Written by James "J-Man" Barton
Web posted by the Seattle
Washington Autoduel Team, December 24, 1999
Updated September 08, 2000
The car pulled slowly out of the driveway, driver checking both left and right before slowly backing over the footpath and back out onto the road. A few moments later it was driving forward heading towards I-23. We started the car, and pulled slowly out from behind the parked car, keeping our distance, but at the same time keeping within contact of the other vehicle. As we crept along at 25 kph, the other vehicle slowed down for a minor intersection, checked the way was clear and accelerated through. As we approached a car streamed past. We slowed, checked around us and went through the intersection.
The car we were following was lightly armed and most of that was defensive: a couple of rear droppers, a turret mounting a small MG and another small MG out the front, mid-sized with a metallic blue paint job and a fair bit of armour. From where we were we could see three occupants, two in the front seats and one in the back. We'd been told however that anywhere up to five could be involved in the car and to be ready for that many.
By now we were on I-23 going west, now at about 120 kph. There was a bit of traffic around and we were taking a few chances through the fairly light, but still dangerous traffic. As we got further from town the road began to clear, we backed off and dimmed our lights. It was a clear night with plenty of light, the road was straight and the only view obstructions were the occasional farm bulding or higher hill. It was going to be a long, but fairly easy night.
After a few hours we were still going along at the same speed. The car ahead hadn't done much, save for overtaking a few semis. We'd been keeping our distance, 300 to 400 metres and didn't think they were getting suspicious. We didn't really know where they were going. Rumours had been going around, but most of them were small time. This was a lot of miles to clock for a small-time operation. Still we followed though, if this was as big as it was looking, we definitely wanted to be there.
Another car pulled out of a farm driveway and drove within a couple of hundred metres of our target vehicle. Our radio scanner lit up; a low band, emergency flood channel was being used. It was the middle of summer and it had been three months of drought and counting, which had caused local algae farms to have to close up until more water became available. I tuned the radio to the frequency, and listened in.
"This is Dark-452, we understand that last instruction, and are about to go into radio silence. Do we have flies in the ointment?"
"No on the flies 452. This is 320. Radio silence initiated . . . "
"What do you think all that means partner?", I asked the driver next to me.
"Well, I don't think we got all of that conversation, but whatever is going to happen is going to happen soon. And . . . that's about all I can tell you, so sit back and enjoy the ride."
In the distance, about two clicks away we could just make out lights, and more importantly we saw sparks and flames -- definite signs of a firefight. The radio came back into life.
"This is Dark-270 -- we are breaking radio silence, we have a fly, repeat there is at least one fly. Bearing Alpha, Phi, Sigma. Repeat Alpha, Phi, Sigma. That's target number 004 on your scopes. Crew, look alive."
"Do we call for back up?", I asked?
"We break radio silence now, they know know we are here. Just a couple
of reminders. We are outnumbered and in all likeliness outgunned.
We don't know what a fly is, and we definitely don't know the Greek alphabet,
so just calm down and get the computers booting up."
* * *
The firefight was getting close now, less than 1.5 ks away. There were a couple of stationary cars back from what looked like five vehicles fighting it out. They were either wrecks or civilians. Either way trouble was heading in our direction. We turned off our lights and drove off the shoulder of the road.
I was a fraction nervous to say the least. I hadn't been out on too many live operations. My partner Jaks had done more than he can remember and was pretty relaxed about the whole thing. We'd been following this guy for the past fortnight and he'd been pretty quiet, a couple of small things here and there, nothing really worth getting involved in. But now we had something involving at least six cars. The pay-offs were big and so were the risks.
Just as we pulled off the side of the road our target began to speed up. Two huge flames then shot out of the front of the car. Someone had been concealing weapon ports. They looked like missiles, and as the flames streaked across the half kilometer gap in about five seconds another two shot out from the front of the car. One of the five vehicles in the pack exploded and vaulted into the shrubs and grass. Just as that one went off another large explosion occurred as the other two missiles hit the road about 20 yards behind the convoy. The fighting was pretty intense by now, it looked like there were two trucks taking on two other vehicles. Presumably that wreck was protecting the trucks. As they came closer it was becoming pretty obvious who was winning. One of the tractors was on fire and in the flickering light it was looking in pretty bad shape. The other tractor wasn't looking so bad, but for some reason it wasn't firing back.
