Part 3 of 3: Test
During the last winter, when the snow piled up too high to leave the cabin, Hanna's father had taught her how to use RDF triangulation. He showed her the little box that found the direction of the radio source, and how to use a map and compass points to determine where the transmission came from. Hanna found it difficult, but she'd gotten it in the end.
The radio direction finder was tucked in her pack, alongside the most accurate map she had of the forest, and a compass. She walked at a brisk pace, occasionally breaking into a trot, westward through the forest. If she walked too slowly, she heard her father's cries replaying in her head.
The first set of directional readings had been taken at the cabin. 160 degrees. She repeated it so she wouldn't forget. Once she was a mile or so distant from the cabin, she would take another reading. But only if the radio was still transmitting. Was it? It had to be, her father needed it to be so she could save him. Then she would use the pair of readings to triangulate the source. 160 degrees, don't forget.
Hanna was out of breath when she stopped to use the RDF. She hoped it was far enough now to give an accurate reading. She spread the folded map on the ground and took out the heavy box, all dials and switches. She tried to remember how her father had said to set them up. 160 degrees.
She tuned it in. There was no frequency responding. But there had to be, her father needed her. She tried it again, stood with it above her head, pointed it in different directions. No, no, no.
Hanna did not know how to pray. The books mentioned these things sometimes, but she had never seen anyone doing it, and had never thought about it much. As she kneeled on a patch of damp earth next to the map, though, she wished with all her might that she would pick up her father's signal again and be able to find him. It was as good as a prayer for a girl who didn't know how.
The RDF gave a bleep. Hanna scrambled up and adjusted the knobs. 230 degrees. Was it the right radio signal? It did not occur to her that it might be someone else's. She plotted it on the map, and with a stubby pencil, drew the lines from 160 degrees to 230 degrees. They crossed in the end point of a triangle, and Hanna knew where her father was.
She moved fast. The miles sped past her and she became tired, but she kept going. She tried to keep on the watch for enemies, but she could not pull her thoughts from the single-minded pursuit of those coordinates on the map. Three miles left, then two. She stopped only to check her bearings on the compass.
It was getting dark. At home, Hanna was not afraid of the dark. She knew the cabin and the lake and woods around it and she had her father there to protect her. Here, she was afraid. She held her pistol and tried to be brave.
It must be close now. She slowed, feeling the tightness in her chest. If the enemy was nearby, she wouldn't be able to fight them if she couldn't catch her breath. Her father needed her to be ready to fight. The pistol in her hand, she moved cautiously, watching for evil things to leap out at her.
She almost missed it. Something caught the corner of her eye and she turned back to look again. There, a flash of something gray and smooth, foreign in the tangle of branches and leaves. Cautiously, her pistol at the ready, she moved towards it. The leaves were still damp here and softened her footsteps. The gray thing was a corner, and she saw the rest of it was some kind of flat, even rock in the shape of a little house. She had never seen one before, but she knew it was a guard shack. Guard shacks meant people. People meant enemies.
Hanna crouched beneath the cover of a pine tree., her breathing hard. There appeared no one about. She scanned the treetops, looking for blinds that might conceal the enemy, but there was nothing. It was very quiet. There were no trails coming from the shack, no roads for vehicles or even footpaths. No way to know if anyone even used it. Next she examined the shack. It was small, about eight feet square. The roof was rusted tin but looked strong. There was one door and no windows. It had no other features.
This was very strange. Papa had never mentioned a guard post out here, so far away from the town. Did he even know about it? What if someone had set it up a long time ago so they could spy on her and her father without them ever knowing? Maybe the spies had captured her father and now hid inside this very shack. Hanna shivered under the pine tree.
She crouched down low as she snuck away from the tree. She moved in a wide circle around the shack, hugging the trees and scrub . She saw nothing that indicated human presence in her perimeter sweep. On the back side of the shack, however, she found a small ventilation grate set into the lower wall. It was so small that in a year or two she would not be able to fit into it, but she thought just maybe she could do it now.
