Little Brother – Chapter 19

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).

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Chapter 19

Here's the email that went out at 7AM the next day, while Ange and I were spray-painting VAMP-MOB CIVIC CENTER -> -> at strategic locations around town.

> RULES FOR VAMPMOB

> You are part of a clan of daylight vampires. You've discovered the secret of surviving the terrible light of the sun. The secret was cannibalism: the blood of another vampire can give you the strength to walk among the living.

> You need to bite as many other vampires as you can in order to stay in the game. If one minute goes by without a bite, you're out. Once you're out, turn your shirt around backwards and go referee -- watch two or three vamps to see if they're getting their bites in.

> To bite another vamp, you have to say "Bite!" five times before they do. So you run up to a vamp, make eye-contact, and shout "bite bite bite bite bite!" and if you get it out before she does, you live and she crumbles to dust.

> You and the other vamps you meet at your rendezvous are a team. They are your clan. You derive no nourishment from their blood.

> You can "go invisible" by standing still and folding your arms over your chest. You can't bite invisible vamps, and they can't bite you.

> This game is played on the honor system. The point is to have fun and get your vamp on, not to win.

> There is an end-game that will be passed by word of mouth as winners begin to emerge. The game-masters will start a whisper campaign among the players when the time comes. Spread the whisper as quickly as you can and watch for the sign.

> M1k3y

> bite bite bite bite bite!

We'd hoped that a hundred people would be willing to play VampMob. We'd sent out about two hundred invites each. But when I sat bolt upright at 4AM and grabbed my Xbox, there were 400 replies there. Four hundred.

I fed the addresses to the bot and stole out of the house. I descended the stairs, listening to my father snore and my mom rolling over in their bed. I locked the door behind me.

At 4:15 AM, Potrero Hill was as quiet as the countryside. There were some distant traffic rumbles, and once, a car crawled past me. I stopped at an ATM and drew out $320 in twenties, rolled them up and put a rubber-band around them, and stuck the roll in a zip-up pocket low on the thigh of my vampire pants.

I was wearing my cape again, and a ruffled shirt, and tuxedo pants that had been modded to have enough pockets to carry all my little bits and pieces. I had on pointed boots with silver-skull buckles, and I'd teased my hair into a black dandelion clock around my head. Ange was bringing the white makeup and had promised to do my eyeliner and black nail-polish. Why the hell not? When was the next time I was going to get to play dressup like this?

Ange met me in front of her house. She had her backpack on too, and fishnet tights, a ruffled gothic lolita maid's dress, white face-paint, elaborate kabuki eye-makeup, and her fingers and throat dripped with silver jewelry.

"You look great!" we said to each other in unison, then laughed quietly and stole off through the streets, spray-paint cans in our pockets.

#

As I surveyed Civic Center, I thought about what it would look like once 400 VampMobbers converged on it. I expected them in ten minutes, out front of City Hall. Already the big plaza teemed with commuters who neatly sidestepped the homeless people begging there.

I've always hated Civic Center. It's a collection of huge wedding-cake buildings: court houses, museums, and civic buildings like City Hall. The sidewalks are wide, the buildings are white. In the tourist guides to San Francisco, they manage to photograph it so that it looks like Epcot Center, futuristic and austere.

But on the ground, it's grimy and gross. Homeless people sleep on all the benches. The district is empty by 6PM except for drunks and druggies, because with only one kind of building there, there's no legit reason for people to hang around after the sun goes down. It's more like a mall than a neighborhood, and the only businesses there are bail-bondsmen and liquor stores, places that cater to the families of crooks on trial and the bums who make it their nighttime home.

I really came to understand all of this when I read an interview with an amazing old urban planner, a woman called Jane Jacobs who was the first person to really nail why it was wrong to slice cities up with freeways, stick all the poor people in housing projects, and use zoning laws to tightly control who got to do what where.

