Without another word, Bruno runs off in the opposite direction from where my GPS says I should be headed. I stand and watch as he gets smaller against the horizon. He doesn’t even look over his shoulder to make sure I’m following. I stand in place trying to decide whether to trust him. Reluctantly, I realize it’s probably in my best interest to see what he has in mind. At least for a few minutes.
“Decided I’m not as worthless as you thought, huh?” Bruno asks with an annoying smirk on his face. I finally reach his side and slow my pace to run with him.
“Still up for debate, but if there is any chance you’ve got a way to help me get Eve out, I can’t ignore it.”
“Now I bet you’d be really pissed if I told you I was lying, wouldn’t you?”
“What?” I stop in my tracks.
Bruno laughs as he continues on.
I chase after him. “You better not be messing with me.”
“I guess you’ll have to wait and see, huh?”
I stop in my tracks.
Bruno shouts over his shoulder, “I’m kidding. I promise you, if anyone can get her out, it’s me.”
“I hate people.”
Bruno pushes forward, heading toward a line of trees in the distance. He’s picked up the pace considerably, causing me to go faster than my newly-healed leg feels comfortable with. I’m also beginning to notice a sharp pain in my feet. I wonder if the foam can do anything for them. Maybe it would help my toenails grow back.
Within a matter of minutes we hit the tree line. Bruno still refuses to answer any of my questions. We break through the trees and stumble across a large barn-like building with white metal siding and a green tin roof. Bruno pauses in front of it and smiles reflectively.
“Now can you tell me what’s going on?” I ask. “What is this place?”
“The gym. Don’t need anything in there though.” He runs deeper into the trees down a worn paved footpath. I follow him in confusion. In the trees to the left, I notice an abandoned boat which looks like it’s been sitting in the same place for over a decade.
I see water up ahead through the trees. A lake, maybe? Bruno takes a sharp left, running parallel to the lake and bringing us deeper into the wooded area. A few feet further and a new building appears on the left, a two story brown building with doors and windows all along the front side of it. A walkway extends along the second floor exterior.
Bruno looks back to me and says, simply, “Camper lodging.”
He turns to the right and we step out of the trees onto white sands, right onto the shore of the lake. He stops directly ahead of me and stares to the right. A proud grin crosses his face. I reach his side and look to where he’s staring. My jaw drops.
A dull rusty seaplane, which may have been red at one time in its history, floats at the end of a white dock. When I say rusty, I’m saying this thing is absolutely covered in rust, from top to bottom. It might be more accurate to say the rust is a little plane-y, but that’s the kind of thing The Geek would joke about and I would groan at. The propeller, which should be at its nose, droops forward and is tilted into the water. I can’t help but wonder how the whole thing isn’t tipped over on its side due to how it is missing one of the two floatation devices it’s supposed to be floating on.
“You can’t possibly be smiling about that plane.” I stop beside the man I now realize is as crazy as I had thought.
“That’s our ride to Buffalo, kid.”
“I should probably tell you I have a thing about heights. And planes which look like they are seconds away from crumbling away into dust.”
“She might not look like much, but I think you’ll find she’s more than we’ll need to get the job done.”
“How could you possibly even know that? We’re in the middle of nowhere. You don’t even know if it’s got gas.”
“This is my place, well, you know, the place I used to work out of, you know, back in the day.”
“Yeah, way back in the day, from the looks of it.”
“Hey now, if you weren’t so hung up on going off and saving your girlfriend, this would be the perfect place to hide out until we needed to head into Boston. The SPs don’t even check this spot out anymore.”
“Wait,” I exclaim. “How in the world did we end up here? It’s a more than a little suspicious—“
“Hey, remember what I told you kid. I’m working for The Agora.”
“Fine, whatever. I still don’t see how you think we’re going to be able to use that little puddle hopper. Even if we could get it up in the air, we’ll be shot down the second we’re up there.”
“You think so?” Bruno’s grin increases and he bolts toward the ancient machine.
He climbs up the side and reaches into the vehicle through an open window. I hear a loud click and the plane shimmers. A series of bright flashes shoot across its frame before suddenly a completely different looking seaplane appears in front of me. The rust bucket is no more, now I’m looking at a bright blue, shiny, possibly brand new, seaplane, worthy of the greatest of the SPs fleets, assuming they have fleets of seaplanes. Yet, there’s something odd about the coloration of the plane. It’s bright. Blindingly bright. I can barely stand to even look at it.
Bruno runs back to stand beside me, his grin somehow even larger.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t even know what just happened.”
