The More Things Change...
“I just got off the secure-phone with our contact on the outside. It sounds like Rick isn't at all happy with you, you know,” said Mr. Landis. “Neither, for that matter, is Dillon. Or your foster parents.”
He had just finished up a secure-phone conversation with someone outside the Protectorate. As usual, I wasn't privy to who.
“You got a message from my brother Ricky?” I asked.
Mr. Landis nodded. “He's pretty upset, actually. He thinks we all should have done what we planned to do in the first place. Just get you out of here. No matter what you said.”
I crossed my arms and looked at him defiantly. “Well, tough! We need to help those people first.”
Mr. Landis laughed. “That's what I said you'd say. So you know what he said? He said, 'Yeah, that figures. That's my big brother for you.' He even sounded proud! I can't get over that 'big brother' thing, coming from him.”
“You talked to him?! Ricky? You talked to him yourself?”
Mr. Landis looked suddenly embarrassed. And uncomfortable. “Uh, crap. I'm still not very good at this clandestine stuff, am I? Yes, I talked to him.”
“What about Dillon? And Mom and Dad M?” I was excited.
“No, I didn't talk to them. They're awfully busy right now, you know.”
“Busy?” I asked. “Doing what?”
Again, he looked somewhat embarrassed. “No, Jeffrey. No more information. You know too much already. If you were to be captured, you'd already put a few people in danger. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?”
I felt bad. My nosiness could cost people their freedom, or even their lives. I shut up.
“There's news though, Jeffrey. We're on for tomorrow. It's a go,” said Mr. Landis.
Now I was excited all over again. Not to mention nervous.
Tomorrow was the day. The day we'd bust open that stupid slave-prison and teach those Protectorate fuckers a lesson.
I least I hoped it would turn out that way.
The thing was, I was frustrated with the plan. Mostly because, except for my little part in it, I really didn't know what the plan was.
Okay, I understood the reasons. I had learned that much about this whole underground thing. Honestly, I don't think they even would have included me if they didn't know full well that I'd be there either way.
So, my little part of the plan. And Sam's. It was a huge risk. A risk that almost everyone didn't want to take, because, if everything went badly, they would lose what they said was their biggest asset.
They meant me.
I still was pissed at them all for thinking of me that way, but I had grudgingly learned to just go with it. At least until this was all over and I was out of here and I could tell everyone how stupid it was. They all seemed to think I was being noble. Even my brother Ricky from the sounds of it. They didn't get it. I don't know how to be noble. I just wanted to be able to sleep at night. To stop feeling like I'd messed up. To alleviate my responsibility towards all those people.
I tried to explain all this to Mrs. Landis. But she just patted my arm and said with a gentle smile, “That's very noble of you, Jeffrey.” Then she walked away.
Whatever. Maybe they'd figure it out eventually.
All I knew about the whole plan was that, at exactly 8:08 AM, when the prisoners were all eating breakfast, and half the guards were down there and the other half patrolling, Sam and I were going to show up at the front door.
See, we were the distraction. For whatever else was going to happen at the same time.
We had a bit of intelligence since our breakout, thanks to some workers who were called in to install the new security features. A couple of them were on our side. Aside from the new surveillance stuff there were a whole bunch of new procedures for the guards. Now there were ten instead of six in the mess hall during meals. During breakfast, those not directly working with the prisoners would be patrolling the facility. Each had a portable vid screen to directly monitor the prisoners too. Their numbers had been increased as well.
Sam and I were to arrive, both disguised, and attempt to inquire about available spots in their “untangling facility,” supposedly for our great-grandmother, who we would insist was losing her mind, comparing conditions now to when she was little girl living in Libya.
We didn't expect that to work. In fact, the plan was kind of centered around the idea that it wouldn't work.
Sam was going to be in drag, and me, well, I was going to just have my hair a different style, weird clothes, and enough plastic make-up to try and slightly change my features.
The idea was, they would figure out there was something fishy almost right away. At least a half dozen guards would hopefully be involved in dealing with us.
I knew that a quick DNA test would happen, and we would then be whisked back into confinement.
But, in theory, before that could happen, the place would be finished. For good.
Again I didn't know the details, but the prisoners, along with Sam and myself, were to be transported out of there and finally across the border into Tennessee.
That's all we knew though. The details of how all this was going to happen we were not privy to.
The risks were obvious. That Sam, and me for that matter, would be re-captured, that the plan would fail and the Protectorate would know of an organized underground working against them. And they would have nothing positive to show for it.
To ensure that didn't happen, Mr. Landis told me, there were back up plans upon back up plans. Even if everything went sour, Sam and I would get out.
I don't know how they could be so certain. But at this point, I just needed to trust them.
After all, they wouldn't even be doing this if it weren't for my insistence. And my absolute stubbornness. The least I could do was to be willing to suck it up, take the risk, and trust them to do their jobs.