Our target vehicle had now joined the fray, leaving a string of mines for the trucks to deal with, as well as spraying the windscreen with the turreted MG. They swept past us, not even noticing us. It was then that Jaks pulled out, spinning the tyres. He flicked the tail around, a cloud of dust and smoke spewed from the back tyres as he lit them up and screamed after the convoy.
As we picked up speed the fight was still going on ahead. The relatively undamaged tractor suddenly swerved across the road. We saw one of the three attacking vehicles spinout and slide into the scrub, rolling once. This was just as we ran over some spikes left by someone up ahead. The solid tyres survived the impact, but it was pretty rough on us. Jaks turned on the lights, as I fired blindly at the cars ahead with the twin, VMGs. The front semi started to slow down, and pulled in beside the other semi. Doing this they had trapped one of the cars between them, and as the driver and gunner opened fire with everything they had, the two rigs drifted into each other. After a horrible crunching and squeaking sound, both trailers jumped as they ran over the car, that was another confirmed kill. The final vehicle left was our target, and as we got to within possible firing range, there was a loud explosion.
The tractor that had been on fire had finally exploded, and as it gradually rolled to a stop, we sped past heading towards our target. As I continued to keep the VMGs firing the blue vehicle finally noticed us, turning his attention from the front right tyre of the tractor, the turret turned and began to fire at us. We took a couple of bullets to the front armour, but nothing serious. I opened up with everything and scored a couple of hits, sweeping the area, damaging both trailer and car. As I did this the semi drifted across. Just as he was about to hit the car, he veered off the road, over the shoulder and suddenly off-road. We followed. I got knocked around as we barged our way through the ditch on the side of the road. Slightly dazed Jaks looked around for the target. I looked around as well. Suddenly the right side lit up. He'd sniped us. Jaks turned off the lights and darted around trying to lose the target. Both vehicles were effectively blind now, but we both wanted to score another kill, so it was going to continue.
This was dangerous driving, off-road, at night, with no lights. Jaks had no idea what was coming and the front armour was taking a bit of damage from small trees and bushes. We could only imagine that the other vehicle was in a similair situation, neither of us had OR suspension, so at least it was even footing. Suddenly a glint, I fired, not hitting anything, but I'm pretty sure it was him.
"Three o'clock Jaks. I think I saw him. Turn to about six and let's see if we can't flush him out."
We'd been circling now for almost a minute, we'd all taken a couple of shots at each other, but they were pretty much blind shots at shadows. We were also pretty lost, the truck had by now cleared way off, and from here we couldn't see the other trucks fire. We were in a bit of trouble now, and we didn't want to leave without first finding our opponents.
Suddenly a crash, we'd hit something, "What was it Jaks?"
"Don't know mate."
"Look, we've got to put the lights on."
There it was, as the lights came on we saw it, a massive roo (kangaroo for any non-Australians out there). Full grown adult, it had pretty much taken the last of our front armour with it. As we looked around in our new found luminence we couldn't see anything. Presumably they had run off. We slowed down and started to think about where we were. It didn't take Jaks very long, something about an Astrology or Astronomy course he'd taken while autoduelling for a university. As we hit the road we turned it around and headed back towards the truck.
It didn't take long to find it. The truck had stopped on the shoulder, the tractor now just a flaming wreck hanging over the edge, luckily the fire hadn't spread to the trailer. FP armour -- must be something important. We opened the back, after some trouble with the lock (nothing a shotgun couldn't fix). It was filled with crates, all unmarked. We broke one open. Full of that polystyrene stuff. After digging through that, we found a brick in the middle. Just a regular housebrick. We opened another crate . . . the same. They must all be like that. After about half an hour and a lot of mess, we'd gone through about half of the crates, just emptying them onto the road. Nothing but bricks and foam. We threw a few bricks into the back of the car, who knows they could be something special.
Jaks and I sat down. We'd been following this guy for a fortnight. This was meant to be something big. No work for two weeks then suddenly going after a convoy, a convoy carrying bricks. Then just as it started to become clear to me what might be happening. Jaks was already headed for the car.
