Little Brother – Chapter 13

The following chapter from Cory Doctorow's book Little Brother is used with permission via a license (details at end). Please support the author by buying his book (click the image below).

Little_Brother

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Chapter 13

"They're total whores," Ange said, spitting the word out. "In fact, that's an insult to hardworking whores everywhere. They're, they're profiteers."

We were looking at a stack of newspapers we'd picked up and brought to the cafe. They all contained "reporting" on the party in Dolores Park and to a one, they made it sound like a drunken, druggy orgy of kids who'd attacked the cops. USA Today described the cost of the "riot" and included the cost of washing away the pepper-spray residue from the gas-bombing, the rash of asthma attacks that clogged the city's emergency rooms, and the cost of processing the eight hundred arrested "rioters."

No one was telling our side.

"Well, the Xnet got it right, anyway," I said. I'd saved a bunch of the blogs and videos and photostreams to my phone and I showed them to her. They were first-hand accounts from people who'd been gassed, and beaten up. The video showed us all dancing, having fun, showed the peaceful political speeches and the chant of "Take It Back" and Trudy Doo talking about us being the only generation that could believe in fighting for our freedoms.

"We need to make people know about this," she said.

"Yeah," I said, glumly. "That's a nice theory."

"Well, why do you think the press doesn't ever publish our side?"

"You said it, they're whores."

"Yeah, but whores do it for the money. They could sell more papers and commercials if they had a controversy. All they have now is a crime -- controversy is much bigger."

"OK, point taken. So why don't they do it? Well, reporters can barely search regular blogs, let alone keep track of the Xnet. It's not as if that's a real adult-friendly place to be."

"Yeah," she said. "Well, we can fix that, right?"

"Huh?"

"Write it all up. Put it in one place, with all the links. A single place where you can go that's intended for the press to find it and get the whole picture. Link it to the HOWTOs for Xnet. Internet users can get to the Xnet, provided they don't care about the DHS finding out what they've been surfing."

"You think it'll work?"

"Well, even if it doesn't, it's something positive to do."

"Why would they listen to us, anyway?"

"Who wouldn't listen to M1k3y?"

I put down my coffee. I picked up my phone and slipped it into my pocket. I stood up, turned on my heel, and walked out of the cafe. I picked a direction at random and kept going. My face felt tight, the blood gone into my stomach, which churned.

They know who you are, I thought. They know who M1k3y is. That was it. If Ange had figured it out, the DHS had too. I was doomed. I had known that since they let me go from the DHS truck, that someday they'd come and arrest me and put me away forever, send me to wherever Darryl had gone.

It was all over.

She nearly tackled me as I reached Market Street. She was out of breath and looked furious.

"What the hell is your problem, mister?"

I shook her off and kept walking. It was all over.

She grabbed me again. "Stop it, Marcus, you're scaring me. Come on, talk to me."

I stopped and looked at her. She blurred before my eyes. I couldn't focus on anything. I had a mad desire to jump into the path of a Muni trolley as it tore past us, down the middle of the road. Better to die than to go back.

"Marcus!" She did something I'd only seen people do in the movies. She slapped me, a hard crack across the face. "Talk to me, dammit!"

I looked at her and put my hand to my face, which was stinging hard.

"No one is supposed to know who I am," I said. "I can't put it any more simply. If you know, it's all over. Once other people know, it's all over."

"Oh god, I'm sorry. Look, I only know because, well, because I blackmailed Jolu. After the party I stalked you a little, trying to figure out if you were the nice guy you seemed to be or a secret axe-murderer. I've known Jolu for a long time and when I asked him about you, he gushed like you were the Second Coming or something, but I could hear that there was something he wasn't telling me. I've known Jolu for a long time. He dated my older sister at computer camp when he was a kid. I have some really good dirt on him. I told him I'd go public with it if he didn't tell me."

"So he told you."

"No," she said. "He told me to go to hell. Then I told him something about me. Something I'd never told anyone else."

"What?"

She looked at me. Looked around. Looked back at me. "OK. I won't swear you to secrecy because what's the point? Either I can trust you or I can't.

"Last year, I --" she broke off. "Last year, I stole the standardized tests and published them on the net. It was just a lark. I happened to be walking past the principal's office and I saw them in his safe, and the door was hanging open. I ducked into his office -- there were six sets of copies and I just put one into my bag and took off again. When I got home, I scanned them all and put them up on a Pirate Party server in Denmark."

"That was you?" I said.

She blushed. "Um. Yeah."