“Camouflage, kid. A combination of counter-shading and counter-illumination techniques make this thing all but invisible. What you’re seeing right now is what people would see from below, if looking up at us. To put it incredibly simply, the outside of this thing works almost like an enormous 3D television screen. It’s how I was able to make it look like the terrible piece of junk it was mere moments before. Of course, this isn’t anything like what it really looks like either. This is its sky mode, made to mimic what’s above. The plane’s covered in a ton of little LED lights as well, to make sure it shines like the rest of the sky on a bright sunny day like today. Even cooler thing is: it looks entirely different from the top, to make sure the satellites and whatever else might be looking down at us don’t have a clue. Pretty amazing, am I right?”
I don’t want to admit it, but this is quite possibly one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen the Grand Canyon. “Yeah, I guess it’s alright. I still don’t think this thing’s going to fly or anything, but it’s alright.” Although the plane looks a lot newer than it did initially, it’s still missing one of its legs, the propeller is still pointing in the completely wrong direction, and overall, the frame of this heap seems much less than airworthy.
“Oh,” Bruno says with a jump. “I almost forgot.” He runs back toward the flightless bird of a plane and once again reaches through the window. I hear a loud click. The click is immediately followed by the deafening sound of several gears cranking to life. The frame of the plane shifts and squirms. The propeller rights itself easily, pointing forward, as I believe all propellers should. A compartment opens in the side of the vehicle and a pontoon drops out the side, righting the plane to a much more level state. Within a matter of seconds, the plane suddenly looks like a plane, you know, with all the pieces in the places one would expect.
And again the exterior of the plane shimmers before the lights turn off and it changes from a bright blue shine to a deep red hue.
Bruno doesn’t even return to my side this time, just laughs at me from his perch on the side of the beautiful beast. And no matter how much I might want to try to hold back my enthusiasm, I can’t help but give the effect the respect it deserves.
“Okay, that’s pretty cool. No wonder the SPs never cared about you having a plane out here.”
“It’s worked for us so far. So, you ready to head to Buffalo or what?”
“There’s still the rather minor issue I have with heights.”
“Have you never been up in a plane, Cyrus?”
“Um, no. How would I have managed to get on one?”
“I don’t know. I figured you rebel kids are always finding new ways to get around.”
“I’m not a rebel, but I guess I was in a helicopter once. Of course, I wasn’t even aware of it until long after they put me on it.”
“You’ve gotta admit it beats running though, don’t you?”
“I like running.”
“Sure, but when you’re looking to get somewhere fast, you can’t beat the skies.”
“I guess I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“Not if you want to save that girlfriend of yours.”
I groan unhappily in response.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Bruno cheers.
The sight of this new form of transport seems to have completely changed his demeanor. As though the overhanging fear of the loss of his daughter disappears with the idea he’s going to fly this goofy thing across the state.
“Come on already, time’s a-wastin’!” He yells to me right before the plane fires to life.
A loud cranking noise sounds from within as the front propeller begins spinning. The cranking is soon replaced with a mild whirring as the propeller spins up to full speed. I run to the plane’s side as Bruno hops back out and grabs onto a rope attached to the legs of the vehicle.
“Jump in!” he yells to me over the noise. I comply, having to climb over the front seat to get into the back. He pulls the plane forward before climbing back in and sitting in the captain’s chair.
It’s loud in here. I feel my ear drums thrum as the propeller continues to spin at high speed. I see Bruno has put headphones over his ears and is talking. I look around and find a pair attached to the wall beside me and slip the headset on.
“You hear me back there, kid?”
“Yeah,” I answer. “But I have to wonder how stealthy this thing is when it makes this much noise.”
“Destructive interference,” he yells. The plane slowly glides forward on the water.
“You know about noise cancelling headphones?”
“Basically, there are these big speakers on the bottom of this old girl. They play out a sound which mimics the sound the plane makes, but kind of the inverse.”
“Yeah?” I ask, certain the confusion is clear in my voice.
“Look at it this way. Think of sound as a wave, which, of course, it is. When the sound of the plane makes the wave go up, the sound from the speakers makes the wave go down, effectively making a flat line. Get it?”
“Do I need to in order to make it work?”
“No. Just trust me. It’ll get a lot quieter in here when we get airborne.”
“Sure, whatever. Let’s get out of here.”
“Whatever you say, boss.” The plane continues its slow movement into the middle of the lake until it finally turns toward the far shore. The sound in the cabin grows exponentially, causing even the headphones to be completely muted. Within seconds I feel the floor of the vehicle swaying beneath me and almost as quickly, the sound disappears.
“There you go, kid. Silent as a whisper.” He takes off his headphones.
