A two-part short story in which the citizens of Kylan are presented with the chance to change everything if they can agree on anything.
Header artwork by Matthew Savidis.
“Ah, thanks,” I muttered, looking at the pile of reports that had just been shoved on my desk, “I’ll have those into the system by Monday.”
Wait, that was a bad move. Never specify a completion date. Dammit.
“Thank you, Charlie,” replied my boss, giving me one of those creepy, pretending-to-be-friendly smiles picked up at some management course, “You really are a fantastic contributor to this company.”
Then I was left alone to file those reports. I briefly considered setting something up to automatically scan them in, but… I’d just end up finishing early and getting some more mind-numbing work. I’d just have to log in to “the system”.
Or try to, at least. The site that loaded wasn’t the normal “Welcome to the Jonas Corp. internal distribution system” screen, but… it looked like a ticketing system, like the one we use for bug reports.
At the top of the page was a very different welcome message.
“Good morning, citizens of Kylan.”
It was 1:58 PM.
“You probably haven’t heard of me, but that’s okay, because I probably haven’t heard of you either. But I want to hear from you.
“Right now I am, in effect, holding your internet, and your government, hostage. Sorry about that, but this is more important than whatever you were going to be looking at. I have taken control of this country and want to give you, the residents of its capital city, the opportunity to effect changes that you’ve always wanted to make.
“For every hour today since I took control, I will carry out the action with the most votes. So go on – submit your idea, spread the word, get some traction, and you might just end up with something you’ve always wanted.”
“Wow, this looks fun. You gonna put something in, Charlie?”
Who the- oh. Susie had snuck up behind me again.
“This guy is a maniac,” I replied, pointing at the picture next to the message of a man doing a thumbs-up.
“He seems legit. This thing shows up for any site you try to connect to.”
She reached over and started typing something in. “Close Jonas Corp. and divide all the money between its employees.”
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked.
“Just seeing if it works.”
The form asked for her name and address, and seemed to check it against an actual database. Perhaps this guy really had hijacked the government.
“Any idea when this went up? How many hours are left?”
“Three or four, I think. There’s no way to see which ones actually passed. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
Susie’s motion got a few votes right off the bat. That would make sense if this is the only thing on the entire internet right now.
“Hey, everyone, go on the internet!” she shouted, resulting in an office with mixed confused and understanding faces. The vote count began to shoot up, and I saw a few people heading out of the room, presumably to spread the word to other offices.
“Why are you doing this?” I inquired, concerned that neither of us knew what the consequences of this would be.
“We’re being offered pure democracy. May as well have some fun with it. Who cares what happens?”
“We could wake up tomorrow to find the city in ruins. Someone might have a bright idea to spread money and end up with a worthless currency.”
“I doubt my little proposition could cause that.”
“No, but…” I trailed off, noticing that the time was ticking ever closer to 2:00, and the vote count was ticking much higher, too.
I took back my computer and had a look through to see the other motions. We were gaining on them fast. This was actually going to happen.
I stared at the clock in the corner. Tick. 500 votes. Tick. 528. Tick. 541. Tick. 577. Tick. 1:98. Tick. 1:99.
One more minute to decide the fate of our company.
I left the room and started to descend the long staircase. I looked in on all the floors I passed. Some were panicking, others rejoicing. Word spreads fast even without online communication. Votes spread even faster. It wouldn’t just be us voting. Jonas’ competitors would want us gone. Maybe some bitter ex-customers.
5 more seconds. I check the site again on my phone.
Susie’s motion was at the top of the list, with at least a hundred more votes than the next, which proposed a system to give unsold houses to homeless people.
The list cleared, and immediately a couple more suggestions appeared. It must have passed. Now we were all unemployed, and each about to come into possession of an unknown amount of money.
I finished descending the stairs and fled, imagining the pile of reports sitting there, gathering dust forever.
An underground shelter.
“We play our cards right, we do something very good for this damned place.”
“Yeah, and we gotta act. The 2:00 entry just passed, so now we only got eight hours to work with.”
“We could get it extended. This could be a permanent system. Maybe not every hour, but every day.”
“Aw, come on. You really think this guy won’t be stopped if this goes on for more than a day?”
“We don’t know what the situation is. If we get this into law, they-”
“They could repeal it, and most probably would.”
“So what we gonna do then, boss?”
“We could go for a power grab. Get us into the government. Heh, that’d be nice.”
“That’s not in the spirit of the contest. We wouldn’t get voted for. Besides, that’s… basically the system we have normally. No, we need to enact something.”
“But what? ‘Cos five opportunities have been and gone, and we’re no closer to anything.”
“It took four just to get everyone here.”
“I’m gonna put something in if you won’t.”
“Let’s get a proper privacy law while we have the chance. We should be able to do whatever we want online and the government shouldn’t be able to know about it, not even with a warrant. There, I’ve put it in.”
