Six Weeks, Three Days Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation
It was dark. Not just middle of the night dark, but honest to goodness, clouds in front of the moon and not a light on the side of the road dark. You wouldn’t think there was a part of America where there are no lights on the side of the road, but the fact is that in many of the more remote parts of the country no one bothers with them.
Nebraska certainly counts as remote.
However, roads with no lights on them at all are not the kind of thing used by the U.S. Army. No, on this particular night the lightlessness of the road had nothing to do with age or infrastructure and everything to do with yours truly. The clouds over the moon were coincidental, but handy.
I was drifting along the side of the road at about twenty miles an hour. Some work with the maglev relays the day before had let me push the top speed back up to something that wasn’t quite as embarrassing as the jogging pace we’d had when testing things. Still, things got touchy if I tried to move much faster than twenty miles an hour, so ambushing a convoy moving at highway speeds was going to be tricky.
I mentally flicked my headset active. “Any sign of their calling for help?”
“No,” Hangman said, her voice sounding unusually tense. “So far they’ve just been grumbling about the maintenance the highway gets. Wait.” A moment’s pause. “Okay, somebody just floated the idea.”
“Have you found their satellite uplink?”
“It’s cracked and being monitored.” A hint of exasperation replaced some of the tension in her voice. “There’s a trojan in there that will let me shut off the feed at any point without tripping any automatic alarms. But Circuit, you know as well as I do that there’s no accounting for human eyes. If someone notices that the convoy hasn’t checked in in a while it could be even more of a problem than their complaining about the lights along the road being out.”
“Believe it or not, that has occurred to me. I’m more worried about what will happen once they start reporting flying men landing on the trucks. The Army has a notoriously slow response time, it’s part of being a huge bureaucratic institution. But if Project Sumter is listening and has someone nearby we could be in trouble before we can successfully cover our tracks.” I narrowed my eyes as headlights appeared in the distance. “I have visual.”
“They still haven’t touched their satellite uplink,” Hangman said. “Do you want me to cut it now, or wait?”
“Cut it now.” I eased up slightly, letting myself drift down so I was closer to the road. There was a bigger chance I would be spotted but the fact is keeping the maglev system working required constant pressure from my talent. It’s a lot like keeping a muscle flexed for a long period of time, you can do it easily enough with the right conditioning but it’s still tiring. The plan didn’t call for a lot of talent use once I was in, but it was best to be cautious and keep as much of it available as I could.
“The satlink is cut,” Hangman said. “Just out of curiosity, what are your countermeasures for their cellphones?”
“Bureaucracy again.” I said, trying not to stare into the headlights and ruin my night vision. It was difficult, since I needed to keep an eye on the vehicles and in the near total darkness the light could be almost hypnotic. “If they’re calling over an unsecured line they’ll need to run through a whole identification routine and it will take them time to get up the chain of command. If anything, it will slow their response time even more.”
“Point.” A moment’s silence. “Okay, they’re satellite link is now cut. Home base is getting a false signal.”
The headlights were getting larger and larger. “I’m getting ready to go down. This could be loud, and I’m going to need my concentration. I’m turning down the volume on the headset so if you have something to say be sure it’s nice and loud.”
“Or I could…” Hangman’s voice faded beneath the noise of rushing air.
The manifest we’d intercepted said there should be half a dozen vehicles in the convoy I was planning to ambush. Unfortunately which vehicle the piece of equipment I wanted was supposed to be in hadn’t been clear. Worse, since I was after an electronic component, I couldn’t risk disabling the convoy with an electromagnetic pulse, as that had a chance of damaging it. I’d known all this before I came out and had cooked up a number of different ways to try and slow down the convoy so I could get on board one of its vehicles without injuring myself.
Unfortunately only one of those schemes had actually been practical.
It involved another piece of brilliant Davis engineering, a motorized cable and winch that I had strapped over one shoulder. It contained three hundred feet of light weight line that could easily support five hundred pounds of weight. The weighted magnetic grapple at one end could be fired via electromagnets at a speed of about sixty miles an hour. In theory, all I had to do was get it attached to a vehicle and let the crank slowly bring me up to speed and then along side the truck.
But, as any well trained sniper will tell you, it’s always best to hit the last person in a line first. If you start at the front, the people behind him will notice what’s happening. The same principle applies to sticking a grappling hook into an Army convoy. I would only have one chance to snag the last truck in line. That wasn’t my favorite part of the plan.
Drifting along the side of the road at twenty miles an hour it looked even less appealing. Even though some work with the maglev harness earlier had made it more comfortable, and even though I’d practiced this while moving at different speeds and under different conditions out at the base camp I had in Wisconsin, I was still not entirely confident that I could hit on my first try.
There was a back up option, of course, in the form of a roadblock a few miles down the road at the limits of my maglev range. But not only would it take time for me to catch up to the convoy if they got past, the roadblock would put them on alert. I wasn’t really ready for a confrontation with the armed forces just yet, it would be much better if I could do this quietly.