Jacobs explained that real cities are organic and they have a lot of variety -- rich and poor, white and brown, Anglo and Mex, retail and residential and even industrial. A neighborhood like that has all kinds of people passing through it at all hours of the day or night, so you get businesses that cater to every need, you get people around all the time, acting like eyes on the street.

You've encountered this before. You go walking around some older part of some city and you find that it's full of the coolest looking stores, guys in suits and people in fashion-rags, upscale restaurants and funky cafes, a little movie theater maybe, houses with elaborate paint-jobs. Sure, there might be a Starbucks too, but there's also a neat-looking fruit market and a florist who appears to be three hundred years old as she snips carefully at the flowers in her windows. It's the opposite of a planned space, like a mall. It feels like a wild garden or even a woods: like it grew.

You couldn't get any further from that than Civic Center. I read an interview with Jacobs where she talked about the great old neighborhood they knocked down to build it. It had been just that kind of neighborhood, the kind of place that happened without permission or rhyme or reason.

Jacobs said that she predicted that within a few years, Civic Center would be one of the worst neighborhoods in the city, a ghost-town at night, a place that sustained a thin crop of weedy booze shops and flea-pit motels. In the interview, she didn't seem very glad to have been vindicated; she sounded like she was talking about a dead friend when she described what Civic Center had become.

Now it was rush hour and Civic Center was as busy as it could be. The Civic Center BART also serves as the major station for Muni trolley lines, and if you need to switch from one to another, that's where you do it. At 8AM, there were thousands of people coming up the stairs, going down the stairs, getting into and out of taxis and on and off buses. They got squeezed by DHS checkpoints by the different civic buildings, and routed around aggressive panhandlers. They all smelled like their shampoos and colognes, fresh out of the shower and armored in their work suits, swinging laptop bags and briefcases. At 8AM, Civic Center was business central.

And here came the vamps. A couple dozen coming down Van Ness, a couple dozen coming up Market. More coming from the other side of Market. More coming up from Van Ness. They slipped around the side of the buildings, wearing the white face-paint and the black eyeliner, black clothes, leather jackets, huge stompy boots. Fishnet fingerless gloves.

They began to fill up the plaza. A few of the business people gave them passing glances and then looked away, not wanting to let these weirdos into their personal realities as they thought about whatever crap they were about to wade through for another eight hours. The vamps milled around, not sure when the game was on. They pooled together in large groups, like an oil spill in reverse, all this black gathering in one place. A lot of them sported old-timey hats, bowlers and toppers. Many of the girls were in full-on elegant gothic lolita maid costumes with huge platforms.

I tried to estimate the numbers. 200. Then, five minutes later, it was 300. 400. They were still streaming in. The vamps had brought friends.

Someone grabbed my ass. I spun around and saw Ange, laughing so hard she had to hold her thighs, bent double.

"Look at them all, man, look at them all!" she gasped. The square was twice as crowded as it had been a few minutes ago. I had no idea how many Xnetters there were, but easily 1000 of them had just showed up to my little party. Christ.

The DHS and SFPD cops were starting to mill around, talking into their radios and clustering together. I heard a far-away siren.

"All right," I said, shaking Ange by the arm. "All right, let's go."

We both slipped off into the crowd and as soon as we encountered our first vamp, we both said, loudly, "Bite bite bite bite bite!" My victim was a stunned -- but cute -- girl with spider-webs drawn on her hands and smudged mascara running down her cheeks. She said, "Crap," and moved away, acknowledging that I'd gotten her.

The call of "bite bite bite bite bite" had scrambled the other nearby vamps. Some of them were attacking each other, others were moving for cover, hiding out. I had my victim for the minute, so I skulked away, using mundanes for cover. All around me, the cry of "bite bite bite bite bite!" and shouts and laughs and curses.

The sound spread like a virus through the crowd. All the vamps knew the game was on now, and the ones who were clustered together were dropping like flies. They laughed and cussed and moved away, clueing the still-in vamps that the game was on. And more vamps were arriving by the second.

