Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 34 "Land Grant Tenure"
by Jeff Rand
Thirty-five exhausting hours passed before the truck successfully crossed the fifty foot open span on the Mackinac Bridge. Though the rest of the bridge to the Lower Peninsula was passable, Alan had to retrieve the motorcycle from the north side of the span. His initial suggestion that he could ride it across on one of the 18-inch beams met with protestations from his father, so he had to use the catwalk instead.
The Lower Peninsula, being more developed, posed a much greater risk to the refugees of being detected, so they sought refuge near Indian River. Here they found the ruins of an old barn, where they planned to stay until they determined conditions were right for travel. The skies had now cleared and they preferred to be obscured with a good rainstorm, ideally a terrible thunderstorm.
Three nights spent in the feces infested barn were quite enough and no one was more pleased than John when threatening skies returned on the fourth afternoon. "I'm looking forward to getting on with our mission," he said, as the group gathered for dinner.
"I agree," said Alan. "We should leave tonight."
Dr. Bob replied, "No, I'd rather wait until morning. We have a long way to go and I don't want to use the headlights. Doing so in the heavily monitored sections of Southeastern Michigan is asking for trouble."
"Certainly we're assumed dead by now," said Alan.
"Bob is right," said John. "The Net will never assume we're dead without absolute evidence. Our only hope to defeat it is to never underestimate it."
Doug entered the conversation, "Perhaps a compromise is in order. We should leave at 4:04 AM and travel part way in the dark."
The others agreed and preparations were completed for the departure.
By mid morning, the group had traveled to East Lansing undetected and remained hidden near the banks of the Red Cedar River. The much hoped for rain started around dawn, lifting their spirits. Even the wind speed had increased, improving their chances of avoiding an attack helicopter.
They found the NVR center on the campus of Michigan State University right next to the ruins of Spartan Stadium, which proved to be another lucky break, as their truck and motorcycle were easily hidden among the debris. Here they surveyed the situation in order to achieve effective penetration of the center. Doug remained amongst the debris, as the others proceeded to the edge of the NVR building. He had been designated as the potential survivor should the worst happen to the others.
Brush had grown up along the north wall of the building. Two sledgehammers were used to break through this poured concrete wall. Though it was reinforced with steel rods, Alan was able to bend the steel enough to gain entry into the building. He entered a small room right next to a power conduit. By now he was certain that he been detected. Yet he was not dissuaded from inviting Dr. Bob to join him. Both were dressed in their homemade armor suits and wore gas masks. They were prepared for battle.
Alan instituted the search by following the power cables to locate the source. He knew that each NVR center was powered by a nuclear reactor located off the premises. But, he also believed that at some point an underground cable leading from the reactor must enter the building. Here one should find the switches and controls necessary to distribute the power throughout the building.
Dr. Bob followed Alan into a long hallway, where they had their first encounter with the building's defenses. The hallway, it appeared, marked the perimeter of the building, and had a steel grating as its floor covering, obviously charged with electricity.
"How much current do you think the floor carries?" inquired Bob, muted by his gas mask.
"Hopefully not enough to pass through our rubber boots," said Alan, as he bravely stepped forward. Alan thought he felt some sensation in his feet.
The search widened, as Bob and Alan went different directions to locate a convergence of power conduits. As it turned out Alan believed he located the right place about a hundred feet down the hall. The room to his left had a heavily fortified steel door. When Dr. Bob joined him, both were quite sure that this marked an important junction in the power distribution network. They paced the distance to entry point and crawled back through the hole in the exterior wall.
John brought the homemade cannon to face the section of wall where it was believed that power control center existed. Alan and Bob retrieved the sledgehammers and went to work to break a new hole in the wall where they hoped to gain access. The concrete broke away easily revealing solid metal plating.
"The control chamber must be built like a vault," cried Alan. "John, do you think we have a chance of blasting through?"
"Oh, I would hope so," said John.
"Alan, won't we destroy the equipment inside if we blast through the wall?" Dr. Bob inquired. "We could kill a quarter of a million people, if we can't restore the power."
"Bob, you fool, it's too late to worry about that," said John, quite sternly. "This is war. And those people may be causalities, but they'll be dead soon anyhow."
