New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
George Frederick had been the first to see the unexpected sight: Fred and Mary stumbling across the rocky stretch that bordered the eastern side of the camp. George had even considered shooting first and asking questions later. But earlier that morning Tom had once again mentioned Smith's name and the thought of the last resident of the camp perhaps finally arriving had slowed George's instinctive reaction. Instead he had called Tom Griffith and he was now on the way.
As they came closer, Frederick could see that the man was moving with more purpose than should be expected, as if he knew exactly where he was going. The girl, on the other hand, definitely looked as if she had no destination in mind. Of course, she kept stumbling in the rocky field, which may have been sufficient discouragement for anyone. Finally the man grabbed her arm to help her and together they strode relentlessly on.
When Tom Griffith arrived at George's makeshift observation post, George handed the binoculars to him and pointed. Tom took only a few seconds to identify Smith. Then suddenly four men and a woman were running toward the couple.
Smith and Mary had made it to the camp only six days before Ketuohok's arrival. They had spent two and a half long days on foot, arriving at the camp late in the afternoon. They had eaten no food for two days, their initial supplies carried had been rapidly depleted on the car trip. They had found some water along the way but had no containers and had to contend with some long dry spells. Finally they had suffered through the blazing Kansas sun for two and a half days.
Despite his condition, Smith wanted a chance to talk to Tom and a few of the others before he would take any real rest. He wanted to ensure that everyone was brought up to speed on the many contacts he has mainstakingly gathered -- for what might amount to a post-collision linkage. He had begun relating his Washington experiences to Griffith, Scott, Leonard French (an electrical engineer and friend of Trippe), George Voulers, and Darrel Yasaitis when someone gave a cursory knock on the door. Tom automatically responded and Bryan Riddle stepped into Tom's ‘headquarters trailer'.
In an offhand manner, Bryan remarked, “Ed Parsons asked me to let you know that the Eagle is completely ready with the exception of taking on fuel and water.”
“Thanks Bryan. We'll fill everyone up in a few days.”
Bryan looked at Tom, almost scoffing. “Of course,” he answered, “No sense filling the tanks too quickly.” Then Bryan turned away and casually introduced himself to Fred Smith. “You must be the Fred Smith I've heard so much about. It's a delight to meet you.”
Smith could only stare, even as he shook hands with Riddle. But he covered his slow moment reasonably well. Then Bryan, smiling to himself, walked out.
Tom looked at Fred's blank stare and misunderstood Fred's reaction. "I should mention that we've named all of the enclaves. Eagle is captained by Ed Parsons'. I don't think that you've met Ed yet. He's a helluva good civil engineer and an excellent man to run things in number six enclave."
As Tom watched him, Fred seemed to still be preoccupied. There was a momentary silence. Tom decided to continue. “The other five enclaves are Corsair, Pioneer, Viking, Intrepid and Challenger. Scott is in Corsair, Mike Brownson is in Pioneer, Trippe has Viking, and I have Intrepid. Yours is Challenger.”
Fred was still not really listening. The men began to get a bit uneasy -- perhaps Smith was in worse shape than they thought. Fred turned to look closely at George Voulers, who felt he had to say something. Bluntly George said, "I'm riding in Eagle with Ed Parsons.'” When Fred still did not respond, he continued, "You know me. I couldn't bear the thought of being in charge, or of being the authority . Too much paperwork," he laughed. The others laughed slightly.
Then Fred glanced up to the ceiling. “Now I remember!” he announced in a strong voice. “William Roberts! Deputy Director of Public Information and Communications.” Fred smiled broadly as he felt the solution confidently in his grasp.
"William Roberts. Or for now apparently, Bryan... The man who was just here."
Tom was astounded. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Fred was straightforward about it. "Bryan Riddle is an alias. His name is William Roberts. You guys have an imposter on your hands.”
Tom asked in disbelief, "Are you sure?"
“Absolutely. I saw his picture. I can guarantee that the man who was just in here is William Roberts."
“But why?" Tom asked. "Why should he lie? Especially about his name?"
After a moment of silence Fred simply said, "He's the man Kirk went to see. And, unless I'm way off, he's the man, directly or indirectly, who's responsible for Kirk's death.”
"But you don't know for sure."
"I know all that I need to know.” Smith was adamant.
