What Tam hated most about clever and useful tech was that the bad guys got to use it too.
The inner perimeter of the Scarlet Freedom Brotherhood was set about a hundred yards out from their central building complex. That was where the sensors that were set up to detect intruders switched from the simple listening devices to motion sensors and video monitors.
Sneaking up close to the base was practical if you knew to avoid the voice detecting microphones. Thanks to her rapid research on the flight in, Tam came pre-warned about the threat they posed, and even had a schematic of their locations downloaded to her phone once she was able to tap into the Brotherhood’s “secured’ wireless network.
The same hack which gave her those locations also provided an overview of the base’s other security features. Getting around the security the Brotherhood had in place was going to take more than a simple wifi hack though. Most of the systems were isolated from the central network and several had redundant local alarms on them, so not only would they alert the central control room, they’d also set off a beeping (or in more extreme cases, sirens) where they were installed.
Tam held her position behind the wide trunk of an oak tree and fought back a growl of frustration. Time was marching on and she hadn’t been given a lot of it to start with.
Under normal circumstances, the vulnerabilities in the Brotherhood’s security system would have been easy to exploit.
The sensors have local alarms? Set them all off! Too many signals are just as good camouflage as the absence of an alert. For quick retrievals or fast escapes, that tactic worked perfectly against overly secured locations. If she tried it on the Brotherhood though, they would kill the children and destroy their bodies. It was a monstrous plan but given that death and destruction were the Brotherhood’s overall agenda, they were well prepared to put that plan in motion. Any sort of alert that Tam raised would simply accelerate the time table.
If she took too long being careful though another child would be selected for the hunt. Or Val or Anna’s work might be uncovered, in which case Operation: Dispose of the Evidence would be put in place immediately as well.
She had to somehow ghost past the sensors designed to prevent unwanted intrusions, free the kids and get them to safety all without anyone noticing. Tam was stealthy but she wasn’t a ghost yet, a condition the Brotherhood would be more than happy to change if they found her.
Two choices remained to her therefor. With the right application of James Baughsley’s connections, and a silent mystic incantation, she could turn into a spirit of the wind for a brief time. It was a taxing effect though, and not one she could use repeatedly. Once she called on the enchantment, the transformation would only last a few minutes and couldn’t be repeated for at least a fortnight.
So that was Option B.
Option A was more dangerous, but also much simpler. If a place was barred to you, often the easiest method of gaining entry was having someone else open the door.
Rather than sneaking in like a ninja, Tam caught a lift with a delivery truck.
Hitching a ride was somewhat tricky, but significantly less so than avoiding the careful array of sensors the Brotherhood had laid out. All it took was patience, and the right opportunity.
Tam let a few vehicles pass by her hiding spot while she waited for her “invitation”. A sedan came by first, loaded front and back with Brotherhood members who were late to the party. With the car’s inside full, Tam’s only option for using it would have been to cling to the outside. Being dragged along a dirt road for a mile wouldn’t have left her in any shape to save the kids however so she passed on that option.
The next vehicle was a truck with a single occupant. The driver didn’t have the doors locked, but getting into even a slow moving vehicle would have attracted attention. No one fails to notice a car door flying open when they driving along what was supposed to be an empty road.
Time continued to march on, chipping away at not only the children’s chances of survival but Val and Anna’s as well. Tam’s nerves were strung as tight as violin strings by the time a pickup truck turned onto the Brotherhood’s road. That was her ride.
The back of the pickup was wide open, and when it made the turn it slowed just enough that Tam was able to sling herself silently into bed.
Tam had disliked being short when she was growing up. She wound up getting carded well into her 20s whenever she went out with friends, and people looked at her girlfriends like they were robbing the cradle by carrying on with a someone as young as Tam appeared to be.
That had become less of an issue over time though, and from the day she’d taken up stage performing, Tam had come to love her “economical height”. Some illusions required long limbs but a vast number of them were easier to pull off when you weren’t quite as tall as the heels you wore and your long flowing waist cape made you out to be.
The concealment skills that let her vanish on stage, were just as valuable in the bed of the pickup truck. True, she hadn’t had time to configure the pickup’s contents to create a truly effective illusion, but as any magician will tell you, illusions don’t need to be perfect. All an illusion ever needs to do is fool the audience’s eye.
Some audiences are easy. People who want to be amazed, who want to believe what the magician suggests they see. They’re the ones who are delight to work for. Their energy feeds the performance and leaves everyone with a delightful high after the show.
