“Often you escape by going where those chasing you are unwilling to go.”
- Michael Westen [Burn Notice]
Mars Detention Outpost Delta
Jacques’s mind was racing. What woke me up? Was it the food door clicking closed? His heart jumped. Quietly he swung his feet to the floor, stepped to the door, and opened the food box. He looked at the badge and a small piece of paper lying in the food box. Finally! My ticket out of here, he thought, while scratching his bushy beard.
The plan, days in execution, was simple. He would exit the prison as a janitor. Each day Jacques had received a note with instructions, which he memorized and flushed down the toilet. The badge was the final item to arrive. It signaled that tonight was the night. Jacques quickly gathered a razor and moved to the sink. Lathering his face, he began to shave off his beard. As he shaved he went over the plan in his mind. There’ll be a janitor’s cart somewhere nearby. As soon as someone bumps into my door, I’ll use my badge to unlock my cell. I’ll find the janitor’s cart and push it past the guard to the break room. A distraction in another wing of the prison will be in progress to draw attention away from me. This should be a piece of cake.
After shaving, Jacques removed his prisoner jump-suit and donned a janitor uniform. Lucky for me, both prisoners and janitors wear the same kind of shoes. He climbed back into bed and pretended to sleep.
He heard the footsteps of a guard making the hourly rounds. As the footsteps passed his cell, he heard a distinct bump of something hard against his door. He rose, This is it. I’d better get to it. The note said don’t be late. He took one last look around the cell. There was a nagging feeling he was forgetting something, so he looked more closely a second time. Time’s-a-wasting, he thought. He placed his badge against the latch side of the door, anticipating the click of the lock opening. Nothing. He gave the door a slight budge. It didn’t move.
What? Is the chip on the badge screwed up? Think, man, think. Wait a minute! Of course, the inside of the lock must be shielded in case a prisoner gets a badge. What to do? I’d reach through the food box, but the outside door is locked shut. Or is it?
Jacques opened the inside door of the food box and pushed tentatively against the outer door. It wasn’t latched! Jacques grasped the badge and stuck his arm through the passage waving the badge in front of the cell door latch. Relief washed over him as he heard the latch click to the open position.
He opened the door and stepped out into a lava tunnel that was lined by a series of cells. The builders of this “facility” carved cellblocks out of several natural lava tunnels. This provided a secure jail and protected both the prisoners and personnel from the cosmic rays ever present on Mars. There it is, he thought, as he saw the janitor cart just to his right. He took hold and pushed it down the tube. Almost there! The diversion must be in full swing up in cell block A. I can hear it all the way down here. So far so good. Jacques crossed the intersection of the three tubes, each one comprising a “cell block”. He was two steps away from the break room when he was stopped by a shout.
“Hey, you!” a guard yelled at him. Jacques slowly pointed at himself and shrugged. “Yes, you. I’m talking to you. Get your sorry ass over here.”
Crap! Jacques thought as he turned slowly toward the guard.
The guard looked at him intently. “Do I know you? Never mind. Get up to cell A4. The inmate there got food poisoning. They’re treating him right now and are about to take him to the infirmary. He’s tossed his cookies and has diarrhea. You need to clean it up pronto.”
“But my shift’s over,” Jacques replied.
The guard glared at him. “I don’t care.”
“I need to meet someone — it’s urgent,” Jacques explained.
“Quit wasting my time. That cell stinks and we’ll not put up with the stench until the morning shift. The faster you get to work the sooner you can leave for your ‘urgent’ meeting.”
“Yes, Sir.” Jacques began pushing his cart toward cell A-4. He was careful to look down as he passed the guards and the EMTs, who were removing the sick prisoner.
The stench is worse than what that guard said, Jacques thought. He worked as quickly as he could to clean the floor, bed, toilet, and sink. Bet whoever planned this little distraction didn’t count on me being part of it. I’m going to be sooo late!
Finally, with the mess cleaned, Jacques stored the janitor cart and approached the final prison door. Even though the guard waved him through, his heart was racing. Twenty minutes late. This’ll never do. I hope I’m not too late to catch my ride.
Outside the prison, Jacques found himself overlooking a park-like area. It was about the size of a football field and descended gently into a bowl. He guessed that straight ahead, on the other side of the park, was a gated lava tube that led to where the actual Delta 1 colony was located. To his left was another gated lava tube that probably led to the living quarters of the prison staff. Snuggled against the lava outcroppings, the park’s exposed side was enclosed by a partial geodesic dome structure that extended over the park to form its roof. The structure of stainless steel and heavy plexiglass was covered with a thick layer of ice. This translucent combination allowed an airy feeling during the day. It was a clever way of reducing exposure to cosmic rays. He smelled pine needles. Looking around the park, Jacques saw several small stands of neatly trimmed evergreens. The park also featured a lawn of moss and many raised beds of growing vegetables.