8:16. It was time to bag another vamp. I crouched low and moved through the legs of the straights as they headed for the BART stairs. They jerked back with surprise and swerved to avoid me. I had my eyes laser-locked on a set of black platform boots with steel dragons over the toes, and so I wasn't expecting it when I came face to face with another vamp, a guy of about 15 or 16, hair gelled straight back and wearing a PVC Marilyn Manson jacket draped with necklaces of fake tusks carved with intricate symbols.

"Bite bite bite --" he began, when one of the mundanes tripped over him and they both went sprawling. I leapt over to him and shouted "bite bite bite bite bite!" before he could untangle himself again.

More vamps were arriving. The suits were really freaking out. The game overflowed the sidewalk and moved into Van Ness, spreading up toward Market Street. Drivers honked, the trolleys made angry dings. I heard more sirens, but now traffic was snarled in every direction.

It was freaking glorious.

BITE BITE BITE BITE BITE!

The sound came from all around me. There were so many vamps there, playing so furiously, it was like a roar. I risked standing up and looking around and found that I was right in the middle of a giant crowd of vamps that went as far as I could see in every direction.

BITE BITE BITE BITE BITE!

This was even better than the concert in Dolores Park. That had been angry and rockin', but this was -- well, it was just fun. It was like going back to the playground, to the epic games of tag we'd play on lunch breaks when the sun was out, hundreds of people chasing each other around. The adults and the cars just made it more fun, more funny.

That's what it was: it was funny. We were all laughing now.

But the cops were really mobilizing now. I heard helicopters. Any second now, it would be over. Time for the endgame.

I grabbed a vamp.

"Endgame: when the cops order us to disperse, pretend you've been gassed. Pass it on. What did I just say?"

The vamp was a girl, tiny, so short I thought she was really young, but she must have been 17 or 18 from her face and the smile. "Oh, that's wicked," she said.

"What did I say?"

"Endgame: when the cops order us to disperse, pretend you've been gassed. Pass it on. What did I just say?"

"Right," I said. "Pass it on."

She melted into the crowd. I grabbed another vamp. I passed it on. He went off to pass it on.

Somewhere in the crowd, I knew Ange was doing this too. Somewhere in the crowd, there might be infiltrators, fake Xnetters, but what could they do with this knowledge? It's not like the cops had a choice. They were going to order us to disperse. That was guaranteed.

I had to get to Ange. The plan was to meet at the Founder's Statue in the Plaza, but reaching it was going to be hard. The crowd wasn't moving anymore, it was surging, like the mob had in the way down to the BART station on the day the bombs went off. I struggled to make my way through it just as the PA underneath the helicopter switched on.

"THIS IS THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. YOU ARE ORDERED TO DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY."

Around me, hundreds of vamps fell to the ground, clutching their throats, clawing at their eyes, gasping for breath. It was easy to fake being gassed, we'd all had plenty of time to study the footage of the partiers in Mission Dolores Park going down under the pepper-spray clouds.

"DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY."

I fell to the ground, protecting my pack, reaching around to the red baseball hat folded into the waistband of my pants. I jammed it on my head and then grabbed my throat and made horrendous retching noises.

The only ones still standing were the mundanes, the salarymen who'd been just trying to get to their jobs. I looked around as best as I could at them as I choked and gasped.

"THIS IS THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. YOU ARE ORDERED TO DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY. DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY." The voice of god made my bowels ache. I felt it in my molars and in my femurs and my spine.

The salarymen were scared. They were moving as fast as they could, but in no particular direction. The helicopters seemed to be directly overhead no matter where you stood. The cops were wading into the crowd now, and they'd put on their helmets. Some had shields. Some had gas masks. I gasped harder.

Then the salarymen were running. I probably would have run too. I watched a guy whip a $500 jacket off and wrap it around his face before heading south toward Mission, only to trip up and go sprawling. His curses joined the choking sounds.

This wasn't supposed to happen -- the choking was just supposed to freak people out and get them confused, not panic them into a stampede.

