Book: Recovery (2015)

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We spent half an hour clearing the building.  It was even larger than it had appeared from the outside, and was full of hiding places.  Row upon row of racks of switches, inverters and monitoring equipment.  Spare parts stacked to the ceiling and creating alcoves just the right size for a female intent on an ambush.  And so many more bits, parts, tools and assorted mystery items that I couldn’t even hope to identify.

The battery banks were there and took up over half the building.  The smell of burnt wiring was strongest at one end of the space and when I shone my light around I could see a massive burn mark on the poured concrete wall.  Tracing the pattern of the burn I found a cable the size of my arm that penetrated the wall from the outside.  It fed into a large cabinet from which a dozen smaller cables fed into subsequent cabinets that divided it even further.

Ignoring the warning label, I pulled the first cabinet open and immediately spotted the problem.  The cable was attached to a large, silver connector that would normally have been bolted to an electrical bus that distributed the power to the twelve smaller wires.  But the connecter had been melted by the massive energy surge of the EMP.

“So what is that and how do we fix it?”  Crawford asked, peering over my shoulder.

“I think it’s a lightning arrestor,” I said, staring into the cabinet.  “If I’m right then maybe it did its job, stopped the electrical surge and the system is still operational.”

“But isn’t this where the power comes in?  If that’s the case, why wouldn’t there be electricity going to the casino?”  He leaned forward and thumped a sticker on the cabinet that labeled the thick cable as supply.

“Maybe enough of a surge got past to trip some failsafe in the controller?”  I stood up and walked over to the closest rack of switches and began looking it over with my flashlight.

“I’m going to look through the spare parts and see if there’s a replacement for that thing,” Crawford said.  “And by the way, you still haven’t told me your plan to get us out of here.”

“Working on it, sir.”  I said, carefully examining every switch and button in front of me.

An hour later I had covered half of the control panels and as of yet hadn’t found anything that didn’t seem to be set in the correct position.  Of course I could be wasting my time.  The system might have been completely fried and nothing short of ripping it all out and starting over would solve the problem.  But, I’d come this far and wasn’t ready to give up.

Still looking, I paused when I heard an electric drill start up.  Noting the number of the rack I was examining so I could come back to it, I went to see what the Colonel was doing.  When I found him he had a large, commercial duty cordless impact driver in his hand and was removing the bolt that connected the supply cable to the lightning arrestor.  Once it came free he pulled the melted part out of the cabinet and tossed it on the floor next to a shiny new one resting in a plain, cardboard box.

“How did you know that supply cable wasn’t hot?”  I asked him.

“Because it’s dark outside,” he replied and began installing the replacement part.

Feeling like an idiot, I grinned and left him to his work.  Picking up where I left off I continued my inspection.  Ten minutes later I finished the rack I had been working on and moved to a new one.  I moved my face closer, recognizing it was different than what I’d been looking at.  The switches were larger and each label had the word “master” in front of whatever description was printed on it.

Halfway through the panel I found a large, rotary switch that wasn’t out of position, but directly above it there was a small window and an indicator that was red with “fault” printed in white lettering.  I was excited, but I’ve lived long enough to know better than to jump at the first pretty face that comes along. 

Noting the panel number, I kept checking.  Nothing else within the same rack was showing a fault, but on the very last rack was a switch twice the size of the previous one I’d found showing the same red indicator.  I’d heard the Colonel running the drill again and not knowing where he was or what he might be touching, I went in search of him before resetting either of the switches.

He was just finishing doing something in another cabinet and I had a pretty good idea what when I saw several more melted arrestors lying on the floor.

“Found two master switches in fault,” I said as I walked up.

“Good.  This was the last damaged part I could find.  At least the batteries should charge now when the sun comes up.  If the panels outside aren’t blown out.”  He said.

“Time to find out,” I said, leading the way back to the master control panels.

But now I had a problem.  There were two switches in fault mode, one obviously controlling a much larger current than the other.  Which one did I reset first?  And did it matter? 

I looked around hoping to spot an operator’s manual, but there wasn’t one to be seen.  Making my best guess, I selected the smaller switch first.  It made sense to me but I didn’t try to explain my reasoning to the Colonel.

Grasping the switch, I tried to turn it towards the “on” position, but it didn’t budge.  I remembered a house Katie and I had owned years ago.  Something was wrong with the wiring and it was an almost daily occurrence that she would pop one of the breakers with her hair dryer or curling iron, and I was usually the one to go out into the garage to reset it for her.  Turning off first, then back on reset them.

Holding my breath, I rotated the switch to the left until it clicked and the red fault indicator went away, replaced by a black indicator that said “off”.  Turning it back to the right it clicked in place, the indicator changing to white and reading “on”.  Other than that, nothing happened.

Moving to the other panel I grabbed the large switch.  Its handle was long enough that it completely filled my hand.  It was stiff and hard to turn, but I succeeded in muscling it to off, took a deep breath and rolled it to on.

Immediately, fluorescent lights mounted to the ceiling buzzed to life and the sound of several exhaust fans spinning up came from the direction of the battery bank.  I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and grinned.

