Little Brother – Chapter 11

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 11

Jolu stood up.

"This is where it starts, guys. This is how we know which side you're on. You might not be willing to take to the streets and get busted for your beliefs, but if you have beliefs, this will let us know it. This will create the web of trust that tells us who's in and who's out. If we're ever going to get our country back, we need to do this. We need to do something like this."

Someone in the audience -- it was Ange -- had a hand up, holding a beer bottle.

"So call me stupid but I don't understand this at all. Why do you want us to do this?"

Jolu looked at me, and I looked back at him. It had all seemed so obvious when we were organizing it. "The Xnet isn't just a way to play free games. It's the last open communications network in America. It's the last way to communicate without being snooped on by the DHS. For it to work we need to know that the person we're talking to isn't a snoop. That means that we need to know that the people we're sending messages to are the people we think they are.

"That's where you come in. You're all here because we trust you. I mean, really trust you. Trust you with our lives."

Some of the people groaned. It sounded melodramatic and stupid.

I got back to my feet.

"When the bombs went off," I said, then something welled up in my chest, something painful. "When the bombs went off, there were four of us caught up by Market Street. For whatever reason, the DHS decided that made us suspicious. They put bags over our heads, put us on a ship and interrogated us for days. They humiliated us. Played games with our minds. Then they let us go.

"All except one person. My best friend. He was with us when they picked us up. He'd been hurt and he needed medical care. He never came out again. They say they never saw him. They say that if we ever tell anyone about this, they'll arrest us and make us disappear.


I was shaking. The shame. The goddamned shame. Jolu had the light on me.

"Oh Christ," I said. "You people are the first ones I've told. If this story gets around, you can bet they'll know who leaked it. You can bet they'll come knocking on my door." I took some more deep breaths. "That's why I volunteered on the Xnet. That's why my life, from now on, is about fighting the DHS. With every breath. Every day. Until we're free again. Any one of you could put me in jail now, if you wanted to."

Ange put her hand up again. "We're not going to rat on you," she said. "No way. I know pretty much everyone here and I can promise you that. I don't know how to know who to trust, but I know who not to trust: old people. Our parents. Grownups. When they think of someone being spied on, they think of someone else, a bad guy. When they think of someone being caught and sent to a secret prison, it's someone else -- someone brown, someone young, someone foreign.

"They forget what it's like to be our age. To be the object of suspicion all the time! How many times have you gotten on the bus and had every person on it give you a look like you'd been gargling turds and skinning puppies?

"What's worse, they're turning into adults younger and younger out there. Back in the day, they used to say 'Never trust anyone over 30.' I say, 'Don't trust any bastard over 25!'"

That got a laugh, and she laughed too. She was pretty, in a weird, horsey way, with a long face and a long jaw. "I'm not really kidding, you know? I mean, think about it. Who elected these ass-clowns? Who let them invade our city? Who voted to put the cameras in our classrooms and follow us around with creepy spyware chips in our transit passes and cars? It wasn't a 16-year-old. We may be dumb, we may be young, but we're not scum."

"I want that on a t-shirt," I said.

"It would be a good one," she said. We smiled at each other.

"Where do I go to get my keys?" she said, and pulled out her phone.

"We'll do it over there, in the secluded spot by the caves. I'll take you in there and set you up, then you do your thing and take the machine around to your friends to get photos of your public key so they can sign it when they get home."

I raised my voice. "Oh! One more thing! Jesus, I can't believe I forgot this. Delete those photos once you've typed in the keys! The last thing we want is a Flickr stream full of pictures of all of us conspiring together."

There was some good-natured, nervous chuckling, then Jolu turned out the light and in the sudden darkness I could see nothing. Gradually, my eyes adjusted and I set off for the cave. Someone was walking behind me. Ange. I turned and smiled at her, and she smiled back, luminous teeth in the dark.

"Thanks for that," I said. "You were great."

"You mean what you said about the bag on your head and everything?"

"I meant it," I said. "It happened. I never told anyone, but it happened." I thought about it for a moment. "You know, with all the time that went by since, without saying anything, it started to feel like a bad dream. It was real though." I stopped and climbed up into the cave. "I'm glad I finally told people. Any longer and I might have started to doubt my own sanity."

I set up the laptop on a dry bit of rock and booted it from the DVD with her watching. "I'm going to reboot it for every person. This is a standard ParanoidLinux disc, though I guess you'd have to take my word for it."

