Chapter III: Captive
"Coersion, after all, merely captures man.  Freedome captivates him."

Our train ride was relatively calm.  I had been told to hold on to the detonator and to store the thermite in my sports bag.  Osmosis dispersed my immediate worry by explaining that the case he had put on the detonating unit tricked the scanning machines at the Vac-track station into believing it was a toy car and that the remote would look like a radio control for the car.  We passed through onto the local line without a hitch, probably just a bunch of kids on a day trip to anyone watching.  We looked equipped for a hike, so nobody even watched us as we went out of town on foot, onto the highway, and then out onto the sands.


Osmosis had the forethought to buy enough drinks for us to last the mission out here in the drylands.  Apparently there had been forests here a couple of hundred years ago, but they had all been cut down to fuel the ever dying human energy economy.  Even with the invention of the replicators nothing could be done to save the area.  It had lost a windbreaker in those trees, and so erosion turned the soil to sand and the flatlands into an arid waste.  A hundred years before, he remembered in history class they had told him, America had almost twenty times as many ‘green spaces’.


The trek was long, of course.  We had to be out of view of the town.  We also had to know when to strike.  It had to be when there was no train in the tube, else we could cause a crash and that would weigh heavily on all of our consciences.  Well, maybe not Skit’s, I mused.  He seemed like the kind of person for whom the end justified the means.  We reached an outcrop of rock after an hour and a half of walking that was just in sight of the Vacuum tube, whose bulk rose high and shining out of the sand.  Every few hundred feet along it there was a massive metal structure holding it down and giving the high-stress tunnels a solid foundation under the desert surface.

“Between those,” Osmosis explained, unnecessarily in my opinion, “is where you set the charge, Bullseye.  It’s weakest there and the tunnel will buckle easiest.”

“Understood,” the barely-present youth muttered, and I gave a sound and a nod in assent also.


“Okay, everyone be ready for the unexpected.  If we’re lucky we won’t even see a patrol, and if we’re luckier they won’t see us either.  But just on the safe side, everyone have your weapons ready for interruption by S.E.E.R.S.  The ‘Hounds’ are in charge of these guarding duties, but sometimes they have ‘Tigers’ out here too, and those are sharp.”  This was serious.  I took the long sword and its sheath out from my sports bag, attaching them to my belt so they would be accessible in a sticky situation.  I noticed Skit was grinning as he unfasted the long bag he carried, and I could see why.  His weapon was immense, as tall as I was with ease and jagged on the back, like a great sword crossed with a combat knife.  Bullseye proved me right and armed himself with a ridiculous looking rifle from within his cello case and the quiet Japanese Bushi attached what looked like Knuckle Dusters with pin-tips to her hands – where had she been keeping those?  “It’ll be late evening by the time we get back to town, because we’re going the long way, round the outside and in from the East highway instead of the South.”  He flicked out two small guns himself; one was obviously ballistic and for a moment we almost looked like a serious rebellion, but the other looked like a battery pack with a water pistol stuck to the top of it.  I shook my head, picked up the bag with the charge in and slung it over my left shoulder.  Bullseye looked at me and nodded, and then set out.  I followed.


The afternoon sun was baking, and everything was bright.  All of a sudden it occurred to me that we were both garbed in black.  I tapped him on the shoulder about thirty feet out and pointed at my clothes.

“Black on white, bad plan.  Are you wearing Nanos?” I asked, and he nodded, that was good.  We turned back and entered the little rock ‘shelter’ again.  “Anyone have a Nano program for paler outfits?”  No sooner had I spoken than we all looked at the lightly dressed Bushi.  Her outfit would be fine.  However, she shook her head.

“I don’t wear Nanos.  The false feel of them disturbs my concentration.”  All of us but Osmosis sighed.  Two black dots running across the sand was bound to attract attention.  Our leader, however, was tapping away at a Cellular Terminal, and minutes later, pulled a tiny cord from the side of the thing.

“Here, hurry about it.”  I silently rejoiced for our having a resourceful leader.  For a moment I worried that he might be tracked by whoever was providing for that CT, but then, this was Osmosis we were talking about.  He probably had some signal scrambler in it, that was what I thought at the time.


In turn me and Bullseye plugged the cord into the tag at the belt of our Nanos, and in an instant we were no longer wearing dark clothes.  My cargoes transformed into slacks with a dusty yellow-grey colour and my shirt was made over into a close-fitting long-sleeve of a similar mustard tone.  We looked like desert guerilla fighters, particularly Bullseye with his rifle in hand.

“Alright,” he muttered, handing Oz the phone and heading out with myself in tow.  Again the baking heat of the afternoon sun struck us, dampened by the lightness of our clothes this time.  I looked around us.  Everything in the distance was distorted by the eerie haze of the heat.  There was no way we’d see any patrols at any distance, but fortunately for me and Bullseye, it would be even harder to spot us.


We approached the tube without any issue.  It was twice the height of Skit easily, and we needed to get the charge on top of it, so I gave Bullseye a boost up, and he carefully set the device balanced on the middle of the tube’s cylindrical bulk.  I kept look out at the base of the thing while he did, and it was about a minute after he got up there that I saw a figure starting to take shape through the haze further along the track.

