Zero Node: Chapter 3: Transition to an Old Culture
by Jeff Rand
The title of the chapter refers to Mark Bollman's Winter Camp Novel, Channel 120. It provided the inspiration for the chamber beneath the Beaver Creek Building. Bollman also introduced the character Mick Belmont. In Channel 120, Mick Belmont is the only character believed not to share a name with any real person acquainted with Winter Camp. However, it is widely known that Belmont is a pseudonym.
Mr. Roger Horn once described a vast underground tunnel connecting D-A to the former Scout Camp Charles Howell. Mr. Horn mentioned this in 1987 during the continuous story telling activity at Winter Camp XI. In keeping with the old D-A motto "Where a boy's dream becomes a reality," the tunnel network is manifested in Another Ten Seconds.
Although it may be too early to predict the future career of Benjamin Osvath, his parents fondness for D-A makes him a good candidate for a future ranger position. Of course, the description of his activities is typical of all rangers through the ages. The ranger alarm is a revival of an earlier Winter Camp activity to detect incoming camp ranger trucks and other vehicles approaching Beaver Creek. At one time a sensor was set-up to measure the speed of these vehicles and display it on the screen of a TRS-80 computer.
As I thought about an efficient means of underground transportation, the idea of making it into one giant motor developed. I later learned that a similar concept is actually being developed in France. I leave the finer points of its engineering to Doug Wilson and son, Alan. Of course, here I go again making career predictions based upon the interests of the parents.
The stingray in Beaver Lake is ridiculous, but appropriate to the developing story line. Many years ago, I recall seeing stingrays gracefully moving their bodies across the glass at the aquarium in Cedar Point Park in Sandusky, Ohio. Sadly, the aquarium has been replaced by an indoor roller coaster.
May 21, 2006
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
After a long period of darkness, Steve welcomed the dim rays of light coming through the cracks in the door. Jeff rested in his cot on the opposite side of the stove. The small room was cool, if not cold by any normal definition. Yet the moment he lifted the blankets from his face, Steve knew it was much warmer than the day before. Jeff had been true to his word and kept the fire burning through the night.
The act of getting up required tremendous effort, both physically and mentally. Steve soon realized that after three in a half years spent in a prone position, he had little desire to become upright again. And if he could get up, in this ten by ten foot shack, there was barely a cubic tad of heated space. Outside that, just the brutal cold of Siberia. Perhaps he should wake Jeff and let him tend to their needs.
The diminished strength in his arms could do little more than lift their own weight, let alone push his body up from the bed. He strained for many minutes in an effort to do a sit up and gave up. Instead he decided to roll to the floor. The roll turned out to be much easier than expected and he crashed into the stove waking Jeff.
Jeff reacted almost instantly and sat up in his cot. "You've fallen out of bed," he said.
"No, but I could use a hand," Steve responded.
Although Jeff, too, was something less than spry, he managed to help Steve to his feet.
"I didn't realize it would be so hard to move," said Steve. "It's almost like I forgot how to walk."
"One would expect that after being connected to machines for over three years," Jeff said. "I had much trouble yesterday." Jeff paused, now fully comprehending the site before him. "Oh," he said in startled voice, "you're emaciated."
"What?" asked Steve, now examining himself. "I guess I did lose a little weight these past few years. I haven't been this small since..."
"Winter Camp One," interrupted Jeff. "I haven't seen this kind of weight loss since we removed the tapeworm from our friend Doug Wilson two years ago. You remember, the one he picked up drinking bad water from a backpacking trip on Isle Royale. It had been in his system for 50 years."
"Jeff, I thought we've been hooked up neural virtual reality here in Siberia for three and a half years. We haven't really seen Doug during that time."
"You're right," said Jeff. "But I still remember someone suggesting that we serve the tapeworm at the gruesome snack at Winter Camp 52."
"We didn't - Did we?"
"Come on Steve. You're the one who just said it wasn't real. But the 'Rand Stew,'" said Jeff, referring his namesake concoction, "was especially unique that year!"
"It will be a challenge," said Steve, "sorting out reality. But I know it is very cold outside, I have a less insulated body as a result of my weight loss, and we must get about the task of returning home. Our hibernation is over."
