Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 25: Out of Sequence

by Jeff Rand

"Do you think anyone else has escaped from the virtual world?" asked Tom Ray.

"Right now we have no way of knowing, but it is certainly possible. After all if you escaped, I should think others would be capable of the same," responded Bob Hartwig.

Tom had made quick recovery and joined the other three NVR refugees for their first supper of 2031. Alan Wilson termed the meal the "Mystery Meat Meal" to revitalize an old Winter Camp theme that applied to the odd concoction of canned goods used to prepare the main dish.

John Howey turned towards Alan, "Excellent fare, chef. I must say that I am quite pleased with our progress. With a little more effort, I think we could set up a comfortable operation here."

"Perhaps, but we have much more important matters demanding our attention. Our families and other Winter Campers are still trapped in the virtual world. We must make haste to free them," said Alan.

"I suppose," said John. "I was merely complimenting our ability to cope with the situation."

"We certainly have a big task ahead of us," said Hartwig. "I am not sure where to start."

"Perhaps we should stay put awhile to see if anyone else comes join to us," interjected Tom.

"Hardly necessary," said Alan. "I favor a more proactive approach. While it is true that Beaver Creek is a likely destination for other Winter Campers, I don't think we need to sit around waiting. We can leave a note describing our plans. Its not likely that someone else will be here to remove it."

Wilson continued, "I suggest that we mount a rescue campaign. They only question I have is where to begin. I know I'd like to see my wife soon."

"Alan, our wives are safe at this point," said Bob.

"If we are going to rescue any woman, I think we should get one who will be handy in the kitchen," remarked Howey.

Wilson and Hartwig scowled at the comment. Their wives were modern women, well suited for life in the twenty-first century. Yet, John and most of the veteran campers were often less than accommodating in their attitudes towards these women. Seven years ago Bob married Dr. Nancy Walsh, Ph.D. Dr. Walsh was a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan-Flint and a strong social activist, particularly in women's issues. Married young by "Wilson" standards, Alan and Jeanne were wed before his 30th birthday, about five years ago. Jeanne had many interests, but domestic chores were not among them.

Debate continued well into the evening, as each one present pleaded for his own family's interests. However, when the discussion changed to a long-term strategy for survival, it became apparent that a visit to Farmington Hills should be the first step. The opinion to attempt to locate and free Douglas Wilson prevailed over all others. Doug would know the location of many of the other Winter Campers and would offer much to future rescue efforts. In addition, the Farmington Hills NVR center was reasonably close to D-A.

The second of January 2031 was spent in preparation for the journey to find Doug Wilson. John and Tom tackled the problem of transportation, while Alan and Bob gathered the food, tools, and other supplies needed for the trip.

"Do you think we'll find any horses?" inquired Tom, as he and John approached the barns.

"I hardly think so. But we might find a suitable vehicle and perhaps some fuel. I recall there being a hand operated gasoline pump near the shop," said John.

"Yes, but its probably locked."

"Tom, I see why you never made it with the Grey Area Goons," said John. "I'll take care of the lock."

As expected Tom and John found the usual array of discarded vehicles stored just east of the shop. Included in this collection were three old pickups and an unusual looking three-wheeled vehicle with a small cab. None of the trucks appeared to be in working order, each with at least one flat tire. The three-wheeler looked like it might run, but was designed to carry a single passenger over the sod in a Boy Scout camp. It would not be suitable for extended travel outside camp.

In the shop itself, they found a newer pickup and a small fire truck. Less than 10 years old, the pickup used hydrogen fuel cells and had the characteristic double-walled tank on the side of the bed, indicative of the newer models. John examined the pressure gauge and found it to be empty. He knew it improbable that he'd find any hydrogen dispenser on the premises. Because of the hazards associated with storing and dispensing pure hydrogen, the camp would be unlikely to own the required safety apparatus. In addition, for the camp to store bulk hydrogen would have required an expensive permit, not likely in a budget minded Boy Scout camp

Had the truck been a few years older it would have used methane and extracted its hydrogen from the simple hydrocarbons in the gas. Methane could be stored more readily than pure hydrogen, but did not offer nearly the energy value. Older vehicles that used methane often had larger tanks. However, individuals could own and store methane tanks and thus be able to refuel their vehicles at home, if necessary. Tom and John thought that D-A might have a methane supply tank. Unfortunately there were no vehicles found where it could be put to use.

The fire truck appeared in remarkably good shape, although it was more than fifty years old. Having an internal combustion engine, it offered much more promise given the resources available. Tom climbed inside and finding the key in place, he engaged the ignition. Nothing happened.

"Hey dummy, did you depress the clutch? I am sure it has a manual transmission," said John.

"Of course," responded Tom, actually pleased when his second attempt, this time with the clutch disengaged, yielded no results. "I think the battery is dead."

"We'll just plug it into the charger," said John.

"Right and which electrical outlet should I use?"

"Tom, I bet we can find a generator here."

