The Jumpers 2: For the Love of the Game – Jeremy Huard

The Jumpers 2: For the Love of the Game - Jeremy Huard

Jail.
I always told mother I wouldn’t be put in it.
I told her the games I played were just harmless little pranks. And when I joined up with the tech squad that ended up fending off the Chinese grand-hack of the Pentagon’s master database, I was feeling pretty good about life in the system. Ten years of service after that and I might have been able to retire with a host of medals and a lump sum of cash in the bank that I could roll in for the remainder of my nerding days.
But I got the itch.
Every hacker has the inclination. It’s a demon that we battle. Hackers and security are shadowy reflections of each other. It doesn’t take much for a little good guy like me to slip and just do a teensy-weensy hack on the President’s private correspondence. I mean, I voted for him right? He shouldn’t mind a little governmental transparency.
It turns out I found out a lot more than I wanted to. The private correspondence contained all the major codes for U.S. controlled intelligence. Never had a hacker’s wet dream been realized in such a gooey manifestation. I went ballistic.
Needless to say, the unknown siphon of information and international intelligence didn’t take too long to get noticed. The Israelis found me first. I expected that. They have the best programmers in the Allied Nations. Their Cyber Terrorism Alliance branch was coordinated enough to break my own personal system.
Then the windows broke in my house and the tear gas canisters came in. The cops rushed in and I watched as they shot up my massive computer, doused the hard drives (all 20 of them) with acid and then commenced to burn my house down to ensure the destruction of all my forbidden knowledge.
I thought I would let the itch go next time. Maybe I could get a job away from computers. Maybe I could get a girlfriend. Maybe I could bake a pie or go skiing or learn French.
The authorities were not kind during my transfers. They had all the evidence of the information transfers though they had destroyed my computer. The trial didn’t take any time at all. So…I got packed up myself and one of, “the most dangerous and disturbed minds of our time” as the president put it, was finally put behind bars.
And what bars these were.
I counted twenty guards by the gates, ten on the top ten on bottom, not counting the gate operators. Five redundant keys were needed and had to be inserted within a half second of each other or alarms would be set off and every door in the building would go on lockdown. The inner gates I counted as five redundant corridors. I guessed a key from the head of each area would open the front gates.
The massive gates closed around me in the fifth corridor. They took me down seven cells until they arrived at my door. It opened remotely when a guard scanned his thumb and eye on the keypad while the other guard held me. I smiled at his enormity nonchalantly. He growled back at me before pushing me into the cell.
The original darkness of the cell lifted as a single light created a sterile visual noise in the cell. I looked about, double-decker bed, sink, toilet, and a cellmate. He was asleep, and I thanked God for that. I looked at him and thought I must be a full foot shorter. His shoulders crushed the pathetic cushions beneath him and his snores filled the hollow concrete space like a billow of smoke.
I cursed my luck. They must have put me in the cell with Bubba for a very specific jail reason. Hence my friends used to call this place Talon Island Penetrationary.
I felt along the edges of the walls and sighed as the walls felt solid, as I knew they would be. The corners and grout of the segmented walls felt just the same as the walls. I guessed reinforcement with steel or titanium. Probably the later to stop any sort of heat-based escape attempts.
I turned around and sat down against the wall, next to the sink. I stared at the sleeping giant and rested my head back against the solid walls. It struck me as depressing that I couldn’t escape immediately. So far, I only knew electronic walls that were never a match for my superior code. Hell, even basic and the combat training hadn’t ever been as constricting as this cage. At least I could walk further than ten feet.
The giant awoke with a snort and rubbed his face. He sighed and without ever taking his hand away from his face, I watched his lower lip tremble. He made a sort of odd squeaking sound and a single tear trailed down from under his hands.
I didn’t move. I felt like I was watching a dragon cry. In only a few moments, he would take his hand away from his face and see me. He would beat me into the cement blocks and spread my entrails over the walls for having bore witness to his weakness.
“Bad dreams?” I asked softly.
He jumped and whacked his head against the top bunk. I never did have many people skills so I might as well witness some humor before getting gutted. He took his hand away from his head and turned his eyes to meet mine.
