Writing > Code

Part 3, Chapter 16


Part 3

Chapter 16

One of the rear wheels on the bus screeched a bit as it slowed down. Ray couldn't tell which one exactly, but it probably just needed a new brake pad. He leaned back, not looking forward to work, but glad he had a job all the same. In today's economy, it wasn't a sure thing.

The bus had about a dozen people this early on. It would be packed in about half an hour when the workday really got going, but Ray was lucky enough to go to work before all that. Another man, a bit shorter with blond hair and brown eyes, sat down across from him. Ray had seen him before a few times. He didn't always sit at the same spot like Ray did, but he probably had the same start time at work.

When he leaned down to fish something out of his backpack, something caught Ray's eye. There was a glint of metal shining from the top of his head.

That grabbed Ray's attention. He looked around to see if anyone else was close enough to be bothered. "Hey," he greeted the other man.

He looked up from his pack for a second. "Hey." Pulling a small notepad and pen out, he zipped it back up. He hesitated for a second, and Ray realized he was staring. "Can I help you?" He asked, his eyebrows a bit furrowed.

"It's nothing," Ray said quickly, feeling a bit embarrassed. "I was just.. wondering, about your.. you know-" he tapped the top of his head.

"Oh!" The other man put a hand up there, smoothing his hair over it. "Sorry, I thought I my hair was long enough to cover it up by now. It didn't bother you, did it?"

"No, no. I was just, you know, curious."

The stranger smiled a bit self-consciously, but leaned down again and parted his hair. "Ask away. I don't have anything to hide," he invited, but then paused. "Well, not about this anyway," he added with a wry smile.

Ray had been wondering about those things for a while now. It looked a lot smaller than the ones he'd seen on tv. "Are you ok? Does it hurt at all?"

"I'm fine. And no, it doesn't hurt anymore," he sat back up again. "It did at first, but you get used to it pretty quick. I've seen you before, right? We have the same bus route?" Ray nodded, and the man extended a hand. "I'm Toby."

"Ray," he shook it. He seemed friendly, for a cyborg. Actually, he seemed almost normal. For a second Ray couldn't believe he was even talking to one of them! It was like meeting a celebrity, but without all the crowds and stuff. "It's not just on top like I saw, right? It goes right into your brain, too?"

"That's right. It doesn't go deep, but it's not just a plate on my head," Toby gave him an amused look. "We call it a code. I am a 'coded' person."

Ray thought about that for a second. "What does it do, though?"

Toby hesitated. "You know how a pacemaker keeps your heart beating normally? This is kind of like a pacemaker, but for my whole life. It keeps me on the right path- keeps me from making the wrong choices."

That sounded pretty cool. "What kind of wrong choices? How does it decide?"

"That's the trick- it doesn't decide anything. I do. My code just keeps me from doing something I already know is wrong." He gestured outside, apparently thinking about it. "Say I was out in my car, in traffic. I'm frustrated, I'm tired, and I'm pissed off about something else, probably something at home. The lane finally starts moving, and I start to speed up, and then some jackass cuts me off!"

He waited for Ray to picture that, and went on when Ray nodded. "If things were bad enough, I might lose my temper. I might even rear-end that jerk for what he just did. I'd regret it afterwards, but I wouldn't be thinking about it when it happened. I would have just done it!"

"But not with your implant? Your code, I mean."

"That's right. With this I might lose my temper, but I wouldn't hit him. The code would stop me, and give me a chance to cool down."

Ray stared at him. "That is so weird."

Toby chuckled. "I know, right? It was really freaky when I got started. I still have a temper and all, but at least now I don't have to worry about hurting someone because of it."

"That woman I saw on tv, the one talking about the code, she has one too?"

Toby nodded. "Yep, that's Vicky Brandt. She's one of the people who got this whole thing started. I only met her once, just before I was coded, but she seemed nice."

Still thinking it was the weirdest thing he'd heard in years, Ray glanced at the top of Toby's head again. "What if it messes up or something? Can you take it out?"

"Uh, not really. Once you've had a code for more than a few months, the scar tissue builds up and it's dangerous to try get it out then. It can be turned off, though. If necessary. People who get it out early, before the scar tissue shows up, are called decoded. They're pretty rare."

Ray looked outside and quickly pulled the line asking for the driver to stop. He'd almost missed his stop. "This is me," he said as he stood up. "Listen, thanks for talking about this. I was really wondering."

"Anytime," Toby said easily. "It was good to meet you. We'll probably see each other again, right here." He shook Ray's hand again.


From her vantage point at the top of the hill, Vicky could see most of St. Augustine, Florida. Or what was left of it anyway.

Huge swaths of the city were underwater, a gift from the latest category 5 storm to roll through here. The winds hadn't been high enough to call it a hurricane, but the damage was real enough. Thousands of people had evacuated beforehand, but hundreds more were still trapped in or on top of their homes. At least three people had drowned when it first hit, and Vicky was sure there would be more.

Her radio crackled briefly. "Vicky, are you there?"

"I'm here, Alex" She tried to keep her voice moderate.

"I'm about four blocks north of you, outside a school. About thirty families are here with me. The auditorium was supposed to be a disaster shelter area, but it took a pretty big hit, and it's coming apart. We got everyone out, but there's not much room. People are climbing up onto the roof, and if it starts coming apart.." He let that thought hang in the air a bit.