Hanna was a careful girl. She waited outside the shack, occasionally circling around again, for the better part of an hour, in case the enemy showed up. But no one did, so she crawled closer to the shack, as silently as she could. Finally, she made it to the wall with the grate. She paused, examining the smoothness of the building, wondering how they found a rock in such a perfect shape. She held her ear to it and heard nothing.
She removed her pack but kept the pistol. The grate was metal and she could see no method of its fixture to the wall. With her fingernails, she tried to pry it away. It did not budge.
She used a stick as a wedge between the grate and the wall until it snapped in her hands. Sucking in a breath, she tensed and waited to be found. No one came. Rummaging in her pack, she removed a knife and slowly, slowly, slid it under the grate. It made a soft rasping sound as she ran it all along the edges, but she thought the grate felt a little looser now. With renewed conviction, she set to work gently levering open the grate.
It took a long time. Hanna was aching when she realized the grate was almost free. Careful not to rush ahead and make an unnecessary noise, she kept working the knife until the grate, with a gentle grinding sound, freed itself into her hands.
She held her breath. This was it. She checked her gun again and pushed herself into the square of blackness.
Inside, it was dark. Hanna got her head and shoulders in and was working on freeing her lower body when she heard a click. Instantly, her gun was in her hands, her arms swung around and pointing at the source of the sound, finger on the trigger and icy cold.
"You're too late," someone said. From the opposite corner of the room, a gas lamp hissed into life. "I already killed you," said her father.
Hanna saw him from upside down, gun automatically readjusting until he was in its sights. He was not bloody and beaten. He looked clean and sad. He was not wearing his hat and in his hands was a shotgun, held loosely and pointed at her.
"Toss it away," he told her, and she skidded her gun towards his feet. He did not pick it up.
"Now you must come in," he said. Hanna finished scrambling through the vent. By the light of the lamp she saw the room held only a wooden desk with some kind of fancy machinery on it. She recognized a radio transmitter but the rest was foreign to her.
Her father stepped forward. "Kneel, " he said, and he gestured to the center of the floor.
Hanna did. She was ashamed. She had broken the Rules. She had been stupid and reckless. She had made her father sad.
Her father began circling her as she stared at the floor. "What did you promise me, Hanna?"
"I would stay in the forest. No matter what happened." She was glad she did not have to see her father's eyes.
"You have violated the Rules. You disobeyed orders and botched a rescue attempt. Now you and your team are dead. I did not think you would come so quickly," he said softly.
"You lied to me," Hanna whispered.
"Everyone will lie to you! They will tell you whatever they want to manipulate you and make you do what they want you to do! They all want to use you! Will you let them play with your emotions so they can use you, Hanna?"
"I thought you were in danger, Papa." Her voice became tremulous, her downcast eyes watery.
He exploded. "I do not matter! You are the one who is important, you are the one who must remain safe! If I am in danger you must let me die! I told you that, Hanna! I must keep you safe!" The girl's shoulders heaved.
"I didn't want you to die, Papa," she said through sobs. He stopped circling, the shotgun dipping to the ground, his face crestfallen as he watched the girl trying desperately to stifle her sobs. He felt himself shaking and sucked in a breath, reminding himself what he had to do.
After a few moments he set the shotgun down on the desk. He stood in front of his daughter. "Hanna. Stop crying," he said, his voice firm and gentle. Like a good soldier, she did. "You must promise me forever that if I am in danger, you will save yourself instead of me."
Hanna looked up, her face pink from crying, clean trails of tears cutting through the dirt on her cheeks. "I promise forever, Papa," she said with solemnity.
He nodded, held a hand to her and pulled her up. Retrieving the guns, they left the shack. Hanna's father went around the back and replaced the ventilation grate. "It was a decent job," he told the girl, and she smiled.
"Now we will go home," he said, and he swung Hanna onto his back, where she wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his middle. He held the shotgun in one hand and Hanna's pack in the other, and he walked back through the forest, towards the cabin, carrying his daughter.