Little Brother – Chapter 21

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 21

They left me and Barbara alone in the room then, and I used the working shower head to rinse off -- I was suddenly embarrassed to be covered in piss and barf. When I finished, Barbara was in tears.

"Your parents --" she began.

I felt like I might throw up again. God, my poor folks. What they must have gone through.

"Are they here?"

"No," she said. "It's complicated," she said.


"You're still under arrest, Marcus. Everyone here is. They can't just sweep in and throw open the doors. Everyone here is going to have to be processed through the criminal justice system. It could take, well, it could take months."

"I'm going to have to stay here for months?"

She grabbed my hands. "No, I think we're going to be able to get you arraigned and released on bail pretty fast. But pretty fast is a relative term. I wouldn't expect anything to happen today. And it's not going to be like those people had it. It will be humane. There will be real food. No interrogations. Visits from your family.

"Just because the DHS is out, it doesn't mean that you get to just walk out of here. What's happened here is that we're getting rid of the bizarro-world version of the justice system they'd instituted and replacing it with the old system. The system with judges, open trials and lawyers.

"So we can try to get you transferred to a juvie facility on the mainland, but Marcus, those places can be really rough. Really, really rough. This might be the best place for you until we get you bailed out."

Bailed out. Of course. I was a criminal -- I hadn't been charged yet, but there were bound to be plenty of charges they could think of. It was practically illegal just to think impure thoughts about the government.

She gave my hands another squeeze. "It sucks, but this is how it has to be. The point is, it's over. The Governor has thrown the DHS out of the State, dismantled every checkpoint. The Attorney General has issued warrants for any law-enforcement officers involved in 'stress interrogations' and secret imprisonments. They'll go to jail, Marcus, and it's because of what you did."

I was numb. I heard the words, but they hardly made sense. Somehow, it was over, but it wasn't over.

"Look," she said. "We probably have an hour or two before this all settles down, before they come back and put you away again. What do you want to do? Walk on the beach? Get a meal? These people had an incredible staff room -- we raided it on the way in. Gourmet all the way."

At last a question I could answer. "I want to find Ange. I want to find Darryl."


I tried to use a computer I found to look up their cell-numbers, but it wanted a password, so we were reduced to walking the corridors, calling out their names. Behind the cell-doors, prisoners screamed back at us, or cried, or begged us to let them go. They didn't understand what had just happened, couldn't see their former guards being herded onto the docks in plastic handcuffs, taken away by California state SWAT teams.

"Ange!" I called over the din, "Ange Carvelli! Darryl Glover! It's Marcus!"

We'd walked the whole length of the cell-block and they hadn't answered. I felt like crying. They'd been shipped overseas -- they were in Syria or worse. I'd never see them again.

I sat down and leaned against the corridor wall and put my face in my hands. I saw Severe Haircut Woman's face, saw her smirk as she asked me for my login. She had done this. She would go to jail for it, but that wasn't enough. I thought that when I saw her again, I might kill her. She deserved it.

"Come on," Barbara said, "Come on, Marcus. Don't give up. There's more around here, come on."

She was right. All the doors we'd passed in the cellblock were old, rusting things that dated back to when the base was first built. But at the very end of the corridor, sagging open, was a new high-security door as thick as a dictionary. We pulled it open and ventured into the dark corridor within.

There were four more cell-doors here, doors without bar codes. Each had a small electronic keypad mounted on it.

"Darryl?" I said. "Ange?"


It was Ange, calling out from behind the furthest door. Ange, my Ange, my angel.

"Ange!" I cried. "It's me, it's me!"

"Oh God, Marcus," she choked out, and then it was all sobs.

I pounded on the other doors. "Darryl! Darryl, are you here?"

"I'm here." The voice was very small, and very hoarse. "I'm here. I'm very, very sorry. Please. I'm very sorry."

He sounded... broken. Shattered.

"It's me, D," I said, leaning on his door. "It's Marcus. It's over -- they arrested the guards. They kicked the Department of Homeland Security out. We're getting trials, open trials. And we get to testify against them."

"I'm sorry," he said. "Please, I'm so sorry."

The California patrolmen came to the door then. They still had their camera rolling. "Ms Stratford?" one said. He had his faceplate up and he looked like any other cop, not like my savior. Like someone come to lock me up.

"Captain Sanchez," she said. "We've located two of the prisoners of interest here. I'd like to see them released and inspect them for myself."

