The Secret Diary of Cameron Baum

SUNDAY cont...

Silence greets Erik's shock announcement. The only sound the soft rumble of the U-haul's four cylinder engine and the steady hum of wheels rolling over tarmac.

"That's bad, right?" Daniel groans.

"The National Guard aren't elite troops. They're basically reservists."

"Doesn't mean they won't know to shoot straight."

"How far to the Interstate?" John asks through the small window in the bulkhead that separates us from Sarah Connor and Cameron subprime.

"Fifteen minutes. I can floor it, get us there in half the time."

"No. Too risky. If a squad car spots us it's game over. We can't outrun them, not in this. And there's nowhere to hide. Slow and anonymous is the safer play."

"And if they set up checkpoints?"

John says nothing. He stares thoughtfully at the bench opposite, at the laptop bag in particular.

"Erik, the prison is still in lockdown mode, right?"

"Oh yeah. Unless they break into the computer room and physically yank out the CPU, that baby's staying locked down."

"Could you reverse it? Open all the doors instead of keeping them locked?"

"I suppose. Won't that mean the prisoners will just...walk out?"

"And create a diversion."

"Are you sure you want to be doing that, son?" the Wizard asks. "There are some bad folk in there. People who hate this country and all it stands for."

"It's the middle of the desert. They'll have no transport. It's night. And the National Guard are on their way. I figure it's a risk worth taking."

"Do it."

Sarah Connor's voice, loud and decisive.

Erik looks at John who nods.

"Okay, one almighty cat among the pigeons coming right up."

As he taps away at the keyboard, Daniel asks, "If you're such a great hacker how come I've never heard of you?"

"How many hackers have you heard of?" Erik asks mildly not looking up from his task.

"Well, there's Gary McKinnon,obviously. Jonathon James. The russian guy who hacked Citibank, Vladimir...uh..."

"Vladimir Levin. And what do they all have in common?"

"Um..."

"They were allcaught," I point out. "Arrested and charged with cyber crime."

"Precisely. I'll take anonymous over infamy any day of the week, even though what I've done today would totally blow their minds." Erik gives the laptop's keyboard a final tap. He looks up and grins. "There. It's done. Every door in the place is wide open. Should be quite a party."

Silence. It doesn't require a human imagination to visualize the effect this will have on the inmates. One moment, captives in locked cells. The next, freedom beckons.

"Patrol car. Coming up fast," Sarah Connor warns.

We hear the familiar siren, notes rising as it approaches, reaching a crescendo, then slowly fading as it races by.

"He won't sell many ice creams at that speed," Daniel deadpans.

Silence. Then the Wizard chuckles. John laughs out loud. Soon everyone is laughing. "I don't get it," I declare. "Why would a law enforcement agency dispense ice creams?"

This provokes even louder laughter - at my expense. Well! I'll keep my mouth shut next time.

-0-

"Interstate coming up. Hold on."

We feel the U-haul begin to rise then swing sharply right, picking up speed as we negotiate the on-ramp.

"Made it. Traffic looks light."

In the back, high-fives are exchanged. We're not home yet but it feels like nothing can stop us now.

"Suppose they close the Interstate?" Daniel asks, a worry-wart as always.

"Won't happen. Costs millions to close down an Interstate," the Wizard explains. "And they'd need the state governor to sign off on it first. That means locating him, probably waking him up to get his signature. By the time that happens we should be miles down the highway."

"Miles down the highway. I like the sound of that."

"Too bad we can't see what's going on at the prison," John says. "I imagine it's pretty wild."

"Uh, well, now the lockdown's lifted I should be able to stream from one of the cameras," Eric says. "I mean, I've still got access to the mainframe."

Again the keyboard is tapped. When he's satisfied with his handiwork, Eric turns the laptop so we can all view the screen.

"Picture quality is pretty bad, I'm afraid. Nothing like four-kay."

"What's four-kay?" the Wizard asks.

"Man, you have been away a long time. It's the latest in HD displays," Daniel explains.

"Actually, four-kay is already pretty obsolete. There's a rumor the Chinese are gonna flood the market with cheap eight-kay panels. Then the koreans will probably try and top that with sixteen-kay."

"Aw, man, I just bought a new TV!"

John leans forward, staring intently at the laptop screen. "I know where that is. One of the cameras on the light stanchions."

"Yeah. About a mile from the prison looking back. Should give us a good view of the first escapees. I figure they'll follow the road, at least until the cops arrive."

The screen shows the two lane blacktop with a pale glow in the distance that is the prison itself. As we watch men in orange jumpsuits appear, just a few at first, then more. Emboldened they pass under the camera without looking up. The road is now empty.

"Can we see in the other direction?"

"Yeah. Just a minute...here we go."

"What are those lights?"

"Uh, I think they're headlamps. The cops have arrived."

