Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 20: Sockeye

by Jeff Rand

Although Dr. Bob was indeed a skilled physician, he knew his skills would now be put to the test. He wondered how the years spent inside virtual reality would affect his medical abilities. Turning in the direction of Alan, he spoke "We need some warm water."

"I'm on it," replied Wilson, relishing the opportunity to solve an engineering problem.

Howey helped Dr. Bob move the unconscious body to the kitchen onto the mattresses near the oven. In the growing daylight, they realized that Tom was actually wrapped in a very filthy blanket and was wearing rubber boots.

Lacking any medical equipment Bob proceeded to do a physical examination of Tom using his own senses in lieu of any other medical instruments. The pulse was steady and near normal; Bob had no watch or clock to get an exact measure. Tom's breathing was shallow and Hartwig determined that he was hypothermic and dehydrated. His skeletal system appeared intact, but as Bob probed Tom's extremities, he realized that his muscles were atrophic. This, Bob concluded would likely be the case with anyone who had spent the past few years immobile, himself included. A further examination of Tom's abdomen showed a reduction in the size of the digestive organs.

"John, I think he may survive if we can get him warmed and rehydrated," said Bob.

"What's with the hair?" asked John. "We know Tom always favored the hippie look, but what's he got in his hair?"

The nearly bald doctor replied, "Oh I think it's just stool of a bovine variety. You know, cow manure to you non-medical types."

Alan returned with a metal bedpan filled with snow. He placed the bedpan on the stove in order to melt the snow.

"Where did you find that?" inquired John.

"It was in Clearwater, just as we left it."

"I don't recall," said John.

"Well, when was the last time we were in Clearwater?" asked Alan.

"Winter Camp 50, I guess," said John.

"Exactly. And what did we do at Winter Camp 50?"

"We had many exciting events. It was a very enriching Winter Camp," retorted John.

"I disagree. All I recall is the Anniversary Banquet on the first night," said Alan.

"Don't you remember the aerial combat maneuvers during Capture the Objective?" interrupted Bob.

"No I don't recall doing a thing in the highlands of Beaver Creek. After the banquet, I believe that many people left camp. Those who remained retreated to the cabins near the Beaver Creek Building," replied Alan.

"Oh yes. We relegated ourselves to the NVR Net for the remainder of camp," said John, realizing once again where he had spent the past few years.

Alan proceeded, "Clearwater is as we left it. There are a dozen lounges that we constructed for our relaxation while we were connected to the Net. Otherwise the cabin is devoid of furnishings. This bedpan had been used in our makeshift attempt to provide a mechanism to receive our body wastes, lest we have to remove ourselves from the lounges and the Net."

Both John and Bob recalled the environment of Winter Camp 50. Beaver Creek Cabin had been used much as it had in the preceding years, but Clearwater and the large new cabin at Highpoint were used to gain access to NVR and engage in the exciting virtual activities that dominated the Winter Camp schedule. Each was filled with the lounges where the reclined Winter Campers spent the majority of their time with wires protruding from the heads, as they experienced Camp through virtual reality.

The recliners where scavenged from an early NVR installation near Mr. Horn's house and he had taken great pride in adding the bedpans to make them more amenable to the long hours connected to the Net. By Winter Camp 50 experienced users learned how to relieve themselves without consciously interrupting their exciting interactions in virtual reality. The ability to sleep while connected to the Net was enhanced through improved heating and ventilation in the cabins. It was only for a quick snack in morning and evening that most even left these lounges. Showers and other hygiene tasks were deemed unnecessary when everyone else had his brain connected to NVR

The morning proceeded slowly, as Dr. Bob attended to Tom. John left the Beaver Creek Building for the camp kitchen, some two kilometers away. Alan commenced the task of gathering tools and materials to further improve their chances for survival.

Bob thanked Alan for a pair of scissors retrieved for a secret storage bin hidden in the attic. The scissors proved useful, as Bob gave Tom a haircut in an attempt to remove the dried excrement. Bob had opted to remove most of the hair, rather than attempt to give it a washing and produce pools of manure water to stain the mattresses and befoul the floor. Bob thought it a bit odd that Tom had so much hair, while the others were nearly bald.

