Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Chapter 4

William was older than most who still traveled out into the world from his coupling. He didn’t know exactly how old he was, he’d been abandoned by his parents long ago, and was picked up by an expedition from Cherry Wood coupling. He couldn’t have been more than 10 when they found him, so he could only guess that maybe he was about forty years old. That’s what he told everyone, anyway. His hair was a light brown frosted with gray streaks and his skin was tan from exposure and a lifetime of hard work, he wore an orange flight-suit that he found on one of his first expeditions when he was old enough to leave the coupling at sixteen. It fit like a glove and it was more durable than any other clothes that had ever been found in the old world buildings. His boots were from the same place, dark black, and equally un-naturally sturdy to have lasted over twenty years.

Right about the time that John was getting himself trapped inside a dark room near the ruined city’s outskirts, Will was looking up at the rusted remains of a chicken-wire fence that ran a rather large perimeter, one too large to be checked quickly, and with a height of at least twelve to fifteen feet. He smelled military ruins. Military ruins almost always had something good. No matter how many times they got looted, there always seemed to be something else to find. Even better this time though, his expedition had made a thorough nearby check, and he was beginning to suspect that just maybe, they were the first to come here since it was abandoned. That was a thrilling prospect. There could be anything inside there if it was un-looted. There probably wasn’t anything that the old government had ever considered to be important. But that was just a probably. He knew that some of the old bases had been abandoned with a lack of resources to fully remove everything of value. Things had begun to crumble quickly near the end. That’s about the way decay works. It works slowly at first, then when the supports and structure have broken away, everything seems to just crash down in a giant heap of debris.

There were plenty of gaps wide enough to squeeze through, but that lacked style, and moreover, it lacked the cleanliness that was the hallmark of a well-prepared excavation.

“ Sanders! Where are those wire cutters? “ He bellowed his question and was rewarded almost instantly with the bustle of one of his two companions. A skinny blonde fellow of only eighteen or so years ran forward from the camp with the wire cutters in hand; apologizing and muttering how he had only just found them.

“ Will, we got a weak signal through for a bit, but everything is all broken again now. I could try for another day and we might still get nothing “, said the other companion who had been lurking off in the distance as he came back toward Will and Sanders. “ Would you like me to keep trying? “

“ How much do you think they heard? “ Will spoke amiably enough, although he didn’t take his eyes off of sanders as he cut his way through rusted metal with his cutters.

“ At the very least, I’m certain they heard our location and identification. At best, maybe they heard the rest of the message too. “

“ What I wouldn’t give to be another twenty miles from that damned city. Nothing ever feels safe when you can’t call home “, Will said as he continued to watch Sanders work on the fence. He was barely more than a boy and was clearly in need of the experience. By this time the other troop member was standing next to will, his pale eyes squinting in the sunlight as he covered them with his left hand. His dark brown hair was longer than was particularly safe and he hadn’t shaved in a few days. Tattered clothes protected him, but it was clear, this was the last trip that he was making in them. His name was Roby and he had joined Will immediately after returning to the coupling from his last expedition. He was a good worker and wiry and William would have picked him out of all Cherry-Wood as one of the three people he would have trusted his life with in the worst of the worst. There wasn’t anyone in Cherry-Wood that he couldn’t trust at least in daily life. “ Worst case scenario, someone gets here in a big hurry all set for a nice little tumble, if they think we’re in trouble. Either way, someone will definitely show up, how long it takes them to get here could be another question. How much food do we have? “

“ We have enough for about twenty-four more days. We’re pretty well stocked considering there are three of us. “

“ That will give us about two weeks of waiting time before we have to move on. Think we should risk poking our head into the womb of the beast and have a little look around? “

“ I’m anxious to, I’m practically dying to, this is an exciting find, but I just don’t feel safe without at least two more for support. But, there are three of us, and our location is known, so we’re pretty well prepared for a look see, if you feel like taking the risk “, Roby said thoughtfully. “ We definitely have the free time to do some early survey work, unless we’re just really damn lucky and we get company here by tomorrow.

“ Sounds good to me, I guess it would be hasty to make that call before we do some mapping first. “

Roby went to do some work back inside the camp with some of the equipment while Sanders worked quietly at the fence till he had an extremely large rectangle cut out of the fence, probably larger than was necessary; but William would never criticize anyone for doing too much work when it involved preparation for the unknown. God only knew what they might find here.

All the rest of that day they spent inside the bounds of the fence with survey equipment and other safety devices. The nature of their location meant that since they were doing an open grounds check they were being wise to check for landmines as they went, although they didn’t find any that day or the next.

Newton Bunker, as the base happened to be called by a nearby sign, was aptly named, as it happened to be more bunker than anything else. A few buildings stood alone, but most appeared to be only nubs on a larger underground installation. The more they looked around, the more indication William found that the majority of the nubs were probably interconnected with tunnels. With some of them it was clearer than others. As it happened, the biggest discovery they made during their time was the garage.

It was clearly labeled, even though it was tucked into the rear of the facility when Roby found it late in the evening on the first day. The whole building was locked up, but not very well, and the wooden doors certainly hadn’t stood the test of time well at all. A couple of solid kicks knocked the rotted obstacles down more than effectively. When he stepped inside, he noticed that the stench of rot that was in most buildings in this state was noticeably lessened, not quite absent, but lessened. He flipped the switch on his flashlight and locked it on scanning the immediate entrance as he began to wonder if maybe he should wait till morning. He was in a cubicle-sized room with a second door leading into the main garage with a broken window between them. The window was, of course, too filthy to see through, and Roby resisted his initial urge to wipe it when he inspected it and noticed the damp and decayed frame might push through.

Roby’s nature included an odd and often un-noticed proclivity to avoid any sort of damage while inside of these ruins, that were like hallowed ground to him, whenever he could. The few people close enough to him to notice and ask always got told that it was merely a healthy respect for history. In a way, that was totally true, these places were history to him. To a lot of people, it was just seventy years of decay and some useful tidbits, but Roby could never keep himself from wondering. Pondering the things that he found, the craftsmanship. It was second nature to him to imagine who was the last person to walk where he set his feet, be it looter, or original owner.

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