"Holy crap!" I said. It had been huge news. The Board of Education said that its No Child Left Behind tests had cost tens of millions of dollars to produce and that they'd have to spend it all over again now that they'd had the leak. They called it "edu-terrorism." The news had speculated endlessly about the political motivations of the leaker, wondering if it was a teacher's protest, or a student, or a thief, or a disgruntled government contractor.

"That was YOU?"

"It was me," she said.

"And you told Jolu this --"

"Because I wanted him to be sure that I would keep the secret. If he knew my secret, then he'd have something he could use to put me in jail if I opened my trap. Give a little, get a little. Quid pro quo, like in Silence of the Lambs."

"And he told you."

"No," she said. "He didn't."

"But --"

"Then I told him how into you I was. How I was planning to totally make an idiot of myself and throw myself at you. Then he told me."

I couldn't think of anything to say then. I looked down at my toes. She grabbed my hands and squeezed them.

"I'm sorry I squeezed it out of him. It was your decision to tell me, if you were going to tell me at all. I had no business --"

"No," I said. Now that I knew how she'd found out, I was starting to calm down. "No, it's good you know. You."

"Me," she said. "Li'l ol' me."

"OK, I can live with this. But there's one other thing."

"What?"

"There's no way to say this without sounding like a jerk, so I'll just say it. People who date each other -- or whatever it is we're doing now -- they split up. When they split up, they get angry at each other. Sometimes even hate each other. It's really cold to think about that happening between us, but you know, we've got to think about it."

"I solemnly promise that there is nothing you could ever do to me that would cause me to betray your secret. Nothing. Screw a dozen cheerleaders in my bed while my mother watches. Make me listen to Britney Spears. Rip off my laptop, smash it with hammers and soak it in sea-water. I promise. Nothing. Ever."

I whooshed out some air.

"Um," I said.

"Now would be a good time to kiss me," she said, and turned her face up.

#

M1k3y's next big project on the Xnet was putting together the ultimate roundup of reports of the DON'T TRUST party at Dolores Park. I put together the biggest, most bad-ass site I could, with sections showing the action by location, by time, by category -- police violence, dancing, aftermath, singing. I uploaded the whole concert.

It was pretty much all I worked on for the rest of the night. And the next night. And the next.

My mailbox overflowed with suggestions from people. They sent me dumps off their phones and their pocket-cameras. Then I got an email from a name I recognized -- Dr Eeevil (three "e"s), one of the prime maintainers of ParanoidLinux.

> M1k3y

> I have been watching your Xnet experiment with great interest. Here in Germany, we have much experience with what happens with a government that gets out of control.

> One thing you should know is that every camera has a unique "noise signature" that can be used to later connect a picture with a camera. That means that the photos you're republishing on your site could potentially be used to identify the photographers, should they later be picked up for something else.

> Luckily, it's not hard to strip out the signatures, if you care to. There's a utility on the ParanoidLinux distro you're using that does this -- it's called photonomous, and you'll find it in /usr/bin. Just read the man pages for documentation. It's simple though.

> Good luck with what you're doing. Don't get caught. Stay free. Stay paranoid.

> Dr Eeevil

I de-fingerprintized all the photos I'd posted and put them back up, along with a note explaining what Dr Eeevil had told me, warning everyone else to do the same. We all had the same basic ParanoidXbox install, so we could all anonymize our pictures. There wasn't anything I could do about the photos that had already been downloaded and cached, but from now on we'd be smarter.

That was all the thought I gave the matter that night, until I got down to breakfast the next morning and Mom had the radio on, playing the NPR morning news.

"Arabic news agency Al-Jazeera is running pictures, video and first-hand accounts of last weekend's youth riot in Mission Dolores park," the announcer said as I was drinking a glass of orange juice. I managed not to spray it across the room, but I did choke a little.

"Al-Jazeera reporters claim that these accounts were published on the so-called 'Xnet,' a clandestine network used by students and Al-Quaeda sympathizers in the Bay Area. This network's existence has long been rumored, but today marks its first mainstream mention."

Mom shook her head. "Just what we need," she said. "As if the police weren't bad enough. Kids running around, pretending to be guerrillas and giving them the excuse to really crack down."

"The Xnet weblogs have carried hundreds of reports and multimedia files from young people who attended the riot and allege that they were gathered peacefully until the police attacked them. Here is one of those accounts.

"'All we were doing was dancing. I brought my little brother. Bands played and we talked about freedom, about how we were losing it to these jerks who say they hate terrorists but who attack us though we're not terrorists we're Americans. I think they hate freedom, not us.