Then Leonard French responded, "Of course, it all figures. Why else would the bastard use an alias? If he had nothing to hide, we'd be calling him Bill instead of Bryan. If he were innocent, he would have shown up with details on Kirk."
"He even used the same initials, so if he forgot about the monograms on his shirt..."
Tom was still skeptical. "But you really don't know if he's responsible for Kirk's death.”
"I know!" Smith's mind was made up.
"Not to mention the fact that he's been trouble from the word go,” Scott added. “He's a con man, a bastard, and not to be trusted."
"What do we do about it?" Yasaitis was always straightforward. "Get rid of him?”
"Not that simple," Tom answered. "You really don't have a case against him. And unless you do, the rest just might not buy it."
Fred lifted his hand up slightly. “Tom, are you prepared to defend him?”
“Good Lord, no! I least of anyone would lift a finger to stop his hanging. Only I don't speak for the rest."
"Yes, but I speak for Kirk Masters." Then, to the others, Fred proposed, “If no one objects, I think we should take action on this matter without consulting the others.”
There was no objection. There probably should have been, but there wasn't.
"For the love of God, Bob, you can't be serious.”
"Look, sweetie , I told you never to call me that... never again.”
"All right, Bryan darling !" The emphasis on 'darling' was not one of love. "But I still can't see you and three of those other bastards tooling off in an airplane with only two days before the collision.”
"I've already explained it to you.”
"If you mean that moron Warren's idea that they are testing your loyalty to the group by getting you to volunteer for this trip, then you must be out of your fucking mind.”
"You miss the point, dear.” Bryan continued to pile the essentials, including a gun, into his pack. "They hope that I will refuse and thus exclude me from any leadership positions. A public refusal would put the lid on both of us.”
"Oh, bull shit! If this is just a test, why are the other three the ones chosen? Are they being tested?"
"Don't be ridiculous. Scott can't be leader while he's got that girl wrapped around him. Leonard French, we have already demonstrated, has no leadership potential. And Yasaitis is a joke. Those three would be the logical choices to send on this sort of mission.” Then, turning to her, “Don't forget that the purpose of this last minute foray is to replace some of the medicine that was destroyed by the accident -- some medicine that you will undoubtedly want later on.”
“And if there's trouble? This place is completely sealed off. If anything happens, none of you may ever get back."
Roberts looked at his woman. Then he smiled, “If anyone gets back, it will be me.”
As Roberts stepped out of the trailer, Diana felt a chill all over her body. "Damn!" she gritted between her teeth. There was no question in her mind that her lover was on his way to his death. "You dumb, stupid jerk!” she muttered. "Sure. Go get yourself killed. Walk right up to the firing squad and ask for a cigarette. See if I give a shit."
Diana's mind was raging but her years of self control maintained its vigil nonetheless. 'Now what?' she thought to herself. ‘What does Diana do now that that boring moron wants to commit suicide? I can't change horses in mid-stream!' Then, after a gentle pause, it occurred to her. 'Actually… why not? If bumbling Robert wants to take a dive, why should I join him? Sure, I've been his most loyal supporter, but there's no reason why I can't start making tracks the other way.'
Then a plan began to form. What would happen if she 'accidentally found' William Roberts' driver's license, the one without the photograph? She could always pretend that Roberts had made her think his real name was Bryan Riddle. Sure, she had pretended to be his wife, but she just figured that it was best since she did know that he was married. Pretending to be married was like a child's game. And a flood of tears, precisely on cue, would help support her story. Then, if Roberts came back dead, she could find more evidence of his real identity. But most importantly she would have established her suspicion before the ax fell on good old Robert.
On the other hand, if Roberts did find his way back, if they had not found him out after all, then she could backtrack and claim that she would prefer to forget it. She would have to convince someone that her love was Roberts was such that she did not care what his name was. But who was this someone?
Quickly she thought of Shari Harvey. Diana smiled. She was sure that Shari would eat up the role of Mother Superior. Diana could go to her on the sly, appropriately disturbed, tell Shari the phony story about the I.D., and then, in a moment's hasty recall, swear her to 'absolute secrecy. If Roberts made it back, Diana would have to live with Shari knowing a deep dark secret of Diana's (until such time as Shari could be conveniently done away with). And, if Roberts came back dead, his identity found out, Shari would be the perfect character witness for Diana.