They didn't have to look far, as the fire truck had one in a storage bin on its side. It took John several tries to start the generator. Meanwhile Tom located a suitable charger and made the necessary connections. John grabbed a large sledgehammer. He found the gasoline tank and pump and made quick work of the padlock securing the pump handle. John replenished the fuel in the generator and filled a can to use in the fire truck.

"Isn't this thing a diesel engine?" asked Tom.

"No, I don't think so," responded John. "I suspect that when this truck was made that gasoline was the preferred fuel for an emergency vehicle."

It took much cajoling and one or two curse words before Tom was able to start the fire truck. Several more attempts were needed for him to develop the technique of engaging the transmission without stalling.

"I thought you knew how to drive this thing," said John.

"It's been a few years since I've driven a manual transmission, let alone an internal combustion engine," retorted Tom. "It's nearly dark. I think its time we return to Beaver Creek and see what luck Bob and Alan have had in their search."

Looking over the supplies that they had brought back to the Beaver Creek, Alan and Bob were quite pleased with their efforts. Among their stash were several boxes of candy bars found in an old refrigerator at the trading post and six number ten cans of green beans and boiled potatoes left in the cupboards of the Trout Lake Cabin. In Draper Cabin they had found a treasure trove of cleaning supplies. Acquired from the administration building were a toolbox and a chain saw, as well as a Cub Scout crystal radio kit.

The loud siren and flashing red light startled Alan and Bob. They rushed outside to see a small fire truck approaching the building, being driven by Tom Ray.

"Great job guys. Tomorrow we journey south," said Alan.

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Ron Donohue became acquainted with hell during the night of January 1st. For hours, wind and waves lashed at his small vessel on its ragged block of ice. As pieces of the ice broke and shattered, what remained continued to sink further into the lake until the shell of Ron's iceboat touched the water. As the hours of darkness continued, the temperature dropped further and the wind turned sharply to the north. Ron dared not leave the shell and could only imagine what lie at the edges of the decreasing ice flow. Lake Ontario would be a hundred metres of zero degree water, more than ready to accept the honour of housing him in his final resting place.

The intensity of wind and snow continued to grow as the night progressed. Ron realised that he was now adrift on a small piece of ice in the throes of a full-fledged blizzard. The ice itself was now mostly submerged and on occasion wind whipped water splashed over the shell of the boat. Ron doubted that this small vessel had sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat without the ice underneath. Every shift of the boat brought him closer to the brink of sinking.

Although Ron had lowered his sail hours ago, a gust of wind caught the exposed surface of the boat and it lunged forward. "I shall surely die, if I fall into the lake," thought Ron, realizing that he could survive an hour at most in the frigid waters. As it was he thought he might be already suffering from hypothermia from the water that had splashed into his boat, soaking his legs and feet. A plunge into the lake to wet his upper body would finish the job.

The boat slid forward a few feet, then picked up speed. As he felt his weight shift, Ron prepared to hit the water. Abruptly the boat stopped to the sound of crushing ice. All movement ceased, except for the pelting snow and wind. Ron and boat were still above the water. There he sat for an uncertain moment.

Momentarily the sky grew lighter and Ron knew that he had survived the night, at least. As he greeted the new morning he could see what looked like piles of snow. He pushed himself forward and dared put his wobbly legs on the ice. He rose to get a better look. The ice held firm. Ahead he could see piles and shards of ice. His small ice flow had crashed into a much larger mass of ice. Ron climbed a pile of ice fragments to a height of four feet. Although the light was dim and visibility due the storm diminished, just three hundred feet ahead he saw the unmistakable silhouette of a tree.

Ron pulled his well-traveled iceboat over the ridge of ice and several others before parking it on shore. Once on shore he spotted the tree with several companions and to the right, back a hundred feet was a house.

As expected the house and grounds were deserted. A swift kick to the door right at the level of the deadbolt shattered the doorframe sufficiently to allow entry into the house. Ron wondered why anybody had bothered to lock their doors. True to expectation, the house had the characteristics of being shut up for a long time where the utilities had been disconnected. The refrigerator was filled with a disgusting mass and he found an interesting mold collection in the bread drawer. Other then some canned goods, the house offered little of nutritional value.

Now that dawn had fully arrived, Ron returned to the iceboat to retrieve his duffel and carried it to a large pole barn. The barn was unlocked and once inside he changed into a welcome pair of dry pants. Ron slid the door open a bit further to gain some light to examine the barn more thoroughly. Parked near the side away from the door were two snowmobiles. An hour ago Ron faced the clutches of a cold watery grave; now he held real hope of completing his journey.

The search for gasoline took some additional effort. The tanks in both snowmobiles were empty and he found no supply in the barn. Leaving his supplies and potential transportation, Ron proceeded down the road to what appeared to be more human development. He walked about a mile through the growing drifts of snow, before arriving in a small town. He read the sign "Welcome to Wilson." Fortunately Wilson had an old gas station. Ron half expected that since the place looked so old that he might find it served only leaded regular gasoline from a glass-topped pump. However, it was a bit more modern and had an unleaded regular pump, besides two methane hydrants. Curiously, it did not offer pure hydrogen service, preferred by modern high performance vehicles.