"John, I have never killed someone. I don't want to be a murderer."
"Look it is nice to hold to your values. But you and your peacenik wife would never survive a war. It's very simple: kill or be killed. Now let's get on with it!"
"But our dignity..."
"Bob," interrupted Alan. "The helicopters and flame throwers will surely destroy us without regard to our values. And I'm afraid that will be the death of all humanity. We've come this far; now we must take the risk."
John fired four shots into the wall before the steel broke away sufficiently to allow a person enough space to crawl through the hole.
Alan entered the large room and was immediately greeted by dozens of electrical panels. The room was loaded with large power conduits about six inches in diameter. Bob soon joined him, while John stood guard outside.
"At least it doesn't look like we did any damage to the electrical panels," said Hartwig. "But don't you suppose there might be other such rooms as backups?"
"No, I don't think so. These buildings are pretty utilitarian, but they weren't designed for absolute security. In fact, I suspect many of the security enhancements are rather recent occurrences, mostly as a result of our escape. To have multiple power conduits entering the building from the nuclear power plant would be a tremendous extravagance. Now let's shut off the power."
"Just one other thing," said Bob. "What about the people using assisted breathing apparatus?"
"Let's hope they can live awhile without it."
Going from panel to panel, Alan and Bob moved the large switches to the off positions. At several points during the process they heard various clicks and bangs, as large electromagnets and solenoids were released. After they opened the last switch, they tried the door to the main hallway. It swung open freely.
Sometime later, after John joined the search, a computer control room had been located. Both monitors lit up when they were initialized, likely having the benefit of backup storage batteries. John installed his vintage virtual reality interface to a port on the monitor. The Net itself seemed unaffected by the disruption of power. Apparently it received its energy separate from the building, as with the great telephone systems of the past.
A new phase of the operation was now underway. As John worked on the interface, Alan and Bob went searching for additional hardware. The building was remarkably quiet. They had no trouble entering the nearest chamber of humans. Bob noted that a number of the beds were empty, giving certain negative implications. Neither dared examine the humans too closely, allowing themselves the luxury of belief in a future for these NVR inhabitants. They moved to the bed of a young woman, prostrate and naked. Paying no heed to her vitals, Dr. Bob removed the cable connected to her skull. In turn, Alan found the socket near the head of the bed to disconnect the other end of the cable.
Now John's computer skills would again be put to the test. As he attached the old VR mechanism to his head, Dr. Bob helped Alan connect the interface cable to his skull and to a nearby socket. Almost instantly, Alan lost all conscious muscle control and fell from his seat. Dr. Bob grabbed him before he fell completely and laid him on the floor. Alan was back in the universe of neural virtual reality.
"Hi Alan. How are doing?" inquired John, as he and Alan stood in the long corridor of the East Lansing NVR center.
"I'm okay. Yet I just don't remember how I got back in the hallway. I remember sitting down in the computer control room a few moments ago."
"Don't worry about it. You're safe in the hall right now. Let's go find Professor Bollman. Alan, I'm with you, but I just can't see very well."
"When did you hurt yourself?" asked Alan.
"It's just too dark. That's all," replied John.
"No John, the lights are back on. Bob must have restored the power for the lights."
"Yes Alan. That would make sense. The lights are now on, but the power is off for the security system."
Dr. Bob listened intently to John holding a one way conversation with the unconscious Alan Wilson. Alan remained prone on the floor of the control room, as John sat on a small stool absorbed in the conversation through the small VR headset.
John followed Alan through the corridors, as Alan read the inscriptions next to each of the chambers. John carefully noted their route of travel. After examining several dozen signs, they entered the room labeled "Bod-Bon." Mark Bollman was found in a bed on the far side of the room. At first they had trouble recognizing the MSU professor. Continued electrolysis had worked wonders on his typical swag of facial hair. Professor Bollman was completely bald.
"Shall we rescue him now?" asked Alan.
"No. We'll go back to get Dr. Bob."
Howey disconnected himself from the VR unit to see Dr. Bob standing over Alan Wilson.
"You found Bollman?" asked Bob.