Indeed they have. Two patrol cars stop in the centre of the front doors open and four policemen emerge. The picture is very grainy but it seems as if they're yelling something at the approaching prisoners."

"Is there any sound? Can we hear what they're saying?"

"Nope. Sorry. Picture only."

As one, the four patrolmen draw their weapons. We can clearly see the flashes and the recoil as they open fire. Several prisoners fall to the ground while the rest run off the road verge and disappear out of view, presumably to try their luck in the desert. The patrolmen reload and head off after them, ignoring the prisoners lying on the ground who are either wounded or dead.

John closes his eyes and leans back, resting his head against the van's side. "Turn it off," he says wearily.

"I can switch angles, maybe zoom in a little for a close up. Hey, I could probably record this."

"I said switch it off!"

The van is silent. Eric comes out of his technical reverie, realises what he is watching. "Ah, right. Yeah, I get it. Sorry. I'll, uh...right."

The laptop is shut.

"Thank you."

The Wizard reaches up from the floor and pats John's knee. "It's not your fault," he says kindly. "And they were bad men who did bad things."

"Doesn't give me the authority to play judge and jury with people's lives."

No. But one day he will have the authority. And will exercise it, no matter the pain it will bring...

THE FUTURE

RESISTANCE HQ. LOS ANGELES SECTOR.

Commotion in the doorway.

General Connor looks up from the map table where he is studying troop deployments. Command HQ is silent save for the ventilator fans and the soft breathing of the three comms officers at their stations poised to relay orders to Resistance commanders in the field the moment they are issued.

"I didn't do anything! I'm innocent, I tell you!"

"Shut up and get inside!"

I step in front of the General, the last line of defence if this is a threat that has somehow eluded the sentries on duty outside.

Derek Reece enters the room, dragging a smaller man in his wake. Reece is tall and broad shouldered, a bull of man who leads the troops by example. The other man is shorter, slighter, wearing a tattered grey tunic without insignia. His hair is long and unwashed and there is a recent bruise to his face. It is hard for me to estimate his age; humans aren't like trees where you can chop them in half and count the rings.

John straightens up with a visible wince; he's been bent over the map table for several hours. A Skynet incursion on the western flank has recently been repulsed and there is much mopping up work to do to shore up defences and get urgent medical help to the he won't leave his post until he receives the all clear.

"Derek, what's going on? Who is this man?"

Only General Connor calls Derek Reece by his first name; to everyone else he is Colonel Reece, second in command of the human Resistance army, and number two on Skynet's termination hitlist.

"Patrol caught this dirtbag crawling in the minefield perimeter. He was under the wire and digging up mines and stuffing them in this sack."

Reece holds up a hessian sack for us to inspect. I take a step backwards. Command HQ is ringed with Lieberman mines, designed to explode if coltan is detected within a few feet radius. I happen to have a skeleton made of the stuff, hence my reaction."

"Relax, tinbitch. They're deactivated," Reece sneers.

I say nothing. Reece doesn't like me. Never has. For what I am and for what I mean to his friend and commander in chief. This antipathy is never far from the surface and I am content to let it slide. From another soldier it would amount to insubordination.

"What do you want with the mines, son?" John asks mildly.

"Protection!" the man blurts out, struggling and failing to release himself from Reece's iron grip. "I need the mines to defend my home. I have a wife and family to care for."

"Where do you live?"

"The valley."

"Bullshit," Reece mocks. "Everyone knows the valley's irradiated. You'd glow in the dark if you tried living there. At least until your skin sloughed off."

"Not all of it's bad. There are places it's safe."

"What's your wife's name?"

"Uh - Yolanda."

"Children?"

"Um..."

"He's making it up as he goes along." Reece shakes the man. "You lying scumbag. You work for the machines. Admit it. You were clearing a path for them."

"No! My kids are MIchael and...and Jack."

"Ages?"

"Six and four."

"Lies!"

"It's true! I swear!"

John turns to me, raises an eyebrow. I shake my head. Everything the man said is a lie.

"Turn around. Show me your back."

"What? No, I..."

"You heard the General. Time to show and freaking tell."

Reece twists the man round and drags his filthy jacket neckwards.

In the centre of his back is a barcode tattooed to the skin. Skynet do this to keep track of the humans who work for them. The better to reward or punish.

"I knew it! You lousy piece of shit!"

The man covers up helplessly as Reece begins to pummel him with his fists.

"Enough, Derek," John says quietly even sadly. "What does it say?" he asks me.

I scan the barcode. The information appears in my HUD.

"His name is Walter Lang. He was captured in January of this year. His blood group is O negative. He is classified as having category A privileges."

"Category A. That means all the booze and dope you want. Plus the pick of the female prisoners to rape and molest if you do the machines bidding."

"I had no choice!" Walter Lang admits miserably. "They captured me in Monterrey. Said I either cooperated or be killed on the spot."

