Copyright© 2000 by Al Steiner
Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story: Chapter 3 - When Comet Fenwell crashes into the Pacific Ocean one October day, it spells the end for most of humanity. Those that survive find themselves in a greatly changed world filled with different morals and the same old urges.
Caution: This Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa Ma/ft Fa/ft Consensual Reluctant BiSexual Science Fiction Post Apocalypse Group Sex Sex Toys Violent comet crashes into earth story, end of civilization story
The next two days passed fairly uneventfully for the three survivors. They continued to work their way along the rim of the canyon, keeping consistently just far away from it to hear the roar of the flood waters within, but not close enough for that sound to overwhelm their sense of hearing. They did not directly encounter anyone else although on multiple occasions their presence was noted by other survivors, all of them desperate and starving but none of them quite desperate enough to tangle with the mean looking group that Jason, Chrissie, and Brett had obviously become. Even those with no evil intentions in their heads, who just wanted to try to beg food, kept their distance, electing to try their luck elsewhere.
On a few occasions the trio was shadowed for a while, usually by groups of three or more armed men, and usually to scope out whether an ambush would be possible. In all cases, once these groups got a good look at just how the trio moved, how they coordinated their every step, how they constantly checked their rear, the would-be attackers elected to move on to weaker and less capable victims. At this point in the aftermath, there were still other victims to be had.
Brett caught the scent of a few of these groups as they shadowed him. Nothing was so strong as the two marijuana growers but on several occasions he had felt the beginnings of that instinct tickling his neck as he realized they were being watched from afar. In each case a signal to his teammates to spread out a little and keep a sharper eye to the sides and the rear (they had gone over many more hand-signals and pre-planned evasion techniques since the shootout) had been the clincher for the stalkers. These were not people to be trifled with. In a world where the strong now preyed upon the weak, Brett's group certainly did not fall into the latter category.
Brett toyed with the idea of a rotating watch at night while they camped, just to keep anyone from sneaking up on them and killing them as they slept. But every time this thought crossed his mind, he was forced to conclude that it was an unnecessary waste of precious sleep. The blackness that fell over the land when the sun went down was simply too absolute to allow any sort of attack upon them at night. Unless they had night vision goggles - something that was highly unlikely - a group bent on taking them would not be able to approach or shoot with any degree of accuracy even if they knew exactly where they were. For the time being, they kept a watch until the light was gone and then they went to bed.
Brett and Chrissie continued to share a sleeping bag together during their slumber hours, enjoying the warmth of each other's body and, at least once during each sleep period, a slow, careful session of sexual coupling. They took great pains to be quiet and still during these sessions, neither very wild about the thought of Jason listening in on their activities. If he heard them (and he did, every single time) he said nothing about it.
As they continued to climb in altitude - on the day after the shooting they passed 4500 feet - the air grew steadily colder, without any significant difference between day and night temperatures. This was mostly due to the increasing elevation but it was also due to the fact that it was just getting colder everywhere. When the clouds had initially covered the planet after the strike they had served almost like a blanket, trapping the residual heat beneath them and keeping temperatures reasonably high despite the lack of sunlight. But now, at impact+10 days, much of that trapped heat was being slowly leeched away in the mid-latitudes and the equatorial regions, dissipating towards the poles instead. Brett began to wonder if the rain they were experiencing would turn to snow at some point or, even worse, if it already done so at the higher altitudes above them. If too much snowfall accumulated at the mountaintops it would eventually come sweeping downward in a tremendous avalanche.
But, as Brett had told Chrissie not long before, this was a life that was to be lived one day at a time. There was not really anything that could be done about hypothetical avalanches that might be months in the future. Their current goal at any given time was simply to live through the day; and after that, the week. He could not honestly see or plan any further than reaching the bridge that crossed the canyon at Garden Hill. There were too many variables and possibilities to worry about in that alone. The bridge might be down, probably would be in fact, or the town might be washed away. If the bridge was intact and the town still there, the inhabitants might be like the bikers that had found Chrissie and Jason's family. If they were not like that, then they might not be feeling very charitable to a traveling band of strangers. Only in his wildest moments of optimism did he think that they might find friendly, sharing townspeople in Garden Hill.