"Jimmy, get your arse in the truck. This was a decoy, that explains everything, why the other one didn't have any weapons, why this one caught fire, why our target nicked off so quickly. That other truck holds something we want to have. Don't know what it was, but we haven't been following this guy just to steal bricks. The prize is in that other truck."
We jumped into our car and headed off, more quietly this time. We were
after that truck. It had at least an hour on us by now, but there was another
car out there. It was looking for us as well as the truck. It hadn't been
the easy night we first thought, and there were a couple of days left in
this chase yet.
* * *
We pulled into the roadhouse. We'd been driving for about four hours, out of juice and a bit tired. A full recharge, eat, drink, relieve, a quick check of the car's systems, maybe even some ammunition if we were lucky and the stop was selling it individually. That was the standard drill on long hauls, oh, and a driver change, a switch over. I need to get a bit of time behind the wheel. Of course if we were expecting trouble, Jaks would jump in. But, we figured we hadn't gained much during the last shift and it would be one to one and a half days at least before we got even close to catching the truck.
That of course assumed we didn't take any wrong turns. The onboard computer had done some sums and had figured that the truck would have had to stop at this truck stop. It wasn't wrong either. About three hours ago a truck had stopped for a splash and dash . . . putting it on a card and then leaving quick. A lone truck, no weapons and a bit of damage; couldn't be anyone else's. As for our smaller target, no one had seen hide nor hair of him. We asked around the truckies. And although they'd been passed by a couple of quicker vehicles, none could really give us any info.
On the positive side, we got a bit of information on the roads ahead. He was heading straight north, which could only mean one thing: Alice Springs then Darwin. Not much else out there, save for roadhouses (aka truck stops) and a few homesteads. Of course he could be heading west or east later on, but he'd have to go a fair way before he'd find a good place to turn off. There was no sign of any gang activity or vigilantes, which was good, very good. The last thing when you have a damaged car and are chasing someone is to run into some guys trying to make a quick dollar.
I slid through the window, a habit which Jaks hated, but I enjoyed. Just a good way I find to get into the car. I pulled it out pretty sedately, easing her into gear and pulling out of the stop. I always hated my first hour in a car; just a nervous person I guess. I needed a good half hour to an hour to get the feel of a car. Stopped me from doing any serious duelling, that and that I'm not a really good driver anyway. It was going to be a long day, we'd spent the whole night driving and as we left the roadhouse, it was just breaking morning. A still, slightly chilly and completely cloudless day. The sun was nowhere to be seen, but a line of light was along the horizon and the sky a rich blue. It was going to be a stinking day, it'd hit 40 before the afternoon (which is 60 inside the car) and we didn't have any air-conditioning. Budget didn't go that far.
As I drove Jaks started to pull in some contacts. The front armour was pretty beat up, and before we met any resistance we were going to have to have it fixed. That meant at least three hours lost to repairs, and that meant doubling the time to catch up. But Jaks knew a lot of people out here, and well he was calling in a couple of favours. A couple of months back we'd been involved in defending some low security research project: a mobile workshop. Corporations, large duelling teams, even governments wanted to be able to fix vehicles on the fly. And while the rig was pretty slow, it had finally got moving. As a result of being so slow and such an easy target it had a lot of defenses, and for a little while that was our assignment. It wasn't easy or a lot of fun, but it payed the bills. What it was is a huge, three-quarter length, but double-width van trailer. Inside was a full workshop, with three to four mechanics. The only trick, was getting enough power to the wheels and getting vehicles on safely.
The solution was effective, but slightly dangerous. The engine was radically changed, high torque and low revs, like a normal semi, but this one was a lot more extreme, thus it took a fair while to accelerate up. How about half an hour to get to cruising speed (45 mph)? So, they didn't slow down . . . which meant you had to drive on, while the vehicle was moving at 45 mph. Now I won't bore you with the physics, but you had to get a car from 45 mph to 0 mph in about 50 feet. Not easy, but with some form of rollers, hook ropes and a lot of safety backups they got it working.