"We danced and the bands played and it was all fun and good and then the cops started shouting at us to disperse. We all shouted take it back! Meaning take America back. The cops gassed us with pepper spray. My little brother is twelve. He missed three days of school. My stupid parents say it was my fault. How about the police? We pay them and they're supposed to protect us but they gassed us for no good reason, gassed us like they gas enemy soldiers.'

"Similar accounts, including audio and video, can be found on Al-Jazeera's website and on the Xnet. You can find directions for accessing this Xnet on NPR's homepage."

Dad came down.

"Do you use the Xnet?" he said. He looked intensely at my face. I felt myself squirm.

"It's for video-games," I said. "That's what most people use it for. It's just a wireless network. It's what everyone did with those free Xboxes they gave away last year."

He glowered at me. "Games? Marcus, you don't realize it, but you're providing cover for people who plan on attacking and destroying this country. I don't want to see you using this Xnet. Not anymore. Do I make myself clear?"

I wanted to argue. Hell, I wanted to shake him by the shoulders. But I didn't. I looked away. I said, "Sure, Dad." I went to school.

#

At first I was relieved when I discovered that they weren't going to leave Mr Benson in charge of my social studies class. But the woman they found to replace him was my worst nightmare.

She was young, just about 28 or 29, and pretty, in a wholesome kind of way. She was blonde and spoke with a soft southern accent when she introduced herself to us as Mrs Andersen. That set off alarm bells right away. I didn't know any women under the age of sixty that called themselves "Mrs."

But I was prepared to overlook it. She was young, pretty, she sounded nice. She would be OK.

She wasn't OK.

"Under what circumstances should the federal government be prepared to suspend the Bill of Rights?" she said, turning to the blackboard and writing down a row of numbers, one through ten.

"Never," I said, not waiting to be called on. This was easy. "Constitutional rights are absolute."

"That's not a very sophisticated view." She looked at her seating-plan. "Marcus. For example, say a policeman conducts an improper search -- he goes beyond the stuff specified in his warrant. He discovers compelling evidence that a bad guy killed your father. It's the only evidence that exists. Should the bad guy go free?"

I knew the answer to this, but I couldn't really explain it. "Yes," I said, finally. "But the police shouldn't conduct improper searches --"

"Wrong," she said. "The proper response to police misconduct is disciplinary action against the police, not punishing all of society for one cop's mistake." She wrote "Criminal guilt" under point one on the board.

"Other ways in which the Bill of Rights can be superseded?"

Charles put his hand up. "Shouting fire in a crowded theater?"

"Very good --" she consulted the seating plan -- "Charles. There are many instances in which the First Amendment is not absolute. Let's list some more of those."

Charles put his hand up again. "Endangering a law enforcement officer."

"Yes, disclosing the identity of an undercover policeman or intelligence officer. Very good." She wrote it down. "Others?"

"National security," Charles said, not waiting for her to call on him again. "Libel. Obscenity. Corruption of minors. Child porn. Bomb-making recipes." Mrs Andersen wrote these down fast, but stopped at child porn. "Child porn is just a form of obscenity."

I was feeling sick. This was not what I'd learned or believed about my country. I put my hand up.

"Yes, Marcus?"

"I don't get it. You're making it sound like the Bill of Rights is optional. It's the Constitution. We're supposed to follow it absolutely."

"That's a common oversimplification," she said, giving me a fake smile. "But the fact of the matter is that the framers of the Constitution intended it to be a living document that was revised over time. They understood that the Republic wouldn't be able to last forever if the government of the day couldn't govern according to the needs of the day. They never intended the Constitution to be looked on like religious doctrine. After all, they came here fleeing religious doctrine."

I shook my head. "What? No. They were merchants and artisans who were loyal to the King until he instituted policies that were against their interests and enforced them brutally. The religious refugees were way earlier."

"Some of the Framers were descended from religious refugees," she said.

"And the Bill of Rights isn't supposed to be something you pick and choose from. What the Framers hated was tyranny. That's what the Bill of Rights is supposed to prevent. They were a revolutionary army and they wanted a set of principles that everyone could agree to. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The right of people to throw off their oppressors."

"Yes, yes," she said, waving at me. "They believed in the right of people to get rid of their Kings, but --" Charles was grinning and when she said that, he smiled even wider.

"They set out the Bill of Rights because they thought that having absolute rights was better than the risk that someone would take them away. Like the First Amendment: it's supposed to protect us by preventing the government from creating two kinds of speech, allowed speech and criminal speech. They didn't want to face the risk that some jerk would decide that the things that he found unpleasant were illegal."

She turned and wrote, "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" on it.

"We're getting a little ahead of the lesson, but you seem like an advanced group." The others laughed at this, nervously.

