Twilight gave way to full darkness made darker still by the lack of electricity and storm damage that cut the street off. The buzz of crickets and bird chirping had returned but the patio door still sounded loud to Nevers. He had put back on his camouflage uniform but since the PDRA captors had taken his weapon all he had was Maggie’s pistol. The cover of night would provide the backdrop for his move now made even more uncertain because of the storm. “I must be insane,” he mumbled to himself.
The MedCom building where the rest of his squad was being held had not only security cameras, but hidden security cameras which could now only be accessed by Ybarovich’s GIS database. Through them, Nevers had been able to determine exactly where the prisoners were being held on: the bottom floor, in a room positioned just across the street from an open field that bordered trees and uncut wilderness on the other side of which was the golf course.
The half moon provided illumination as he walked across the deck and darted into the woods. Slipping in the mud he noisily made his way down to the creek bed. Stopping to catch his breath and wait for the background noises to resume he survey the creek. Lines of pine straw, leaves, and small broken branches showed the limits of where the swollen creek had grown during the storm.Several trees had fallen over the creek but the creek had receded enough that there was a semblance of a path he could traverse headed to the heart of the compound. Step one was going well, now he just needed hope for the rest.
The path was hard the first time when he was clueless about where he was headed and he knew it would be harder going back but the storm cleared out enough underbrush and limbs that it was a quiet trip back down to the golf course. It had taken time though and the moon was now low on the horizon. There was still enough light to see that the fairway he needed to cross was relatively open. Looking around, there were trees on either side blocking the view from the buildings and this hole was nestled in a both a bend of the creek and a turn in the course so there were no buildings on any side that could look down and see the dark figure scurry across the open grass.
Nevers ducked behind a camellia bush as a lone patrol truck drove by. He could tell it was driven by PDRA soldiers because they were driving on the wrong side of the road. He was still a quarter mile from the main cluster of buildings, but knew from his review of the map before he left that directly across the golf course from this spot was the MedCom building. There was only a sliver of moon to illuminate his run over the third fairway. Breathing heavy, he stayed in the tree line and reached the last bit of cover before the neatly manicured lawn surrounding the MedCom center. He was in front of the corner of the building where his friends were. This was where it would get very tricky.
Fishing a smartphone and Bluetooth device from his pocket, Nevers clipped in the ear piece and dialed a number. On the other end, Maggie picked up, “You in position?”
A quick glance up and down the lawn, and Nevers answered in a whisper, “Yeah, corner four.” The phone was connecting to a WiFi signal from the drone which in turn went back to the controller.
“OK, I’m looking around inside now and don’t see any movements on the cameras. The patrols of the hallway have pretty much ended. Guess they’re tired or something.” Maggie reported. “It’s dark so I can’t count to see if they’re all there, but there are definitely still prisoners in that room.”
Squinting through the darkness at the window Nevers whispered, “I’ll keep the line open just in case. You keep looking, but it’ll take a second to fix the device.” His left hand had been in his pocket fingering a small, keychain like device that he now removed. He opened the battery compartment and turned the power cell around, and closed the compartment. After another quick glance up and down the lawn, he whispered, “Here goes nothing,” and darted to the building just below the window where the prisoners were.
Sleeping fitfully propped up against the wall, Al Parks felt something vibrate in his pocket. Without moving anything but his eyelids, he was instantly awake. Scanning the room, he saw no movement. They were being held in an office that had been hastily evacuated of its contents. Six windows lined the wall beside the hall, and a windowed door was set to either wall to the left and right. The wall to Al’s back had three windows that faced outdoors. This room must have been chosen so the guards could see in without having to open the doors. From their earlier patrols, Al knew the guards were in the rooms to his left.
Again, his pocket vibrated. This time he knew no one was moving. Cautiously and quietly, he started to stand, being careful not to show his shadow at the window. When he was fully standing, he leaned over to see through the window. Outside, Nevers was pacing, shaking the small device which he now wondered if Al still had the companion device to.
A nervous Nevers scanned the nearest buildings. No blinds open on the few windows with lights shining. No roving guards patrolling the areas. His nerves were still on edge. This could be the end before it begins. Al taped the window lightly to get his attention, then began looking for ways to open the window.
No relief yet for Nevers, but Al cracked the window a bit. It would be a quick chat but the risk was worth it. It was not a fool-proof plan but it was all they had and for it to work the guys inside had to know where not to be.
As Al slid the window back closed, Nevers slinked back into the darkness. Al had the tougher job. He woke each of the guys and shifted them to the far wall. No one was going back to sleep tonight.
“What does the battery life look like?” Nevers asked in a whisper while quietly making his way to the corner of the building.
“It’s running low, but we still have at least 10 minutes. I waited three hours to take off but I probably should have waited another half hour.” Maggie replied. Her voice was quiet but firm. A reassuring sound to Nevers as he worked his way to the edge of the parking lot.
