Author Topic: Chapter 17  (Read 9581 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 17
« on: June 10, 2022, 02:57:41 AM »
Chapter 17

"Mr. Penderton? You're up in thirty seconds." The assistant said from the doorway.

Tom thanked her and she left. He looked into the dressing room's tall mirror one more time, just to make sure. His jet-lag from the trip to Japan was mostly gone by now. There was no sign of soot or ash on his clothes or face from yesterday, but he had inhaled a bit of smoke. His voice might still be a little froggy. He took a few sips from the water bottle they'd left for him, and then squared his shoulders and stepped out into the hallway.

Unlike the original small-time interviews Vicky had done, or the more well known podcasts and radio broadcasts after that, this was national tv. Tom could feel the gravity of the room because of that. The seriousness and professionalism imbued everyone in the building. It affected how they walked, what they said, how they breathed, and everything else. Tom felt grateful to have been included, relative amateur though he was compared to them. It was a pity that so much of what he was about to tell them had to be lies.

"Good afternoon. I'm Alan Palmer, and my guest today is Thomas Penderton III, former Senate primary candidate and businessman, and the current spokesman for the coded people. Tom?" He extended an arm as an invitation. "Thanks for being here today."

Trying not to show his irritation, Tom smiled as he stepped up to the on-air desk and sat down. "Thank you for having me, Alan. First off though, you should know I'm not actually a spokesman for any coded people." He leaned down for a few seconds, so the cameras could see his scalp. "I don't have a code myself, so I can't speak for them. Mostly, I just try to answer questions people might have, so that everyone can understand them better."

"Point taken," Alan said wryly. "Well, it's been almost three years since people first started hearing about these brain implants, and the coded 'phenomenon' has spread pretty far by now. How many coded people are there, anyway?"

"I'm not sure, exactly," Tom admitted. "They don't keep a list or anything. The last I heard was over ten thousand, most of them living right here in America. That was last month though; it could be a few hundred more than that by now. There's a dedicated team back on Darien Cay who's job is to evaluate and then possibly code new applicants. They're averaging about fifteen procedures a day."

"Why don't they keep a list, though? Don't they want a record of who has a code and who doesn't?"

Tom tried to hide his discomfort at that. The questions had been asked innocuously, perhaps even innocently. Alan himself might not see what was wrong with that, but Tom sure did. "A list of coded people?" He asked, trying to tamp down on his bitterness. For this, he didn't need to lie at all. "What synonyms could we use for that? Dossiers on them? Profiles of them? A watchlist, perhaps? What about a full-on registry?"

He sighed, and went on before Alan could respond. "I am sure that there are people here in the States, very high-ranking military or government folks probably, who are already keeping tabs on all coded people. They are profiling these 'suspected threats' in case they might need to take action against them. Identification is, after all, the first step in that process."

Tom leaned forward, trying to project his earnestness. "Surveilling these people, profiling them, putting them on a watchlist- all of that is no different than assuming they're guilty before they've even been charged! What could be more hypocritical in a society that claims 'innocent until proven guilty'? What could be more despicable in a society that fought the Nazis in World War 2 than to behave just like their enemy?"

Tom leaned back, hoping he hadn't outstayed his welcome already. "Coded people don't keep a list because it would be used against them if it fell into the wrong hands. And make no mistake, there are plenty of 'wrong hands' out there right now."

Seeming a little taken aback, Alan looked over his notes again. He recovered quickly though, no doubt because of his long experience on air. "You mentioned Darien Cay earlier. For our viewers out there who don't know, that's the island you leased from the Bahamian government. From what we've heard, there are over five thousand people living there now. It's practically an island city. You call it Scheria, correct?"

Tom nodded, also feeling a little more relaxed. "Since most coded people are American, it made sense to call it something people here could relate to. They wanted to call it New Providence, because Darien Cay is even smaller than Rhode Island, but the Bahamians are already using that one. In the end they decided on Scheria because it's the last destination in the Odyssey. My friend Vicky Brandt and the other coded people have gone through at least four locations over the years, and now they finally have a home for themselves. After a few years the name felt right to them, so it stuck."

Alan gave him a carefully concerned look, no doubt entirely for his audience. "Some of our viewers have expressed concern that you- pardon me, that they- put their headquarters out there because coded people don't think of themselves as Americans at all. You've spent a great deal of time with them. Is there any truth to that?"