I counted the seconds we stared at each other. 17 and then he got up. He grabbed me by the lapels of my orange jumpsuit and pushed me against the wall. He put his face uncomfortably close to mine.
He sniffed me.
After that, he set me down and brushed off my shoulders before lying back down on the bed. He rolled over and pulled a tissue from a dispenser next to the bed. He blew his nose loudly and tossed the tissue on the ground. It combusted spontaneously once it sat on the ground for a few seconds. That made me wonder what they washed the floors with.
My cellmate was certainly odd. But he didn’t try to tear my head off or rape me to death. Those facts made me calm for the moment.
I silently climbed up onto the top bunk and tried to sleep. It did not take long. The lights flickered a moment and shut off. The two of us lay in the complete darkness.
The next few days I spent in silence. They gave us food two times a day. First at what I guessed was around 9:00 AM. It usually consisted of some form of mash that must be machine cooked. It was usually savory but on occasion they would make it sweet. The second time, around 6:00 PM, they served us a second sort of mash that contained no oat-type particles. This later-day mash, as I called it, contained potato and meat products. They gave us a metal spoon to eat it with that they collected at the end of every meal.
I amused myself in those early days by testing the system. This jail, its perfect regular function, it reminded me of a computer system or a strand of DNA. Everything was utterly perfect in its function, never a single misstep. Even down to the size of the island, no one would guess from the inside that it actually moved.
I made a mark on my spoon with the side of the plate, just a harmless little scratch that wasn’t noticeable to anyone not looking for it. The next day, the spoon came back flawless. So I surmised they jumbled spoons every day, probably in the wash.
When the guards would give us our food, I liked to wait next to the door. My calm eyes watching them out of the cage they put me in would surprise them and make them fear. But each day, there would be fresh surprise, a new set of eyes, a different guard.
On the ninth day, my cellmate spoke.
I was staring at the ceiling and contemplating verities and escape when he whispered something. I popped my head over the edge of the bed and looked down. He stared back at me.
“Talking to me?” I asked.
“So they didn’t put you in here to kill me. Small comfort.”
“They? Who’s they?”
“The government. They don’t like me too well.”
“Oh? They don’t like me either. What’d you do to piss them off?”
He smiled deviously and chuckled.
“Assassin, terrorist, take your pick. It paid well for those wanting to instill instability in the world. I got lucky though. The Croat headhunters that found us executed the rest of my team on the spot. They left me alive because I was worth more to them as a commodity than a corpse. But what about you? What are you in for?”
I turned fully on my stomach and spun my tale of woe. He listened intently as I told him about breaking U.S. Government code. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I was telling a terrorist the secrets to my country’s documents. But what the Hell right? They sent me to jail after all.
When I was done, he sighed and pushed his hair back.
“You’re a hacker right?” He said skeptically.
I nodded. “That was the general basis of my crimes, yes.” The humor escaped him.
“Can you hack our way out of here?” He asked.
I paused. He really meant it. I didn’t know what happened to him but he felt real hopelessness in this place. And admittedly, it was getting to me too. Could I get us out of here? Could I get myself out of here? And after that, where would we go? I must have taken too long because he shook his head and turned over again.
A long while passed and we stayed silent. I felt guilty for raising his hopes even a little bit. But in a way, it made me even more determined to break out. No man, not even the ones governments branded as terrorists deserved to never see the sun again.
“Hey.”
“Yeah.”
“What do I call you?”
“You can call me Blue. It’s a better name than my own.”
“Thanks.”
“What for?”
“Well apart from not raping me, talking. The days get long when all I can do is stare at the ceiling and wonder if today is a sweet or savory day.”
He laughed. It was a refreshing sound in this sterile cage. The lights went out and he sighed again.
“Hey pipsqueak?”
“Yes man-mountain?”
“What do I call you?”
I thought of my screen name and smiled in the dark.
“So long as we play with colors, I can be Red.”
“Red huh? Well Red, there isn’t much to do around here. They let us out once a month or so to do things that don’t involve staring, sleeping, and going mad. That’s tomorrow by my count. Be ready to do whatever it is that you do to stay alive.”
“Is it outdoors?”
“No,” his voice sounded apologetic. “It isn’t outside. It’s a large, enclosed space with a dome over it.”
