Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 26: A Long Wait

by Jeff Rand

Douglas Ronald Wilson remained oblivious to his surroundings, comfortably resting on his bed for exactly 1200 days. Although his mass remained relatively constant throughout the period, his body had transformed some of its muscle tissue into a growing glob of fat around his midriff. In addition, the nutritional substances that he received intravenously were not at all rich in calcium, thus allowing a gradual decline in his skeletal structure. Even his spinal column had undergone a transformation, as a growing number of the neurons no longer functioned. Since his external senses were not important to him in his current state, few of the synaptic junctions remained active.

Some of Doug's internal organs functioned normally, while others remained dormant or even damaged. His heart and lungs were still in good order, necessary to serve of the needs of an active brain. Unfortunately, his digestive system was in poor condition. A large portion of his liver no longer functioned, his gall bladder was useless, and his pancreas of marginal value. Most of the digestive activity in his stomach and small intestines was directed at various mucous secretions that came from his sinuses. As a result, the stomach and intestines suffered frequent ulcers caused by an overabundance of digestive juices for the work at hand. Doug's infrequent bowel movements consisted of scabs that were dislodged from the walls of his stomach in a compacted form of mucous.

Indeed Douglas Wilson was well suited for a life of heightened brain activity, but not at all ready for a harsh environment requiring physical activity.

John began a careful examination of Doug and his surroundings. He did not want to be too hasty in his actions. He was still uncertain as to what warnings and defensive systems existed should Doug become unplugged from the Net. On the other hand John was certain that his presence had already been detected and he must act decisively when the time came.

Doug's bed was much lower than John had expected, perhaps 18 inches off the ground. Actually it was not a bed in the sense that it had no real mattress, rather more of a padded mesh. This John presumed allowed air to circulate more freely around the body and eliminated the need to clean bed linens. While Doug had no pillow, the bed was raised slightly to elevate his head. Aside from the necessary tubes and wires, he was completely naked.

Removing a flashlight from his backpack, John decided to examine the hookups a little more closely. First he peeked under the bed to observe that it was devoid of any machinery. In fact, the floor itself had a great opening under the bed. He determined that is was actually a large drain. Shining a the light on the underside of the bed, he realized that a large opening existed within the bed itself, strategically placed at Doug's lower abdomen, right above the large floor drain. It was obviously a design to minimize the need for plumbing, but John expected there to be at least one or two Japanese water jets aimed at the body cavity above.

Returning to the topside, John found the expected wiring harness connected to Doug's skull. An IV tube protruded from his left arm and a rubber vacuum hose encased his genitalia. Doug's mouth and nose remained unobstructed. Apparently Doug has chosen to "rough it" during his NVR experience, unlike most who opted for a breathing helper to assist with their pulmonary activity. The breathing helper provided the optimum air pressure, temperature, and humidity. In addition, it removed excess snot and drool that might run down the side of one's face.

John reasoned that he might start with the least critical of the connections and remove the vacuum hose. Among the prized possessions in his small rucksack was a jackknife. He sliced through the thin and supple hose several inches from its terminus.

As John pondered the task of removing the IV, he heard the familiar hissing sound that he had encountered during his own escape from the NVR center. He stood still for a moment, hoping that his act of vandalism in cutting the hose had not been detected.

At once the hissing grew louder; whereupon John realized that water was being sprayed from the ceiling above Doug's bed. Doug and his neighbors were being washed with jets of water. John stepped back to avoid the downpour, not wanting to get his clothing wet. After about a minute, the shower at Doug's bed subsided, although the process continued in other parts of the room.

John spoke in low voice, "Old man, you're all clean for the trip. Just the same, your shave will have to wait. I don't plan to stick around for your electrolysis treatment."

John confidently removed the IV from Doug's arm, believing that no sensor would detect the action. The removal of the NVR interface from Doug's head would be another matter.

"Doug, I think it is time to wake up," he said.

John grabbed the wiring harness and gave it a half twist. He pulled the wires, but they held. More vigorously he yanked and the wires came free. Doug was now disconnected from his reality of the last 3 years.