"Not at all," he assured the audience, yet again lying through his teeth. "Being coded doesn't wipe away your nationality. I was part of the decision to move out there in the first place, and it was all about our disagreements with our various business and government partners at the time. In fact one of the reasons we chose an island just off the coast, was so that we could be close to our home and still be able to work on the codes uninterrupted. Besides," he added, giving a conspiratorial look at the cameras, "who could say no to doing a job you love, while living on an island paradise?"

Alan smirked at that, but went on without much of a pause. "Well, the coded people have certainly made a big impression since moving there. They've been showing up at disaster sites all over the country, and participating in relief efforts. Tell me, why do you think coded people are so drawn to disaster relief specifically?"

This was going to be tricky. "Well first off, not all of them are. You have to remember, only a fraction of all coded people live in Scheria. Most people, once they get the code and go through orientation to get used to it, just end up going home. They live ordinary lives, send their kids to school, water their plants, pay their taxes. In almost every way, they're no different than the rest of us. For the few who live in Scheria, they can either help evaluate and code people, which takes a ton of education and experience, or they can find some other way to help. Given the rise in natural disasters especially this year, that's what they've chosen to do."

Alan looked down at his notes. "Yes, according to some sources, you were with a group of coded people just yesterday, helping local fire departments evacuate several communities just outside of San Diego. Are you saying those coded people came all the way across the country just to help out?"

"Most of them, yes. There were a few coded people living in San Diego. They were among the volunteers who offered to house people whose homes burned down. Vicky was doing the same thing for flood victims in Florida just last week. Personally I think she drew the short straw when it came to disasters. It's a lot easier to evacuate people if the roads aren't flooded," he added in an attempt to remind the viewers that this interview was about them and not him.

"Well their dedication is quite impressive, as is yours. As I understand it, you live on the island with them. Are you the only 'non-coded' person there?"

"Not at all. Uncoded people are here and there," Tom leaned back in his chair. "We have a few dozen technicians, analysts, computer experts, and other support staff who never got one. Most of us just do our jobs while we're there, and help out during our free time." More lies added to the pile.

"And what do you say to critics like the Humanity First movement, who claim that coded people aren't even human anymore, and don't deserve the same rights?"

Tom smiled. "So we're finally getting down to it, eh? Well, I could say a lot of things, really. For one, I find their hatred very conveniently timed. It's amazing how quickly some groups can switch between hating people based on skin color, to hating people based on gender, to hating people based on sexual orientation, and now to hating people based on having codes. It's almost like they only hate the thing that's most new and eye-catching. Or that they don't actually hate them at all, and are just faking it to get attention."

Alan hesitated. "So, do you think that groups like theirs will dial back their rhetoric eventually?"

Tom shook his head. "I hope so, but I doubt it. Unlike organizations based on mutual trust and cooperation, groups that thrive on hate aren't very sustainable. They have to keep switching what they hate because if they don't, their rank-and-file members will eventually realize that there's no real truth behind their claims."

He gave a genuine sigh. "As a species, we've never had any trouble coming up with reasons to hate people. Our instincts tell us to be afraid of new things. Animals never really get past fear and occasionally aggression towards things they don't understand, but we humans can take it so much further. We can base entire ways of life on fear and distrust, and for most of the people living like that, it's only because that's what they're told to believe!"

He paused. "I'm sorry. I can get a bit preachy about this sort of thing. Thanks for indulging me so far."

Alan nodded understandingly. "There's really only one more thing I wanted to ask. Where do you think this coded.. movement of theirs is going in the long run? What will their future look like, do you think?"

Tom raised his hands helplessly. "I have no idea. When Vicky, Amir and I were just getting started on this, all we wanted was a better way to handle prison populations, and to help inmates get rehabilitated and returned to society. We had no way of knowing that the codes could one day be used for something bigger. Now the people of Scheria seem determined to prove to the world that coded people are trustworthy, friendly, and reliable. I may not know exactly where that intention will take us, but I'm really looking forward to finding out."


"What about sex?" Ray asked idly, as the bus started moving again. "Can you even have it, with that thing in your head?"

Toby just raised his eyebrows as he sat down. "Sure I can. Why do you ask?"

This was their third day in a row, going to work together. They had about ten minutes before Ray had to get off the bus, and he was still curious about his new cyborg friend.

"The other day you said you weren't married. Having sex with someone you're not married to is wrong, so your code should stop you. Right?"

Toby shrugged. "Well, I was coded a year and a half ago, and I've had sex since then without any problems, so apparently I don't think it's wrong. Not deep down, anyway."

Ray didn't get that. "Are you like some kind of hippie?"