“Company, make it quick,” I called, taking care not to be so loud I would be heard by whoever was coming.  I kept my eye on the figure while Bullseye clambered down and then we both set off together, running low and getting to just under thirty metres from the tube.  Since I still had hold of the detonator, and since it was as simple as a covered button, I activated it, turning to make sure it worked.  I saw a small flare and then a column of sparks over the tube.  That was our signal to run, and so, it seemed, was it the signal of the guard to do the same.  He stared at it for less time than we did before starting to run away from the track.  Hopefully he had been preoccupied with the iminent danger and not noticed us.


Then we discovered why we had to run so hard.


There was a loud ‘pop’ sound behind us and then a rush of air and sand.  The two of us covered our eyes and moved on into the sandstorm we had co-created, and then we were out of the storm and the range of the suction.  We kept running, but I looked back to see if the guard would make it too.  He did, and he had gained on us, but he too was busy looking back at the circular cloud of dust and sand which spiralled towards our thermite bomb.  And it was a bomb.  The explosion came next, and it was far more potent than I could have imagined.  Me, Bullseye and the guard a ways back were thrown to the ground by the force of it and looked back in astonishment as sand errupted skyward as far as the eye could see in each direction down the Vac-track.  The whole tunnel had exploded, creating what looked like a massive wall of sand.  Bullseye was pulling me up before I could think, and I followed him as we made for the rock shelter.


There was still a gust from the blast when me and Bullseye dived into the shelter of the rocks.

“Were you followed?” Osmosis asked immediately, and I shrugged.

“Maybe,” I said, Bullseye speaking in tandem with me.  “A Guard,” I added.


And then there was gunfire.  I wasn’t used to gunfire.  I hit the ground in a dive as quick as an arrow, and most of the others did the same.  The only exceptions were Bullseye, whose gun slung round from the strap he had been holding it on, neatly into his hands, and Osmosis.  Sparks rang off of the stone around them as the guard missed – or was he the one shooting?  The kid orange was faster than Bullseye since he already had his guns in hand; his right hand was up in the blink of an eye and the man took a bullet in the shoulder, just far enough to the right that the bullet proof vest wouldn’t do a thing.  He fell unconscious, and started to bleed, and Osmosis had a look on his face that I would spend forever trying to place or define.


But the guard wasn’t alone.  Another appeared from the side, out of the cloud of dust that was everywhere now.  She was short, Asian like Bushi, and nestled loosely in her grip was a long, curved Japanese sword.  She yelled something that wasn’t quite intelligible to English speakers and slashed down at our leader, who fell to his right.  Bullseye took a quick shot at the girl but she had ducked back beyond the rocks; Osmosis was the only one who could see her now.  He lifted the battery-water-gun and shot, and I saw two pins fling their way out and dig into the girl.


She fell twitching.

A guard, Grave?” Osmosis scowled at me, dragging the unconscious girl in.  Her black uniform was emblazoned with the head of a wildcat.  “Tigers.  She’s a hostage.  She might reveal our faces otherwise.  Take the dead guy’s gun, too.  It’ll have a camera on it.”  I got up slowly while Bullseye took the gun of the Hounds patrol officer.  I hadn’t seen the Tiger girl.  She had either been beyond the blast radius already, followed the Hound, or she was a far better enactor of stealth than me and Bullseye had been.  I found it hard to believe – bullseye had the presence of a dark bird on a night sky, but I probably hadn’t been as stealthy.


“Let’s move, now.”  Osmosis turned, stepping out into the now dark afternoon scattered with the remnants of the grand act of terrorism we had just done.  “Skit, carry the Tiger, Grave, get her weapon.  We need to move quickly.”  The blonde stuffed his terrifying greatsword away and slung both the bag and the girl over the same shoulder as he moved dutifully after our leader.  Apparently he had two uses, then – intimidation and manual labour.


We stalked across the desert, stopping for drinks occasionally when we could find cover.  It was an hour before the Tiger girl was waking, and Oz just stuck her with his stun gun again.  It didn’t look comfortable to be shocked that way, but I silently urged her to bear with it – it would be better than death, surely.  I guess I had more morals than Skit, at least, because he burst into laughter at her flailing.  Bullseye and Bushi were both unreadable.  The sharpshooter was barely present to begin with and he was currently examining the rifle that the Hound had been carrying.  It looked a little higher in quality than his own, being a government weapon, but he looked confused by it.  Bushi was just a plain face the whole time.  She could make a killing in poker or Mah Jong.


The rest of the trip passed uneventfully, and when the day started to fade into evening both me and Bullseye changed our Nanos back into their original outfit.  When evening came in fully, the gunner was just not there, at least if you weren’t specifically looking for him.  I was still more noticable for my chains and bolts.  We came into the East side of town without anyone the wiser, with Skit now carrying the girl in a cradled position, like she was asleep.


We took the local train back to the warehouse district and made it to the ‘base’ just in time for her to wake.