Most of the time he tried not to think about such things. He kept moving and his two teammates, as he now thought of them, moved with him. He kept up a cheery, hopeful attitude even though he sometimes felt blackly hopeless, and they responded to it, their own attitudes echoing his. Brett, a second born child, had never been a natural leader of others but in the course of his lifetime he had learned to embrace that role and excel at it when it was necessary. He had done it in the army and as a cop, usually with favorable results, and he did it now. Though their food supply was dwindling steadily and there were no replenishments in sight, though they had used up nearly half of their rifle ammunition in one minor firefight with a couple of inept morons, he kept his chin up and he kept them moving.
It was late afternoon, just about the time when they usually started looking for a suitable place to camp for the night, when Brett caught sight of movement up ahead of them. He saw two figures about two hundred yards away, walking together. He saw them only for the briefest of instants, through the maze of trees and shrubs before them, but it was enough.
He chopped his left hand downward several times, the sign to Chrissie and Jason to get down immediately. They did so, throwing themselves instantly into the mud on their bellies, their rifles trained forward. Brett was on the ground at the same instant that they were, his eyes peering forward, searching for another glimpse. He caught one a moment later, just as the two people moved from one area of trees to another. There were two of them, both men, both dressed in hunting clothes. Both were armed with rifles that they carried slung over their backs. It appeared they were oblivious to the presence of the trio as of yet, but, if they kept to their current course, they would soon blunder directly into them.
When they passed from view again, Brett looked over his shoulder at Chrissie and Jason. They were looking at him anxiously, awaiting his next instruction. He pointed forward and then held up two fingers, indicating where and how many. He then mimed the firing of a rifle, letting them know what they were armed with. They nodded their understanding. Next, he gave them the signal to spread out and keep low. He covered this move with his rifle while they each crawled on their bellies about ten yards to each side, both slipping behind the trunks of trees that would protect them from the front. Once they were in place and aiming outward to cover him, Brett inched forward as quickly and silently as possible, until he too was behind a large pine tree. He leaned outward, training his rifle towards a gap in the tree line ahead of them where he figured that the two people would emerge.
It was very tense while the trio waited for them to approach. Several times they caught further glimpses, enough to identify as them as people that were on their last legs. Their clothing hung off of them like rags and their skin was abnormally pale and drawn. They didn't seem completely alert as they approached, as if they were moving forward on autopilot only. Several times they could have been shot down with ease as they moved through open ground, but Brett had signaled to Jason and Chrissie to keep their weapons tight, meaning that they should not fire unless he did or unless they saw some immediate threat.
Brett was hoping that the two men would pass either to the left or right of them without even seeing them but it became apparent as they got closer that this was not in the cards. They were heading directly towards where they lie. He got the attention of Chrissie and Jason and then reiterated the "weapons tight" signal: a pat on the side of his rifle followed by a clenched fist. They nodded their understanding.
He waited until they were less than fifty feet in front of them, as they were in open ground and easy targets for any one of the three rifles pointed at them. "Stop where you are!" he yelled clearly towards them. "Do not come any closer to us!"
They both jumped, startled at the loud voice that had jerked them out of whatever world they had been in. Both instinctively reached for the rifles on their backs.
"Don't touch those guns!" Brett warned, his finger tightening on the trigger of his M-16. "You have several people pointing weapons at you right now. If you bring those rifles down, we will be forced to shoot!"
The two men stopped in mid-reach. They shared a look with each other, as if passing a telepathic signal. Finally, the one in front said: "We don't have any food. You're wasting your time with us." His voice did not sound the least bit scared, only resigned.
"We have no desire to hurt you," Brett said. "We're only making sure that you don't hurt us. Now put those rifles down on the ground and back away from them. We won't take them from you, we just want to make sure they're safe before we approach."
They shared another look, seeming to hold a silent conversation with each other. Finally they both shrugged at each other and tossed their rifles into the mud. They backed up six feet and put their hands in the air.
Brett signaled to his team that he would move forward and that they should keep him covered. He then stood up and began to walk towards them, his rifle held at hip level, the barrel towards them, his finger on the trigger. He made sure he did not, at any time, cross between either Chrissie or Jason and the targets. As he got closer he saw that the two men looked even worse than he had first thought. So emaciated were they their cheekbones were protruding from beneath their skin. Their eyes were nothing but hollow sockets, haunted by impending doom. They looked like they had already died days before and just didn't know it yet.
"You guys look like shit," he observed when he got close enough to converse in a normal tone.
"Brilliant observation, Einstein," one of them, the nearer of the two, shot right back.
