trusts that you won't do anything to damage the surfboard intentionally, and you can trust that she wouldn't offer it unless it was sturdy enough to use. Besides, even if you did rob her place completely, you wouldn't get anything of value. It's just stuff."

Vicky scrolled down the list of objects on the Board. "Do you see any Fabergé eggs here, or any Rolex watches? Have you seen any Ferraris out on the street? Ok, that's a bad example," she realized aloud. There were no cars on an island this small, although there were a ton of bikes.

"Anyway, having stuff just isn't that important to us here. We have no status symbols, because the code won't let us put ourselves above anyone else. The only real reason to own anything at all is if it's sentimental like my photo album, or if it's useful like my laptop. That's it."

If anything, Leon looked even more incredulous. "I wondered about some of those things when I got here, but I had no idea. This is like a different world!"

Vicky grinned. "I should hope so. At first I thought I'd miss a lot of things from back in the States, but it turns out I'm really happy living here."

Leon gave a disbelieving sniff. After a bit though, he shook his head as if to clear it. "So.. what if I don't want to do any of the jobs on the Need Board? What if I just take that surfboard and spend all day out on the waves? Would I be able to stay here if I was just doing that every day?" He asked cynically.

Vicky shrugged. "Probably. But would you want to be here, surrounded by people proudly working hard at advancing the whole society, if all you did was enjoy yourself all day? No one would insult you, or even look at you funny, but would you really be happy under those circumstances? From what I've seen, lazy people don't last very long if they're constantly surrounded by reminders that they're lazy. They either leave, or they find some way to contribute on their own."

She leaned back against the wall behind them. "Like I said before, most people once they've been coded and gone through orientation, just go home. It's only about one in ten who really 'sync' with their codes. They not only use their codes as a barrier to keep from doing something bad, but also as a motivator to live a good life. That's why so many people leave. Being a constant cooperative part of a community like this is not easy. But it's totally worth it, or at least it is to me."


It was late the next day, after a very rewarding afternoon of building drones, that Vicky got a message from uptown. Apparently the Servant and the Allocators wanted to see her. Whatever it was must be important. After a moment's hesitation, Vicky decided to ask Leon to come along. He had no experience with Scheria's government, limited though it was.

In America, there was a President who had a Cabinet and Joint Chiefs, and there were Supreme Court Justices, Senators, and House Representatives. Here, they just had a Servant and two Allocators. All three were completely informal and had no official authority at all. They couldn't order a field mouse around, much less a person. But then, they didn't have to.

If you wanted a coded person to do something, all you had to do was convince them that it was the right thing to do. Because those three were so good at their jobs, most people here just did as they asked without question. Their codes didn't interfere, because they were requests originating from coded people. If any of the three started slipping, 'removing' them from their unofficial office wouldn't even be necessary. They'd probably remove themselves first.

Vicky dropped by Leon's place and found him sitting on the ground, perusing the Need Board. He seemed much more comfortable with it now, and had actually been contributing in the food service area, with protein processing. Limited duty of course. People still in orientation were allowed to serve, but only if it didn't interfere with the orientation itself. When Leon saw her, there was a trace of a smile on his face for just a moment.

"What is it?" Vicky asked, curious.

"Nothing. It's something funny I remembered from-" Leon cut off, his face going blank for a second. "Whoa," he went on, putting a palm to his head. "Still not used to that."

Vicky knew a code activation when she saw one. The only reason it would go off while someone was talking was if they were lying or saying something hurtful. Leon hadn't been insulting her, which meant he'd just tried to lie.

Whatever it was, privacy was his by right. Vicky extended a hand. "Come on. I've been asked to see the closest thing to government in Scheria. I figured you'd want to sit in on this."

Leon reached up and allowed her to pull him to his feet. "Yeah, I read about that last night. It's pretty weird that this whole city keeps on working with only three people in charge. And not really even in charge, at that. Just.. helping."

"That's how we roll."

They wound their way through the city, taking maybe fifteen minutes to get all the way uptown. The name was literal, actually, with these structures being the highest point geographically. Because they were so far above sea level, they held the most valuable tools. The labs where Dr. Tan worked were just on the other side of that building, and Devin's most irreplaceable research on code design and installation was just next door to it.