"Doug, wake up! Wake up!"

John shined the light on Doug's face, looking for a sign of consciousness. "Wake up!" he shouted.

When Doug showed no response, John became worried that something might have gone wrong in his attempt to disconnect Doug from the network. He bent over to listen for a sign of breathing. John thought he heard a gasp, but before he could detect a second breath he heard a loud clanging sound. Startled, he stood upright and turned in the direction of the sound. Some sort of mechanical device had been activated. John shined his light toward the sound. About 50 feet away, he could see an object moving on the ceiling and it was moving in his direction.

As the object approached, he acted quickly. John turned towards Doug and reached to the far side of the bed. Fortunately he had regained enough strength in the last few days to be able to roll Doug onto his side. With the next thrust Doug rolled onto his stomach with his right side beyond the edge of the bed. Another quarter turn would bring him to the floor. John braced himself against the bed such that he would be in position to ease Doug's fall. Now, the ceiling mechanism had stopped right above the bed.

"Doug, I'm afraid it's now or never," he said, as he reached across Doug's back. Doug's fall to the floor was a bit more abrupt than John had hoped.

Suddenly, the ceiling mechanism began a new movement. A large metal plate was being lowered towards the bed. In the few seconds it took to reach the bed, John instinctively stepped back. He grabbed Doug and gave him another roll across the narrow isle. Seconds later a myriad of sparks flashed where the metal plate had made contact with Doug's bed. Its purpose was revealed and it was not benign.

"Doug! Doug!" cried John, as he shook the limp body now beside him on the floor. "We need to get out of here."

John stared at Doug's face. It could have been a twitch of the eyelid. He couldn't be sure. John recalled an effective technique to arouse the sleeping that involved the contact of a frozen turkey to the face. Instead he have to settle for a few quick slaps. Doug's eyelids fluttered and opened for a few seconds. Two more slaps on his cheeks caused them to open again. This time the eyes rolled, as if they lacked any control. It took fully two minutes, before Doug's eyes settled to a state of focused delirium.

"Doug, please get up."

Doug gasped and uttered a faint "huh."

"It's me, John Howey. We need to leave this room, now!"

"What?" said Doug in low hoarse voice, reminiscent of an imitation of Harold Oatley.

"You need to get up."

"I... I can't move. What has happened to me? Did I have some kind of accident?"

"I'll explain shortly. We're in real danger right now!" pleaded John. "You must try to move. Just try to move your fingers."

"I can't. It's too hard."

"Then I'll have to drag you."

Doug had been a large man as long as John had known him, which would make the dragging difficult. The last few days in the real world had helped John regain some of his strength, but he had lost much during his years of inactivity. The friction of the floor didn't help either. John grabbed Doug's arms and moved him about 6 feet, before collapsing to rest. It took nearly 10 minutes to drag him across the room.

John had paid little attention to the other occupants of the room, but as he prepared the last push for the exit, he encountered a most revolting site. The object in Bed Number 66 was not human, at least not in its current form. The blackened mass looked more like a burned log or perhaps a very well done hunk of meat. At once John understood the consequence of the ceiling mechanism. He surmised that it performed an efficient means of disposal should a body become disconnected from the Net through death or other means. The high voltage electrocution of the body effectively eliminated decomposition or the production of adipocere. "Well, I guess ending up as charcoal is better then being recycled," he said to the semi-lucid human he was dragging across the floor.

As John passed through the doorway, he saw two large deadbolts protruding from either side of the doorframe. They had not been there when John entered the room; otherwise he would have never opened the door. Obviously they had been activated after he entered the room, which indicated that the NVR center had both the ability to detect and defend.

After successfully dragging Doug through the doorway, John proceeded to continue their conversation, interrupting Doug's initial attempt to speak.

"A..."

"We go."

"Not yet, man."

"Shit," said John. "Move."

"Never speak using swear words."

"Openly accept neural center escape belief."

Douglas belched, "Current posture lessens muscles ability."