Vicky sighed. "All right. I'll push your school to the top of the evac list, but you're going to need to hang on. We're stretched pretty thin here." That was something of an understatement. The boats they'd brought from Darien Cay were just a tiny fraction of what was needed. Angie Greaves had been able to convince a few of the boat owners in the marina to help out, but it was still nowhere near enough.

For a former waitress, Angie was proving remarkably good at organizing relief efforts. Even Joey was helping out with preparing food for the survivors back at the relief area.

"Uh, we got another problem here," Alex spoke up again. "Looks like we've got an asthmatic kid whose inhaler got lost on the way here. He has a backup, but it's at home.. on the ground floor."

Which meant it was probably underwater. "Is he suffering an attack right now?"

"No, but it could start up at any minute. I don't have any CPR training, and it looks like no one else here does either."

At least this was one problem she could fix easily. "Hang on, Alex. Help is on the way."

"Miss Brandt?" A woman's voice spoke out from behind her, startling Vicky. She turned to see a well-dressed woman in her thirties holding a mic, with a cameraman behind her. "Kelly Anders, KQR News. Are you here to represent other coded people taking part in relief efforts?"

Vicky had to work hard not to sigh. "Hang on a moment, please," she said while holding a finger up to the reporter. Of course they knew where she was. Vicky had gone out of her way to be conspicuous. She kept her head shaved these days, proudly broadcasting the fact that she was coded to anyone who saw her. Ever since that first tv appearance she'd been a spectacle. She'd just come to embrace it now, that was all.

Vicky looked down at her laptop, which was thankfully powered by a nearby solar panel, and keyed in a command. This far above ground, she didn't have any trouble sending out the signal, and one of the drones carrying medical supplies (and as part of that an inhaler), was redirected.

It took a bit of effort to send it to a place where Alex could get ahold of it, but at least it didn't take long. The drones weren't powerful enough to evacuate people by air, but they could at least carry food, water, and medicine to people who were currently stuck. Vicky wished she had a thousand of them, but she'd only had time to build a dozen so far.

The reporter was still waiting. Vicky took a deep breath. You're not just here to save lives, she reminded herself. You're here to be seen- as a coded person- saving lives.

"Most of my people out there are coded, yes," Vicky answered, turning to face the camera and forcing a smile. "Like anyone else, we just want to help where we can."

Before the reporter could continue, Tyrell butted in. "I just got word from one of the FEMA coordinators," he said breathlessly, from his sprint up the hill. "They should have relief supplies here by nightfall."

"It's about time," Vicky said, letting out a tense breath. "Did they say what delayed them?"

"Yeah. The tail edge of the storm hit Palm Coast. They've been busy down there doing the same thing we are here." He gestured down to the camp. "Oh, the Red Cross people are finally here too. They're setting up a tent on the other side, there."

Vicky couldn't see it from her current position, but she trusted Tyrell. She would probably trust him even if he wasn't coded. Being an ex-con meant nothing to her after all this time. "Good. There's a list of our people who have first aid training in the boat I came in on. Go get it, and give it to them. Until FEMA gets here, they may need a few extra hands."

"Miss Brandt, this is the fourth natural disaster you and other coded people have been spotted at this year," the reporter continued doggedly. "Would you say that your people are drawn to places filled with destruction and death?"

For a moment Vicky didn't even process the question because she had so much else on her mind. Tyrell gaped at the woman, though. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"The evidence shows that coded people are drawn to disaster areas, as if you enjoy being there," Anders went on coolly, eying the top of Tyrell's head. "As a coded person, would you care to comment on that?"

Tyrell's eyes got dangerous, and his hands balled up into fists. Vicky held out a hand to him right away. She wasn't concerned he might hurt Anders, but he might say something heated that could hurt all coded people. "Thank you, Ty," she said pointedly, and he hesitated. Nodding, he took a deep breath and ran back downhill towards the camp.

Vicky smiled tightly and looked right into the camera. "I assume your news station is at least partially funded by the Humanity First movement. Truthfully, I don't really care. It doesn't matter what you believe about us, as long as you're aware of us. Now," she closed the laptop and with some difficulty, picked it and the solar panel up. "I'm going down to that relief camp to see what I can do for those people. Would you like to help me?"

Anders' face darkened slightly, and she waved a hand to cut off the camera. Apparently it was clear to her that she couldn't get a rise out of Vicky, and she didn't want to be seen helping her, so she just left.

For the dozenth time, Vicky wished Tom were here. Despite her increasing experience in front of cameras, Tom was still a hundred times better at it. He'd practically been born in the spotlight, and he loved it there. Though he had been able to give her some advice on how to deal with these Humanity First naysayers, he was still stuck on the other side of the country. When he was in the country at all, that was.

There was one uplifting thing Vicky saw on her way down, though. Two of her drones were returning. Working on them had been so much better than tv appearances, or disaster relief efforts. She'd been figuratively drowning in both for months now, but she was an engineer at heart. That was what she loved- that was where she thrived.

Sadly her other skills were much more in demand. Shaking her head, Vicky looked around to see where she could help. Until Alex got back with those other evacuees, that was about all she could do.


[0] Message Index

Go to full version