Authors: T.K. Harris
At the doctor’s request, they put a T.V. in Tommy’s cell. The stations were fuzzy, but there were voices now instead of quiet. Jane – she'd asked him to call her Jane, not doctor or Doctor Lyndsay - would come to check on him and give him more medicine. Though the medicine made him fuzzy, he was feeling much better. It helped that a few days had passed since the men who asked questions with their fists, and other methods, had stopped coming for him.
Tommy had come to look forward to his conversations with Jane. Sometimes she wrote things down as she asked him about his hobbies, what he was studying in school and his family. She explained that it was part of her job, though she wouldn't tell him what her job was or answer any of his questions as to why he was here. But Tommy didn’t care. She was nice. And not bad looking for an older woman. He thought she'd be a good match for his uncle. She smiled when he mentioned it.
As the talks continued, Tommy began to relax and tried to accept his captivity. He was expecting her to come today, so, when someone else came instead, his pulse began to race. As they led him out of his cell, he wondered if it meant the interrogations would start again, and he tried to prepare himself. Instead, he was led to another, much larger room.
Wondering what the sudden change in routine might mean, he glanced around, noting that there were three other people in the room, sitting on a couch and two chairs, facing a television. Tommy looked at one man who seemed familiar despite the broken nose and the yellow and greenish bruise on the right side of his face. He was about to say something when the guard beside him moved to leave.
Tommy turned, trying to form a question, but the door closed before he could actually ask. He heard the distinct sound of the bolt slamming home. He stared at the door a moment longer before turning back to the three men in the room who were now all standing and staring at him.
At first he couldn’t seem to find his words. His mind was telling him that these three people were actually in the room. But he still remembered waking up and talking to his mother for several hours only to later realize, when the doctor had walked in, that he had been hallucinating. Again.
Jane had explained to him that this was fairly common among people held in isolation for long periods of time, or those subjected to interrogations. But she had looked concerned. That was when she had started visiting him outside of their normal ‘talks’ and just coming to his cell to chat. But, while her visits had helped, he couldn't shake how
the hallucination felt. Just like now.
Do people hallucinate about people they’ve never seen?
Tommy ignored the thought, glancing at the one person who seemed familiar. It was a moment before he placed the older man’s face.
Duncan's father rose. "What are you doing here?"
Tommy saw the confusion on Mr. Borne’s face. He glanced at the other two men, who both had bruises and lacerations in various stages of healing. He did not recognize either of them.
One man, who looked as if he were Middle Eastern, spoke up. His accent was thick as he asked, "I have heard your name before. Do you know my son, Ali?"
Tommy's eyes widened. "Yes. He and I and Duncan play on the same pickup soccer team on campus."
The other man, tall and broad and looking like a linebacker said, "Then you know my son, Matt."
"Well then. At least we're one step closer to figuring out what these commies have us locked up here for."
Tommy glanced at him, brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
, son. You're the only one that links us all together. So why don't you tell us what the hell is going on?"
Tommy was numb with shock and unable to say anything further. How long he stood there, just staring at everyone, he wasn’t sure. When he felt a hand touch his arm he automatically flinched, turning to find Duncan's father looking at him. Tommy hadn’t even noticed him walking closer.
"It’s okay, son," Mr. Borne said gently. "If you've been here as long as us and, from the looks of it, interrogated as well, you're probably going through shock. Come sit down."
The others glanced at him. They seemed agitated and at the same time embarrassed.
They moved aside as Mr. Borne led him to a seat.
"Are we the first people you've seen in a while?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Borne."
"Please, call me Frank."
Tommy nodded hesitantly. "Frank. Yes. Except for the guards and the…other people. And Jane."
He saw Matt’s father’s jaw clench. "The bitch."
Tommy looked up sharply at him. "She is not!"
Matt's father moved closer, and Tommy realized just how big the man was. "Yes she is. She drugged all of us repeatedly. She's a commie like the rest."
Tommy felt his face growing hot. Suddenly he didn't care how big the guy was. He moved to get closer before shouting, "You just shut your damn mouth! She is –"
He was suddenly jerked back by Frank. "That's enough, Wayne. The
is obviously attached. It's common."
Wayne gave a disgusted sigh. "Fine.
, Tommy. The doctor, who has been drugging us after she let the guards beat us, is obviously
a commie. Just a traitor to all Americans. Like her name sake. Jane Fonda."
As Tommy moved to hit the man, Frank growled, "That's
, Wayne. Tommy, sit down. Everyone, sit."
Frank’s tone brooked no argument. Still, looking at Wayne’s obvious size advantage, Tommy was surprised when he reluctantly did what Frank had ordered. Tommy followed, taking the chair opposite Wayne, and watched as both Ali’s father and Frank took the couch.
Frank turned to him then and said, "We've all been in here for a while, Tommy. A few hours at least and we've already shared our story. But until you came in, we couldn't find anything that made sense. Please, tell us what's going on."
As Tommy glanced around, it suddenly sank in exactly why they were all here. Why they had all been brought in and interrogated. The sudden guilt that followed hit him harder than any blow he had received from one of the interrogators. He started to shake again. Had he been standing, he would have collapsed.
This is all my fault. They are all here because of me.