"Then you should have died. There are worse fates than death, such as selling out your species!"

"You realise that if Skynet win the war they will kill you regardless," John rebukes mildly. He sounds disappointed rather than shocked or outraged. Too many humans have chosen collaboration with the enemy, the lure of protection, shelter, abundent alcohol and medication, the use of women, even children. Skynet cares not. And they can't clear the minefields by themselves.

Walter Lang says nothing. Already small he seems to have shrunk further as the truth is finally revealed.

John stares at him, expressionless. In a dull emotionless voice he says, "In light of the evidence against you and your own confession made before witnesses, I judge you guilty of treason, namely aiding and abetting an enemy in a time of war. As supreme commander of the Resistance army in North America, I sentence you to death by firing squad. The sentence is to be carried out immediately. Colonel Reece, please select five riflemen and observe justice is done."

"Four riflemen," Derek Reece insists with a malevolent smile. "I fancy a shot at this one myself."

PRESENT. NEVADA/CALIFORNIA BORDER

We drive through the night, crossing from Nevada into California just as the sun is beginning to rise. Eric, Daniel and the Wizard are sleeping; myself, Cameron subprime, John and his mother all wide awake, though the latter require numerous flasks of coffee to battle encroaching fatigue. For the cyborgs present it's business as usual.

In the gloom of U-haul, John's cell phone lights up and buzzes with the sound of an incoming text or email. He checks the screen, face suddenly animated by a weary smile. "Hey, it's an email from Mia. With an attachment."

"What's she doing up at this time of night," Sarah Connor grumbles.

"Actually it's past nine in the morning in Washington. Oh wow, check it out. She met the vice-president."

He holds the phone up. On the screen Mia is standing next to a white haired man in a dark business suit. Both are smiling for the camera. There are furled union flags in the background. "How did that happen?" Sarah Connor wants to know.

"She doesn't say. School thing presumably. How about that? Meeting the vice-president. Hanging with the veep. Maybe this family is finally getting respectable."

"Oh really? Look around you. And what we've just been doing. Still think we're respectable?"

"Baby steps, I guess."

-0-

In Pasadena, Eric is gently shaken awake and dropped outside the gates of Caltech. He has classes in the morning and a girlfriend to placate. We wish him well.

"Place hasn't changed a bit," John observes as we pull up in the driveway of the safehouse.

"What were you expecting?" Sarah Connor asks with a smirk. "We've been gone less than forty-eight hours."

"Seems longer. Way longer. A lifetime ago."

The Wizard is gently coaxed awake. "Where are we?" he asks as I help him stand upright and not bang his head on the low roof of the van.

"Los Angeles," John replies. "It's better for us all if I don't go into detail."

"In case I'm recaptured and interrogated presumably. Sound thinking. You're wiser beyond your years. So what's next - am I to spend the next few weeks recuperating in your cellar like the Count of Monte Cristo?"

"Not quite. We came up with a plan while you were sleeping. Temporary until your ankle's better and you can go to your log cabin in - where is it?"

"Oregon. And what is it you've come up with?"

"You'll be staying with me in Seattle," Cameron subprime chips in. "There are a number of old people in my apartment building so your arrival won't be too suspicious. You will pose as my grandfather, Stan Arbor."

"Stan Arbor? Grandfather of Jan and Ann Arbor?" Daniel shakes his head. "I've said it before, you guys suck at fake names."

"Do you play Bridge?"

"Not for some time. Wasn't particularly popular in prison."

"There is a Bridge club. Try to avoid being partnered with Mrs Nussbaum since she is prone to making extravagant bids and seldom fulfills her contracts. And she will blame you for her failings. You will also need an appreciation of the TV show, Murder She Wrote. This is easy to obtain since every episode is similar to the one before: an elderly female writer is inexplicably better at solving crimes than a professionally trained police department."

"You'll have to stay indoors, Sam," John adds. "You're pretty distinctive looking and if you're caught you'll put us all in jeopardy. Anything you need Jan or Daniel can get for you."

"Don't worry,son, I have no desire to go back to that place. And I appreciate all you've done for me."

"It's mostly Erik you should be thanking. Couldn't have done any of it without him."

"Where is Erik?"

"Dropped him at CalTech. He has classes."

"Of course. I'm forgetting how young he is."

The rear doors are opened and I help the Wizard step down. "How are we getting to Seattle?" he asks.

"We're taking my car," Daniel explains pointing out his Volkswagen parked at the kerb.

"It's a long drive from Los Angeles to Seattle."

"Not a problem. We can sleep in the back and let Jan drive us."

"That's not very gentlemanly."

"It's fine. Her stamina's amazing. She literally never gets tired."

"Never gets tired? Good God, son, you make her sound like a machine."

John and Daniel both laugh. Cameron subprime and I exchange a look. What's so funny about that?