"Ma'am, we don't have access codes for those doors yet," he said.

She held up her hand. "That wasn't the arrangement. I was to have complete access to this facility. That came direct from the Governor, sir. We aren't budging until you open these cells." Her face was perfectly smooth, without a single hint of give or flex. She meant it.

The Captain looked like he needed sleep. He grimaced. "I'll see what I can do," he said.


They did manage to open the cells, finally, about half an hour later. It took three tries, but they eventually got the right codes entered, matching them to the arphids on the ID badges they'd taken off the guards they'd arrested.

They got into Ange's cell first. She was dressed in a hospital gown, open at the back, and her cell was even more bare than mine had been -- just padding all over, no sink or bed, no light. She emerged blinking into the corridor and the police camera was on her, its bright lights in her face. Barbara stepped protectively between us and it. Ange stepped tentatively out of her cell, shuffling a little. There was something wrong with her eyes, with her face. She was crying, but that wasn't it.

"They drugged me," she said. "When I wouldn't stop screaming for a lawyer."

That's when I hugged her. She sagged against me, but she squeezed back, too. She smelled stale and sweaty, and I smelled no better. I never wanted to let go.

That's when they opened Darryl's cell.

He had shredded his paper hospital gown. He was curled up, naked, in the back of the cell, shielding himself from the camera and our stares. I ran to him.

"D," I whispered in his ear. "D, it's me. It's Marcus. It's over. The guards have been arrested. We're going to get bail, we're going home."

He trembled and squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm sorry," he whispered, and turned his face away.

They took me away then, a cop in body-armor and Barbara, took me back to my cell and locked the door, and that's where I spent the night.


I don't remember much about the trip to the courthouse. They had me chained to five other prisoners, all of whom had been in for a lot longer than me. One only spoke Arabic -- he was an old man, and he trembled. The others were all young. I was the only white one. Once we had been gathered on the deck of the ferry, I saw that nearly everyone on Treasure Island had been one shade of brown or another.

I had only been inside for one night, but it was too long. There was a light drizzle coming down, normally the sort of thing that would make me hunch my shoulders and look down, but today I joined everyone else in craning my head back at the infinite gray sky, reveling in the stinging wet as we raced across the bay to the ferry-docks.

They took us away in buses. The shackles made climbing into the buses awkward, and it took a long time for everyone to load. No one cared. When we weren't struggling to solve the geometry problem of six people, one chain, narrow bus-aisle, we were just looking around at the city around us, up the hill at the buildings.

All I could think of was finding Darryl and Ange, but neither were in evidence. It was a big crowd and we weren't allowed to move freely through it. The state troopers who handled us were gentle enough, but they were still big, armored and armed. I kept thinking I saw Darryl in the crowd, but it was always someone else with that same beaten, hunched look that he'd had in his cell. He wasn't the only broken one.

At the courthouse, they marched us into interview rooms in our shackle group. An ACLU lawyer took our information and asked us a few questions -- when she got to me, she smiled and greeted me by name -- and then led us into the courtroom before the judge. He wore an actual robe, and seemed to be in a good mood.

The deal seemed to be that anyone who had a family member to post bail could go free, and everyone else got sent to prison. The ACLU lawyer did a lot of talking to the judge, asking for a few more hours while the prisoners' families were rounded up and brought to the court-house. The judge was pretty good about it, but when I realized that some of these people had been locked up since the bridge blew, taken for dead by their families, without trial, subjected to interrogation, isolation, torture -- I wanted to just break the chains myself and set everyone free.

When I was brought before the judge, he looked down at me and took off his glasses. He looked tired. The ACLU lawyer looked tired. The bailiffs looked tired. Behind me, I could hear a sudden buzz of conversation as my name was called by the bailiff. The judge rapped his gavel once, without looking away from me. He scrubbed at his eyes.

"Mr Yallow," he said, "the prosecution has identified you as a flight risk. I think they have a point. You certainly have more, shall we say, history, than the other people here. I am tempted to hold you over for trial, no matter how much bail your parents are prepared to post."

My lawyer started to say something, but the judge silenced her with a look. He scrubbed at his eyes.

"Do you have anything to say?"

"I had the chance to run," I said. "Last week. Someone offered to take me away, get me out of town, help me build a new identity. Instead I stole her phone, escaped from our truck, and ran away. I turned over her phone -- which had evidence about my friend, Darryl Glover, on it -- to a journalist and hid out here, in town."

