Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 27: A Familiar Hike

by Jeff Rand

Doug took a deep breath. The cold dry air shocked his lungs and he coughed. John had persuaded him to leave the confines of the NVR center, only to face the devastation outside.

"Oh my," said Doug, "What has happened? Was there some kind of war?"

"I don't believe so," responded John. "Otherwise the NVR center would have been destroyed, as well. I rather believe that a pattern of destruction exists such to render everything else useless."

"You suggest that someone or something has destroyed everything but the NVR centers."

"Not quite. I found a small shed about two miles to the north. We'll take shelter there." John walked around the corner of the building and returned with the Schwinn bicycle. "This bike has served me well, but I suppose now with the two of us, I'll have to walk it."

"Where did you get that?" Doug exclaimed. "It looks awfully familiar."

John evaded the question and directed Doug on a northerly trek towards Bloomfield Township. Feebly Doug followed, often requiring assistance from John, causing each to complain to the other. John had a mission and a sense of urgency, while Doug felt the weight of his years.

The shed was an old block building behind a burned-out paint store. John believed that it had originally been used to store flammables and as a result survived the firestorm that ravaged other buildings. Inside he wrapped Doug in some old painter's drop cloths to serve as a makeshift sleeping bag. Although it was only mid afternoon, they were both ready for a rest.

Doug asked, "John, why did you come after me?"

John explained, "Following my less than successful activities in Cass City, I decided to head south to D-A, in the hopes that someone else would break out of captivity. I figured any reasonably intelligent Winter Camper would head there first. After three days, I gave up hope."

He continued, "During that period despair got the best of me and I wanted to go back to the comfort and security of NVR. Only when I realized that I could choose to go back, did my sensibilities return. Apparently no one else had a choice."

"Doug, I came after you for two reasons. You were reasonably close to D-A and I believe you to be capable in helping engineer the right approach to save the others."

"I am pleased to be held in such high regard," said Doug, "but I am old and weak."

"You will regain your strength. In the meantime I found some jars of Gerber baby food to assist in your re-acquaintance with solid food."

"How delightful. I guess it's no worse then some of the Winter Camp meals," said Doug.

John interjected, "I can think of a certain lunch that is much less appealing in the real world."

"A revolting thought. And we drank the remaining liquid," Doug continued with a scowl.

Both John and Doug understood the implications. The universe through Neural Virtual Reality was a composite of thoughts from its users. However bizarre, thoughts tended to translate into the perceived reality and to maintain harmony, other users receive feedback through the system in order that they accept the changing reality.

After a few moments of silence to collect his thoughts, Doug spoke in his typically methodical manner, "We can't mount a massive rescue effort; at least not just yet. For example, if we were able to disable the Farmington Hills center and disconnect the occupants, we would have chaos and death. The neighborhood is in no condition to accept 25,000 starving refugees. I really want to rescue the Joy of my life, but she is safe for the moment."

Wilson continued, "We must rebuild the outside world. We need an army. John, I think you've already put the plan in action. We should begin with a rescue of other Winter Campers. It's just a question of who's next."

John responded, "Mark Hunt is my choice. He is close by in Pontiac and being a few years younger, perhaps in better physical condition."

"Good idea. After that I think we should head north to Lapeer."

"You mean because your son is there. Why not Ann Arbor?" asked John, citing the location of his sons, Alex and Kyle.

"I suggest Lapeer not only because Alan is there, but so is Bob Hartwig and probably Ranger Osvath. The sooner we build our army, the more chance we have of counteracting whatever defenses might develop in the NVR centers."

John could not dispute the logic, as he and Doug took census of the others. Several Winter Campers they believed to be in the Downriver area including Tim Hunt, Dave Milon, Adam Pezet, Paul Kupser, and Dave Woods. Lou Pezet was probably being housed in Trenton. On the western fringe of the Detroit area, besides Alex Howey and family in Ann Arbor, they placed the three generations of Horns in Howell and the Clarks in Ypsilanti. Further away were Winter Camp veterans Mark Bollman in Lansing, Ron Donohue in Ottawa, Ontario, and Dan Bollman in Scotland, they believed. Steve Donohue and Jeff Rand were beyond any rescue attempt.

During the months prior to World Unity Day on September 21, 2027, Jeff had embarked on a very special project. The plan he proposed involved placing the much-talked about 1,000-year time capsule in Siberia. He had convinced the others that the transformation to an NVR dominated society would make real travel much more difficult in the future and the time capsule should be placed while there was still the strength and disposition to carry out the task.

