Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 13: The Hunt
by Jeff Rand
While emergency procedures for Scouting events were common, it was the excess of Winter Camp that brought them to new heights. Early in the 21st Century, the Winter Camp pioneers began the development of a set of procedures to handle both the common and uncommon emergencies. Jeff Rand had introduced as a sample, procedures he developed in 1985 for Pennsylvania's Camp Conestoga. The Conestoga procedures departed a bit the norm of the day and included such items as nuclear war, space aliens, and a plague of locusts.
The development of the comprehensive Winter Camp Emergency Procedures began with a marathon viewing of old Twilight Zone episodes, held as an all night event at Winter Camp itself. Following the viewing each camper was then given an assignment of science fiction, disaster, and horror stories to read in the next year. During the next Winter Camp, each one then gave a report on the stories he read and proposed actions on how best to avoid and solve the problems encountered. That no distinction was made between fact and fiction, provided for some interesting solutions. Eventually, the procedures were written to cover 972 possible emergencies in a multi-volume document. While normal situations, such as cuts and bruises were dealt with in Volume I, it was Volume II that covered the unusual, such as dealing with a Winter Camper showing signs of stigmata or hiking in a storm of frozen hydrogen pellets.
Volume III, termed "Project Orion", provided the plan for just one type of emergency, that of mind control. Initially it started as a joke resulting from viewing too many sci-fi flicks of egghead alien invaders. Certainly a race advanced enough to conquer the great voids of space to visit Earth would be capable of mind control. This was something for which Winter Camp must be properly prepared. However, this far-fetched reasoning eventually yielded to the real necessity for such procedures, as demonstrated by the development of virtual reality.
Before the development of neural virtual reality, work had been completed on Project Orion. Perhaps it was just luck in timing, but development of this project at any later time would have been unlikely. Now the genius of the plan would be put to the test.
No one knew the significance of the name "Project Orion," much less its full nature. It was Winter Camp insanity at its best, a concept that defied all logic. While several people were involved in various stages of the project, it was Jeff Rand who finally put it all together. That he later denied this, with sincere conviction, only added to the mystery.
The problem in developing an emergency procedure to combat mind control was easy to identify. Any procedure that the group developed could be deciphered simply by reading their minds. Even if the procedures were developed by several minds without fully understanding each other, a sufficiently powerful force could decipher their collective intelligence. In either case Winter Camp would be defenseless against the threat.
Winter Camp dealt with another set of potential emergencies in Volume II, those of time travel. While procedures for these emergencies were easily developed, thanks to Steve Donohue's fictional work Paradox Metaphor, the threat of time travel posed a dilemma in developing a procedure to protect against mind control. Someone capable of both time travel and mind control could simply travel to the time when the procedure was developed. Actually, the Winter Campers used one well founded assumption in the possibilities of time travel, that being that no physical change could be produced in the past or the future. The quantum integrity of the Universe must be preserved. Any other possibility required the omniscience of God. However, the Winter Campers did not discount that it might be possible to observe the past. The real concern with time travel and mind control involved the possibility of reading the minds of the Winter Campers, while they developed Project Orion. Indeed this would give one the opportunity to counteract the procedure in the future, even if the Winter Campers themselves lacked this current understanding. In order protect against this possibility, the Winter Camp Elders decided that the procedures would be developed without using a linear progression through time. In this way no one would be able travel back in time and follow a logical course.
Jeff had given much thought as to the best way to assemble the ultimate product, while simultaneously removing all knowledge of the result. The bold solution that he proposed required that all vestiges of it be erased from human memory. Lacking any other volunteers, he offered himself as a candidate for the relatively new medical procedure called "selective laser lobotomy." Several times throughout the process of assembling Project Orion, he experienced the selective destruction of neurons in his brain. When the project was complete, (which was actually a bit of a misnomer, since it might have been completed earlier to no one's knowledge) Jeff remained completely ignorant of any of the knowledge that he had once held regarding the project.
John Howey recalled his own involvement in Project Orion. Like other Winter Campers, he had been given at least 77 coded copies of the procedure. His task involved hiding each of these in a secure place for future retrieval. John did not know how many copies he had actually hidden, perhaps it was 177. He had used many creative approaches in hiding the packages, and knew he would never recall where he had hidden all of them. Yet, this was indeed the genius of the plan.
John surveyed the ruins of his house and yard. Many of the packages were hidden here. He remembered giving one of the packages to his wife, Jamie. Jamie had recently taken upon herself the hobby of pottery and was fully engaged in a project. She had graduated from making bowls and ashtrays to developing lawn ornaments and was a making a three-tiered birdbath. The success of her project surprised John and he hoped that the birdbath still stood in his yard, as it had for many years. Actually, the emergency procedures were encased in a hard plastic box, about 3 inches square and quarter inch thick. One of these plastic boxes had been molded into the birdbath.
