My name is Richard Martinez. I am the President of the United States of America, ever since last year, when I was sworn in after winning in a historic landslide election. I pledged to defend this nation and its people from threats both within and without, to improve the standard of living of everyone under our domain.
Yeah, that’s not working out so great.
I had a whole laundry list of problems—the Chinese, Soviets, and Koreans all sponsored terrorists against anyone who looked at them funny, ninety percent of my country’s budget was earmarked for a military which was completely useless against anything in space, and my two predecessors had spent the past twelve years pissing off the sorts of people who could throw asteroids at my new house.
And yet, I still found my attention continuously drifting to Domina City.
‘The City of the Lady.’ A lot of religious groups—including the Vatican itself, if my memory wasn’t too foggy—had been involved in the original project, so they got to pick the name. It was Latin, and was supposed to refer to the Virgin Mary. The idea was that the name was supposed to foretell the city remaining pure and unspoiled.
It was a writhing cesspool, a horrifyingly dangerous stain on American soil—even though it was on an island. Sending spies was dangerous, sending anyone else completely suicidal.
Or so everyone said.
But we didn’t know. We barely ever spent any spies, and those that did got killed within days of arriving. The rare new immigrants never talked about conditions there, and they usually died soon too. All evidence pointed to the city being exactly what we thought it was, but we simply didn’t have enough evidence to really know.
The thing about Domina was that it shouldn’t be important, at least not as anything more than a symbol. Thirty years ago, it was the first international attempt to see if we could make colonies of criminals and a small guard population that would set up infrastructure on their own.
That didn’t work, which I could have told you when the project was first announced (note: I was eleven at the time), but everybody learned all sorts of valuable things that they should have known already, and when the space colonies were launched, other than the Reiner Gamma crisis, everything went smooth as butter.
Still, something had to be done with Domina, so all the heads of state at the time got together to figure it out. Instead of just giving up on the stupid city and letting the inmates/civilians kill each other, our esteemed leaders came up with a different idea. ‘After much debate and deliberation,’ the history books said. All things considered, I think that’s code for ‘snorted lines off the table.’
Because what you’d think should be done is that they would either send in a bunch of humanitarian aid, or let everybody die like I said. What they actually did was decide to send more criminals to the stupid island. Not a lot, really, just anyone who qualified for one of the space colonies, but who didn’t actually want to go into space for whatever reason. I still didn’t have the exact numbers, but it was looking like a million or so a year.
And like adding more fuel to a fire, Domina City kept burning. What else could you expect, when every single person there was a criminal? Or the children of criminals, which was practically the same thing in that environment.
But I had a chance.
I could save Domina City. That would be something worth doing. That would get me chapters in the history books, instead of just some name nobody remembered on a list nobody cared about. Hell, that would get me entire books, written about me and my decisions.
I had a few proposals I was chewing over, but right now Senator Grain’s was the one I was focused on. He had an idea about building an internet hardline to the city, but I wasn’t sure how much success that would have. It might work, but I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to throw a few million dollars at something I didn’t understand.
“Mister President,” my aide, Ms. Silk, said as she walked up. “You wanted more information on Domina?”
“On their internet specifically, my dear,” I corrected her, something I rarely had to do. It was no exaggeration to say this woman ran my entire campaign and cabinet. More useful than my stupid vice president, that was for sure. “We can deal with the rest later.”
“Well, perhaps this will help.” She turned on the TV, flipped through the channels, and fiddled with the settings to rewind ten minutes or so.
It was a news program, the interview segment. A young newswoman was talking to an old, bearded man. The screen proclaimed him to be ‘Professor Lake Sage,’ right next to the line ‘September 14th, Friday.’ They were too close, actually. It looked like the date was his name or something.
“Now, Professor Sage,” the woman said. “You claim Domina City simply does not have an internet?”
“That is correct, Stacy,” the man rumbled slowly. “The only internet there is a few separate systems, each controlled by an individual corporation. These are the networks that connect—occasionally—to our own internet.”
“That’s horrible!” the woman cried. “Doesn’t that violate the Internet Freedom Act?”
“Actually, no,” the professor admitted. “You see, the corporations are not charging anyone to use their networks. They’re not offering it for free, either, but by not charging, they don’t violate the IFA.”
‘Stacey’ just looked confused. I’m sure that like a lot of newscasters, she had been chosen based on her looks and voice rather than her brains. I had been in Sage’s shoes before, and I didn’t regret not being there now. Being interviewed by idiots was never fun. “I’m not sure I understand. Are they exploiting a loophole somewhere?”
“Far from it. You see, their networks are completely private. Corporate secrets are stored there, so anyone even trying to access it would be violating international law. They do, sometimes, need to connect to the outside internet for business, but that is using completely private wireless networks. The only connection to Domina we have is—legally, I must note—controlled by corporations. In fact, if they tried to give the public access, they would be the ones breaking the law.”