A voice in his head said, Quit gawking and get moving. You’re late! Jacques turned toward his right and followed a path that led through a stand of trees to an obscure door. Next to the door was an RFID reader and a keypad. To gain access one needed to have the correct badge and key in the correct code, which changed daily. Jacques swiped his badge over the chip reader and keyed in the code that he remembered from the note that came with his badge. Nothing! He tried again. Still nothing. Crap! Think, think. What was the code anyway?
Was it 2463 or 6324 or… if I don’t get this right, I’m toast! Jacques had already tried both combinations with no success. Wait, I forgot to swipe my badge when I keyed in the second combination. This time he did both. To his relief, the door unlocked. Jacques opened the door and squinted at the brightness of the lights. He entered the prison’s service hanger. It was big enough to hold three large starships. Currently, no such vehicles were present. Jacques saw an assortment of half-track service vehicles, hovercraft, and small pursuit aircraft. Jeeze, I’m a full half-hour late, Jacques fretted. He dashed behind Halftrack #8, as the note had instructed. No one was there. What now? No one ever told me who my contact is! He picked up a nearby broom and started to sweep, trying to fit into his janitorial role.
“Hey you!” Someone yelled across the hanger to get his attention. Here we go again, Jacques thought, as he answered, “Yes, Sir.”
“You’re late,” the Sergeant said, as he walked over to Jacques. “This is no way to start your first night. Follow me and we’ll find the captain.” Jacques followed him to a large office on the far side of the hanger. When they arrived, several other maintenance people were leaving. The Sergeant introduced Jacques. “Hi, Captain. Here’s the new janitor.”
The Captain said, “Hmph. Being late is no way to start your new job. Sergeant, take him over to Hovercraft Station #3. I noticed that the floor over there is in desperate need of mopping.”
“Yes, Sir,” the Sergeant replied. “Come with me,” he said, looking over his shoulder at Jacques. Just as they arrived at the hovercraft station, a tall husky fellow quickly grabbed the Sergeant, from behind, and applied a sleeper hold. The Sergeant flailed, trying to get leverage and break free. But the attacker was too large and strong. Soon, lack of oxygen to the brain left the Sergeant limp. The attacker lowered him to the ground, tied his arms and legs with zip ties, and gagged his mouth. After rolling the Sergeant under a workbench, the assailant opened the hovercraft door and motioned for Jacques to get in. Once inside, he motioned for Jacques to sit in the right seat as he slid into the pilot’s seat.
“You’re late!” The attacker challenged.
“I’m hearing that a lot lately,” Jacques said.
“What? Whatever. The boss won’t be happy.”
“Had to clean up a—”
“Save it for the boss. We need to boogie,” the assailant interrupted. He spoke into his radio, “Traffic Control, this is employee 673682 requesting permission to take hovercraft 492 out for a test spin.”
“Hey, Chuck, did the Sarge okay this?” Traffic Control asked.
“Yep, and he said I should’ve started a half-hour ago,” Chuck answered.
“Good enough, I’m opening the door. When it’s fully up, feel free to leave. Just stay well away from the frontier. Understood?”
“Understood,” Chuck answered.
Jacques jumped at the sound of alarms and red lights flashing.
“A little jumpy are we tonight? That’s just the notice that a flight door is open. It’s a safety precaution. They aren’t coming for us, yet,” Chuck said.
“By the way, Chuck is just my cover name. You can call me Dimitri.” He eased the craft out into the night.
“Why’re we taking just a hovercraft?”
“Don’t ask. I’m getting you out of here, aren’t I?”
“Don’t we need a spaceship?” Jacques asked
Dimitri continued flipping switches and started communicating with Traffic Control, but didn’t answer Jacques’s question.
“You know … something that actually flies?”
Dimitri took a deep breath and hit the accelerator. The hovercraft swept forward with a vengeance.
“I have a question Chuck … err… Dimitri,” Jacques said.
“You’ve got a lot of questions. What is it?”
“Why’d you take the time to tie up the Sergeant? You could’ve just killed him.”
“Yeah … but strangling someone takes more time than you’d think. Besides, if this little adventure goes south I’ll only face an assault charge, not murder.”
This better not go south, Jacques thought.
“Switch on the toggle marked ‘com’,” Dimitri said.
Jacques complied. The voice of Traffic Control could be heard speaking with other vehicles.
“Who’s Traffic Control talking to?” Jacques asked.
“Researchers, travelers between Moon Base Alpha and Moon Bases Beta and Charlie. Mostly civilian traffic. OK — now’s when the fun begins.” Dimitri made a sharp turn and accelerated. Shortly after making his turn a warning alerted Traffic Control. “WARNING! WARNING! THE FRONTIER BORDER IS BEING BREACHED. Sentries intercept the intruder.”
Jacques laughed. “We’re going in the wrong direction to be intruders.”
“You’re laughing now but the party’s over once the pursuit ships arrive.”
“STOP! STOP! YOU ARE ENTERING A RESTRICTED ZONE,” a sentry drone warned.
