Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 33 "The Pines Resort"
by Jeff Rand
John slapped a pair of black flies that had imbedded themselves in the flesh on his right ankle. Although he wore long pants, they found access to this unprotected area just above the sock. John had been too engaged in the project to pay much heed to these persistent pests, resulting in numerous battle wounds from earlier encounters. At the edge of Michigan's famous Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Creighton was not the most pleasant place to spend one's summer.
Taking refuge at Creighton had been a desperate suggestion from Alan Wilson shortly after the daring escape from the vault at Camp Agawam. The prospects for survival were slim at the time, especially so in the heavily patrolled areas of Southeastern Michigan. The stories of Creighton that he heard throughout his life always intrigued Alan, giving the town something of a fabled existence. That it was actually nothing more than a ghost town in a swamp of the Upper Peninsula, made it a perfect place to hide from the protective forces of the Net. A bitterly cold winter and throngs of biting insects in the summer clearly demonstrated why the town had been abandoned for more than 50 years.
The trip to Creighton had been a two-month ordeal of near starvation for the NVR refugees. Had John not decided to return to the hardware store in Millington for supplies, they would have starved before reaching the Saginaw Bay. However, the canned dog food found inside the store sustained them until he was able to bag a wild turkey near Kawkawlin using a bow and arrow also discovered in the store.
"How's it going?" asked Dr. Bob, inspecting John's work on the homemade cannon.
"Should be ready to test it before dark. I just hope it works. We don't have much gun powder to spare on tests," responded Howey.
"Oh, it will work. I finished the harvest, such as it is. At least we have a few succulent cucumbers. Everything else is loaded in the truck."
"So how much gas do we have?" inquired John.
"Alan tells me that we have about 85 gallons. It will be enough to complete our mission, even with the trailer. I'll go tell him that you'll be ready to test the weapon in a couple of hours."
Bob left the shack where John was working, walking through the scrubby pine trees to the ruins of a garage at the other end of the row of dilapidated buildings. The refugees preferred to do all of the work in the ruined buildings, just in case there was some aerial reconnaissance aircraft nearby. Their foe required extreme diligence, such that even the garden was planted in a disorganized pattern, so as not to give any clue of human cultivation.
It had been cloudy all day and rained threatened. It was the change in weather that prompted their decision to leave by morning. A period of low clouds and rain would make their travel harder to detect.
Bob entered the largest building where he found Douglas Wilson pulling a loaf of fresh bread from the oven.
"Looks good Doug," said Hartwig.
"Yes, I think the beer that John found in Munising has helped the batter. I really wish we had some domesticated chickens to give us fresh eggs. I much prefer to put an egg in my batter. Did you bring me some cukes?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact."
"Good. I'm looking forward to our last fresh meal before we journey south. Perhaps you can give me a hand slicing the muskrat."
Doug's recovery had been long and difficult. He had been completely invalid from January through March, fighting off one infection after another. It was only through Doctor Bob's skilled hands that he was able to survive and he was always grateful for his exceptional treatment under impossible conditions. It took nearly six months for his burns to heal to a state where they no longer sent him into writhing pain with even the slightest touch. Though the side of his face was grotesque and disfigured, his general good nature gave the others the belief that he was back to his old self.
As the summer progressed, Doug became a fully contributing member to the group of refugees by assuming the responsibility for their living conditions in Creighton. This gave the others the chance to prepare for a siege on the NET.
Once gathered around the supper table, the conversation turned rather upbeat relative the mission ahead. They had spent many months preparing for the assault, and with exception of Doug, would be all too happy to get out of Creighton.
"That was the best muskrat I've ever eaten," said Alan.
"I slow cooked it all day," Doug said. "Now for dessert, is everyone ready for some fresh blueberry pie?"
Following dinner, John Howey led the group outside for the testing of the cannon. He poked a six-foot rod down the shaft to be sure the wadding was fully compacted and placed a two-inch diameter steel ball in the shaft to serve as the projectile. Then he put the cannon in its mount, which had been anchored against a large tree. The angle was set nearly horizontal and the fuse lit. Seconds later, a refrigerator leaning against a building 100 feet away had new holes in its front and back. Additionally, a cinder block in the building itself was pulverized at the same level as the hole in the refrigerator.
John carefully gathered the cannon and placed it in the back of the truck with five pounds of gunpowder. Next to it were two 12-guage shotguns and three boxes of shells, thanks to a discovery he had made in a remote cabin near Grand Marias. John had become quite familiar with the guns during recent months in his role as hunter for the small tribe. Just yesterday, he bagged the muskrat near the large beaver pond north of Creighton.
Doug spent the remainder of the evening tinkering with the radios in preparation for the mission. During his long period of convalescence, he had scavenged enough spare parts in the Creighton dump to construct two FM radio transmitters. His radio creations were designed to work from either a 12 volt or 6 volt source, such as a car battery, and had an effective range of ten kilometers in tests conducted earlier in the week.
