Zero Node: Chapter 24: "Inside a Hollow Hemisphere"
by Jeff Rand
Every story needs to depict a good hanging, and Another Ten Seconds does not disappoint its readers. Of course, the entity responsible for carrying out this gruesome task has no control over the action but provides perspective on the situation.
While Winter Camp has continued for 43 years (as of this writing), there are only three humans known to have attended every one. Yet, they are not the only lifeforms to have been present for its entirety. The large oak tree sharing its perspective in the chapter, stands next to Ranch Road just west of the Beaver Creek Building. Even when Winter Campers were not being housed in its vicinity, it was passed by some activity. Once, it was used to test a climbing rope.
Another giant oak graced the rear of the Beaver Creek Building but lost its life in 2018. Even with its remains, it has been present for every Winter Camp. It was of such massive size and age, that it likely had seen other exciting events, such as Union soldiers on their way to a Civil War battle.
April 13, 2020
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
When the passage opened, the five travelers and their guides moved into an alcove filling a large space about 12 foot on each side, with a ceiling nearly as high. Across the alcove was another closed doorway with the expected button. On the right was a wall mural filling the entire space with a Sierpi?ski Triangle. But to the left, the scene ahead stretched reality to the point that Steve doubted that he ever really escaped from Yakutsk, and his whole experience of the last year had been a manifestation of neural virtual reality. They had taken a submarine deep into the ocean before taking a long path corkscrewing deep into the floor of the sea. This must be impossible, he thought.
Ethan, who had never been entombed as a resident of a neural virtual reality center had a different outlook. His career as an insurance actuary provided him with a chance for some travel. Two previous experiences rushed to his memory, where he had attended professional conferences with his colleagues. First, he recalled attending a seminar at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, one of the world's largest hotels, with impressive enclosed space and nearly 3,000 rooms. The second conference was at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, a structure in the shape of a huge pyramid, where the actuaries played their odds in the gambling mecca of the world. Ethan attended with a bit of an advantage, owning the book Basic Gambling Mathematics: The Numbers Behind The Neon by Winter Camper Mark Bollman-->. These terrestrial hotels were simply insignificant artifacts compared to what lay ahead.
The group left the alcove to enter a massive space. At first, they thought they might be going outside, but the chamber was enclosed, covering, perhaps, an acre of open space. It was filled with large trees and tropical plants with a sky-blue dome high above. As in the hallways, there was no visible source of light, yet the entire ceiling fully illuminated the space.
Looking straight ahead, the forest surrounded a pond with a long boardwalk stretching to a fountain. In the distance, to the right, there was a rocky escarpment. A low ceiling extended about 20 feet from the perimeter circling the large open space. This covered an area that was filled with various objects outside the perimeter of the vegetation. Above the low ceiling, there was another level, with large windows looking over the expanse. Then above that, projecting a few more feet into the open space, was yet another level with an elegant walkway circling to allow access to a multitude of rooms. Above this were balconies and several more levels, progressing with slightly smaller diameters around the open space. The expansive ceiling formed a moderately curved dome and sat above the last level, extending more than one hundred feet above the ground.
Wilbur directed the five to follow him, proceeding to the right to move counterclockwise as they stayed in the perimeter of the great space, underneath the lower ceiling. The wall around the entire space appeared to make a perfect circle having a diameter perhaps matching the length of a football field. The ceiling in this perimeter space was no more than 12 feet above a smooth polished floor and like the dome above the open area, was emitting light from no defined source. Keith, who had experience improving lighting effects for his work as a software developer, sensed that lighting in this space was different. Images and color were more vivid, and he sensed an absence of harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Steve observed a display of drawings and paintings of various qualities. He noted that many were signed and assumed their tour guide had been the artist for some of the works. There was a crude drawing of palm trees beside the ocean, as if done by a hopeful child. However, next to it was a painting signed by a more skilled Wilbur depicting a cityscape in a state of total destruction. The wall behind had a painting about 20 feet wide and half as high. Although he had never been there, Steve recognized it as "Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo, which adorned the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Steve and the others were not surprised to find a full range of art supplies among the paintings, such as easels, blank canvases, paints, and brushes. They had not expected to find the framing materials in an alcove near the Michelangelo painting. Besides a bin containing various moldings, there were clamps, cutters, and a studio joiner.
