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Lila shortcuts, p.4
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       Lila Shortcuts, p.4

           Sarah Alderson
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  ‘I was coming out of the bathroom and I saw them. There were four of them. Three guys and a girl. And they had a dog with them too. Probably wasn’t a dog at all. Was probably some kind of body-snatcher. The girl had red hair and I’d bet my grandma’s teeth she was an alien too. She had this look about her, you know? And she was wearing sunglasses, like you know, probably because she could melt your brain if she looked at you direct . . .’

  We think supernatural powers must be the reason. How else could four people walk off with that much hardware without anyone noticing?

  The local biker crew who were providing security at the event, are claiming foul play, and the cops are investigating a rival gang from Oxnard, but it doesn’t sound like gangland robbery to us . . . more like Pleidian visitors from another galaxy.

  Our witness also claims that a fight broke out later that night when the biker crew discovered their bikes had been covered in My Little Pony stickers.

  Aliens with a sense of humour?

  Let’s hope so. Because I’m not sure I want to know what they want all that firepower for.


  San Quentin Prison Breakout leaves investigators puzzled.

  The following are excerpts from confidential files, stolen from the laptop of an employee of Stirling Enterprises, a private defence company commissioned by the United States Government to investigate the San Quentin Prison breakout.

  From security footage we have established that four people led the raid on San Quentin Prison which facilitated the escape of the convicted felon Harvey James. James, 32, who had been sentenced to life without parole, was being held in the maximum security unit at the time.

  . . . unclear how they bypassed security checks.

  not a single guard interviewed could recall details of the raid . . .

  ‘and they just walked on in and took him from the cell. Just like that. The guard let them in but he didn’t seem to know what he was doing, like he’d been brainwashed or something. Harvey seemed to be expecting them. He got up and patted the guy on the back and they hugged, like they were old timers. Then they just walked out of there. I asked them if I could come too but next thing I know I’m lying on my bed dreamin’ . . .’

  ‘I didn’t see nothing, only caught a glimpse of her as they were leaving, but I can tell you one thing, she had red hair. Get me a lawyer and maybe I’ll remember more about what she looked like.’

  All four were armed and are considered highly dangerous.


  They say love saves, that it sets you free, that it redeems.

  Staring at the body on the floor, rivers, lakes, whole oceans of blood pooling around my feet, her screams still piercing my skull like a pickaxe, a thought rose up, embryonic and unformed, a thought that would grow and become solid over the coming months and years, that love doesn’t set you free like she’d once tried to tell me, that on the contrary, love destroys you, enslaves you and ultimately damns you.

  I loved Melissa. Her death destroyed me and, as you know, it damned me too.

  There’s a lot you don’t know. A lot you’ll likely never know. But if there were two truths I could tell you the first would be this: I loved her.

  The second would be: I did not kill her.

  I know the Unit say I did and have painted me as a behemoth, a monster of biblical proportions, but here’s an interesting fact; the word monster is derived from the Latin ‘monere’ meaning to warn, to instruct, to demonstrate.

  So call me a monster, but let me do my job and warn you.

  We gathered around the hood of the car, leaning over the sketched out map of the building rising squat and ugly in the distance.

  ‘Guard towers are here and here,’ Bill said, stubbing his finger onto the map. ‘Razor wire, check points, inner wall, waiting room, guard room, security doors, second set of security doors, max security block and here,’ he stabbed down with his thumb, ‘this is where they’re holding him.’

  ‘The adjustment wing?’ Ryder asked, peering closer at the map.

  Bill grinned up at him. ‘Where they hold the worst of the worst, death row inmates and the ones that keep trying to escape.’

  Amber hugged her arms around her body. She was a waif of a girl, with red hair that blazed like a halo in the early morning light. I tossed her a cap, ‘Here, put this on.’

  She picked up my Raiders cap and stared at it. ‘This is my disguise?’ she asked. ‘You want us to break into a maximum security prison and rescue a death row prisoner and this is my disguise?’