Steve had not been prepared for the reality of the Siberian winter when he opened the door to the small shack. Expecting a brilliant day of sunshine, he was quickly disappointed by the complete grayness that pervaded everything about him.
"Ice fog," said Jeff. "This region is so cold that the air can hold very little water vapor. Whatever little moisture there is condenses as ice crystals. It's like flying in an airplane at 40,000 feet through a cloud. It may last for many days or weeks."
"Thanks for the positive thought. I think you really enjoy these harsh conditions. Who else would think to bury a time capsule on the coldest part of the planet?"
"Not true," responded Jeff. "This may be the coldest city in winter, but the truly coldest regions are all covered with glaciers. In fact, this area doesn't even have shallow permafrost. Otherwise, if we buried a time capsule the earth would just regurgitate it. This is why graves are actually above ground in the Eskimo villages near the Arctic Ocean. In reality, Yakutsk has the most extreme range of temperatures throughout the year."
"Yes, I know. That's the theory to allow out time capsule to measure the years by the annual expansion and contraction caused by the temperature extremes. Unfortunately, we're here in winter and I guess it will be many months before we'll breathe air that won't chill our lungs."
"Something still troubles me," Jeff said.
"What is it?" inquired Steve.
"It just doesn't make sense. How did we get here? One minute we're enjoying a virtual Winter Camp. Then we wake up in this shack. How do we know this is real? Maybe this is still neural virtual reality. For me, it is opportunity to enjoy a chance to test my survival skills. And you find yourself much thinner with full hopes of returning to Winter Camp. Could this just be a shared perception of our desires? How can we know?"
"'Tis true," responded Steve, "that NVR pretty much gives us what we want. It has been an easy life these past few years. But, unlike you, I do not find this to be a particularly desirable experience. Yes, I'm happy to be a bit lighter; however, you may recall that I was actually quite fit in the NVR universe. Now, although thinner, it will take a long while to regain my strength. I do not look forward to this effort or the effort it will take to return to America."
Jeff persisted, "Again, how can this be real? Are we alive or dead or still vegetables connected to NVR?"
"I've heard you say that we can't be certain of anything. Of course we can't be certain that we can't be certain. And so it goes. But I believe this to be true and have purpose, something that did not exist in the hedonistic world of NVR."
Steve and Jeff seemed to have opposite objectives. Steve set about the task of preparing for the overland trip to the Pacific Ocean. He figured it would take about three months to travel the distance and they should make it by early spring.
In contrast, Jeff became more interested in improving their shelter in Yakutsk. He believed they were too weak to make the trip and needed time to build their strength and stamina. Though he was unaware of it, this marked a real change in his personality. In the years before their hibernation, he would certainly be the one pushing to travel, with little regard for the weak masses of human flesh that would be inclined to stay indoors.
Steve made note of their needs. "Our trip will require a sled. It will be the easiest way to travel and we can pull it across the frozen plain. If we wait too long, we'll hit the spring thaw and it will be near impossible to travel in the mud. Then it will be bug season. At which point we'll wish we were dead. I actually think it's a blessing that we will be travelling in the winter."
"Steve, you're forgetting the most important thing, shelter. You won't survive long without it."
"Yes, I know. That's why we need a sled, so that we can haul a teepee. It will be the perfect shelter. It's the essence of Winter Camp."
"What?" asked Jeff.
"Sure. The historical winter camp was on the northern plains of America. There, the Lakota Indians would move from their summer hunting grounds and set-up their teepees at winter camp. You remember making a teepee for our ceremonies a few years ago."
"Yes, I believe it was more than 50 years ago, and as I recall, we paid a canvas shop to sew the strips together."
"I don't know that we'll find a canvas shop in these parts, but I'm sure you will remember how to sew one together. I suspect that if we were to find a large tarp, it might require very little sewing."