We fell silent again. I could tell conversation would be interesting with my new friend Blue. Maybe I should have tried to develop more people skills in the outside world.
“Hey Red?” His voice surprised me.
“Yeah Blue?”
“Do you pray?”
“Not much. Do you?”
“Sometimes. I stopped a month ago. Used to pray every night.”
“Blue. I’ll take a look around tomorrow. If you can keep the rest of the inmates off of my back then I might be able to see something others have missed.”
Blue took a deep breath beneath me.
“I won’t hope, but if you insist. I’ve been itching for something to pound in with a fist. Maybe I’ll start a fight.”
“Thanks Blue. I won’t let you down.”
He only snorted and I heard him curl up. Soon nothing more than low snores came from beneath me. I felt some small satisfaction in that I had something to do tomorrow. Who knows, it might even be fun.

Morning.
The lights flickered on and burned with full force. Close as I was, I had learned to sleep with my back to it. I saw now why Blue took the lower bunk.
I saw the door open for the first time. Blue stood ready at the door. I rolled out of bed and walked out into the hallway with him.
“Stay on the highlighted path. Any who break this rule will be shot immediately.” The message repeated in five different languages before resetting to English. I carefully kept within the bright floor tapes.
Other prisoners followed us in an ordered herd. We walked out to the third corridor and took a left. A smaller set of doors opened for us to pass through.
The space we entered into resembled a planetarium. A dome stretched above us in a hundred thousand little triangles. Metallic structuring formed the skeleton of the dome that suspended the triangle structure. Opacity prevented them from providing any light with the exception of some of the highest. That provided the light.
Immediately I began searching. False grass covered half the floor space while the characteristic concrete covered the other half. The dividing line between them looked like plastic.
Blue patted me on the shoulder as he walked past. He looked more alive than I had ever seen him before. I also saw where he was headed.
Equipment lay sprawled in different areas of the land. Rubber-shod exercise equipment lay clustered near the wall and the dividing line between the grass and concrete. One enormous man, larger than Blue, bench pressed alone on the equipment. I smiled.
As the scuffle started, I saw the guards begin to wander in that direction. Their lack of haste displayed a complacency that I noted as I quietly drifted towards the wall. What I had to do…I couldn’t say I was looking forward to it.
Shouting followed me as I began to climb. I looked back and saw prisoner and guard alike watching the fight. I winced when I saw Blue hit the man with the loaded bench bar.
I turned around and kept climbing. Soon I found what I sought: A triangle with the little betrayal of a lock. Hinges, on the outside of course, showed at the top side. I ran my fingers along the sides of the frame. My fingers pricked on the end of a sharp piece of metal. The front part of a snapped key rested in the sill. I took it and quickly put it in between my gum and cheek.
The climb down was not as hard as up. The fight kept going until I approached it. The larger man looked worn, haggard, and exhausted but kept getting up. Blue appeared to be enjoying himself immensely.
Blue pushed the man over again and watched him roll on the ground trying to rise again. I pushed my way to the front of the crowd and looked at Blue with a smile. Blue raised an eyebrow and turned back to the man on the ground.
The man stumbled to his feet. Blue dodged to the side as he charged and snapped a foot out to catch the assailant’s knee. The man groaned and fell to both his knees. Blue put a hand on the man’s head and walked behind him.
A snap and it all ended. Blue wiped his hands off on the dead man’s jumpsuit. The dead man’s head lay at an off angle to the rest of his body, his snapped neck bleeding into the concrete.
Blue dusted off and walked out of the crowd as it dispersed. I nonchalantly followed the victorious prisoner back to sit on a bench. The great man looked at his hands and smiled.
“How did you get away with that?” I asked, surprised.
“He was on death row. What about you? How’d your search go?”
I smiled and adjusted the key fragment in my mouth.
“I have a way out. You’ll laugh at how simple it is.”
Blue grinned and patted me on the cheek before reaching into my mouth and pulling the fragment out. He palmed it and put it in his own mouth. Then he turned to look at me.
“I’m a little better at that than you. Let me take care of it.”
The bells rang and we all filed back to our cells. Blue and I began to seriously discuss what we would do. He fiddled with the key shard while I outlined my plans.
