Okay, first? Let’s get this straight. Wilson drives me crazy.
But still, he’s my brother, right?
When I was little, Wilson was just there, always. He would hold my hand when I was afraid and carried me if I got tired. He took my side when I got in trouble and sometimes he kept me out of it – or got me into it, or both.
The last time, we were at a big wedding and a drunken uncle was spouting racist things that he didn’t realize were racist because he’s too stupid to even know. Our stepmother kept frowning at me, saying “don’t you dare” without actually saying anything out loud. Wilson could see I was about to lose it, so he grabbed my arm and dragged me through the kitchen and out the back door. The wedding was at a fancy joint on Lake Minnetonka where they had paddleboats and canoes. We took a canoe out into the middle of the lake without life jackets, took off our party clothes, and went swimming in our underwear. We stayed out until the sun went down and the stars came out and the loons made their weird, lonely cries.
It was the best thing ever, even though I had to save up for months to pay for the ugly dress that got ruined. Wilson had it worse. It was the Last Straw, so he got sent to a summer boot camp where troublemakers were supposed to learn discipline, which he didn’t, though he learned how to pick locks and steal cars. Then he finished high school and left home and I wanted to go with him, but my stepparents said I couldn’t. So I didn’t have anybody on my side anymore.
By the time I went to live with Monica I didn’t look up to him the same way, partly because I was almost as tall as him, mostly because when he left and they said I had to stay, he didn’t put up much of a fight. Things were never the same again, especially after I tried to warn him about his big hero, Zip.
Still, saving Wilson was something I had to do, like it was my turn, now. Like it might fix whatever got broken between us when he left home, with maybe a little “see? I told you so” mixed in.
We don’t look like each other because we have different fathers. Still, when somebody says “your brother” it’s Wilson I think of, even though there’s also Aidan and Roland and Alec. Also sisters: Liv and Karin with an i (as opposed to plain old Karens; she wants to make sure you don’t think she’s one of them, because they’re all German and fat and have frizzy hair, whereas she’s Swedish and slim and beautiful – all because of a single vowel). I have this giant family, but that’s because our parents keep thinking they should marry someone else and start new families as if maybe this time it will actually work out.
They don’t feel like family, though, more like the people I had to live with until I escaped.
Our mom, who was African American but so light-skinned it was kind of a hard to tell, only got married once, to Wilson’s dad, when they were both college students. Wilson looks like his father (a blue-eyed blond who could pose for a “visit Sweden!” poster even though he’s never been there), so identifying as an African-American was never an option. (He tried for a while, but people just laughed at him.) That marriage didn’t last very long, but the thing our mom had with my father was even shorter, and then she ran out of time because she died when I was so little I can’t even remember her. Which stinks.
When she got sick, we had to go live with Wilson’s father and his second wife because my father works for a company that cleans up buildings after floods or tornados and couldn’t take care of a baby. After Wilson moved out (and didn’t take me with him) I figured out where my father was staying and how to get a bus ticket to go there. I wanted get to know him, and liked the idea of moving from one disaster to another. It would be a relief to go to not-so-good public schools with kids who wouldn’t ask if they could touch my hair or look at me whenever they needed to know what black people think about slavery or getting harassed by cops or being poor. But after a couple of weeks trying to make it work, I sided with the majority for once. He was a nice enough guy, and probably good at disasters, just not any good at being a parent, which was never on his list of things to do in the first place.
So I had to go back to the good school and the ginormous house in a suburb outside of Minneapolis where Wilson’s dad and his second wife lived with Aiden and Liv and Karin with an i. They went through a bunch of paperwork to adopt me, so technically Aiden’s my brother and I have two sisters, and (if you count the kids from Wilson’s stepmom’s other marriage) two more brothers, Roland and Alec. Things get really crowded at Thanksgiving, which involves bitchy comments, tears in the kitchen, and various people not speaking to each other. That’s a stupid price to pay just to get everyone all in one place to eat too much turkey, watch football, and be thankful.
So technically I’m part of a big family, but the only person who counts is Wilson.
~ ~ ~
I biked home from the library and made a pot of strong coffee so I could figure out what was going on. Monica says I shouldn’t drink coffee at my age, that it will stunt my growth, but I’m taller than her, so that’s a stupid argument.
It didn’t take too long to figure out that Wilson and his friends had been taken to the federal building downtown, where he was being processed, which means being systematically humiliated by bureaucratic functionaries who make sure they always smile for the camera.