There were screams now, screams I recognized all too well from the night in the park. That was the sound of people who were scared spitless, running into each other as they tried like hell to get away.

And then the air-raid sirens began.

I hadn't heard that sound since the bombs went off, but I would never forget it. It sliced through me and went straight into my balls, turning my legs into jelly on the way. It made me want to run away in a panic. I got to my feet, red cap on my head, thinking of only one thing: Ange. Ange and the Founders' Statue.

Everyone was on their feet now, running in all directions, screaming. I pushed people out of my way, holding onto my pack and my hat, heading for Founders' Statue. Masha was looking for me, I was looking for Ange. Ange was out there.

I pushed and cursed. Elbowed someone. Someone came down on my foot so hard I felt something go crunch and I shoved him so he went down. He tried to get up and someone stepped on him. I shoved and pushed.

Then I reached out my arm to shove someone else and strong hands grabbed my wrist and my elbow in one fluid motion and brought my arm back around behind my back. It felt like my shoulder was about to wrench out of its socket, and I instantly doubled over, hollering, a sound that was barely audible over the din of the crowd, the thrum of the choppers, the wail of the sirens.

I was brought back upright by the strong hands behind me, which steered me like a marionette. The hold was so perfect I couldn't even think of squirming. I couldn't think of the noise or the helicopter or Ange. All I could think of was moving the way that the person who had me wanted me to move. I was brought around so that I was face-to-face with the person.

It was a girl whose face was sharp and rodent-like, half-hidden by a giant pair of sunglasses. Over the sunglasses, a mop of bright pink hair, spiked out in all directions.

"You!" I said. I knew her. She'd taken a picture of me and threatened to rat me out to truant watch. That had been five minutes before the alarms started. She'd been the one, ruthless and cunning. We'd both run from that spot in the Tenderloin as the klaxon sounded behind us, and we'd both been picked up by the cops. I'd been hostile and they'd decided that I was an enemy.

She -- Masha -- became their ally.

"Hello, M1k3y," she hissed in my ear, close as a lover. A shiver went up my back. She let go of my arm and I shook it out.

"Christ," I said. "You!"

"Yes, me," she said. "The gas is gonna come down in about two minutes. Let's haul ass."

"Ange -- my girlfriend -- is by the Founders' Statue."

Masha looked over the crowd. "No chance," she said. "We try to make it there, we're doomed. The gas is coming down in two minutes, in case you missed it the first time."

I stopped moving. "I don't go without Ange," I said.

She shrugged. "Suit yourself," she shouted in my ear. "Your funeral."

She began to push through the crowd, moving away, north, toward downtown. I continued to push for the Founders' Statue. A second later, my arm was back in the terrible lock and I was being swung around and propelled forward.

"You know too much, jerk-off," she said. "You've seen my face. You're coming with me."

I screamed at her, struggled till it felt like my arm would break, but she was pushing me forward. My sore foot was agony with every step, my shoulder felt like it would break.

With her using me as a battering ram, we made good progress through the crowd. The whine of the helicopters changed and she gave me a harder push. "RUN!" she yelled. "Here comes the gas!"

The crowd noise changed, too. The choking sounds and scream sounds got much, much louder. I'd heard that pitch of sound before. We were back in the park. The gas was raining down. I held my breath and ran.

We cleared the crowd and she let go of my arm. I shook it out. I limped as fast as I could up the sidewalk as the crowd thinned and thinned. We were heading towards a group of DHS cops with riot shields and helmets and masks. As we drew near them, they moved to block us, but Masha held up a badge and they melted away like she was Obi Wan Kenobi, saying "These aren't the droids you're looking for."

"You goddamned bitch," I said as we sped up Market Street. "We have to go back for Ange."

She pursed her lips and shook her head. "I feel for you, buddy. I haven't seen my boyfriend in months. He probably thinks I'm dead. Fortunes of war. We go back for your Ange, we're dead. If we push on, we have a chance. So long as we have a chance, she has a chance. Those kids aren't all going to Gitmo. They'll probably take a few hundred in for questioning and send the rest home."