It was a valid concern. That storm in Florida could have easily hit Scheria first.

For some reason, Leon kept that strange smile on his face during the trip. Vicky made sure not to ask about it again, but she couldn't help being curious. As they walked, she talked about how the Servant and Allocators had gotten started.

"When our research station here on the island first started growing beyond the few buildings we started with," she gestured to where the old lab had been on the north end of the Cay, "we realized we would soon be a full-fledged community. At first it was easy. We all convened in one of the cafeterias, and talked through what we needed and how we would get it and use it. Even Tom contributed when he was here, though he's never been coded. Eventually it became a weekly meeting, open to any person living here. New problems were brought to our attention, and we decided collectively on how to deal with them. That's why we eventually built our tidal generators over there," she pointed out to sea.

"So no one was ever in charge, right from the beginning?"

"Not officially. I suppose I was running things at the start, but only because I've been coded the longest. Still, I don't know how to manage a city like this. I was grateful when others took up the task. It always remained a democracy though. A real democracy mind you, not that representative stuff they have on the mainland. One person, one voice."

Vicky smiled as she looked around. "Of course it got much harder as this place grew by leaps and bounds. Money may not mean much to us now, but it did back then. We were buying tons of stuff from the mainland, and none of us knew much about financial dealings or favorable negotiations. One of our foreign coded joiners, Hamedi Cisse, took to that like a duck to water. Maybe it's just how they do things overseas, but he was a natural. He was the one who came up with the idea for the materials portion of the Need Board, and handled the donations which have kept us going ever since."

"But he couldn't do it all alone, right?"

"At first he could, but yeah, we just kept on growing. He tracked down a statistician named James Conrad and convinced him to help with the 'allocation' of resources. Then he found a former professor of professional ethics named Holly Trainer to help them decide which departments needed more or less resources. She's the Servant now, but again: nothing official. I'm still surprised at how easy it all was. A new society of uncoded people would have probably had a bloody coup, or a long election process by now."

"Probably," Leon said, and there was a tone of humor in his voice. Come to think of it, people on the streets were giving her strange looks as well. It was more than just the usual stir she caused- they were whispering to each other as she passed.

They'd finally arrived. Vicky saw a few of the Allocators' assistants upstairs, moving efficiently from post to post. There was even a Need Board posting for that job. Anyone could be trusted to do the job earnestly, but not many had the stamina or concentration to keep up with the Allocators themselves. Hamedi and James were two of a kind. Wondering what was going on, Vicky led the way inside.

Each of the large rooms on the ground floor represented a different department: Desalination, Food Service, Waste Processing, Power Distribution, Healthcare, and about a dozen more. The ones she knew best were down the hall: Engineering and Uncoded Relations. Each room had people inside, dedicated to making sure that the city handled each concept smoothly and gracefully. Perhaps a building like this had already been constructed in the other island colony. They did have Scheria's history to look back on, and hopefully wouldn't make some of the same mistakes she and Tom had made here.

She was expected in Uncoded Relations, which was not to be confused with her actual uncoded relation, her dad. He was still up in Minnesota, retired and living a quiet life. They chatted from time to time, though he still disapproved of her lack of hair.

Vicky opened the door to find that Holly was already waiting inside. The Servant rose with a warm smile, and shook Vicky's hand fervently. "Vicky. Thanks for coming on such short notice."

"Not at all," Vicky responded automatically. It was just the three of them right now, and she stepped inside with Leon. "This is Leon. I'm his guide. What can I do for you, Holly?"

"So you haven't heard? Good. I wanted this to be a surprise," Holly said conspiratorially. "I take it you know what's going on here, Leon?"

"Yes ma'am," Leon said awkwardly, his eyes flitting back and forth between them.

"Then would you like to show her?" Holly asked, gesturing at one of the computers in the room. Leon nodded, and pulled up the Need Board on that screen.

"At the last townhall meeting, you were still in quarantine," Holly explained as Leon went through the list. "We decided that it's time to have an official representative, or ambassador really, to the uncoded people. We need to give them something they've already seen, a concept that will hopefully be a bridge for them to someday understand us."

