0's and 1's: Book 1 CBDT (Cyber-Bullying Defense Team)
(Hunter Douglas, Code Name: Verne)
We've done it; the first blow has been struck. Last Friday, I sent an encrypted email to Chief Wayne and Judge Thatcher concerning everything we discovered and the countermeasures we placed in the Hospital database. A simple allegation letter was dropped off to the city's police headquarters, which stated a possible leak of hospital patient information had occurred. Chief Wayne had silently maneuvered a few of his trusted investigators to ask question as soon as the letter reached police headquarters. Since it was the weekend, Chief Wayne used some bureaucratic adjustments to hold off reporting the letter into digital case logs until Monday, which prevented Christian Grayson and his associates from knowing a case was opened. Detectives Graeme and James quickly got their answer from Myrlin, the IT specialist at the hospital. Due to Benji's work on Thursday, Christian Grayson's credentials were shown immediately in multiple records of gay teenagers' files kept in the hospital's database. As this was targeted information and not simply a generic back up, the detective had enough to issue a warrant on Sunday for Technology Partners Associates and Christian Grayson's personal residence. In one swift move, we uncovered data theft across hundreds of databases and violations of state and federal law on a scale that shocked even the most seasoned data analysts. I could not imagine how big we just won, nor could Kevin or Benji. We hit a major nerve these guys never thought to protect.
Mayor Chance wanted to make our group's efforts official and give us each commendations for extraordinary services to the city, but I told him no, since we only managed to take down one major part of their operations. Chief Wayne was more open to our team's investigation and offered to create a liaison between him and my team, along with a list of police officers we can go to directly in case of sudden emergencies. I accepted that offer as it would add an additional layer of separation between us and the administration to maintain our secrecy. Judge Thatcher was ecstatic and I knew he was in contact with someone in the FBI about our current work on a confidential level. Before we only had conjecture and supposition based on my tracking of IP addresses, we currently can draw a loose link and even have physical evidence to demonstrate a criminal conspiracy "might" be taking place. I know the FBI's hate crimes division probably would want to take over right now, but I asked Judge Thatcher to hold them off, since these guys will be more cautious now that a piece of their network has been discovered. Any pre-emptive move by the FBI would show our hand. The best way to treat this right now is that Christian Grayson was a lone wolf data miner, who compromised several different databases for unknown reasons. The FBI contact must have agreed with my assessment, because there was no news from their front officially either to Judge Thatcher or in any media outlet.
The cyber-attacks on Jeremy have calmed down and it looks like he might be in the clear as these guys are dealing with clean up. Jeremy has gone back home and he has broken off his relationship with Evan, which hasn't changed his behavior or his personal indulgences. I hear he's actually getting into threesomes with twins Aaron and Adam, lucky bastard. Even with his happier mood, I am hearing some ugly things; like he's switching off marijuana for harder stuff. I'll confront him on that rumor soon, but based on what I know of him, he wouldn't have picked up the habit automatically. If he has started, I'm going to get him into rehab myself; no way am I going to let him slide down that path if I can help it.
That does open up some other personal problems, I need to deal with. We have won a battle, but I have forgotten about certain issues at home. Jesse Heron was an engaging kid; I never thought of him as our surrogate son as Benji observed, but I do feel a sense of responsibility for his current mood. After Ryan died, I was so consumed by this investigation, I completely forgot about Jesse's pain as well. I don't want him to suffer for what happened.
On Thursday, I returned to hospital tutoring again. Jesse's eyes were watering when he saw me; I wasn't sure if it was my presence or the 2 double cheeseburgers and fries that I had in my hand. I had gotten permission from Mom to excuse him from session and use her office to talk.
When we got into the office and settled with our late lunch, I just opened up. "I heard you're not taking your medication or treatments."
Jesse continued chewing on his burger as he replied, "I... (Swallow)...will take those medications again and go through that damn treatment from your mom. I was just really down last week until I followed Benji down to the basement."
Fuck, Benji is usually good with stealth, but I guess he never anticipated Jesse to follow him, "Well, umm...what changed your mind?"
He smiled wildly, "I know what you are doing and knowing that, I don't need to be angry."
