Authors: Michel Savage
Here we were looking at proof of such scientific advancement right in the face. We were left a little baffled, wondering who had paid for this advanced military-grade machinery; and what the hell was it doing way out here in the middle of nowhere hiding under an office complex? We figured Roy might have the answer, since he was the oldest of our group. There was only a single control nest in the upper walkway that throttled the conveyors on the ceiling, but no other additional access beyond this room. We were all hungry and tired at this point, so we headed back up to the main hall with the rest of the gang to tell them what we found. It had been a long day, and I was ready to get some sleep myself.
As we sat around making more dried noodles on the tiny stove we shared, each of us trading places with our own personal cooking pots. Both Haiti and Felix threw around ideas about what this place had actually been, so I butted in and suggested the obvious; that we should recheck the manager
s office on the top floor again for anything we might have missed. I realized that any digital data had been erased, but there was always a possibility of finding something that might provide a clue.
The rest of them had already planned on squatting here through the coming winter if food supplies held out, so it wasn't like we didn't have time on our hands to explore this place in depth. Oddly we noticed
here was no company signage outside the building itself or printed on the sides of the vehicles, but there was also a good chance any identifying information might have been on the adjacent office building that had collapsed. Thorn and his group had originally found this place by pure luck while skirting a frontage road; even given the fact that the forest had reclaimed most of the area. From the layout of the facility there basically didn't appear to be any ample parking areas that could actually hold a large number of employees which it seemed the place was built for. It was impossible to estimate with any degree of accuracy because of the collapsed sister building was entirely in rubble.
There was always the chance the staff workers had been ferried here by company bus or some other mass transit carrier, but that was a long shot. Only a single lane access road led out of the facility, which was now nearly obliterated by overgrowth. We sat around in the dim light of our solar lanterns swapping stories about where we had once lived or places we had dreamed of seeing; but alas, never had the chance to visit. Such conversations as these between survivors always led to the chill moments when we wondered what was left out there beyond the horizon and where we would go now, which always ended with someone searching for somber words that seemed to always dwindle into inevitable silence. It was a hard question to consider, as if all our dashed hopes and dreams now only lived in the distant past with no real place left to linger in the present.
Thorn wanted to make it to the coast and joked about naming an entire beach after himself. Serena made the point that he should change his name again first, otherwise nobody would want to vacation there; which got a laugh from everyone. Felix wanted to travel to Asia, just to see if the old ways of the Buddhist monks had survived in their solitude. Serena dreamed up something far more exotic; to head far south to live in the jungle, a concept Haiti identified with ...as long as there were an adequate number of naked Amazonian women there for his personal harem, of course. Roy had thought the best chances for survival were actually to travel north and possibly team up with any groups of survivors and those with the skills to rebuild civilization, but finally did admit he might actually prefer to find a quiet cabin in the woods to live out his final years.
As for me, my dream was the most outrageous, and even surprised myself when I lingered on the thought of it long enough. I always wanted to explore all the areas destroyed by the impacts, the bleak islands and devoured shores, to trek the burning oilfields of the Saudi deserts, their lifeless dunes that had been transformed into an alien world. The thought of all the dead had not entered my mind, I just wanted to see what life had survived, the plants and animals that had struggled and thrived. In a way, I would find that comforting.
In the early hours of the morning before the break of dawn, we were all awoken by a strange clacking noise that we could feel through the cement floor, a repetitive tapping that reverberated throughout the structure of the building. Even the boy woke up, looking about bewildered. Roy was on his feet in no time, with a cocked gun in his hand. Thorn and the rest of the crew looked just as confused as they hastily pulled on their pants and boots, all of us looking the worse for wear for this untimely arousal.
"What the fuck is dat' man?" Haiti blurted in his pigeon English accent. Thorn checked on the boy for a moment, then grabbed his rifle and flashlight.
"What's going on?" I inquired softly, feeling just as groggy as the rest of them looked.
"We don't know, we've never heard anything like this before," Roy replied in a serious tone, "Serena, get to the balcony and check outside, and make sure to keep your light hidden," he ordered to the dark haired girl who had switched on her flashlight. He glanced over to Thorn and motioned for him to join him as they made their way to the stairwell. Haiti got ready to follow in kind, but she was advised to wait until Serena made her rounds in case she found anything unusual to report. I wasn't going to just sit here, so I threw on my boots to follow after the two men.
The three of us made our way down the stairs into the lower dock to determine where the source of the vibration was coming from. Entering the garage, we heard the metallic tapping echoing from beyond the large metal doorway we had opened the night before. That got us worried. Creeping our way towards the portal we shone our lights inside, their beams cutting into the darkness; the silver hatch door Thorn had opened was still ajar but now a dim blue light inside was blinking where the metal cone was propped. This was Roy's first look at the mechanism, so he approached it with due caution.