Alan attended to the vehicles. Besides the gasoline-powered dodge pickup to get back to the Lower Peninsula, he had refurbished a Harley Davidson motorcycle to be hauled in the trailer. He only wished that some day Adam Pezet would be able to see his handiwork in restoring these vehicles. Much care had been taken to prepare for every contingency in the mission ahead.
Dr. Bob spent his evening pouring over the details of the plan. So much was now at stake, that they could not afford any mistakes. Although he had studied and prepared for months, he still feared the day to come, knowing the long odds they faced. Indeed they had made remarkable progress in harsh conditions, but they still lacked the firepower he believed necessary to have an impact on the defenses of the Net. Instead the plan relied on the intellect of four NVR refugees pitted against the wit of the billions of minds networked together. Only his belief that he and has companions had become something higher when they were separated from the Net, gave him hope at all. Already outliving the expectations that he harbored when he became truly self-aware in the latrine vault, he was ready to make the ultimate sacrifice in the chance that others would be saved.
Doug rested on the group's only mattress, which was little more than urine stained threads wrapped around a mass of mouse droppings. The others typically slept on a pile of tattered blankets and rags, but had already packed their makeshift bedding for the journey. They spent the final hours of the evening discussing things "back in the day."
The mechanical alarm clock rang at 12:30 a.m. temporarily overshadowing its loud ticking. Doug woke from his light sleep and greeted the others with a breakfast of sugar coated hardtack, which he called doughnuts. By 1:00 a.m. they were on the road driving in a light rain through the deserted stretches of the Upper Peninsula.
They made smooth progress during the early portion of the trip, partly due to the fact that they had done some clearing on the road leading through Seney and because of the wide clearance afforded to the main highways of the Upper Peninsula. Only when they were near the more populated region around Saint Ignace, did they need to use the two-man saw.
"The moment of truth is hand," said Howey, trying to suppress his trepidation as they approached the Mackinac Bridge connecting to the Lower Peninsula.
"Indeed it is," countered Hartwig. "But this is our only reasonable option."
"It sure looks like it took a beating on this end," said Doug.
Somewhat impatient Dr. Bob continued, "Yes, but it hasn't been destroyed. I still believe that the essential structure remains."
Alan stopped the truck for a more careful examination of the bridge. Several obvious bomb blasts had warped the approach. Much of the asphalt had been melted and the concrete pulverized. However, even the Net did not have unlimited resources to devote to this single target, as the two great suspension cables appeared to be intact. Looking at the cables curving upward into the darkness, the group reasoned that at least one tower was still standing out in the Straits.
"Maybe we should wait until winter and drive across the ice," said Doug, referencing the road taken months earlier when they walked across the frozen Straits.
"Get your head out of your butt," replied John. "I know you'd be happy to live the rest of your life in the bug infested swamp in Creighton, while the rest of the world rots in their NVR tombs!"
"I was just wanting to insure our success," said Doug.
Dr. Bob settled the debate, "Let's get back in the truck. We're driving across this bridge. And we'll drive right in the center lane, which appears to be intact."
Again at the wheel, Alan Wilson approached the bridge cautiously. He drove over a pile of debris to the center lane of the bridge. He zigzagged back and forth trying to miss the largest chucks of asphalt strewn across the causeway. The trailer bounced wildly behind him. He had traveled about 200 feet, when the right front of the truck suddenly dipped.
John got out to take a better look. "Damn, the tire's been destroyed," he shouted.
"That's ok," said Alan, we have a spare.
Alan and John installed one of the two spare tires that they carried in the back of the truck. They added the damaged tire to the litter already on the bridge.
Though it would take more time, the others decided to follow Dr. Bob's suggestion that they walk in front of the truck to inspect the road and clear debris where possible. The plan worked reasonably well, as they made it to the end of the causeway in something less than an hour. Here they found the asphalt had been blasted away leaving only the metal grating, which formed the two center lanes of the bridge. They continued their slow progress proceeding toward the north tower.
Now approaching the center span, a cold rain pelted their faces from the west. The reduced visibility, too, further contributed to their sense of fear, knowing that a false move could bring them death in the cold waters two hundred feet below.
"Oh no!" shouted John. "The grating is gone!"
Doug shined his flashlight towards the chasm. Ahead for at least 50 feet the entire road surface was gone. Both the asphalt side lanes and metal grating center lanes had been blasted away. It would be impossible to go any further with the truck.
Alan got out of the truck. "We must proceed. I can't back up all the way to St. Ignace through that mess," said Alan.
Alan and Doug took a closer look at the structure ahead. While the road surface was completely obliterated, the underlying beams and supports remained intact. Ahead stretched two parallel beams about 18 inches wide and ten feet apart on their centers. Obviously they were designed to hold a lane's width of grating. They were too far apart, though, for any normal vehicle to travel without the grating.
"We'll have to find something to build a road between the spans," declared Alan.
"That's at least 50 feet of road we'll have to build. It's impossible," scowled John.
"No, we'll only need enough material to build three feet. Let's scout ahead to be sure the rest of the bridge is passable."