We were moving up Market Street now, past the strip joints where the little encampments of bums and junkies sat, stinking like open toilets. Masha guided me to a little alcove in the shut door of one of the strip places. She stripped off her jacket and turned it inside out -- the lining was a muted stripe pattern, and with the jacket's seams reversed, it hung differently. She produced a wool hat from her pocket and pulled it over her hair, letting it form a jaunty, off-center peak. Then she took out some make-up remover wipes and went to work on her face and fingernails. In a minute, she was a different woman.

"Wardrobe change," she said. "Now you. Lose the shoes, lose the jacket, lose the hat." I could see her point. The cops would be looking very carefully at anyone who looked like they'd been a part of the VampMob. I ditched the hat entirely -- I'd never liked ball caps. Then I jammed the jacket into my pack and got out a long-sleeved tee with a picture of Rosa Luxembourg on it and pulled it over my black tee. I let Masha wipe my makeup off and clean my nails and a minute later, I was clean.

"Switch off your phone," she said. "You carrying any arphids?"

I had my student card, my ATM card, my Fast Pass. They all went into a silvered bag she held out, which I recognized as a radio-proof Faraday pouch. But as she put them in her pocket, I realized I'd just turned my ID over to her. If she was on the other side...

The magnitude of what had just happened began to sink in. In my mind, I'd pictured having Ange with me at this point. Ange would make it two against one. Ange would help me see if there was something amiss. If Masha wasn't all she said she was.

"Put these pebbles in your shoes before you put them on --"

"It's OK. I sprained my foot. No gait recognition program will spot me now."

She nodded once, one pro to another, and slung her pack. I picked up mine and we moved. The total time for the changeover was less than a minute. We looked and walked like two different people.

She looked at her watch and shook her head. "Come on," she said. "We have to make our rendezvous. Don't think of running, either. You've got two choices now. Me, or jail. They'll be analyzing the footage from that mob for days, but once they're done, every face in it will go in a database. Our departure will be noted. We are both wanted criminals now."

#

She got us off Market Street on the next block, swinging back into the Tenderloin. I knew this neighborhood. This was where we'd gone hunting for an open WiFi access-point back on the day, playing Harajuku Fun Madness.

"Where are we going?" I said.

"We're about to catch a ride," she said. "Shut up and let me concentrate."

We moved fast, and sweat streamed down my face from under my hair, coursed down my back and slid down the crack of my ass and my thighs. My foot was really hurting and I was seeing the streets of San Francisco race by, maybe for the last time, ever.

It didn't help that we were ploughing straight uphill, moving for the zone where the seedy Tenderloin gives way to the nosebleed real-estate values of Nob Hill. My breath came in ragged gasps. She moved us mostly up narrow alleys, using the big streets just to get from one alley to the next.

We were just stepping into one such alley, Sabin Place, when someone fell in behind us and said, "Freeze right there." It was full of evil mirth. We stopped and turned around.

At the mouth of the alley stood Charles, wearing a halfhearted VampMob outfit of black t-shirt and jeans and white face-paint. "Hello, Marcus," he said. "You going somewhere?" He smiled a huge, wet grin. "Who's your girlfriend?"

"What do you want, Charles?"

"Well, I've been hanging out on that traitorous Xnet ever since I spotted you giving out DVDs at school. When I heard about your VampMob, I thought I'd go along and hang around the edges, just to see if you showed up and what you did. You know what I saw?"

I said nothing. He had his phone in his hand, pointed at us. Recording. Maybe ready to dial 911. Beside me, Masha had gone still as a board.

"I saw you leading the damned thing. And I recorded it, Marcus. So now I'm going to call the cops and we're going to wait right here for them. And then you're going to go to pound-you-in-the-ass prison, for a long, long time."

Masha stepped forward.

