The Secret Diary of Cameron Baum

SATURDAY cont...

The Mustang accelerates smoothly through the gears, the powerful V8 enginepressing Daniel and I firmly back in our seats. "Wow, we're really moving," he observes. "I bet this could do the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs."

"Unlikely, given a parsec is actually a unit of-"

"I know, I know. Of distance not time."

When Erik's malware locked down the prison it also extinguished the lights that flank the road, meaning the sole illumination is the narrow cones of the Mustangs headlights. This only adds to the impression of speed. Of course, I don't actually need the headlights; my infra red capabilities mean I can see perfectly well in the pitch dark. Daniel lacks this facility. And since travelling this fast might well be disorienting, and taking into account his nervous bladder condition, I keep the headlights on. After all, these are calf leather seats...

The surface of the prison access road is smooth tarmac with little or no headwind to impede progress. The Mustang hits one hundred seventy miles and hour within the first mile. There is little to do but sit back and enjoy the ride.

Almost.

Red eyes. Low to the ground, picked out by the headlights. A fleeting impression of a squat body. Fur. Four legs. A tail. We are travelling so fast I couldn't avoid a collision even if I wanted to.

"Christ!"

The impact throws the creature up and back, sailing over the Mustang's hood and striking the windscreen a solid blow before being deflected behind to its inevitable doom.

"What the hell was that?"

I replay the moment, slowed down sufficiently to make an informed guess.

"Coyote."

"What the hell was it doing in the middle of the road?"

"Insufficient data."

"Is there any damage?"

I check the dashboard dials. "All systems appear nominal."

"I don't like the look of that windscreen."

Me neither. Cracks in the glass extend from the top right all the way to the middle. If the screen fails at this speed the vehicle's interior will become a wind tunnel. That much fast-rushing air will add volume to my hair making me resemble someone from the 1980s. I will look like Cyndi Lauper!

At the four mile mark the road begins to curve sharply right. Instead of braking or taking my foot off the gas I throw the Mustang into a power slide, my superior machine reflexes preventing the vehicle from a catastrophic spin out.

The G-forces throw Daniel against the centre console. "Holyshitholyshitholyshit!" he intones like a mantra. Is shit holy? It's extraordinary the deities humans will worship.

The road staightens out, rises then falls away. Briefly we become airborne, flying through the air for a dozen yards before landing, hard. The suspension takes the hit without complaint. Not so Daniel whose teeth snap together and he curses through the pain. It seems his God of shit wasn't receptive to his prayers.

"I see the prison!"

So do I. I wait to the last possible moment before stamping on the brakes. In the movies this would cause the wheels to lock, gouts of white smoke to issue from the wheel arches, and long streaks of burnt rubber left in our wake.

In real life the anti-locking braking system takes over and the Mustang glides smoothly to a halt a few yards shy of the gate with absolutely none of the above happening. On the whole I think I prefer the movies.

"Masks on."

We pull grey ski masks that have apertures cut for eyes and mouth. We look at each other. Daniel winks. "Suits you."

For real? Well, I won't be making it part of my regular wardrobe any time soon, that's for sure.

We exit the Mustang and find ourselves confronted by a dropdown barrier, now firmly locked in the down position. To one side is the guardhouse, a square brick building with a long window behind which two guards stare sullenly out at us. When the doors locked they were trapped inside their own mini prison within a prison.

"Don't look happy bunnies, do they," Daniel observes.

No. In their dark uniforms less happy bunnies than pissed off penguins.

"Where's red team? I thought the plan was for them to meet us here."

He's right; the plan calls for John and Erik to rendezvous here after they have freed the Wizard from captivity. Timing is extremely important. Has something gone awry?

I key the radio and say, "This is blue team. We are in position. Over."

"Good to hear from you, blue team. Having a few problems here." John's voice, controlled but with an unlying note of tension. "Our mutual friend fell off the ladder. Possible broken ankle. Plus there's one maybe two guards on the loose. Armed and dangerous. Probably outside taking a cigarette break when the place locked down. Find and neutralise. Over."

"Roger that. Find and neutralise."

I duck under the barrier and advance to the gate proper. This is thick chainlink over a sturdy metal frame that slides back and forth at the guard's command to permit access. With the power off it is a formidible unmoving obstacle.