"Hell," she said. "This is all about trust, right?"

"Yeah," I said. "Trust."

I retreated some distance as she ran the key-generator, listening to her typing and mousing to create randomness, listening to the crash of the surf, listening to the party noises from over where the beer was.

She stepped out of the cave, carrying the laptop. On it, in huge white luminous letters, were her public key and her fingerprint and email address. She held the screen up beside her face and waited while I got my phone out.

"Cheese," she said. I snapped her pic and dropped the camera back in my pocket. She wandered off to the revelers and let them each get pics of her and the screen. It was festive. Fun. She really had a lot of charisma -- you didn't want to laugh at her, you just wanted to laugh with her. And hell, it was funny! We were declaring a secret war on the secret police. Who the hell did we think we were?

So it went, through the next hour or so, everyone taking pictures and making keys. I got to meet everyone there. I knew a lot of them -- some were my invitees -- and the others were friends of my pals or my pals' pals. We should all be buddies. We were, by the time the night was out. They were all good people.

Once everyone was done, Jolu went to make a key, and then turned away, giving me a sheepish grin. I was past my anger with him, though. He was doing what he had to do. I knew that no matter what he said, he'd always be there for me. And we'd been through the DHS jail together. Van too. No matter what, that would bind us together forever.

I did my key and did the perp-walk around the gang, letting everyone snap a pic. Then I climbed up on the high spot I'd spoken from earlier and called for everyone's attention.

"So a lot of you have noted that there's a vital flaw in this procedure: what if this laptop can't be trusted? What if it's secretly recording our instructions? What if it's spying on us? What if Jose-Luis and I can't be trusted?"

More good-natured chuckles. A little warmer than before, more beery.

"I mean it," I said. "If we were on the wrong side, this could get all of us -- all of you -- into a heap of trouble. Jail, maybe."

The chuckles turned more nervous.

"So that's why I'm going to do this," I said, and picked up a hammer I'd brought from my Dad's toolkit. I set the laptop down beside me on the rock and swung the hammer, Jolu following the swing with his keychain light. Crash -- I'd always dreamt of killing a laptop with a hammer, and here I was doing it. It felt pornographically good. And bad.

Smash! The screen-panel fell off, shattered into millions of pieces, exposing the keyboard. I kept hitting it, until the keyboard fell off, exposing the motherboard and the hard-drive. Crash! I aimed square for the hard-drive, hitting it with everything I had. It took three blows before the case split, exposing the fragile media inside. I kept hitting it until there was nothing bigger than a cigarette lighter, then I put it all in a garbage bag. The crowd was cheering wildly -- loud enough that I actually got worried that someone far above us might hear over the surf and call the law.

"All right!" I called. "Now, if you'd like to accompany me, I'm going to march this down to the sea and soak it in salt water for ten minutes."

I didn't have any takers at first, but then Ange came forward and took my arm in her warm hand and said, "That was beautiful," in my ear and we marched down to the sea together.

It was perfectly dark by the sea, and treacherous, even with our keychain lights. Slippery, sharp rocks that were difficult enough to walk on even without trying to balance six pounds of smashed electronics in a plastic bag. I slipped once and thought I was going to cut myself up, but she caught me with a surprisingly strong grip and kept me upright. I was pulled in right close to her, close enough to smell her perfume, which smelled like new cars. I love that smell.

"Thanks," I managed, looking into the big eyes that were further magnified by her mannish, black-rimmed glasses. I couldn't tell what color they were in the dark, but I guessed something dark, based on her dark hair and olive complexion. She looked Mediterranean, maybe Greek or Spanish or Italian.

I crouched down and dipped the bag in the sea, letting it fill with salt water. I managed to slip a little and soak my shoe, and I swore and she laughed. We'd hardly said a word since we lit out for the ocean. There was something magical in our wordless silence.

At that point, I had kissed a total of three girls in my life, not counting that moment when I went back to school and got a hero's welcome. That's not a gigantic number, but it's not a minuscule one, either. I have reasonable girl radar, and I think I could have kissed her. She wasn't h4wt in the traditional sense, but there's something about a girl and a night and a beach, plus she was smart and passionate and committed.

But I didn't kiss her, or take her hand. Instead we had a moment that I can only describe as spiritual. The surf, the night, the sea and the rocks, and our breathing. The moment stretched. I sighed. This had been quite a ride. I had a lot of typing to do tonight, putting all those keys into my keychain, signing them and publishing the signed keys. Starting the web of trust.