Something you might not know about people who work in jails: some of them are okay, but a lot of them really get off on the power they wield over people who are drunk or crazy or upset or just unlucky or (in a few cases) actually committed crimes. But even the evil ones know how to follow the rules so that they won’t give defense lawyers any advantage against their side. They humiliate strictly according to regulations. I haven’t been in jail myself because when I break laws I’m too careful to get caught. But this wasn’t the first time Wilson got himself in trouble, which is how I got to know about jail.
Being good at jail means being cool and tough and not letting anyone know how you’re feeling inside. Zip would be good at it. I would be even better, though I hope I never have a chance to prove it. Wilson had never been convicted of anything, but he’d been arrested more than once. He wasn’t good at jail.
It was Friday. That probably meant he wouldn’t see a judge until Monday.
By now, they would have told him he could have a phone call, but they’d make it sound like he was obviously guilty and just trying to get off. I could imagine him paging through the yellow pages jammed with full-page ads for drunk driver attorneys, having no idea who to call or what to say. I’ll bet there aren’t any lawyers who advertise in the yellow pages that they specialize in people accused of terrorism.
Would Wilson call me? I wanted him to. I wanted him to think I could fix it, that when he made a choice between me and Zip, he chose wrong. But I didn’t want him to call because it would screw things up if the FBI knew I was on his side. Don’t call me I told him silently through the airwaves, hoping it would cancel out the part of me that wanted to hear him say “Zen? I’m in trouble. I need your help.”
Then I remembered Wilson wouldn’t know how to call me. They would have taken his phone, and he wouldn’t remember my number by heart. He could barely remember to put on a coat when it was snowing outside. Feeling better, I filled a mug with coffee strong enough to strip paint and got to work.
~ ~ ~
First I checked in with Wheeze. He’d ridden his bike to the Pig’s Eye rail yard in St. Paul, where he was looking for a chance to catch out. In regular English, that means “get on a freight train that is going somewhere you wouldn’t mind going without getting caught and arrested, or getting your leg cut off in an accident, or getting stabbed by some creepy lunatic who is also trying to catch out.” He had plenty of experience riding the rails and figured once he made it to another city, he could safely buy a bus ticket to somewhere else. He had an ID with someone else’s name on it that he carried around for situations like this, but he didn’t want to go to a bus station in the Twin Cities, since the cops would be looking for him there.
Of all of the people Wilson hung out with, Wheeze was the only one I actually liked. He was super-smart, always reading some crazy-hard stuff, like this huge book on the history of debt. Seriously, who would want to read something like that? Okay, the stuff he told me was way more interesting than you might think, but still – it was hundreds of pages long and had a million footnotes. He also liked to make things. When he learned that I had built my own computer, he asked me to show him how, so we built one together using parts salvaged from junked towers. (He wanted to attach an old Underwood typewriter keyboard to it, but we couldn’t make that work. It would have looked really neat, though.) Then he asked me to teach him some Python, which didn’t go so well. It turned out he was good at making weird sculptures out of junk and screen-printing posters and reading hard books, but he didn’t have the patience to code. He doesn’t like being wrong, and being wrong is mostly what code is about. You’re wrong again and again until finally it works.
But we found out we were both really interested in privacy issues, online and in real life, which turned into a kind of game. We both started paying more attention to our surroundings, noticing where security cameras were located (which is way more places than you might think), always looking out for spots that weren’t under surveillance, finding ways to evade Big Brother on an everyday basis. Wheeze was better at it than me, and I thought I was good. He started reading about encryption and when I suggested we both use PGP and exchange public keys, he was all over it. He even let me jailbreak his phone and install Convo, and it was a good thing I did, since it was the only safe way we could communicate about the bust he barely escaped because he wasn’t at the house much these days.
He told me back in October that he was looking for another place to live. Things were changing at the house and he didn’t feel comfortable there anymore, even though he was the only one who was able to fix broken windows or clogged drains or had enough sense to put plastic over the windows when it got cold. All the kids at the house were anti-consumer anarchists, but they grew up in the suburbs consuming whatever they wanted, not learning how to make anything themselves. Wheeze had a lot of practical skills because he came from what social workers call a “disorganized household.” Basically he’s had to take care of himself his whole life.
I sent him a message telling him to be safe, and then logged into Facebook to do some research. I have a Facebook account that I only use for work, because there’s no way I’m going to give corporations my personal information so that they can sell me junk I don’t need – or sell my identity to other corporations or hand it over to the government. The account is pretty much the opposite of me. She’s a twenty-something marketing intern named Tasha who posts fake pictures of all the fun things she’s doing and likes things I don’t. But she’s flirty and cute and able to flatter people into thinking she’s just like them, so that she gets to be friends with pretty much anyone I need to keep an eye on, which includes people who were posting pictures of the FBI raid, a few facts, and a lot of rumors.