Lucky for me, my mom's office was at the end of the hallway and had no adjacent rooms next door, but I bet Jesse knew that already, too. Jesse is a smart kid, probably has an equivalent IQ to me or Ryan at his age. He figured we were boyfriends around the same time we figured he was gay based his wandering eyes. We connected really easily and I even got permission from mom to let him leave the hospital once for "the lab" on a short supervised visit. I guess for a kid stuck in the hospital, a loft apartment filled with computers and 3D printers must seem like a dream. I gave him a custom tablet that I built with Ryan, one of our first prototype tablets. Within a week he made his own app using the developer feature, both of us were impressed.
I can't hide the full truth from him, so I will try to give him just enough, "Jesse, you can't mention what you saw or heard last week."
Jesse nodded obediently, "No problem, I figured as much. So the guy in the news was involved somehow, the information he stole at the hospital and the cyber-bullying."
"I can't tell you more than what I have already Jesse. These are really bad people; you don't want to get involved."
"You got Benji involved. Sure, he's pretty smart to fool Myrlin into making "his credentialing" program and had it installed into the server without the bad guys knowing, but I can do just as much, you know that."
"This isn't for discussion, Jesse. Promise me you won't try to get your nose into this."
He paused and I could tell he was debating it, and then he winced, "I will promise not to mess with you or your friends' stuff."
That was a Dr. Doom promise if I ever heard one, "Don't mess with this Jesse, it's not a game."
"I never thought it was; Hunter, you and Ryan were the first people to treat me like a regular human being, not a kid dying of cancer. These bastards went after Ryan and they might go after you next. You only slowed them down this time, but they will come back. I might not know who they are, but I can guess why they would want to go after gay teens like Ryan. This is my fight as well; I want to make sure that before I die that they're pushing daisies, too."
I hate having my own argument used against me, but he is right on some level. This is a fight for gay teens and my argument was that I should be allowed to fight in it with my friends. Jesse technically is not a teenager, but he is definitely gay. The problem here is two-fold. Jesse is the wrong type of person to engage in this fight, he has nothing to lose or gain from this except revenge. Despite my pain and my own desire for vengeance, I ultimately want justice for Ryan and all those kids killed by these monsters. The other issue is that Jesse is limited by his circumstances; he can't leave the hospital without a doctor and some emergency equipment. It's why even if he did volunteer I would never allow him to be part of any team.
"Jesse, I am not after vengeance, I am after justice."
"What is more just than revenge for the murder of someone you loved?"
I'll use some comic book logic on him, "There's a line somewhere between heroes and villains, when they use vengeance as the source of their mission. Heroes like Batman will never kill out of vengeance. Even when he met Joe Chill, the man who murdered his parents, he held himself off from killing him. Justice is what defines us as human beings. Vengeance is merely our motivation. When we start defining ourselves by vengeance, we lose our humanity and become the monsters we seek."
Jesse was quick to fight back, "That works only in civilized society or a society in decay. Batman is like you, a noble and intelligent hero for a world that was moving far beyond nobility and honor. His sense of justice and honor kept the world in line, because there was still a need for it. The fight you are engaging in right now is based on a world in chaos. This is more like the Walking Dead, where morality has no meaning, rules are effectively gone, and we are fighting for our very survival. These people are merely the beginning of a trend, not the end of it. Justice will not find them all, so we must make justice for ourselves."
"There are rules to this, because there are consequences. I can't protect you if you go after them alone."
Jesse tossed his wrapper into the trash and smiled back at me, "Maybe there are rules for you, but I can do anything I want. The world needs heroes like you, who can be leaders and figures to admire, but it also needs people who will do whatever it takes to win. I don't need to be protected, but I will protect you by doing what you can't. We're not going to see eye to eye on this Hunter and I don't want to fight you. I want us to fight them, together."
I have to keep an eye on him, damn. Despite being a 12 year old, he actually can do some damage. I know his cancer is getting worse and the prognosis is that he has little more than year to live. That's what is propelling him to be so extreme and so unreasonable. I can't blame him, because if I were stuck in that situation, I might be tempted to go rogue too. In battle, there's a concept of "friendly fire", where allied forces might accidentally or unintentionally cause harm to your forces. That's my biggest fear with Jesse; he has great capacity, but lacks the maturity or the discipline that comes with age, even if I am only slightly older. Limiting his access to tablets and computers will be something I can try to get mom to do, but without explaining the reasons, it will be haphazard. I love Jesse, maybe as much as Benji thought due to the complicated dynamic between me, Ryan, and him, but no matter what I can't let him play this dangerous game.