He glanced up into the sky. There were no clouds and only the stars provided light. She would have to be flying lower to see him but there was still no sound on the ground from the drone. No sight of the device either. Looking back across the lot he took a deep breath and held it before letting it out and running in a crouch to the 5 ton truck on the end of the lot. It was not parked well, more like just driven out of the way and stopped. He stopped at the back of the cab.
Slowly reaching a hand to the air valves he turned one ever so slightly. Air began to rush out and he shut it again quickly. Luck was continuing to be on his side. Lazy, dumb, or just unaware, the PDRA lack of attention was Nevers’s friend this morning. He slipped around to the back.
The tailgate was up and the flap down. With a minimum of noise he carefully removed the toggles and let the tailgate down before slipping back up the side of the truck to the driver’s door. The loud click of the latch opening made him pause. Hearing nothing but crickets he slowly opened the door. Halfway open the high pitch squeak stopped him. Another pause. Still nothing but crickets.
He climbed up the side of the cab and slipped in without further opening the door and pulled it closed. This time he could hold the handle and pull the door so as to minimize the catch sound as he waited again to make sure no one stirred.
“I’m flying lower, but can’t see anyone.” Said Maggie in his ear. “Putting it into hover where I can see you and the back windows while I check the cameras again.”
Nevers felt around the cab making sure everything was ready for a quick startup. “How’s the battery backup for the computer holding out?”
“I hoped you weren’t going to ask that, it’s been beeping for the last three minutes. Recharging the drone off of it took more that we thought. We’re out of time, it’s now or we have to go in blind. Guards are all snoring at their spots. All the masses in the dark room are on the far wall. It won’t get any better.”
Another deep breath by Nevers and he turned the switch. An audible noise came on while the glow plugs warmed. The air warning went off with the plugs as the truck realized it was ready. Another push and the diesel engine roared to life splitting the night with its rumble. Without pausing Nevers released the clutch and the truck lurched forward slow and steady.
The curb of the parking lot was a bump followed by the squish and slide of rain soaked grass but the truck still went right where he wanted it towards the back of the building. Without braking, he pushed the clutch and shifted it to reverse. Without thinking he turned to look back. The small window and flap opening did not allow for much of a view but he could still aim for the wall of windows.
The tires spun, hesitant to reverse direction and then unable to grip in the slippery mud. Then they caught and the truck gained backward speed. The crunch of metal, tinkling of broken glass, and masonic breakage was music to Nevers as the building stopped the truck. Pulling forward a few feet he pulled the parking brake and jumped out.
Sprinting to the back of the truck he could see the dust settling and the broken wall of the building. The shape of a body loomed in the cloud and then cleared to become Al. As he clamored over the rocks Nevers looked into the back of the truck then into the room. Waving at the others he motioned them to climb into the back of the truck.
Al stood by the tailgate and helped push the rest of the squad into the back while Nevers ran back to the front and climbed in the cab. This time he slammed the door and poked his head out the window to look back. As Al climbed onto the step of the tailgate he waved then disappeared into the back. Nevers released the brake and headed back toward the golf course.
“They’re fumbling with the keys, now someone just knocked down the door. There are others headed around the side now. Go! Go! Go!” Maggie said in his ear.
The ride down the hill and into the brush was smooth but the bump at the bottom harsh. The vines and scrub trees were no match for the big truck. A few shots flew past the truck as the PDRA forces ran after the truck. All Nevers could do was hope that no one got hit and they all hung on in the back.
The truck burst onto the golf course like a lumbering rhinoceros barreling for the far side. There was no time for easy stopping but slamming on the brakes would not be good for the passengers in the rear either. Nevers quickly slowed and turned in a wide circle to position the back closer to the trees. Backing up some he put the truck in the path of the soldiers he could see 400 meters away.
He could hear the others scrambling out of the back and Al climbed up on the step below the door. “They’re out and going to head up the creek like you said. They won’t know how to get where you were though. We’ll probably just scatter and hide and wait to see you go by.”
“This is it, see you in a bit. Let me get this truck out of the way and maybe throw ‘em off.”
Al did not move.
“Al, I gotta go, man!”
“I’m with you, let’s roll.” He gripped the open window and half-squatted on the door.
Nevers started moving forward, heading the opposite direction from which they had come. This put Al in the open facing the soldiers still running down the incline towards the golf course, but the hole doglegged and the truck dipped behind a new copse of trees again obscuring the running troops. Nearing the tee boxes, Nevers swerved to the left.
“They reached the course now,” Al reported looking backwards while Nevers looked forward. “Some of them are headed this way,” he leaned back holding on to the top of the window opening. “I don’t see any of them going over there. Looks like they’re either headed after us or staying put.”
“Hold on,” Nevers said before taking a hard right to cross behind the next green. The left side had a big sand trap so he swerved into the high grass but he knew what was coming next. “This is it!” He slammed on the brakes and skidded to the edge of the creek but it wasn’t enough. The truck slid and the front wheels fell off the small bank into the creek.
The wheel dug into Nevers’s chest and Al was tossed forward but managed to hold on. Nevers cut the engine off and they could both hear the soldiers yelling behind them. Al jumped down then leaped over the narrow creek while Nevers opened the door and started to follow. Al continued into the woods nearby.