"Any more of you out there?"
"No," the second one said, shaking his head wearily. "There's just the two of us left."
Brett had no sense that the man was lying to him. He relaxed a little. "Have a seat," he said, waving at the ground with the butt of his rifle.
They made no move to sit down.
"Go on," he encouraged. "I wasn't lying to you. We're not gonna hurt you or take anything of yours."
They sat, both of them slumping down and plopping their butts into the mud. Brett gave the all-clear signal and waved Chrissie and Jason forward. They trotted up, staying to the sides of him, their rifles pointing downward but still gripped in the firing position. They kept their mouths shut as they took in the two strangers.
"Where'd you two come from?" Brett asked, lowering his own rifle a bit.
"We were up near Blue Canyon when the comet hit," the first man told him.
"That's right. Up on our annual trip from San Jose. I don't suppose there's much left of San Jose these days, is there?"
"I wouldn't imagine," Brett said. "Wives and families down there?"
They both nodded sadly.
"I know the feeling," he commiserated. "I'm from Stockton. There's not much of it left either. How are things further up the hill? Do you know if the bridge to Garden Hill is still intact?"
The two men looked at each other knowingly. "Oh it's intact all right," the second man said, shaking his head a little. "At least it was two days ago. I wouldn't plan on getting across it though."
"No?" Brett said, raising his eyebrows. "Why not?"
"It would seem that the Garden Hill people aren't taking too kindly to visitors these days," the first one said. "They've piled cars up on the bridge and they shoot at anyone who tries to cross it. There are guards posted just on the other side and they'll just shoot around you the first two shots to try to make you get off. If you keep moving after that, boom, right through the heart."
"Interesting," Brett said, absorbing this information. "They're not letting anyone in?"
"They didn't let us in," the second said. "And they didn't come down to question us either, they just shot."
"We're trying to make it down to the Auburn bridge now," the first told them. "Any idea if that one's still up?"
"Don't know," Brett told them. "We were up near Castle Point when everything started. We were heading up towards Garden Hill because we thought that bridge was more likely to be there."
"Well, like we said," said the first, "it's there but you ain't gonna get across it. Not even with the firepower you're packing."
The second man started to get a gleam in his eye. "Maybe you'd like to throw in with us and head down to Auburn," he said hopefully. "There's safety in numbers."
Brett was able to clearly read the underlying implication to the offer. If they joined up with the two hunters they would be expected to share their food supplies with them as well. As much as he felt for their predicament, he had to watch out for his own group first. There simply was not enough food to feed five people for the week and a half to two weeks it would take to walk back to Auburn. "Sorry," he said, shaking his head. "I think we'll keep moving up the hill and take a look at that bridge ourselves. Maybe we can find a way to negotiate our way past it. I appreciate the information though."
"There's no negotiating with those people," the first reiterated, starting to see where his companion was coming from. "They'll just gun you down. Come with us."
Brett shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "We'll part company here, gentlemen. I've got enough to worry about without picking up two more stragglers. I wish you the best of luck down in Auburn. We're going to move off now. You two keep your butts on the ground until we're gone. Don't try to follow us, okay? People get hurt that way."
The both nodded feebly, neither trying to push the issue. "I don't suppose," the first said, licking his lips a little, "that you have anything to spare?"
"Just a little bit?" the second put in. "We're about used up."
Brett, Chrissie, and Jason all looked at each other for a moment. They passed a careful shrug back and forth.
"Give 'em that low-fat turkey chili shit," Brett finally told Jason, who was carrying that particular supply in his pack. "That stuff makes us all want to puke anyway."
"Glad to get rid of it," Jason said, unshouldering his pack and opening it up.
The two men were beyond grateful for the gift. They thanked the trio approximately two hundred times in the three minutes it took to give them the two cans and allow them to use their single can opener to access one of them.
"Once again," Brett told them as they reached into the can with their bare fingers and pulled out globs of it, "good luck to you down there and don't try to follow us. We'll know and we'll deal with it harshly."
"Mmmm hmmm," said the first, chomping and chewing the brown gruel.
"Hmmph," agreed the second, stuffing his face as well.
The two hunters did not bother them after they left. Brett figured that the information that they provided had been well worth the price of two cans of disgusting turkey chili.