Diana began to smile. The plan was good -- particularly for one on the spur of the moment. Diana would go see Shari exactly one and a half hours after the plane left with Roberts. In the meantime, Diana could do with a few rehearsals.
Scott looked out the window at the rising sun. It seemed more impressive from the height of the airplane. Then he brought his mind back to his purpose. So far there had been no problem. Riddle had not noticed the boxes of medicine stored in the rear of the plane -- the stores that would be taken back to demonstrate the success of the mission despite the 'unfortunate loss of one member of the expedition'. Looking at Riddle he decided that there was no suspicion. But he mustn't become overconfident; Riddle was dangerously intelligent.
Then Yasaitis announced, "Thar she blows!" Both he and Scott could easily see the field; small, dingy, and little used. It's one attribute was that they were not likely to be observed landing there.
Then French caught sight of it. "Can we land there?"
"No sweat.” Yasaitis was grinning. "But for your peace of mind, I will make a quick pass over it to scare the chickens off the landing strip."
Scott smiled and noticed that even Riddle was amused.
The pass over the strip yielded no adverse information. So Darrel swung around for his landing pass. Since his training had been that of a Marine, he used the Navy landing approach, the sort commonly used for aircraft carrier landings. It consisted of a low approach in the opposite direction then a quick turn and almost immediate touchdown.
It was the swing into the initial approach that caused the lurch, then the breakage. One of the medicine containers had been smashed. And the smell was all too distinguishable. Bryan sniffed the air as they made their way to the final turn. Glancing around for someone's explanation, he realized that their watching him meant that they already knew the answer. With only a second's hesitation he reached for his gun.
Scott saw his intention and leaped at him. But Yasaitis was already in the turn and the centrifugal force slowed Scott's charge. He was only able to deflect Riddle's first shot. But even that was not enough. The bullet ripped through the forward seat into Yasaitis' left ankle. He yelped but continued to bring the plane down. Only French was free to make for Riddle and his seat belt was tugging to prevent him doing even this.
Riddle's second shot was straight into the floor as Scott tried to smother him. Riddle boxed Scott's ear with his free hand, only to receive it back tenfold as French hit him in the face. Then, just as they were about to contain him, the plane hit the runway, considerably harder than was necessary. French bounced off and Scott managed only to hold Riddle's gun hand. Then, as Riddle pounded Scott along his spine, French found his own gun and fired. The first shot hit the window near Riddle.
A certainty of death crossed Riddle's face. His whole body tightened for the inevitability. Then it came. Leonard's second shot went clearly through his cheek and into the head. French recovered his feet to confirm his hit. He had only a second to study Riddle before Yasaitis yelled, "Hang on!”
Leonard turned to see the shack coming straight for them. The pilot's foot was too wounded to straighten the landing path and they were heading into rough ground and a shack near the runway. Before French could act, they plowed into the four by four shack. Boards splattered against the windshield as Leonard was tossed forward. The construction was not enough that it could greatly slow the plane and thus French's lunge was not sufficiently violent to kill him. He was merely knocked unconscious.
The plane now laying in a ditch, badly broken up, Yasaitis started to move. "Quick, let's get out of here.” He pulled French back into his seat and then struggled out of his own. Scott then leaped up to help the pilot. “I'm okay. Get Leo!"
Yasaitis shouldered the door open and then fell headlong onto the ground. Then he struggled to his knees just as Scott dragged Leonard to the door. With Scott dumping French out of the door and Darrel pulling from beneath, Leonard was quickly free of the plane. Then Scott was out and carrying him in a fireman's carry. Yasaitis, knowing all too well the possibilities, was hobbling away from the plane with a vengeance.
Reaching a low depression in the ground, Yasaitis yelled, "Hit the dirt." All three were quickly down, just as the gas tanks went off. The explosion was mostly fire and noise and the little amount of flying debris was quickly dispersed.
Scott looked up at Yasaitis with concern. Yasaitis quickly answered, "I'm okay. You can't really hurt a Marine."
"You can't teach one to fly, either."
"What the hell! That's the standard touch down. Besides, any landing you can walk away from… well... at least crawl away from…" Then, with more seriousness, "What about Leo the Lion Hearted?"
