Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 16 The Man Without a First Name

by Jeff Rand

A nearby gardener's shed provided a handy shovel and John set upon the task of breaking through a thin layer of frozen earth. Three hours later he had cleared enough soil to reach the casket, about to further refine his grave robbing skills.

John's experience with the body of the woman on the previous morning had not been terribly unsettling, as she was simply a stranger providing tools for his survival. This time, however, he felt great trepidation in prying open the casket. As expected, John recognized the gentleman resting inside, now dead for more than 42 years. John experienced a moment of sadness in realizing that the Winter Camp visitor he encountered in the virtual world was simply an electronic manifestation. The first lodge chief of the Indian Drums Lodge was indeed dead.

The gentlemen clutched a bright red rectangular box that reminded John of a three dimensional hyphen. This he guessed might be the object of his search. It did not appear to be some treasure that was placed with the deceased for use in the afterlife. Rather, John had the notion that it was more of an eternal reminder as to the correct spelling of Mi-Gi-Si O-Paw-Gan.

He opened the box and found inside a small printed booklet. He determined the text to be constructed by using the Winter Camp Code. John thought for a moment, but could not recall the specifics of this substitution cipher. Perhaps he would figure it out before he traveled to all points of the earth to find an intact Winter Camp Manual that described the code. "Some people like to make things too difficult," he thought.

John became more interested in the other contents of the box. In addition to the instruction booklet, it contained an old virtual reality console and a collection of disks. With these objects, John reasoned that he might develop his own plan of attack. Of all Winter Campers, John was uniquely qualified to put the device back into use.

John's thoughts drifted, "Have I been chosen to save the world? Perhaps Winter Camp, in all its insanity, has provided me the tools to save humanity. I could be the only one capable of implementing a rescue plan. Perhaps my awakening was not an accident."

Daydreaming simply did not occur in the world of neural virtual reality. One's thoughts, however unusual, tended to translate into to real change. In addition, self-grandiosity and other socially unacceptable thoughts tended not to occur at all.

John was quite familiar with the VR console. It was identical to those he used to set up Winter Camp's first virtual reality network 20 years ago. He had provided the expertise to construct this network, which became the mainstay of the alternative Winter Camp schedule. The early Winter Camp VR network, although immensely popular with the younger campers, did not find favor with the old men. At one time Roger Horn had been accused of sabotaging it, although the allegations remained unproven. Now it surprised John to see the VR console, especially since it had been presumably saved by one of the old men.

John removed the collection of super fractal disks. The SFD's had once been a cutting edge technology, having replaced the CD's and DVD's of the early 21st century with a medium capable of 100 times the storage capacity. While the SFD's were favored by business, KDD's became popular in academia. These two technologies eventually combined to provide the blueprint for the QD's in use today.

John examined the various disks to note the inscriptions. Each one represented a digitized electronic character designed for use in various role-playing games. These disks had been used with VR consoles to create interactive characters. Each player would insert a selected disk into his console, at the same time connecting himself to the console's human input/output sensors. These sensors included goggles and a headset, as well as gloves and leggings. Several consoles would be connected to a hub and a power source. The final result allowed each player to become the visual and auditory representation of the character described on the disk, while he controlled the actions.

The VR network became immensely popular during its debut at Winter Camp, although only six consoles were available at any given time. By the end of the weekette, however, its popularity began to wane. The first VR network required real physical exertion to simulate walking and other body movements. The Winter Campers did not want to expend so much energy. Outside Winter Camp consumers demanded products to ease their lives, not to create more work. By the second Winter Camp with a VR network, this demand had been met. The VR consoles and sensors now responded with just slight motion to simulate a full range of activity. It took some practice to develop the skill, but just as computer users learned to master the hand-held mouse years earlier, most people quickly became adept with VR movements. A VR user, now sitting in his recliner, with only minor twitches of his arms and legs, could simulate all types of movement. The public had what it wanted, maximum pleasure with minimal effort.

Among the disks were four labeled sets. The first set was an off-the-shelf collection of rock-n-roll legends. These he quickly discarded, knowing that there had been too many Elvis's on the Net. The second set of characters came from a television series titled "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" that was popular with some of the Winter Campers at the turn of the century. The third collection, labeled "Notorious Leaders of the Twentieth Century," included villains such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and William J. Blythe, IV. When he examined the last set, John thought these held the most promise, as this collection bore the title "Winter Camp Currency Series." He might have preferred to find a disk of himself, but that choice was not available, so he would select a character from the currency series.

Lacking the ability or desire to decipher the coded instruction list, John began to develop his own plan as to how best to use this discovery. He recalled seeing a windowless brick building, as he rode through town. The building resembled a standard Bell Telephone switching center dating from the mid 1900's. John knew these buildings dotted the landscape of America and many still served their original function, especially in small towns. The United States, always wanting to be first to adopt a new technology, established the NVR network using existing infrastructure. As a result, many telephone-switching centers were quickly adapted for this new network. John held firm hope that the Cass City building would be connected to the NVR Net.

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After another day of exciting Winter Camp events, Charles Powell and Christopher Jordan retired to their igloo perched in the clearing at Cow Camp. The night of December 29 or more properly the morning of December 30 had been designated sleep-out night and the entire contingent of campers had constructed igloos among the highlands of Beaver Creek. Now, at 3:30 a.m., the igloos would provide shelter during a short respite from the rigors of Winter Camp.

Charles and Christopher were proud of their accomplishment. They had constructed their 10-foot diameter home in something less than two hours, even building the classic tunnel entrance. These newcomers had been especially ambitious and slept with blankets made of Caribou fur. In the center of their shelter they had fashioned an ice block table, upon which they burned a tallow candle. A soft glow permeated the dome.