Since they had decided to do this however, they decided to do it in a big way. It was to be their first big, obvious, and very public demonstration.
It was, to be clear, the Underground's big coming out party. And they planned to come out with a bang. They wanted the people in the Protectorate, and the rest of the world, to know they meant business. More importantly, they wanted the Protectorate to begin to feel some pressure. Both from outside and now from inside their own borders. It was a very important operation. So the planning and resources placed into it were apparently quite something.
So that's how, at 8:06 the next morning, Sam and I were walking towards the place I never wanted to see the inside of again.
Sam was the better actor, and his disguise was better, so once we arrived at the front gate we stood in front of the vid screen and Sam pressed the button.
A face appeared and Sam began his spiel about our poor, mixed up great-grandmother.
The guard's face told us immediately that he wasn't buying it. While he was still talking to Sam another guard appeared from the building and began walking towards the gate, and us.
So far, that was two guards involved in our distraction. The plan was that we needed at least four, preferably more, for a go.
I had a tiny transmitter, it just emitted a beep on a pre-set frequency, which would signal when we had four or more guards committed. That was the go-signal. I was told to activate it and then we were to stay where we were, and find a bit of shelter if possible. No heroics. Things would happen very, very quickly.
If the button was not pressed by 8:12 the first back-up plan was to be initiated, the one designed to rescue Sam and me. If we hadn't pressed the button by then it probably meant we were being detained or otherwise needed to be rescued.
Two quick presses before 8:12 meant to wait another two minutes. I was to do that if things were proceeding according to plan, but taking slightly longer than anticipated.
The final possibility was that they would either not let us in at all, just tell us to go away, or they would let us in and almost immediately kick us out. We didn't have to do anything in that case. Others would be watching and make a decision about what to do in that eventuality.
The guard arrived at the gate and peered at us.
I began to sweat and felt a tremble start to creep up on me. I tried to fight it down. We needed more time, and more people involved.
The vid screen at the gate went blank and the guard thumbed open the gate and looked at us.
“I think you'd better come in here. We're going to need a few more details about your grandmother,” he said.
He turned and began walking towards the building. Sam and I looked at each either, walked through the gate and into the building.
The gate, and then the door to the building, closed and locked behind us.
Once again, we were prisoners.
We were brought into the office I had spent only a few minutes in once before, on my first day here. This time the chair behind the desk was empty. The guard motioned towards the two wooden chairs in front of the desk, and we sat.
The same man in the cheap suit that I had briefly met on the first day came into the office and sat down. Two guards were also in the room, one behind each of us, and I could hear a third person in the hallway outside the door. I was unsure if it was a guard. If so, we had three. If not, well, I'd just have to wait.
“Now,” the cheap suited man said, “tell me about your great-grandmother.”
I remained silent. I couldn't act and I knew if I tried to talk my voice would crack. Sam started in once again with the same story.
The man was nodding, but his face told me everything I needed to know.
When Sam stopped talking he said, “I'm just going to have you wait in our reception area while I start the paperwork. Go with those men please.” He then nodded to the guards behind us.
We stood. One guard walked ahead of us, and the other behind. I knew he must have had his stun gun trained on us.
We were walking towards the medical exam room. The mentally blocked doctor, looking much worse for wear I noticed, was in the room standing absolutely still. A third guard was there as well.
Once in the room I knew there would be no further need for more manpower.
We needed to involve someone else. At least one more guard. But how?
Just before we walked into the room I stopped suddenly, turning towards Sam. “Oh crap. We were supposed to tell Mom when we got here, weren't we?” I said to Sam.
Sam looked at me. He showed a flash of uncertainty and then played along. “I think she wanted to meet us here, she had some questions too,” he said, still in character with his slightly higher pitched voice.
I turned to the back guard, using the opportunity to look around. “Excuse me, Sir, can I make a call from somewhere? I forgot my phone at home.” I pretended to be looking around for a vidphone. There were two guards in the room now, the one who was leading us and the one who was there when we arrived. The trailing guard was still behind us and in the hallway. He was the one I addressed.
The guard answered, “I think you'd better wait in here.” He motioned into the room. His hand was on the butt of his stun pistol, but he hadn't removed it from its holster yet. He was looking decidedly suspicious. Only one of the three guards I recognized. The other two must have been new. The one I recognized was studying us closely.
Dammit, we needed one more. And we were out of time.
I decided to go for broke.
“It won't work you know,” I said to the trailing guard, still not moving.
He looked at me. “What won't?”
“It's already too late. You're done. You're going to be on the floor in just a few seconds.”
Maybe they had learned something. He didn't even bother answering. He just pressed a button on his belt and then raised his stun gun towards us. I heard feet running. At least two people.
That would have to do.
Just as I saw his finger tighten on the trigger my pocketed hand pressed the button once, hard, on the transmitter.