"Knocked out, I think.” Then, scooping some runoff water from the bottom of the depression, he wiped it over French's forehead. It brought a quick response as Leonard started to raise up, then grabbed his head. "Oh Christ! What the hell happened?"
"Take it easy, babe. You just worked over my instrument panel with your head." Then he looked at the plane and thought of Riddle still in the burning wreckage. He was unusually silent.
Scott rolled over on his back. With one hand behind him, around the small of his back, he groaned. “I almost forgot. I think I have a broken back."
"Great! What with ‘broken head' here and my bloodied foot, that just about makes us all useless.”
“I'm okay. Concussions never did slow me much.”
Scott said nothing. His pain could not be delayed with comedy.
Yasaitis saw Scott's grimace. “You okay, kid?”
Scott looked up. “Yeah. It just hurts a mite.”
“Anything I can do?”
“I doubt it. Except maybe find a way back to camp.”
“I figure we'd better get hot on that score. Here, Leo, you wrap something around my ankle and we'll investigate those hangers over there for some sort of flying machine.” The bandaging took only a few seconds, as Yasaitis was not overly impressed with beautiful surgical techniques and was anxious to find a way home.
With Scott resting on the ground, Yasaitis set off, with Leonard as his crutch, for the hanger. The lock on the hanger was quickly shot off. The interior was only slightly disappointing. The only servicable model was an old two-seater Piper Cub with a small section in back for a small sized cargo. French went to the second hanger alone while Yasaitis checked over the Cub.
In a few moments he was back, “Empty.”
“No kind of flying objects?”
“Nothing but some grease spots.”
“Then we'll have to make do.”
“Will that thing fly with all of us?
“Can't say. But I doubt that we'll have any luck at all unless we get a bit more fuel. How about scouting around a bit?”
“What are you guys looking for?´ Both men turned quickly to see Scott leaning against the hanger door. French's hand had already come up with a gun.
“Oh crap, babe. Don't ever walk up on me like that!"
"Should you be walking, Scott?"
“Don't know, but if I'm to fly out of here with that pilot, I figure the landing will be a lot worse than the walk."
“For the moment, stay here and I'll find some gas."
The gas turned out to be an easily solvable problem, and the plane was quickly fueled.
The more difficult problem was getting the plane out of the hanger. Neither Scott nor Yasaitis were really ready for work and it was doubtful that French could do the manhandling by himself. The final decision was to simply power their way out. But, unless you've tried it, it's difficult to imagine the chaos that such a decision raises. Once the motor is turning for power in the confines of the hanger, almost everything not thrice nailed down is soon sailing around, hurricane fashion. The dust is added for purposes of eliminating any sort of visibility. Despite everything, however, they did make it out and they were quickly taxiing.
Then Scott noticed the car approaching. It was coming fast now that it had seen them and the burning wreckage. "Looks like we've got company.”
Both Yasaitis and French turned and saw the car as it skidded to a stop and two men got out of either side. It was Yasaitis who made the decision. “Time for a short runway take off.” And he opened the throttle all the way. The plane lurched and they began gaining speed down the runway.
One of the men from the car pulled out a rifle. Just as he did, Leonard stuck his gun hand out the window and emptied the weapon in the direction of the men. It did no damage at all, but was sufficiently close to make the riflemen duck and thus not take any target practice on the yellow bird.
Once off the ground, Yasaitis hopped some trees and then dropped back to the ground. Scott involuntarily lifted his feet. Leonard groaned, "Oh shit!”
“Don't panic, babies. I'm just avoiding bird hunters."
Both Scott and French relaxed. It was nice to place one's faith in such a secure place.
Slowly they began to add some altitude and Scott tried to relax in the co-pilot seat. As he shifted down slightly in order to find a head rest, Yasaitis ordered, "Don't kick those flaps.” Scott was startled, not so much at the order as by its manner. It sounded like Yasaitis' first serious moment of the last ten years. Even Yasaitis realized it. Half smiling, he added, “We really don't have enough air space for a barrel roll.” Scott laughed slightly but both men knew it was a fake laugh.
French, in the back cramped compartment, did not follow any of the conversation, he merely held his head in both hands. His head still ached and he had assumed that he could now concentrate his mind on making the pain go away now that they were heading home.