An old white haired man made his way up the path from the Beaver Creek Building. He had strength and agility that were far out of proportion to his apparent age. Upon reaching the clearing at Cow Camp, he observed several white domed structures. The glow from the first of the igloos attracted his attention. He bent over and crawled into the tunnel. He peered into the igloo at two startled Scouts.

Charles and Christopher did not recognize the stranger and neither could see him very clearly. "Who are you?" said Charles.

"Hi Charles. I'm ah J... I'm Dr. Goodman," said the old man.

"What do you want?" said Christopher. "How do you know our names?"

"I know all about Winter Camp. I've come with news concerning John Howey," said Dr. Goodman. "Now, where are the others?"

Charles and Christopher remained apprehensive about the stranger. They had participated in youth protection training, where they learned to how to deal with unknown adults.

"Mister, I don't think you should enter our igloo. Perhaps you should talk to one of our adult leaders," said Charles. He sat up to better assess the situation. "Mr. Belmont is in the next igloo."

Dr. Goodman paused, genuinely surprised at the reaction. He did not want to be too provocative, at least not yet. He turned to exit the igloo.

"Mr. Belmont!" shouted Charles, not aware of the effective sound barrier created by his snow abode. Belmont did not respond.

Goodman retreated and located the igloo believed to belong to Mick Belmont. He crawled through the tunnel and aroused the occupants. Belmont shared the igloo with Adam Pezet. These two adults, not wanting to be far from the secret chambers beneath the BC Building, agreed to oversee the youth encampment at Cow Camp. The remainder of the adults built their shelters in the clearings at Highland and Skyline, presumably to engage in wild igloo orgies out of sight of the youth.

"Hello Mick. I'm Doctor Goodman."

"I don't believe we've met," retorted Mick, a man who always seemed to have total recall of his life's events.

"I am here with news of great importance. I represent John Howey," said Goodman, carefully choosing his words.

"Do you mean John's alive!" said Adam, very excitedly.

"Yes, indeed John is alive and quite well."

"I hardly think that John would be conscious without severe brain damage. Dr. Bob commented quite explicitly that if John were to recover, brain damage would be certain. Now, what kind of Doctor are you?" said Mick.

"Actually, I'm not sure, but that's not the point. I want to meet with the Winter Camp elders."

"I hardly think so. I'll be happy to escort you out of camp."

Adam sat dumfounded. Mick seemed genuinely alarmed, but what if this so-called doctor had been able to help John. Adam wanted to believe that John was alive and well and Winter Camp would return to normal.

While initially concerned about their own safety, Charles and Christopher decided to satisfy their curiosity. They entered the dimly lit igloo with the two adult leaders and stranger. Dr. Goodman turned to face them as they entered the domed chamber, nearly twice as large as the one they had made for themselves.

"Christopher, do you remember talking to John Howey, at the start of Winter Camp? You complimented him on his important role in Winter Camp. He asked you where you were born," said Dr. Goodman.

Christopher recalled the incident, but did not speak.

"I don't know how you know so much, but you best leave now!" said Mick sternly.

"I am really here to help. Please hear me out."

"Why don't we listen to what he says?" spoke Adam. "What harm could an old man cause? I think he looks vaguely familiar."

"Adam, perhaps you have better eyesight, but I have always been an excellent judge of character, and this man is not here to help us."

Mr. Oatley had quickly established some of his old rituals and was in the process of making his rounds to be certain that all of the youth had gone to bed. Never did he care for the late hours kept by the Winter Campers and he wanted to be sure that the younger campers got at least some sleep. Not recognizing the adult igloo, he heard muffled voices as he approached.

Mr. Oatley placed his head in the tunnel. "Boys. Boys, its time to go to bed," he said in his usual hoarse voice.

"Harold, why don't join us?" said Belmont, not using the proper language in addressing Mr. Oatley.

When Mr. Oatley entered the igloo, he gazed upon the stranger, and immediately showed an expression of shock. "You're dead!" said Mr. Oatley.

"I hardly think so. Unfortunately, you are the one who is in the grave," said Goodman. He spoke too soon, now realizing his blunder.

Charles did not react favorably to the remark and shoved Goodman. Goodman responded in turn and grabbed Charles's arm to pin him in place.

"Get off of him! Get off of him you a..."

Mr. Oatley was furious and lunged toward Goodman. Dr. Goodman released the young Scout to turn his attention towards a new attacker. The two old men now fully engaged in physical battle. Goodman planted his small fist into Oatley's wrinkled face. The others watched in horror, as two very old men tried to kill each other. It made no sense, especially since they had accused each other of already being dead. Dr. Goodman was the first to draw blood, just above Oatley's right eye. This caused a momentary pause in the fight, as both needed a breather.

As Mr. Oatley stepped back to catch his breath, he noticed Adam had stuck his trusty machete in the wall of the igloo. Adam had found the tool to be quite useful in trimming the blocks of snow to construct the shelter. Oatley grabbed the machete and approached his opponent. After a period of just 53 years, Winter Camp was about to have another knife fight.

Goodman was able to thwart the first two blows, but the third sliced his knuckles, reminiscent of a certain card game. The violence escalated. He placed a foot squarely into Mr. Oatley's groin. For a man of advanced age, Oatley rebounded quickly. Several more swipes of the blade caused further damage to Goodman's hands, but he paid no attention. Another blow, this time to his kneecap, caused him to lose balance.

The next thrust with the knife hit Goodman squarely on the chest. It broke through his flesh, separating the vertebrae before it sliced a bit of lung on its way into his heart.

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