John walked to the rear of the house to the location of the birdbath. Behind the ruins of his house was a slight depression in the ground, where the birdbath once stood. John glanced at what he realized to be a deliberate act of destruction. He moved back towards the house. He recalled placing a package at the base of the fireplace chimney in the rear of the house. Here he observed a pile of ruble covered with a glaze of ice and snow. Additionally, he noted the destruction of the concrete slab that had been poured to hold a much planned, but never constructed deck. The deliberate pattern of destruction quickly became obvious. A new thought suddenly added to John's fears, "What if all of the packages have been destroyed?"
Probing further at the structure that was once his home, John could not find a single location that was spared, which might hold a package containing the emergency procedures. Unfortunately, as a residual effect, most everything else had been completely destroyed as well.
In the rear and well north of the house, stood a shed that John had constructed to store his snowmobiles. He experienced a brief sense of hope, as he scampered towards the shed. Although burned and melted, it offered some hope of salvage. "What if he were to find an intact snowmobile?" he thought.
Dismay came quickly, when he opened what remained of the door. All four snowmobiles were burned and destroyed, probably resulting from the combustion of their own fuel. The only item in the shed that offered any hope of salvage was an old metal footlocker. John pulled the footlocker from amongst the debris. While the paint was mostly burned, it was otherwise intact. Not expecting to find anything of value, he opened it. Inside he found two old snowmobile suits and a pair of boots. Slightly melted, but not burned, they offered John his first hope of a functional possession. Perhaps the fire in the shed had been quick enough to allow only superficial damage to the contents of the footlocker.
John had his first bit of good luck since extricating himself from the NVR center. While not the most aesthetically pleasing attire, a snowmobile suit and boots would certainly be better than his dress and homemade pillow galoshes. And indeed there they were, in spite of a few blotches of melted fabric.
Now that John could better meet one of his more basic needs, he continued his search for an intact emergency packet. Although he was aimlessly wandering around his yard and adjoining wood lot, he still held hope of finding something. Perhaps he would. Many had questioned why they were asked to hide so many emergency packages for Project Orion. No one could possibly remember where they were all hidden. Now John knew why. No machine could read his mind and destroy all of the packages, if he himself lacked the full knowledge.
A thick patch of briars formed the northwest corner of John's yard where it adjoined the wood lot. John approached the area, not eager to enter the thorny thicket. It had grown wild for many years. The only person ever to make any use of the area was Felipe, an exchange student from Columbia, who had spent his senior year of high school as a guest of the Howeys. Felipe, John recalled, was a devout Catholic and adorned the area with a statue of the Blessed Virgin and some flowers. John never did touch the statue, but during the intervening years, various other life forms had designs on the plot and the statue had been toppled and broken from a fallen tree limb. John could not recall the last time he had actually seen it among the briars and debris.
He entered the thicket and began to search for the statue of the Virgin. Within a few minutes he found a piece of it and brushed away the snow. "Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus," spoke John. Like many, John had strayed away from the Catholic faith. Now he knelt and prayed.
John finished his prayers and cleared the snow and debris from the remnants of the statue. Almost as if guided by divine inspiration, John picked the largest piece of the statue, which formed the base. Wedged inside, he found a narrow plastic box. Then he realized that Felipe had been his guest during the placement of the Project Orion packets. Although now completely forgotten, he must have given Felipe one of the packets to hide.
The box was sealed shut to protect the contents from air and water. John examined the casing for an opening. He noticed a small slit, obviously designed for a blade, which would be used to pry it apart. He returned with the box to the remains of his shed. Here he found a piece of metal to pry it apart.
In accordance with its shape, inside the box he found two objects: A computer disk and a very elegant business card. On the card was written the following: ABNDP OHSBU VMBSJ POTLS JTUJF BOETU FWFFF. "Whatever it said, it was doubtful that this could help him now. Most likely the disk contains the critical information," thought John. "But it is surely useless, now. Access to a computer is not likely!"
John felt defeated. He was hungry and thirsty. His prospects for survival were poor. The great emergency plan "Project Orion" was an utter failure. It required a technology that was no longer available. "What absolute imbeciles we were to put such effort into technological foolishness!" he thought, as he squeezed the plastic casing.
John sat for several minutes more in a fit of rage, squeezing the casing all the harder. The roughness of the case helped increase his pain, which he reasoned that he deserved because of his arrogant ignorance.
John sat in a motionless trance with eyes fixed upon the case. Perhaps it was some subconscious reasoning, but he thought it odd that the edges of the case were so rough. He took a closer look. The narrow edges of the case were scratched, but the larger surfaces were much smoother. The possibility existed that these scratches were not quite random. John studied them and thought. Somewhere in his vaulted isles of memory he remembered a Winter Camp activity where a simple number code was used. The code was so simple that when used to express a few digits it would not provide enough information for decryption. John thought very hard and sat several minutes more staring at the scratches. They were indeed coded numbers.
There were six sets of numbers, which he deciphered as 43, 36, 36, 83, 10, and 24. Their significance was not readily apparent, but John guessed they might depict latitude and longitude. He now had a destination: 43 degrees, 36 minutes, 36 seconds north by 83 degrees, 10 minutes, 24 seconds west.
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