I had gotten a good view of this place when I flew in. The dome, being the most vulnerable escape rout lay in the middle of the installation. From what I learned in the Pentagon database, the island made trips from the Northeast U.S. to the southernmost tip of Africa. Judging by the time of year they arrested me and the length of the flight, Talon Island must be nearest to Africa. So the next time that the Island Moored in South Africa, we would make our escape via the dome and scramble over the rooftops. The distance of the fences made climbing one of the guard towers necessary to make it over them. It was fair enough. Blue assured me he could kill anything in the tower easily as I liked.
So we waited.
I asked Blue to train me up a bit in combat. Basic was so long ago that I could barely remember much of the tussling they taught us. Blue smiled when I asked and commenced to wipe the floor with me for the next five hours. But as we waited, we ate, and we strengthened together, I became more than his equal. His fights were powerful, aggressive, and overwhelming. But he lacked subtlety and I often needed only to let him fall on his own weight.
One day, while we were practicing, we felt something like an earthquake. Both of us fell in a heap on the floor. I jumped up and smacked my hands together, rubbing them together and chuckling.
“Today’s the day Blue!”
He slowly got to his feet.
“What? What happened?”
I took him by his shoulders and cackled.
“We’ve landed on Africa don’t you see? Today’s the day we get out!”
Blue put his hand on top of my head and pressed down to stop me from bouncing. I calmed some but continued to chuckle. He took his hand off of my head and we both sat on the floor.
“At meal time, we take the guard’s arm. I’ll do that.” Said Blue.
“Indeed, and I’ll take the guard that comes in after the other. You’ll need to take the first guard in so we can switch out outfits quicker. Then we’ll move it to the dome. I’ll carry the key.” I said as I held up the renovated key half. We had broken a spoon for the back and fused them with rolled combusting toilet paper. That worked, I really hadn’t thought it would. So nice of them to make keys out of lead around here. Must be for easy destruction.
The meal came soon. Blue stood by the door and I stood beside it. The arm came through to hand the meals to us. Blue jerked on the plate and grabbed the arm. A shout came from the other side. Blue jerked the arm up and bit the wrist. I thought that was overdoing it a bit.
The door began to open and Blue smiled at me with blood dripping down his chin. I readied myself and grabbed the guard around the neck as he came in. I tore off his helmet and rammed him in to the wall.
I heard a crack and a grunt from behind me. I turned and as my guard collapsed, I saw Blue dragging his out of the door space and into the cell. He was smiling more than I had ever remembered him doing.
We quickly took the clothing and armor off of the two guards and tossed our old orange jumpsuits on them. Soon, the two of us were out in the hallway. It occurred to me that I didn’t know what might await us beyond the door. But Blue’s confidence reassured me. I knew we would get out. We had to.
The two of us slipped into the dome and sprinted towards the place I remembered the door. It took us a few moments to find it but soon we came to it. Blue handed me the key and both of us held out breath as I slipped the key in gingerly.
It didn’t fit.
“Blue?”
“What’s the problem?”
“It’s the wrong key.”
He swore and I looked around for some other way out. Nowhere in my planning had I accounted for this being the wrong key. Who just leaves broken key fragments around?
Then I saw our chance.
“Blue, we have to climb. Head for the clear windows at the top. We’ll break them and get down the dome, just as planned.”
We started to climb.
The dome slopped sharply and soon we were climbing with our backs to the ground. I didn’t look down because my palms were already sweating. One slip, and I’d be a grease spot on either Astroturf or concrete. My frightened mind thought of an old probability problem from high school: ½ chance on the grass, ½ chance on the concrete, 1/1 chance of death.
I heard Blue’s labored breathing behind me. Apparently we both didn’t like heights too much. Vertigo kept us prisoner as much as the steel walls.
At long last, we reached the glass panes. They were what I expected, reinforced. I heard Blue groan behind me.
“We can break the glass, come on!” My voice sounded much more hopeful than I felt. Blue shimmied up higher until we were both facing the wire-bound glass.
The guards had clubs in their belts, so we drew them and began to beat on the window. As soon as a crack formed, an alarm sounded. Both of us worked in silence, wasting no breath on oaths to personify the situation.