"That's the thing Haiti thought was a generator," Thorn explained to the older man as he stepped inside the small circular room.
"Are there more of these in the rest of them?" Roy asked with a hint of suspicion, referring to the adjacent silver doors that lined the lower dock. Thorn and I merely shrugged at his question.
"Don't know, we didn't open the rest; but I would assume so," Thorn replied. Both of them stood by the object trying to figure out the actual source of the sound and were suddenly startled when a ear popping 'clack' from the cylinder resounded as it jerked sharply which made the two men jump back a full foot. It had appeared that the generator had attempted to turn, but resisted and if the internal coils were stuck in place.
"Get out!" Roy shouted to us as we all backed away, "close the door!" he screamed again over the partial deafness from the ringing in our ears. We all stepped out in haste as Thorn stepped outside to the box beside the door and mashed the button again repeatedly with his hand, but to no avail.
"It won't close!" He yelled as the cylinder tapped violently again. Roy waved his light around frantically, looking for something when he finally spotted the control nest on the upper walkway placed just above the sliding doors to the dock. Finding an access ladder, Roy scrambled up to the booth under the red glare of the flashing beacon. Once on top, he fiddled with the control board and joystick he found there, but was only left frustrated when he realized there was no power to the panel itself. Thorn and I looked on expectantly up towards Roy as the cylinder continued to rumble.
"It's no use, that panel only controls a crane by the looks of it, there is no bypass to reseal that," Roy yelled over the noise while pointing at the generator containment door behind us after he hopped back down the ladder. We headed back out up the ramp to the upper dock where we could hear each other more clearly.
"You didn't find any other access points?" Roy inquired.
"Nope, that chamber appeared to be a dead end. Should we open the other panels and take a look inside?" Thorn replied. Roy shook his head in strong disagreement.
"I would advise against that, but we should scout the area outside of the building to see what else is behind there," he suggested, "but my guess is this section that it's connected too is completely buried underground by the looks of it." Roy stated as he estimated the dept of the lower section. Thorn nodded in approval, though with a certain degree of reluctance.
"Hey ...is that thing going to blow?" He had to ask.
"Who knows," the gray haired man answered, "if that thing really is a hydro generator, it's not the water source we have to worry about, but if there is any hydrogen vapor that's built up inside that thing it might very well ruin our day, and take this building down with it," Roy shot back with a grim look.
We quickly made our way back upstairs to find Felix had finally awoken, as he had somehow slept his way through the noise of the disturbance. We saw Serena there sitting on the edge of a table as Haiti had taken over her post on the balcony outside. The thumping vibration continued from below.
"Nothing out there, what did you find?" she asked.
"That generator you exposed last night is kicking around like a caged mule." Roy responded, "we need to get eyes outside to investigate what that thing is connected to out back."
He ran off to find Haiti several floors above keeping guard. The old man's first worry was that the noise might attract unwanted guests to our location, which was exactly the kind of attention we were trying to avoid. Luckily, this complex was so remote that there was little chance of foot traffic by looters or wandering infected; but low frequency noise could travel for miles. Thorn had taken out the few stray weepers that had followed me through the woods here, and there was no sign of any other that had strayed into the area in the following days since.
Thorn decided to recruit me to help him survey the space outside the rear of the complex. He kept watch via his scope on top of the roof to the rear of the building. Roy was kind enough to escort me out over the second floor balcony by rope as Haiti kept watch on top of the ledge. Roy was actually pretty fit for his age and seemed more critical in his decision making than the rest of us. There was clearly something more disciplined about his character which made him difficult to approach on a friendly level.
After hitting the ground outside in front, I shouldered my assault rifle and we made our way around to the back under Thorn
cone of sight from high above. There was a field to the rear of the building that had been cleared of forest at one time. Here the young vegetation had begun to set in, but there were no larger trees more than a few years old. Small bushes had sprouted around the area within a rusted barbed wire fence that had fallen into ruin several decades before. We kept our eyes on the forest
s edge; relying on Thorn to give us due warning in case he spotted anything.
"What do you make of this?" I inquired, kicking what appeared to be
an old rusted beam bolt half buried in the ground. Roy tromped over and that is when we began to notice there were actually dozens of them scattered around littering the area in a wide swath. They were easy to miss among the tufts of dried grass from any given distance at first glance. Roy seemed to be in deep thought for a moment then dropped the metal bolt back to the ground.
"Hmm, it might be nothing, but keep your eyes open," he finally replied, stating the obvious as we had several open acres to cover. Something still bothered me about this wide vacant space that I couldn't quite figure out. Growing up in the countryside, I could usually tell when something was out of place. That is when it hit me, that this small fenced field was unusually flat compared to the sloping hillside that eased next to it. It was just a peculiar feature that I might have been over exaggerating in my mind.