It was late the next day when they saw the bridge for the first time. The terrain that they had been passing through had become extremely steep, rocky, and hard to penetrate, forcing them, as the day passed, much closer to the wall of the canyon than they felt comfortable with. Several times they were forced to inch along the edge in places, listening to the deafening roar of floodwaters passing below them and contemplating the dizzy height. Finally they reached a steep rise that completely blocked their way. It was a rocky outcropping that rose several hundred feet above them. They were left with the choice of either backtracking a few miles to go around it or climbing over it. Neither idea was terribly appetizing.
After a few minutes of discussion they elected to try scaling the rise. The going was a little easier than it had looked from the bottom but it was no cakewalk. They clawed and scrambled over slippery rocks, inching their way upward foot by foot and occasionally sending small rockslides clattering down behind them. The climb made Brett extremely nervous, not because he was afraid of falling but because they were easy targets to any enemies while they were up there. But luck was with them and nobody took any potshots at them as they ascended.
The top of the rise was a gently rounded plateau full of loose boulders and protruding rocks of all shapes and sizes, some of them more than ten feet in diameter. Brett was the first one to the top and he pulled himself between two large rocks at the summit, his eyes looking outward to what lay beyond.
"The bridge," he whispered to himself, his eyes taking in the sight of it. It was a single span, steel arch bridge that stretched about three-quarters of a mile from one side of the canyon to the other. The support structure of the bridge had been built beneath the roadway, a solid steel curvature that was fastened to the canyon walls at both ends. The steel was painted forest green. It was just over a half a mile in front of him, its outline a little indistinct through the haze of rain. As the two hunters had told them the day before, a mess of automobiles clogged the bridge at both ends, snarling the roadway.
Beyond the bridge on the far side of the canyon, the roadway passed between two low hills and disappeared. Brett knew that the main part of the town of Garden Hill itself was just on the other side of those hills, out of sight. He also knew that there had once been expensive houses lining the upstream rim of the canyon. Those houses were no longer there. The changed shape of the hillside where they had been told him that either erosion from the rain or the earthquake had carried them into the canyon itself.
On Brett's side of the canyon the topography was a little different. The roadway climbed upward, away from the near end of the bridge at nearly the steepest grade that the law had allowed, twisting through holes that had been blasted in the steep cliffs around them. The view from the top of the rise on this side was actually quite commanding and Brett immediately began to wonder why the people that were controlling access to the bridge below hadn't occupied it. He filed that thought away for later examination.
"Keep down as you come up here," he told Chrissie and Jason, who were just now scrambling up next to him. "The bridge is down there and we're probably close enough to be spotted by the people that are guarding it if we silhouette ourselves."
"We're at the bridge?" Chrissie asked excitedly, crawling on her hands and knees until she was next to him. She looked out over the landscape. "Finally."
"It's still there," Jason said, coming up next to him on his right. "You were right, Brett."
While the two younger members of the team took in the sights around them, Brett reached into his pack and pulled out the hunting rifle that had been in it ever since the shootout with the bikers. He put it to his shoulder and looked through the telescopic sight at the bridge, bringing the view closer. He trained the crosshairs on the near end of the bridge, where two Ford Expeditions and a Chevy Suburban had been placed, their tires flattened to keep them from being moved. Through the magnification he was able to see multiple bullet holes in the vehicles as well as two rotting corpses of men on the roadway of the bridge.
"It looks like these people mean business," he said, moving the sight from one end to the other. "There are two bodies down there. They must be the people that didn't heed the warning shots."
"We're not gonna be able to get across then?" Jason asked.
"Well," he said, training his sight over the rest of the bridge and examining every visible portion of it, "we're not gonna be able to just walk right over it, that's for sure."
"So what are we gonna do?" Chrissie wanted to know.
"We're gonna scope this place out for a bit," he said, noting that there was a maintenance catwalk just below the roadway. It looked to be about two feet wide and hung about six feet under the center of the span. "We'll see how things work around here, see if we can observe any of the people on the other side, and then we'll decide what to do from there."
"Do you think there's a way?" she asked.
"Maybe," he said, training his sight on the hillsides across the canyon now, trying to spot their guards. "I can already tell that these Garden Hill people are not as smart as they think they are. If they were, they would be sitting up here on this hill right now and we never would have been able to get this close. This is the optimum place to guard the canyon approaches from."
Neither one of them said anything to this, bowing to his superior grasp of tactics.