“Good job, Major!  Now.  How the hell are we getting out of here?”  Crawford asked.

While I’d been looking at switches I’d had an idea.  It hadn’t taken a lot of concentration to check them so I’d let my brain work on the problem of how to get out of here.  And if I do say so myself, I’d come up with a good one.

Keeping Colonel Crawford in the dark, I went searching for what I needed.  First, and most importantly, we needed access to the roof.  I suspected there would be a utility ladder leading to a hatch.  There were too many fans and pipes on the roof for there to not be easy access for the maintenance staff.

I found the hatch quickly but didn’t bother to climb up yet.  Gathering what I needed I lugged it up the ladder, getting soaked when I pushed the hatch open.  Good.  It was still raining.

On the roof I dropped two coils of heavy gauge wire and walked to the front edge.  Sticking my head over I was surprised to see as many females as I did.  I had expected a hundred at the most but there were probably double that number.  They milled around the barricaded front door, one of them occasionally testing it.

Striding back to the hatch I picked up an end of each of the wires and fed them down to where the Colonel waited.  I gave him enough slack to make the connections below.  There was a set of positive and negative terminals, controlled by a switch, which would pull power directly from an inverter tied to one of the battery banks.  Nothing was labeled to tell me voltages or amperages and I had no idea if this would work, but it was worth a try.

I spent a minute telling him what I had in mind, a grin spreading across his face as I spoke.  While Crawford made the connections below, I stripped several feet of insulation off the end of each with my Ka-Bar.  Once this was done I began uncoiling the two lengths of wire.  Reaching the front edge of the building, I put one of them down and dragged the other to a point above the left edge of the group of females.  Pushing the wire over the parapet I was satisfied when the exposed end came to rest in a large puddle of rainwater.

I repeated the process with the other wire after taking it to the opposite side of the group.  It didn’t land in a puddle, but the bare copper was in direct contact with the wet ground.  Taking one last quick look, I ran to the hatch and leaned in.

“Ready,” I shouted.

“Five seconds!”  Crawford shouted back, giving me time to get to the edge of the roof before he pulled the switch.

I ran back and looked down.  The females still hadn’t noticed me and were apparently not interested in the two wires hanging down the outside of the building.  Too bad.

I guess I’ve seen too many movies because I was expecting spectacular sparks and arcs of electricity when Crawford hit the switch.  But, like so many things, what happens on the screen is nothing like real life.  At first I wasn’t even aware that the Colonel had started the flow of electricity.  Then I noticed that all of the females had begun twitching like they were parroting a Miley Cyrus performance. 

Next, despite the rain, I began to smell burning hair and flesh.  Then they began falling, jerking as the electricity surging through them overrode all control of their muscles.  Other than the sounds of bodies falling and arms and legs drumming on the ground, the death of over two hundred females was almost silent.  I thought I could hear an electrical sizzling sound but that may well have been my mind playing the soundtrack I expected.

I was mesmerized, watching their spasming bodies and had lost track of how long the current had been flowing when there was a loud pop from inside the building and an alarm bell began ringing.  The females stopped all movement and went still.  I wanted to watch to make sure none of them got up but was worried Crawford was in trouble.  Racing to the roof hatch I started to step through, pausing when the alarm bell went quiet.

“You OK, sir?”  I called down, noting a thick cloud of smoke being vented out of several of the pipes that stuck up from the roof.

“All good.  I was around the corner,” he shouted a moment later.  “Overloaded the battery bank and one of them exploded.  There’s battery acid everywhere.  Don’t come down the ladder.  Did it work?”

“I think so.  Stand by,” I yelled and ran back to the edge.

None of the females had moved, and the smell of burned hair and cooked flesh was even stronger.  I stood in the rain watching them for a couple of minutes.  It had worked!  I jogged back to the hatch.

“All down, sir.  Just a whole bunch of crispy critters now.”  I said.

“That’s good.  The battery that exploded spread acid on most of the surfaces in its immediate vicinity, including the ladder.  You’re going to have to find another way down.”

I stood and looked around but didn’t see any more hatches in the roof. 

“How secure are the wires we just used?”  I shouted.  “Will they hold me?”

“Negative.  Both of them are burned most of the way through.  Hang tight and keep an eye out.  I’ll be out the side door in a minute and pick you up.”  Crawford shouted back.

Pick me up?  Did he inhale too many toxic fumes from the battery that just exploded?  I decided to trust him and returned to the edge of the roof and used my rifle’s night vision scope to scan for threats.  The rain was slacking off and as I stood there I thought about how what we just did wouldn’t have worked if it hadn’t been raining.  Without the water we wouldn’t have been able to get the entire group.  Was luck finally swinging in my direction?

I didn’t see any movement and a moment later heard a rolling door open somewhere in the far wall of the building.  A few seconds later the forklift I’d used to block the front entrance turned the left corner, Colonel Crawford behind the wheel.  The forks were already coming up as he drove and by the time he reached my location they were level with the roof.

Stepping over the parapet I put a foot on each fork and held tightly to the back of it as he lowered me to ground level.  I started to step off but he waved for me to stay put.

“Why walk when we can ride?”  He grinned and headed for the casino. 

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