Scott's casual air was contrived. He tried to appear at ease but he kept catching Yasaitis' constant concern as he continued to check each and everyone of the readings on the airplane's instrument panel. There was no doubt that Yasaitis was worried. And, Scott knew that when the court jester is worried, the kingdom is in trouble.
Scott looked at his watch. Mentally he did a rough calculation. They had thirty-six to forty hours before the first effects of the collision were expected to be felt on the morning of the thirteenth. Scott suddenly wished that they would have hurried their plans and left sooner than the eleventh. But Riddle had to be convinced, and that had taken some time – especially working out the contrived ‘accident'. There had been the additional concern that a last minute jaunt would reduce the possibility of Bryan making it back alone, in case he managed to elude them.
The latter factor had been a trivial one to Scott at the time but now he realized that it was no longer trivial. Now the concern was for the three of them to make the deadline. The shoe was suddenly on the other foot. And what was easily accomplished by air might be literally impossible on foot. The airplane had to make it or, at the very least, get them within range of walking.
Scott glanced in the back seat where French looked as if he were asleep. Then he turned to Yasaitis. With dead seriousness, but trying to keep it light, he asked, "We gonna make it in this contraption?"
Yasaitis glanced at him, measuring the seriousness of the question. Then, quietly and honestly he answered, "Don't know for sure. We're about sixty-five miles by air. About three days, cross-country." After a pause he added, "This old bird may do it yet."
After that no one spoke. They just watched and waited.
After a very long time, or so it seemed to Scott, he recognized a landmark. Quickly he tried to recall where and how far the camp was from their present position. Then he remembered. They were only sixteen miles away. They were going to make it! He told Yasaitis.
Yasaitis smiled, as if he knew. Then the engine, on cue, began to make a grinding sound. Yasaitis swore and started to act. “Find me a place to set us down,” he ordered.
Scott started looking around. He hoped for a road or level spot, but the ground was inevitably rough, disjointed, and filled with shrubs spaced too close to miss. There was no one area which looked particularly better than another.
“Found it?” Yasaitis demanded. The airplane was already clearly losing altitude.
Scott swallowed and made a quick guess. “Off to the right; turn about forty-five degrees.”
Yasaitis turned abruptly, the movement throwing Leonard to one side in the back seat. Scott suddenly remembered their passenger. “Leonard, wake up! We're going down.”
But Leonard was now awake and trying to brace himself. Twenty feet off the ground Yasaitis yelled, "Hang on!”
The plane had lost most of its power and thus came down very hard with a pronounced bounce, one which caused the wheel struts to buckle under the impact. Back in the air momentarily, Yasaitis tried to straighten its path, but the airplane was now out of control. The second contact with the ground came with the nose slightly down and angled to the left. The impact crushed the engine further to the left and twisted the craft to where the right wing jammed itself into the sagebrush.
The plane's momentum carried it further, flipping it completely over. The right wing flew off as the fuselage skidded across the dirt and sparse grass. The drag of the left wing spun the craft slightly. Then, finally, it stopped.
Scott, hanging upside down by the seat belt still strapped across his pelvis, bruised and bleeding, had the immediate reaction of 'Thank God, we made it!' Then it occurred to him that they hadn't made it yet.
Yasaitis nudged him, "You okay?"
“Yeah. I think so.”
“Don't unbuckle your seat belt yet.” Straining, Yasaitis reached over across Scott's waist and grabbed the far strap of the seat belt. “0kay, now unbuckle."
Scott did so and immediately fell across Yasaitis' arm. Slowly Yasaitis helped Scott lower himself and twist. Then, with Scott kneeling and helping to support Yasaitis, Yasaitis unbuckled and was able to reorient himself. Then they checked Leonard.
But French had not moved, he simply hung from the strap, his arms outstretched and dangling. ‘Out cold', guessed Yasaitis. “Let's get him down.” Yasaitis crawled into the back while Scott reached up for the seat belt. Scott hit the quick release and Yasaitis gently lowered French down and toward Scott who was crawling out the pilot's door. In the process he was struggling with the incredibly awkward task to maneuver a limp man of one hundred and ninety pounds through an upside down small door, Yasaitis and Scott nevertheless managed to get Leonard out onto the ground. Scott stretched the unconscious body out along the bottom side of the left wing as Yasaitis crawled out himself.