He was not able to spot their guards or anything that resembled a guard position. He put the rifle back in his pack and looked at his two companions. "Let's go back down," he told them. "We'll try to find a place to camp down there and we'll keep a watch on this place until sunset."
Chrissie stayed down at the campsite to guard it while Brett and Jason climbed back up onto the rise after dinner. There was about 45 minutes to an hour left of daylight and Brett wanted to see what, if anything, the townspeople did to protect the approaches to the bridge once the light was gone from the sky. Surely they wouldn't just leave it unprotected at night, would they?
They didn't. Brett, seeing what they did, actually was impressed with their cleverness.
It was about twenty minutes before dark, the light fading fast, when he spotted two people emerging from around the hill. They walked down the roadway, both of them carrying rifles over their shoulders, heading towards the bridge.
"I got two people coming our way," Brett told Jason quietly. He put his hunting rifle to his shoulder once again, peering through the scope to get a better look at them. Since they were nearly a mile away from him and since there was a sheet of rain impeding the view, the magnification did not help all that much. Still he was able to make out that one was a male and one was a female and that they were wearing black rain slickers. "A man and a woman," he said. "They both have backpacks and rifles. I bet they're heading for those two SUVs that are blocking their end of the bridge."
"You think they guard it from there?" Jason asked, his sharp eyes taking in the tiny figures as they walked down the road.
"I think they do," Brett confirmed. "You see how they're right next to each other and facing outward. That's pretty smart. I bet they got those engines gassed up and they keep the batteries charged. If anyone tries to cross the bridge at night, they can turn on the headlights and spotlight the whole roadway in front of them. If they stay behind the cars, they can shoot with impunity since their targets will be blinded."
"That is pretty smart," Jason agreed.
What was even smarter was what they did next. The female guard opened up the left SUV and took two objects out of it. Brett could not quite make out what they were, only that they were something black, about the size of a paperback book, and wrapped in clear plastic. While the male guard took up a position behind the opened door of the SUV, the female, still carrying the mysterious objects, began to walk out onto the bridge itself.
"What're they doing?" Jason asked.
"I'm not sure," Brett replied, continuing to watch. "It looks like they're putting something on the bridge."
"I don't think so. Land mines are kinda hard to come by in a yuppie town like Garden Hill." He chuckled a little. "They probably could've got some in Stockton though."
Jason, finally figuring out that he'd made a joke, dutifully laughed.
When the woman reached the far end of the bridge Brett was finally able to identify what she was carrying. "They're video cameras," he said. "What the hell?"
As he watched, she removed them from their plastic wrappers and placed them in the backs of the two vehicles that were positioned on Brett's end of the bridge, one camera in the back of each vehicle, facing outward, towards the entrance to the bridge. It appeared as though they were resting on some sort of mounting device that had been fashioned. Once they were in place, she picked up cables from the inside of the vehicles and plugged them into the backs of the cameras in two places.
"Son of a bitch," Brett said in wonder, taking his scope off of the woman and training it onto the back of the SUVs. Sure enough, barely visible unless you knew to look for it, was a black cable stretching out the back of each one. The two cables, which probably each consisted of an individual power supply cord and a coaxial cable twined together, joined each other and stretched back across the bridge towards the far end where they snaked into the guard post SUVs. "I bet you those cameras are the kind with night vision on them," he told Jason. "They keep them trained on the front of the bridge all night long on that setting and monitor them from the other end on small television sets."
"Won't the batteries die?" Jason asked.
"No, they have a power cord running to their SUVs. They probably have the cameras and the monitors plugged into the cigarette lighters and they start their engines every now and then and run them just long enough to keep the batteries charged up. Impressive. They must've stripped that whole town of coaxial cable and extension cords to do it. Either that or the local Radio Shack managed to survive the comet."
"So there's no way across the bridge then?"
"Well now, I didn't say that," Brett said. "They're smart but they've left a few holes in their defenses."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll tell you once I've thought it all the way through," he said, watching as the woman raised a walkie-talkie of some sort to her lips and spoke into it. Back at the other end of the bridge her companion, who also had a walkie-talkie, said something back to her. She nodded and then started back across the bridge.
Brett lowered the rifle and eased backwards a little. "Let's get back down," he said. "We'll get some sleep and then do some more surveillance in the morning."
