Zero Node: Chapter 29: "Investiture Completed"
by Jeff Rand
The reader hears the message from a different voice in this chapter, one that appears to be in control of neural virtual reality. Who or what is behind the PROGRAM is not disclosed, nor are its motives. Defining it as good or evil is left to the reader, although such lack of knowledge can cause one to jump to the wrong conclusions. Perhaps more information will become apparent in the sequel.
Thirty-nine people participated in Winter Camp XXV shortly before this chapter was written. Each of them has been represented in this chapter using a quantified manner. Two of the fledging youth so identified play a more significant role in Zero Node, and they should now know that they weren't totally neglected in Another Ten Seconds. There is another individual identified in the chapter who was not alive to attend Winter Camp in 2001. But it is only right that I included Mr. Oatley.
May 18, 2020
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
Steve's reacquaintance with the Infinite Wisdom answered some of his questions but there were many more unanswered. Although he was eager to share the surprising truth with his friends, they both decided that the Infinite Wisdom would stay hidden until the others went through the proper investiture ceremony.
Next day Steve encountered the other travelers as they went about their lives in a new environment and adjusting to the slightly longer days. Though he was vague about his disappearance on the prior evening, he suggested that everyone should be ready for a special ceremony to prepare them to experience the Infinite Wisdom that evening. Unfortunately, his explanation prompted more questions. Keith asked if the Infinite Wisdom was a stationery computer or an anatomical creature such as an android. Steve answered saying that it would be folly for him to select the right words to explain what was ahead. Keith did not like the answer, but seeing Steve was unhurt from the experience last day, he reasoned that the others would survive as well.
Steve learned how to use the communications system in his quarters to make direct contact with the Infinite Wisdom. "Mike, I can see a problem with your ceremony," he said.
"There should be no problem. Don't you recognize it?" responded the Infinite Wisdom.
"I do, and it is 100 years old. I know you are striving to present something that is historically accurate, but I don't think it is appropriate in this century."
"You had trouble chewing the root? I didn't realize you had false teeth."
"I am referring to the other part," said Steve. "You know we have a woman in our group, with her father no less."
"Oh. We can make a minor change. The cultural standards are a bit different here in Zero Node."
"So I noticed when we first encountered the Jeddo sisters."
Keeping his promise, that evening Steve gathered the others for their investiture and encounter with the Infinite Wisdom. All were apprehensive and could only hope that Steve had not been leading them into a disaster. When they walked across the bridge over the pond in the Great Space, they were met by Wilbur, who directed them to the elevator leading to the chambers below. Wilbur led them to a large room with its forest floor for the ceremony.
As before, four of the male residents of Zero Node flanked the walls of the room. Dryden, who had been at the entrance, ushered Steve and the candidates through the narrow part of the room past Olds into the larger space. Wilder maintained his position to the right, and Sutton stood at the edge of the room in the direction they were facing.
Once again, Jo Jo, the dog came from the alcove on the left side of the room, hearing the recording of Annette Funicello and inspected the shroud on covering a grassy area. Wilbur gave his charge and left with the dog. The team moved in position, leaving the four candidates with Steve and the four ceremonialists - Doug, Jeff, Tom, and Ron.
Doug Sutton started the ceremony by requesting that the four candidates be put to the test. When it came to Ron's part, the language had changed. Rather than telling the candidates to bare their left breasts, he commanded them to present their foreheads. This alarmed Keith, who had felt some trepidation around Ron, especially related to his behavior towards Steve. Although Keith was not a student of Biblical scripture, he had learned much in recent years from Ethan's regular services. When they were in Tuktoyaktuk, Canada about to start their journey on the Arctic Ocean, Ethan had discovered a copy of the King James Bible in the ruins of the Baptist church. As a devout Roman Catholic, Ethan tended to avoid the apocalyptic texts; however, the Book of Revelation had special significance given the current state of mankind. Now it made perfect sense, as Keith was about to receive the Mark of the Beast on his forehead in fulfillment of prophecy.
The ceremony continued and Keith was confused when he did not receive an engraving of '666' on his forehead. It was just water and talk of cleansing him from all evil. Yet, he believed that these were just deceptions, especially when he was asked to chew a root. Then there was the climax as the black shroud began to rise. Now he was sure that he was about to face the beast. Though he was not present for Dave Milon's ranting during the virtual Winter Camp LIV, he knew the prophesy. He was about to learn that the Infinite Wisdom was actually Satan's Beast. Once the shroud was removed, he would see the creature with its seven heads and ten horns.