  I liked her bluntness. She was a hard kid to fool. ‘No,’ I said, ‘that’s not a disguise, it’s to stop you getting sunburned. We don’t need disguises. We have your boyfriend along for the ride. He’s going to sift everyone so we’ll be able to walk in and walk right out again without anyone remembering a thing.’

  ‘They’ll have security cameras,’ Amber said, arching an eyebrow at me.

  ‘I’ll handle it, don’t worry,’ I told her. Kids these days, they really don’t like to trust.

  She glared at me, chewing the inside of her cheek but didn’t say another word.

  A few times I caught myself wondering whether she and Ryder were too young, whether I should be dragging them into all this. Bill was an adult, battle-scarred and weary. He’d seen the worst the world could offer, but these two? They looked like they could be starring in a milk commercial.

  Bill on the other hand had the kind of face that wouldn’t be out of place on America’s Most Wanted. A paramedic in a past life he had useful first-aid skills, but that wasn’t what endeared me to him. No. What endeared me to Bill was that he could lift a pickup truck with just a glance in its direction and use it as a battering ram.

  Of course, you know now what I was doing gathering this ragtag crew of people together. I was collecting as many of us as I could find, that is people with exceptional skills, none as exceptional as mine, of course, but exceptional none the less. And I was doing that because it had become apparent that the only way of fighting this war against Stirling Enterprises and their newly-formed military-style Unit, was to gather my own forces and fight back.

  Amber and Ryder had been forced conscriptions to this army of mine, but after I had shown them the evidence; the photographs and the paper trail linking Senator Burns to the defence company Stirling Enterprises, after I’d shown them the government contract giving free rein to Stirling to research and develop new weapons and revealed to them that we were the weapons they were researching, it wasn’t so hard to convince them to stay of their own free will. Paint a world view that involves armies of genetically-altered soldiers able to move things just by looking at them, spies who can read minds and change the course of history by removing memories and most people will agree to stand and fight to prevent this from happening. The human spirit is indomitable like that. Outrage is an easy thing to harness. It would be dishonest of me to claim that I was just as outraged, however. I knew the way the world worked – I’d been playing the game longer. My principle motivation was not to prevent a terrifying new world order but something far more basic: revenge. Love had me damned.

  ‘Right, shall we go then?’ I asked, folding the map and putting it in my back pocket.

  We climbed silently into the car, each of us focused on the plan, the pencil-sketched map in our heads materialising into solid concrete and brick and twisted loops of razor wire as we got closer.

  San Quentin is one of the largest maximum-security prisons in the US. Inside, held on death row, awaiting execution, was my old colleague, fellow anti-establishmentarian and loyal friend, Harvey. Telekinetic, with a similar skillset to Bill, he was currently known as prisoner 18974, sentenced to life imprisonment for armed robbery and murder (technically it was manslaughter, the security guard just happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time – gold bars are heavy). I would have rescued him sooner but Melissa happened to re-enter my life before I cou
ld get to it.

  She had called me up out of the blue two months previously, begging for my help. I hadn’t spoken to her in over seventeen years, not since college, but the minute I picked up the phone and heard her voice those seventeen years vanished like smoke on the breeze. I couldn’t believe what a fool I was to believe I had ever got over her. One word, my name on her lips, and just like that, the love I felt for her was back, shiny and bright and just as slaying as one of the gold bars Harvey and I had rescued from the Federal Reserve. But remember what I said about love? It doesn’t redeem. I speak from experience. In those seventeen years I’d become the very man she’d feared I would become. A man with no morals, few scruples and a list of crimes to my name so long I can’t even remember half of them. You’ve seen the list I’m sure. And I’m not going to try denying it. I’m pretty sure I’m guilty of most of what they say; bank robbery, treason, breaking and entering definitely, and yes, even murder.

  His name was Senator Burns. You’ve heard of him I think. He was the man Melissa worked for. The man who ordered her murder to cover up his own crimes. I killed him.