From the outside, we were glad to notice we could barely hear the pulse of the generator from below, but of course we would much rather have it go dormant again. After asking Roy what we should be looking for, his guess was anything that looked like exposed piping or a junction box. If there was a pipeline of some sorts, the contractors had done a damn good job hiding it; or it had simply become camouflaged by all the underbrush.
After finding nothing further of real interest, Roy and I began to make our way back to the front entry when Thorn shouted out to us from above. We turned about just in time to see a puff of dust erupt from the ground near the far edge of the field. I could bit see it well from this distance until the cloud of dirt settled. A tainted metal cylinder several feet wide had forced its way up out of the soil. At first, I had thought it was a broken piece of pipe, but that thought was quickly subdued when a radiant blue laser spread from the shaft in all directions.
Roy grabbed my jacket collar and pulled me down behind a broken slab of concrete just as the light swept over us. It was a horizontal beam a few feet off the ground, so it had no way of contacting Thorn who sat transfixed far up on the roof high above us.
"What is that?" I asked Roy as he released my coat from his grip, as a similar look or worry also crept over his face.
"Shhh, just keep quiet!" he whispered under his breath.
The beam pulsed as its scanned the area for half a minute then shut off, but the cylinder remained transfixed as several panels on its surface popped open and shut. We stayed there hidden behind the toppled slab for several minutes, just peeking beyond its edge at the object. The thin slits in the stained metal core finally closed and it sat there silently for about ten minutes before we heard a loud bang centered far below our feet. Less than a minute later the tall metal pipe slowly slid back down beneath the surface and out of sight.
Roy grabbed me to make a run for the corner of the building as we made our way back around to the front entry. Haiti saw us and let down the rope again so we could climb back up. Seeing how nervous we were, he was a bit curious to what we had found.
"So what's the rush, something chasing you, man?" he inquired, having no clue what had just transpired on the blind side of the building. Ignoring him, Roy climbed the rail and set off down the hall at a hefty pace.
"Was that some type of automated defense?" I hollered after him, but he did not bother to respond.
I stayed behind and filled in Haiti about what we had seen, but that led to even more questions. Grabbing my light I chased after Roy down the stairwell. There in the docking garage we were surprised to find that the great sliding doors we had left ajar where now shut. It was also obvious that the noise from the whining generator beyond had also ceased. We both immediately turned around and made our way up to the roof.
I was exhausted from running up the flight of stairs; up on top we found Thorn still crouched on the roof, looking through his scope at the location where the cylindrical object had disappeared. I sat next to him and he leaned over and let me look through the viewfinder, all I could see was a round indentation partially obscured in the soft shade of a nearby tree; which had been engulfed by the mound of displaced dirt it had created. There was no longer any movement from below, but they both wanted to keep watch for a little while longer.
"The access doors to the lower dock have been resealed," Roy mentioned to Thorn
"What did you see?" I asked, still clueless as to what was actually going on here. Roy pointed out with a motion of his hand at the surrounding area and a detail in the surrounding landscape we could only make out from above.
"You remember walking down there; didn't you stop to wonder how odd it was that the ground was so dry considering it had just rained yesterday?" His hard words meant as a rhetorical question. From our position up here, I could see what he meant. The wet ground outside of cleared area was obviously darker with moisture separated by an invisible but distinct line around its entire edge. Even so, I was still confused to what that suggested.
"There's something buried beneath there besides that lower generator room." Thorn realized, as the area measured much larger than the floor plan of the lower docking bay.
"I would bet there's a bunker down there under the foundation, right below our own feet," Roy proclaimed, explaining that underground shelters were laced with drainage webbing to disperse moisture away from the subsurface structure. He was probably right; the visual footprint we saw below us was predominantly larger than the lower dock where we found those generators.
After keeping watch for another hour up top, we decided to rally back in the main room where we had set up camp. The little boy was sitting there patiently chewing on a ration bar while the rest of us discussed the situation. There were a few suggestions tossed around that we should abandon the complex and search for another place to lodge, but the winter storms were already at our doorstep, which was a serious concern.
Felix thought maybe we could do a little more exploring and try to contact someone; that is, if we found anybody still inside. Old man Roy pointed out that we had not actually seen anybody as yet, and that the bunkers maintenance system might be completely automated. Even if we found a way in, there was no guarantee what we might run into down there. Thorn and everyone else finally had to admit that the temptation of an entire bunker that was possibly full of supplies was worth the peril involved. Everyone in the circle had been through far too much over the past several years to walk away from such a prize ...if it existed. We could only hope.