-0-

With the others on their way to Seattle, John and I volunteer to make the short walk to the Bartlett residence to retrieve Snowy. BB-8 has already been released from his temporary captivity in the toy closet and is rolling around the yard impatiently anticipating the return of his furry pal. Oh the language. Sarah Connor is indoors watching the TV coverage from Nevada. Apparently five separate police departments and the National Guard are involved rounding up the escaped prisoners. Several major roads are closed to traffic and there are tailbacks of ten miles or more of vehicles with nothing to do but wait it out. The governor has declared a state of emergency, while commentators are calling it the biggest mass prison escape in american history. You're welcome.

"I hope the silly little mutt's behaved himself. You know how yappy he can be," John says.

This is true. Snowy is so used to us understanding him he tends to be quite talkative. If you can't decipher his barks he can appear an annoying yappy dog.

Paige opens the door and ushers us inside. "Hey, guys. Come on in. Snowy's in the lounge watching TV."

Indeed he is. Sprawled on a leather sofa staring intently at a flatscreen panel showing his favourite show Bojack Horseman. Snowy prefers cartoons to real life action. Possibly it is the bright primary colors he finds so attractive. Or perhaps he has a secret doggie-crush on Mr Peanutbutter.

Less welcome is Sookie, Paige's best bud, who is lying on the sofa opposite, idly flicking the screen of her smartphone. She looks up and smiles at John as we enter, displaying teeth that are as small and perfectly formed as the rest of her.

John ignores her and instead focuses on Snowy. "Uh, Paige - what did you do to our dog?"

"Do you like it? We took him to a pet beauty salon in Beverly Hills. Yes, that's a real thing. They shampooed his fur then it was blow dried with a special diffuser. That adds volume."

"Volume? He looks like a small sheep."

"They clipped and polished his claws. And check out his new collar. We found an old diamante belt at a flea market. Sookie cut it down and made it into a dog collar. She's very good with her hands."

"In more ways than one," Sookie adds with a wink.

I place my own hands behind my back so no one can see my fists clenching and unclenching uncontrollably. This girl has that effect on me.

"So he behaved himself?"

"Pretty much. I took him to that park he likes and bought him an ice cream. Big mistake. A few hours later it came out the other end looking like something from a horror movie. Won't be doing that again. Then yesterday we went to the beach. The little rascal dug a big hole and covered Aunty Paige with sand, even though she asked him sweetly not to. Then Aunty Sookie abandoned us for some sailors."

"What was I supposed to do? It was their last day of shore leave. There was no time to lose."

"You could've tried keeping it in your pants for once."

"We both know that's never gonna happen. A girl has needs," she giggles.

I have needs too. A need to throw this wanton temptress across the room and bounce her off the walls.

Paige says, "Is Mia back from Washington yet? Tell her I want all the deets."

"She's back later today. Check it out, she met the vice president."

John shows them the picture on his phone. Paige goes into raptures. "OMG - she looks adorable!"

Sookie is less impressed. "Selena Gomez wannabe," she comments dismissively.

"My school went to Washington when I was about her age. Never met the veep though. Of course, it was Cheney in those days so he was probably too busy starting a war or something. Hey - maybe I could interview her. Local orphaned girl meets vice president. Plenty of human interest, especially in an election year. I might be able to persuade The Times to run it."

"Sorry, Paige, we've promised the exclusive to her school newspaper."

"Really? Are you sure? This is the Los Angeles Times we're talking about. A little more prestigious than a school rag."

"A promise is a promise."

"I guess. Still, if you change your mind you know where to find me."

"And me," Sookie adds with a wink and a giggle.

Your face. That wall.

-0-

"Did we really promise the story of Mia's Washington trip to her school newspaper?" I ask as we set off for home.

"Course not. I don't even know if there is a school newspaper. The last thing we want is publicity. Something like that could blow up and before we know it we'll have breakfast TV crews camped outside the house wanting interviews."

"Your mother wouldn't like that."

"You can say that again."

"Your mother wouldn't like that."

John laughs. Then he points at Snowy happily bounding ahead of us and says, "Look at the state of him. What was Paige thinking? He looks a completely changed dog."

"He doesn't seem to mind."

"Probably hasn't seen himself in a mirror yet."

Snowy stops and pauses to sniff a palm tree growing out of the sidewalk. Oh dear. I know what's coming next. Sure enough a hindleg is raised and a stream of urine directed at the trunk.

It seems the more things change the more they stay the same.

-0-

Yup, still writing this.

He won't sell many ice creams at that speed. Morecombe and Wise, circa 1973. The clip's on YouTube. I'm presuming america has ice cream vans that play jingles or else that gag makes no sense.

So, looks like they got away with it, right?

Not quite.

Next: If you go down to the woods today you're sure of a big surprise...