She sighed too.

"Let's go," I said.

"Yeah," she said.

Back we went. It was a good night, that night.


Jolu waited after for his brother's friend to come by and pick up his coolers. I walked with everyone else up the road to the nearest Muni stop and got on board. Of course, none of us was using an issued Muni pass. By that point, Xnetters habitually cloned someone else's Muni pass three or four times a day, assuming a new identity for every ride.

It was hard to stay cool on the bus. We were all a little drunk, and looking at our faces under the bright bus lights was kind of hilarious. We got pretty loud and the driver used his intercom to tell us to keep it down twice, then told us to shut up right now or he'd call the cops.

That set us to giggling again and we disembarked in a mass before he did call the cops. We were in North Beach now, and there were lots of buses, taxis, the BART at Market Street, neon-lit clubs and cafes to pull apart our grouping, so we drifted away.

I got home and fired up my Xbox and started typing in keys from my phone's screen. It was dull, hypnotic work. I was a little drunk, and it lulled me into a half-sleep.

I was about ready to nod off when a new IM window popped up.

> herro!

I didn't recognize the handle -- spexgril -- but I had an idea who might be behind it.

> hi

I typed, cautiously.

> it's me, from tonight

Then she paste-bombed a block of crypto. I'd already entered her public key into my keychain, so I told the IM client to try decrypting the code with the key.

> it's me, from tonight

It was her!

> Fancy meeting you here

I typed, then encrypted it to my public key and mailed it off.

> It was great meeting you

I typed.

> You too. I don't meet too many smart guys who are also cute and also socially aware. Good god, man, you don't give a girl much of a chance.

My heart hammered in my chest.

> Hello? Tap tap? This thing on? I wasn't born here folks, but I'm sure dying here. Don't forget to tip your waitresses, they work hard. I'm here all week.

I laughed aloud.

> I'm here, I'm here. Laughing too hard to type is all

> Well at least my IM comedy-fu is still mighty


> It was really great to meet you too

> Yeah, it usually is. Where are you taking me?

> Taking you?

> On our next adventure?

> I didn't really have anything planned

> Oki -- then I'll take YOU. Saturday. Dolores Park. Illegal open air concert. Be there or be a dodecahedron

> Wait what?

> Don't you even read Xnet? It's all over the place. You ever hear of the Speedwhores?

I nearly choked. That was Trudy Doo's band -- as in Trudy Doo, the woman who had paid me and Jolu to update the indienet code.

> Yeah I've heard of them

> They're putting on a huge show and they've got like fifty bands signed to play the bill, going to set up on the tennis courts and bring out their own amp trucks and rock out all night

I felt like I'd been living under a rock. How had I missed that? There was an anarchist bookstore on Valencia that I sometimes passed on the way to school that had a poster of an old revolutionary named Emma Goldman with the caption "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your revolution." I'd been spending all my energies on figuring out how to use the Xnet to organize dedicated fighters so they could jam the DHS, but this was so much cooler. A big concert -- I had no idea how to do one of those, but I was glad someone did.

And now that I thought of it, I was damned proud that they were using the Xnet to do it.


The next day I was a zombie. Ange and I had chatted -- flirted -- until 4AM. Lucky for me, it was a Saturday and I was able to sleep in, but between the hangover and the sleep-dep, I could barely put two thoughts together.

By lunchtime, I managed to get up and get my ass out onto the streets. I staggered down toward the Turk's to buy my coffee -- these days, if I was alone, I always bought my coffee there, like the Turk and I were part of a secret club.

On the way, I passed a lot of fresh graffiti. I liked Mission graffiti; a lot of the times, it came in huge, luscious murals, or sarcastic art-student stencils. I liked that the Mission's taggers kept right on going, under the nose of the DHS. Another kind of Xnet, I supposed -- they must have all kinds of ways of knowing what was going on, where to get paint, what cameras worked. Some of the cameras had been spray-painted over, I noticed.

Maybe they used Xnet!

Painted in ten-foot-high letters on the side of an auto-yard's fence were the drippy words: DON'T TRUST ANYONE OVER 25.

I stopped. Had someone left my "party" last night and come here with a can of paint? A lot of those people lived in the neighborhood.