That made a lot of sense. Trying not to think about why Leon of all people was involved in this, Vicky nodded. "I agree. They have a hard enough time just understanding the codes themselves and how they work. Throw in a greed-free society, and then a leaderless society? We might as well be trying to teach them Greek. I don't like the idea of any coded representative at all, but in dealings with uncoded people.. I think it's a necessary evil."

Holly smiled. "Glad to hear it. Because there was a referendum put out this morning over the Need Board. Actually, it was more of an election. We asked people who they want to be our face to the uncoded world. Votes have been collecting all day."

Vicky didn't know what to say. Referendums weren't that uncommon here- usually one or two went out a month. For people who couldn't make it to the weekly townhalls, or weren't eloquent enough to be understood at them, it was an opportunity for them to voice their opinions through a vote. But they had never voted for a person before. She supposed it was a natural consequence of needing a representative, but it still felt weird to her. "I take it they chose Tom, and I'm here to tell you where he is?"

Leon chuckled briefly, and Holly shook her head. "I already know where Tom is, and what he's doing. I don't blame you for not telling anyone. After all, I wasn't even coded yet when you came up with your plan. And it's a good idea- what he's doing overseas will be necessary eventually. This isn't about Tom though, it's about you. We need someone to represent us to the uncoded. You have been chosen to be that voice."

Now grinning, Leon turned the computer to face her. Vicky's name, along with a dozen or so others, was displayed along with a collection of votes. She had more than twice the votes of any other.

"Me??" Vicky protested, aghast. "I'm no diplomat! I have zero experience in foreign policy and negotiations. That's one of the reasons I was glad when you started running this place!"

"It's not as bad as you might think," Holly said smoothly, reaching out to turn her away from the screen. "Your duties wouldn't change much at all. It's just now you'll have the official endorsement of Scheria. You just said how having a representative to the uncoded people is a necessary evil."

"Yes, but I never wanted to be that evil!"

Holly let that last word hang in the air for a bit. Eventually, she shrugged. "We're all coded here. The choice is still yours. If you don't want the job, I guess it goes to the runner-up: Anson Marsden."

Vicky had met Anson a few times over the last few years, while helping out in the Uncoded Relations office. He seemed confident, respectful, and dignified. But she had no idea if he could handle a tv spotlight. Good Lord, she still wasn't sure she could! Vicky knew that critics thought of her as endearing and unsure of herself in front of the camera, but that was all misinterpretation. She was still awkward as hell.

She tried to moderate her tone. "Holly, I was looking forward to staying here for a while, and getting back to basics. I wanted to guide people like Leon, and start up my drone program again. You saw how useful they were in Florida. Imagine me building dozens more like them- hundreds, even! They could help out a lot, no matter where you want them deployed!"

Holly nodded. "I've looked over the specs, and I've seen footage of them in action. They are quite a sight. Which is why I talked Hamedi and James into adding a drone program to the engineering department. They're looking into resources for it as we speak."

Vicky felt like the ground was eroding under her feet. Holly had an answer for everything. And how on earth had she known what Tom was up to? Perhaps she had guessed it, as she did have access to Tom's travel logs. It wouldn't be hard to find out who he was meeting during his foreign trips.

None of that mattered right now, though. It was still Vicky's decision, and always would be, but Holly knew her pretty well. She knew that first and foremost, Vicky's priority was the well-being of other people. Like it or not, Vicky was more useful representing Scheria than she was guiding individual people or tinkering away in Engineering. Damn her for knowing that. Damn the whole city for knowing that! Or at least the fifty-eight percent who had voted for her.

According to the vote tally on the screen, even if she hadn't gotten over half the vote, she was the second choice for nearly a third. Ranked-choice voting would have gone her way as well.

"I'll think about it," Vicky said at last, beckoning harshly to Leon, who hastened to her side.

It was a meaningless gesture; they both knew what Vicky would decide, but Holly gave her a respectful nod anyway. "I look forward to hearing from you, then."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 02:04:45 AM by Daen »