“I still see you, but I don’t know how much longer the battery is going to hold out.” Maggie said through the earpiece. “The woods are dense, but go straight the way the truck is pointing. On the other side is a row of buildings. You can take that. . .” The bluetooth fell out of his ear while he ran. In a panic he turned but he could see the ripples as it fell in the water. Even if he fished it out it was done.
He jumped the creek and ran behind Al. “Straight up!” he yelled. The sun was starting to brighten the day but the woods were thick enough to still seem black. A quick glance behind allowed him to see the soldiers were still running. The fastest were almost to the tee boxes but they had not stopped to shoot. The others had no line of sight but that would change quickly.
As he entered the woods the darkness embraced him. Sounds seemed to muffled so that the only thing he could hear was his own labored breathing and the crunch of pine needles. Ahead he could see the trees were dense but not deep, no more than 30 meters before the manicured grass around the buildings. Al was already in the open sprinting to the back of one.
He reached the end of the trees and looked back. Three soldiers were at the truck, one was cautiously trying to cross without getting his feet wet. Back ahead Al had tried the door, locked. So he ran along the building to the front. Nevers ran after as he heard shots going through the brush beside him. They went wide, nowhere near him but it still put an extra panic in his run.
Sprinting between the buildings he ran into the back of Al who had unexpectedly stopped. In the street, a PDRA soldier stood in front of a car with a pistol pointed at them both.
“Move left,” Al quietly spoke through clenched teeth. They slowly walked in front of the building closer to the street which clearly was making the soldier nervous.
Neither could understand his Spanish but in another thirty seconds the soldiers behind would be here and it would not matter. The chase was over.
A buzzing sound distracted them all and as the soldier looked up he was hit full on in the face with the now dead drone. He fell and Al darted up to grab the gun. Without stopping he ran around the front, “Get in!”
Al jumped behind the wheel as Nevers opened the door. He had barely gotten in before Al took off down the street. The door slammed itself shut and they rounded the corner of the street. A long stretch of road was before them with orderly rooms on one side and a lake on the right. This was where the patrol had started, at the end was the motor pool they deployed from what now seemed like months before.
Nevers turned in the seat, there was no pursuit. They had successfully gotten away from the captors but were now nowhere near the rest of the squad. Two minutes later they ditched the car outside the fenced motor pool and doubled back to the last orderly room hiding behind it.
The building was positioned on a ridge with a large parking lot in front but to the rear where the two of them stood there was only grass and trees. A well worn path led into the pines. From their location they could see down the row of buildings, in between them to the road they had just left, and toward the empty motor pool they ditched the car near. The forested area to their rear was as lush and fertile as the rest of the island.
The two listened intently but no sounds reached them. The tradeoff between waiting to see if they were followed or running further into the woods was a dangerous gamble but knowing if there was a chase seemed worth it to Nevers. The streets were deserted and quiet. No one was behind them.
Nevers sat down with his back against the wall and breathed a deep sigh of release. The adrenaline had held off the fear but now it was wearing off. Reaching into his breast pocket he pulled out the folded, sweat coated installation map Maggie had given him before the plan formed. It was a poor map to go by but it was the only one they had. He glanced at Al still peering around the corner of the building then tried to flatten out the map as best he could.
After finding the golf course he approximated their route until he found the row of orderly rooms they were behind. Rotating the map to orient it properly he looked up and into the woods. The path was wide enough for two people to run side by side but before it turned left he could see it narrowed. More than likely they used it for PT which could explain why it was worn. That did not mean much else though. It could go up or down the slope to add a level of effort to the unit’s runs. The only real guess without starting down the path was that it would not cross the creek unless there was some kind of bridge. It was their best choice of exit from the occupied part of the base. It did not show up on the rudimentary map and neither did the topography. There almost had to be a mother creek between them and the housing area but the only way to find out would be to get started.
Al looked back, “Nothing. They must notta followed us, either cause they lost us or they lost interest but I don’t see that one.”
Nodding in the direction of the woods Nevers held up the map, “It’s not on the map but this way has to lead us where we need to go.”
“Map?” Al chuckled, “You call that a map? That’s a stick drawing.” Reaching into his cargo pocket he pulled out a larger folded up paper. With a fake Australian accent he said, “Now that’s a map.” He unfolded a military installation map with topography and a scale.
“They put us in the S3 shop and left us alone. Of course I looked in all the cabinets. I also stashed a shitload of paperclips in case we ever get back.” Al said while orienting his map. “This ridge goes up and down this way but you probably want to get back to your cozy house.”
Scanning the map Nevers quickly located the creek and followed it up to the housing area. Now he could really see the layout of the whole base. There was another creek at the bottom of the ridge, but the houses were nestled on a ridge of their own between the two creeks. Getting back would be easier than getting away from the PDRA troops. He smiled and looked at Al. “Let’s do it, man.”
Al smiled back and held out a hand to help Nevers up. “Lead the way.”