Steve had known Jeff long enough to realize that if you lit the spark, Jeff would work hard to bring an idea into reality. And this idea was less crazy than the famed Winter Camp banquets, which progressed from a mere hundred dishes at Winter Camp III to 162 at Winter Camp XXV. Of course, Jeff removed all doubt regarding his insanity at Winter Camp L. Though the others hoped to do better than the 162 dishes 25 years earlier, Jeff suggested something more significant. Even Mark Bollman could not dispute his mathematical logic. Jeff calculated that exactly 868 days passed between the first thought of a Winter Camp in 1977 and the 100 dish banquet being held at Winter Camp III in 1979. He suggested that this amounted to an average of 8.68 days per dish. The period between that banquet at this third Winter Camp and the fiftieth would be 17,167 days. Using the average of 8.68 days per dish, he suggested that 1977 dishes be served at Winter Camp 50. However, compromise was necessary when Doug Wilson pointed out that elapsed banquet planning period was really between Winter Camp's 25 and 50. The banquet commenced with a still impressive 1,000 dishes.
Given the tasks at hand, Steve's re-acquaintance with an active life progressed remarkably well. Both he and Jeff made numerous visits to the ruins of the city to scavenge food and materials for the journey east to the Pacific. Steve spent most of his energy directed towards transportation. He used the brief daylight hours of three days gathering construction materials and tools to fashion a sled. During the long hours of darkness, he assisted Jeff in keeping the fire burning and gathering food for their more immediate needs. Jeff spent his daylight hours making the teepee.
The two conscious residents of Yakutsk found a stash of canned food in the ruins a few hundred meters from their shack. Although they had some knowledge of the Russian alphabet, neither could read the labels on the cans and therefore each meal was termed the "Mystery Meat Meal." This term was quickly replaced by the "Mystery Mush Meal," since opening the cans usually did not solve the mystery other than the fact that they contained no meat. Steve took to reading the numbers on the cans reasoning that the higher numbers meant more Calories or kilojoules, whatever measurement the Russians used to measure the energy content of their food.
Jeff suggested that the canned food would be totally inadequate for their journey. He proposed that a side of caribou meat would be more appropriate, explaining to Steve that the first winter solo climber to summit Mount McKinley carried no other food but a hunk of caribou. The weather conditions on the mountain he said are similar to what they will encounter in the days ahead. He did not tell Steve that the mountain climber and his caribou meat disappeared on the descent. Steve argued that a sack of dried beans and 100 pounds of salt pork would better meet their needs.
The construction of the teepee went remarkably well, thanks in large part to Jeff's ability to scrounge and fashion a construction tarp into the proper shape. His forays into the countryside were especially useful. About two miles north of their shack he found the ruins of an old woodsman's cabin. Here he found tools for tanning leather, including an awl and supply of sinew. With the sinew he sewed the edges of the teepee and formed the holes to button the front of the teepee with willow sticks.
The teepee pole hunt was another matter. Lodgepole pine did not grow near Yakutsk. Although a bit thick, he settled for cedar and constructed seven 12-foot poles. Six would be used to form the cone, including the setting pole. The seventh would control the smoke flaps. Combined with the tarp, he estimated the entire setup to weigh at least 60 pounds. A nice backpacking tent would be a fraction of this weight. But none was available, and the teepee had the advantage of allowing a fire to be built inside.
On the fourth day, Steve abandoned his plans to build a sled, when Jeff returned with a dog-racing sled that he found near the woodsman's cabin. Steve quickly switched his attention to waxing and preparing the runners. The success of their journey required as little friction as possible.
Although the pair amassed an impressive supply of canned food, they never found anything remotely resembling meat. Steve did find about 10 pounds of beans, but not enough for a three-month journey.
"I'm sure we'll find more food along the road," said Steve.
"I don't know. It is very remote country between here and the Pacific," Jeff said. "We're both afraid to admit it, but we must find weapons and be prepared to hunt game."
"I've never hunted anything before," cried Steve. "I find the thought repulsive."
"Do you think I am animal killer? We will leave this town and starve to death. I am not prepared to die, even if it is on Stalin's Death Road."
"Well maybe we could fish. That isn't quite so bad," said Steve.
"Did you find some dynamite?" asked Jeff cynically. "And I think it will take more than one stick to blast a hole through four feet of ice."
In the end they went about finding firearms, bows and arrows, slings, spears, snares, and anything else that looked like it would be useful in capturing game. In spite of their misgivings, Steve and Jeff had made the transition to a lifestyle of centuries past.