The convoy passed below me, looking deceptively sedate. From that far up a speed difference of forty miles an hour didn’t look like much but as I dropped closer and closer to the convoy things started to happen fast.
Forty miles an hour is a big speed difference, and the first three vehicles were past before I even had the winch lined up. I got a brief glance of an APC and a couple of covered trucks as they went by and then I was lining up my shot. Unfortunately, firing a grappling hook at a moving vehicle mostly consist of pointing it in the right direction and hoping for good luck. While I could possibly recall the grapple using the magnets built into it there was only a slim chance that I could do it before the convoy was out of reach.
So there was nothing to do but suck in a deep breath, drop a few more feet until I was about a dozen feet off the pavement and just as far to the left of the oncoming vehicles, and trigger the launcher.
There was a troubling moment of uncertainty, then the grapple clanged into something important on the last vehicle in line and I was suddenly being dragged along like the world’s strangest parasailer. To be precise, the winch was still letting out line but giving some resistance, so I was picking up speed gradually, instead of having my arms ripped out of their sockets. It wasn’t fun, but it sure beat the alternative. Still, the jolt managed to send a twinge of pain shooting through my recently dislocated right shoulder. I grit my teeth and focused on the motor in the winch, reversing it so it began cranking the line in and dragging me closer to the vehicle I’d snagged.
Unfortunately, the vehicle in question was another APC. It looked like the convoy consisted of four trucks sandwiched between two of the armor carriers, which was sensible from a security standpoint but made my life more difficult. The equipment I was after was most likely in one of the trucks, which meant I’d have to work my way forward. Worse, the APCs probably had a bunch of cramped, bored guards in them, people who would probably notice and take violent offense to my hopping from truck to truck and rummaging through the contents.
I was trying to work out some way to deal with that without bringing the whole convoy down on my head when the winch pulled me down to within a half a dozen feet of the APC’s roof and something suddenly changed. For lack of a better term the magnetic forces keeping me aloft suddenly wobbled and turned slippery; then I was falling, not in freefall but actually shooting downwards towards the vehicle below. I had just enough time to toss the winch aside and throw my hands up to catch myself before I crashed into the armored surface of the APC.
The first thing I did was kill the maglev harness. Getting it up and working again would be much easier than trying to get Hangman to shut down and reboot the entire relay system. Since that was no more work than a quick nudge of talent in the right direction I was able to do it before I even started collecting my wits.
The second thing to do was shake the stars out of my vision and begin collecting said wits.
Ideally, that would have been the end of the things I had to do, at least for the next minute or two. Unfortunately, life and ideals have longstanding issues with one another. That is how I wound up face down and in pain on top of a moving APC in the first place.
So instead of getting a few minutes to recover, I got an overly-clever guard poking his head through the hatch a few feet away, probably wondering what all the banging was.
I should have tried to kick the hatch down on his head, or just kicked him myself. Unfortunately I was still flat on my stomach and doing my best to get my breath back, so soldier boy had enough time to notice me and yell something to his buddies down in the truck. While that was bad, in that it put the entire load of soldiers on notice, it also gave me enough time to get my breath back.
Even with the main part of the maglev harness off, my standard rig included magnetic boots and vambraces. So the next thing to do was check the charge in the batteries in my rig. There was still enough charge for about fifteen minutes of constant use, which would be enough if I avoided using my taser. On the other hand, the average truck has a battery that should have enough charge to refill about a third of my reserves.
Since things were, as the fellows in the APC below me might say, already FUBAR I decided to burn the charge and plan on topping off from a couple of the vehicles in the convoy. Roadblock or no, I suspected we’d be stopped soon enough.
Which shows how little I understood military strategy. Looking back at it, I suspect the boys in the convoy were expecting an ambush and resolved to push on as much as possible in an attempt to avoid it. These were soldiers, after all, not security guards, they had different priorities. So the APC kept going and the guard started to haul up his sidearm.
Now engaging on in wild struggles on top of a moving vehicle is actually on the list of things that aspiring villains should actively avoid, but in my defense I hadn’t meant for any fighting to happen at this point. Actually, there wouldn’t have been any fighting at all if I could have had my way. But again, that would be an ideal situation and those are in chronically short supply.
Fortunately I was magnetically attached to the top of the APC and that reduced the chances that I would go airborne unexpectedly. Unfortunately, I’d have to release those magnets in order to get in reach of the guard. There was a heart-stopping moment when my hands slipped free from the APC’s roof then I grabbed the edge of the hatch and dove down in, grabbing the guard’s belt to act as break.
There was a moment of tangled limbs and grunts, then we collapsed onto the floor of vehicle in a heap. Almost without thinking I dug my hands into the guard’s guts and emptied my taser. He spasmed once and went still.
I gave the guard a shove and rolled to my feet. Three disgruntled soldiers were recovering from shock and getting ready for me just a few feet away. I gave a half-hearted smile and tugged my hat brim down a bit farther. “Good evening, boys. Sorry to drop in unexpectedly. I don’t suppose you’d believe I was just looking for the restroom?”