By late morning, Tom began his first stirrings on his path to consciousness and shortly thereafter became coherent. John had returned by this time with a rucksack of food and supplies to add to the items that Alan had scavenged to serve a potential useful purpose.

"I can't tell you how happy I am to see you guys. Are we really back at Winter Camp?" Tom queried.

"Glad to see you too. You made to D-A. However, I'm afraid it is not really Winter Camp. It's January 1, 2031, near as we can figure," said Bob.

"We really made it didn't we? Has anyone else escaped?"

Bob responded, "We don't know yet. But I would believe it quite possible. Right now, however, I would like to hear of your tale and journey here."

Tom gained enough strength to sit up and gladly accepted a shirt that John had found at the main camp kitchen. Alan served Tom some warm soup in a tuna fish can.

Like Alan and Bob, Tom had gradually become aware that his universe of the past few years was not the one in which he had been born. When he fully regained consciousness in his local NVR center, he had quite a struggle to escape. After he disconnected himself from the Net, he experienced an electrical discharge and fell to the floor totally disoriented. Eventually he gained his mobility, but could not find any door or other direct escape from the chamber. In desperation he found the ventilation system and broke through a grating to greet the outside world.

Tom's first experience outside the NVR building was very unpleasant. He found himself surrounded by several cattle, as he lay in large patch of fresh cow manure. In addition, he had cut himself badly in his effort to break out of the ventilation system. He soon learned that the warm air exiting through the grating had attracted the cattle to this spot and as is common with lazy beasts they were not careful in their selection of a spot to deposit their wastes. Tom found it quite warm and moist. Unfortunately, his tumble from the grating caused him to have more contact with the sludge than he would have preferred.

After a very cold hike of about 200 feet, he crossed through a broken fence and entered a barn. It was here that he found an old horse blanket. He discovered the rubber boots in a corner, presuming an old farmer wore them when shoveling manure to clean the stalls.

Tom had moved to northern Macomb County several years ago and the closest NVR Center was located next to the farm near the town of Memphis in St. Clair County. From here Tom set upon a course for D-A Scout Ranch, hoping that he was not alone in this quest.

Tom reasoned that he hiked about 30 miles, taking most of a day and a night to get to D-A. He accomplished this feat wearing only the horse blanket and rubber boots. He had no food and tried to subsist by eating snow. He reached the crossroads of Thornville in the middle of the night, where he collapsed fully exhausted, ready to accept a blissful death. Tom did not recall how long he lay beside the road, but something caused him to stir. Although he was chilled, he managed to regain an upright posture and take a few steps before he fell again.

Long distance hiking and survival techniques were not usually considered to be among Tom's skills or attributes. Never had he been put to the test. Life in the 21st century simply did not demand it. Like most of his contemporaries, Tom would be content to live his life in comfort without any real exertion on his part.

Tom lay down again, ready to engage in his final thoughts before death. He had come far, but the last few miles to D-A were now but impossible. "Besides," he thought, "it would likely bring him death only after more suffering." He rolled on his back and prepared a posture suitable for a more dignified death. When he grabbed his hair to push it from his face, he was repulsed at the realization that his head was caked with dried cow manure.

"I am simply a beast dying in a gutter beside the road," he thought. "I am a wretched animal doomed to extinction."

Tom's thoughts drifted back to Winter Camp and to some of the animal events held there. He recalled the numerous caveman dinners and animal lunch. One animal activity he recalled being especially interesting was the "Salmon Trek." This odd suggestion from Gordon Draper early in the century, turned into a hike of hellish proportions. The end result was an experience intended to use everything an individual could give in order to return to the starting point. Those that completed the experience had to draw upon an unimaginable supply of physical and mental energy to succeed.

Tom felt a growing chill, but had yet to reach the blissful state he thought he desired. The idea of the Salmon Trek nagged at him. Perhaps he could go a few more feet, like the salmon struggling to return to its spawning grounds.

Alan, Bob, and John listened intently as Tom recounted his tale.

"Well, how did you finally make it here?" asked John.

"I became a salmon."

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