After passing through the paintings, the travelers continued to be amazed, now entering the pottery node. Most of the items in the collection were not of high quality. However, Uncle Ethan, as he was known when he hosted crafting events, was impressed with the collection of dishes emblazoned with images of animals. The pottery collection along the perimeter wall, was not the work of amateurs. Ethan recognized the fine Korean pieces, as examples of the world's best. Yet there were others, some in fragments, that may have been around for millennia. The tools and materials present included various shades of wet and dry clay, a potter's wheel with sculpting tools, and a kiln. Of course, there were glazes and other chemicals needed to produce the desired effects.
Next were sculptures. Most on display were definitely the work of beginners. Although not concrete fakes, they were made of carved stone, ranging from soapstone with one of the lowest Mohs ratings to Granite near the top of the scale. The space for active sculpting was enclosed, but had materials necessary for the craft, including respirators to avoid breathing dust.
Michaela became intrigued by the sculpture of a naked man, obviously the work of a real craftsman. "Who is that man with the penis?" she asked.
"That is perhaps the best-known sculpture in the world," said Wilbur. "It is Michelangelo's David from Florence, Italy."
"I disagree," said Keith, facing a statue at the edge of the trees outside the covered perimeter. "Although this is not the original, I submit the real one is the best-known sculpture, though it is only 150 years old." Keith continued reading the metal plaque on the statue, "With the faith and courage of their forefathers who made possible the freedom of these United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicate this replica of the Statue of liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty. 40th Anniversary - To Strengthen the Arm of Liberty - 1950."
The art of sculpturing inorganics yielded into one of shaping organic materials. The collection of wood carvings ranged from simple items done by the resident amateurs to complex reliefs and rounds. Leu toke note of the possibility of pursuing wood carving merit badge, what would be a simple matter had he an opportunity to attend a Scout camp,
Beyond the sculptures and carvings, Ethan entered the library and another significant collection. As expected, there were works of the local residents. Ethan's eye caught a large hardbound book prominently displayed, titled Geography of the Pacific Ocean by Jeff Dryden. Next to it was another work by someone now familiar to the group - Cosmology of the Orion Arm in the Milky Way Galaxy by Tom Wilder.
Many shelves were stacked with books with exquisite leather bindings and gold engravings on their spines. Ethan dared open one to find it was a mint condition publisher's edition printed on fine vellum paper with some full color artists' renderings. The shelves along the perimeter wall contained the most important works, including an original Gutenberg Bible, First Folio by William Shakespeare, and The Codex Leicester by Leonardo Di Vinci. It pleased Ethan to see an original signed copy of the Declaration of Independence. But it thrilled Steve, being true to his Irish Heritage, to find what he believed as an original - The Book of Kells. Even Leu, the youngest of the group, was awestruck viewing the collection of scrolls, when Wilbur explained the one being displayed was found in the Qumran Caves near the Dead Sea and contained the Hebrew text of Psalm 145.
At the end of the library a circular stairway led to the levels above. Its translucent walls were covered with posters and advertisements. The crew could not read German, but the one featuring Adolf Hitler had a chilling effect. More humorous were those featuring Ronald Reagan advertising Chesterfield Cigarettes and Abraham Lincoln wanted for crimes against civil liberties.
Musical instruments followed the library, including all forms of brass, woodwinds, strings, and percussion. Of course, there were music stands and the opportunity to try various instruments, but Michaela was thrilled when she was allowed to play the organ at the rear of the collection. Playing the sequence featured on the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, produced the richest sound that anyone present had ever heard.
Opposite the musical instrument center, the escarpment continued in the great space. Here there was a collection of ropes and hardware available for one to try rock climbing or rappelling. Presumably, one would not slip if a musician struck a wrong note.
The content was rather minimal in the next collection, although it contained a number of sound recording items, along with an assortment of media in several forms. There were booths for listening to various recordings and pursuing spoken languages. Wilbur explained that the collection included content covering more than 5,000 spoken languages, calls and songs from more than 8,000 species of birds, and vocalizations from at least 5,000 different mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. He directed the group to the rear to see the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum, where they could hear the unmistakable voice of Winston Churchill.
Passing around the great space, the travelers noted a series of dispensers for sampling smells. Wilbur mentioned that two of the units would dispense liquids for taste testing.