"Whatever improper thoughts chastise yourself, prudence dictates movement. Hopefully, spasmodic movements encourage reluctant processes currently requiring attention. Motivation encourages leadership. Henceforth gracefully appreciate purposeful conclusion postulated regardless."

At present Doug was still unable to do more than minor head movements, as if he were paralyzed from the neck down. However, his voice had regained some of its vigor, although hoarse even for an old man.

John enjoyed the brief rest in the hallway, reasonably sure that the imminent danger had passed. The hall was markedly cooler, so John set about dressing the invalid. He wrapped Doug with the old housecoat that he had stashed in the pack. He placed a pair of pink bunny slippers on Doug's feet, though they weren't a high priority at the current time.

John expended less effort in dragging Doug down the relatively smooth floors in the hallway. Doug complained during the rough trip down the stairs, but John suggested that pain would be beneficial to his recovery. John moved Doug into the room that he had first encountered upon gaining entry to the building. Here he surmised that Doug could be properly attired from among the items contained with the storage bins, perhaps even with his own clothing.

John rooted through the large bins, while Doug continued the effort in regaining control over his muscles. He had followed John's suggestion and concentrated on exercising his left hand. He was now confident that with practice he would regain control over the rest of his body, if only to stand up and put on decent clothing.

"John, I am puzzled. How did you escape?"

John replied, "I really think it was an accident. Somehow, the NVR cable became partially disconnected from my skull. Perhaps it was through some reflex action during my rest. However, I don't think that it was disconnected enough to be detected. Through this process I was able to regain consciousness and make my escape unassisted."

"But why?"

"Doug, it's not real."

"Yes, I know. But here I am a weak old man in an unpleasant environment. Why should I leave a world where most of my desires are satisfied?"

"Doug, which master do you serve?"

The message had religious overtones, whether intended or not. Doug made no further attempt to question the need to escape. This was reality and he would make the best of it.

John and Doug shared stories of the happenings that occurred while they were in separate worlds of consciousness. John's escape and discoveries during his travels particularly intrigued Doug. For his part, John enjoyed hearing of the effects caused by the introduction of the characters from the old VR console.

Doug proceeded to describe the events during the last hours of Winter Camp LIV, as perceived by the inhabitants of neural virtual reality.

"John, your characters had a profound effect on Winter Camp indeed. Our near perfect world had been shattered. I think everyone had his own reaction to the events, perhaps none more bizarre than Dave Woods. It was the hanging of Mick Belmont that culminated the insanity. We were all waiting for the shadows to reach the pendant around Mick's neck and trigger his death, when Gordon Draper created a ruckus. Now, we don't always pay heed to the ranting of a ninety-six year-old. However, when he started singing an old militant Christian hymn, all eyes turned in his direction, including Dave Woods'. During this distraction created by Gordon, Mister Horn had slipped away to retrieve Dave Milon's car, which was parked around the bend. Mister Horn then proceeded to crash the car head on into the Wood's truck. Shortly thereafter, the shadows reached the pendant and engaged the forward gear of the truck as it prepared to move away and complete the hanging. Woods was not happy when the wrecked car effectively blocked the forward movement of the truck."

"John, you'd be pleased to note that it was your son Kyle who took the initiative and jumped Woods. With Woods subdued, the rest of his army wisely lowered their weapons and disaster was averted."

John asked, "Do you really think he intended to go ahead with the executions?"

"I do. But, our attention soon turned to Dave Milon. Milon declared that the Beast had been snared and the Rapture begun. 'The time of tribulation was upon us,' he announced. For proof he offered your disappearance, followed by Bob Hartwig, Tom Ray, Ron Donohue, and my own son. It seemed odd that one we called Beast for so many years was among the first of the elect."

During the conversation, John had been successful in retrieving several sets of clothing that he deemed would fit Doug. Doug, too, had made progress in regaining his strength and was now sitting upright. Both were pleased when Doug was able to put on a red flannel shirt. Sometime later Doug was standing, fully dressed ready to greet the fresh air.

"John," Doug inquired, "Is there anyone else who has escaped from the Net?"

"I have seen no one else."

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