The 1,000-year time capsule project was originally conceived by the Winter Camp Future Society in 1987. The concept involved burying a time capsule for a few years shy of a millennium, so that it could be opened for Winter Camp M to be held December 27, 2976. Burying a time capsule would be simple enough, but the Society members added some constraints to the project. The capsule must be located in a remote area and hidden well enough so that it would not be found prematurely, either through accident or some new development that disturbed its resting-place. However, this still evaded the issue of how it would be found in 2976. To solve this problem, a timing mechanism would be necessary to count the years and cause an event to occur where the time capsule would announce its location. Many potential solutions were discussed. A thousand years would require a very large hourglass.

Actually the Society decided to bury three time capsules, as the best way to assure success. The first was buried in a deep hole at the Last Ceremony Site, at the highest elevation at D-A Scout Ranch on December 30, 2020. The traditional time capsule ceremony was moved that year and the entire effort took the better part of a day. The method for maintaining the knowledge concerning the location of this capsule was called "The Kunta Kinte" approach. Here the idea was to maintain an oral tradition, as fathers would pass on the knowledge to their trusted sons through the generations until 2976. Never was there to be a written record of the time capsule.

The second time capsule was buried 5 years later, using the suggestion long promoted by Mark Bollman, that it be registered with the International Time Capsule Society, which would be responsible for maintaining a record of its location for the next 951 years. The site chosen for this artifact was an abandoned salt mine located in Wyandotte, Michigan on property once owned by the Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Company.

To the third time capsule fell the honor of no human knowledge or intervention until its period had ended. Many design ideas were discussed, including an elaborate timer made of marbles and one of sending the capsule into a 950-year retrograde orbit around the earth. Eventually, a mechanical timer was constructed to count the years using the principle of expansion and contraction. This simple idea was based on the premise that a metal alloy rod would expand during the heat of the summer and contract during the winter, in an annual cycle. To assure the greatest chance of success, the Central Siberian Plateau was the chosen site. It was known to have the greatest seasonal temperature fluctuations on earth. In addition, there were vast stretches in this region that had never seen human habitation and not likely for such in the next millennium.

Jeff Rand eagerly volunteered for the task of travelling to Siberia to place the time capsule in the summer of 2027. When others were concerned that he might pull some kind of trick, it was decided that Steve Donohue should join him. Unfortunately Steve's registered alien status delayed the process in securing the passport and the trip did not occur until late summer. Steve and Jeff finally placed the capsule on September 19, 2027. Two days later they entered an NVR center in Central Siberia for the World Unity Day celebration. Presumably they are still there.

John and Doug agreed to rest the night in the paint shed, before heading to Pontiac in order to rescue Mark Hunt. Doug had no trouble drinking some water, but violently reversed the process of peristalsis when John attempted to feed him some of the Gerber Brand baby food. After several attempts, Doug was able to ingest the food without hurling his guts out. His rehabilitation would be a slow process.

The block building provided adequate shelter from the wind, but this large mass of unheated concrete offered a penetrating cold to its occupants. By morning John and Doug were eager to leave the wretched hellhole, even with the uncertainty ahead. Doug resolved to begin a systematic therapy to exercise his muscles. John suggested that Doug try pedaling the bike as a method to achieve quicker recovery. During Doug's first few attempts, John had to hold the bike, as if he were giving a very young child his first lesson. Eventually Doug was on his own and John struggled to keep pace walking behind the bike.

The shed was located on Orchard Lake Road near 14 Mile road. It took Doug and John about 5 hours to reach the NVR center in Pontiac at the site of the old Silverdome, a distance that John judged to be about 12 miles. The Pontiac NVR center was a super center and housed more than 100,000 occupants, one of whom was Mark Hunt. Prior to permanent habitation, John had spent a couple of days here with Mark, back in 2026, when being connected to NVR was still a temporary activity.

Feeling somewhat stronger, although hungry, Doug spoke, "We should survey the area before we attempt rescue. Should we be successful in extricating Mark, it will be too far to go back to the paint shed. And I for one don't care to ever see it again. We need a new shelter for the night."

John responded, "Perhaps we should split up."

"Agreed. I'll look north up Updyke Road. At least I know we're within walking distance of D-A, actually about 30 miles, as I recall."

Doug did not have to look very far. Parked in the lot of a burned-out gas station, on the other side of the road, was an old box truck. Fire had ravaged the engine and cab, but apparently did not destroy the storage trailer. The trailer would make a suitable home for the night.