Ron smashed the window with an old tire rim and gained entrance to the service station. Parked inside he found an old pickup, along with the tools, tires, and gas cans one would expect in a garage. The garage was actually quite well equipped to service internal combustion engines, a rarity in modern times, but more common in old farming communities such as Wilson.

He grabbed a piece of garden hose with the thought of using it as a siphon. He knew he could break the lock to the fuel storage tank, but how could he get a siphon to work with the outflow above the fuel supply? The thought of drinking gasoline was less than appealing.

Observing a five-gallon gasoline can along the wall next to the old pickup, Ron reasoned that he might be able to siphon some gas from the truck itself. A few minutes later he had the gas can filled and ready to carry back to the snowmobile.

Ron felt the brunt of the wind when he carried the forty pounds of fuel back to the farmhouse. Luckily, the snowmobile started on the third try and he quickly readied himself to continue his journey. Once he disassembled the mast and sail, his iceboat was little more than a shell on three skis. He tied the iceboat behind the snowmobile to tow it like a trailer. In fact it was more than adequate to hold his duffel and his new acquisitions of a gas can and siphon.

The fact that he had only once in his life rode as a passenger on a snowmobile became apparent when he made his first turn too sharp. The snowmobile nearly flipped before his former iceboat, now a three-runner haul sled went careening into snow bank.

After passing once again through Wilson, Ron refilled his gas can and drove his snowmobile to the far edge of town. Here he encountered a sign indicating a distance of 20 miles to Niagara Falls. At once Ron realized that he had actually crossed Lake Ontario and was now in New York.

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The fire truck broke through most of the debris and rubble along M-24. Twice before reaching Oxford, Bob Hartwig had to put the chainsaw into action to remove a large tree fall that blocked the road. Alan Wilson quickly adapted to the nuances of operating the vehicle and managed to reach speeds nearing forty miles per hour.

When they arrived at the ramp to I-75, the road became impassable. Tom Ray suggested that they might try the other ramp and head southbound on the northbound lanes.

"Do you mean you want me to drive on the wrong side of the road?" inquired Alan.

"I'd rather doubt that there's anyone else on the road today," responded Tom.

Alan crossed the median of M-24 and approached the exit ramp from I-75. He nearly rammed the snowmobile that had come around the circle to enter M-24.

The well-clad driver of the snowmobile dismounted and approached the fire truck ready to do battle, if necessary. Alan Wilson had no idea who was driving the snowmobile, but he opened his door and stepped outside to find out.

"Alan, is it you?" said the stranger.

"Yes, and you?"

The stranger removed his helmet to expose his bald head.

"Ron, you've escaped too!" exclaimed Alan.

It was an emotional reunion as Tom Ray, Alan Wilson, Bob Hartwig, and John Howey shared their tales of escape with Ron Donohue. Ron had not lost his penchant for wordsmithing in describing his own escape from virtual reality. He told of his success at iceboating and how he nearly sank in Lake Ontario during the storm. Ron described his snowmobile journey across the bridge at Niagara Falls, through lower Ontario, and into Detroit. In the three days since he left Ottawa, he had seen no other sign of human activity. When he told of finding himself in the village of Wilson, New York, Alan was especially interested.

"Ron, you know we're on our way to rescue my father," said Alan.

"An interesting coincidence," said Ron. "I think we best get on with the plan. I'll park the snowmobile and join you."

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The NVR center in Farmington Hills was a huge structure, built to service a large suburban population. John had to use an ax to gain entry through a service door in the rear of the building. He found himself in a large room surrounded by stacks of large shipping containers. Although the room was dimly lit, he climbed the side of one of the containers to peer inside. The container was filled with clothing. This room he now realized contained what might soon be the last earthly belongings of the building's inhabitants. He was determined for this not to be the case for Doug and Joy Wilson.

When he broke a second door and entered the hallway, he saw the familiar flashing red lights and knew his presence had been detected. He had no idea what defenses were present, but his earlier encounters with the Net led him to believe that his life could be in jeopardy. Speed and cool headedness were essential.

John smashed through every door he encountered, until he found a computer terminal. He hit the 'enter' key, not expecting anything to happen. When the screen came alive he became hopeful until he saw the message on the screen. His unauthorized presence had been confirmed and he made hasty departure back into the hall.

John's ran through the corridor turning into an even longer corridor. As he ran through the hall, he passed doors on either side. He stopped in the dim light to read the sign next to one of the doors. It read "Ben-Bet". Moving to the next door he read "Beu-Bie." Almost immediately the significance became apparent. John was in a library - a library of humans. He thought of his own entrance into the NVR center some years earlier and recalled that it was organized alphabetically.

John's movement through the NVR center now became more organized. On the fifth floor, he found a room with a sign labeled "Wil-Wit." The door was locked with its hinges on the outside. Obviously, the door was intended more to keep someone inside the room. John broke the hinges with several thrusts from the blunt side of his axe.

In bed number 324 John found Douglas Ronald Wilson lying naked with wires protruding from his skull.

END OF PART III

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