“Whoa,” I mutter as I take off my own. “That’s pretty cool.” I’m so distracted by the change in volume it takes a few moments before I recognize we’re rising into the air. Once I become aware, I realize it’s not so bad. It feels solid enough up here anyways. Maybe that’s why I didn’t think much of it in the helicopter.
“You bet. And hey, you don’t have to sit back there.” He grabs the pile of magazines off of the passenger seat and brushes off some crumbs with the back of his hand.
I climb over the opening between the seats and take the offered chair. “So, what the heck was this plane used for anyways?”
“The Agora isn’t the only group smuggling things around the nation, you know.”
“Sure, but what were you smuggling with this. Seems to be an expensive way to transport things.”
“I’ve got the thing running on a combination of solar energy and biodiesel. It can go pretty far for very little. And the best part about it is it’s quick. This trip out to Grand Island would easily take you over 5 days on foot, which is way too long for our purposes. In this thing, less than two and a half hours. I can have you back to Camp Pewakee before the sun comes up tomorrow. Assuming we can get Eve out quickly.”
“Yeah,” I say as my mind drifts. “That bring up a different issue, though.”
“I don’t have a plan. I expected to have a lot more time to hash things out before I got there.”
“We’ve got plenty of time right now, don’t we? We could get this whole plan knocked out in a couple hours and put it right into action. We’ve got full bellies and I’m as well-rested as I’m going to be, shouldn’t be too much trouble, right?”
“Full bellies?” I ask, remembering I didn’t have time to eat the food The Geek had hidden my new earpiece in.
“When’s the last time you ate, kid? The lights went out after meal time. Didn’t you get a chance to dig in?”
“I was a little preoccupied.”
“Oh, well, good thing this ship comes prepared for everything. In the far back you’ll find a hidden compartment under the back seat.”
“Sheesh, it seems every vehicle you rebels drive have things hidden under seats.”
“Hey, what can I say, it’s a smuggler’s prerogative. Anyways, there should be some MREs back there. Not something you’d serve with pride, but will get you through the hard times. When we get back to camp, I should be able to catch us something fresh. While you’re back there, you might want to snag a change of clothes from the closet in the bathroom. Can’t imagine we want to get caught wearing these old orange jumpsuits.”
“Good call.” I climb over the center console and make my way into the back of the cabin.
Clothes are important, I’m sure, but food is much more so. I decide to follow those directions first. As Bruno stated, there is a hidden compartment, and within are the ever-famous Meals Ready to Eat. I grab the brown package on the top of the large pile of MREs which fill the large cavity under the back bench. “You must have enough food here to last for months,” I yell to the front.
“One year’s worth, give or take a few meals,” Bruno answers. “What’d you get?”
I look down at the bag and see I have Menu No. 22. “Chicken and Dumplings,” I shout as a question.
“Not a bad choice. Not a good one, mind you, but at least it’s not the tuna w/ noodles. That one will turn you off eating for good.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I return to my seat up front.
I pull apart the brown plastic wrapper and take out a bundle of items, all shrink-wrapped together inside another sheet of plastic. Noisily, I pull apart the clear plastic and turn the bundle over in my hands in an attempt to figure out what next to do with this package which is supposed to contain food.
I begin separating the products while I try to find how to make this edible. First, a hot beverage bag, then an MRE ration heater, a spoon, a chocolate dairyshake, chunky peanut butter and grape jelly packets, a package labeled wheat snack bread, chocolate covered coffee beans, a package containing yet another pile of random items, like hot sauce and salt and pepper, a shortbread cookie, and finally a firmer package with the words chicken and dumplings emblazoned across the top.
It seems like an awful lot of food packed into this small and unassuming container. I begin to wonder why The Agora hasn’t been shipping these off with runners instead of the old Level-style rations. Of course, I can’t help but notice this seems devoid of any actual watery substance or anything that looks remotely fresh, and therefore good for those on the go. All the same, I could fit fifty of these into my backpack and still have room for a small delivery.
I’m starving, so I figure I might as well start with getting the MRE’s namesake out of the cardboard exterior and into my belly. I pull open the top tab to the chicken and dumplings packet and pull out a plastic bag from inside. There sure is a lot of packaging to these things. Could make it difficult to clean up after yourself when on the run. Yet another reason these probably never caught on with the runners.
I look over the packet and then look up at Bruno. He has been watching me as I pore my way through the contents of my dinner.
“You heat that up with the flameless ration heater,” he says, gesturing toward another bag in my lap.
I pick up the bag and look over the directions carefully, but find myself locked onto an image of a rock labeled ‘rock or something’.
“You’re gonna need some water,” Bruno says, opening up a hidden compartment under the center of the seat between us. He pulls out a bottle of water and hands it to me. “Open the bag, shove the chicken and dumplings in, and then fill the water up to in between those lines there. It’ll do the rest.”