When the shroud lifted and the Infinite Wisdom was exposed, Mike Osvath stood with Steve, Doug, Jeff, Tom, and Ron facing four surprised adventurers, none more so than Keith.
Upon completing the ceremony and leaving the room, Steve looked more carefully at the book which had been prominently displayed at the entrance. His casual glance the night before was confirmed. It was a copy of the Encyclopedia WinterCampica.
The Infinite Wisdom gathered his new charges to join him in the campfire circle by the pond and escarpment. Wilbur and the Jeddo sisters were already there.
"Who is this man? You act like you know him," Leu asked his father.
"He is Mike Osvath or Ozzie, who disappeared some years ago. He was a Winter Camp pioneer. I believe you may have met him in the summer of 2018." answered Ethan.
"I wasn't even two years old."
"Don't you remember your time as a toddler or in the womb?" joked Michaela, who had only brief casual encounters with Osvath.
Osvath stepped to the side to throw a switch. Suddenly there was a flash of flame, and the campfire was lit.
"We had to watch an old Star Trek episode to learn how to make gunpowder from natural materials," said Ozzie. "I know you have many questions. So, let me start as we enjoy this beautiful campfire in our home 20,000 leagues under the sea."
"That would put us all the way through the earth and on our way to the moon," said Steve.
"OK. Maybe it is just a fictional story. I could say 20,000 feet and be more accurate. But that is not the measurement system we use in Zero Node. Let me begin.
I was rescued from a plane crash in 2020 by Wilbur and his father and brought here. I was hurt badly and suffered a strange illness. I was delirious for many days. When I was finally able to leave my bed, I learned that Wilbur's father had died, as well as all other adults. Wilbur was just 13 years old at the time and the other children, let's just say, were younger than they are now.
Chaos reigned and I had to assume a role of leadership. Many of the artifacts and the collections you discovered were here, gathered by the adults over many years. Of course, there were many aspects of the culture guided by the adults. I needed to build on what already existed.
Before my plane crashed and I escaped to the sea, I was able to grab my day pack. I had few possessions, except a couple of old books from past Order of the Arrow ceremonies that I was reading and a copy of Encyclopedia WinterCampica. As it turned out, the encyclopedia became a valuable tool in reestablishing a sustainable culture. For example, the universal measurement system initially established for Winter Camp II, replaced the confusing system in place. Given that we were not subjected to the whims of the sun, we were able to align with the universal measurement system and establish the prodays and proweeks. The longer days and double prodays proved to be much more compatible to the other inhabitants.
The technology in Zero Node is incredible, and I am not sure that I will be able to explain it. It is true that we have some control over a few environmental factors; however, there is a part of Zero Node that neither I nor my colleagues have been able to access. There is a control chamber far beneath us that none of us have been able to enter. Perhaps the original Infinite Wisdom had access, but that information has not been passed on. Suffice it to say, that something is controlling the equipment taking care of the crops and livestock, as well as the other biomes.
Keith inquired, "This is all hard to believe, especially with what has happened on the outside. Just who made this place, and how long has it been here?"
"K2, I'm afraid I don't know. The parents have not passed on that information to their children. All we know, it has been a very long time."
"Wilbur told me that his great grandparents came here in 1937. Is that true?" asked Steve.
"I am sure you had heard their disappearance was a great mystery. Now you know the truth." Said Mike.
"Yes, and Wilbur will be 25 years old shortly, a few days after I turn 24, at least according to our traditional calendar," offered Michaela.
"That would be the Gregorian calendar," Leu interjected. "We celebrated Danielle's 224th birthday recently. Of course, she was measuring her age in blue moons. I did the math, and she still would be 66 years old. How can that be? She could be my grandmother. Yet she seems no older than me, and I just turned 15."
Mike responded, "I am not sure I can give you any explanation. But it is true that all the folks here besides Wilbur were born in the 50s and 60s."
"What about their names? The familiarity of these names can be no coincidence," Steve inquired.
"Well that, too, was confusing when I arrived here. Wilbur was just Wilbur, but the others had numerical designations with long strings of digits. They were typically called by the first couple digits. At that point, I decided to give them better names. For example, 10-4 became Jeff Dryden and 4-19 was now Doug Sutton. In a couple of cases, I had to go deeper in the string to find digits to my liking."