I got my coffee and had a little wander around town. I kept thinking I should be calling someone, seeing if they wanted to get a movie or something. That's how it used to be on a lazy Saturday like this. But who was I going to call? Van wasn't talking to me, I didn't think I was ready to talk to Jolu, and Darryl --

Well, I couldn't call Darryl.

I got my coffee and went home and did a little searching around on the Xnet's blogs. These anonablogs were untraceable to any author -- unless that author was stupid enough to put her name on it -- and there were a lot of them. Most of them were apolitical, but a lot of them weren't. They talked about schools and the unfairness there. They talked about the cops. Tagging.

Turned out there'd been plans for the concert in the park for weeks. It had hopped from blog to blog, turning into a full-blown movement without my noticing. And the concert was called Don't Trust Anyone Over 25.

Well, that explained where Ange got it. It was a good slogan.


Monday morning, I decided I wanted to check out that anarchist bookstore again, see about getting one of those Emma Goldman posters. I needed the reminder.

I detoured down to 16th and Mission on my way to school, then up to Valencia and across. The store was shut, but I got the hours off the door and made sure they still had that poster up.

As I walked down Valencia, I was amazed to see how much of the DON'T TRUST ANYONE OVER 25 stuff there was. Half the shops had DON'T TRUST merch in the windows: lunchboxes, babydoll tees, pencil-boxes, trucker hats. The hipster stores have been getting faster and faster, of course. As new memes sweep the net in the course of a day or two, stores have gotten better at putting merch in the windows to match. Some funny little youtube of a guy launching himself with jet-packs made of carbonated water would land in your inbox on Monday and by Tuesday you'd be able to buy t-shirts with stills from the video on it.

But it was amazing to see something make the leap from Xnet to the head shops. Distressed designer jeans with the slogan written in careful high school ball-point ink. Embroidered patches.

Good news travels fast.

It was written on the black-board when I got to Ms Galvez's Social Studies class. We all sat at our desks, smiling at it. It seemed to smile back. There was something profoundly cheering about the idea that we could all trust each other, that the enemy could be identified. I knew it wasn't entirely true, but it wasn't entirely false either.

Ms Galvez came in and patted her hair and set down her SchoolBook on her desk and powered it up. She picked up her chalk and turned around to face the board. We all laughed. Good-naturedly, but we laughed.

She turned around and was laughing too. "Inflation has hit the nation's slogan-writers, it seems. How many of you know where this phrase comes from?"

We looked at each other. "Hippies?" someone said, and we laughed. Hippies are all over San Francisco, both the old stoner kinds with giant skanky beards and tie-dyes, and the new kind, who are more into dress-up and maybe playing hacky-sack than protesting anything.

"Well, yes, hippies. But when we think of hippies these days, we just think of the clothes and the music. Clothes and music were incidental to the main part of what made that era, the sixties, important.

"You've heard about the civil rights movement to end segregation, white and black kids like you riding buses into the South to sign up black voters and protest against official state racism. California was one of the main places where the civil rights leaders came from. We've always been a little more political than the rest of the country, and this is also a part of the country where black people have been able to get the same union factory jobs as white people, so they were a little better off than their cousins in the southland.

"The students at Berkeley sent a steady stream of freedom riders south, and they recruited them from information tables on campus, at Bancroft and Telegraph Avenue. You've probably seen that there are still tables there to this day.

"Well, the campus tried to shut them down. The president of the university banned political organizing on campus, but the civil rights kids wouldn't stop. The police tried to arrest a guy who was handing out literature from one of these tables, and they put him in a van, but 3,000 students surrounded the van and refused to let it budge. They wouldn't let them take this kid to jail. They stood on top of the van and gave speeches about the First Amendment and Free Speech.

"That galvanized the Free Speech Movement. That was the start of the hippies, but it was also where more radical student movements came from. Black power groups like the Black Panthers -- and later gay rights groups like the Pink Panthers, too. Radical women's groups, even 'lesbian separatists' who wanted to abolish men altogether! And the Yippies. Anyone ever hear of the Yippies?"

"Didn't they levitate the Pentagon?" I said. I'd once seen a documentary about this.