"Stop right there, chickie," he said. "I saw you get him away. I saw it all --"

She took another step forward and snatched the phone out of his hand, reaching behind her with her other hand and bringing it out holding a wallet open.

"DHS, dick-head," she said. "I'm DHS. I've been running this twerp back to his masters to see where he went. I was doing that. Now you've blown it. We have a name for that. We call it 'Obstruction of National Security.' You're about to hear that phrase a lot more often."

Charles took a step backward, his hands held up in front of him. He'd gone even paler under his makeup. "What? No! I mean -- I didn't know! I was trying to help!"

"The last thing we need is a bunch of high school Junior G-men 'helping,' buddy. You can tell it to the judge."

He moved back again, but Masha was fast. She grabbed his wrist and twisted him into the same judo hold she'd had me in back at Civic Center. Her hand dipped back to her pockets and came out holding a strip of plastic, a handcuff strip, which she quickly wound around his wrists.

That was the last thing I saw as I took off running.

#

I made it as far as the other end of the alley before she caught up with me, tackling me from behind and sending me sprawling. I couldn't move very fast, not with my hurt foot and the weight of my pack. I went down in a hard face-plant and skidded, grinding my cheek into the grimy asphalt.

"Jesus," she said. "You're a goddamned idiot. You didn't believe that, did you?"

My heart thudded in my chest. She was on top of me and slowly she let me up.

"Do I need to cuff you, Marcus?"

I got to my feet. I hurt all over. I wanted to die.

"Come on," she said. "It's not far now."

#

'It' turned out to be a moving van on a Nob Hill side-street, a sixteen-wheeler the size of one of the ubiquitous DHS trucks that still turned up on San Francisco's street corners, bristling with antennas.

This one, though, said "Three Guys and a Truck Moving" on the side, and the three guys were very much in evidence, trekking in and out of a tall apartment building with a green awning. They were carrying crated furniture, neatly labeled boxes, loading them one at a time onto the truck and carefully packing them there.

She walked us around the block once, apparently unsatisfied with something, then, on the next pass, she made eye-contact with the man who was watching the van, an older black guy with a kidney-belt and heavy gloves. He had a kind face and he smiled at us as she led us quickly, casually up the truck's three stairs and into its depth. "Under the big table," he said. "We left you some space there."

The truck was more than half full, but there was a narrow corridor around a huge table with a quilted blanket thrown over it and bubble-wrap wound around its legs.

Masha pulled me under the table. It was stuffy and still and dusty under there, and I suppressed a sneeze as we scrunched in among the boxes. The space was so tight that we were on top of each other. I didn't think that Ange would have fit in there.

"Bitch," I said, looking at Masha.

"Shut up. You should be licking my boots thanking me. You would have ended up in jail in a week, two tops. Not Gitmo-by-the-Bay. Syria, maybe. I think that's where they sent the ones they really wanted to disappear."

I put my head on my knees and tried to breathe deeply.

"Why would you do something so stupid as declaring war on the DHS anyway?"

I told her. I told her about being busted and I told her about Darryl.

She patted her pockets and came up with a phone. It was Charles's. "Wrong phone." She came up with another phone. She turned it on and the glow from its screen filled our little fort. After fiddling for a second, she showed it to me.

It was the picture she'd snapped of us, just before the bombs blew. It was the picture of Jolu and Van and me and --

Darryl.

I was holding in my hand proof that Darryl had been with us minutes before we'd all gone into DHS custody. Proof that he'd been alive and well and in our company.

"You need to give me a copy of this," I said. "I need it."

"When we get to LA," she said, snatching the phone back. "Once you've been briefed on how to be a fugitive without getting both our asses caught and shipped to Syria. I don't want you getting rescue ideas about this guy. He's safe enough where he is -- for now."

I thought about trying to take it from her by force, but she'd already demonstrated her physical skill. She must have been a black-belt or something.

We sat there in the dark, listening to the three guys load the truck with box after box, tying things down, grunting with the effort of it. I tried to sleep, but couldn't. Masha had no such problem. She snored.