"The role of government is to secure for citizens the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In that order. It's like a filter. If the government wants to do something that makes us a little unhappy, or takes away some of our liberty, it's OK, providing they're doing it to save our lives. That's why the cops can lock you up if they think you're a danger to yourself or others. You lose your liberty and happiness to protect life. If you've got life, you might get liberty and happiness later."

Some of the others had their hands up. "Doesn't that mean that they can do anything they want, if they say it's to stop someone from hurting us in the future?"

"Yeah," another kid said. "This sounds like you're saying that national security is more important than the Constitution."

I was so proud of my fellow students then. I said, "How can you protect freedom by suspending the Bill of Rights?"

She shook her head at us like we were being very stupid. "The 'revolutionary' founding fathers shot traitors and spies. They didn't believe in absolute freedom, not when it threatened the Republic. Now you take these Xnet people --"

I tried hard not to stiffen.

"-- these so-called jammers who were on the news this morning. After this city was attacked by people who've declared war on this country, they set about sabotaging the security measures set up to catch the bad guys and prevent them from doing it again. They did this by endangering and inconveniencing their fellow citizens --"

"They did it to show that our rights were being taken away in the name of protecting them!" I said. OK, I shouted. God, she had me so steamed. "They did it because the government was treating everyone like a suspected terrorist."

"So they wanted to prove that they shouldn't be treated like terrorists," Charles shouted back, "so they acted like terrorists? So they committed terrorism?"

I boiled.

"Oh for Christ's sake. Committed terrorism? They showed that universal surveillance was more dangerous than terrorism. Look at what happened in the park last weekend. Those people were dancing and listening to music. How is that terrorism?"

The teacher crossed the room and stood before me, looming over me until I shut up. "Marcus, you seem to think that nothing has changed in this country. You need to understand that the bombing of the Bay Bridge changed everything. Thousands of our friends and relatives lie dead at the bottom of the Bay. This is a time for national unity in the face of the violent insult our country has suffered --"

I stood up. I'd had enough of this "everything has changed" crapola. "National unity? The whole point of America is that we're the country where dissent is welcome. We're a country of dissidents and fighters and university dropouts and free speech people."

I thought of Ms Galvez's last lesson and the thousands of Berkeley students who'd surrounded the police-van when they tried to arrest a guy for distributing civil rights literature. No one tried to stop those trucks when they drove away with all the people who'd been dancing in the park. I didn't try. I was running away.

Maybe everything had changed.

"I believe you know where Mr Benson's office is," she said to me. "You are to present yourself to him immediately. I will not have my classes disrupted by disrespectful behavior. For someone who claims to love freedom of speech, you're certainly willing to shout down anyone who disagrees with you."

I picked up my SchoolBook and my bag and stormed out. The door had a gas-lift, so it was impossible to slam, or I would have slammed it.

I went fast to Mr Benson's office. Cameras filmed me as I went. My gait was recorded. The arphids in my student ID broadcast my identity to sensors in the hallway. It was like being in jail.

"Close the door, Marcus," Mr Benson said. He turned his screen around so that I could see the video feed from the social studies classroom. He'd been watching.

"What do you have to say for yourself?"

"That wasn't teaching, it was propaganda. She told us that the Constitution didn't matter!"

"No, she said it wasn't religious doctrine. And you attacked her like some kind of fundamentalist, proving her point. Marcus, you of all people should understand that everything changed when the bridge was bombed. Your friend Darryl --"

"Don't you say a goddamned word about him," I said, the anger bubbling over. "You're not fit to talk about him. Yeah, I understand that everything's different now. We used to be a free country. Now we're not."

"Marcus, do you know what 'zero-tolerance' means?"

I backed down. He could expel me for "threatening behavior." It was supposed to be used against gang kids who tried to intimidate their teachers. But of course he wouldn't have any compunctions about using it on me.

"Yes," I said. "I know what it means."

"I think you owe me an apology," he said.

I looked at him. He was barely suppressing his sadistic smile. A part of me wanted to grovel. It wanted to beg for his forgiveness for all my shame. I tamped that part down and decided that I would rather get kicked out than apologize.

"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." I remembered it word for word.

He shook his head. "Remembering things isn't the same as understanding them, sonny." He bent over his computer and made some clicks. His printer purred. He handed me a sheet of warm Board letterhead that said I'd been suspended for two weeks.

"I'll email your parents now. If you are still on school property in thirty minutes, you'll be arrested for trespassing."

I looked at him.

"You don't want to declare war on me in my own school," he said. "You can't win that war. GO!"

I left.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License .