One video that was getting a ton of likes and comments showed cops herding people in handcuffs out of the house. Right up front was Wilson, who looked scared and confused and not very intelligent, then three girls and four other guys. And finally Zip, who looked defiant in the face of fascist flunkies (as the person who posted the video put it) but there was something about the way the two goons on either side held his arms and looked past Zip at each other, not smirking like the other FBI guys, more of an “okay, it’s in the can, this is a wrap” look that made me think I’m right. He’s one of you.
I searched for other photos and videos. Zip at a Critical Mass rally, his fist in the air and a big grin on his face as he rode his bike past a blocked intersection. Zip marching at a protest for a kid shot by police. Zip arriving at a party with a case of beer. I noticed that he walked with the same swagger as the FBI agents.
You’re a rat. I just know it.
After hunting through all the images I could find of Zip’s face, I picked the best one, sharpened it up, and started to run it through a sophisticated facial recognition program. The original code was a beta that was years old, abandonware that turned up on a discarded laptop bound for recycling, probably in some Third World country where people were getting poisoned while they used strong chemicals to extract precious metals from motherboards. Just something to think about the next time you throw out a computer or a phone.
While you’re at it, think about this: it’s amazing what people leave on their hard drives when their computers stop working. The company that wrote the code I was using was no doubt selling something more sophisticated by now, and raking in millions with everybody going crazy over biometrics, but my version was probably a lot better. Ferret, who calls himself a crypto-archeologist, collects computer junk from recyclers so he can uncover stuff like this. He cloned it and uploaded it to Sourcerer two years ago, where other people had forked it and added hacks that made it a whole lot better. Now it was combing through images all over the internet looking for matches, but it would take hours to find and prioritize possible hits.
While the program ran, I went looking for an attorney who specialized in terrorists instead of drunk drivers. An hour later, when I had a list of possibilities. I switched on my other laptop, set my VPN to connect through a German server, pinged the Group, and started a thread.
<Shad> I need a lawyer.
The comments streamed in.
<ferret> Are you okay, Shad?
<freddieb> Oh no!
<Kadabra> That sucks.
<DoDec> What kind of lawyer?
I felt my shoulders relax. I’m used to handling stuff by myself. It’s how I roll, especially given the alternative like living in a fancy house in the suburbs and going to a “good school” where people smile at you when the teacher is looking and then say mean things behind your back and on Instagram and Yik Yak. But the Group was different. These were my people. It felt good to know they were always there, that they always knew what to say. I typed:
<Shad> The ACLU type.
And they goofed off. Of course.
<Kadabra> Oh oh, Shad’s getting waterboarded again.
<Gargle> We TOLD you not to buy that dynamite.
<DoDec> We’ll send you a care package. What’s the postage to Guantánamo Bay again?
And so on. I interrupted the party.
<Shad> Going to take this to a palaver.
The Group has this function where you can take a conversation to a private space and control who gets to participate. You can block anyone you don’t want involved and you can leave people who you aren’t sure about outside until someone you do know can vouch for them. It’s not 100 percent secure, but it signals that you want to talk about something sensitive and, unless they’re really interested, it’s off limits. I got pinged a bunch and within a minute had accepted sixteen people, all of whom I knew and trusted, into the palaver.
<Shad> Asking for a friend. Srsly. Does anyone know anything about these guys?
I listed the names of eight lawyers I’d identified, then went back to Tasha’s Facebook profile to see if anything new had come in. A lot, but none of it really useful, mostly people being shocked, shocked, or getting into fights with cousins who voted Republican and wanted to remind everyone that radical anarchists were a genuine threat to our freedoms, just like that secretly Muslim president who wasn’t even American.
Which is another reason I hate Facebook. So much stupid.
Five minutes later, the verdict was in. Three of the lawyers I had come up with were out. Not people you could really count on, given their connections to big money. Four more ranged on a scale between maybe and good choices. One was the maximum excellent, but she was retired and had some chronic health problems. But she knew her stuff and kicked ass on fourth amendment legal arguments and sometimes took on cases that really grabbed her. Call Me Cheese posted a list of cases she’d won and added:
<callmecheese> If your friend’s a terrorist, you may be in luck!
I sent a wish up toward the ceiling, out into the universe, asking whoever it was who might be listening to do me a favor, just this once. Then I set out to find Frances Bernadette McSweeney, J.D.