Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 23: A Shrub Song

by Jeff Rand

Mark Bollman sat alone in the Winter Camp Information Center, pouring over a plethora of historical data. Others paid Mark little attention, as it was common for him to be engulfed in some trivia research enterprise. Mark was all too happy not to interface with anyone else at this point, uncertain as to whom he might trust. With such madness prevailing upon Winter Camp, his refuge in the Information Center provided him the chance to make some sense of the situation.

In recent years Mark had developed a close friendship with Mick Belmont, when he discovered they were a close match in their varied interests and disdain for conforming to social norms. However, in the past two days Belmont's actions gave Mark cause for great concern. He wanted to discuss this concern with some of the others, but several of the veterans had disappeared from camp.

In assessing those who remained, he had become quite wary of the growing militant behavior developing in many of the adults. He thought he might approach Doug Wilson or even Roger Horn, but they had left on a hike to some suspicious location. Even his brother Dan would be of no help, as he had returned to Europe shortly after John Howey's drowning.

Initially Mark thought he might conduct some research on the Winter Camp database, but he reasoned his computer activities might be monitored, so he would begin his work using the printed library.

Mark began his research project by examining the printed version of Encyclopedia WinterCampica, an extensive work chronicling the Winter Camp universe. One of the items that caught his attention was the entry on "Big Bro." First a character in a Winter Camp role playing game and later a unidentified visitor to the Winter Camp web site, Big Bro yet remained a mystery, a thought which amused Mark. As he read the article he recalled Big Bro's famous manifesto "Cub World pool all is in sun. No shade. Too hot." Yet as Mark thought more about it, he could not recall the reason why Big Bro had such disdain for Cub World.

The first novel written especially for Winter Camp was Channel 120, a work Mark created in 1993 to fulfill his chosen hobby for the year. The worn red cover grabbed his attention and he opened and read a few passages to himself. He recalled how he used the names of the Winter Camp participants as characters in the story. He excluded only his own name, rather choosing the pseudonym "Mitch Bloomberg" to describe his likeness. Strange, as he thought about it now, he had some vague notion that he meant to use a different name.

Among the printed material was the several volume set of Bollman's collaborative effort with Steve Donohue. After the Apocalypse still unfinished, now included nearly half a million words that told of a Winter Camp future of tragedy and survival. With the events now unfolding, Mark thought that a nuclear disaster at least offered a more defined problem.

The last of the novels Mark examined was written by Jeff Rand some thirty years ago, titled Within Two Hundred Thirty-Three Million Two Hundred Eighty Thousand Minutes. Like the Bollman-Donohue work it was written online using the Internet. Although the story was difficult to follow in places, Mark enjoyed discovering the hidden meaning expressed by the title. This novel told of an event beginning on June 17, 2033, when scientists discovered a rogue star in the direction of the constellation "Orion." The star did not behave in the usual sense in following the revolutions of the Milky Way Galaxy. Rather it had chosen a path that would bring it on a collision course with the earth.

Jeff very much involved Winter Camp in the story and timed the collision to occur precisely at 4:17 PM Winter Camp Time on December 31, 2476. This happened to be exactly 233,280,000 minutes from the time the object was discovered. It didn't take a math genius to discover that this time span marked exactly 162,000 days, an odd coincidence for Winter Camp. As the story continued, as if by divine intervention, the Winter Campers developed a plan called "Project Orion" designed to assure that Winter Camp 500 would not be the last.

Mark's thoughts now became absorbed in the hidden meaning of the title and story. As Jeff might have expected Mark performed a mathematical analysis of the number 233,280,000. When he discovered that 233,280,000 had as one set of multipliers the numbers 360, 60, 180, and 60, the truth became apparent. This number was the sum of the latitude and longitude of the earth as expressed in minutes. Indeed this was the number of minutes used to define the globe. At once Mark knew the truth, "that we live inside a hollow sphere."

Now absorbed in his thoughts, Mark became more apprehensive. The mathematical truth of the universe being contained within the earth, he had accepted many years ago when he joined Steve Donohue and Jeff Rand to form the Inner World Society. No other Winter Camper was ever invited to join the I.W.S. and it remained the most secretive part of Winter Camp. Never had Mark or his companions offered even the slightest clue to other Winter Campers as to the true nature of the I.W.S. Mark shuddered to think that perhaps his current situation could have some relation to this well kept secret. Unfortunately, neither Steve nor Jeff was around to discuss this hypothesis.

These thoughts aside, Mark was truly frightened by the term "Project Orion" used in Jeff's story. The story was fiction written 30 years in the past, yet less than two days ago a strange visitor bellowed "Project Orion" just before his death. Was there yet some other meaning in Jeff's story that told of his future plans? No one is crazy enough to cultivate such a plan for 30 years, but...

"Hey Mark what you doing?" said Tim Hunt interrupting Mark's thoughts.

"Just a little research for the weekette's final set of trivia questions," responded Mark, being less than truthful.

"Well, sorry to disturb you. But I think you should join us in the main room. We're going to announce the formation of the Winter Camp Militia," said Tim.

Mark had no idea that the war mania had progressed to this level and rose at once to confront the group. Just then he noticed a side arm attached to Tim's belt.

Mark entered the room and found most of the other campers seated in a semi circle. Facing the crowd with assault weapons conspicuously displayed were Dave Woods and Lou Pezet. Bollman sat with the group, without saying a word. He thought he better assess whatever danger now existed before he entered the fray.

Woods and Pezet remained silent, but kept their gaze towards the rest of the group. Tim Hunt maintained his station at the entrance to the living quarters and his brother Mark positioned himself at the door to the outside. Mark had a rifle slung over his shoulder, positioned for quick action.

Suddenly the outside door opened to break the silence. Roger Horn and Doug Wilson entered the room followed by Adam Pezet and Paul Kupser.

"Glad you could join us," said Dave Woods. "I think we can all agree that things have been a little chaotic in recent days. I regret that our situation of civil harmony has been disrupted. It is for that reason that I have taken steps to establish order."

"This is a coup!" said Steve Clark, Jr. still considering himself youth leader.

"Stephan, I think you realize the situation is far beyond a youth run event. I simply establish government where none exists."

"I'll have no part of this!" challenged Roger Horn.

"Mr. Horn you'll be free tomorrow at 4:17 PM. Until that time you will remain here with us," responded Woods. "To be sure, my lieutenants are more than willing to offer a little persuasion, if it becomes necessary."

Woods continued, "Fellow campers, we have a experienced an act of war. Although our Winter Camp procedures may be silent on the matter, the US Constitution demands that we establish a militia. As I have assumed the role of commander-in-chief, I will maintain control while order is established. This evening we will forgo our traditional Winter Camp activities in favor of a more pressing matter. Tim, will you kindly escort Mr. Oatley and Dr. Belmont to the front of the room."

Woods slid a couple of chairs to the front, where Tim instructed Oatley and Belmont to be seated. The rest remained silent, not sure if the presence of guns was as serious as it appeared. No one was ready to provoke the militia, at least not yet.

Woods turned to face his two prisoners, "Gentlemen the urgency of the situation demands that I convene a military tribunal in order to determine your guilt and appropriate punishment!"

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