We were about to take advantage of this new technology. It was travelling up to Darwin, the rig needed some long range testing and refuelling on the move and was being subcontracted out. GTR&D was taking care of all that. Well, while testing they didn't mind a couple of repairs in the bay, all at a cost of course -- and not cheap. Luckily for us, we were only about five hours behind, and they agreed to slow down (it took them a lot less than a half an hour to do that) a bit. So within six hours (going pretty quick mind you) we'd be in there for five hours for repairs -- mechanics find it hard to work in a rocking truck.
We weren't expecting any problems and if any did arise, there'd be plenty of firepower to help us out. Most people shy away from things with anything more than five defenders. Who could blame them. This truck was pretty worthless, and it was made pretty clear that it would be blown up before captured. So unless you needed it out of the way, why take it on? Not that it had stopped a few people, religious extremists and over-confident, bored duellists often take on wierd and impressive targets, we had a big stick and were always prepared to swing it about.
Getting on the truck was a bit of a challenge for Jaks (we saw why they built it twice as wide as a normal trailer), with the rig swaying all over the ride and a couple of gradual bends. It took Jaks theee tries to get on. When he did, the car surged forward before hitting the rollers and stopping abruptly. The mechanics got to work immediately, pushing the car well into the van and fixed it down. There were some living quarters up the front of the van (this thing wasn't designed to have to stop at local motels) and while they weren't spacious, they were reasonably comfortable. A couple of couches and pull-out beds, and even a vid-unit. We had a five-hour wait, so we got comfortable, even catching up on a couple of hours sleep.
I was rudely awoken as the truck lurched to one side. The intercom crackled as the driver readied to make an announcement, "Sorry about that one fellas, just a pothole; no emergency." I was now fully awake though, thinking the worst and expecting combat. It was about one in the morning, Jaks was asleep; don't know whether he'd woken up and gone back or never even risen; I suspected the former. We'd already been here for about five hours, so I had a look how the mechanics were doing. As I walked in the door, the flash of a welder lit up the room, they were hard at work, but it looked like they might be finished soon. The front armour had been repaired and was sitting on the workshop floor, waiting to be fixed back on. At the moment they were doing some work on a weak spot in the chassis, caused by out earlier fracas. One of the mechanics waiting for the welding to finish yelled out "Half an hour mate!" I acknowledged the help and went back into the crew area.
Jaks was still asleep, crashed on the couch, vid still going. We'd been
going hard and he always slept like that. One thing he needed more of than
me was sleep. Just as I sat down, one of the drivers came in. Three crews
worked in shifts (one driver and two gunners/operators) on this truck,
partly the reason for the reasonable crew quarters. At the moment there
were only two crews of two, but during full operation it got cramped. It
was Sam who walked in. He'd been driving while we were working for GTR&D,
and we'd all got on pretty well. I said "G'day," asking about the
family and work, the usual conversation. I kicked Jaks, who woke up and
looked quickly around. Noticing Sam, he jumped up and shook hands. Sam
was more interested in what we were doing however, partly why I woke Sam.
His first question was "How did you get into this mess?"
* * *
"The same way we always do mate. Something that looks nice and easy suddenly becomes a bit messy."
"This is just a bit messy? I'd hate to get in trouble with you two."
"No, you wouldn't," I chipped in. "It's a big exciting adventure. You can't not enjoy us."
"Oh, I can and I will continue to lose a couple of years five each time I hear, 'Sam could we borrow you for a while?' I hate it, I fear it, but it always comes up. Are you going to need me after this?"
"Well, it wouldn't hurt to have you come along." Sam noticeably shrunk as Jaks said this. "Don't worry -- only joking -- We'll be fine."
"That's just as well for all involved isn't it, because I'd hate to think what favours you owe me."
"Yeah well, everything looks one-sided if you keep score. Anyhow, how's the vehicle?"
"Well, you two certainly didn't do it much good. It was pretty sick. Armour beaten up. Hate to think how long it had been between oil changes. Your diff was almost bone dry. I ran an eye over it, it will make it for a couple of months more. But you guys have to take better care of it. Take it to a mechanic, get him to look it over. Upgrade some of the parts and just keep it running -- hell, maybe even one of you two could learn yourself . . . "
"Look, if we became mechanics we'd drive it carefully. This way we can treat it bad and not have to fix it. Anyway, how long before it's ready?"
