Zero Node: Chapter 5: "Morning Light"
by Jeff Rand
A new game was introduced at Winter Camp X that required campers to speak using only one syllable words. The text in the chapter follows that pattern with a bit of humor. For example, there are four sentences that use twenty-six one syllable words starting with sequential letters of the alphabet. A complete list of 3,674 one syllable words is defined in Low Sun in Sky All Day Camp Book That Tells What Words Mean.
The chapter also contains three palindromes, starting with the title. Another suggests a suspect for the personage of "Big Bro" who was making disparaging comments on the Winter Camp website at the time. The third palindrome provides a nickname that was in use during the 70's and 80's for a character to be introduced in the next chapter.
And now we have a one-eyed Jack attending Winter Camp.
August 5, 2018
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
Steve's estimate as to the burn time for the kerosene stove was not quite accurate, as it ceased burning in a shorter period. Of course, the inhabitants of the tepee had no real way of tracking time, but the period with some external warmth allowed them a chance to express their bladders and enter their sleeping cocoons. Sleep did not come quickly; however, the days spent in the shack prepared them for the primitive sleeping conditions.
Jeff awoke when he smelled kerosene fumes, as the fire in their small stove exhausted its fuel supply. While he thought it might be wise to move the stove away from their sleeping cocoons, he lacked the drive to extract himself from the minor warmth of his wrappings. He reasoned that he had already subjected himself to a lack of oxygen from the coverings over his face and the nearby burning stove. If he was to become unconscious from lack of air, it would have already occurred, and he would not be aware of this situation.
Sleep had been uncomfortable and fitful, but Steve realized that he had survived the night or at least what he thought of as the night. Darkness still pervaded, as it would be nearly midday before sunrise. Although he was cold, he removed the covering from his face to speak, "Jeff, are you awake?"
Jeff, although slow to respond, spoke in a muffled voice, "I guess we made it through the night. Just 99 more days to go before we reach the Pacific, by some miracle."
After a struggle to extricate himself from his cocoon, Steve poured some kerosene in the stove, while being careful not to have any direct contact with the cold liquid. He warmed his lighter and lit the stove. Just then he realized that his water supply had frozen during the night, as he had forgotten to take his bottles to bed. Jeff, too, escaped from his wrap of blankets and jumped to gain some quick movement in attempt to warm himself. Noticing that Steve had nothing but ice in his water bottle, he grabbed his own which had spent the night next to him warmed by body heat in order to maintain its liquid form. "Here, try this," he said, handing the water to Steve to pour in a pot and place on the stove. "It is better to have some liquid available when you want to melt ice or snow. I had to burn some extra food calories last night to keep it thawed."
The pair warmed a can of mystery food for their breakfast, using the pot to create a double boiler. Even then, the process went extremely slow in the frigid conditions. Fortunately the pot of hot water provided temporary relief to working hands and fingers which could be submerged after brief periods without gloves.
Although thoughts of returning to the shelter of the tiny shack still persisted, Steve and Jeff proceeded with some light exercise for warmth before embarking on the task of breaking camp. With few possessions, it should be a quick process to lower the tepee and pack the sled. Yet, it took about two hours to complete. At this point, Jeff announced in Winter Camp fashion that he should deposit another "mealy" before departing. The act of defecating proved to be laborious in the bitter cold, and Jeff was only marginally successful. Of course, there was no water available for cleaning, as any snow that had been melted had to be used for eating or drinking. Toilet paper not being available, Jeff opted to carry a rag to wipe any excess excrement from his anus. He brushed the rag through hard-packed snow so that it would be clean enough for future use.
During Jeff's attempt to rid himself of body waste, Steve diverted his eyes towards the west in the direction from which they came. Perhaps it was just a moment, but he saw a flash of light. It was still not daylight, and if it were sunrise, Steve was still sure the sun still rose in the east. Actually he knew that it would be in the Southeast at this latitude in the winter. He continued looking west, but saw no more light.
When Jeff returned, Steve was ready to leave. "Jeff," he said, "I saw a light flash back towards Yakutsk. It gives me a bad feeling."
"Do think someone else is out there?"
"I don't know, but we have to get away from that town. Somehow we found ourselves disconnected from the neural interface, and we best take advantage of our freedom while we still can."
There were utility poles and some winter snow poles along the supposed edge of the road enabling Steve and Jeff to trace the roadway heading to the east. Moving the loaded sled started out fairly easy as the route descended slightly for the first hour. Then as daylight began to make its weak appearance, the route turned to the north and started to climb. To make matters worse, they now faced a stiff headwind.
To move the sled and gear uphill in a strong headwind, they had to use the snowshoes once again to blaze a short trail. In fact, creating about 15 meters of trail before turning back to move the sled was about the limit of their ability in the current conditions. Distance was hard to judge, but the pair spent several hours moving the sled and their gear in the northerly, mostly uphill direction. The luxury of extra food for lunch was not available to the travelers, but they were happy to have water bottles which they kept close to their bodies underneath their outer garments.
After a couple of hours of daylight, the sun reached its zenith. Fortunate for the travelers, the road turned a bit to the east and leveled. However, clouds moved in from the east and it began to snow. They did not face a direct headwind, but it blew at enough of an angle to make progress slow. Both Donohue and Rand were beginning to feel their age and needed frequent rests. Yet the intense cold made the rests short, while forcing a slower pace when they did move.
Steve had to shout to be heard above the wind, "I don't think we can make it!"
"We can turn around and go back to Neural Virtual Reality," cried Jeff. "We might be able to live out the rest of lives connected to life support at the center in Yakutsk."
"You a..," responded Steve, not fully enunciating a swear word in the howling wind. "I'd rather perish here than be connected to a machine!"
Jeff did not respond, but he, too, had made his choice to be free, even if they were to die from exposure in a land formerly ruled by czars, communists, and authoritarian leaders.
As darkness fell by mid afternoon, Steve and Jeff were robbed of any strength to proceed. They collapsed by the sled, which they managed to pull by some bushes for a modest windbreak. While they were proficient in the skills of setting a tepee, they had no strength to proceed. As a last resort to prolong life a bit longer, Jeff draped the tepee over the sled to make a crude lean-to. The tepee sagged over their sleeping cocoons, but there was a space on the sled to work the stove. Steve was able to throw the poles over the edges of the tepee to keep it from blowing away.
On the edge of staying alive, they were able to light the stove, boil water, and cook another mystery meal. While the food was not at all tasty, Steve thought that there might be a bit of animal flesh in the contents of the can.
Life was difficult, and an attempt to dump a can of urine away from their fresh snow supply resulted in Jeff spilling most of the contents on his sleeping gear. He simply rearranged his coverings, knowing that the excreted liquid would soon freeze.
Steve took the time to remove his boots in an attempt to make rest a bit more comfortable in his sleeping cocoon. Learning from his past mistake, he had to move his water supply close to his body to keep it from freezing. He knew there was a danger of their kerosene supply freezing as well, but hoped that it was not yet cold enough to turn their high-grade fuel into a wax.
Surprisingly they were becoming more tolerant of the brutal conditions, and their sleeping arrangement enabled them to avoid a fatal end to their journey.