There was still light shining through the narrow, obstructed corridor that led to the fresh air outside. I stared at it, through the gloom, and thought of Ange.

My Ange. Her hair brushing her shoulders as she turned her head from side to side, laughing at something I'd done. Her face when I'd seen her last, falling down in the crowd at VampMob. All those people at VampMob, like the people in the park, down and writhing, the DHS moving in with truncheons. The ones who disappeared.

Darryl. Stuck on Treasure Island, his side stitched up, taken out of his cell for endless rounds of questioning about the terrorists.

Darryl's father, ruined and boozy, unshaven. Washed up and in his uniform, "for the photos." Weeping like a little boy.

My own father, and the way that he had been changed by my disappearance to Treasure Island. He'd been just as broken as Darryl's father, but in his own way. And his face, when I told him where I'd been.

That was when I knew that I couldn't run.

That was when I knew that I had to stay and fight.

#

Masha's breathing was deep and regular, but when I reached with glacial slowness into her pocket for her phone, she snuffled a little and shifted. I froze and didn't even breathe for a full two minutes, counting one hippopotami, two hippopotami.

Slowly, her breath deepened again. I tugged the phone free of her jacket-pocket one millimeter at a time, my fingers and arm trembling with the effort of moving so slowly.

Then I had it, a little candy-bar shaped thing.

I turned to head for the light, when I had a flash of memory: Charles, holding out his phone, waggling it at us, taunting us. It had been a candy-bar-shaped phone, silver, plastered in the logos of a dozen companies that had subsidized the cost of the handset through the phone company. It was the kind of phone where you had to listen to a commercial every time you made a call.

It was too dim to see the phone clearly in the truck, but I could feel it. Were those company decals on its sides? Yes? Yes. I had just stolen Charles's phone from Masha.

I turned back around slowly, slowly, and slowly, slowly, slowly, I reached back into her pocket. Her phone was bigger and bulkier, with a better camera and who knew what else?

I'd been through this once before -- that made it a little easier. Millimeter by millimeter again, I teased it free of her pocket, stopping twice when she snuffled and twitched.

I had the phone free of her pocket and I was beginning to back away when her hand shot out, fast as a snake, and grabbed my wrist, hard, fingertips grinding away at the small, tender bones below my hand.

I gasped and stared into Masha's wide-open, staring eyes.

"You are such an idiot," she said, conversationally, taking the phone from me, punching at its keypad with her other hand. "How did you plan on unlocking this again?"

I swallowed. I felt bones grind against each other in my wrist. I bit my lip to keep from crying out.

She continued to punch away with her other hand. "Is this what you thought you'd get away with?" She showed me the picture of all of us, Darryl and Jolu, Van and me. "This picture?"

I didn't say anything. My wrist felt like it would shatter.

"Maybe I should just delete it, take temptation out of your way." Her free hand moved some more. Her phone asked her if she was sure and she had to look at it to find the right button.

That's when I moved. I had Charles's phone in my other hand still, and I brought it down on her crushing hand as hard as I could, banging my knuckles on the table overhead. I hit her hand so hard the phone shattered and she yelped and her hand went slack. I was still moving, reaching for her other hand, for her now-unlocked phone with her thumb still poised over the OK key. Her fingers spasmed on the empty air as I snatched the phone out of her hand.

I moved down the narrow corridor on hands and knees, heading for the light. I felt her hands slap at my feet and ankles twice, and I had to shove aside some of the boxes that had walled us in like a Pharaoh in a tomb. A few of them fell down behind me, and I heard Masha grunt again.

The rolling truck door was open a crack and I dove for it, slithering out under it. The steps had been removed and I found myself hanging over the road, sliding headfirst into it, clanging my head off the blacktop with a thump that rang my ears like a gong. I scrambled to my feet, holding the bumper, and desperately dragged down on the door-handle, slamming it shut. Masha screamed inside -- I must have caught her fingertips. I felt like throwing up, but I didn't.

I padlocked the truck instead.

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