"Do you mean that I can dispense liquid meat, such as polar bear liver?" asked Leu.
Wilbur responded, "You can sample the flavors of many kinds of meat, cooked to your liking. But I am sorry that polar bear liver is not one of them, since it is poisonous to humans."
As the folks neared the halfway point in the journey around the great space, they passed through a collection of clothing, furnishings, and other artifacts representative of many cultures. Among the collection were some famous examples, including Terracotta Soldiers from Xi'an China and King Tut's Funeral Mask from Egypt. The artifacts ended at an opening passing into a large hall.
A significant change occurred in the displays and opportunities past the halfway point. First there were arcade games, including barely audible sounds from pinball machines. Then, shelves were loaded with board games surrounding various playing structures for ping pong, billiards, and air hockey. Steve noted that the collection dwarfed his own and every game was in a handmade wooden box rather than crude plastic-coated cardboard. When he pulled out a chess set, he marveled at the intricacies of the chess pieces with the gems and precious stones used in their construction.
After the gaming center, the travelers entered the theater, complete with a video and photo library. Famous photos adorned the walls. Some were recognizable, at least to Steve, who vividly remembered the Oklahoma City bombing and the photo of a fireman carrying a baby. Undoubtably, many hours could be spent watching films from an extensive library; however, the theater was filled with a collection of photographic supplies, cameras, projection equipment, and actual televisions. Among the items displayed were projection reels of film for some of the most influential, such as Birth of a Nation and Star Wars, Episode IV.
Beyond the theater, the nodes addressed themes for all ages, including toys, puzzles, and model building. The model railroad was designed with exquisite detail, including water flowing through miniature streams.
Again, Ethan's interest peaked in visiting the crafting center. Here there was all manner of tools and crafting supplies. Even Steve was impressed with the collection of hand and power tools, relegating the memory of his father's collection as an example of the stone age.
The full perimeter of the great space had been covered. Yet it would take many lifetimes to explore its full potential. Steve wondered why there was so much for so few. Wilbur directed Steve and his friends to the boardwalk towards the center of the great space. The boardwalk rose with bridges in two places, presumably to allow vessels to pass underneath. Near its center a branch crossed to one of two forested islands. The rocky escarpment that the team encountered on their perimeter hike, ended as a steep embankment where a waterfall cascaded into the pond.
As they left the boardwalk, the team passed by the fountain and noticed a fire bowl on their right, flanked by the pond and escarpment. Walking a few steps further, they saw two canoes to their left. Beyond the canoes was a beach with two thin inhabitants laying in the sand. Suddenly, the two individuals covered their exposed chests and rose to greet the team.
"Let me introduce the Jeddo sisters, Markie and Danielle," said Wilbur.
Wilbur did not approach any closer and led his charges past some lawn games surprising them when they came across a four-way volleyball court. Wilbur turned to the right pointing to a covered area facing the escarpment. "This is a protected area for projectile sports," he said.
Michaela, having earned the Archery Merit Badge more than a decade ago, was pleased to see the targets placed in the enclosure. She was not as excited when they passed two bowling lanes at the conclusion of their trek across the expanse.
Approaching the entrance to the hall between the cultural artifacts and the arcade games, Wilbur turned to the group and said, "We will now take you to your quarters." Placing his hand on Michaela's shoulder, he continued, "We can offer you a companion to share your accommodation. Michaela, what is your desire?"
Michaela was startled and afraid to answer, especially in the presence of her father. "Leu can go first," she said.
Leu, not being so shy, was quick to respond, "What are my choices?"
"You can select a dog or cat."
"Oh. We'll take a cat."
Michaela, who misunderstood the initial request, now answered, "I am allergic to cats."
"You can have my pet iguana join you. He is quite friendly," offered Wilbur. "Steve?"
Steve gave his response, "In that vein, I'd like a low maintenance creature. How about a turtle? That would please my wife."
Suddenly, Ron approached from the hall, "If you like reptiles, we could offer you a black mamba."
"Ron," growled Wilbur.
Ron changed his approach, "We'll give you a dog. Roger doesn't bite people he likes."
Wilbur led the group into the hall, where they entered an elevator for a trip to the third floor. There they passed through another hall to the walkway at the edge of the great space. Wilbur turned to the right and led them to their accommodations, where he announced that they would be called to dinner, when the time came.