Littler Brother 2
"I'm — I'm sorry, you know?""Shut up. Don't be sorry.
You were braver than I am. Are you ready to go underground now? Ready to disappear?""About that.""Yes?""That's not the plan.""Oh," he said."Listen, OK? I have — I have pictures, video.
Stuff that really proves something." I reached into my pocket and tickled Masha's phone. I'd bought a charger for it in Union Square on the way down, and had stopped and plugged it in at a cafe for long enough to get the battery up to four out of five bars.
"I need to get it to Barbara Stratford, the woman from the Guardian. But they're going to be watching her — watching to see if I show up.""You don't think that they'll be watching for me, too? If your plan involves me going within a mile of that woman's home or office —""I want you to get Van to come and meet me.
Did Darryl ever tell you about Van? The girl —""He told me. Yes, he told me.
You don't think they'll be watching her? All of you who were arrested?""I think they will. I don't think they'll be watching her as hard.
And Van has totally clean hands. She never cooperated with any of my —" I swallowed.
"With my projects. So they might be a little more relaxed about her.
If she calls the Bay Guardian to make an appointment to explain why I'm just full of crap, maybe they'll let her keep it."He stared at the door for a long time."You know what happens when they catch us again." It wasn't a question.I nodded."Are you sure? Some of the people that were on Treasure Island with us got taken away in helicopters.
They got taken offshore. There are countries where America can outsource its torture.
Countries where you will rot forever. Countries where you wish they would just get it over with, have you dig a trench and then shoot you in the back of the head as you stand over it."I swallowed and nodded."Is it worth the risk? We can go underground for a long, long time here.
Someday we might get our country back. We can wait it out."I shook my head.
"You can't get anything done by doing nothing. It's our country.
They've taken it from us. The terrorists who attack us are still free — but we're not.
I can't go underground for a year, ten years, my whole life, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself."#That afternoon, Van left school as usual, sitting in the back of the bus with a tight knot of her friends, laughing and joking the way she always did.
The other riders on the bus took special note of her, she was so loud, and besides, she was wearing that stupid, giant floppy hat, something that looked like a piece out of a school play about Renaissance sword fighters.
At one point they all huddled together, then turned away to look out the back of the bus, pointing and giggling. The girl who wore the hat now was the same height as Van, and from behind, it could be her.No one paid any attention to the mousy little Asian girl who got off a few stops before the BART. She was dressed in a plain old school uniform, and looking down shyly as she stepped off.
Besides, at that moment, the loud Korean girl let out a whoop and her friends followed along, laughing so loudly that even the bus driver slowed down, twisted in his seat and gave them a dirty look.Van hurried away down the street with her head down, her hair tied back and dropped down the collar of her out-of-style bubble jacket.
She had slipped lifts into her shoes that made her two wobbly, awkward inches taller, and had taken her contacts out and put on her least-favored glasses, with huge lenses that took up half her face.
Although I'd been waiting in the bus-shelter for her and knew when to expect her, I hardly recognized her. I got up and walked along behind her, across the street, trailing by half a block.The people who passed me looked away as quickly as possible.
I looked like a homeless kid, with a grubby cardboard sign, street-grimy overcoat, huge, overstuffed knapsack with duct-tape over its rips. No one wants to look at a street-kid, because if you meet his eye, he might ask you for some spare change.
I'd walked around Oakland all afternoon and the only person who'd spoken to me was a Jehovah's Witness and a Scientologist, both trying to convert me. It felt gross, like being hit on by a pervert.Van followed the directions I'd written down carefully.
Zeb had passed them to her the same way he'd given me the note outside school — bumping into her as she waited for the bus, apologizing profusely. I'd written the note plainly and simply, just laying it out for her: I know you don't approve.
I understand. But this is it, this is the most important favor I've ever asked of you.
Please. Please.She'd come.
I knew she would. We had a lot of history, Van and I. She didn't like what had happened to the world, either.
Besides, an evil, chuckling voice in my head had pointed out, she was under suspicion now that Barbara's article was out.We walked like that for six or seven blocks, looking at who was near us, what cars went past.
Zeb told me about five-person trails, where five different undercovers traded off duties following you, making it nearly impossible to spot them. You had to go somewhere totally desolate, where anyone at all would stand out like a sore thumb.The overpass for the 880 was just a few blocks from the Coliseum BART station, and even with all the circling Van did, it didn't take long to reach it.
