I could not help thinking about Anna as the Humvee I rode in bumped over rocks and gravel.
I couldn’t help it because I was laying on top of her dead body, hiding, stowing away. I couldn’t wait to get away from her. From her and her sticky blood.
Yesterday, when we’d planned this, Anna and Rufus calculated that from where Anna would be picked up, we would drive by this huge, gnarly tree. They said, “you’ll be following a faint road, a trail really. You will go right past it. When you do, count to 45. At that point, you will be traveling up a long slow uphill.”
When the count gets to 45, I will jump. The Humvee will be driving uphill, slowly enough to give me a chance to jump out. Jump out and then hide. I would be inside the perimeter of the Museum security. I wouldn’t be home-free, but it would be a solid start.
Just minutes before, I had been strapped to Anna. Then, I admired her very lively and lovely older body as she sauntered away from me. How long ago? Ten minutes? Her body was still warm. What was Ruthless Rufus thinking? She was his wife and business partner. I bet he doesn’t even care.
Anna and I had jumped from a plane, landed, stowed our chute, and split up. Then these two men – American soldiers, by the looks of them – drove up and shot her. Point blank. (zero) No questions asked.
Now those same shooters are up in the front of the Humvee, joking and laughing. As though they hadn’t just killed a human being. As though she didn’t matter. And though I had hated Anna, I wanted to punch them both in the face.
Then, I see a tree. Is that the one? I start counting, and get ready to jump, but – false alarm – the tree isn’t very impressive. Anna said it would be impressive. Rufus called it gnarly. They both said it was alive when the first white man landed in North America. The tree was so impressive, they said, that it had survived a nuclear blast just a score of miles away.
I look up and see the blue sky, and the bright sun. I think: impress me.
Then, I hear talking through my bluetooth earbuds. I am apparently on speaker-phone. Jan says, “I am telling you, this is crazy.”
Jan continued, “They’ve already shot Anna, are you going to sacrifice Sean, too?”
79 says, “None of us like this plan, but if Sean doesn’t do this, no one lives. None of us, at least.”
I hear 208 say, “Jan, we are all sacrificing. We’ve sacrificed so much already. If we don’t do this, we sacrifice everything we’ve already done.”
I hear Jan say, “No, this is not right. I can’t stand by for this.” I want to tell Jan to not worry. I want to tell her I’m doing this of my own free will. But, I don’t risk speaking.
Then, in the background, I hear a door slam and then Robbie says, “She’s in love with him, you know.” And I hear 208 say, “Shh – we’re on speaker phone.”
But, I realize I already knew that Jan was in love with me. And, the Computronium triggers something in my brain. An idea. Hmm. Yes. An idea.
And, I change my mind.
I pull out my phone and type a quick text message. Anna’s blood is all over my hands, and I have trouble with the fingerprint reader, so I have to type in the passcode. I wipe my hands and type out my message:
“Stowed in back. No tree yet.”
The swoosh sound of the text being sent sounded so loud, I expect the men in front to hear it over the sound of the engine. I fumble to try to find the volume button, but the blood makes my phone slippery and I don’t succeed.
I’m on speakerphone and I hear my text come in. Joanna says, “Sean just texted. He’s in the car but hasn’t passed the tree.”
Just as I heard that, I saw it. And, it was impressive, just as Anna said. Beyond gnarly. Knotted, dead-looking, majestic, like a religious shrine to nature. Genuinely amazing. It looked like the kind of thing that was strong enough and weird enough to survive a full on nuclear blast, though of course it hadn’t.
My mind is changed. I have a new plan, though I can’t risk sharing it with the team. My plan is risky. They wouldn’t like it.
I listen to the Humvee’s engine roar as it climbs the hill. It is so steep that I can see down to the bottom of the hill. It feels like we are going to topple over backward.
And, I realize: I forgot to count. I can see the gnarly tree behind me. How far away is it? How fast are we going? Has it been twenty seconds, or two minutes? Shit!
The Humvee slows. I decide that this is my chance. Back at the warehouse, Anna made me practice this move, using some obstacles we had found. The idea is that I hook my leg and arm on the back ridge of the truck, low so I can’t be seen, and push up and over just before we crest the hill. Then, I will lay flat on the ground and hope the driver doesn’t look into the mirror until he has navigated the crest of the hill and I am out of sight.
If I get that far, I will run for the bushes. I was now just inside the virtual fence perimeter but not to the first checkpoint. I have to get out before the checkpoint.
That was the plan. Few plans have gone well lately. But, I am in contact with Computronium, and I am changing the plan.
The back of the Humvee’s cab is canvas, and there is also a vinyl window, cloudy with dust and age. I roll in the blood from Anna’s body, I smear blood on my face and arms. Then I roll off of Anna’s body. I find a small tear in the canvas, and I pull, ripping it wide open. I crawl up into the cab and see the two soldiers. They are intently focused on navigating the steep final section of the hill – practically a cliff, and I climb in behind them. The Humvee rolls over the top of the hill and lurches to the top and lands flat, struggling a few meters onto flat ground. I look around for something I can use, and spot a crowbar. I pick it up and hit the soldier on my right as hard as I can. I hear a crunching thump and I wonder if I just knocked him out, or if I actually killed him.
The driver turns to me and I can see on his face, the question: “What the fuck!?” I have blood all over me and though I look nothing like Anna, he is momentarily confused, like, maybe she’d risen from the grave.
I hit him in the face.
The Humvee continues to roll forward, then lurches and bounces. I climb into the wide middle section between the seats, reach across the driver, push open his door and push him out. I jump into the seat and settle in and slam on the brakes. I look up, and only meters away is the checkpoint, with two soldiers looking from me, to the driver laying on the ground, then to me. I can see the same shock on their faces, and I release the brakes, slam the gas and roar right past them. I duck as bullets rip into the back of the vehicle. A mile ahead, I can see some sort of compound, and I’m racing right toward it.
The original plan has not survived confrontation with the enemy, but my new plan is already working.
I yell into my phone. I scream, “I’m in, fire up the chopper, now! Bring some cable, because I’ve got a new plan!”
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson