Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 36 In the Dark Shadows

by Jeff Rand

Patrolling helicopters had become a regular occurrence, forcing the refugees to stay well hidden in their lair on Zug Island. Fortunately Doug Wilson and Mark Bollman had discovered a treasure trove of food and supplies amongst the toxic wastes stored in the underground labyrinth in the center of the island.

"Dad, I think I see someone on the surface," said Ken Horn, as he and Roger maintained their post guarding the entrance to the underground chamber.

"Yes, I think it is Alex Howey," said Roger.

The Horns moved quickly towards Alex, who was soon joined by Lou Pezet.

"Quick, let's get under cover," said Roger, not wasting any time on formalities. "We'll be discovered by a helicopter unless we stay hidden."

"Don't we know," Alex responded, showing some sense of relief in discovering the others were still alive.

Inside the underground shelter, Alex and Lou described their rescue and escape from the Michigan Memorial NVR Center. When as many as ten helicopters converged on the scene, they were forced to stay hidden near the Huron River abandoning any hope of returning to the truck. Eventually they found shelter about a mile downstream. John and Dr. Bob stayed with Jamie Howey and Alan Wilson, while Alex and Lou set upon the journey to return to Zug Island. Without the truck they spent two days hiking and hiding, with very little food and water.

As Alex finished the description, Doug Wilson, who had been lurking nearby, joined the conversation. "How's your mother?" he asked.

"I'm afraid she's severely malnourished," replied Alex. "The food supply in the NVR center is running low and many have already perished."

"I'm sorry," said Doug.

"Yes and one other thing Mister Wilson, I'm afraid Alan was hurt. Doctor Bob had to perform emergency surgery."

Doug gasped.

"I believe he'll be alright, though. But, he lost his right hand."

"Oh no!" said Doug.

Roger Horn interrupted, "I'm sorry, but you know he'll be fine. I say this knowing that my statement is actually the creation of a traumatic amputee."

Alex and Lou said nothing of the discovery concerning the IV solution and its questionable contents. They had opted to return to Zug Island without any of solution and relied on the meager rations that they had carried at the start of the rescue mission. They were quite pleased to learn of the canned food found on the island, even if it was 50 years old.

Though it had been decided that youngest of the Zug Islanders should mount a rescue attempt for those hiding near the Huron River, Doug Wilson insisted that he be a part of the team. It took them four full days to locate John, Alan, Jamie, and Dr. Bob and bring them back to safe haven on Zug Island. Another day passed before Jamie was alert.

"Where is Satan?" asked Jamie, as her first words of greeting to her husband, John.

"Jamie," said John.

"This must be hell!" she exclaimed. "I had just hoped that I would have gone to heaven."

"Jamie, you're alive! You've been rescued from the Net!"

"John, I know the truth. You made a pact with devil. This is hell! You and your Winter Campers are a cult of Satan worshippers."

As Jamie continued the description of her perceived reality, it became apparent to the others that her recent experience in Neural Virtual Reality made her believe that Winter Camp was actually a secret satanic cult. It provided a tidy explanation for recent events relating to the disappearance of Winter Campers from the Net. It also served to galvanize public sentiment against those who remained. The universe of NVR was being defended both externally and internally.

The grim reality of the Michigan Memorial NVR center played heavily on the minds of the refugees. At most, in a few months everyone in the center would perish, unless there was outside intervention. In other centers, the situation might be better, but in time their supplies would be depleted as well.

"I don't believe that we can save very many people," said Doug. "Even if we are able to disrupt the Net, I don't see how anyone would survive. There's not enough food for millions of weak, naked people."

"I agree, the odds are against us," said Mark Bollman, "but..."

"Damn it," John interrupted. "This is war. We have no choice, but to destroy the enemy. We've been deceived long enough."

"And what weapons do we have?" Roger inquired. "We're virtually defenseless against the helicopters."

"That's hardly true, Roger. We've beaten them so far. And I should think, like the NVR centers themselves, the resources for the helicopters are not unlimited."

"We should begin an all out assault to rescue more Winter Campers," said Lou. "We can build an army."

"It will miniscule compared to such a foe," said Mark.

"Yes. Much like a mouse trying to eat an elephant," John responded. "But he'll do it just the same - one bite at a time."

As it turned out, Zug Island itself became a beacon of hope. In the months since John Howey had first escaped from NVR, very little had been found to sustain human life, let alone wage war against the Net. Now a place had been located that once was the dumping ground for the wastes of heavy industry, which evidently saved the area from destruction because it appeared to have no worth. Yet, with the creative minds present, the apparent waste could be put to much practical use in the war effort.

Although no motor vehicles were available, the refugees were able to rebuild six bicycles and equip each with a two-wheeled cart, much like an attachment for transporting a child. The bicycles would be used to rescue Winter Campers and family members from the Net during the hours of darkness, when it was hoped that they could remain out of sight of patrolling aircraft.

Among the items found within a subterranean chamber on the island was a box labeled "Danger -- Explosives."

"I don't really know much about explosives," said Doug, "but I do not think that dynamite has a long shelf life. I'd be real careful, especially if you observe any liquid residue. It could be nitroglycerin."

"Oh it's good for your heart, old man," responded Roger.

Alex Howey and Lou Pezet, on the other hand, were more than eager to root through the find to extract those sticks of dynamite judged to still have some explosive potential.

With preparations progressing rapidly for war with NVR, Mark Bollman, who was still trying to make sense of the world outside the Net, pulled John Howey aside to assess the situation of those remaining in captivity.

"Yes Mark, we believe that Dave Woods is nearby, probably with Renee somewhere in a center in River Rouge," said John. "But given Woods' behavior during the waning hours of the perceived Winter Camp LIV, I don't how he would react in the real world."

"I know it's uncertain, but he could be quite a warrior," said Mark.

"Perhaps later. However, not too far away we could extricate Kristie and Quentin Donohue from Allen Park. I believe Adam Pezet may be there too."

"But Steve is not?" asked Mark.

"We believe Steve is lost in Siberia with Jeff, I'm afraid."

Mark said, "Perhaps they've escaped. Alan tells me that he thinks Ron Donohue escaped in Canada."

"Wishful thinking. Alan and Dr. Bob were deceived into believing that he escaped and joined them. It was a just another false reality generated in the Net. Like most of us, the real world has not been overly pleasant and they would like to believe that some better truth exists elsewhere. It was the same for you and Mister Horn with your belief of a coup at the Lincoln Pilgrimage. It did not happen."

"But it made perfect sense."

"Of course," said John. "You minds created it. How could it be otherwise? NVR just gave you what you wanted."

"John, I suppose you're right. This must be real. I would never imagine myself hiding in an industrial waste site eating food that was canned before we were born."

John and Mark continued their assessment, placing Dave Milon and Tim Hunt within reach in Southgate. The other members of John's family, including Alex's wife and daughter, were believed to be in Ann Arbor. Bollman's family would be scattered even further. The elder Wilson still had a wife in Farmington Hills, though his daughter was somewhere in California; Stockton they thought. Alan Wilson and Dr. Bob Hartwig had wives in Lapeer. As to the Horns, Roger's wife Jamie was in Brighton, along with Ken's wife and son. Roger's female progeny were believed to be in Florida and Tennessee.

Two more days passed before the evening of September 15 arrived with the announcement of severe thunderstorms. Though not pleasant, it was an ideal situation to mount the next attack against the Net. Three teams were dispatched shortly before 10:00 PM.

Bob Hartwig led the team returning to Lapeer and Farmington Hills. Old timers Doug Wilson and Mark Bollman joined him. Alan Wilson wanted very much to be a part of the team, but Doctor Bob insisted that he remain on Zug Island to recuperate from his amputation.

John Howey assumed leadership of the Ann Arbor/Brighton rescue team, including Roger Horn and Alex Howey. Kyle Howey, who had a strong interest in this rescue, reluctantly stayed behind with his mother, who as of yet was not fully rational.

Lou Pezet assumed the mantle of leadership for the rescues in Allen Park and Southgate. Paul Kupser and Ken Horn found themselves assigned to this effort.

John gave the marching orders to the squads. They would function independently for at least the next four days before returning to Zug Island. Tonight they would move to a location between their first and second objective and establish a hideout. There they would rest until tomorrow night, when they should attack the first objective and complete the designated rescues returning to the hideout until the next night. Then another attack would be staged, now on the second objective. As before they were instructed to bring the newest refugees back to the hideout. On the fourth night, two of the team members would ride the bikes with their attached carts and transport as many back to Zug Island as they could manage. The third team member would remain in the hideout with the others.

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Acrid smoke filled the 5th floor of the structure standing at Champaign Park in Allen Park. Because of the defenses in place on the lower floors, Lou was forced to lead his team to the roof, where they successfully used some dynamite to blast a hole through to the top floor. Lou and Ken were able to crawl through and jump to the floor about 10 feet below. Unfortunately, Paul broke his leg in the attempt.