“Ooh, it’s gettin’ votes.”
“Don’t look down, boss. I know you wanted to come up with it, but this’ll be good. You don’t have to agree to it – that’s the beauty of the system.”
A police station.
She shook her head, taking away the poorly-scaled printed photo.
“The picture on the page is not the actual person who has taken the government hostage. We’ve been over this. We called the stock image place and it’s theirs.”
“But there’s no watermark,” Mike butted in.
“Hmm? Please elaborate on everything as soon as possible. We don’t have much time left if we want to stop this early.”
“I mean there’s no watermark on the image, which suggests the attacker paid for the photo. The stock photo company should have that on record.”
“If their records are online, then that’s no use, but sure, it’s worth a look. In fact, do it yourself, Steve.”
“So what are our other options if that doesn’t work out?”
The doors had been bolted shut earlier. No-one was to leave the room until the case had either been solved or the day was over. The five police detectives and the chief herself were therefore becoming increasingly agitated, six hours – and laws – now having passed.
“I don’t know. Is there anyone we could get to force inside Tower Hall? And… worst comes to the worst, we still have the records of which proposals presumably passed, and who sent them. We could track them down and arrest them.”
Steve hung up the phone.
“Did you get the records?” the chief asked him.
“We can’t get the records. We can’t get any records.”
“Weren’t you paying attention the last hour? A law just passed that made it illegal for us to access citizen information.”
“Does it matter? Do it anyway.”
“Steve has a point. We don’t know what the situation is. We don’t know what’s been written into law. There could be a death penalty with no trial waiting for us if we don’t comply.”
The chief swore.
“That also rules out our secondary plan,” continued Mike, “We can’t access the database of citizens now.”
“Damn. Damn, damn, damn. Has anyone got any other ideas?”
“We could play them at their own game. Put in a proposal to shut down the suggestion system.”
“How would we get any backing for that?”
“You’d be surprised. We could even just shove it into a suggestion that people actually want and hope they don’t notice.”
“That could work. Hmm. Yes, that could work. What are the current frontrunners?”
“Someone wants to keep the system permanently, but with a law passing every day instead of every hour. Someone else wants his ex locked up for cheating on him. Nothing else has any significant support.”
“Seriously? That second one got popular?”
“People love a sob story, especially one they can actually help.”
“Let’s try a simple one for now. ‘End the hourly voting process and restore power to the government.’”
“Fine. There, it’s in.”
It got a few votes to begin with. They started calling up everyone they could to vote for it, and the numbers started shooting up until it was rivalling the other two big suggestions.
The steps outside a home.
Edward stared at his phone screen, watching the new proposal steadily overtaking his one. Perhaps he wouldn’t see justice after all. There was no-one left he could call to help out. He didn’t see why people wanted to shut down the system, but there the suggestion went anyway, up and up as thousands of Kylanis voted and voted.
Perhaps it wasn’t going to work out. Even though this was his last resort. He had tried everything, but the courts never understood his side of the story. Public speaking wasn’t his strength, and everything had been taken from him in the divorce. Now he couldn’t even go back inside his home.
So when he received that strange message online from someone who was planning to take control of the government, of course he lent his support.
Yet now the new line of text and the new little number overtook his smaller number. He noticed the name next to this new suggestion. Laura Dalton. Wasn’t she head of the city police force?
Now Edward had a new purpose. A new goal. He started heading out towards the police station.
He had a suggestion of his own for them.
An underground shelter.
“What are we gonna do about this new proposal, boss? Them police must have a lot of contacts. We’re at risk of losing our position. We may need to try submitting something else.”
“If that one passes, that’s it. We’ve lost our chance. This isn’t going to happen again.”
“Then keep trying, dammit! There must be more people out there in favour of ours than theirs. We just need to find them.”
“I could go outside. Door to door, ask people on the streets. Might work.”
“Worth a shot, yeah.”
Yesterday, this was the main road, but now it lies vast and empty – except for two men, one on a mission of hope, and one going nowhere.
“Eddie? Is that you?”
“Charlie? What are you- why are you-?”
“I haven’t seen you for ages! You haven’t been at work. I’m… so sorry about the divorce.”
“Oh, please, it’s…”
There is nothing positive he could say that would be accurate.
“You’re still technically an employee of Jonas Corp., right?” asks Charlie.
“I guess. I was never told I was fired…”
“Then you must get a share of the money, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“A law passed a couple of hours ago that shuts down Jonas and gives spreads the money between the employees. You remember Susie Ellon, right? Her idea.”
“So… I’m getting money?”
“I don’t know how much, but yeah.”
Sometimes your last resort isn’t one you planned for, he thinks.
“What’s on the site now? Any good suggestions?”
Edward takes out his phone again and sees the time. He quickly opens the site again.
It’s a blank slate. Another law has passed… but which?