After the meal, we went back to the makeshift classroom; the lesson plan was pretty simple, young adult books, like The Giver, and a few pre-algebra problems. Jesse was quick to answer all those math questions and quote Lowry's book by memory. He stared at me as he stated his favorite line: "He wept because he was afraid now that he could not save Gabriel. He no longer cared about himself". I knew the meaning he was trying to convey, it was the idea Benji had about what I represented. I know what Jesse wanted to say and what he was expressing, but I can't accept it.
After the fireworks, I knew I had to leave the hospital quickly and I began debating on whether I should come back again with what was happening to Jesse due to my presence. As I was walking out, I saw a big disturbance and a familiar face. Mrs. Langford saw me in the corner of her eye and yelled for me to come over.
I was running through disaster scenarios on Jeremy in my head as I asked my question, "What happened to him?"
Mrs. Langford was in tears and garbled out a reply, "He was bleeding...there was so much blood..."
I went over to the gurney with my friend, he was barely conscious, "What happened to you?"
He looked me in the eye and blurted out, "they gave me something..."
Instead of heading home, I spent the next hour waiting outside the emergency room with Mrs. Langford. Mom came by and sat with us for a while, then went to speak with a doctor in the emergency room. I felt a stinging pain in my gut, like I could and should have done more for Jeremy. I was his friend, but I was consumed with this investigation and couldn't drop everything to go to a party to play chaperone. I know a few of the guys experimented with harder drugs, primarily pharmaceutical Oxycodone, which is readily available. Meth was also possible, but based on his condition and the rapid decline of his health from 2 weeks ago; none of the symptoms fit the cause.
My mom came to us and took me aside to follow her back to her office, where she began, "Hunter, I've got some bad news."
I sighed, "What happened? I know it was drugs, but what did he take?"
She nodded, "He's been using several different intravenous drugs recreationally, but that's not why he collapsed and started bleeding. I need to ask you Hunter, did you and Jeremy have sexual activity recently?"
I knew what that line of questioning meant; every gay person knows what it means. "No, we never had sex. Are you going to need a list of his sexual partners?"
She nodded, "I didn't want to ask this question in front of Mrs. Langford and I knew the answer, but wanted to confirm. Jeremy is not your charge; don't feel like it was your fault."
I shook my head, "He was clean about 2 months ago, I think you will find a HIV test on his record. This happened rapidly, so it must be a rare subtype, perhaps one of the "P" types. If you send a blood sample to..."
My mother placed her firm hand on my shoulder, "You don't need to analyze this in your head, I checked his records before I came here and asked for an immediate test of his blood for all known HIV types. Something is going on, I won't ask and I won't speak about it. I can guess half of it and I can assume the rest based on everything I've heard from Myrlin down in IT and the database entries that were compromised. Don't take this as your personal responsibility Hunter."
At that moment, I didn't care how much my mother knew or how much she guessed, but all I could really concentrate on was Jeremy. All the rumors I had received from Benji and Kevin were laid out before me; how could I have been so stupid. Right now, these people must be launching a new cyber campaign, revealing his HIV status, and making a mockery of his life. This was my friend, my figurative older brother. I let them tear into him. The infection didn't just happen overnight, it must have been placed there less than a month ago. The fastest rate of HIV infections have been recorded in African strains in places like Nigeria, where "good" Christian missionaries operate free clinics, including C.I.S.S affiliates, and their government has the death penalty for homosexuals. With poor international tracking, anyone can go under the guise of medical assistance and take samples back to the US without major issue.
It usually takes 2-4 weeks for HIV to manifest into Acute Retroviral Syndrome or ARS, but a compromised immune system with co-infections from other viruses like Herpes or bacteria can speed up the process even further. The bleeding is probably a result of the co-infection interacting with the HIV. According to studies, AIDS could be developed by the infected person within a year under such negative conditions, which I am guessing was the ultimate aim as a perfect silent weapon. I had done a modelling program to show the progression of HIV viral replication in human cells for a friend of my mom, who works at the World Health Organization. I can't believe I missed this.
When I started to investigate the attacks and began this fight, I knew they had started to crack into Jeremy's accounts. At that point, I knew he was a target, and I knew they would resort to any means necessary to destroy a target. I should have thought about HIV infection, it's the most simple and in their eyes probably the most divine solution to homosexuality. I've been so happy about taking down one link in their massive social network, but I ignored an obvious point of attack.
Benji, Kevin, Jeremy, and even Jesse are wrong, I am no leader; I failed in the most dramatic way possible at my goals.
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