Alan led the others to the catwalk on the left side of the bridge. They walked around the open area towards the Southern tower. After they discovered that the rest of the grating was intact as far as the Southern causeway, they returned to the truck.
Alan retrieved an axe and the two-man saw from the back of the truck. He directed the others to walk back to the north end of the bridge, where they might search for construction materials. Half an hour later they reached the maintenance yard on the east side of the road. Although the maintenance equipment had been destroyed, there still remained the framework for a vehicle storage shed. Alan determined that the 6 by 6 wooden supports used to construct the shed would be suitable for his new road. Four of them were cut to 12-foot lengths in order to be wide enough to stretch between the beams on the bridge.
"Now all we need to do is carry these back to the center of the bridge," said Alan.
Doug tried to lift one of the wooden beans. "This must weigh 200 pounds," he said.
"I guess we'll have to make two trips then," replied Alan.
Four hours later the wooden beams were laying on the bridge next to the truck. As dawn approached the precipitation changed from drizzle to moderate rain. The refugees were thoroughly exhausted from making two trips to carry the heavy beams.
"We can rest a bit, but I think we should get across the bridge as soon as we can," said Dr. Bob, now taking back the mantle of leadership. "We're just too obvious on this bridge."
"We haven't seen any aircraft since we left the Lower Peninsula months ago," said John. "I don't think they're patrolling anymore."
"Perhaps not. But the chance still exists and with what is at stake, we must do everything possible to be successful. The Net will not make any foolish mistakes. It is quite possible that the reason we have not encountered any patrolling aircraft recently is because we have been diligent to remain hidden."
Following a brief rest, Doug served a quick breakfast of canned pears that he had brought from the Creighton dump.
Alan proceeded to cut notches near the ends of the four wooden beams. Pleased that Dr. Bob insisted that they travel with at least 500 feet of sturdy rope, he attached 50-foot ropes to both ends on each of the beams, using the notches as insurance that his clove hitches would not slip off the edges. Laying the first four boards, heavy as they were, was not too difficult. They we laid about two inches apart to effectively extend the road three more feet beyond the edge of the grating.
It had been decided that the trailer would not be able to make it any further; therefore its contents were piled into the back of the pickup truck, with the exception of the motorcycle.
Dr. Bob took the perilous job as traffic director, walking out on the steel support beam beyond the heavy wooden decking now defining the roadway. Alan continued in his role as driver, while Doug and John served as the road crew. With the boards in place, John and Doug grabbed the ropes and walked them to both sides of the bridge. They would do most of their work from these edges, where the bridge framework made it safe to stand and there would be a place to tie the rope.
Alan moved the truck slowly forward until Dr. Bob indicated that his front tires were squarely on the first board. He had now traveled 8 inches of the 50 feet needed to cross the open span. The front of the truck was now supported on a wooden bridge nearly 200 feet above the Straits. Driving forward to the second and third boards went smoothly. Alan inched forward to the fourth and final board, successfully stopping before he drove off the edge less than three inches away. The first test had been passed.
Now to extend the road, the first three boards would need to be moved and placed ahead of the truck in leapfrog fashion. This first movement of boards would be the simplest. The tedious process of moving the boards required that Doug and John work the ropes on both ends setting up belays for the boards. John moved to the far right side the bridge to hold the belay, while Doug went left to pull the first of the boards. Doug pulled the board about 18 inches before it fell off the edge of the steel beam on the right side. John's belay held, but it still dropped about two feet before the rope was fully taut. Doug struggled to pull it further, as it took great effort to both move the board and overcome the force of John's belay that kept it from falling. John eased the tension a bit and Doug was able to pull it far enough so that it rested solely on the left steel beam. After a brief rest, he pulled it the rest of the way and lifted the edge onto a third beam near his perch. The right edge of the board now rested on the beam nearest the driver, while the left lay on a parallel beam 10 feet away.
Now Alan and Dr. Bob had to participate in their phase of the operation. Alan laid across the floor of the truck so that his head and arms extended out the open driver's door. Bob stepped off the metal beam and crawled onto the hood so that he too could reach out over the driver's side. John released his rope, as Alan now grabbed it from beneath the truck so that he and Bob could pick up the end of the board. As they lifted the board, Doug pulled it off the beam. Once the board had moved far enough left, Alan and Bob moved forward and lifted it back to the beam, now ahead of the tire. Dr. Bob then threw the rope back to John. John then became the puller, Doug the belayer, and Bob continued as lifter to get the board back across the right span.
The tedious process continued as the other two loose boards were moved forward. It took over 20 minutes to move all three boards and gain 30 more inches of roadway. It was a nerve-wracking and dangerous experience in the persistent rain and wind.
Once the rear wheels reached the edge of the of the grating, the process became even more difficult. Now it required that boards be used for both front and back wheels. Exact placement of the boards and precision driving were required. To move boards around the rear wheels, Alan and Bob had to climb in and out and over a truck resting its wheels on two six inch boards two hundred feet above the water.
By evening the truck had moved ten feet.
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