Then Scott started looking for a pulse. He panicked slightly as he realized that he couldn't find one. Turning abruptly to Yasaitis, who had just cleared the door and was laying back against the fuselage in order to rest, Scott blurted out, “I think he's dead.”
Yasaitis, exhausted, was nevertheless quick to respond. He crawled over to French's prone body and put his head to his chest. Scott kept shaking his head. “Of all the dumb shit things to happen! We get rid of Riddle, but only by killing a good man? We should never have tried to be so clever. We should have just shot Bryan in front of everyone.”
Yasaitis looked up at Scott's distress and, with mock exasperation, said, "He's still alive."
Scott was immediately surprised. “Really?"
"His heart's beating.”
"But he had no pulse!"
“Or rather you didn't find his pulse." Yasaitis leaned back slightly against a strut. With mock seriousness he added, "Don't ever go into medicine, Larry. It's not your bag.”
Scott could only look relieved.
French came to less than ten minutes later. He complained about a massive headache but otherwise guessed that he was ready to travel. After resting for an hour and salvaging everything that they could, they started the long trek home. Both Scott and Yasaitis had a good feel for just where the camp was located and thus spirits were high. On the reverse side they were a good fifteen miles away, Yasaitis had a bad foot - he would have to hobble with his improvised crutch; French had a near concussion; and Scott still had considerable pain in his back.
As they trudged along, each with his own hurt, Scott could not help but think how stupid they had been. It had seemed so adventuresome, so clear, so straightforward: They were the good guys, they were supposed to win. They were going to dump the bad guy and come back like a bunch of cool dudes. But somewhere along, life turned out not to be a dime store novel. And there was a fair chance that the 'good guys' would die of the most dreaded disease of all: A chronic case of Dumb.
The sun grew hotter, even as it passed its zenith and started the ending half of the day. The humid Nebraska weather ensured that all three men were soaked with sweat. Fortunately they had water and enough common sense to stay fully clothed in order to reduce the moisture loss.
They walked for hours, resting on a regular basis, trying to keep some sort of routine. Scott was checking his watch at one point, to keep track of the routine, and noted that it was 5:35 pm, another fifteen minutes of walking before their rest break. Then he noticed the reddish hue of the sky. He felt a slight surge of optimism as he recalled the sailor's weather guide: 'Red sky at night, sailor's delight; Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.' The red sky now meant good weather.
Then something connected in his mind; something was wrong. Scott looked up at the reddish sky again and abruptly realized the ‘red sky at night' meant red sky at sunset. But, with daylight savings time, it was nearly three hours until sunset in their locality. Scott stopped suddenly as he realized the problem. 'Red sky now' meant Ketuohok.
Yasaitis and French both pulled up as well, awaiting Scott to call a break. But Scott could only wonder: Was Ketuohok arriving a day early? Or, more likely, were they seeing some of the effects of the glancing blow now -- a day and a half earlier than expected?
Scott looked around at the other two -- they were still awaiting something from him. But Scott did not tell them about his discovery, he told them to rest. But, even as he sat down, he began planning. They were probably still five to ten miles away and at their slow pace, they would have to force march tonight. They couldn't risk an extra day exposed on the high country prairie of Nebraska. Better that they take a two hour break now and get as much rest as possible -- then under the relative coolness of an evening go as far and as fast as possible.
With it resolved in his mind, Scott told the others of the situation. There was an immediate and simple agreement.
The setting sun saw the three men moving with a renewed and hurried gait. They were no longer following one another but moving as a flank, each person clearly aware of the other two. No one was to fall behind, no one was to surge ahead. They moved as a team.
The sky was now swathed in bands of various shades of red. The shading was not due to the sun but to the winds. Whenever one of the men would glance up, he would see yet more confusion as the wind broke the strands of reddish haze into a multitude of currents. The texture evolved from something resembling the bands of Jupiter to a thoroughly mixed spaghetti and meat sauce dinner.
At about 10:30 in the evening, they came upon a windmill which they recognized. Camp was but four miles away. Four short miles, but they knew that they had to stop. They were all exhausted and the darkness had become too complete. The light of the stars had been dimmed by the reddish haze and the moon was not due up for several hours.
