Zero Node: Chapter 10: "Siberian Adventure"
by Jeff Rand
The title of the chapter will have no meaning to Winter Campers. It does have meaning to a reader outside of Winter Camp appropriate to events during the time it was written.
The novel takes a new direction for readers as it introduces a new reality in this chapter. Predicting the future is difficult, especially in the realm of hard sci-fi. In the nearly two decades that have elapsed since the chapter was written, some of the predictions have come to fruition. Others may take some time but mankind is still on the road to achieve the lifestyle predicted. Since a storyline usually needs to compress events, it might just take a few more Winter Camps before such events become possible.
May 12, 2019
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
On the opposite site of the river, Steve and Jeff noted that the road veered away from the river - or at least what was perceived to be the roadway. There they started the rest of the journey, which they perceived to be just 1,600 more kilometers. By the start of spring in May, they hoped to reach the end of the road.
An hour after leaving the river, they confirmed that they were on the right path. When they found a track from a snowmobile that had not been covered by windblown snow, it brought such certainty. But this also renewed their fear of an unpleasant encounter with Russian survivors.
In the following days, travel became routine with a renewed hope of surviving. They continued the pattern of counting steps and establishing camps before sunset. Their travel was aided by longer periods of daylight and slightly warming temperatures. Yet, they suffered setbacks. Especially as they had to ascend a pass to be greeted by a violent winter storm that nearly destroyed their shelter and kept them pinned-down for three days.
Other than the folks they had observed on snowmobiles, there were no other signs of living humans. Along the way, the infrequent structures, once inhabited, had been turned into rubble. However, there were some hidden buildings that avoided complete annihilation. Typically, these small shacks were useless as shelters, but they often contained useful supplies. Some even had food which enabled the travelers to take nourishment without having to kill animals for their flesh. While both Steve and Jeff possessed a number of skills that enabled them to make it this far, hunting animals was not one of them.
They had travelled 20 days since leaving the river and reached the ruins of the village of Kyubeme. Here there was fork in the road. Jeff searched his vaulted isles of memory to recall the route possibilities to the Pacific. From his work studying maps of Siberia to find the best location to bury the Winter Camp time capsule, he was familiar with the few roads in the area. The decision was to avoid the new route of the Kolyma Highway through the town of Ust-Nera. Instead they chose the old summer road, believing it to be shorter.
It took eight days to get to the site formerly known as Tomtor. The route was difficult to find in some places, forcing some backtracking. The town site was totally obliterated, except for the ruins of a signpost pointing to Oymyakon. This might add three days to the trip. But, a side trip to this town could be important in that it offered the best chance to secure useful supplies for the many days of travel ahead. Additionally, the town once had significance to educated people throughout the world.
Steve and Jeff were not surprised to find Oymyakon in ruins. The defenses from whatever controlled the NVR centers, with the human inhabitants kept inside, were universally effective. However, there might be valuable supplies hidden in the rubble of this most desolate village.
"Look! There is a monument standing amidst the rubble," exclaimed Steve. "But I don't see any buildings left intact."
The pair left their sled and trudged through the snow to the monument, wiping the snow off a plaque.
"Part of it is written in English," said Jeff. "It reads - Oymyakon, -71.2 degrees record low temperature, coldest village on earth. That should be about minus 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, we won't enjoy such record. I am afraid that the coldest days are behind us. I believe the high temperature yesterday was above zero."
"We should be so fortunate to be able to spend some time in such balmy conditions," responded Steve. "I might suffer heat stroke when it gets above freezing."
The visit to Oymyakon proved delightful compared to the conditions earlier in the trip. The pair had learned to survive in brutal conditions, honing the art of pillaging ruins along the road. Oymyakon provided a treasure trove of useful supplies and food. Among the scavenged supplies, were four wheels from a dolly, along with assorted hardware. These items would prove their worth despite the weight they added to the sled.
After spending the night in the ruins, Steve and Jeff were ready to continue their Journey to the Pacific. They noticed a small structure still standing that looked like an outhouse. They went to investigate. Indeed it was just that.
Steve forced the door and pulled it open, breaking the hinges. Because the roof had been damaged by wind or the protective forces of the NET, it was filled with snow. Yet an object appeared to be resting on what they believed to be the seat.