John headed northwest into a vast parking lot. It contained, he was certain, the remains of the burned wrecks that were once automobiles belonging to the occupants in the super center. Thirty minutes later he rejoined Doug at the southern entrance to the NVR center.

"I see you found a pair of gloves," said John.

"I thought this crow bar might come in handy too. Now where do you think Mark is located? This thing is huge."

"Well given the fact that these things are organized alphabetically, I'd say it would be the second floor."

"With about 20,000 other bodies," said Wilson.

"Doug, yesterday when I rescued you, I attempted to use a computer terminal. It was not a smart idea. We'll just have to comb the hallways looking for the right room. At least they're labeled."

The building was five stories high and had several wings, but of the typical utilitarian design. No windows were present, only the metal entrance doors on the various wings and a few steam vents. The doors to this building were much sturdier than those in Farmington Hills. With both axe and crow bar the intruders were still unable to gain entry. Lacking no other option, Doug tried the crow bar on a steam vent. It was a tight squeeze.

Inside, the building was completely dark. None of the red security lights that John had seen in other NVR centers were present, at least not lit. The two would have to rely on John's small flashlight and its old batteries.

"Do you suppose the lights have been shut off for a reason?" whispered Doug.

"I shudder from the thought. We may be the reason. And that will make our work more difficult and dangerous."

The answer came soon enough, when Doug grabbed a doorknob. He felt the charge and John saw the sparks. Had Doug not been wearing gloves, he would have been electrocuted.

Startled, Doug spoke, "I can't imagine the voltage in that charge. Let's find him and get out of here!"

The jolt did wonders for Doug's mobility, however, as he and John moved quickly through the halls, reading the signs by each door to the occupation chambers, but being careful not to make further contact with a door. Soon they reached a door to a stairwell, which they reasoned, would take them to the second floor, where they hoped to find Mark Hunt. Doug threw the crow bar at the doorknob. They observed no sparks. To their relief the doors at the stairs were neither locked nor protected.

About 20 minutes later they found a room labeled "Hud-Hux."

"I see Mark is now a resident of a HUD project," quipped John. "Now stand aside."

John used the backside of his axe and hit the block wall next to the door, as if using a sledgehammer. Although not the ideal tool, two more swings of the axe broke a hole in the block. He and Doug worked frantically with axe and crow bar to bust a hole in the wall big enough to crawl through.

The room was filled with hundreds of beds and narrow isles. With only a single flashlight, they dared not separate, only lengthening the search for Mark. Precious minutes were depleted and the light grew dimmer. Both were aware of movements of machinery along the ceiling.

"I found him!" screamed John. "Quick the axe."

Doug flailed violently at the wires and hoses connected to Mark. Then he and John grabbed Mark's shoulders and ripped him from the confines of the bed. John grabbed the stump of broken wires protruding from Mark's skull and twisted them free. Seconds later the bed was bathed in sparks.

"Wow that was close," said Doug. "Do you think he's alive?"

"Doug, I don't know. Let's get him out of here. I'm having trouble breathing. I think there is something wrong with the air."

Mark's bed was about 40 feet from the hole in the wall. By the time they reached their planned escape route, both Doug and John were breathing heavy and feeling faint. Sometime during the process of dragging Mark through the hole, the flashlight drained the last bit of useful energy from its batteries. They had rescued Mark from his chamber, but brought him into hallway of utter darkness.

"John, we're in a real jam."

"I know."

"Well let's rest a moment. At least I think the air is ok in this hallway. How's Mark?"

"I thinks he's breathing," said John.

They rested for about fifteen minutes, not at all eager to move in the darkness.

Finally Doug spoke, "We'll walk along the wall and use the axe to test for door knobs. The sparks will confirm their locations. If I hold it with gloved hands I should be ok. When we reach a doorknob without sparks it will be the stairwell. Do you think you can move Mark alone?"

"I've done it before."

The plan was successful and the trio reached the lower floor. John followed with Mark, as Doug continued to explore, this time looking for any faint light and sign of the vent. As they became accustomed to the sparks that occurred when Doug hit the doorknobs with the axe, they learned to use the brief flashes to gain their bearings and look ahead. They were all too glad when they pulled Mark through the vent to freedom.

Mark was only semi-conscious, forcing Doug and John to carry him the quarter mile to the box truck shelter. Night had fallen and they were thoroughly exhausted.

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