Dimitri said, “Here, take over the ship while I occupy those little buggers. Steer toward that slot canyon over there.” He hopped out of his seat and made his way to the back of the ship. Climbing into the port side gunner’s seat, he started shooting at the drones.
“You got it,” Jacques said, as he grabbed the controls and began flying.
“Damn those buggers, they’re too quick dodging my energy bursts. Drop into the slot canyon so they’ll have less room to maneuver.”
Jacques accelerated the craft into the slot canyon.
“Hey, a little smoother man! I can’t line up my shots.”
“Excuse me,” Jacques rolled his eyes. “I’m keeping us from decorating a wall.”
“Quit complaining and fly smoother. Yeah, like that. Hey! I just got one of those buggers! Yes! Another just lost a wing to the canyon wall.”
Two other security drones hit the canyon wall, trying to evade Dimitri’s fire.
“Take that you little bugger,” Dimitri gloated, as he shot the last drone out of the sky. “Go ahead and set this baby on the ground, Jacques. That was easy.”
“Yeah — too easy, if you ask me.”
“I’m not asking, chump. Just set her down.”
“Really?” Jacques asked.
“This is where the boss wants to meet us.”
Before Jacques could reply, a middle-aged man in a NASA flight suit appeared in the pilot’s seat that Dimitri had once occupied. The man was looking straight ahead and appeared not to notice Jacques.
Jacques jumped and said, “What the Hel—”
“Oh, don’t mind him,” Dimitri interrupted, “that’s just a hologram of the Boss.”
“Could’ve fooled me.”
Upon hearing the exchange, the hologram looked at Jacques. “You’re late.”
“I had to clean up a mess left by your planned distraction back at the prison,” Jacques complained.
“You two being late could’ve ruined this whole endeavor,” the boss said.
“We lost our escorts anyway, Boss,” Dimitri said.
“The sentry drones are nothing compared to the pursuit ships. They’ll be waiting for us as we exit the canyon,” the boss said. “Jacques, go take over the starboard side guns. You’ll both have to keep firing at the pursuit ships if we are to survive.”
Jacques took up his gunnery position. “Who flies?”
The boss said, “I’ll fly remotely.”
Jacques felt the ship lift and shoot forward. He was pushed hard against his restraining harness as the ship got up to full speed and blasted out of the canyon. Just like a bat out of Hell, he thought.
They were waiting, just as the Boss said, and their initial blasts took out the ship’s shields. But the Boss was flying too fast to be brought down. Soon the escaping vessel was several lengths ahead of the pursuit ships, as they turned and followed. The chatter from their pursuers could be heard clearly over the ship’s speakers. Occasionally, a transmission would be aimed at their ship. “Halt! Set your ship down. You can’t escape!”
“Take careful aim boys,” the boss said. “These pilots will be harder to hit than those pesky drones.”
The ship rocked and pitched wildly as the boss maneuvered to avoid the pursuing ships’ fire. Jacques and Dimitri aimed carefully, but the pitching and rolling of their ship kept them from scoring any hits. Fortunately, their firing and the boss’s maneuvers kept them safe, for the moment. We can’t keep this up much longer. We need to find shelter soon, Jacques thought as he felt a ball of fear knotting up in his stomach.
Jacques glanced forward and saw only an open barren landscape ahead. “Feeling a little exposed back here,” he said.
“Not to worry,” the Boss said, “I have a plan.” With that, he made a hard turn angling toward a small bluff in the distance. The pursuit followed and drew closer.
The speakers came to life again. “WARNING! WARNING! YOU ARE ENTERING A HIGHLY RESTRICTED ZONE. TURN BACK NOW!”
An annoying alarm sounded. Jacques looked at his console and saw a red radiation alarm was blinking. He glanced at the radiation meter. Wow! The radiation meter is off the charts.
“Ah, Boss, we have wandered full speed into a radiation zone,” Dimitri said.
The boss just laughed. “What’s a little radiation among friends?”
“You heard it boys.” The pursuit leader could be heard over the speakers. “These clowns are flying us into a radiation field. It’s time to pull out.”
“Roger that,” was the reply given, as the pursuit ships pulled up and set their course for home. Their leader hovered at the radiation boundary to guard against Dimitri and Jacques circling back.
“Go ahead and fry your hearts out, you fools,” he said.
The alarms grew louder as the boss flew further into the radiation field.
The boss chuckled. “The secret to any successful escape is to be willing to go where the pursuit won’t follow.”
“What about us?” Jacques asked. “We’re the ones getting fried!”
Together Jacques and Dimitri jumped out of their seats and dove for the ship’s controls. But they couldn’t change the ships relentless drive into the radiation.
The Boss laughed and said, “Nice try, but the ship is totally in my control. You shouldn’t have been so late, Jacques.”
The pursuit leader, hovering at the radiation boundary, sent one last message to the ship trying to escape. He thought, By my calculation, you’ll be fried in three more minutes. I guess your boss was more interested in seeing you die than escape.”