Sam and I then slumped to the floor, stunned.
And all hell broke loose.
I immediately understood the purpose of the distraction Sam and I provided. And why it was so important to have as many people as possible close to us when I pressed the transmitter button. Sam's pocket computer, unbeknownst to us, turned out not to be a pocket computer.
It was a stun grenade.
If we weren't stunned already, we most certainly would have been a second later. When it went off, everyone within a thirty meter radius was immediately rendered powerless. From where I was lying I couldn't see into the room behind me, but I surmised the two guards there and the doctor were down. The guard who had stunned me was down in front of me, as were the two who had been running towards us.
That made five.
Several very loud noises let us know that a lot was happening nearby. It was impossible to tell what. I heard breaking glass, running, a few shouts, some loud bangs and crashes, and what sounded like a physical struggle between two large men.
Several minutes passed while Sam and I, and the guards, remained stunned where we were. The noises began to recede. It was impossible to tell which side was winning, or even exactly what was happening.
I'm not sure why it happened so quickly, maybe I was beginning to get used to the stuns after so many, but I started to feel the slight burning in my arms and legs that let me know I would regain control of them in another minute or so. I saw one of the guards begin to twitch as well, though the others still didn't move. Neither did Sam.
Seeing the guard move, I began to panic, and fought hard to get some control back. The guard began to move his arms purposefully, and then pushed a leg underneath him and rolled over onto his front. I could hear him swearing under his breath. He was almost back in control.
Sam, unmoving, was still holding the stun grenade in his left hand. When it began buzzing, after I pressed the transmitter button, he had pulled it out of his pocket. Just a second before it went off.
The guard pushed himself to his feet, still leaning on one wall. I could see him look around, and then see Sam lying there, and subsequently recognize the source of the problem. The stun grenade still glowing faintly in Sam's hand.
The guard's face took on an ugly expression. I saw him shift his gaze from Sam's hand to his sweet face. The guard brought his foot back in preparation of a kick that I knew would, at a minimum, do serious damage.
I managed to gain control of my voice. “No!” I yelled.
The guard's foot stopped at the apex of its backwards swing and his head swiveled to look at me. The expression was now even uglier.
“I know who you are,” he said. His voice perfectly matched his expression.
I saw him briefly look around for his fallen stun gun. He didn't see it immediately, and I knew, I just knew by the flicker in his eyes that he had made a decision. He was going to do it the old fashioned way.
He outweighed me by a good hundred pounds, and aside from my recently acquired skill with folding metal chairs, of which there was a distinct absence in the vicinity, I had no fighting skills whatsoever.
Just as I struggled back to my own feet he began to run at me. The way he held his arms up and in front of him let me know his intentions. I'm not sure if it was due to his own inexperience in physical fights, or for some other reason, but it looked like his intention was not to punch, or kick, or any such thing. He was going to tackle me. It looked like his plan was to use his speed and weight to hit me around chest height, wrap me up, and bring me down hard onto the floor. I'm not sure if he intended to try and restrain me at that point, or beat me, or what. Maybe he wasn't thinking that far ahead. But, it did give me an opening.
I dove forward and down. Low. Underneath his arms and directly towards his knees.
I could see Sam and the other guards begin to twitch. The first signs of their own stuns beginning to wear off.
My shoulder hit the guard's knees painfully as his arms attempted to correct for my new trajectory and grab my waist. That meant he was now leaned over, changing his centre of gravity. My momentum carried me forward another several inches and I landed hard on the floor. As my arms were still wrapped around the guard's legs, my eye and cheek impacted the floor tiles painfully. I knew from the way my cheekbone hit I was going to have a huge black eye later.
The guard continued to fall above me. I had let go when I hit the ground, and his feet were now on my back as he fell hard onto my lower body and legs. We both rolled, me to my left and the guard to his right so that we were on our backs, legs entangled.
I put my arms down and began pushing myself up as the guard did the same. One of the other guards was now moving and he began attempting to get his feet under him. From the noise behind me Sam was doing much the same.
At that moment two people, a man and a woman, both wearing gray coveralls and brandishing seriously powerful looking stun pistols, came charging around the corner. With no hesitation, and acting almost as one, they each shot one of the two moving guards. They readjusted their aim, and then shot the other three guards who were twitching awake, and the doctor, who was still unmoving. Without a word they glanced at us, nodded once, gave a second stun blast to each of the fallen guards, and ran off in the opposite direction leaving me and Sam staring at each other.
I scooped up a fallen guard's stun pistol and Sam did the same, but I had no intention of going anywhere. Remembering our orders, we both moved into the treatment room and closed and locked the door behind us, ensuring we were against the wall alongside the door with our retrieved stun pistols at the ready.