I heard the guards below us without turning. They seemed confused at first, but the gunfire soon clarified their position. A bullet glanced into the glass, making class particles crumble from the wiring.
Blue looked back and looked at me. A grim determination etched into his face, he took a deep breath. A bullet ripped through his shoulder and he didn’t flinch.
“This may not feel good Red.”
He grabbed me with one arm and swinging on the pivot of the other, he threw me through the wiring. I sailed up above the dome and fell backwards onto the outside surface. Blue vaulted through and both of us began to slide.
He leaned over and swung me right side up as we rushed towards the oncoming ground. Wind ripped through my hair as I saw all the missed sights I had previously taken for granted: Sky, clouds, the sun, and to my heart’s delight, land. We both leapt off the end of the dome and rolled into the brick alleyway.
I stopped a moment to catch my breath. He did as well. We both slumped down against the wall.
“How did you know I wouldn’t bounce off?” I suddenly asked as realization washed over me. Blue laughed, almost hysterical in his happiness.
“Intuition,” he finally said.
The guard tower was humming when we peaked around the corner to look. Dozens of guards were locking down the entire facility. They traveled in packs of five or six, too large for us to take on with a pair of clubs.
“Hey! What are you two doing?”
We flinched and looked to see a guard staring at us.
“A pair of prisoners have escaped. Get yourselves to the armory and start looking!”
We nodded and pulled our helmets a little lower. The guards all seemed to be headed for one building. So Blue and I nodded to each other and headed that direction too.
My theory of complacency was right. No one had ever escaped from this island, so why would the guards hurry? They moved at a snail’s pace around the armory, many of them not fully dressed.
Blue and I looked near lustfully on the weaponry they had. We took side-arms of some unfamiliar company that sounded Swedish. Then we took a pair of carbine rifles with arm slings. The guards didn’t pay us any mind as we loaded up on extra clips, grenades, and tear gas. The quartermaster didn’t even give us a second glance when we asked for a few blocks of C4. Blue and I couldn’t resist a mutual chuckle as we left the armory laden for war.
The guard tower next to the fence was our next destination. We had changed plans a bit since acquiring the explosives. Why climb the tower when we could just drop it on the fence?
After setting the explosives, we walked around the corner of the armory. Blue held the detonator and we relaxed against the wall for a moment. I clicked the safety on my carbine off. He did the same. We looked at each other.
“I’m not giving you a goodbye kiss. Blow the tower.” Blue smirked and pressed the detonator. Both of our ears erupted into ringing.
We both turned around the corner and ran for the collapsed tower. Dust was everywhere in the air. Shell-shocked guards stumbled around the courtyard. Blue clotheslined one as we passed.
“Sadist.” I said.
He only laughed. And with that, we were over the fence and into a life raft rowing away from our place of captivity. Good riddance to the place.
I had always dreamed of going South Africa. Turns out that my dreams were not the best to judge our post-escape plans by. Blue wanted to stick with me and I didn’t object. I had to say I was rather fond of that man-mountain. We didn’t ever get hassled in bars.
But we got noticed.
“Blue, come on!” I shouted as we ran down the street. Sirens and the distant sound of a helicopter gave speed to our legs.
I rounded a corner and stopped. We met a dead end. I looked around for some means of escape. No way out, the only thing there was a large chicken coop that might fit us both.
“Blue, come on! Into the coop.”
Blue hesitated. He pursed his lips and looked back over his shoulder. I looked back.
“What is the problem? Get over here!”
“I…” His eyes flashed with fear and he stood rooted to the spot.
“Blue!”
The cars screeched to a halt at the corner and Johannesburg police flooded out. They took us both without firing a shot. They left Blue and I side by side on a car hood as they called in their success. Blue couldn’t look at me.
“What the Hell Blue?”
“I’m sorry man. I…I don’t like chickens.”
His words didn’t seem to compute. I’ve been afraid of spiders. I’ve been afraid of snakes and clowns. But being afraid of chickens was a new one.
“Are you telling me Blue that you and I just got captured because of your phobia of chickens?”
He didn’t answer as the cops lifted us up and stuck us into separate cars.

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