The bad audiences aren’t the ones who can see through the illusion though. Performing for other magicians is difficult but a fellow illusionist may be delighted by an effect even if they know the secret of how it’s done. Craftsman can respect the craft involved in something even if they could do it better after all.
It’s the audiences who have no interest in the show, the ones who are there just to heckle, and just to disrupt other people’s enjoyment. They don’t care if they can’t figure out an effect. They’re not at the show to be amazed. They’re only happy if they can see someone else suffering.
That’s the sort of the audience the Brotherhood was, but Tam had an ace up her sleeve. The Brotherhood had no interest in being fooled by any illusion she showed them, but they also weren’t expecting anyone to try to fool them in the first place.
They didn’t care when she broke their security cordon because all they saw was the truck they’d been expecting. They didn’t bother checking the bed of the truck because the driver had the steaks and beer with him in the cabin.
No one paid attention to her as she climbed out of the truck’s bed and walked casually behind one of the buildings. No one saw her at all, because they felt safe and powerful and hidden.
Illusions aren’t only products of concealment though. It’s not enough to keep people from seeing what you’re doing. You have to give them something else to focus on and a story about it they can believe. The art of a magic trick is every bit as much in what you show your audience as what you keep hidden.
On the shadowed side of the building, Tam took a moment to calm herself and focus. If she was discovered it would be a death sentence. Best case scenario, she’d be added to the hunt, but she knew that was unlikely. Whoever found her was much more likely to panic and empty all of the ammunition they had into her.
The problem was that there were still several people standing guard around the bus that held the kidnapped children.
They were senior enough members to be trusted with guard duty but not physical fit enough for the hunt. Tam guessed that each of them had also already killed for the Brotherhood and were trusted to be willing to do so again if the kids showed any sign of escaping.
The driver who brought the steaks and beer left some of the latter with men standing guard and moved on within a few minutes to fire up the grills in the mess hall before the hunters got back with their first trophy.
Tam followed him, the prospect of fire appealing to her innate sense of how to stage a good show.
A few minutes later there was an explosion.
Nothing commands people’s attention like an explosion.
The guards around the children came to instant readiness, their rifles in hand and their eyes alert.
The driver, covered in smoke and soot came barreling back down the dirt pathway that lead to the mess hall. With choking gasps he sobbed an apology and explained how there’d been a leak in one of the grill lines that he hadn’t seen until it flared up. He got out in time but he wasn’t sure if anyone else had and now their mess hall was on fire.
All but one of the men left at a dead run. Fire is something humans understand on a primal level. It is the species’ oldest tool and most dangerous servant. No one wanted to see it run out of control and destroy the camp. Or at least none of the Brotherhood wanted that. Tam would have been delighted to leave the camp and all of its members as charred and forgotten stains on landscape.
The last guard was watchful and ready for trouble. Fires can break out for a lot of reasons but “enemy action” was what he saw behind every misfortune in his life and this was no exception. The minorities were coming for him. He was sure of it. Trying to stop the Brotherhood from thinning their numbers and keeping the herd of low lifes in check. It didn’t matter though. He had his gun and his freedom and that was all a righteous man needed.
Tam couldn’t let him fire his gun. It would have attracted too much attention. So she beat him with it. One strike to throat to prevent a scream, followed by a quick disarming move to take control of the firearm and then a hard strike with the rifle to the back of the man’s skull.
A few inches lower and a little harder and she would have killed him. Tam wasn’t sure she could have done that, she wasn’t as trained as Val was, or as mentally prepared to take a life but, when she thought about what the Brotherhood was doing, imagining ending one of them became disturbingly easy.
That wild anger wasn’t quite gone from her eyes as she entered the boss and found the children huddled together towards the back.
She gestured to the microphones that had been placed inside the bus. They were the last line of defense. The guards had told the children to stay quiet or they’d be shot. The microphones were synced into the main security grid and were run through the same voice analysis software as the ones set farther out in the field.
Tam pointed to herself and to them. You and me. She pointed down the driveway. We’re getting out of here.
One of the children waved her hands frantically. No. She pointed to a clunky bracelet that had been fashioned to her leg. We’ll die.
All the children wore them.
Tam recognized the design. They were intended to enforce house arrests. Usually they didn’t come with explosive charges strapped to them though.
That was a wrinkle none of them had foreseen. One that was going to literally blow up in their faces.
Tam was out of time. The guard she beat up was going to be a problem again shortly, and the ones who’d run off to fight the fire would be back in a few minutes. She didn’t have time to disarm each of the bombs on the children and any one of the bombs was sufficient to kill everyone in the bus.
They were stuck in a trap with no escape.