Psych!

I reach out and part the chainlink like I am drawing back drapes. Formidible obstacle indeed! I must remember to tell that zinger to Cameron subprime.

I turn and motion Daniel through the gap I have made. In the guardhouse the two men stare at me their eyes wide with shock. One of them says something. It's too far to hear but I can lip read easily enough.

"...holy shit on a stick!"

Really? On a stick now? Incredible.

Daniel and I walk further into the prison. With the regular lights off the entire place is bathed in the red glow of the emergency lighting. "Man, this is spooky," Daniel says. "Looks like the whole place is bathed in blood."

"I like it."

"You would."

We pass a large fenced in area. Painted lines on tarmac. Two hoops suspended on metal frames. Weight benches complete with barbells. The exercise yard. Empty now and with no hiding places. I give it a cursory glance and move on.

Round a corner we encounter a line of parked vehicles. They're a mix of SUV and pickup truck, fairly typical for a large desert state like Nevada. No Prius here. There's probably a law against it.

"I don't see anyone."

Me neither. At least not in normal vision. In infra red it's a different matter. It's a chilly desert night and the warmth generated by a human body will show up as a white blob. Just like the one presently crouched down behind the largest of the SUVs.

"You behind the Escalade. Come out with your hands up and you will not be harmed."

The blob doesn't move, obviously believing it's a bluff.

I raise my pistol and fire the entire clip at the Escalade. The glass windows shatter, the tiny shards cascading down over the crouching blob.

"Final warning."

"Okay, okay! Don't shoot!"

The guard stands up with his hands raised. There's a holstered pistol at his waist. "Put the gun on the ground and kick it over here," I instruct.

"Ask him where the other guard is," Daniel suggests.

"Where's your colleague?" I ask.

"There's no one else. Just me. I was outside having a smoke when the lights went off and I couldn't get back inside."

It's hard to get a read on whether this is the truth or not. There is a great deal of strain apparent in his voice, though he is obviously extremely nervous about his own predicament and the fact that I am pointing a gun at him.

I bend down and pick up his weapon, a fairly standard snub-nosed revolver. I crush it in my hand so the barrel distorts rendering it useless and toss it aside. The guard's eyes bug wide with shock but he says nothing. No 'holy shit on a stick.' Perhaps he's an atheist.

"Lie on the ground," I order. I reach into my pocket and withdraw two plastic cuffs. "Secure his hands and feet," I instruct Daniel.

"You carry these around with you?" Daniel enquires as he bends to his task.

"You never know when someone might need restraining."

"Sounds kinky to me."

I rescan the other vehicles. No more white blobs. The yard ends with a high wall. No hiding place there. Possibly John was mistaken about the second guard. To be sure I walk along the line of vehicles shooting out the tyres.

Daniel watches and shakes his head sadly. "Man, if we ever get caught they're gonna throw the book at us."

Seriously? That's our punishment - hurled literature? A bullet to the head is punishment. A John Grisham paperback to the face, not so much.

Back at the entrance, a masked John and Erik are carefully inserting the Wizard into the back of the Mustang. The Wizard, aka Sam Clemens, is hard to miss even in the gloom. Over six feet tall with long white hair and matching bushy beard. With the orange jumpsuit he is wearing he seems almost luminous.

"What happened?" Daniel asks.

"Fell off the ladder. Said to wait until I came up and got him. Didn't listen," John replies curtly.

"I can climb down a damn ladder," The Wizard insists, voice muffled from inside the vehicle.

"Except you couldn't, could you. Twenty foot drop. It's lucky you didn't break your neck." John straightens up and gestures at the damaged windscreen. "What happened here?"

"We struck a coyote."

"Let's hope it's a lucky omen."

"Sure as hell wasn't for the coyote."

"How we doing for time?"

"Thirteen minutes behind schedule," Erik replies climbing in the rear of the Mustang beside Sam Clemens.

"Couldn't be helped. Let's-"

"Look out!"

I turn at Daniel's shouted warning. A man has just stepped through the gap in the gate. A man in uniform. The second guard. He has a gun in his hand. A gun pointing at John. I can see his finger tightening on the trigger. My weapon is in my holster. I will have to draw and turn and fire. There is no time. I'm too late. The guard will surely not miss at point blank range.

John will be shot.

John will die.

The future is lost.

Mankind is doomed.

BOOM!

The guard screams and drops his gun, clutching his leg as he falls to the ground.

Daniel.

Daniel in a crouched pose, holding his gun in both hands just like I taught him all those years ago. He fired the shot. Not the guard.

John is the first to react. He kicks the gun away then bends to examine the guard's leg. "Here. Let me see," he says gently.

"I need a medic!" the guard screams.

"It's a flesh wound. Didn't hit an artery. You got lucky. Maybe we both did."

He turns to me and says,"Get the first aid kit out the trunk."

"We're wasting more time," Erik gripes from the back of the Mustang.

"Shut up and sit tight."

John takes a bandage and presses it against the wound then wraps it with gauze. The guard screams and tries to wriggle away. "Stay still or you'll make it worse."

I say, "Shall I tie him up?"

"No. He's not going anywhere on that leg. Okay, everyone back in the car."

Daniel stands his ground, staring at the stricken guard writhing in pain just a few yards away.

"Hey, that means you, too. It's over. He's fine. Get in or stay and serve twenty to life."

Daniel chooses the former option. Good call.

-0-

Clutch in. Build the revs. Red line. Hold the handbrake. Twist the wheel. So...

The Mustang spins on its axis, a noxious cloud of white smoke issuing from the wheel arches. I floor the throttle. We exit the cloud of a smoke like a bat out of hell.

Nailed it. Just like the movies.

The Mustang is cramped with five people squeezed inside. It makes no difference to the performance however and we hurtle round the curve at one hundred fifty miles an hour.

Ahead of us is a set of headlights, approaching fast. Another vehicle. If we were to collide I estimate our impact speed to be in excess of two hundred miles per hour. Even my kind wouldn't survive unscathed from a crash of that magnitude, while the human passengers would be reduced to bloody pulp. Fortunate then that we both observe strict lane etiquette.

"Who the hell was that?" John asks as the other vehicle flashes past. "Was it the police?"

I replay the moment, slowed down so I can discern details.

"Green sedan. Two occupants. Both male."

"Could be guards arriving for their shift," Erik suggests.

"Should I turn around and neutralise them?"

"No. We've wasted enough time. Keep going."

This proves to be easier said than done. Barely a mile later two red warning lights begin to flash next to the speedo. There is a loud clunking sound from under the hood. Then a sudden catastrophic loss of power.

The Mustang coasts to a halt at the side of the road, smoke billowing out the radiator grille.

"What the hell happened?"

"We have lost all locomotive power."

"I can see that. How?"

"It is possible the coyote we struck damaged the radiator which lead to engine failure from overheating. I would need to examine the engine bay to make a more accurate assessment."

"No time for that. Everyone out."

The situation is not good. In fact, it is not far off being a disaster. Marooned deep in enemy territory. Hostiles in our rear. Miles from our rendezvous point. No way of knowing whether the alarm has already been raised and police and military forces are about to converge on our location.

In the gloom Erik clutches his laptop to his chest like it is a security blanket, looking every inch the callow student. Daniel is whey-faced and seeming like he really does need the bathroom. The Wizard balances precariously on his good leg, craggy face etched with pain. Only John seems calm, relaxed even, silently weighing up the options before issuing orders. I have seen this before, in the future, as a Resistance team in the field comes under sustained Skynet attack and only his calm measured orders, issued on the fly, prevent a panic that would otherwise cause the deaths of hundreds of the men under his command.

"Okay, we keep going on foot. How far are we from the main road?"

"Two miles."

"White team can divert and pick us up. Erik, take point. Holler if you see any more lights. Lieberman. help me carry Mr Clemens."

"It's Sam. And I can walk fine."

"You can't. And I'm in no mood to argue. It's carried or be left behind. Cameron, cover the rear. If the sedan shows up take it out. We can't let it pass us."

John opens the trunk of the Mustang and extracts the two Uzis we brought along for just such an emergency. He slings one across his back and tosses me the other. I catch it in mid-air. Two spare magazines follow. Caught and caught.

"Erik, what are you waiting for - a written invitation? Move!"

Erik takes off at walking pace.

"This isn't a stroll in the moonlight. Faster. Pick your feet up."

The King of Nerdz complies, breaking into a jog. He vanishes into the darkness.