Given the need for a timely rescue, Lou and Ken paid no attention to Paul, but went right to work blasting through walls and floors. They found Lou's brother Adam on the fourth floor, while Kristie and Quentin Donohue were discovered on the first floor. Of the three, twenty-four year old Quentin appeared to be in reasonably good heath, while Adam and Kristie were definitely malnourished. All three remained unconscious after being disconnected from NVR, making it very difficult for Lou and Ken to move them to the their planned escape route on the first floor.

Ken remained heavily armed and stayed at the escape point to guard the rescued humans. Lou returned to the fourth floor and attempted to assist Paul. A barrage of heavy arms fire greeted him from several waiting robots. Although he was quick to take cover and save himself, he faced an agonizing decision regarding Paul. There was little he could do now for him, if indeed Paul was still alive.

Lou heard blasts from elsewhere in the building. He rushed down the stairs. Then he felt a sharp thrust in his right shoulder before the sound of the shot registered in his brain. His metal armor saved his life, but his shoulder writhed in pain nonetheless. He fired from his own weapon in the direction of the robot sentry.

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The population in Lapeer had been greatly reduced since Bob Hartwig and Alan Wilson were rescued from captivity. The scene proved particularly unsettling to Dr. Bob, when he could find no sign of his wife from among the small number of people who remained alive in the NVR center. The rescuers were further disheartened when they could not locate either Ranger Osvath or Alan's wife Jeanne. Very disturbed, Doug Wilson insisted that they rush to Farmington Hills that night, in spite of their plans to the contrary. Dr. Bob and Mark Bollman dutifully conceded to Doug's wishes, though they held little hope for Doug's wife, as well.

In spite of continuing rain, all exterior surfaces of the Farmington Hills Center were bathed in bright light. It was 4:00 a.m. when they arrived on the scene.

"We must attack with everything we got," cried Doug, speaking to his two comrades hidden in the trees several hundred feet from the building.

"There will be many casualties," said Dr. Bob, acting shocked at Doug's lack of concern for human life.

"I know, but else can we do?"

"Perhaps we can shoot out the lights," said the doctor.

"There are hundreds of them," Doug responded. "Can't you hear the helicopters prowling overhead. If we start firing, they'll be on us in seconds. We must move hard and fast."

"I'm afraid I agree," said Mark. "We've already seen that the odds are against those inside the centers. If we can save Doug's wife that's one more than the zero who will be alive here if we do nothing."

Four defensive helicopters responded to several blasts just east and south of the building. A moment later a substantial explosion collapsed three whole floors in the vicinity of the power distribution center on the west side of the building.

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"Where is she?" screamed Alex, quite disturbed at the lack of progress in finding his daughter, Samatha. Alex, John and Roger had spent several hours searching the Ann Arbor NVR Center for her.

After the successful rescues of the Horn family members in the Brighton/Howell Center the night before, the team remained optimistic that they would have the same luck in extricating the Howeys who remained incarcerated in Ann Arbor. Indeed they had removed Alex's wife Danielle from her attachment without incident. Initially they had assumed that daughter Samatha would be near her mother, but quickly widened the search.

Morning would be arriving soon in Ann Arbor and the rescue team was running low on ammunition. They expended much of their firepower in destroying dozens of robots and other defensive systems in the building.

"I think we've exhausted our opportunity," said Roger. "We've checked the likely possibilities, given the alphabetical layout of building. We'll never be able to check 200,000 individual beds."

"Damn you!" cried John. "We got your people out of Brighton. This is my granddaughter."

There was no hiding his emotions, John loved 3 year old Samatha more than anyone. The child had brought him so much happiness and he cherished his grandfatherly duties. Others who observed John's relationship with her, believed that child brought out his best and that he became a more caring individual as a result.

Alex, too, would do anything to save his child, but remained silent during the discourse. Finally he spoke again, "Let's get Danielle to safety. We can regroup tomorrow night."

John reluctantly agreed, despite the fact that it would delay their planned rendezvous with the others back on Zug Island.

Alex and Roger carried Danielle to the planned escape route near the food storage on the first floor. John doubled back to set charges to blast a hole to the outside where he could cover the others with defensive fire should any helicopters be encountered.

John turned to a sudden blast in the direction of the others. The hall was filled with rubble. A whole section of the ceiling and floor above had collapsed upon the location where they had been standing.

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