As they collapsed about the windmill and old water tank, Yasaitis agreed to take the first watch. The pain in his foot was too severe for any other possibility.
At 1:30 a.m. Yasaitis woke Scott and then fell asleep immediately. Scott dragged himself up to a standing position against the windmill's metal structure, trying to fully wake up. The vibrating metal frame made him look up to where the two remaining blades flapped in the wind. Scott suddenly realized that the wind would be their worst enemy now. The winds would undoubtedly increase throughout the night. Ketuohok was already playing havoc with the earth's atmosphere.
At 4:00 a.m. they were on the move again, their way lighted by a reddish, faded moon. The winds were mercifully at their back to begin with, but had shifted in the last hour about forty-five degrees to the right. Just before sunrise gusts of wind began to violate any consideration of direction and would burst into existence and back out with abrupt and startling regularity. All three were now having difficulty in seeing in the first light of day because of the blowing dust and sand. If they could only make it to the ridge they could hope to get out of the path of the major portion of blowing dust by dropping down into the slight depression where the camp lay.
But the trek was taking its toll. They were no longer expecting to make the ridge. They were moving ever slower, now dodging the waves of dust and dirt flying on all sides. The force of one gust was sufficient to stop them in their tracks. But as it cleared them, Scott looked up to see a red flag, not more than two hundred meters away.
He shouted at the others and pointed. They saw nothing as more dust swirled about them, but they did not hesitate to believe Scott. The three men linked arms and began to run in the direction that Scott had seen the flag. After a hundred and fifty meters or so, they staggered to a stop, panting for breath. Scott looked desperately for the flag but couldn't get a glimpse of it.
Then, from the right he heard a yell, "Scott!” All three turned to see Tom Wirth running toward them. No sooner than he approached them than he was motioning them on. All four men then ran for their lives.
As they stumbled over the ridge, Wirth kept them moving. He shouted encouragement, helped them to their feet when they fell, and kept pushing them. Abruptly they came to a reprieve in the dust and wind. Wirth led them to a door of one of the trailers and got all three inside. Slamming the door, the wind and dust were abruptly interrupted.
They all gasped for air, ended up coughing, as they tried to recover from their last rush. Slowly they became aware of the creaking and groaning of the trailer -- the wind would not allow them to stay here long.
Then Wirth ordered, "Stay here. I'll be right back.” Before anyone could answer, he was back out the door and had slammed it shut. No one said a word, concentrating only on regaining their normal breathing. French and Yasaitis collapsed into two chairs. Scott leaned against a wall. Their various pains began to throb and remind them of their foolishness.
Wirth abruptly reappeared. "Okay, guys, it's getting worse by the minute. It's now or never.” Immediately they were on their feet and ready to follow their leader. “I've got a rope tied to the trailer outside. The other end is tied to “Eagle”. We go outside, grab the rope, and pull ourselves all the way home." Wirth glanced around at the three men. When there was no reply, he ordered, "Scott first, followed by Yasaitis, Leo, and myself.” After the briefest of pauses, “Okay. Now!”
The door was flung open. Wirth stepped out and guided Scott, then Yasaitis, then Leo to the rope. The wind was blowing furiously but in a series of multiple gusts coming from several directions. Each of the four men hung onto their lifeline with a ferocity that surprised them. They literally pulled themselves toward the enclave, against the wind, then abruptly fell to their knees as a crosswind took them by surprise.
But soon they were within the enclave's outer structure. Wirth caught up with them and quickly flipped open the lower hatch. He grabbed Scott and shoved him to the opening. Immediately hands began to reach down and drag him into the interior. Yasaitis and Leo followed. Wirth made it on his own and pulled the latch shut.
As the dust settled in the interior, smiles from all directions greeted them. There was some laughter, some talk, and then the three men collapsed with exhaustion.
Within a few hours they had reported in and all the enclaves had cheered their return. Tom Griffith had spoken to Diana and broke the news -- she had grieved appropriately. Then Scott had spent some time talking to Sally and his children still in Corsair. He planned to rejoin them at the first lull.
But there never was a lull. Rather, the wind continued to grow in ferocity. After hours of the gale winds, the first quake was felt and the enclave shivered at what was ahead.
Chapter Eleven -- Panic, et al
Chapter Thirteen -- Lamentations of the Sage, Manus
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