Toby smiled. "Not really. My folks are evangelical Christians. They stopped talking to me when I got locked up, but I never really believed in that stuff anyway. After I got coded, I wondered how it might affect my sex life, so I did some reading and talked to a few of the others in Scheria. I wasn't the only one asking those questions."

He leaned back and stretched a bit. "Do you know about the very first weddings, way way back in the day?"

Ray shook his head. He'd been married twice himself, but all the details had been handled by the brides and their families. Which was fine with him.

"All right, how about marriage back in, say.. medieval times. Like feudal European countries?"

"They were about the families, right? The kids married so the families would be allies."

Toby nodded. "That's pretty much it. Weddings and marriages weren't about the bride or groom at all. They were about what was best for the family at the time. Alliances between nobles and royals that were sealed with a wedding. Compared to marriages today, that's pretty barbaric, but it wasn't the worst in history. The further back you look, the more terrible marriage becomes."

He grimaced. "The earliest marriages were basically just slave auctions. The 'wife' was nothing more than property- first belonging to her father, and then to her husband. They had no say, and no future without a husband. They couldn't run away or speak out without being punished. Then they would have kids, and sometimes get punished if they couldn't, or had only daughters." He sighed at that. "The more I used to read about it, the more depressed I got. I think that's why I've never heard of any coded people getting married. They probably think it's just as bad as I do. Maybe even bad enough that the code would stop them from saying 'I do'."

Ray didn't remember any of that marriage stuff from the history classes back in school. But he hadn't really paid attention to that- his mind had always been out on the football field. Still, he had been raised with Sunday School. "What about the Bible, though? The Bible says marriage is sacred. That's what makes it wrong to have sex outside of it."

"And that is a good point," Toby agreed. "I can talk about history until I'm blue in the face. I can point to the glass ceiling, and bring up all the ways women are still discriminated against even today, but none of that matters if you believe it's wrong because of your faith. I can't argue with a man's religion, and I don't want to. Is that really what you believe, though? That sex outside marriage is wrong?"

Ray had expected argument, or maybe for Toby to get a little mad, but that hadn't happened. He thought back to the women he'd slept with, and how he never married most of them. "I don't really know," he admitted.

"That's fine. When it comes to faith, or belief, or religion, what-have-you, not knowing is perfectly fine. I sure don't know for myself. But if you think that coded people are godless or immoral for whatever reason, you're not alone."

He supposed that made sense, in a strange way, but Ray still wasn't convinced. "What about Mormons? Do you have any Mormons who have a code?"

Toby looked confused. "Probably one or two. Why do you ask?"

"They believe in polygamy, right? Or they did. Would a coded Mormon be able to sleep around, while a coded Christian couldn't?"

Toby leaned back in his seat for a few seconds. "I assume both of them would be able to sleep with whoever they wanted, as long as no one was being hurt. That includes keeping secrets, by the way. I doubt a married coded man would be able to have an affair unless his spouse knew about it and was ok with it. We have a bunch of faiths in Scheria. Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hundu, Bhuddist, Sikh- and probably a whole lot more. I heard some discussions when I was there. They even got heated from time to time, but no one ever started shouting or swearing. Even if one person was mad enough to get violent about it, the code would stop them."

"That's so freaky. So.. you think it doesn't matter what faith a person has?"

Toby gave him a sharp look. "Of course it matters. Sometimes faith is all a person has! It just doesn't seem to change what the code stops us from doing, or lets us do. From what I've seen anyway."

Ray nodded, taken a bit by surprise by his friend's fierceness. "Sorry."

"Don't be. This is important stuff to talk about, and I'm not upset or anything. It's just that we're still exploring what it means to be coded. All of these things are just my best guesses so far. If you have other ideas, please let me know." Toby squinted up ahead. "Your stop is coming up."

"But we just got started talking about this! What is your faith anyway? You were raised Christian; do you believe in God, even if you don't care about marriage?" Ray was strongly tempted to just miss his stop today, and show up late. Or better yet, not at all. He didn't really like his job.

Toby looked thoughtful. "I suppose we can talk about this more on Monday if you want, but here's the real short version." He took a breath. "I don't know if the Bible was just a bunch of lies written by old guys who wanted to keep women under their control, or a sacred document written by an all-powerful God who loves us all equally. I'm still trying to figure that out. What I do know is that the Bible is the main reason we even have marriage, and marriage has been used for some pretty awful stuff throughout history. It's impossible to believe what the Bible says without also accepting how much women were treated like property in it, and are still being discriminated against because of it. Just saying."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 04:03:26 AM by Daen »