Brett and Jason both climbed back up at first light and resumed their positions. They arrived just in time to see the dismantling of the cameras and the pullback of the bridge guards. Brett, peering through his telescopic scope, noted that the guards were not the same ones that had put up the operation the night before. These two were both females. That meant that they had enough people to work in shifts. It also meant that they had some sort of organized group functioning. That was just what was needed if the human race was going to survive another year: organization.
"We need to become a part of that group," Brett said, speaking mostly to himself, but loud enough for Jason to hear.
"What?" Jason asked. "I thought we were just trying to get across the bridge."
"We are," he said. "We're trying to get to Garden Hill. And it looks like Garden Hill has made itself into an enclave. They've pulled together, organized, and they are defending their borders from outsiders. If they can keep themselves organized and fed, they'll live long enough to see the sun again. If they live that long, they'll be one of the groups whose children and grandchildren will rebuild. We need to make ourselves a part of that."
"But how?" Jason asked. "It don't look they want any more people in there."
"No, it doesn't, does it? So we'll just have to convince them that they need us."
"Why would they need us?"
He smiled a little. "They need us," he said. "I'm just going to have to show them how much."
"I don't like it," Chrissie said when they discussed the plan that afternoon. "They'll kill you."
"I don't think so," he replied. "I've watched them all day and I'm convinced that they don't just kill people for the hell of it. Five times people walked up to that bridge and tried to cross it. Every time they just fired down into the cars near the front until the people decided to go somewhere else. They just want to keep people out."
"But those are people that are just walking across the bridge openly. What's going to happen when they find you?"
"If I do it right," he said, "they won't find me until I'm already well across. At that point the example I'm trying to make for them will be well-established."
Chrissie was not convinced. "We don't really need to be a part of this town," she said. "We can do just fine by ourselves. We have so far."
"We can't," he told her firmly. "We've done okay so far because we have a food supply and good weapons and we keep a sharp eye out. Our food supply is running out though and we don't have any way of getting more. Our luck will eventually run out as well if we stay out here. Eventually some desperate group of hunters is going to bag one or more of us. Our best chance of survival is to join a larger group that holds a defendable piece of ground. This is it, Chrissie. We have to convince them to let us in."
She was struggling not to cry. "What if you don't come back, Brett?" she asked him. "What happens to us then?"
"Then you carry on," he told her. "You do the best you can without me. You guys are fighters now. You're a bad-ass, ass-kicking team. But I will come back. I don't think I'm wrong about these people. They're not sadists. They're just ordinary people. Even if they reject me, they'll let me back out again. I'm sure of it."
"And what if you are wrong?"
He looked at her levelly. "Than I'll die. Sometimes you have to gamble. I think this is a good one."
She said no more. She only turned her face from him and wept softly. Beside her, Jason was fighting not to do the same.
It was late afternoon again when he departed; about two hours before sunset. He kissed Chrissie, shook Jason's hand, and then gave both of them a few encouraging words and some final instructions. He then left them, climbing up the rise again. He traveled lightly, absent of his pack and his sleeping bag. He left his M-16 and his hunting rifle behind as well, taking only his trusty .40 caliber, which was strapped to his waist. He wanted to be able to maneuver freely and, most important, he did not want to appear to be an immediate threat when he was finally discovered.
His observations throughout the day had shown him exactly where the daytime guards of the bridge were located. They had hidden their bunker well but had foolishly given away its location by the muzzle-flashes of the guns they fired to keep intruders away. Predictably it was near the crest of the hill overlooking the bridge. Keeping this location in mind, Brett always kept boulders between it and him once he reached the top. He then started down the far side, the side that was not visible from the Garden Hill side of the canyon.
The going was a little rough at first and several times he very nearly lost his grip and went sliding downward. But at last, about three-quarters of the way to the bottom, the angle leveled out to something a little less suicidal and he was able to move more freely. He nearly trotted the rest of the way down until he was once more in the safety of the trees and shrubs. Being in the open had scared him more than the threat of falling.
Once at the bottom, he worked his way carefully, moving tree to tree, keeping a sharp eye and a sharp ear out around him. There were probably a lot of people about, camped out in the woods trying to figure out a way across the bridge. He had no desire to run into any of them.
It took him the better part of an hour to reach the road. In a way it was surreal seeing a stretch of two-lane blacktop after so many days of wandering in the wilderness. Though it had undoubtedly been washed out in many places and rendered all but impassible, this section was still intact. He paused near the edge of it, watching both directions carefully for any signs of life. Seeing nothing he finally crossed, doing it at a full-out sprint and diving into cover on the other side. He kept another watch on that side for a few minutes to see if he had attracted any attention.