The thought led to another thought and then another until they were tumbling around his already over-stimulated mind, too many to focus on. He found himself unable to respond.
Why? How could all this happen because of that stupid website?
The question yanked Tommy from his paralysis. He glanced at Wayne and then Ali's father and finally Frank, realizing he had spoken aloud. Seeing the confusion, worry, fear and frustration in their bruised faces, he clamped down on his own fear, took a deep breath and launched into the same story he had been telling since he had been taken.
Dr. Lyndsay’s doubts, which had been mounting as she questioned each of the detainees over the last several days, were confirmed as she listened to the group interaction. These people were not terrorists or traitors. And only one could be called a hacker. But even most of Thomas Moore’s behavior could be attributed to his chosen college major. These weren’t the people that they had hoped to catch.
Jane felt her stomach begin to tie in knots. The FBI had made a mistake. A very bad mistake.
Alex unlocked his door while trying to suppress another yawn. Too many days, with little sleep since his nephew had disappeared. And, after finding out yesterday that Tommy may have gotten on the wrong side of the FBI, he hadn’t slept at all.
As he shuffled into his apartment, Alex finally gave up the struggle to stop the inevitable. The yawn seemed to last forever. But despite his fatigue, his mind spun with too many questions and not enough answers.
Dropping his mail on his kitchen counter, Alex walked to the desk in his living room, and turned on his desk lamp and laptop before sitting. Something niggled at the back of his mind, something that seemed ‘off’, but he couldn't put a name to it. Deciding it was just exhaustion, he logged into his secure computer - running on its own cable line like the one in his office - and began opening his usual chatrooms.
Minutes later, an alert chimed. He usually received several a day, even more in the last two days. Many were just the usual reports on security holes other hackers had found, or invites to hacker raids. Some were simple inquires. But, too many recently, had been people telling him they had not found anything on the man he was looking for. So while Alex wasn’t surprised at the alert, he also wasn’t hopeful.
He was surprised, however, when he checked and saw that he had been invited to a private chat as these were not as common. Not recognizing the chatroom invite #HGTTG or the handle sending the request, he waited. As tired as he was, he was inclined to ignore it all together until the invite popped up again, this time with a question.
<µβ> Missing someone?
He stared at the question, caught between curiosity and shock. Hesitant, he logged into the chat as [email protected]@nd01f and typed: Why do you ask?
<µβ> Because the kid has your last name and you haven't exactly been quiet in your searches.
Alex's heart stopped. It wasn’t like he was a newbie at any of this. He knew how to hide his tracks. He’d been online for years as a lurker, and later as a hacker, before going into security. And he hadn’t mentioned to anyone that the man he was looking for was his nephew. So how did they even know who he was, let alone anything about his connection to Tommy?
<µβ> Not that it matters, but you can think of us as watchers. For now. Your nephew has been caught up in something spawned by a group we have been watching for some time. The same group that is now watching you.
<µβ> We are not playing.
Alex was about to type another question when he re-read,
the same group that is now watching you.
The sense that something, beyond the conversation, was wrong came back. He took another look around his apartment, trying to figure out what had been bothering him since he first walked in.
Ok. You’re getting paranoid,
he told himself. Turning back to his monitor he typed,
<µβ> Thomas Moore is alive. And he is definitely in FBI custody.
<µβ> We’re not sure yet.
<µβ> We are working on it.
<µβ> You don’t.
<µβ> For now.
<µβ> You can either trust us or not. We are only telling some of the answers to the questions you have been asking. And, we would like to help.
<µβ> We’re doing this because we want a favor in return. As to the rest, the answers will come in time.
<µβ> An open ended one. When we are ready to collect – sometime in the future – you agree to deliver. It won’t be anything you haven’t done before in your other line of work.
Other line work? How much did this person – or was it people – know about him?
And there were quite a few things he had done in his other line of work. He wasn’t sure he wanted to do some of them again. But this
for Tommy. If they really
help, he would do what it took. And, if they were screwing him over, he’d do everything in his power to take them down.
<µβ> We'll be in contact.
With the last comment, Alex found himself booted out of the private chat. Frantically he began searching for it or the handle - µβ - but found nothing.
What the hell is going on?
Belatedly, he realized he’d been too shocked to turn on any of his tracing routines. He’d have a hell of a time finding who contacted him now. Not that he thought it would be easy in the first place. The user didn't sound like an amateur.
Feeling like he was caught between a bad conspiracy movie and a remake of The Matrix, Alex turned to his work computer to look up the odd symbols in the stranger’s handle. At least that gave him something to do.
He had recognized that symbols resembled Greek characters and Googled for a list. The search pulled up a list of both Greek letters and numbers. He searched for both characters in the handle, putting them together first as a possible word. But, as a word, they made no sense. As numbers…
You've got to be kidding me.
He stared at the number, hoping he had it wrong. But, the more he looked at it, he began to think the number made more sense than a word or even an abbreviation.
This can't be real
, he thought.
The number was 42. The answer to life, the universe and everything.
Well that explained the chatroom name #HGTTG. Alex wondered how many people would catch on to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference.
to be some sort of joke. And he didn’t think it was very funny. The next time they contacted him,
the contacted him, he would be ready and waiting.