What are you going to do when your doofus of a big brother gets himself arrested on a terrorism charge? If you’re a young coder with a sense of justice and a passion for privacy, whatever it takes to save him from prison. This open access young adult novel – inspired by the real-life stings that the FBI has used to entrap unwary would-be dissidents and by the growth of the surveillance-industrial complex.
“This book is a great short #cyberpunk novel fit for the current age of surveillance we’re living. The story comes in a-la Doctorow, fast-paced and involving the broader consequences that a surveillance-laden, authority-oriented and fear-driven society has to deal with, while referencing many real-life examples.” Klaus Jónsson Zimmermann at TheRealTalk.org
It was cold. It was dark. Something that couldn’t decide whether to be rain or snow was flying out of the sky, stinging my face like tiny hot needles. It was hard work riding my bike through the squishy piles of gritty half-melted snow, especially since the closer I got, the less I wanted to get there.
I was going to meet my best friends in the whole world for the first time.
A police car slowed as it drove past me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur of a face checking me out. A black kid out on the streets at night, can’t be too careful. I stared straight ahead, trying to look law-abiding and harmless. The cruiser sped up suddenly, kicking up icy slush that drenched my jeans. I channeled my anger into pedaling harder. It actually warmed me up a little, so it wasn’t all bad.
The old warehouse where the meet-up was happening turned out to be almost hidden under a bridge beside some railroad tracks. The place looked abandoned, with boarded-up windows, surrounded by a chain link fence with spirals of razor wire on top. I stopped and checked the instructions on my phone to be sure. Though it didn’t seem right, this was the place.
It looked so dead I wondered if the meet-up might have been called off, which set off a weird, wobbly feeling in my chest, half relief, half disappointment. The building looked like nobody had set foot inside it for decades, but as I coasted down the side street I saw an open gate. Some cars were parked inside, near a set of concrete steps leading to a rusty metal door. I chained my bike to a railing, then went up the crumbling steps, feeling weird.
I was going to finally meet ferret and Gargle and Fa1staff, all members of the Group. They were like family, only better because they got my jokes and were always there no matter how late it was, and they understood how beautiful code could be. They would drop everything and hack if somebody needed a hand. I had an awful feeling I was about to ruin everything.
My clothes felt stiff, as if the night had frozen around me and was trying to stop me from going any further. It was only eight in the evening, but in Minneapolis in November, it’s so dark it might as well be midnight. My stomach ached so much I tried pushing my fist against where it hurt. It didn’t help.
They knew everything about me. Except who I really was.
The rusty metal door at the top of the concrete steps seemed to be locked, but when I gave it a good shove with my shoulder, it creaked open. Inside it was even darker. I ran the beam of the mini-flashlight clipped to my keychain around the big room. It was empty except for some smashed-up wooden pallets and dirt. Following the instructions ferret had sent out, I climbed a metal staircase to the second floor, the sound of my boots echoing in the big, dark, empty space.
There was a faint light at the top of the stairs, coming from behind another rusty metal door propped open with a folded-up pizza box. Inside I could smell beer and pizza and heard laughter and loud, confident voices. I began to feel a weird hot buzzing at the back of my neck, a familiar feeling when I’m getting angry.
The second floor was a big, dark, open space just like downstairs except that in the middle there was cloth draped from the ceiling, silvery fabric that swooped down, forming a big circle like a yurt or a Bedouin tent, glowing with lanterns inside. The fabric was tied back to make an opening. I took a deep breath and stepped through it. Everyone inside the tent turned.
They stared at me, holding up beer bottles halfway to their mouths, slices of pizza drooping in their hands, like a weird game of freeze tag.