She laughed. "I forgot about that, but yes, that was them! Yippies were like very political hippies, but they weren't serious the way we think of politics these days. They were very playful. Pranksters. They threw money into the New York Stock Exchange. They circled the Pentagon with hundreds of protestors and said a magic spell that was supposed to levitate it. They invented a fictional kind of LSD that you could spray onto people with squirt-guns and shot each other with it and pretended to be stoned. They were funny and they made great TV -- one Yippie, a clown called Wavy Gravy, used to get hundreds of protestors to dress up like Santa Claus so that the cameras would show police officers arresting and dragging away Santa on the news that night -- and they mobilized a lot of people.

"Their big moment was the Democratic National Convention in 1968, where they called for demonstrations to protest the Vietnam War. Thousands of demonstrators poured into Chicago, slept in the parks, and picketed every day. They had lots of bizarre stunts that year, like running a pig called Pigasus for the presidential nomination. The police and the demonstrators fought in the streets -- they'd done that many times before, but the Chicago cops didn't have the smarts to leave the reporters alone. They beat up the reporters, and the reporters retaliated by finally showing what really went on at these demonstrations, so the whole country watched their kids being really savagely beaten down by the Chicago police. They called it a 'police riot.'

"The Yippies loved to say, 'Never trust anyone over 30.' They meant that people who were born before a certain time, when America had been fighting enemies like the Nazis, could never understand what it meant to love your country enough to refuse to fight the Vietnamese. They thought that by the time you hit 30, your attitudes would be frozen and you couldn't ever understand why the kids of the day were taking to the streets, dropping out, freaking out.

"San Francisco was ground zero for this. Revolutionary armies were founded here. Some of them blew up buildings or robbed banks for their cause. A lot of those kids grew up to be more or less normal, while others ended up in jail. Some of the university dropouts did amazing things -- for example, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who founded Apple Computers and invented the PC."

I was really getting into this. I knew a little of it, but I'd never heard it told like this. Or maybe it had never mattered as much as it did now. Suddenly, those lame, solemn, grown-up street demonstrations didn't seem so lame after all. Maybe there was room for that kind of action in the Xnet movement.

I put my hand up. "Did they win? Did the Yippies win?"

She gave me a long look, like she was thinking it over. No one said a word. We all wanted to hear the answer.

"They didn't lose," she said. "They kind of imploded a little. Some of them went to jail for drugs or other things. Some of them changed their tunes and became yuppies and went on the lecture circuit telling everyone how stupid they'd been, talking about how good greed was and how dumb they'd been.

"But they did change the world. The war in Vietnam ended, and the kind of conformity and unquestioning obedience that people had called patriotism went out of style in a big way. Black rights, women's rights and gay rights came a long way. Chicano rights, rights for disabled people, the whole tradition of civil liberties was created or strengthened by these people. Today's protest movement is the direct descendant of those struggles."

"I can't believe you're talking about them like this," Charles said. He was leaning so far in his seat he was half standing, and his sharp, skinny face had gone red. He had wet, large eyes and big lips, and when he got excited he looked a little like a fish.

Ms Galvez stiffened a little, then said, "Go on, Charles."

"You've just described terrorists. Actual terrorists. They blew up buildings, you said. They tried to destroy the stock exchange. They beat up cops, and stopped cops from arresting people who were breaking the law. They attacked us!"

Ms Galvez nodded slowly. I could tell she was trying to figure out how to handle Charles, who really seemed like he was ready to pop. "Charles raises a good point. The Yippies weren't foreign agents, they were American citizens. When you say 'They attacked us,' you need to figure out who 'they' and 'us' are. When it's your fellow countrymen --"

"Crap!" he shouted. He was on his feet now. "We were at war then. These guys were giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It's easy to tell who's us and who's them: if you support America, you're us. If you support the people who are shooting at Americans, you're them."

"Does anyone else want to comment on this?"

Several hands shot up. Ms Galvez called on them. Some people pointed out that the reason that the Vietnamese were shooting at Americans is that the Americans had flown to Vietnam and started running around the jungle with guns. Others thought that Charles had a point, that people shouldn't be allowed to do illegal things.

Everyone had a good debate except Charles, who just shouted at people, interrupting them when they tried to get their points out. Ms Galvez tried to get him to wait for his turn a couple times, but he wasn't having any of it.

I was looking something up on my SchoolBook, something I knew I'd read.

I found it. I stood up. Ms Galvez looked expectantly at me. The other people followed her gaze and went quiet. Even Charles looked at me after a while, his big wet eyes burning with hatred for me.

"I wanted to read something," I said. "It's short. '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.'"

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

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