When he began to move again, he paralleled the pavement, sticking to the woods to travel but walking exactly twenty yards from the roadbed as he closed with the bridge. In front of him loomed the large granite ridge that had been opposite the one he and his group had observed from. The two hills had once been connected until high explosives had blown them in two so the roadway could be constructed.
Brett, during his observations of the Garden Hill security measures, had noted a fatal blind spot in their plan. The crest of the upstream hill was hidden from the view of the guards by the bulk of the downstream hill. He exploited that blind spot now by climbing to the top. The going was a little steeper than what he had endured on the other side and it was doubtful that anyone with a full pack could have negotiated the ascent, but less than ten minutes after he started up, he was at the summit, crouching behind a rock and looking out over the small portion of bridge that was visible to him.
He looked out over to the summit of the other hill, which was about a quarter mile away. He couldn't see Chrissie and Jason there - they were too well concealed - but he waved at them anyway, knowing that they would be glad to see that he had made it that far. They did not wave back - he had taught them better than that - but he knew they had seen him.
The downside of the hill was even steeper than the upside over here. He worked his way towards the canyon, necessarily confined to a narrow portion of the hill that was hidden from the guards view. He slipped several times and had to grasp for dear life onto boulders or rocks to keep from bouncing and tumbling all the way down. For the first time he began to wonder if this was really such a good idea as he realized that, if he fell, he would not stop at the bottom but would instead continue over the edge of the cliff, falling several hundred feet into the rushing waters below.
"Relax," he told himself, taking a few breaths and regaining his equilibrium. "Just take it slow."
He took it slow. He continued to work his way downward and finally, after nearly twenty minutes, he was resting on a narrow outcropping of rock that protruded out over the canyon. He was below the roadway of the bridge itself by about twenty feet. A narrow ledge led from where he was to the point where the steel support section joined the walls about a hundred yards away. He edged along the ridge slowly, trying not to look down into those rushing waters, until he had gone as far as possible without being spotted from the guards' lookout. He then began looking for a place to conceal himself.
He forced himself into a tight ball between two outcroppings of rock and kept his head down. From here he was able to peer through a small gap and see the two SUVs at the front of the bridge but hopefully, not be spotted when the guard came to set up the cameras. He thought he was fairly safe from detection as long as they did not look directly at the spot where he was hiding. To help minimize this threat he put his fingers into the brownish muck that had accumulated under the rocks and smeared it all over his face, hair, and any exposed clothing. When he was done he was nothing more than a shadow among shadows.
As the light faded from the landscape and night began to fall, he saw the guard approaching the SUVs that guarded his end. It was another female, different from any he had spotted the night before. She went through the set-up procedure quickly and then spoke into her walkie-talkie. Apparently receiving the answer that she wanted to hear, she turned and began to move back across the bridge, passing out of his line of sight.
He waited some more, staying in place as the landscape around him grew darker and darker. He had a narrow window in which he would be able to act. He had managed to place himself so he could approach the bridge without being detected by their cameras, but he could only avoid detection by the guards themselves if he waited until it was too dark to be seen by them. At the same time however, he needed some light so he could see where he was going as he moved along the ledge to the bridge. Trying to negotiate that last fifty yards in complete darkness was a thought that did not even bear contemplating.
Fortunately it was easy to tell when that particular window had been reached. When Brett could no longer see across the canyon, he knew it was time. He pulled himself out of his hiding place and continued his trip along the ledge, taking each step carefully and slowly. Several times he dislodged loose rocks, sending them tumbling downhill and over the edge. Thankfully the deafening roar of the water below easily masked the sound that this created.
At last he reached the bridge. He ducked under one of the massive steel supports and, utilizing the last of the light available to him, scrambled up another ridge until he was able to put his hands on the maintenance catwalk. This narrow access was suspended from the bottom of the bridge by steel support beams that were located every twenty feet. During his examination earlier that day, he had counted these beams, finding that there were exactly 198 individual supports on each side. Now, he pulled himself up and ducked under the handrails that had been mounted along the length on both sides. He put his feet on the grated metal surface and breathed silent thanks that he had managed to make it to relative safety without falling to his death.