But discussing your votification was crimillegal. She closed her phone, placed it on the table, and forced herself to smile. 'I'm relieved, that's all.' An idea came to her, as she sipped at her drink. 'You know, in school there was a story that went around, about someone who got their votification — but it was blank. Didn't tell them who to vote for at all.' There was no such story, but there could have been.

Jon laughed. 'Now that's an urban legend, if ever I heard one. Imagine that! Anyway, they'd never get away with it. The PPs would be all over them on election day, because no matter who they voted for it wouldn't match the system, would it?'

She hadn't considered that. 'Maybe they didn't vote at all.'

'We live in a democracy, Stell. What kind of country would it be if decent people didn't vote?' He pointed at her plate and said, 'How's that pork?'

Appetite or no, it was her last chance for food before breakfast tomorrow. Mum would kill her if she used up food at home after turning down a pub meal.

'It's lovely,' she lied, cutting into grey flesh.


'Syster System takes care of your safety and security, but we must all do our bit to help out. Not voting, voting for the wrong candidate, or discussing your votification with anyone — even a Government official — is crimillegal. Happy election day!'

The final reminder was unnecessary. Every child in the country who was going to be a decent person took citizenship classes, and every citizenship class taught you about votifications.

Stella stood on the promenade and wondered what to do. She couldn't go on the beach itself, of course. Only PPs and Government officials were allowed on the blackened stones. There were some men down there now, dimly visible in the evening light, reflecting lasers off the Brighton Barrier for a condition reassessment. That was common sense. Both election candidates pledged to ask for money to maintain the Barrier, and Syster System made sure the Government didn't break its promises, so the workers might as well prepare.

The horizon strobed occasionally, arrhythmic flashes from the other side of the water. The withdrawal had taken place decades before Stella was even born, but she knew from history class it was controversial. After almost twenty years and millions killed, the so-called experts said it would be over if Britain toughed it out for one more year. But common sense prevailed and Britain got out anyway, which was lucky because fifty years later Europe was still fighting. The so-called experts had got it wrong, as any decent person knew they would.

The horizon never stopped flashing, not even at Christmas.

She'd come here alone to research the candidates, figure out which one Syster System wanted her to vote for. But neither candidate had made any campaign videos since the one she'd watched on her birthday, and politicians didn't go on the news because everyone knew it was bias. There were hundreds of videos of pundits, arguing about who would be better for the Government, and whether Syster System did a good job. Stella was amazed some of them hadn't been done for sedition, but Jon said the PPs made a special allowance because balance was important.

She didn't care about the pundits, though. The only opinion that mattered to her was Syster System's, and for some reason — there had to be a reason, there must be — Stella was denied that. How could she guess what the system wanted her to do about it?

She wasn't supposed to guess. The system was supposed to take care of everything for her, but it hadn't. Was this how everyone felt before decent people ran the country? Uncertainty, confusion, and indecision? She was a decent person herself, now, but she couldn't be expected to decide who should join the Government. She remembered history lessons from school, about the times when people not only had to make the choice themselves, they often had four or five candidates!

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