"You could take it now, but it doesn't have any front armour. Ten minutes, so you guys better get suited up and ready to go. And what was that shit in the back -- you guys getting into building supplies? That's a fair few bricks you got there."
"Oh yeah, that. We picked them up from a wrecked semi. Don't know if they're important. Could you take one and test it out for us? It should be something important, but doesn't look it."
"So that'll be another favour you owe me? Look, it will be a couple of days before I can tell you anything about it, but I'll get our guys to look at it."
"Thanks. Se you soon."
"Hope not . . . "
Twenty minutes later we'd rolled off the back and were underway, pulled out from behind the rig and moved forward past the rig. It was now time to catch that trailer and earn our pay.
Jaks was driving again, while I was on radio duty. I had to find where that truck was going. In two days he might turn off. That was the first major road, the north end of the Birdville track, a way to get to Brisbane, if for some reason you wanted to avoid the East Coast or take the scenic route.
After another boring couple of hours I got a lead on him. He was seven hours ahead. They'd just passed through Alice Springs, another splash and dash, same card as before. We were looking into the card, but it could be another day, day and a half before we got anything useful. We knew the owner: Malcolm McLane. Occupation: janitor. Age: 42. DOB: 07/07/2006. Had the look of a fake ID (particularly a 42-year old janitor with a credit card).
At current speed we'd hit them three hours after the track, which meant
we had to find out which way they were taking. Jaks reminded me of this,
repeatedly. While our boys down in Melbourne tried to figure out who Malcolm
really was, I started to organize a diversion for our friends up ahead.
I had a brother in these parts who owned a little hatchback with a couple
of MGs strapped to the front, to disguise the large rocket and targeting
laser. I got in touch with him and convinced him to hit the truck, just
to slow it down by a couple of hours. It would be a simple operation, just
a hit-and-run. Sure it would signal that someone was interested in the
truck, but that shouldn't matter.
* * *
Meanwhile, seven hours ahead on the road . . .
It was a hit-and-run. Jimmy was paying for the rocket and petrol (as well as owing me a favour). ll Mike had to do was take out a tyre of an unarmed and undefended semi. The first question was how had it gotten this far. But that didn't really matter. It was going to be slowed down now . . .
Mike saw the dust cloud up about 2 km ahead; that was probably the truck, enough dust for eight to twelve wheels; that was a good start. It was about the right time. That's the target for sure. He checked around for local activity. Nothing on the radio and a little on the passive radar; presumably that was the truck looking for contacts. The truck would have noticed him, but a compact is usually pretty innocuous and a small contact. Mike was coming from behind and would be on him in about five minutes.
He booted up the weapons computer, left the concealment up and got ready to take the shot, front tyre, but now left or right? Don't know, Where's that coin? Heads for left, tails -- OK go for the right side. The truck radioed through, "Hello, REG-234-22A, we have you on radar, benign or malignant?"
"Benign, of course" was Mike's response. That of course meant nothing, Everyone know's that -- he was ready for trouble and Mike was about to start it.
"Turn down your weapons REG-234-22A or we will open fire."
"My weapons are down and computer off."
Mike came up behind them and as he got closer, started tracking the front right tyre. Just as he was about to fire, the radio crackled.
"REG-234-22A, hold your fire. Down your weapons and back off."
"Piss-off wanker!" Not a classy response, but it was made.
The rocket flew out and hit the wheelguard, passing right through and exploding as it hit the tyre. The truck shuddered, but didn't slow, at least not singnificantly. The smoke quickly blew away from the tyre, and it was still there. Then lining up the MGs, Mike noticed the chop of a helicopter. Backing off the accelerator as an AGM hit the target, just where the car was, he swerved around the small crater and looked to the sky. The helicopter was black, dull-sheen -- that meant radarproof, not to mention the severe sloping and lots of weapons.
Heavily outgunned and outpaced, Mike's only advantage was in tight areas, while this duel was occuring in the middle of the Great Sandy desert. He put out the white flag, an all-channels retreat and disengagement message.
"You know that's not how the Blue Lagoon works . . . " another voice on the radio said.
Just as he said that, three missiles came down and hit the car. A quick
explosion, vault and roll and the compact rolled off into the scrub, still
smoking, now just another wreck on the side of the Northern Highway . .
* * *