"You stole a phone?"

"I decided that I couldn't run. That I had to face justice -- that my freedom wasn't worth anything if I was a wanted man, or if the city was still under the DHS. If my friends were still locked up. That freedom for me wasn't as important as a free country."

"But you did steal a phone."

I nodded. "I did. I plan on giving it back, if I ever find the young woman in question."

"Well, thank you for that speech, Mr Yallow. You are a very well spoken young man." He glared at the prosecutor. "Some would say a very brave man, too. There was a certain video on the news this morning. It suggested that you had some legitimate reason to evade the authorities. In light of that, and of your little speech here, I will grant bail, but I will also ask the prosecutor to add a charge of Misdemeanor Petty Theft to the count, as regards the matter of the phone. For this, I expect another $50,000 in bail."

He banged his gavel again, and my lawyer gave my hand a squeeze.

He looked down at me again and re-seated his glasses. He had dandruff, there on the shoulders of his robe. A little more rained down as his glasses touched his wiry, curly hair.

"You can go now, young man. Stay out of trouble."


I turned to go and someone tackled me. It was Dad. He literally lifted me off my feet, hugging me so hard my ribs creaked. He hugged me the way I remembered him hugging me when I was a little boy, when he'd spin me around and around in hilarious, vomitous games of airplane that ended with him tossing me in the air and catching me and squeezing me like that, so hard it almost hurt.

A set of softer hands pried me gently out of his arms. Mom. She held me at arm's length for a moment, searching my face for something, not saying anything, tears streaming down her face. She smiled and it turned into a sob and then she was holding me too, and Dad's arm encircled us both.

When they let go, I managed to finally say something. "Darryl?"

"His father met me somewhere else. He's in the hospital."

"When can I see him?"

"It's our next stop," Dad said. He was grim. "He doesn't --" He stopped. "They say he'll be OK," he said. His voice was choked.

"How about Ange?"

"Her mother took her home. She wanted to wait here for you, but..."

I understood. I felt full of understanding now, for how all the families of all the people who'd been locked away must feel. The courtroom was full of tears and hugs, and even the bailiffs couldn't stop it.

"Let's go see Darryl," I said. "And let me borrow your phone?"

I called Ange on the way to the hospital where they were keeping Darryl -- San Francisco General, just down the street from us -- and arranged to see her after dinner. She talked in a hurried whisper. Her mom wasn't sure whether to punish her or not, but Ange didn't want to tempt fate.

There were two state troopers in the corridor where Darryl was being held. They were holding off a legion of reporters who stood on tiptoe to see around them and get pictures. The flashes popped in our eyes like strobes, and I shook my head to clear it. My parents had brought me clean clothes and I'd changed in the back seat, but I still felt gross, even after scrubbing myself in the court-house bathrooms.

Some of the reporters called my name. Oh yeah, that's right, I was famous now. The state troopers gave me a look, too -- either they'd recognized my face or my name when the reporters called it out.

Darryl's father met us at the door of his hospital room, speaking in a whisper too low for the reporters to hear. He was in civvies, the jeans and sweater I normally thought of him wearing, but he had his service ribbons pinned to his breast.

"He's sleeping," he said. "He woke up a little while ago and he started crying. He couldn't stop. They gave him something to help him sleep."

He led us in, and there was Darryl, his hair clean and combed, sleeping with his mouth open. There was white stuff at the corners of his mouth. He had a semi-private room, and in the other bed there was an older Arab-looking guy, in his 40s. I realized it was the guy I'd been chained to on the way off of Treasure Island. We exchanged embarrassed waves.

Then I turned back to Darryl. I took his hand. His nails had been chewed to the quick. He'd been a nail-biter when he was a kid, but he'd kicked the habit when we got to high school. I think Van talked him out of it, telling him how gross it was for him to have his fingers in his mouth all the time.

I heard my parents and Darryl's dad take a step away, drawing the curtains around us. I put my face down next to his on the pillow. He had a straggly, patchy beard that reminded me of Zeb.

"Hey, D," I said. "You made it. You're going to be OK."

He snored a little. I almost said, "I love you," a phrase I'd only said to one non-family-member ever, a phrase that was weird to say to another guy. In the end, I just gave his hand another squeeze. Poor Darryl.

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

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