The noise from overhead was nearly deafening. No one else was around, not that I could tell.
I'd visited the site before I suggested it to Van in the note, taking care to check for places where someone could hide. There weren't any.Once she stopped at the appointed place, I moved quickly to catch up to her.
She blinked owlishly at me from behind her glasses."Marcus," she breathed, and tears swam in her eyes. I found that I was crying too.
I'd make a really rotten fugitive. Too sentimental.She hugged me so hard I couldn't breathe.
I hugged her back even harder.Then she kissed me.Not on the cheek, not like a sister. Full on the lips, a hot, wet, steamy kiss that seemed to go on forever.
I was so overcome with emotion —No, that's bull. I knew exactly what I was doing.
I kissed her back.Then I stopped and pulled away, nearly shoved her away. "Van," I gasped."Oops," she said."Van," I said again."Sorry," she said.
"I —"Something occurred to me just then, something I guess I should have seen a long, long time before."You like me, don't you?"She nodded miserably. "For years," she said.Oh, God.
Darryl, all these years, so in love with her, and the whole time she was looking at me, secretly wanting me. And then I ended up with Ange.
Ange said that she'd always fought with Van. And I was running around, getting into so much trouble."Van," I said.
"Van, I'm so sorry.""Forget it," she said, looking away. "I know it can't be.
I just wanted to do that once, just in case I never —" She bit down on the words."Van, I need you to do something for me. Something important.
I need you to meet with the journalist from the Bay Guardian, Barbara Stratford, the one who wrote the article. I need you to give her something." I explained about Masha's phone, told her about the video that Masha had sent me."What good will this do, Marcus? What's the point?""Van, you were right, at least partly.
We can't fix the world by putting other people at risk. I need to solve the problem by telling what I know.
I should have done that from the start. Should have walked straight out of their custody and to Darryl's father's house and told him what I knew.
Now, though, I have evidence. This stuff — it could change the world.
This is my last hope. The only hope for getting Darryl out, for getting a life that I don't spend underground, hiding from the cops.
And you're the only person I can trust to do this.""Why me?""You're kidding, right? Look at how well you handled getting here. You're a pro.
You're the best at this of any of us. You're the only one I can trust.
That's why you.""Why not your friend Angie?" She said the name without any inflection at all, like it was a block of cement.I looked down. "I thought you knew.
They arrested her. She's in Gitmo — on Treasure Island.
She's been there for days now." I had been trying not to think about this, not to think about what might be happening to her. Now I couldn't stop myself and I started to sob.
I felt a pain in my stomach, like I'd been kicked, and I pushed my hands into my middle to hold myself in. I folded there, and the next thing I knew, I was on my side in the rubble under the freeway, holding myself and crying.Van knelt down by my side.
"Give me the phone," she said, her voice an angry hiss. I fished it out of my pocket and passed it to her.Embarrassed, I stopped crying and sat up.
I knew that snot was running down my face. Van was giving me a look of pure revulsion.
"You need to keep it from going to sleep," I said. "I have a charger here." I rummaged in my pack.
I hadn't slept all the way through the night since I acquired it. I set the phone's alarm to go off every 90 minutes and wake me up so that I could keep it from going to sleep.
"Don't fold it shut, either.""And the video?""That's harder," I said. "I emailed a copy to myself, but I can't get onto the Xnet anymore." In a pinch, I could have gone back to Nate and Liam and used their Xbox again, but I didn't want to risk it.
"Look, I'm going to give you my login and password for the Pirate Party's mail-server. You'll have to use Tor to access it — Homeland Security is bound to be scanning for people logging into p-party mail.""Your login and password," she said, looking a little surprised."I trust you, Van.
I know I can trust you."She shook her head. "You never give out your passwords, Marcus.""I don't think it matters anymore.
Either you succeed or I — or it's the end of Marcus Yallow. Maybe I'll get a new identity, but I don't think so.
I think they'll catch me. I guess I've known all along that they'd catch me, some day."She looked at me, furious now.
"What a waste. What was it all for, anyway?"Of all the things she could have said, nothing could have hurt me more.
It was like another kick in the stomach. What a waste, all of it, futile.
Darryl and Ange, gone. I might never see my family again.
And still, Homeland Security had my city and my country caught in a massive, irrational shrieking freak-out where anything could be done in the name of stopping terrorism.Van looked like she was waiting for me to say something, but I had nothing to say to that.