  I’d happily do it again.

  A prison, even a maximum security one with guards armed with sub-machine guns stationed at every turn, isn’t that hard to break into or out of. They’re built to withstand infiltration and escape attempts by humans without our kind of DNA advantages. When I told Amber not to worry, I meant it. I had a background in robbing banks, to the point where even walking past a bank I had to forcefully remind myself not to stroll on in, freeze the cashier, force the guard to hand over his gun and convince the manager to open the safe. I wasn’t breaking a sweat about breaking Harvey out of San Quentin. Perhaps this was in part due to how I’d been since Melissa’s death, my mind that of a sniper’s – coldly focused, with killing the only end point.

  Just two days after she called asking for my help she was dead.

  I was the one that found her. How do you scrub an image like that from your mind? Answer: you don’t. I’m just glad you weren’t there to witness it. But by now, no doubt they’ve shown you the photographs anyway.

  Lila was there though. She did witness it, and I often wonder how that’s affected her. I knew Melissa had children but seeing Lila standing there, her mouth falling open as she took in the trail of blood and her mother’s body lying on the stairs, it was like seeing a ghost, a vision of Melissa as a girl. I did the only thing I could think of doing. I snatched her up, wanting to shield her from the horror.

  They were still in the house – the people who murdered Melissa – and they came at us. I have no doubt if I hadn’t turned up when I did they would have killed Lila too. Did you know that? I saved Lila’s life. I’m sorry I was too late to save Melissa’s but I did save Lila. I doubt that would be enough to buy your forgiveness, but a man can hope.

  Bill glanced over at me as we drove up to the first prison checkpoint. I nodded at him and he wound down the window. Before the guard could motion us to slow down I had a hold of his mind. It was sodden as a damp sponge. He waved us through without a question.

  We parked up and got out of the car, all eyes pinned on the guard towers ahead of us.

  ‘Watch this,’ I said, focusing on the silhouettes of the two guards standing guns to shoulder observing the no man’s land between the inner and outer walls. As we watched, and I focused, they both placed their guns on the ground and did hand-stands.

  ‘Can we just get this over with?’ Amber muttered, skulking towards the entrance, which looked incongruously like the polystyrene facade of some Disneyland castle. She was frowning, pressing a hand to her head. It was only then I realised that she was having to deflect the thoughts of over five thousand inmates, many of them incarcerated for the most heinous crimes imaginable. It made me reconsider the wisdom of taking her in there with us, but we needed someone to control the temperature just in case things got a little trigger-happy.

  At the entrance the guard asked to see our identification.

  I stole a line from Star Wars: ‘You don’t need to see our identification.’

  ‘We don’t need to see you’re identification,’ the guard repeated, his face blank as a waxwork.

  ‘Move along,’ I said.

  ‘Move along,’ he repeated.

  It made Ryder laugh.

  We did the same at every guard post until we hit the waiting room. Any guard that looked sideways at us Amber hit with a wave of calm until they backed away smiling. It was quite a gift she had, not one I’d come across previously. It made me wonder what other abilities might exist, who else we might be able to recruit given time. Ryder wiped memories as we went – a quick hand gesture, a touch of his fingers to their temples and we were forgotten, passing through ID checks like ghosts.

  The only thing I’d lied about to Amber was the cameras. It was the real reason I’d given her the cap. There wasn’t a thing I could do about the cameras. They were closed circuit. And Harvey was the one who had the hacking skills. I knew our faces would be recorded but mine was already on the record, as was Bill’s, and Ryder’s. Amber’s was partially shielded by the visor of the cap and I hoped that would go some way to disguising her.

  We breezed on through until we found ourselves in the waiting room, where we’d been placed along with other ‘family members’ – there for their allotted twenty minutes with their death row inmate loved one. You can imagine the vibe in that room. Amber needed to steady herself against Ryder. I glanced around verifying the points on our map were just as they were in reality. There was one heavily-guarded door straight ahead of us which led into a control room, that I knew would be manned by several armed guards.