Carefully, I work to place the meal packet inside the heater packet. It fits with only a little room to spare.
“Make sure to pull the heater element up above the lines, too,” Bruno helps.
I do as he says and open the water bottle. Spilling only a little, I pour the water into the bag and cinch the top shut.
“Perfect,” Bruno says. “You should feel it heat up pretty quick now.”
He’s right. I do. I can hear the water bubbling inside the plastic.
“Alright now, kid. Now you want to put the whole thing back into the box there and place it up at an incline, you know, on a rock or something. Up against the armrest here should probably do the trick.”
I do as he says. “How long will it take for it to get ready?” I ask, my stomach starting to gurgle in anticipation of the meal.
“I don’t know,” he answers. “I’d give it about fifteen minutes or so. In the meantime, the chocolate milk ain’t bad. I’d stay away from the chocolates though.”
I dig through the pile on my lap and find the chocolate dairyshake. Looks simple enough. There’s a note about making sure to let the water purify for a half hour, but I’m guessing this bottled water I’ve got should be solid enough already. I tear open the top and pour some water in. It calls for six ounces. I pour in the rest of my bottle, figuring it’s about right.
I close the top tight and shake. I open the thing back up to find it’s no longer a chalky looking mess, but appears somewhat silky. I lift the package to my lips and take a small taste.
“Hey, this isn’t too bad,” I say in surprise.
“Told you, kid. The cookie probably held up pretty good, too. I’m still not too sure about the snack bread stuff, but if you slather enough pb&j on top of it, you won’t even notice.”
I take his advice and pull the bread out and open the peanut butter and the jelly, squeezing the packets to smear the condiments onto the hard bread-like substance. I notice the chicken and dumplings has begun steaming as I bring the bread up to my mouth.
I take a bite.
It isn’t bad, but it’s really dry. I immediately put the bread down on my lap and take another drink of the chocolate stuff.
“Yeah, the bread gets mighty dry, don’t it?” Bruno asks.
“Yeah, but the milk cuts through it well enough,” I agree.
“You ready to talk through our plan while you eat?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say through a full mouth of my second bite of bread and jelly. The texture is horrible, but with how hungry I am, my body is screaming in delight at having anything new enter my stomach. “Got any thoughts?” I ask before chugging another mouthful of the chocolate drink.
“I know a little bit about Grand Island, but not too much. The Agora seems to want to keep mute on giving me any of the details they have about the place. It’s possible that’s because they don’t know much.”
“Okay, what do you know?” I attempt another bite of the bread, taking a larger than appropriate mouthful and getting peanut butter on my cheek as I work to swallow it down.
“First, it’s on an island. Think Alcatraz, but bigger.”
“That’s no good,” I mumble through sputtered bread.
“It’s a lot closer to the mainland than the old prison, but a lot easier to get lost on. Of course, there’s the giant electrified fences all along the perimeter and only one actual way to get across, which is covered with guards. You know, the requisite prison stuff.”
“That doesn’t sound too promising.” I swallow down the last of the bread.
“Unless we could shut down the grid and cause them to lose power to the fences,” he offers.
I laugh. “Yeah, sure. But then we’d have to find one of the nuclear plants or something, wouldn’t we?”
“Not exactly. We could find the power junction and break it, but I’m fairly certain that’s within the complex’s walls.”
“So, why even mention it?”
“Because, there is a rumor it has its own power plant.”
“Cool, but wouldn’t that be within their walls as well.”
“It’s possible, but according to the rumor, they keep it on the outside, on one of the other islands nearby. If the rumor’s right, it’s the one right next to Grand, known as Pirate Island.”
“But wouldn’t it be just as heavily guarded?”
“Maybe.” He smirks. “Like I said, this is all rumor anyways.”
“You’re making me think you have some other idea.”
“Look, the way I see it, we’re airborne, right?”
“You aren’t suggesting we parachute onto Grand Island, are you?”
“No, that would be almost impossible and then I still wouldn’t have a way to get you out.”
“Okay,” I say with a sigh of relief. “You had me scared for a second there.”
“We’d drop you onto Pirate Island.”
“What?” I ask, spitting out a bit of my drink in surprise.
“Yeah, what else? If we drop you in there, there are still the issues with guards and whatnot, but if you can get the plant shut down, our odds immediately become a lot better.”
“You know,” I say, leaning back in my seat. “I’ve been a party to some pretty crazy ideas over the years. But I’m pretty sure this one is the absolute craziest.”
“So, we should keep thinking?”
“I like crazy.”
Go to Chapter Six