“Ms. Silk,” I said, musing, “how reliable is this man?” He looked like that guy who played Father Time on those commercials for digital watches.
She frowned and adjusted her glasses. “Well, he did work for one of the city’s corporations for about five years, and only came back six months ago. The fact that he was able to return at all speaks volumes.”
“Not many boats go in, and fewer come out,” I remembered. Prisoners were their primary import. Plus the spies the various governments slipped onto the boats.
“Very few,” she emphasized. “Only five or six a month, both ways. Planes are even worse.”
“I’m just not sure I understand,” the newswoman continued. “Unless the corporations are actively suppressing infrastructure, why don’t the civilians just start up their own internet?”
The professor nodded slowly. “Good question. That puzzled me at first as well, but I quickly discovered the reason. The cultures disrupt any attempts to create new infrastructure—such as internet.”
Now this was interesting. We had very little information on the cultures, other than the fact that they existed and were some type of gang…thing. There were rumors that they had something to do with the toy maker, but nothing concrete. Personally, I assumed it was just the mixing of rumors, since that annoying machine had come from Domina in the first place, but it would be good to hear it from an actual resident. Ex-resident, whatever.
“Cultures,” Stacy said slowly. “I’ve heard that word in relation to the city before. What are they?”
“The simplest explanation would be to call them giant gangs,” Lake admitted. “But that is inaccurate. They do not have leaders or organization. They are simply a number of gangs united under nothing but their fashion sense.”
The newswoman raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“Basically, calling the cultures a gang is like calling goths a gang,” he explained patiently. “There are gangs within the cultures, many of them quite violent, but they are not gangs themselves.”
“So, what sets these cultures apart?”
The professor waved his hand airily. “Oh, all sorts of things. The demons put plastic horns on their heads and paint themselves red or black, the vampires only come out at night…that kind of thing. Mostly, its just a bunch of crazy kids, but they get extremely violent when given half the chance.”
“So any time anyone tries to set up a high-powered wi-fi tower…”
“One of the cultures firebombs it. Drives off the workers. They do the same thing with new factories and anything else that might change the city.” He shook his head sadly. “They’re kids. They’re lashing out.”
“Is there any way to solve this problem?”
“In my professional opinion? Not without sending in the army. And sending soldiers against people aged fifteen to twenty would cause truly horrific public backlash.”
I indicated the TV should be turned off, and Ms. Silk complied. I leaned back in my chair and sighed.
Ms. Silk didn’t say anything. She was very good at just letting me think. Honestly, that was most of the reason I kept her around. Most of the assistants I’ve had ever since getting out of the army won’t stop yapping.
“Raziela,” I said slowly after a few minutes. “What’s your take on this?”
“Well first, I’ve told you to call me Raz, Mister President.”
I rolled my eyes with a smile, and made a ‘go on’ motion with my hand.
She was quiet for a for minutes more, her face furrowed in concentration. She kept her hands busy organizing papers.
I didn’t prod her. You don’t rush a genius, whether they’re an artist or a bureaucrat who can organize a party for six hundred people with only an hour’s notice.
When she had the coffee table in something resembling order, she spoke up.
“I…think the Professor had the right of it,” she said slowly. “Sending troops against young people—even very violent and dangerous young people—is only going to cause problems.”
“Hm.” She was right, of course. “So we need to solve this problem indirectly. Without violence.”
“And without spending much money, either,” she noted. “Remember most of the budget we had free went to the USP.”
I sighed. Stupid space program. Trying to buy back Shaohao hadn’t been a good idea in the first place, and now that word was out it was completely out of the question. The media had painted it as an under the table hostile takeover, which had led to massive public outcry. The fact that it basically was a hostile takeover hadn’t helped. It’s hard enough cleaning off mud when it isn’t true.
“Okay…what about that gang leader? The one who’s bribing the senators to stay out of the city?”
Ms. Silk hastily dug through the papers to find one in particular. “Ah, yes. Here it is. It says his name is…Butler. Artemis Butler.”
I chuckled. “Right. The girl’s name.”
She nodded. “Not a good idea to say that to a gang lord, sir.” She flipped the paper over, reading the back. “Analysis says he’s just another violent opportunist. He was on the first ships of workers, and has been building his gang for the past thirty years.” She shrugged. “Looks like he wants to keep others out of his playground.”
I sighed and came to a decision. “Well, it looks like he’s getting his wish. At least for the time being.”
My aide frowned and pushed at her glasses. “Sir?”
“We can’t send in troops. We don’t have the budget to make a hardline, and no guarantee it would stay open even if we did.” I shook my head. “Call Grain. Tell him his proposal is rejected. Domina City will remain cut off from the outside world for a little longer.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 84)
Extra update Wednesday, since this one is so unconnected to the main story.