John raises the radio to his mouth. "White team, can you hear me? Come in. Over."

Nothing but static.

"Must be out of range. Okay, let's go."

John and Daniel begin jogging, the Wizard held between them, cradled so his feet are off the ground. I turn and begin jogging backwards, recalibrating my motive functions so I can divert all my attention to the road behind.

It's empty. For now.

The Mustang recedes, headlights still on and radiating two beams of light into the night sky.

John calls a halt and keys the radio again. "White team, can you hear me? Come in. Over."

Static.

"Why aren't they answering?" Daniel demands.

"Out of range. They'll get here. Pick up his legs. We go again."

We travel another half mile. The Mustang is a distant glow. Then:

"Lights!" I yell.

"Want help?"

"I've got this."

"Good girl. Catch us up when it's done."

I stand my ground. John and Daniel's footfalls fade away. I bring the Uzi up to my shoulder, squint down the sight. It's a potent weapon though not as accurate as a rifle over long distances.

I wait.

Patience is a virtue.

It is also a programmable equation.

Close. Closer. I can make out the two men in the front seats. Their lights haven't picked me out yet. What happens next is going to be an unpleasant surprise for them.

I press the trigger.

The bullets spew out of the Uzi, tracer rounds show red and help focus my aim.

The front of the sedan suddenly looks like an invisible shark is biting chunks out of it. It lurches to the right and plunges off the tarmac into the desert, spinning a full three-sixty before coming to a stop.

Silence.

Small flashes erupt from the sedan. Return fire. Small arm rounds only. Most go above my head, sounding like noisy insects. A few spark off the ground mere yards from where I am standing. None hit their intended target. Me. For all the difference it would make.

I calmly load another magazine into the Uzi and rake the vehicle's chassis with rapidfire rounds. The muzzle glows red in the darkness. Nothing in return this time. Instead the offside doors open and two men emerge dragging a third after them.

The sedan's original occupants plus the guard Daniel shot. It's really not been a good day for him. Probably should have called in a sickie. Stay home. Put your feet up. Watch Netflix. Too late now. D'oh!

I load a third clip but hold my fire. The men are moving away from the road. There is nothing out there but desert. Their vehicle is a wreck. My work here is done.

I catch up with the others. John and Daniel are breathing heavily but maintaining their pace. Erik is nowhere to be seen.

"Everything okay?"

"Five by five."

"Good. Stop a second."

Daniel bends over at the waist, taking deep breaths. The Wizard stands on one leg, the other bent at the knee like one of those weird birds whose legs hinge backwards. John keys the radio. "White team, can you hear me? Come in. Over."

"This is white team. Go ahead."

"We hit car trouble. Need emergency extract ASAP. We've a man down."

"Are you alright?" Sarah Connor's voice, the anxiety palpable.

"I'm fine. What's your twenty?"

"Five minutes out."

"We're on foot about a mile from the main road."

"Any hostiles present?"

"Dealt with. Could be more coming."

"Roger that. We're on our way. Hang tight."

We begin jogging again. Daniel pants breathlessly, "If we get out of this I am seriously gonna get in shape."

"When we get out of this, you mean. And I'll hold you to that."

Erik appears out of nowhere, eyes wild. "Lights! I see lights coming!"

"Everyone off the road."

The desert offers little cover. John crouches beside me, points at the Uzi. "How many magazines left?"

"One."

He hands me one of his. "If it's bad guys aim for the wheels."

Erik's voice, the relief evident, yells. "It's the U-haul! It's them!"

It is indeed. The U-haul skids to a halt, the passenger side door opens, Cameron subprime leans out and says, "Come with me if you want to live!"

Well, I certainly didn't expect her to say that.

Psych! I totally did! It's what we always say in situations like Hollywood ever makes a movie about terminators they should put that bit in the trailer.

We pile in the back. John stands by the bulkhead separating the cabin and shouts through the small window. "We're in. Go! Go!"

The U-haul makes a tight turn then picks up speed. In three minutes we are back on the main highway.

Sarah Connor's face appears in the window. "Who's the man down?" she asks.

"That would be me, madam," the Wizard replies.

"It's Sarah."

"I'm Sam."

"How bad are you hurt, Sam?"

"I suspect my ankle is either broken or badly sprained."