I looked down at myself. I was a mess. Covered with dirt, and bootprints from the guard, and the leg of my pants had somehow gotten ripped in the scuffle. My eye and cheek throbbed painfully, and I felt a bit of blood trickling down my face.
Having no more need for it, I peeled the plastic makeup off my face. It was hot and sweaty, and just made my cheek and eye throb even worse. I saw Sam pull off his wig and wipe some of his makeup off with a sleeve.
Less than ten seconds later the door burst open hard and several people came streaming in. Just as my finger was tightening on the trigger I realized they were wearing the same gray coveralls as the other two soldiers earlier, the ones that stunned the guards for us, and that I even recognized one of the soldiers. He was a co-worker of Mr. Landis'. At least that's how he had been introduced to me. I held my fire.
“You two okay?” he asked, panting.
Sam and I nodded. I lowered my stun gun.
He spoke into a mic, “We have them.” He then directed his words to us, “Let's go.”
With Sam and me firmly surrounded by gray clad soldiers brandishing those fearsome looking stun guns, we ran along the corridor and into the stairwell. However, surprisingly, we ran up the stairs instead of down. Along another corridor, through a wing I had never been in before, and then we burst through a door and up a narrower and unfinished stairwell. One more door and then we were outside, the bright sun blinding me for a second. I realized we were on the roof.
One of those odd looking machines that passed for helicopters these days was hovering a few meters in the air above us. They weren't quite helicopters, there was no rotor and they were almost silent, but they served the same purpose so I'm just going to call it a helicopter. A ladder descended and the senior Underground soldier, the one who had done all the talking so far, motioned us up.
I made sure Sam began to ascend ahead of me and I clambered up behind him. Despite everything, I found myself sneaking a look at his butt as he climbed. Before I had climbed more than three rungs up the ladder, it was drawn up and into the body of the helicopter.
As soon as we were aboard, the helicopter began turning and gaining altitude. I glimpsed a far larger helicopter above the paved area between the front doors and the gate. At least a half dozen ladders were dangling from it and orange clad prisoners were clambering up and into that machine. I leaned out to look and couldn't help recognize, even from a distance, a very large and muscular figure with extremely dark hair, face, and hands climbing one of the ladders.
He turned and looked towards the helicopter I was in.
I doubted he could see anything clearly at this distance, but nonetheless he took an arm off the rung of the ladder and began waving towards me. I managed a half wave back before I was pulled into the helicopter rather firmly and buckled in.
Okay, I guess I shouldn't call them helicopters after all. No helicopter could gain altitude that quickly. Or go anywhere near that high. The door was now firmly closed and pumps were frantically pressurizing the cabin. I have no idea how high we were, but I couldn't help notice the sky through the window was beginning to turn a distinct dark violet hue before I felt the machine begin to lose altitude again.
A few minutes later we landed.
The door opened and Sam and I were ushered out. The first words spoken by the helicopter crew were given at this moment as they closed the door behind us, “Welcome to Tennessee,” the soldier said with a lopsided smile.
We were out of the Protectorate.
Sam and I stepped down onto the pavement. I turned around, straightened, and then froze, my eyes wide.
Two lines of uniformed soldiers were stretched out from the helicopter, standing smartly at attention. Between them, running out towards a larger group of people, was a blue covered carpet. Behind the soldiers were dozens upon dozens of reporters with 3d cameras and VR equipment, all furiously capturing the moment.
As Sam and I began tentatively walking between the rows of soldiers towards the group of people waiting beyond, an order rang out and the soldiers, as one, stiffened to attention and began saluting.
I swallowed hard and began walking a bit faster, Sam closely at my heels.
We had almost reached the end of the line of soldiers when the nearest reporter stuck a microphone in our direction and yelled out a question, “How does it feel to have spearheaded the first major rescue operation since the coup?”
I stared at him and the cameras stupidly.
I could feel my cheek and eye burning and knew that they were likely showing the beginnings of a major shiner to all those lenses out there. Not to mention the blood I could feel slowly trickling down a cheek. One of my hands still tightly held the stun gun I had taken from the guard. I stank of fear and adrenaline and my clothes were wet with sweat and looked like they had been through a war, which I suppose wasn't too far off. A large dirty boot print from the guard was visible on my thigh.
I had no idea how to even begin to answer that question. Besides, it wasn't even remotely true.
Sam however didn't seem to share my reluctance to talk. I could sense his maturity switch get flipped to the off position as he grinned out at the people. He turned his gaze to me, his eyes showing the same ridiculous adoring look I had seen after our original escape.
“My hero,” he said as he moved into me, wrapped his arms around my body, and planted his lips firmly onto mine. Just as my arms reflexively moved around Sam to maintain my balance while his kiss continued, I saw a blonde haired figure, his wide eyes looking directly at me over Sam's shoulder and his jaw hanging open, standing with the crowd of people at the end of the line of soldiers.