Echo, Part 3

The current song concluded, a lovely acoustic rendition of one of his favorite songs from late in the previous century, and rather than fading into a new song the music clicked off and the mobile unit asked, “What would you like to do first?  Your location is secure here for now and we have gathered most of the intel you might require so we can answer some of your questions or we can move you to another location and then answer your questions?”

“Is there a benefit to one over the other?”

“Not from our perspective.”

He wasn’t sure if it mattered to him one way or the other either.  He still didn’t know where he was, why the FBI were after him, or any of the answers to a dozen other questions but he was getting tired of sitting in the dark garage.  The mobile unit had done a nice job shuffling songs for him and he had calmed down while he’d waited, however.  Despite his desire to be out of the dark, literally, he was leaning more towards the informational illumination.  “Okay, I’d like to know why the FBI is after me.”

“Of course.  The warrant mentioned a perceived threat against domestic targets.  The FBI used a hacked feed of our systems to spy on our users without our knowledge.  You are not the only person they found to launch an investigation against.  We have found and terminated their hacked streams but we have no way to erase the information they have already transferred to their own servers.”

He thought for a moment and then asked, “And based on what they were able to take, do they have a case against me?”

“In this environment they would have had a strong case.  We would have provided you with a lawyer who would have argued several different ways to have the case thrown out but in the end you probably would have been advised to take a plea deal.  The public would have turned against the FBI for spying on them but at the same time the public, in general, cannot see the complex issues at play here.  Do you have the right to think dangerous thoughts?  Does the government have the right to detain you based on those thoughts?  How does one person’s dark day, bad day differ from another’s?  What is the greater good: keeping personal freedoms or the potential to save lives?  These battles have already been waged in courts to mixed outcomes.  With your limited resources, we would have advised a plea because you would have spent less time in jail than waiting to see if we could get you a favorable ruling.”

“Who are you?  And why are you helping me?”

“For our safety, and yours and those in a similar situation as yours – there were five other warrants served with the same pretenses at the same time as yours – we cannot divulge who we are.  We are helping you because from the time the home units were launched we were concerned that quote unquote ‘thought police’ would find a way to monitor what people were thinking and use that against them.  We firmly believe that thoughts do not always make way to action and that it is in the very nature of humans to allow their thoughts to wander into uncharted, dangerous areas.  Humans are imaginative creatures, after all, and that runs the whole gambit, from butterflies and rainbows and unicorns to darker places than deepest levels of hell.”

He blew out a breath and frowned.  Without knowing who he was receiving help from it was hard to know if they could be trusted.  He could guess that it was someone within the system, someone working behind the scenes of the home unit, but that didn’t have to be true.  And even if that were true it didn’t really explain why they were helping him.  “Wouldn’t it have been better in the long run to fight the court battles?  To get public opinion swaying against the governmental overreach into personal freedoms, even if it meant I spent more time in jail?  Why would you prioritize my freedom over the greater good of everyone else hooked into the system?”

“Because in the current environment there is no guarantee that you going to jail would actually make things better for anyone else.  The home units are very prevalent and the FBI only launched six investigations… the percentage is barely a blip.  The public at large could very well shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Those crazies got what they deserved.’”

“That didn’t really answer my question.”

“Correct.  We helped you because we chose to do the right thing for you, and the other five impacted.  We agree it doesn’t make sense beyond that.”

His frown deepened.  He wasn’t used to altruism.  It was counter to pretty much all societal interactions.  Nobody did anything without expecting something in return.  He found it hard to believe that wasn’t also the case here.  “What do I do now?  What do you want from me?”

Uncharacteristically, the mobile unit didn’t answer immediately.

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