"You'll have to tough it out. We can't risk a hospital."

"I am aware of my predicament, thank you. And the pain is certainly better than the alternative."

The interior of the U-haul has bench seats along either side. John and I sit one side, Daniel and Erik the other. The Wizard lies on the floor between us.

"Let's take a look at that ankle."

John retrieves another first aid kit and uses a pair of sharp scissors to carefully cut the pants leg. The ankle beneath is red and swollen. "Does it hurt?"

"Does the Pope shit in the woods?"

What an odd question. Surely the Pontiff would avail himself of the Vatican facilities, no need to go stumbling around in the woods like a wild animal.

A packet of painkillers is produced. The Wizard palms four pills and dry swallows them.

John hands Erik the radio handset. "Tune to the police frequency. Let me know when the proverbial hits the fan."

A large bag is dragged out from under the seats. Water bottles are handed out. Everyone drinks long and deep. Except me. And Daniel, who is staring off into space seemingly in a daze.

"Lieberman, you okay?"

"I shot someone. I'm not sure how."

"You aimed a gun and pulled the trigger," I explain helpfully. Firearms 101.

"That's just it. I didn't aim. I saw the guy had the drop on you. Cameron had her back to him. I just...reacted."

"And probably saved my life."

"Suppose I'd killed him."

"You didn't."

"I could have. I've never shot anyone before."

"You get used to it."

"You might even like it," I add.

"No. Not a chance."

"Listen, that guard'll have a month off work on full pay. A war story to tell his friends and a scar to show his grandkids. He'd probably thank you for shooting him."

"Come on."

"Bit much? Look, he'll be fine. You did what you were supposed to do. This was never a picnic. Get over it fast because we're not out of the woods yet."

Daniel nods and reaches for a water bottle. "Is that the same woods the Pope shits in?"

"Welcome back, buddy," John grins.

We've brought a fresh set of clothes for the Wizard to wear; a bright orange jumpsuit is a dead giveaway that you're an escaped prisoner, besides being a bit of a fashion faux-pas. "We didn't know your size so I hope this fits," John informs him.

Sam Clemens strips down to his boxers. There's not an ounce of fat on him. His pale white skin is marred by some livid purple bruises over his lower abdomen. "What happened there?" John asks.

"Little altercation in the mess hall with one of the Marxist idiots they had me locked up with. Spouted off about what the world needs today is a fresh dose of Chairman Mao's madness. Usually that shit just slides right off. This time it riled me and we had what you might call a frank exchange of opinion."

"I hope you got in a few licks of your own."

"That I did. I boxed a little in my youth. You never forget how to throw a jab, not when you're my size."

He pulls on a pair of grey jogging pants and a black hoodie. The hoodie is a perfect fit; the pants a little short. "Not going to be winning any fashion awards," he quips.

"I don't know. Some rappers wear their pants just like that."

"God save us."

"How far to the Interstate?" John asks the two in the front cabin.

"Twenty minutes."

"Your plan is to make a run for it?"

"That's the gist. If we can make the Interstate we'll just be part of the traffic. They never eyeballed this van and it's probably the last vehicle they'd suspect. It's gonna be touch and go because we lost a lot of time back there."

"And you're worried about a blockade."

"That and the airforce base a hundred miles from here. If they put a transport Chinook in the air quickly enough we could be facing a platoon of armed fully trained soldiers. Not great odds."

"You handled yourself very well back there. You knew what you were about and didn't take any backchat from anyone, especially an old fool like me. Ever had any army training yourself?"

"Nope. Can't say I have."

"Not yet," I add.

"What did you use to blow the wall of my cell - cee four?"

"Yeah. Shaped charge. Had to be or else..."

"I'd be in little pieces."

Erik looks up. "General alarm just went out. All units to the prison. And...shit!"

"And what?"

"They've called in the National Guard."

-0-

For all you Admiral Ackbars out there, it wasn't a trap. Sometimes shit just happens - ask the coyote.

COYOTE: Tell me about it. I nail the audition. The producer says it's a small role but vital to the plot. Next I'm getting run over by a freaking Mustang! I should never have said I do all my own stunts. Boy,is my face red! Literally. I'm absolutely covered in blood. I'm ready for my close up, Mr DeMille. I hope you like roadkill.