"At least it is more conventional design," said Jeff, "and not the Arabic form where you squat on the floor hoping to find the mark to deposit your waste without stepping in the hole or covering the floor with urine and feces."
Steve used his gloved hands to remove the snow and identify the object so prominently placed. "O my God!" he exclaimed. "It is a human skeleton and some tattered clothing!"
Jeff rushed to help. Both were surprised that this was the first corpse they had seen. The brutal conditions they faced had prepared them for much worse. Although the figure was slumped, it was seated above the hole covering the depths below.
"Was it a man or woman?" Jeff inquired.
"The flesh is gone. So there no genitals present," responded Steve. "But judging from the pieces of clothing and its size, I believe we have the remains of an adult female. Of course, I can't tell what killed her or if she were here to shit or just sitting to piss."
"I suspect you're right," said Jeff. "It looks like she is wearing a necklace." Clearing the snow from the right arm, Jeff continued, "I think this may be useful too."
"You mean you're going to remove the skeletal arm and make a prosthesis to attach to your stump. I can't see how that will help you now!"
"Not at all," said Jeff. "But I think the mechanical wristwatch may prove useful."
Steve proceeded to clean the skull.
"Are you going to extract precious metals from the fillings in her teeth?" asked Jeff.
"Hardly," quipped Steve. "But I think these glasses may be valuable to me."
The travelers across Siberia developed a routine in the weeks ahead, alternating pulling the sled and counting steps to measure distance. After several weeks, the warming conditions and long periods of daylight caused significant snowmelt. Both were happy to affix the wheels to the sled but struggled through patches of snow and mud.
On a clear sunny day Steve was sparked with optimism, "We must be near the ocean. By our closest calculation, we travelled more than 1,900 kilometers. The City of Magadan and the Pacific Ocean should be less than a week away."
Although setting the tepee had become routine, they were careful to find a sheltered area free of snow and mud. This had become a daunting task in the Siberian spring. It had not dipped below freezing during the last two nights, and the arrangements with sleeping cocoons had been discontinued several nights ago. Jeff was pleased to have a working mechanical watch that he had set with what he determined to be local noon. It was now twilight and dark enough to go to bed.
Steve was startled by a ripping sound followed by an agonizing scream. He turned and grabbed the glasses that he had extracted from the corpse. Something was on top of Jeff ripping at the supplies beside him. Despite his age, Steve jumped into action and grabbed their hatchet. He took a swipe and hit the creature. The creature responded with a blood curdling roar.
Now that Steve was standing, he could determine the size of the beast, and it was huge. A large striped head turned to face him, bearing gigantic fangs. After coming so far under conditions not meant for human survival, Steve was sure that the scream came from Jeff as he was mauled to the death. It was now Steve's turn to add his flesh to the beast's selection of entrees.
Though the pause was momentary, a human brain can work at a frenzied pace when one's survival is at stake. There was just one option, as Steve quickly razed his arm and took aim at the creature's face with his hatchet. The creature growled as it interrupted the attack. Steve had lost hold of the hatchet when he hit the beast this second time, and he knew when the attack resumed it would be the end.
The beast turned and growled again but now more like whimper. It moved away from Steve and left the tepee.
Steve paused to the realization that he had survived but had real doubts about Jeff. Then he heard a gasp.
"Jeff! Are you OK!" he shouted. There was no response.
Then there was another gasp.
"I think so," came a soft reply.
"Are you bleeding?" asked Steve.
"No. I am not," responded Jeff. "I was not attacked by the tiger."
"Tiger?" asked Steve, now very puzzled.
"Yes. It was a Siberian Tiger. The species was nearly extinct but I think they quickly rebounded into their historic range when humanity was encased in the NVR centers and no longer a threat."
"The tiger entered our tepee in search of food. I suspect it was after our dried meat and did not view us as a threat. I don't know why it chose the supplies over the fresh meat available as human flesh. Perhaps, the genetic makeup of these creatures makes them avoid serious encounters with humans. I was awake when the cat entered our tepee, but kept quiet so not to threaten it. It found the food but in doing so decided to step on me for access to our supplies. I screamed but the mass on top of me cut off my air. I could not breathe with a 400 pound tiger crushing my lungs."
"Are you OK now?" inquired Steve.
"I think so. My ribs may be cracked but they will heal. My lungs have not been punctured," Jeff said.
"That was a close one. I guess we better hang a bear bag," Steve commented.