"Yes," said John. "Alan had perfect vision in the virtual halls and could even read the signs that are no longer physically there, although the implications are a bit frightening. He was not at all aware that he was in the virtual world. He simply believed that he had blacked out for a moment and you had restored power to the lights. He was quite ready to disconnect Mark Bollman, that is the virtual Bollman."
"I understand," said Dr. Bob. "We best get Alan back in the real world."
Bollman was found exactly where predicted through the virtual experience. Before leaving the building, Dr. Bob dutifully restored the power and connected the young woman back to the interface. Moments later the professor was being revived in the ruins of Spartan Stadium. Now, five former Winter Campers were part of the conscious world.
Shortly after the return to the relative safety of Spartan Stadium, a helicopter was observed flying below the clouds in the direction of the NVR building. For the moment, the refugees had not been located. The mass of the demolished stadium proved to be an effective shield from the aircraft's sensors.
"We must get the hell out of here!" cried John.
The four capable refugees carried their tools and weapons, along with the semi-conscious professor, through the ruble to their vehicles about a quarter of a mile away. At this point Alan took to the motorcycle to find his own route to the next objective. This way should the pickup truck be discovered, he would stand a chance of continuing the mission.
In the pickup, Doug assumed the role of driver. Dr. Bob sat on the passenger side of the vehicle with Mark, working to continue his revival. John perched on the pile of supplies in the back of the truck, with fully loaded cannon aimed skyward.
Two more rescue operations were mounted with similar success, due in part to the rain and overcast conditions. Within hours the small truck was crammed with Roger and Ken Horn, who were extricated from Brighton, in addition to John's two sons, Kyle and Alex, who were found in Ann Arbor.
Late in the afternoon, one more daring rescue occurred in Trenton. The rain had stopped and a helicopter was already on the scene as the truck arrived. Spotting the truck, the helicopter moved to attack. It quickly caught up to the truck, with flame-thrower fully engaged. Although John had short-fused the cannon, it took a couple seconds for the shot to fire. The helicopter was only twenty feet above him with its flame-thrower reaching the back of the truck when the shot fired. The helicopter exploded and fell to the road just behind the truck.
Doug stopped the truck and rushed to help John subdue the flames in the back of the truck. Fortunately, the flames did not reach John himself before he shot the cannon.
John shot a second helicopter out of the sky before they were able to enter the building. This time the truck was parked in an old convenience store nearly a mile away from the NVR center, where Doug attended to the five who had been rescued in the past day.
Having learned the standard layout of an NVR center, Howey, Hartwig, and the younger Wilson took only 20 minutes to break in, disrupt the power and locate two more Winter Campers. Bob and John carried Paul Kupser and Lou Pezet from the building.
Alan Wilson retrieved his motorcycle south of the building. Minutes later he drove towards the building as more aircraft approached. Now if there was any hope of getting the others back to the truck, he must divert the attention of the aircraft. Alan engaged the motorcycle full throttle and set upon an eastern course amidst the ruins of Trenton. At once, two aircraft pursued.
John and Bob had carried the two invalids about a thousand feet when the aircraft arrived. Though exhausted from the carry, they were in the relative safety in the ruins of a condominium complex.
"We've got to get them out of here!" said John.
"Well they're not exactly light weights," responded Bob. "I carried 300 pounds almost a quarter of a mile. I don't see how I can do it for another three quarters."
"We don't have time to fool around," said John. "Let's use our Scouting skills and do a two man carry. We'll have to make two trips, but we'll do it. Besides, Doug can help with the second carry."
Alan turned south, then east, then south again, with the helicopters in pursuit. Twice he felt flames coming in his direction. He had few options left. One helicopter approached quickly from his right, while the other converged from behind with flame-thrower discharging in his direction. Continuing straight he would enter Elizabeth Park, about the time the flames reached him. He made a sharp left and seconds later plunged into the Detroit River. The helicopters probed the area for his body.
The two remaining helicopters remained close to the Trenton NVR center, giving the others enough distance to keep beyond their sensors. By the time additional aircraft arrived, they had made it back to the truck and left the area.
Shortly before dawn, Alan Wilson completed a grueling ten-mile hike to join ten other refugees in what was traditionally considered to be the least hospitable location in the Detroit area. A new base of operations had been established at the mouth of the Rouge River on Zug Island.
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