  Thomas had drawn us the map after he’d projected his way into the building and done a thorough recon. At the thought of Thomas I felt a familiar gut twist of anger, then a blast of guilt which I quickly dismissed. Guilt was a wasted emotion. Thomas was the first of our army to fall. Another old colleague, who’d worked with me on a few bank jobs in the past, Thomas had agreed to help me dig up information on who had murdered Melissa by infiltrating the Senator’s meetings with Stirling Enterprises. Shortly after he confirmed Burn’s role, Thomas disappeared. I presumed murdered by the Unit, who by then were actively hunting me.

  Bill slipped the keys from the chain at the waist of one guard. I froze another. Amber gave it all she had, working with the energy already in the space she ramped it up a notch until the room was filled with hysterical cries as stalwart mothers, wrung out wives, snot-nosed kids and shame-faced fathers collapsed to their knees drowning in a sea of sorrow. It was quite a thing to behold.

  We were through that door and into the control room in ten seconds flat. I took over – freezing the five guards manning the console before they could even swivel in their seats or raise their guns. Bill, using a length of fishing wire, tied all five guards to their seats and removed their weapons, piling them into a duffel bag he’d brought along especially which already contained several guns we’d stolen from a gun show a week before. Always be prepared was my motto. Not that I was pro-guns. The guns were for show only. It wasn’t like we needed them.

  Amber locked the door behind us. We were smooth, practiced even, as though we’d been breaking into prisons together all our lives, and I got a familiar high from experiencing a job in flow, panning out as though it had been programmed. But then an alarm sounded, so loud it made us all duck and cover our heads.

  ‘Damn,’ I cursed, crossing to the console, wondering who had set off the alarm. Had we missed a guard? I located the cell that Harvey was in and hit the door release button on the console – admiring the beauty of modern jails and remote electronic locking systems. On the boxy CCTV screen we watched the bars of a cell on the top floor of a three-storey block roll back. I tuned back to the flashing console. The alarm had triggered a lockdown of the wing we were in. I found myself smiling as I watched an army of guards carrying riot shields and guns storm down a corridor on another screen. The others seeme
d a little nervous at the sight, but I always liked a challenge.

  ‘Come on,’ I shouted to the others, marching towards the door that led out into the adjustment wing. The four of us walked onto the cell block floor, where the alarm blasted even louder, drowning out the noise of our feet rattling the metal walkways. From inside the cells came catcalls, the sounds of furniture being thrown and metal clanging against metal. The shriek of the alarm was acting on the prisoners like one of those high-pitched dog sirens – sending them into a frenzy. We bounded up the steps to Harvey’s cell.

  He didn’t even glance up when I stepped inside. He was bent over his bed piling his belongings neatly on top of a blanket.

  ‘Nice place,’ I said, glancing around. He shared it with another prisoner – a huge Latino guy with tattoos and a gut that wouldn’t have been out of place on a delivery ward. I nodded at him. He squeezed his bulk back into the corner of the cell between the concrete toilet and the concrete desk, holding his hands up in a defensive gesture.

  ‘You took your time,’ Harvey muttered straightening up and hefting the blanket with his belongings – books, cigarettes, a couple of photographs – onto his shoulder.

  ‘Well, better late than never,’ I grinned, slapping him on the back.

  I introduced him to the others as we jogged back down the steps, having to shout to be heard over the noise of the alarm and the prisoners tearing apart their cells. Amber was covering her head with her hands, Ryder had his arm about her shoulders, even Bill had started to look nervous.

  ‘I take it you have a plan for getting us out?’ Harvey asked, stopping halfway down the stairs to light a cigarette. He blew a cloud of smoke in my face.

  ‘Sure I do,’ I said, glancing through the thick, scarred plexiglass into the control room where the guards sat struggling against their binds.

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